Goldman's Greek Deal Summary: Increased Likelihood Of CDS Trigger And CAC Use Will Lead To Volatility

While we await for Thomas Stolper to issue his latest flip flop and to go long the EURUSD again ("tactically", not "strategically"), here is Francesco Garzarelli's take on the Greek bailout.Here is the biggest issue: "Increased likelihood of CDS: Moreover, higher losses inflicted on the private sector, involving the likely activation of CACs and the triggering of CDS, represent sources of near-term volatility." Bingo. Now as we pointed out in the previous post, a "successful" and completely undefined PSI program is a key precondition to the program. However, with bondholders now certain to throw up, and the requisite 75% (forget 95%) acceptance threshold unlike to be reached, will the use of Collective Action Clauses, and thus a CDS trigger constitute a PSI failure, and thus deal breach? In other words, since we now know that the March 20 bond payment will be part of the PSI, is last night's farce merely a way to avoid giving Greece a bridge loan, and putting its fate in the hands of creditors, which as we noted back in January is a lose-lose strategy?

Greek Bailout Or Deliverance?

Bailout somehow seems too nice of a word.  It implies working together, giving a helping hand, making a real effort to help someone out.  As we read the headlines coming out of Greece for the past 2 weeks, all we can think of is, how do you say “squeal like a pig” in German. The market is happy because it looks like PSI will go through and that in theory will be enough to convince the Troika to send money to Greece, so long as they live by the latest austerity package.  That all seems fine, we guess, but looking beneath the headlines, it seems far worse than that.

Frontrunning: February 17

  • German president resigns in blow to Merkel (Reuters)
  • China central bank in gold-buying push (FT)
  • Germany Seeks to Avoid Two-Step Vote on Greek Aid, Lawmakers Say (Bloomberg)
  • Eurozone central bankers and the taboo subject of losses (FT)
  • Bernanke: Low Rates Good for Banks in Long Run (WSJ)
  • Cameron and Sarkozy to test rapport at talks (FT)
  • Chinese Enterprises encouraged to invest in US Midwest (China Daily)
  • Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley have reduced their use of "mark-to-market" accounting (WSJ)
  • Regulators to raise trigger for rules on derivatives (FT)
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Boomerang Book Review

Most airport book stores are crammed with the very latest business books which promise to make you a better worker at whatever job you've got, guaranteeing you a much bigger salary. ("Good to Great", "Emotional Equations", "Entreleadership", "Switch", and a myriad of other worthless drivel). I was heartened to see Michael Lewis' Boomerang, which is something I knew would interest me. So that's what I bought.

Complete List Of Europe's Expanded Bank "Junk"

The good people at Knight put together a comprehensive list of potential ratings for banks in Europe after Moody's came out with their outlooks. We agree that banks getting shifted to non-investment grade is a big deal.  We saw the impact for Portugal once it got taken out of the indices, and we think for banks it will be an even bigger deal to lose that investment grade status.  Sure, they can still go to the LTRO, but it is hard to function as anything other than a zombie bank once you lose that rating...

Global Gold Demand in 2011 Rises 0.4% To $200 Billion - Central Banks, Asia and Europe Diversifying Into Gold

Global demand for gold reached 4,067.1 tonnes last year, the highest tonnage since 1997, due in large part to a nearly 5% increase in investment demand, which hit a record 1,640.7 tonnes. Asian countries like China, India, Vietnam, Thailand and others see bullion as a store of value against the growing inflation and the ongoing debasement of their currencies. The fundamentals for gold in 2012 look good.  Continuing low and often negative real interest rates will continue to support gold’s safe haven status. The Fed’s statement that it will continue to see rates remain very low until 2014 is very bullish for gold. Central banks were net buyers of gold and their demand surged nearly 6 fold (570%) to 439.7 tonnes in 2011 (compared with 77 tonnes in 2010), more metal than at any time since the end of the gold standard in 1971. The World Gold Council noted that, “The buyers are all ... in Latin America, Asia and the Far East and they are basically enjoying strong growth, fiscal surpluses and growing foreign exchange reserves." 

A&G's AIG Moment Approaching: Moody's Downgrades Generali, Cuts Megainsurer Allianz Outlook To Negative

For a while now we have said that the very weakest link in Europe is not the banks, not the ECB, not triggered CDS, and not even the shadow banking system (well, infinitely rehypothecated Greek bonds within a daisychain of broker-dealers, which ultimately ends up at the ECB at a negligible repo discount, that could well be the weakest link - we will have more to say about this over the weekend) but two very specific insurers: Italy's mega insurer Assecurazioni Generali, which at last check had more Greek bonds as a % of TSF than anyone else, and Europe's biggest insurer and Pimco parent, Allianz, which is filled to the gills with pretty much everything (for more on Generali, or as we like to call it by its CDS ticker ASSGEN read here, here, here, and here). Well, Moody's just gave them, and the entire European space, the evil eye, and soon the layering of margin calls upon margin calls, especially if and when Greece defaults and a third of ASSGEN's balance sheet is found to be insolvent, will make anyone who still is long CDS those two names rich. Assuming of course the Fed steps in and bails out the counterparty the CDS was purchased from.

Moody's Downgrades Italy, Spain, Portugal And Others; Puts UK, France On Outlook Negative - Full Statement

You know there is a reason why Europe just came crawling with an advance handout looking for US assistance: Moody's just went apeshit on Europe.

