Published on April 30th 2012
Somehow, the idea of a “Growth Pact” reminds us of the New Deal and Ludwig Von Mises’ comment on the same. Von Mises wisely said:“…The comparatively greater prosperity of the United States is an outcome of the fact that the New Deal did not come in 1900 or 1910, but only in 1933…”.
If we have to summarize what drove the action last week, we will say it was the speculation over an upcoming (perhaps in June) Growth Pact in the Euro-zone. That was all. That did the trick. There is really nothing, absolutely nothing concrete. And no, we don’t think the market is speculating on a soon-to-come Quantitative Easing Version 3. But from pure intuition, it would seem that the market sees these conditions as necessary to take the any Pact seriously: a) Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, would have to back such pact in a way that would guarantee some sort of deficit monetization, and b) Hollande should win France’s presidential ballotage, next weekend.
Indeed, most news were bearish last week and yet, every single asset class seemed to end on a bullish note. From the Euro zone, we saw a deceiving bond auction by Italy. We also learned that the unemployment rate in Spain (the official rate) averages between 20% and 30%, depending on which region one measures it, and that the United Kingdom is already in a double dip. This only resulted in a stronger Euro and stronger Euro stocks for the week.
Last week too, Moody’s downgraded Ontario’s credit rating to Aa2 with a stable outlook from Aa1 with a negative outlook. How did the market react? The Canadian dollar finished the week stronger. Then came the activity data release for the United States: Jobless claims, housing data, inflation data…all of them were worse than expected and yet….stocks rallied, with the S&P500 reaching again the 1,400pts. And we could say the same about oil and gold…
The lesson here is that a market that will not fall on bearish news is a bullish market. Even if it is a manipulated market, which brings us back to gold. Below is the daily chart (source: Kitco.com) for April 25th, 2012. It shows how upon the start of Bernanke’s press conference an algorithm sold whatever it could precisely at one point in time. Everybody saw it coming. We saw it coming, after what had happened on February 29th, or with the Euro peg announcement by the Swiss National Bank, in 2011. And this time, whoever was behind the move, lost money. We can only hope these moves stop or expect that newer, smarter moves will follow. We think the latter are more likely than the former:
Somehow, the idea of a “Growth Pact” reminds us of the New Deal and Ludwig Von Mises’ comment on the same. Von Mises wisely said:“…The comparatively greater prosperity of the United States is an outcome of the fact that the New Deal did not come in 1900 or 1910, but only in 1933…”. His words, in light of this Growth Pact speculation, sound to us wiser than ever…
We want to leave with this thought: As we have repeated, since the start of the Long-Term Refinancing Operations by the European Central Bank, the savings rate of the world (yes, now is the global savings rate) keeps slowly drifting lower either because of the manipulation of interest rates by central banks, or the fact that income is falling, as in the case of the European Union and the UK, or because of simple financial repression, as in the case of the debt swap between Greece and the European Central Bank, which left holders of sovereign debt suddenly subordinated. This simple observation leads us to think that this crisis will continue to unfold like a painful agony, and that we have many, indeed many more years of it to come.
Canada,Euro,Eurozone,gold manipulation,Growth Pact,Hollande,Ludwig Von Mises,New Deal,QE,Quantitative Easing,savings rate,United Kingdom
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Published on March 11th 2012
…The lesson here is that to defend their currency, the European Monetary Union has destroyed their capital markets. And we do not know which one will be easier to rebuild…
On Friday, out of the office and away from the screens (we are currently visiting the US capital), we were spared the enormous volatility in gold. Gold tried to break through the lows made since a public institution liquidated bullion on Februrary 29th but closed making a higher high (since the sell-off, of course). This, in light of a jobs report taken mildly positively by the market and the drop in the Euro post Greek debt swap, is encouraging to gold bulls (not bugs, but bulls) like us.
The Greek resolution of their debt exchange, with its credit default swap triggered, was a real slap in the face to anyone who was educated under the mainstream portfolio theory, where the existence of a risk-free asset is cornerstone. (We don’t belong to that group of thinking, because we have always recognized that implicitly, modern portfolio theory rests on the Walrasian (refer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%A9on_Walras) view of general equilibrium and in the world of central banking, where banks lend multiple times other people’s real savings, general equilibrium theory looks like Ptolemy’s geocentric model of astronomy. But then again, Ptolemy’s model survived centuries and while it lasted, those who dared to challenge it were threatened with death and hell. We want to survive, which is why we are gold bulls, but not gold bugs J).
