Sunday, February 7, 2010

All Hell Could Break Loose in Europe This Week; CDS Counter-Party Risks Again

Here's Simon Johnson's well reasoned take:
The entirely pointless G7 meeting this weekend only served to underline the fact that Europe is again entering a serious economic crisis.

At the end of the meeting yesterday, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told reporters, “I just want to underscore they made it clear to us, they the European authorities, that they will manage this [the Greek debt crisis] with great care.”

But the Europeans are not being careful – and it’s not just about Greece any more. Worries about government debt and associated public sector liabilities (e.g., because banking systems are in deep trouble) have spread through the eurozone to Spain and Portugal. Ireland and Italy are next up for hostile reconsideration by the markets, and the UK may not be far behind...

The IMF cannot help in any meaningful way. And the stronger EU countries are not willing to help – in part because they want to be tough, but also because they do not have effective mechanisms for providing assistance-with-strings. Unconditional bailouts are simple – just send a check. Structuring a rescue package that will garner support among the German electorate – whose current and future taxes will be on the line – is considerably more complicated.

The financial markets know all this and last week sharpened their swords. As we move into this week, expect more selling pressure across a wide range of European assets.

As this pressure mounts, we’ll see cracks appear also in the private sector. Significant banks and large hedge funds have been selling insurance against default by European sovereigns. As countries lose creditworthiness – and, under sufficient pressure, very few government credit ratings will hold up – these financial institutions will need to come up with cash to post increasing amounts of collateral against their derivative obligations (yes, the same credit default swaps that triggered the collapse last time).

Remember that none of the opaqueness of the credit default swap market has been addressed since the crisis of September 2008. And generalized counter-party risk – the fear that your insurer will fail and this will bring down all connected banks – raises its ugly head again.

In such a situation, investors scramble for the safest assets available – “cash”, which actually (and ironically, given our budget woes) means short-term US government securities. It’s not that the US is in good shape or even has anything approaching a credible medium-term fiscal framework, it’s just that everyone else is in much worse shape.

Another Lehman/AIG-type situation lurks somewhere on the European continent, and again our purported G7 (or even G20) leaders are slow to see the risk.
It may not all breakdown this week, but Johnson has the picture correct. Phase one of the double dip Great Recession, and the accompanying great demand to hold cash, has resulted in extreme financial pressure on the most profligate government spenders, who won't be able to get enough cash to meet their future debt obligations.

In the old days, these countries would simply print more money, but the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain) are all in the Eurozone pen and it is unlikely that Germany and France will agree to debase euros, by printing more of them, to bailout the PIIGS. Thus, the continued intensifying global sovereign debt crisis

The UK is in a different situation, given that they CAN print their way out of a financial crisis, though with enormous inflationary consequences. But who is going to look at the niceties of differences during a global sovereign debt panic? The answer as to who should be looking is, of course, you.

The sophisticated play here is to go long UK debt on any weakness, while hedging the currency risk by shorting the pound. Any flight into Treasury securities should, of course, be looked at as temporary in nature and an opportunity to add to these short positions.

6 comments:

  1. I enjoy the posts relating to investment advice!

    The post reminds me of my home state California. We are under heavy union control and can't print money? Do you see a Greece-like future for us? If so, how long?

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  2. Its each man for himself and vigilante justice decisions are in order. For Ex: for credit card debt holders? Refusal to repay one dime until the banks quit stealing.

    It starts and ends with individual decisions multiplied by millions. Do up or shut up.

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  3. Bernanke is a Total Failure Unsuited for Role as Fed Chairman
    http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article11663.html
    After trashing (and rightfully so) Bernanke's last appearance before Congress, Caroline somehow arrives at the following conclusion.

    It would be hard to find someone more suited for the job of Fed chairman than Bernanke. His performance yesterday has nothing to do with his unique qualifications for the position. ... Unless President Barack Obama wants a solo pilot, he would do well to tap Bernanke for a second term.

    Let's take a look at the qualifications of which Baum speaks.

    Ten Qualifications:
    1) Bernanke is either a liar or has a memory problem. I believe the former. Either way, there is a problem when a Fed chairman cannot recall a conversation with another Fed governor over something as critical as the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch merger. See Bernanke Suffers From Selective Memory Loss; Paulson Calls Bank of America "Turd in the Punchbowl" for my take.

