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 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 May 13th 2010
…There cannot be an exit strategy. The ECB has its hands tied and eventually depends on the PIGS sovereign to generate a consolidated fiscal surplus to buyback their debt. Therefore, a reputational issue threatens the European financial system…
Please, click here to read this article in pdf format: may-13-2010
Perhaps it is very early to tell what will unfold in terms of monetary policy in Europe. Nevertheless we can’t afford to wait for more definitions by policy makers. We are forced therefore to examine two main paths the European Central Bank (ECB) may take in the weeks ahead.
On Monday, M. Trichet repeatedly noted that the ECB was going to purchase PIGS debt in the secondary market, but with sterilization. This means that as the ECB buys these assets, it needs to either sell other assets or issue debt, to withdraw the Euros it printed in the first place, for the purchases.
We looked for official statements indicating what assets could be sold, in exchange of PIGS debt. But we were not successful. However, there has been a rumor since Monday that the sterilizing assets, the assets that will be sold, could be German Bunds. We will take this as a possibility, but we give it a low likelihood. But it is important to examine this scenario and draw conclusions, to gain perspective on what is possible and what is not.
Another way to sterilize the purchases of PIGS debt would be to “issue” short-term debt (i.e. Liabilities to Euro-zone financial institutions). With this, the ECB ends up changing the composition of its liabilities, returning one of its components, the amount of Euros outstanding to its initial level (i.e. the level before the PIGS debt purchases began). The other component would be short-term ECB debt. Let’s examine both scenarios:
Scenario 1: ECB sterilizes PIGS debt purchases selling German Bunds (low probability)
In Fig. 1 above, we see two balance sheets, one for the ECB and one for Euro-zone banks. For simplicity and illustrative purpose, we included a few main categories in both of them (i.e. Gold, loans, FX reserves, Bunds and PIGS debt).
The purchases of PIGS debt take place in step 2. The ECB debits Euros and credits PIGS debt, while the Euros-zone banks credit Euros and debit PIGS debt. As you can see, on the asset side of the ECB’s balance sheet, PIGS debt increases, matched by an increase in the amount of Euros outstanding (liabilities). The ECB buys this debt from Euro-zone banks, which see a change in the composition of their assets: Higher amount of Euros (liquidity) and lower amount of PIGS debt. As the purchases take place, the supply of PIGS debt decreases, lifting its price, lowering its yield (seen in graph to the right).
Sterilization takes place in step 3. Here, the ECB sells Bunds to the Euro-zone banks, which pay with Euros. The ECB debits Bunds and credits Euros. The Euro-zone banks credit Bunds and debit Euros. At the end of this exercise, the composition of the asset side of the ECB has changed: It has the original amounts of Euros (i.e. prior to the transactions), a lower amount of Bunds and a higher amount of PIGS debt. On the Euro-zone banks side, the asset side composition has also changed. The banks have the same amount of Euros, prior to the beginning of the exercise, but a higher amount of Bunds and a lower amount of PIGS debt. A transfer of risk has taken place, from the Euro-zone banks to the ECB. However, this was not for free. In the process, as shown on the chart to the right on step 3, the supply of Bunds has increased, and so has its yield. The yield of the Bunds is the benchmark rate, the Euro “risk free” rate. This scenario therefore, is recessionary, because it makes borrowing more expensive. It crowds out the private sector.
A few more observations have merit here:
1.-The quantity of Euros remains unchanged, but before the transaction, they were backed by a higher amount of Bunds. Now the Euros are backed by a higher amount of PIGS debt, a riskier credit. Should the “value” of the Euros remain unchanged too? If you got the opportunity to choose, which balance sheet do you prefer, as a holder of Euros? The one in step 1 or the one in step 3? Do depositors in Euros need to be aware of this? No, not if this was a once-and-for-all transaction. But, what if this is carried out indefinitely?
2.- As the Bunds are the Benchmark rate, and the benchmark rate increases when we get to step 3, the transaction is “recessive”. We cynically asked on our last letter (www.sibileau.com/martin/2010/05/10 ) why the market would pay more for Bunds, when one could get a better yield for same risk. Well, it turns out that sometimes reality trumps fiction. The chart below (source: Bloomberg) shows the spread between Greece’s 5-yr credit default swaps (long) and Germany’s 5-yr credit default swap. We were not wrong with our contrarian view. You can see at the far right, how dramatically the spread/risk on Bunds has increased since this Monday, while the gap between Greek and German risk is decreasing.