Indeed, the Greek debt developments, together with monetary policy in the European Union, are writing a new chapter in the history of financial crises. But first things first, we must say that those who seek to compare the situation in Greece with that in Argentina in 2001 are misled, very. When Argentina defaulted, the price of 1 USD rose from 1 peso to above 4 pesos. It was the devaluation that brought subsequent growth, not the default itself. Devaluation has so far been absent in Greece and as we wrote before, it can last as long as the Greek people are willing to put up with the austerity measures being imposed upon them by the EU Council.
Our next step is to recognize that from now on, if you are a holder of sovereign debt, you risk being deeply subordinated by a supranational institution (like the European Central Bank) and, on top of counterparty risk, you will suffer from a high degree of uncertainty related to the usefulness of credit default swaps you may own. Along the same path, you will have learned that whatever holdings you had in unsecured bank debt will also be deeply subordinated to the collateral taken by the European Central Bank to keep your borrower (i.e. the banks) solvent via long-term refinancing operations. You will also have found out that this collateral too, can be created out of thin air, as banks (as in the case of Italy) may obtain government guarantees on their debt issuance, post it at the central bank’s window and receive new, freshly printed Euros!
Capital is therefore flowing out of the European Union and the flow is set to increase, perhaps exponentially. Nobody should be surprised by the fall of the Euro last Friday. Where does that leave the European private sector? Those big conglomerates able to issue bonds in other currencies (mostly in USD) will be able to borrow. The small businesses who depended on the EU capital markets will struggle. The lesson here is that to defend their currency, the European Monetary Union has destroyed their capital markets. And we do not know which one will be easier to rebuild. If run uncontested, the European Union will end like an emerging market of the ‘80s, where foreign funding is needed to support private investments. In light of this, what are the chances that the Fed will raise real interest rates? Very slim we think, for if they are actually raised, currency swaps to the Eurozone will be needed, and that may not be politically sustainable at that time.
After this debt exchange, the public sector (ECB, IMF, etc) will be the majority owner of the debt of the public sector in Greece, and in the future, in the rest of the European Union. The way out of this mess can only be debt monetization.
We want to end with another comment on something that we think the markets may have not paid enough attention to. China is reported to start extending loans to other nations (Brazil, India, Russia) in their own currency. We are witnessing the start of a “reserves war”, where the supremacy of the US dollar will be challenged on the margin. We know so far that above 90% of the US Treasury’s issuance in long-term debt has been purchased by the Fed, while Russia and China have been selling it. What if the loans in Renmimbis from China are funded with the sale of stock in US Treasuries owned by the People’s Bank of China? What if the sale by a public institution of gold at the fixing on February 29th was a warning to the other public institutions that are accumulating gold as reserves? What if that warning had been guessed by the Bank of Israel, influencing their decision to allocate up to 10% of their reserves in US equities, rather than in gold?
What if we are wrong? What if we are right? Should gold at $1,714/oz not look cheap? Should 30-yr US Treasuries not be a good short?
Bank of Israel,capital markets,China,debt exchange,debt swap,EMU,European Central Bank,Eurozone,gold,Greek,LTRO,People's Bank of China,sovereign credit default swaps,subordination,unsecured debt
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Published on January 23rd 2012
The trend is for asset inflation, and will last as long as the peoples of the EU and the US do not challenge the political status quo.
Today, we think it would be important to leave the analysis of the latest news aside (including the negotiations on Greece’s debt) and instead, to present a theoretical framework that may allow us to understand the ongoing rally and what may develop during 2012 and beyond. There is nothing more practical than a good theory and a good theory is indeed what we are looking for this morning.
Let’s first examine what we are witnessing today, namely the financing by the Fed and the European Central Bank (“ECB”), of the Eurozone financial system. Below, we describe how it works and we carry the analysis to the extreme. We like challenging models to their extreme implications, because this aprioristic deductive exercise forces us to identify what mainstream economists, many months later than us, usually end up calling “tail risks”.
In step 1 above, we see the first pillar of the EU financial system bailout: The Fed extending US dollar swaps to the ECB, at below market rates. As can be seen, these swaps are an asset of the Fed and a liability to the ECB, which receives US dollars in exchange. With these US dollars, as we explained on December 12th, the Fed avoids a liquidation of US denominated assets by EU banks and the resulting increase in the cost of US dollar funding as well as in counterparty risk, for US financial institutions. These swaps can therefore be seen as vendor financing in favor of US banks, at the expense of American taxpayers and anyone who invests their savings in US dollars (i.e. US banks, via the Fed, provide cheap financing to their trading counterparties, all paid for by a devaluation in the purchasing power of the US dollar. On this matter, please refer our comments on September 12th, 2011).
