Published on September 16th 2012
…Perhaps, we will no longer be able to talk about “the” risk-free rate of interest, when we refer to the US sovereign yield…
Click here to read this article in pdf format: September 16 2012
Last week, after the German Bundesverfassungsgericht decided not deactivate the debt monetization program announced by Mr. Draghi a week earlier, the Italian government sold EUR4BN in 4.75% 2014 notes at an average yield of 2.75%. This compares with 4.65% obtained at a sale of the securities on July 13th.
With the European Central Bank backstopping short-term EU sovereign debt (as long as the issuer submits to a fiscal adjustment program), we should see two trends taking place:
The first one, mentioned in our last letter, is that the market should arbitrage between the rates of core Europe and its periphery, converging into a single Euro zone target yield. The Italian auction mentioned above, together with continuous weakness in Germany’s sovereign debt, the movement of capital out of the US dollar to the Euro zone (lifting the Euro to $1.31) and the rally in EU banks, would seem to indicate that this convergence is slowly materializing. The critical piece here, the one that will really nail this coffin, is the return of deposits transferred to the core of the Euro zone, back to the periphery that originated them. This is what’s behind the ongoing negotiations towards a banking union. Ironically, if the banking union was successful, making deposits return to banks of the periphery, it would make it easier for the Germans to leave the Euro zone, because the current imbalances of the Target 2 system would disappear, radically lowering the cost of the exit!
The second trend, the one we missed last week, consists in that –perhaps- we will no longer be able to talk about “the” risk-free rate of interest, when we refer to the US sovereign yield. If the first trend proves true, there would be no reason to believe that the short-term US sovereign yield should keep as low as it is vs. the equivalent EU sovereign yield. For all practical purposes, in the segment of up-to-3 years, the European Central Bank would set the value of the world’s risk-free rate! The big assumption here is of course, that the first trend, above, holds true. Only then, the arbitrage between the US sovereign yield and the EU sovereign yield could be triggered.
What would the levels be, for the up-to-3 year yields? As we know, the European Central Bank will not pre-commit to a yield target. Of course, they don’t want to be challenged, because there is only so much they can sterilize before they start suffering a net interest loss, as we explained last week. But from a dynamic perspective, what counts is not the level, but the driver: In the long run, as the sterilization fails (also explained in our last letter and first proposed back on May 13th, 2010), the short-term “risk-free” rate of interest would be driven by the consolidated fiscal deficit of the Euro zone.
Having said this, the remaining question is what determines the value of the long-term risk-free rate of interest. The Fed, in our view, although not announced last Thursday, will eventually continue to purchase long-term US sovereign debt. Effectively in the beginning, the Fed would set the value of the risk-free yield curve, past the three-year point. When things get out of control and inflation expectations for the US dollar take the lead (in a few years), the fiscal deficit of the US should determine the dynamics of the long-end of the curve….Does that make sense? No! (At least not, if you are not Keynesian) Because if “things get out of control”, we must say good bye to long-term interest rates altogether. That market will evaporate, and the US will only be able to sell short-term debt. At that point, if the Euro zone still exists as we know it, the battle for the ownership of the risk free rate will have been won by the European Central Bank, by definition. Why? Because by definition, if the Euro zone still exists, it is because they succeeded in stabilizing their fiscal problems. Otherwise, the shortening of the term horizon for the US sovereign yield should continue contracting, until hyperinflation completely wipes it out.
With these thoughts in mind, one cannot but wonder at the idiocy blindness of those who sustain that both the European and the US central banks removed “tail risks” in the last days, with their new measures. To start, the whole idea that a tail risk exists is simply a fallacy of Keynesian economics. It assumes there is a universe of possible outcomes and, as if humans acted driven by animal spirits, randomly, each one of them has a likelihood of occurring. In all honesty….what else can occur if a central bank prints money to generate a bubble? Why would the bursting of the bubble be called a tail risk, rather than the logical outcome? Why, if that was tried in 2001 in the US, resulting in the crisis of 2008…why would it be any different now, when there is an explicit announcement to print billions per month? Why?
The splitting of the risk-free interest rates, in short and long terms, and the “moving” of the short-term to the Euro zone somehow sadly reminds us of the division of the Roman Empire, between West and East, when the capital moved to Constantinople. Is this ominous?
