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Yesterday we showed the end result of what happens in a China, in which bankruptcy and default are suddenly all too real outcomes for the country’s hundreds of millions of depositors, when the risk of losing all of one’s money held in an insolvent bank becomes a tangible possibility in “What A Bank Run In China Looks Like: Hundreds Rush To Banks Following Solvency Rumors.” Today, we look in detail at all the discrete elements that culminated with hundreds of Chinese residents lining up in front of a bank in Yancheng and rushing to withdraw their money only to find their money not available (at least until the regional government was forced to step in with a bail out to avoid an even greater panic).Why is this a useful exercise? Because since we will certainly see many more example of it in the near future, it pays to be prepared. Or least it certainly prevents one from losing all of their money…
This is what happened, and when it happened, it happened quick. From Reuters:
The rumour spread quickly. A small rural lender in eastern China had turned down a customer’s request to withdraw 200,000 yuan ($32,200). Bankers and local officials say it never happened, but true or not the rumour was all it took to spark a run on a bank as the story passed quickly from person to person, among depositors, bystanders and even bank employees.
Savers feared the bank in Yancheng, a city in Sheyang county, had run out of money and soon hundreds of customers had rushed to its doors demanding the withdrawal of their money despite assurances from regulators and the central bank that their money was safe.
The panic in a corner of the coastal Jiangsu province north of Shanghai, while isolated, struck a raw nerve and won national airplay, possibly reflecting public anxiety over China’s financial system after the country’s first domestic bond default this month shattered assumptions the government would always step in to prevent institutions from collapsing.
Rumours also find especially fertile ground here after the failure last January of some less-regulated rural credit co-operatives.
And since nothing beats a first person account here is just that, courtesy of Jin Wenjun who saw the drama unfold.
He started to notice more people than usual arriving at the Jiangsu Sheyang Rural Commercial Bank next door to his liquor store on Monday afternoon. By evening there were hundreds spilling out into the courtyard in front of the bank in this rural town near a high-tech park surrounded by rice and rape fields.
Bank officials tried to assure the depositors that there was enough money to go around, but the crowd kept growing.
In response, local officials and bank managers kept branches open 24 hours a day and trucked in cash by armoured vehicle to satisfy hundreds of customers, some of whom brought large baskets to carry their cash out of the bank.
Jin found himself at the bank branch just after midnight to withdraw 95,000 yuan for his friend from a village 20 kms (12 miles) away.
“He was uncomfortable. It was late and he couldn’t wait, so he left me his ID card to withdraw his cash,” Jin said.
By Tuesday, the crisis of confidence had engulfed another bank, the nearby Rural Commercial Bank of Huanghai.
“One person passed on the news to 10 people, 10 people passed it to 100, and that turned into something pretty terrifying,” said Miao Dongmei, a customer of the Sheyang bank who owns an infant supply store across the street from the first branch to be hit by the run.
Claiming to be a Yancheng resident, one user of Sina Weibo’s Twitter-like service repeated the story on Monday about the failed 200,000 yuan withdrawal, adding that “rumours are the bank is going bankrupt.”
When later contacted by Reuters online, he said he had heard the rumour from his mother when she came back from town. Huanghai and Jiangsu Sheyang banks declined to comment.
China’s banks are tightly controlled by the state and bank bankruptcies are virtually unheard of, so the crisis has baffled many outsiders.
Yet in Sheyang, fears of a bank collapse resonate.
In recent years, this corner of hard-strapped Jiangsu province has experienced a boom in the number of loan guarantee, or ‘danbao’, companies and rural capital co-operatives.
These often shadowy private financial institutions promised higher returns on deposits than banks, but many have since failed.
Qu Guohua, a spiky haired former migrant worker in his 50s, nearly lost 30,000 yuan in a credit guarantee scheme that went up in flames.
What saved him one day in January 2013 was a tip-off from a friend at a rural co-operative just down the street from the loan guarantee company where he had his money.
“He told me the other one was going to go out of business and I better go get my money quick,” he said.
Qu managed to get his cash, but others behind him in line were not so lucky, he said.
That helps explain why lines formed so quickly once the rumours started circulating this week. Luck has it, he deposited the cash in a bank next door: Sheyang Rural Commercial Bank.
Banks are different than credit co-operatives and guarantee companies in that they are regulated by China’s banking watchdog and subject to strict capital requirements.
On Wednesday, officials’ painstaking efforts to drive that message home were in full swing.
Bank managers stacked piles of yuan behind teller windows in full sight of customers to try to reassure them that they had plenty of cash on hand. Local officials used leaflets, radio and television to try to calm nerves.