However, the extension of USD swaps is not enough to save the status quo. The institutional weakness of the Euro zone, having failed (back in March 2011) the move towards a unified bond and fiscal integration, triggered the jurisdictional arbitrage of deposits (Euro funding). Deposits were taken from banks in the periphery (Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Italy) and shifted to the core (Germany, France, Netherlands). This situation generated a funding squeeze that was and continues to be addressed by long-term refinancing operations (“LTROs”) by the ECB, as shown on step 2. In these operations, the ECB extends collateralized Euros to EU banks. These are loans, assets to the ECB, and liabilities to the EU banks. Since its inception, the ECB has steadily been decreasing the minimum quality of acceptable collateral and increasing the tenor of the financing. Most of these funds have been returning to the ECB as excess reserves, a disturbing fact. But at one point, the repression by the political apparatus and the temptation to use these cheap funds to buy high yielding EU sovereign debt is too strong and we start seeing the use of these funds to monetize (i.e. purchase sovereign bonds in the primary market) EU fiscal deficits. That is shown, as step 3.
On step 3 too, we see that these funds keep open the window for depositors in weak banks to continue the liquidation of their deposits, in exchange of fresh cash. On the other hand, once the governments sell their bonds to the banks, they distribute the Euros issued by the ECB across the Eurozone.
Finally, on step 4, we see the conversion of these Euros by EU depositors and corporations, into US dollars (or Swiss Francs or gold), as a way to protect their savings from the unsustainable status quo: They know that the EU fiscal deficits will remain alive and have uncertainty on the future of the monetary system. Who provides them with the window of opportunity to exchange their Euros for US dollars? Ultimately, the Fed, with the provision of cheap US dollars to the ECB, via swaps.
This circular process, in extremis, brings us to the final line in the graph above, where we show the balance sheets of the Fed, the ECB, the EU banks and the EU depositors & Non-financials. The Fed will own US swaps against which US dollars will have been printed. Yes, printed! This had occurred in the 1920’s and 1930’s, but at least back then, those US dollars were somehow backed by gold reserves. Today, that’s no longer the case. Who will have the US dollars owed to the Fed? Not the EU banks nor the ECB, but the EU depositors & Non-financials! In summary, the people of the Eurozone!
In extremis too, the balance sheet of the ECB will look like that of a middle man. As assets, it will carry long-term refinancings. As liabilities, it will have the US swaps, that it extended to the EU banks. These EU banks however used the euros to buy sovereign debt, which is now their asset, and owe euros (i.e. LTROs) to the ECB. This is a very unstable situation, because if the fiscal situation of the Euro zone does not improve, these sovereign bonds in possession by the EU banks will remain driving capital losses.
This analytical framework leaves us with questions:
If the Fed ends up being the creditor of the EU depositors and corporations…how will it ever get its money back? What will be needed to repatriate these US dollars? We think there are only two ways to solve this problem. The best case and least likely is to see an improvement in the fiscal situation of the Euro zone. If deficits were stabilized or even reduced, the sovereign bonds held by the EU banks would drive capital gains, euros would flow back again to the EU banks in the periphery and US dollars would have to be sold in exchange, to buy these Euros. The EU banks would be then in a position to both return the LTROs and the US dollars to the ECB. The worst case occurs if the Fed implements an exit strategy, raising US dollar interest rates and US dollars flow back to the US. This is also not likely, at least in the short-to-near term, in our view. This would require, a priori, a strong economic recovery.
Another interesting question is related to the Euros in circulation, supplied by the LTROs: What happened to them? In extremis, we see that the EU depositors and Non-financials first took these Euros from the EU banks and later exchanged them for US dollars. Were they taken out of circulation? No, but the velocity of circulation increased, from the ECB to the banks, to the people, and back to the ECB. This is consistent with the monetization of sovereign debt and a context of high inflation. Once again, we note that this analysis is in extremis…For now, we can see it as a natural logical consequence. To mainstream analysts, this is a “tail risk”. The reader is of course free to take a view on this matter.
Please, note that this analysis implies the survival of the Eurozone with the liquidation of sovereign debts via inflation.
Is this status quo sustainable? If not, what will accelerate its demise? How will gold and the rest of the risky asset spectrum behave? Below, we present a flow chart, where we seek to summarize this process.
As we can see, as backdrop to the process described above, the Euro zone today is crowding out private investments, given the high cost of sovereign debt. In addition, it has and continues to implement higher tax rates and further interventionism and financial repression. With the Fed swaps, as we pointed out on September 12th, the Euro is still artificially stronger than without the swaps, which makes the EU less competitive. Finally, the institutional uncertainty of the EU zone remains unadressed. All these factors only contribute to prolong the recession and a high unemployment rate.