3.-From points 1 and 2, we realize that sterilizing with Bunds generates recession, hurts growth and deteriorates the value of the Euro. The Euro will drop vs. gold and other currencies. If this is the case, we see a very low likelihood for this scenario.
Scenario 2: ECB sterilizes PIGS debt purchases issuing short-term debt (Likely)
Figure 2 above shows the same steps 1 & 2 as in Figure 1. The difference here is in the sterilization process. Instead of selling Bunds, in Figure 2 we see the ECB selling short term debt.
Here, the ECB sells short-term paper to the Euro-zone banks. The ECB therefore credits Euros and the Euro-zone banks credit ECB debt. Effectively, the ECB has changed the composition of its liabilities, leaving the same amount of Euros outstanding prior to the transaction, in exchange for a higher amount of PIGS debt on the asset side of its balance sheet. The banks have also changed the composition of the asset side of their balance sheets. The hold the same amount of Euros, but lower PIGS debt and higher ECB debt.
From this, we can draw the following observations:
1.-The quantity of Euros remains unchanged, but are the deposits of the Euro-zone safer by being now partly backed with ECB debt? Hardly, but this question has to be answered in relative terms. For how long will this persist? If the PIGS sovereigns cannot generate a consolidated net fiscal surplus, and they continue to issue debt, the component of ECB debt backing deposits at the Euro-zone banks will increase, vs. other assets, like Euros or Bunds.
2.-We think this sterilization, at best is benchmark-rate neutral, which means that it should not decrease real interest rates. As the amount of ECB issued increases, its price has to decrease/yield has to increase, as shown in the chart to the right, on step 3. We are not familiar with the European rates markets, but with increasing issuance of ECB debt, the spread between Bunds and this debt will be impacted. How this impact will affect corporate borrowing in Europe is still something we have to work on.
What is the exit strategy under Scenario 2?
We would like now to compare this exercise with the Fed’s purchase of US Treasuries, in 2009. We, at “A View from the Trenches” were perhaps one of the first to emphasize how bullish of risky assets this program was, while others (i.e. David Rosenberg, Paul Krugman) kept telling us it would lead nowhere. (refer our very first letter, on April 14th, 2009: www.sibileau.com/martin/2009/04/14 ).
There are two fundamental, structural, institutional differences between the Fed’s program and scenarios 1 or 2.
a) The Fed bought federal debt, benchmark debt and in so doing, lowered the benchmark rate. The ECB will not buy a federal debt because there is no such a thing under the current European Union and will not buy benchmark debt, which are the German Bunds. Therefore, how can this program be accommodative? This issue underscores the institutional weakness of the European Union, namely the lack of a unified bond market. What the ECB seeks to do here would be similar to a central bank selling Texas’ debt to buy California’s debt or issuing its own debt, with the implicit guarantee of all the US states, to buy California’s debt.
What could the ECB have done differently?
A similar solution to that of the Fed in 2009 would have consisted in having the ECB buy German Bunds without sterilization, from a trust, administered by the Germans, to fund the trust’s purchase of PIGS debt. In exchange, the PIGS sovereign would have had to ring-fence a cash flow stream to repay the trust. This is similar to what takes place in federal unions, where the federal government collects through federal taxes or alternatively, through specific royalties established with provinces or states. With this structure, the ECB would have been able to carry out an accommodative policy, with specific amounts and repayment sources.
b) The Fed bought a predetermined amount ($300BN), with a predetermined timeline (until Oct. 2009). With the ECB’s plan, the market ignores both the final amount of PIGS debt in the asset side of the ECB’s balance sheet, its composition itself (i.e. how much from Greece? From Spain?) and nobody knows when it will end.
As can be easily concluded, under scenario 2, there cannot be an exit strategy. The ECB has its hands tied and eventually depends on the PIGS sovereign to generate a consolidated fiscal surplus to buyback their debt. Therefore, a reputational issue threatens the European financial system:
a) What if the so-called “short-term” ECB debt backing deposits is indefinitely rolled over and depositors see the risk and decide not to renew deposits?
b) If the ECB becomes a riskier bank, its currency will (actually is) no longer be considered an alternative reserve asset and the propensity to exchange it for gold or USDs will increase exponentially. If so, what was the wisdom behind Sunday’s decision by the central banks of the USA , Canada , UK , Switzerland and Japan to provide currency swaps to the ECB? Are currency swaps all of a sudden a “free lunch”? What for were the balance sheets of these institutions compromised? Who pays for it? Should the senior management of those central banks not be audited for decisions of this sort? Who is accountable?
