Sliding Greek Bond Reality Challenges "Debt Deal" Hopium

We have been rather vociferous in our table-pounding that even if a Greek PSI deal is achieved (in reality as opposed to what is claimed by headlines only to fall apart a month later), then Greece remains mired in an unsustainable situation that will likely mean further restructuring in the future. JPMorgan's Michael Cembalest agrees and notes that Debt/GDP will remain well above 100% post-deal but is more concerned at the implications (just as we noted earlier in the week) of the process itself including ECB preferred credit status, retroactive CACs (law changes), and CDS trigger aversions. In his words, the debt exchange is a bit of a farce and we reiterate our note from a few days ago - if this deal is so close, why is the 1Y GGB (AUG 2012) price trading -8.75% at EUR 28.75 (or 466% yield) and while longer-dated prices are rallying (maybe bear flattener unwinds), the moves are de minimus (-17bps today on a yield of 3353bps?) as selling pressure is clearly in the short-end not being rolled into the long-end as some surmise.

1Y GGBs (AUG 2012s) have slipped further and further this week...and while 10Y is rallying the move is very small and does not suggest (as some headlines proclaim) that investors are extending into Greek duration - the selling is all front-end and obviously heavy. Perhaps we are seeing some of the banks who are heavily exposed to the CDS side of the market covering (buying CTD bonds) to manage exposure into an involuntary event? The CTD is the 5Y GGB for now, and that has been...falling too...

 

JPMorgan, Michael Cembalest...Greece: Sisyphus revisited

We noted 2 years ago that despite being only 2% of European GDP, Greece would probably end up having disproportionate consequences for markets. That remains true today as it stumbles through to some kind of restructuring of its private sector debt (see table for one possible iteration). To be clear, the debt exchange is a bit of a farce on its own, since even after the debt reduction shown in the table, Greece’s debt/GDP ratio is still well above 100%.

 

Greece will almost certainly have to default on/restructure official sector debt as well, at a time and place of the EU’s choosing. Nevertheless, here are 3 things to watch as this process unfolds that can have broader ramifications:

 

How will the ECB behave? There are no justifications I know of for the ECB to assert preferred creditor status, which would entitle it to avoid being restructured (as the IMF does). So far, however, ECB comments indicate a reluctance to participate with the private sector rabble. If the ECB is treated as a preferred creditor, does that mean that all 217 billion of its sovereign debt purchases so far should be seen as effectively senior to private investors? This issue could be solved by having the ECB sell its bonds at cost to the EU before the exchange.

 

Will Greece put “collective action clauses” (CAC) in place? Without getting too detailed, many Greek bonds were issued under language known as “universal consent”, which means that all creditors have to agree to changes to maturity, interest or principal. A CAC allows the issuer to obtain a plurality of support from bondholders for changes to the bond indenture, and then impose them on any holdout creditors. There’s nothing wrong with CACs, except for the fact that applying them retroactively changes the rules of the game, and makes a mockery of the quaint notion of contract law. As we explained in Appendix C in our 2012 Outlook, contract law protections for investors in sovereign debt are very weak. Don’t like retroactive CACs? Go sue in an Athens court; good luck to you.

 

Will credit default swaps (CDS) end up being triggered? If there are no missed payments and everyone voluntarily participates in an exchange (no matter how coercive the process, or how large the debt forgiveness), then a default even as per CDS rules has not occurred. I have no objection to adherence to contract terms; but how will this affect users of CDS contracts that assumed they could hold bonds and hedge with CDS, now that they face losses on their cash positions without their hedges paying off? From now on, investors will be incented to sell their bonds, since their hedges won’t “work” in the way they thought they would. By the way, why is the EU so intent on avoiding a trigger of CDS contracts? Could it be that some EU banks are long Greece through CDS? We may never know for sure.