Near one of the troubled banks, a branch of the China Commercial Bank – one of China’s ‘Big Four’ state-owned banks – was running a ticker message on an electronic board over the entrance stating: “Sheyang Rural Commercial Bank is a legal financial organisation approved by the state, just like us”.
While small groups of depositors still gathered at several bank branches in and around this part of Yancheng, some arriving by motorbike, others by three-wheeled motor vehicles common in the Chinese countryside, there were signs that the banks’ efforts were bearing fruit.
Jin said he did not panic when the rumours were spreading and on Wednesday, like many others, he made a deposit.
Others, like Qu, are holding their nerve. On a visit to see his hospitalised daughter, he decided to nip into a local bank where he still has about 10,000 yuan – just for a look.
“I’m not nervous about my money in the bank. It’s protected by national law.
* * *
The same international law that “protected” the Cyprus banking system?
In the meantime, perhaps one should ask: why is it that people everywhere around the globe are so jittery, be it Chinese bank depositors, or E*trade baby high frequency “investors” in US stocks?Is it because everyone sense that fundamentally the system is more broke and insolvent than ever?
* * *
In short, the US has a stock market, which everyone knows is fake and manipulated, but as long as it keeps going higher, it is “safe” to put even more cash into epically overvalued equities. And since everyone is confident they can pull their money before everyone else does, the downswings are sharp and violent (and usually require the Plunge Protection Team to get involved and halt them), and in many ways a complete one-sided panic.
Just like in China. Only in China, instead of being stuck behind their computers, people actually have to go out on the street and withdraw their physical cash before everyone else does.
The problem, of course, is that once the lies and the illusions end, and they will, there will not be enough physical claims to satisfy everyone, be it due to a deposit or equity flight. Because in a fractional reserve system already stretched to the max and leveraged to record levels, one thing is certain: once the upward momentum dies, only devastation and guaranteed 90%+ losses for most, await.
Remember these two charts?
From November 2012, The Chinese Credit Bubble – Full Frontal:
And from November 2013, “How China’s Stunning $15 Trillion In New Liquidity Blew Bernanke’s QE Out Of The Water”
It seems people are starting to listen, and not a moment too soon: as of December 31, China’s corporate debt just hit a record $12 trillion. From Reuters:
China’s corporate debt has hit record levels and is likely to accelerate a wave of domestic restructuring and trigger more defaults, as credit repayment problems rise.
Chinese non-financial companies held total outstanding bank borrowing and bond debt of about $12 trillion at the end of last year – equal to over 120 percent of GDP – according to Standard & Poor’s estimates.
Growth in Chinese company debt has been unprecedented. A Thomson Reuters analysis of 945 listed medium and large non-financial firms showed total debt soared by more than 260 percent, from 1.82 trillion yuan ($298.4 billion) to 4.74 trillion yuan ($777.3 billion), between December 2008 and September 2013.
While a credit crisis isn’t expected anytime soon, analysts say companies in China’s most leveraged sectors, such as machinery, shipping, construction and steel, are selling assets and undertaking mergers to avoid defaulting on their borrowings.
More defaults are expected, said Christopher Lee, managing director for Greater China corporates at Standard and Poor’s Rating Services in Hong Kong. “Borrowing costs already are going up due to tightened liquidity,” he said. “There will be a greater differentiation and discrimination of risk and lending going forward.”
And then there was the worst capital misallocation in history:
Exacerbating China’s corporate troubles has been the questionable use of 4 trillion yuan in stimulus that Beijing pumped into the economy following the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008, explained Lee of Standard & Poor’s.
“Many companies invested heavily into competitive and low-return projects because funding was readily available,” he said. “These investments aren’t doing well and are making little contribution to profitability.”
Of course, there is also this:
What happens next as the Chinese perfect debt storm is finally unleashed? Read this for the upcoming next steps: ‘”The Pig In The Python Is About To Be Expelled”: A Walk Thru Of China’s Hard Landing, And The Upcoming Global Harder Reset “
Russian bonds had rallied for 2 days on the heels of the ouster of Yanukovych and a hope-fueled strategy (supported by Goldman’s buy-buy-buy recommendation) that Europe or the IMF would save the day and fund them back to solvency. However, Russian deputy finance minister Storchak has a different perspective…
- *UKRAINE FACES HIGH PROBABILITY OF DEFAULT: RUSSIA’S STORCHAK
- *RUSSIA AGAINST INCLUDING $3B UKRAINE DEBT IN ANY RESTRUCTURING
- *RUSSIA: NO LEGAL OBLIGATION TO GIVE UKRAINE REMAINING BAILOUT
And that has sent 3-month Ukraine bond prices tumbling once again…
HAA HAA: Will Another Creditanstalt Be Revealed Once The Hypo Alpe Aldria “Black Box” Is Opened? | Zero Hedge
Recall that the bank which precipitated the first Great Depression was Austria’s Creditanstalt, which declared bankruptcy on May 11, 1931 and which resulted in a global financial crisis, after its failure waterfalled into the chain-reaction of bank failures that marked the first systemic financial collapse. As part of CA’s rescue, Chancellor Otto Ender distributed the share of bailout costs between the Republic, the National Bank of Austria and the Rothschild family (and as a bit of historic trivia, following the Austrian Anschluss to Nazi Germany in 1938, Creditanstalt-Bankverein was targeted for a variety of reasons, leading to the arrest of Louis Nathaniel Rothschild and his imprisonment for the losses suffered by the Austrian state when the bank collapsed. Aggrieved, he emigrated to the US in 1939 after more than one year in custody).