This analysis suggests there could be a generalized run against the Euro as a currency. The Argentinean experience of 2001 offers a analogous case. Back then and there, the central bank did not increase the amount of pesos outstanding. It simply changed the quality of the assets backing those pesos, from USDs (i.e. FX reserves) to government bonds. Argentina did not have inflation. Nevertheless, eventually as in scenario 2, depositors realized that their deposits were not backed by the assets they had expected and decided to rush for the exit door.
Figure 3 below shows the spiraling nature of this process:
Another aspect here is that as this process takes place, the credit quality of the loans held in the Euro-zone banks would quickly deteriorate, further weakening the ECB position.
Would this lead the world to the end of paper money?
We have written many times before, that we were amazed by the fact that regulators did not understand the systemic nature of sovereign credit default swaps. These swaps, which in the case of Euro-zone sovereigns are denominated in US dollars would be the link here, connecting US financial institutions with Euro liquidity problems.
The Fed last Sunday already extended currency swaps to the ECB in a very murky way, which even caused a heated debate in the US Senate. What do you think would happen under a terminal situation, where the European banks’ risk as counterparties would jump exponentially?
And then, friends, would you hold US dollars as a reserve asset, knowing that they are thrown into a hole to fight the last battle?
Doesn’t this actually make gold look like a bargain at $1,240/oz?
Published on March 1st 2010
Any US financial institution with a net long exposure to Greece’s sovereign credit default swaps would face an immediate and funding problem. Therefore, the Fed would be pressed to rescue such institutions, while at the same time, it would have to provide currency swap lines to the European Central Bank, to avoid a collapse of the Eurodollar market.
Please, click here to read this article in pdf format: march-1-2010
Over the weekend, we came across an article from U.S. Congressman and former Presidential Candidate Ron Paul, with whom we sympathize (refer: www.ronpaul.com ). The article was titled “Are U.S. taxpayers bailing out Greece?” and published on February 16th (refer: http://www.ronpaul.com/2010-02-16/ron-paul-are-us-taxpayers-bailing-out-greece/ ).
Briefly, Mr. Paul wrote: “…Is it possible that our Federal Reserve has had some hand in bailing out Greece? The fact is, we don’t know(…)Unless laws are changed to allow a complete and meaningful audit of the Federal Reserve, including its agreements with foreign central banks, we might never know if this is occurring or not…”
Mr. Paul left us thinking, and after careful consideration, we realized that the implication of this exercise may (or not) be in contradiction with what we wrote on Friday. Let us explain:
To begin with, we believe that indeed, there would be a cost to U.S. taxpayers, if Greece defaulted. We don’t think Greece will default, at least not in the near term, but there would be a cost nevertheless. The cost is not explicit and it would show its ugly face if a credit event was triggered under a sovereign (i.e. Greece’s) credit default swap.
Any US financial institution with a net long exposure to Greece’s sovereign credit default swaps would face an immediate funding problem. Therefore, the Fed would be pressed to rescue such institutions, while at the same time, it would have to provide currency swap lines to the European Central Bank, to avoid a collapse of the Eurodollar market.
The cost regarding the financial rescue would be on US taxpayers. This would be an unnecessary and most disappointing cost. After so much “quatsch” on regulation, how would the current US Administration justify having missed a flag as big as that of sovereign credit default swaps. There is currently a lot of quatsch about sovereign credit default swaps, but all superficial. The economic ignorance of politicians prevents them from understanding what these derivatives really imply. As we wrote earlier, under a system of fiat currency, allowing banks to sell insurance on sovereign debt is no different than allowing children to sell insurance on the financial risk of their parents. But politicians focus on the greedy side of those who trade these swaps, which is really idiotic, because these derivatives represent a huge boost to systemic risk, even if they were traded for the most morally justifiable reasons. If somebody bought credit insurance on the parents of the seller of that insurance, be it the most educated, hardworking or honest kid, he or she would still be dreadfully misled by the formal aspects of the contract, which lacks any solid content. The solution does not reside in prohibiting them, but in requiring that collateral on such trades, at least on non-Emerging markets credit default swaps, be posted in gold. (Note: Why do you think I believe that a commodity collateral would not be required on credit default swaps on emerging market countries?)
On the other hand, the cost needed to save the Eurodollar market would be global. The global feature of this cost is driven by the violent foreign exchange volatility the world would have to bear, where the notion of a global reserve currency would be clearly challenged. This brings us back to the point made last Friday, when we wrote that a sovereign credit event would be deflationary, and that liquidity preference, in particular a strong demand for USD, would challenge the value of gold.