    2) Bernanke claims to be a student of the great depression yet amazingly concludes the cause was misguided Fed policy after the stock market crash. This is nonsense. The cause of the great depression and the cause of the current depression (yes we are in a depression), is the massive expansion of credit and debt fostered by the Fed itself. Bernanke is no student of history, he is a dunce.

    3) Bernanke has on many occasions promised transparency. This is an outright lie. There is no transparency and Bloomberg has filed freedom of information lawsuits requesting information that should have been disclosed. Moreover, Congress had to subpoena the Fed in regards to the Bank of America / Merrill Lynch shotgun wedding which is how we know about Bernanke's selective memory loss. What else is Bernanke hiding?

    4) Bernanke is creative. Some might think creativity is a positive attribute. It is, for a design engineer. Unfortunately creativity is not a good attribute for a Fed chairman. This whole mess was sponsored by the Fed when Greenspan got creative with interest rate policy. Bernanke is light-years more creative than Greenspan as witnessed by an amazing array of Fed lending facilities and the ballooning of the Fed's balance sheet swapped for garbage collateral. The unintended consequences of Bernanke's extraordinary actions are coming down the road. We do not even know what those consequences are. However, we do know that the Fed has no exit policy, and will come up with one by the seat of Bernanke's pants on the fly. Given there is no need for the Fed at all, the last thing we need is for a creative Fed.

    5) Bernanke supports policies of theft. Proof of this is easy to establish. Bernanke favors a policy of 2% inflation, and inflation is theft. How so? Inflation benefits those with first access to money: governments, banks, and the wealthy. Government benefits when property taxes rise more than wages, banks benefit by borrowing money into existence, and the already wealthy benefit by being next in line for access to cheap money. By the time those low on the totem pole have access to cheap money, asset prices are already through the moon. Moreover, those with enough common sense to avoid the bubbles, get nothing for their money sitting in the bank. The middle class has been ravished by inflation, and Bernanke supports that inflation.

    Please note that Bernanke cannot even follow his own mandate. Where was Bernanke when property and commodity prices were soaring? The answer is he was ignoring them. Thus we see the one sided nature of Bernanke's policies. He let home prices soar, and now that they are crashing looks to support them. By the way, this is not just Bernanke, this is a symptom of central bankers in general.

    WOLF

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  4. Mobilize Now To Oust Bernanke As Fed Chair
    http://www.rense.com/general89/fedchair.htm
    In the aftermath of the Massachusetts Senate vote last Tuesday, we now have a concrete fighting chance to block the reappointment of Wall Street puppet Ben Bernanke as the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors by preventing his Senate confirmation next week. This afternoon, Bernanke's support was eroding hour by hour. The defections from the Bernanke camp feature Democratic senators who are up for reelection this coming November. They have read the tea leaves from Massachusetts, and they know the pitchforks are out, so their response is a mad rush to acquire economic populist and anti-Wall Street cover. The obvious way to do this is to turn against Bernanke and defeat him in the upcoming confirmation vote. Leading the charge late today were Senator Barbara Boxer of California and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, both endangered Democrats.

    GOP Senator Corker of Tennessee is now waffling about whether or not he will support Bernanke. The pressure is building on self-styled Democratic economic populists like Sherrod Brown of Ohio to prove that they are worth something. What will Senator-elect Scott Brown do? If he votes for Bernanke, he will have betrayed his voters in less than a week, and will not survive his own re-election campaign in 3 years. Democratic majority leader Harry Reid, succumbing to overwhelming pressure from the Obama White House, announced late this afternoon that he will fall on his sword for Helicopter Ben, but this self-destructive pledge may not survive a weekend in Nevada, where the economic populist pitchforks are as finely honed as anywhere. It is therefore time for all responsible citizens and all persons of good will to mobilize in the days ahead to secure the defeat of Bernanke. Such an event would symbolize the turn of the tide against Wall Street in the struggle to decide who will pay for the current depression -- the people or the bankers and hedge fund hyenas.

    WOLF

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  5. How do you put a casino out of business? Obviously, you don't play their game. Now that Wall Street has made our nation a casino, and that we live here, our only choice, not to play their game, is to cash out into physical gold and silver and wait till they go out of business. Not easy to do; I understand. But as long as they have access to promises owed to you, they can lie and steal stealthy through the night, each and every day. Just like rats pilfering the seed corn from a silo.

    ReplyDelete