Finally, as inflation expectations, post the ECB/Fed announcements pick up, the rally in credit (i.e. IG18 credit default swaps index reaching 83bps) is telling us that banks outside the Euro zone or the USD zone -banks which did not benefit so much from a “portfolio” effect-, will have a hard time remaining profitable, unless they take additional risks, or they get themselves the same subsidy that the ECB and the Fed give to their zombie banks. This suggests to us that the Canadian dollar should not rise significantly above the US dollar.
banking union,banks,Canadian dollar,Draghi,Euro-zone,European Central Bank,Federal Reserve,IG18,portfolio effect,Risk-free rate,tail risk,Target 2
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Published on March 4th 2012
“…The problem with this new situation is that eventually, we shall see a wave of EU corporates defaulting: Compared to US corporates, EU companies are exposed to higher taxes, an overvalued currency, institutional uncertainty and the benchmark rate ( i.e. sovereign spreads) is higher than that for US companies (i.e. US Treasuries)…”
Please, click here to read this article in pdf format: March 5 2012
Let’s start by confirming that we remain long-term bullish of gold, near-term neutral of stocks (and long-term bearish of stocks), bullish of corporate credit risk, neutral of sovereign risk (European and US). We are neutral on the EURUSD (but if we had to make only one trade and hold on to it, we would be bearish) and surprised by the latest performance of the Canadian dollar (happily surprised, of course, as we are long of this currency).
It is a widespread rumor by now that the huge sell off at theLondonfixing on Wednesday February 29th was not driven by Bernanke’s comments before the US Congress, but by plain manipulation, likely from a non-private seller. We, having seen no reaction in 30-yr Treasuries, decided to buy the dip, for we think that in this context one can only buy and hold gold, sitting tight in the face of all this volatility, or risking to lose one’s position in the bull trend.
Someone asked us why, if we were such believers in gold, did not buy stocks of mining companies. To answer this, we will have to first understand why we buy gold. It is not because of anything intrinsic to gold. We don’t care that we cannot eat gold or that it doesn’t give you a dividend. You cannot eat US Federal Reserve notes either and these, rather than give you a dividend…depreciate.
We have to understand that one of the services rendered by money, namely the storage of value, is no longer attached to fiat currencies. And the world needs that service. There is demand for a reserve asset and gold can address it. Is it the only asset fit for that? No! The only thing we care is that in the long run, the demand for that service will keep increasing and at the margin, even competing with other assets, gold will get a bid. It is that simple.
Now, we can dig a bit deeper and ask ourselves what are the causes and implications of witnessing fiat currencies lose their demand as a reserve asset. The causes are clear to all of us, but not the implications. The one least understood is the distortion in relative prices caused by the intervention of central banks. We write more about it below but for now, think of this: In the past 10 years, you have seen the S&P500 index fluctuate, nominally, without making any “improvement”. This has huge ramifications and one of them is that businessmen who would want to monetize the fruit of their labour would not be able to do so, on average, because if they are lucky, they only break even when they sell their businesses. If you were one of them, what would you do in the face of the recent monetary expansion?
I for one would leverage my company with cheap credit lines and distribute (or increase the distribution of) dividends, to cash out. And this is precisely what we are seeing and will continue to see: Leverage seems to have bottomed and now is reverting in corporates. This is not positive for growth and hence, we don’t want to own shares. We don’t want to own mining companies. We understand that the recent rally was fully driven by the expansion of the Fed (via swaps) and the European Central Bank (via Long-Term Refinancing Operations). We are simple investors and are humble enough to know that we will not be able to call the exact day in which the reversal in stocks takes place. We can intuit when it is going to happen, but will only be lucky in actually calling it. However, with gold, it is different. Hence, our buy and hold approach. We’ve seen it before: When decadence arrives with inflation, people want to own the product, not the producer. We want to own gold, not miners.
And some have brought to our attention that by doing so, we lose the leverage provided by stocks. We disagree and think that the price action in mining stocks speaks for itself. Besides, should one want to lever the bet in gold, the only thing required is to borrow and buy more gold. It is more efficient: One knows ex-ante the leverage one wants and will end up with!
Now, let’s address the distortions generated lately by central banks (We will focus on the Fed and the European Central Bank, but we could also write about the intervention of the Japanese Yen and the scary fall in Yuan deposits in China, that is forcing a steady cut in reserve requirements over there. But these are underlying, long term problems. We will have to deal with them later). When the Fed provided the currency swap at 50bps to the European Central Bank in December, US dollars that were needed to fund EU banks, all of a sudden, were no longer needed. We are speaking here of more than $90billion. This is no small change! Also in the December and a few days ago, we had two 3-yr refinancing operations by the European Central Bank. In all, more than a trillion Euros were printed to, among other things, repay previous funding, some of which was in US dollars too. As you see, suddenly, the providers of US dollar funding saw themselves with a lot of cash in their hands.