The flow chart is clear: As long as the people of the EU put up with this situation and the EU Council, chaired by Mr. Herman Van Rompuy effectively kills democracy at the national level AND as long as the Fed continues to extend US dollar swaps, this status quo will remain. If people revolt and the EU breaks up or if the Fed is no longer politically strong enough to force these swaps, the status quo will collapse.
Contrary to popular belief, this status quo is based on the “coupling” and not “decoupling” of the Fed with the ECB. This coupling relaxes correlations, because the US dollars sent by the Fed to the ECB were printed and nobody in the US feels the immediate pain. Hence, we have the rally in stocks and gold, without any correction in the US Treasuries market.
Whenever the political sustainability of the EU is challenged, we will see a run for liquidity. And 2012 will have many of these panic situations, affecting any late longs in gold or stocks.
Finally, when the “decoupling” takes place, the US dollar can only remain strong if the fiscal situation of the US permits. But we fear that the Fed will embark on interest rate targeting. This is a story for another letter…
The trend is for asset inflation, and will last as long as the people of the EU and the US do not challenge the political status quo.
austerity,currency swaps,depositors,deposits,Euro,European Central Bank,European Union,Eurozone,Fed,framework,gold,inflation,LTRO,theory,Van Rompuy
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Published on February 12th 2010
We should not see yesterday’s rally (in North America) as a bullish signal, after the EU meeting’s statement. For this rally to be bullish, the Euro should have rallied as well! A reduction in the purchasing power of the Eurozone should not be seen as something positive for global growth…
Please, click here to read this article in pdf format: february-12-2010
(This is the last day of the week and “A View from the Trenches” will not be published again until February 25th, as we will be traveling.)
The statement released by European authorities yesterday was a mere expression of support for Greece, explicitly denying a request by Greece, for financial aid. The markets accordingly sold all things European, including and in particular Spanish financials. The picture does not look so good and yet, stocks outside the Euro zone (except for Athens, of course) rallied yesterday.
What do we make of this?
On one hand, we had another Treasuries auction yesterday. This time for $16BN 30-yrs, with the yield rising to 4.72%. The UST 2y10y curve ended 4bps steeper at 285bps. The Czech Republic was also deceived when it raised 15-yr debt on Wednesday and Greek banks seem to be facing funding problems. We also face significant uncertainty with the latest developments in Iran. But on the other hand, the markets received some “optimistic” releases too. Continuing job claims in the US kept their downward trend, Australia also saw an improvement in its labour market and the CPI reading in China was stronger than expected.
Briefly, of one thing we may be certain: Capital is flowing out of the Eurozone and into the rest of the world. But at the same time, capital seemed yesterday to also be preferring commodities and basic materials, which puzzles us, because the macroeconomic backdrop is bearish for us.
In our view, we should not see yesterday’s rally in North American stocks and credit, as well as in crude and oil, as a bullish signal, after the EU meeting’s statement. Why? Because for this rally to be interpreted as bullish, the Euro should have rallied as well! It didn’t and in fact plunged from a tall cliff, specially against the Canadian dollar. A reduction in the purchasing power of the Eurozone should not be seen as something positive for global growth (= for oil demand and hence for the Canadian market!)
Interestingly enough, Freddie Mac yesterday announced that it will buy practically all 120+days delinquent mortgage loans from its fixed rate and adjustable rate mortgage Participation Certificate securities. We had foreseen a move of this type and discussed it in December and on our first letter of 2010 (www.sibileau.com/martin/2010/01/04 ). This is what we wrote then:
“…As credit spreads are already very low again, the increase in sovereign risk (yield) should make debt a less profitable investment, when compared against equity. In December, I associated this process with USD strength. Now, I am not so sure. Since my 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 me that the USD strength will be only a relative notion in 2010. I 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)…”
Back to the impressive strength shown yesterday by the Canadian Dollar. At yesterday’s open, you needed 1.0621 CAD to buy 1 USD. At close, 1.05 were enough. The CAD was even stronger of course vs. the Euro, finishing at 1.4383 CAD/EUR, from 1.4591 at open. What granted such a move? In our view, the strength in the CAD was not fully reflected in the stocks market (TSX 60), which closed +1.32% higher, at 11,435.49pts. We think instead this movement may have mostly reflected a shift in central banks’ reserves, out of the EUR and into the CAD. What makes us think so? The relatively flat performance of crude oil, which still doesn’t break through its bearish trend.
Athens,auction,banks,CAD,Canadian,central banks,Czech,dollar,Euro,Europe,Eurozone,Freddie Mac,funding,global growth,Greece,Participation Certificates,rally,shift in reserves,Spain,Treasuries,USD
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