A little over 80 years later, while the world is knee deep in explaining how snow during the 4th warmest January on record is the culprit for an abrupt and dramatic slowdown in world growth, and is following the geopolitical developments out of Crimea with great attention, the real action may once again be taking place in the small, quaint and quiet central European country, where yet another bank may be sowing the seeds of further financial mayhem.
Presenting Hypo Alpe Aldria (or “HAA” although certainly not funny as in funny HAA HAA: more shortly), a bank which in reality has been in the news for years following its nationalization in 2009 by the Austrian government to prevent a bank collapse. In fact, just last week, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said the government is right to avert the collapse of Hypo Alpe-Adria-Bank International AG, as he cited the precedent of Creditanstalt, whose crash helped trigger the 1930s depression. “The crash of Creditanstalt in 1931 caused economic meltdown,” Faymann told parliament’s lower house in Vienna today. “There was a consensus in 2009 to act where necessary, to avoid the mistakes of the 1930s, to avoid a collapse by nationalizing and by installing protection measures at the European level.”
As a follow up, as Bloomberg also reports, the fate of HAA – whatever it ends up being – may have significant political consequences for the Austrian government. Again Bloomberg reports that “support for Austria’s ruling coalition is slipping five months after it won a narrow majority as inaction over the nationalized Hypo Alpe-Adria Bank International AG lifts backing for protest parties. Latest polls suggest voters are losing trust in Social Democratic Chancellor Werner Faymann and People’s Party Vice Chancellor Michael Spindelegger and warming to the euro-skeptic Freedom Party before May’s European Parliament elections. The Green and Neos parties also stand to gain, said Hubert Sickinger, a political scientist at the University of Vienna.”
“The ruling parties have a problem,” Sickinger said in an interview. “They postponed the Hypo Alpe ‘dead bank’ problem hoping that the economy would change but they’ve known since early 2013 that this wouldn’t help.”
One party that has been quite vocal on the issue of HAA is the Austrian Freedom Party nationalists, who seek to restrict immigration, and which has the most to gain from detouring the status quo as they would finish first in the EU parliamentary election, according to a Feb. 14 Gallup poll commissioned by the Oesterreich newspaper. The Freedom Party under deceased leader Joerg Haider helped build Hypo Alpe from a regional lender into one of the biggest banks in the Balkans.
“The European elections will be payback day” over the government’s handling of Hypo Alpe, said Franz Schellhorn, director of Agenda Austria, a Vienna-based research group.
“Anger is growing,” Schellhorn said in an interview today. “This black box has to be opened to see what is going on inside.”
It is the “opening of this black box” that suddenly has the entire investment community on edge, even if most of them hope the story simply goes away as it has for the past five years. Only this time it may be impossible to once again kick the can, er, box.
And while the legacy story of the post-bail out HAA may be known, it is the recent developments that are largely unknown and where the risks lie. This can be seen in the recent dramatic drop in HAA bond prices.
So why should people care about HAA? Bank of America explains:
The real surprise of the Hypo Alpe Adria (HAA) situation is not that bondholders may lose money, but the sight of the third richest country in Europe by per capita income apparently looking for ways out of paying what are clearly guaranteed debts of a 100% nationalized bank, for HAA debt is guaranteed by the Austrian State of Carinthia under a deficiency guarantee. The Austrian Finance Minister may be targeting a contribution from bondholders, according to reports on Bloomberg on Friday, We would consider it an astonishing turn of events if this actually ever came to pass, with wide-ranging negative implications for investors in not just Austria but potentially Europe as a whole.
What are the other implications from a potential HAA fallout? Here are the cliff notes:
- Direct impacts: other Austrian banks?
Erste Bank and RBI will likely trade as proxies in any negative newsflow which could pressure their spreads. They aren’t really affected, though, in our view.