They could not offer cheaper funding to EU banks or sovereigns because a) the Euro funds from the central bank are against collateral, which deeply subordinated USD unsecured debt, and b) the latest decision by the ISDA, which considers the swap of Greek bonds with the ECB not to trigger a credit event, further guarantees the subordination of private sovereign debt holders going forward.
What did they do? They poured the money into equities, corporate bonds, commodities. But in the Eurozone, the banks that now count with cheap Euro financing, will not take risks. If they take risks, it will be in the form of sovereign risk, buying sovereign bonds. They have been doing this since January and will continue to do so. All this means that the private sector in the Eurozone will remain affected by a credit crunch, unless…..well, unless those who were previously providing US dollar funding to EU banks now use their excess balances to fund EU corporates. This, we think, is going to be the case as USD denominated debt (Yankee issuance) will be increasingly issued by EU corporates. This is why we said at the beginning that we are bullish of corporate credit risk. We make this more visual in the chart below:
The problem with this new situation is that eventually, we shall see a wave of EU corporates defaulting: Compared to US corporates, EU companies are exposed to higher taxes, an overvalued currency, institutional uncertainty and the benchmark rate ( i.e. sovereign spreads) is higher than that for US companies (i.e. US Treasuries). However, the hunger for yield these last two central bank interventions has generated is pushing US financials to chase riskier assets and high yield EU corporates look today like sweet, low hanging fruit ready to be picked. Who’s going to be in the way??? Nobody, as this is an election year and nobody ruins parties in election years!
But, if that wave of defaults occurred…who would be bailing out theUSinstitutions that financed the EU corporates? Yes, you guessed right: The Fed! No, Bernanke did not mention QE3 last Wednesday, but we don’t need him printing monetary base to create the next bubble. All we need is a good currency swap, cheap Euro rates, a zombie EU financial system and the commitment to keep USD real rates in negative territory until at least 2014.
banks,banks capital,Bernanke,Canadian dollar,collateral,ECB,Euro,European Union,Fed,sovereign credit default swaps,unsecured debt
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Published on November 4th 2010
Please, click here to read this article in pdf format: november-4-2010 The political week is not over yet and we have had three important events. Firstly, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) announced $600BN of Treasuries purchases over 8 months. Secondly, the European Union is advancing on a crisis resolution mechanism, for “orderly” sovereign debt [...]
Please, click here to read this article in pdf format: november-4-2010
The political week is not over yet and we have had three important events. Firstly, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) announced $600BN of Treasuries purchases over 8 months. Secondly, the European Union is advancing on a crisis resolution mechanism, for “orderly” sovereign debt restructurings. And thirdly, Canada’s federal government last night rejected the takeover of Potash Corporation by BHP Billiton Ltd., or by any other foreign buyer, practically speaking.
These three events are all relevant and they all represent a victory of the political class versus taxpayers.
In the first case, yesterday’s announcement by the FOMC did not surprise so much in terms of the volume (although we admit is below the $100BN per month consensus) but in that purchases will be mostly in the 5-7 year duration, without a commitment to buy longer duration bonds. The announcement went out at 2:15pm. Three minutes later, it was disclosed that the 35% limit on SOMA holdings had been relaxed, signaling that the Fed was contemplating a significant crowd out in the issues it will target (i.e. The Fed was prevented from owning more than 35% of the supply offered on each issuance of the Treasury. By relaxing this limit, apparently only modestly, it sends the message that it intends to purchase a relevant portion of some of the issuances it will target). After this later disclosure, the sell-off in the long end of the curve (i.e. 30yrs) began, taking the 30-yr Treasury 3.72% down, by 4pm. This surprise forced the unwinding of curve trades and consequent volatility in the swaps/liquidity market, affecting ultimately the rest: Currencies, commodities, stocks and credit.
We think this stress on liquidity is what drove gold down to $1,330 intraday, post FOMC and personally, we took advantage of the situation to position ourselves with a longer term view on the headline.
Why did taxpayers lose with this? It is clear that fiscal deficits will be monetized and that anyone holding fiat currency will end up having it debased. Central banks around the world will have a hard time fighting the capital inflows coming from the US dollar zone and will postpone any return to normal rates. The emerging markets debt bubble is in full blossom.
