While well-known to most, what may be lost on all those calling for the ECB to commence outright printing, is that as today's Bloodmberg chart of the day shows, the ECB's balance sheet is not only far greater than the Fed, at $3.2 trillion compared to $2.9 trillion for Ben Bernanke, but at 30x leverage, has the same risk as Lehman did at its peak. However, one major distinction between the Fed and the ECB is that while the Fed continues to be shrouded in almost impenetrable secrecy on an absolute basis, it is transparent as a wet t-shirt competition during Spring Break at Panama City Beach compared to the ECB. From Bloomberg: "Without information on the quality of assets on the ECB’s balance sheet or how far it’s willing to allow leverage to increase, investors may doubt the bank’s ability to prop up the financial system, and demand higher yields to buy some countries’ bonds, he said. "Sovereign spreads could rise again if investors become uncomfortable with ECB leverage without a fully detailed rescue package,” said Tyce. “The ECB is providing liquidity and confidence to the banking system, yet all the while its own leverage and balance sheet size is hitting new highs. It seems likely that the market will begin to watch the rising leverage with interest and growing concern."
Technically the market should have been watching said leverage long ago, but then again, it is "the market" which lately tends to compete with the rating agencies in how far behind the curve it is. Because where the market may be surprised, is that as think tank Open Europe indicates, "Through its government bond buying and liquidity provision to banks, we estimate that the ECB’s exposure to weaker eurozone economies has now reached €705bn, up from €444bn in early summer – an increase of over 50% in only six months, raising fresh questions about its credibility, independence and possible losses it may face in the case of future sovereign defaults." Bottom line: the world's biggest hedge fund - ECB Capital LLC, Onshore Austerity Fund, is also the world's most insolvent. Which by implication means that when the ECB fails, and it will, it will be up to the Fed to bail it out.