While the rest of the world is conveniently distracted by events in Europe, where conventional wisdom dictates that even an all out default of Greece would be manageable, whatever that means, the smart money in the room - the world's now 21 Primary Dealers (ex MF Global, whose CEO is "almost", but not quite, about to be prosecuted for the theft of billions in client funds) has been quietly bracing for impact in the only way they know - buying up Treasurys. In fact, according to the US Trasury's weekly update, in the most recent week ended February 8, 2012, Primary Dealer Treasury holdings of Dealers surged to an all time high of $102 billion, a whopping increase of $37 billion on the week, which matches only the surges seen during the post end of quarter window dressing discussed extensively before. The driver were exclusively bonds in the "Bills" and "Under 3 Year" category, which rose by $37.7 billion. As a reminder, courtesy of ZIRP through 2014, bonds with a sub-3 Years maturity are the functional, and liquidity equivalent, of Bills - or cash equivalents from a liquidity standpoint, with the added benefit that these are repoable at a moment's notice, to the Fed or anyone else. The last time we have seen such a dramatic increase in Dealer Bill and Coupon concentration was in early 2009 when the world was ending and when Dealers went from zero Bill holdings to tens of billions in Bill holdings overnight. These holdings only declined as QE1 starting to improve risk conditions, and dropped further in the aftermath of QE2. This time, there is no backstop from the Fed, at least no public one. Which means that, for all intents and purposes, Dealers are hunkering down in anticipation of something that affords maximum liquidity yet is not stocks.
Full breakdown of Dealer UST holdings by maturity bucket (ex-TIPS).
And for those who suggest that this is merely a yield play, we have chart 2, which shows Dealer corporate bond holdings- it is at multi-year lows, and quite lower than the frothy days of the summer and fall of 2008.