In the second case, the creation of a crisis resolution mechanism without addressing the root of the problem, namely the absence of a real federal structure in the European Union with a unified bond market, only adds one more layer of complexity to the still alive uncertainty generated by potential contagion from the periphery to the core of the Union. A crisis resolution mechanism is buzzword for confiscation, for wealth redistribution from bondholders to governments. There is no other rationale for bringing this up, except to ensure that in the future, investors in sovereign risk see their seniority status diminished, subjected to the arbitrary designs of a crisis resolution council. This idiocy or naïveté, we don’t know which, will do nothing but make Euro sovereign debt more expensive to raise, in a more volatile, less liquid market, if the reform advances. It will certainly put a cap to the value of the Euro and a cloud of doubt to its prospects as a secondary reserve currency.
Finally, last night, Canadians saw their property rights damaged in favour of national socialism. Canada’s federal government blocked BHP Billiton Ltd.’s $40BN bid for Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. The reason? “…It will not provide a “net benefit” to the country…”. This is by far the most absurd excuse to protect the petty interest of a provincial political class. It seriously damages the valuation of investment projects, existing and future, in the exploitation of Canada’s natural resources; it makes Potash’s shareholders poorer and sends the wrong message to all those who had seen the Canadian dollar as an alternative reserve asset since the crisis of the Euro began this year. From now on, the investing community will ask: Why Canada? Why not Peru? Why not Brazil or Argentina? We think this is a valid question and Canada has lost the ability to answer it. The Canadian dollar has undoubtedly lost one of its supporting legs. What a contrast with last Tuesday’s Tea Party’s victory in the United States…
Published on March 31st 2010
Please, click here to read this article in pdf format: march-31-2010 This Monday, we attended a conference of The Economic Club of Canada, which had Mr. Paul Jenkins, Senior Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada, as speaker. From the brief presentation titled “Beyond Recovery: Sustaining Economic Growth”, we conclude the following: -The Bank of [...]
Please, click here to read this article in pdf format: march-31-2010
This Monday, we attended a conference of The Economic Club of Canada, which had Mr. Paul Jenkins, Senior Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada, as speaker. From the brief presentation titled “Beyond Recovery: Sustaining Economic Growth”, we conclude the following:
-The Bank of Canada is most likely not going to explicitly intervene, if the Canadian dollar reaches parity and beyond. The speech itself was a message to Canada’s export sector to increase productivity to confront this appreciation. The operative word here is “explicitly” because as we have written many times here, the Bank of Canada does actually intervene in the market via its repurchase agreement transactions.
-During the question period, we asked Mr. Jenkins about the Bank’s view on sovereign credit default swaps. We posed this question in a very open way, to test the reaction. Our impression was that Mr. Jenkins was not familiar with this asset class, as he referred us to upcoming G-20 meetings that will address regulatory matters related to the issue. We cannot blame him, since Canada has so far never been quoted in the sovereign credit default swaps market, given its relatively solid financial position.
-We are concerned about the view the Bank of Canada has on productivity, relative to the environment the country is in these days. We do not want to get too theoretical here, but we think the Bank of Canada still holds the nineteenth century view that value is based on the productivity of production factors. The Bank is lately making comments on the productivity of Canada, on the belief that if productivity increases to match the appreciation of the Canadian dollar, the country will remain “competitive” and avoid inflation.
Why are we concerned? Well, what is productivity anyway, and why do you think the Canadian dollar has appreciated?
I am sure most will agree with the opinion that the latest appreciation of the Canadian dollar, in light of the increasing sovereign risk concerns coming both from Europe and the US, was driven not only by the “commodity bid” that accompanied the recovery of 2009, but also by the “safe-haven bid”, which has left this currency almost neutral vs. gold. We first proposed this thesis back in June 2009 and refreshed it on March 4th (refer: “Meanwhile in Canada”, in: www.sibileau.com/martin/2009/06/02 and “The stars favor Canada”, in: www.sibileau.com/martin/2010/03/04 ).
If we are correct, Canada is not only competitive supplying the world with commodities, but with financial, fiduciary services too. The main fiduciary service is ironically supplied by the Bank of Canada (which means its staff is grossly underpaid) that seems to be very competitive providing a reserve asset to the world. In fact, perhaps this country is way more productive exporting a reserve asset than oil or gas or mining products or engineering services. But would this productivity be included in the Bank of Canada’s calculations? Why not? Why should we worry if we are not more competitive than Brazil destroying our forests to win the forest products market? Why should we be concerned if we are not effective contaminating our boreal landscape with oil sands projects so that we may compete with the Saudis in the energy sector? What is wrong with being competitive with fiduciary services? The Bank of Canada of course doesn’t share our perspective and will never clarify that they implicitly make a subjective judgment on productivity.