We kept and keep thinking about this one. Given the hypothetical nature of this event, we can only speculate as to what conditions would be necessary for gold to rally. The first one that comes to mind is a catastrophic situation, where the Fed actually bails both the financial institutions and the Euro market but the market no longer trusts monetary authorities and every USD facilitated by currency swap lines is swiftly bought with Euros and immediately exchanged for gold.
If you think this twice, you will acknowledge it would not be the first time a flight to safety of this nature takes place. In fact, it would make sense. But again, this should occur under a total lack of monetary policy coordination and something else: The firm conviction that stimuli programs are useless. This would be a true capitulation. What is the probability for this scenario? Not too high for now, but not too low either, in our view.
Published on February 11th 2010
Please, click here to read this article in pdf format: february-11-2010 The world is speculating on the outcome of the meeting of European leaders later today, in Brussels. In the meantime, yesterday Mr. Bernanke made clear his intention to raise the discount rate, sooner than later. Furthermore, yesterday also, the 10-yr $25BN US Treasuries auction [...]
Please, click here to read this article in pdf format: february-11-2010
The world is speculating on the outcome of the meeting of European leaders later today, in Brussels. In the meantime, yesterday Mr. Bernanke made clear his intention to raise the discount rate, sooner than later. Furthermore, yesterday also, the 10-yr $25BN US Treasuries auction was weak. It’s true, there were a lot of other problems markets were focused on, including the weather on the east coast, but then again, are Treasuries not supposed to act as a safe haven in times of chaos? We took note of this and of the fact that yields rose in parallel (shift upwards), with the 2y10y curve ending at 281.1bps, flat. We will be watching this market closer as well as its impact on swaps and Agencies, for we feel this may be signaling an upcoming tectonic shift. It’s pure intuition for now, we acknowledge, but sometimes intuition has merits too…
On another note, we continue to insist with the view that Europe is facing an institutional crisis, rather than the short-term liquidity crisis seen by so many mainstream analysts. What is the difference? Here is a defining point:
If the crisis was indeed about short-term liquidity (with long term solvency concerns), then it should not matter whether it is the IMF or the European Union that bails out stressed peripherals. If the problem was only short-term liquidity, form should be subordinated to facts. Yet facts are subordinated to form. It is precisely because nobody seems to be able to come up with a sustainable and acceptable “form”, that we see no facts! (Facts = Risk mitigating actions, like loan guarantees)
If the crisis was only about short-term liquidity also, the Euro should have not been impacted as it has. How measurable is the impact of the liquidity situation in California on the USD? How can therefore Greece have such an impact on the Euro? It is the very sustainability of the European Union that is at the core of this crisis.
Why is this relevant? Because it tells us something: Today, it is likely that no long-term credible path will be announced.
Lastly and related to this crisis too, we want to draw collective attention to an issue that in our view has not received enough consideration. Much has been made and written on financial regulation necessary to prevent financial crisis. We, at “A View from the Trenches” have also written many times that regulation is useless and counterproductive, for the root of the problem is the monetary system that the world is embracing. A central banking system is intrinsically weak, arbitrary and leveraged, and attacking the distributors of a currency (i.e. financial institutions) will not make the system any stronger. However, there are other issues regulators can positively address, which we think have not been addressed yet. One of those is the potentially destructive nature of sovereign credit default swap contracts, which are currently booming.
In our opinion, these swaps are true weapons of mass destruction. Essentially, if a sovereign defaults, the party that bought protection should be compensated for the loss on the corresponding reference securities. But who thinks any counterparty would have enough liquidity to honor these contracts, if say, we see a default in the US or the UK, for instance? What would be the value of billions of credit protection on US sovereign risk sold by Citi or Goldman, if the US defaulted on its debt? What would be the value of credit protection on German sovereign risk sold by Deutsche Bank, if Germany or France actually defaulted? Zero! Given the fiat monetary system we live in, no financial institution would be able to have enough liquidity to fund the increasing margins, even before such defaults are declared, because the value of the collateral denominated in USD or Euros would drop materially, as jump-to-default risk rises. Under such scenario, things would spiral out of control and it would be evident that either central banks end up bailing out both the financial system and the sovereign, triggering a massive hyperinflation in the process, or the biggest of all depressions would be upon us.
Restrictions on this market would be useless, because they would not acknowledge the intrinsically leveraged nature of the contracts. The solution, in our opinion, is that counterparty risk be collateralized with gold, instead of fiat currency, for those sovereigns with the strongest currencies (=the most leverage!).