  • Austria: outlook on Aaa rating changed to negative
  • France: outlook on Aaa rating changed to negative
  • Italy: downgraded to A3 from A2, negative outlook
  • Malta: downgraded to A3 from A2, negative outlook
  • Portugal: downgraded to Ba3 from Ba2, negative outlook
  • Slovakia: downgraded to A2 from A1, negative outlook
  • Slovenia: downgraded to A2 from A1, negative outlook
  • Spain: downgraded to A3 from A1, negative outlook
  • United Kingdom: outlook on Aaa rating changed to negative

In other news, we wouldn't want to be the company that insured Moody's Milan offices.

Two Charts On The European Growth Dilemma

As the Germans ponder the truthiness of Greece's planned austerity measures it will perhaps come as a shock to many that since the start of the Euro (Dec 1998), Greece (followed closely by Spain and Ireland) has experienced the highest nominal GDP growth rates (rebased to USD) among a sample of large global economies (ex-China). As Deutsche Bank's Jim Reid points out from this surprising fact, these three nations (and to a lesser extent Portugal) have been major beneficiaries of the Euro and have seen their economies improve their international wealth position at a faster rate than their developed market peers since 1999. In the current environment, post the leverage super-cycle, this creates stress (as is all too obvious) and in the medium-term we would expect mean-reversion of this 'fake' wealth/growth. The dilemma is whether the peripheral nations see large and negative GDP growth to revert down or if Germany is willing to accept far higher growth and inflation (maybe 7% nominal) to adjust upwards to the seemingly unsustainable levels of the peripherals. Austerity versus Growth/Inflation. It seems from Ireland's suffering and Greece's slide that the former (peripheral deleveraging and austerity) is the path chosen for now though ongoing appetite (Papademos/Samaras aside) for this seems as unpalatable as German's accepting socialized losses via firewall and the specter of high inflation.

Let My People Go

The situation in Greece has taken a more sinister turn. The outrage in Greece is growing. More and more of the people on my distribution list with ties to Greece are pointing out how bad things are there. Daily life is getting more difficult by the day for most people, yet the EU has told the Greeks that their current offer isn’t enough and that they have doubts about its implementation. At least they got that right, the austerity measures, will not remain implemented. It seems obvious to anyone who hasn’t become locked into a negotiating stance that the whole austerity idea isn’t working. It is possible over the weekend that the Greek parliament will defer to EU demands and vote in a plan that is “acceptable” but I don’t see it lasting. The people are fed up and more and more realize that defaulting and costing the foreign bankers money is worth a shot. Default is NOT the end of the world or of Greece. For all the politicians who keep saying default is the end, they are just wrong. It will cause problems, but Greece will survive, and for the first time can start focusing on a plan to move forward rather than dealing just with problems of the past.

Is The ECB's Collateral Pool Expansion A €7.1 Trillion Imminent "Trash To Cash" Increase In Its Balance Sheet?

While a lot of the just completed Draghi press conference was mostly fluff, the one notable exception was the announcement that the European central bank would "approve eligibility criteria for additional credit claims" (see below). While purposefully vague on the topic, Draghi noted that the step is one of onboarding even more risk: "Sure, it's going to be more risky. Does that mean that we take more risk? Yes, it means we take more risk. Does it mean this risk is being unmanaged? No, it is being managed. And it's being - it's going to be managed very well because really there will be a strong overcollateralization for the additional credit claims. The conditions will be very stringent." While it remains to be seen just how stringent the conditions will be, but a bigger question is what is the total pool of eligible claims that can be used to flood the ECB in exchange for freshly printed cash. For that we go to Goldman whose Jernej Omahen a month ago calculated the impact of the expanded collateral pool which was formally confirmed today. To wit: "Scarcity of collateral was becoming an evident problem for a large number of banks, especially smaller and medium sized. In our view, the ECB’s collateral pool expansion was therefore a critical decision. Select corporate loans – which form over >€7 tn, or >30% of total balance sheets – will now be admissible for refinancing operations, through national central banks. Criteria on eligibility have yet to be determined – we are therefore not able to quantify the actual expansion of collateral pool at this stage. That said, the €7 tn starting points suggests it will be significant." In other words, and this is excluding anything to do with the LTRO, the ECB just greenlighted a potential expansion to its balance sheet all the way up to €7 trillion. Will banks use this capacity to convert "trash to cash" - why of course they will, and this goes to the very heart of the biggest problem with Europe: the fact that there are virtually no money good assets left as collateral, which requires the implicit rehypothecation of bank "assets" back to the ECB, to procure cash, to pay out cash on liabilities. How much will they do - we don't know yet. We will find out very soon. What we do know is that the ECB's €2.7 trillion balance sheet is about to expand dramatically, pushing the European central bank even further into bad bank status. And this is excluding the upcoming new usage of the Discount Window known as the LTRO in three weeks. Trade accordingly.

(Broke) Monkey See, (Broke) Monkey Do

Irish Finance Minister saying that whatever the ECB does with Greece would be of interest to Ireland. So if ECB forgives Greek debt (directly or through EFSF), Ireland is going to want the same deal. Portugal won't be far behind. And why stop at ECB and not go for PSI as well?

Guest Post: The Eurozone Is Almost Out Of Options

Setting a precedent of official sector losses would raise huge questions over whether Portugal and Ireland will request similar treatment. However there are now no easy options. The current course of a second Greek bailout could just as easily have knock-on effects in the form of a second round of taxpayer-backed rescues. We have always argued strongly against taxpayers taking losses but, unfortunately, this is one of the few plausible options we’re now left with.