Lastly, for those interested in the formal aspect of this discussion, we refer to the concept of a “Social welfare function”, under the Theory of Public Choice. In our opinion, for the Bank of Canada, this function is:
W = y1 + y2 + …+yn ,
where W is social welfare and Yi is the income of a sector i among n in the Canadian society. To maximize the social welfare function we may seek to maximize for instance the income of sector 1 at the expense of sector 2, if we deem sector 1 is “more productive” than sector 2. Does it make sense to you? In our view, the function (and by the way, we don’t think there is such a thing as a social welfare function) should be: W = y1 =y2 =…=yn. But this is a discussion for another time!
Bank of Canada,Canada,Canadian dollar,competitiveness,economic growth,G-20,parity,Paul Jenkins,productivity,recovery,social welfare function,sovereign credit defautl swaps,Theory of Public Choice
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Published on March 2nd 2010
The CAD/Euro cross gained 2.3 cents intraday, and although (or because) the TSX composite closed +0.85% higher, we can only deduct that the demand for Canadian dollars did not reflect a pari-passu demand for Canadian assets. Therefore, the demand for Canadian dollars that did not end in assets was a demand for reserve purposes, at a central bank.
Please, click here to read this article in pdf format: march-2-2010
We will be brief today, for nothing of macroeconomic consequence has taken place in the past 24hrs. The action that caught our attention yesterday was in the foreign exchange market (the market that never lies). In particular, we refer to the action in the Canadian dollar. The cross with the Euro gained (i.e. the CAD rose against the Euro) 2.3 cents intraday, and although (or because) the TSX composite closed +0.85% higher, we can only deduct that the demand for Canadian dollars did not reflect a pari-passu demand for Canadian assets. Therefore, our intuition is that with yesterday’s calm, the demand for Canadian dollars that did not end in assets was a demand for reserve purposes, at a central bank. We are open to alternative suggestions to explain this phenomenon but any of these explanations would also have to address how the Canadian dollar did so perform on a day where neither oil nor gold rallied.
Was the CAD rally based on the news that the Canadian economy expanded at a 5% annualized rate in the fourth quarter (faster than forecasted by the Bank of Canada)? We doubt it because a) the CAD’s sensitivity to interest rate gap (i.e. with the higher than expected growth rate the market revises its forecast on policy rates) has been low, and b) the strength was not uniform but clearly against the Euro.
On another note, in an interesting report, Bank of America estimated yesterday that approximately $160BN will flow to private investors by the end of 2010, as a result of the buyout of delinquent mortgage loans by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (refer: “The long and short of delinquency buyouts”, in Situation Room, Bank of America Merrill Lynch Credit Strategy, March 1, 2010). At “A View from the Trenches” we had anticipated the consequences of this operation back on January 4th, when we wrote:
“ …Since (our) last letter of 2009, the US Treasury announced it would lift the cap on the Preferred Stock Purchase Program (refer Michael Cloherty’s “Removing the PSPP ceiling: Treasury’s unlimited support”, Bank of America’ “US Agencies” report of Dec 29/09). This explicit show of support for agency debt (which I assumed it was going to smoothly disappear in 2010) tells (us) that the USD strength will be only a relative notion in 2010. (We) say relative because the strength should show vs. those countries that explicitly decide to import USD inflation (i.e. Brazil) or face serious fiscal problems (i.e. Euro zone), while the weakness should show vs. those countries that will profit from the credit-inflated recovery (Emerging markets or commodity currencies, like the CAD)… “
We stand by these comments and the market is proving us right. What we did not grasp back then was the magnitude of this operation ($160BN of private liquidity) under certain loan delinquency level assumptions that can further deteriorate, if the recovery process disappoints. We invite readers to closely monitor activity in the GSE market for this is serious enough to keep the dream of asset inflation alive.
(Note: Mainstream economists use the term “asset inflation” to refer to bubbles, because their theory of inflation is wrongfully based on the non-neutrality of money, as implied by the exchange equation: M*V = P*Q. Therefore, they treat bubbles as an aberration that can only be addressed with regulation)
Agencies,Agency debt,asset inflation,Bank of America,bubbles,CAD,Canadian dollar,delinquency buyouts,Euro,Euro-zone,Europe,European Union,exchange equation,GSE,inflation,interest rate,non-nuetrality of money,PPSP,Preferred Stock Purchase Program,regulation,TSX,USD strength
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