When Lehman filed for bankruptcy in that fateful week of September 2008, one thing caught everyone's attention: the epic surge in the Fed Reverse Repos originated by "foreign official and international accounts": essentially cash placed at the Fed by foreign institutions in exchange for collateral, primarily in the form of Treasurys, as well as other securities. This is nothing but an immediate cash parking in a 'safe place', which withdraws overall liquidity from the market, and as has been noted elsewhere, serves as an indirect gauge of banking system funding stress. In the week of September 24, this number soared from $46.6 to $93.7 billion, a $44 billion increase, or the single biggest jump in the history of the series. Well, as the chart below demonstrates, what happened with MF Global caught foreign banks, which as we have noted over the past several weeks have been dumping US Treasury and MBS paper, entirely by surprise as they scrambled to withdraw the last traces of available liquidity from the market, and to place as much of it as possible within the safety (and we use the term loosely) of the Fed. In the just released H.4.1 update, foreign Reverse Repos with the Fed soared from $81.3 billion to $124.5 billion, the most ever, and a weekly surge of $43.2 billion, the second largest ever, second only to the Lehman collapse. Furthermore, as noted daily, European banks have been doing precisely that with local cash from non-US subsidiaries, and parking near record amounts with the ECB (today the European central bank disclosed a whopping €253 billion had been deposited with it: just shy of the 2011 high), even as they have been dumping US Treasurys on one hand, and now are forced to repo what little paper they have left with the Fed due to systemic uncertainties in the MF aftermath, one can see why suddenly there was absolutely no liquidity left in the market, and why the meager €3 billion EFSF bond offering, so desperately needed to fund the ongoing Irish bailout and which incidentally is the story of the week, had to be pulled.
Behold the surge in weekly international reverse repos:
And the total weekly international reverse repo notional: we have a new all time record!
As the chart below shows, Fed reverse repo notionals are a very distinct leading indicator to the inverse performance of European financial stocks. Considering this, it would stand to reason that European banks are set to have some very turbulent upcoming days, as the money which should be in the market and be used to buoy European fin stocks, is far, far away, parked at some server located at Liberty 33.
The moral of the story is that the MF Global bankruptcy happened at the worst possible time. On one hand, European banks have been dumping tens of billions of US Treasurys, yet with the aftermath of this primary dealer bankruptcy, they have had to halt such sales and instead pledge USTs as collateral, thereby completely soaking up all incremental liquidity in the market. Recall that reverse repos are used by the Fed as a liquidity absorbing mechanism.
Which means that, all else equal, the pain for European banks, courtesy of the allegedly criminal mismanagement of the company of one Jon Corzine, is about to hit previously unseen levels.