- Indirect: negative for marginal banks
The Carinthia guarantee is a throwback to a very different banking world – when banks enjoyed implicit and explicit institutional support. Those days are over. We underline
that we have moved to a bail-in regime where investors will contribute to the costs of bank clean-up. This has implications for other very marginal banks e.g. the Cooperative Bank in the UK which we think is struggling.
- Why the fuss? Who pays for HAA?
The European Commission in its decision on State Aid (dated 3rd Sept 2013) puts the capital need at €5.4bn in a stressed scenario. Liquidity needs are put at up to €3.3bn, meaning that the total outlay could be as high as an extra €8.7bn, in addition to the billions that have already been committed by the current and former shareholders. HAA’s total assets as of June 2013 were ‘only’ €31.3bn, recall.
- What kind of outcomes for HAA?
We struggle to see how those positing bondholder losses get around the guarantee from Carinthia and all that implies. However, with lower cash prices in many of the bonds, perhaps the way forward opens up for e.g. substitution (of Austria for Carinthia) at a discount. There may also be the time value of return of principal to factor in.
- Negative outcomes: maybe tough to do
If the Austrian Government decides to be tough, then the negative scenarios for HAA bondholders are potentially many. The Government may be somewhat hampered however by the fact that HAA bonds under the 2006 Prospectus are issued under German Law.
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For the extended, and must read, notes on what Hypo may lead to, here is the full note from Bank of America’s Richard Thomas:
Funny HAA HAA or funny peculiar? Implications of Hypo Alpe Adria
HAA – the implications
The emerging crisis re: how to resolve Austria’s Hypo Alpe Adria (HAA) looks like it’s already one destined for the textbooks.
It has been rumbling around in our ‘bank peripheral vision’ for years as a problem child but now seems to be coming to a head because of what appears to be increased political pressure for a solution that potentially involves the imposition of senior bondholder losses in the mix. As such, we need to look at it to see what read-across, if any, there is to other European banks, as it seems to represent a hardening of attitudes to bank resolution amongst one of Europe’s richest countries.
We do not express an opinion or investment recommendation on the securities of HAA itself. Using conventional bank analysis, we believe that HAA is potentially uninvestable not only because of its evident non-viability and the lack of appetite to save it but also because of the allegations of past misconduct, as widely reported in the press, and what appears to be ongoing incompetence e.g. leasing invoicing ‘irregularities’ in Italy provided against as recently as in 1H13 numbers. The outcome for bondholders will ultimately be based on Austria’s view of its obligations and how it deals with the Carinthia guarantee, in our view. We expect that prices will therefore trade according to the last comment from someone important – highly unpredictable. For example, they were down on Friday following comments from the Austrian FinMin, but up this morning on comments over the weekend from the Head of the Austrian Central Bank. A final decision on what happens could be many months out.
For us, the shock of the current situation is not so much about bail-in being applied in the case of a failed bank – like most credit investors, we are used to this by now. The real surprise of the situation is the sight of the third richest country in Europe by per capita income apparently trying to manoeuvre out of paying what are clearly guaranteed debts (HAA debt is guaranteed by the State of Carinthia). We would consider it an astonishing turn of events if this actually ever came to pass, with wide ranging negative implications for investors in not just Austria but Europe as a whole.
The read across from HAA to other banks is weak, in our view. However, there are a few implications to highlight which may impact spreads.
- The most directly impacted bank would seem to be Bayerische Landesbank (BYLAN), former owner of the bank and where there is still some outstanding exposure. BofAML analyst Jeroen Julius talked about this in his note on BYLAN last week here. We remain Underweight-70% the BYLAN 5.75% T2 bonds. There is still an outstanding line of €2.3bn from BYLAN to HAA of which we understand €1.8bn was due at end 2013 – by March (if not sooner) then this will need to move to an impaired classification. HAA is saying that these monies are an equity substitute and are trying to claw back €2.3bn already repaid. Our view is that BYLAN may sacrifice some of the outstanding amount in any settlement but seem unlikely to have to pay back the repaid amount. In the meantime, it seems that they do have a say in some of the levers which Austria may want to use in resolving HAA, so their negotiating stance looks solid.
- Other widely traded banks where spreads could come under pressure are Erste Bank and RBI. We will likely see these banks trade as proxies in any negative newsflow which could pressure their spreads – their illiquid CDS is probably already trading some 10-15bps wider in senior and ~13bps wider in sub CDS. These banks should be much more sensitive to negative news from Central and Eastern Europe rather than Austria though, in our view, given their focus on emerging economies.
- RBI’s exposure to Austria reflects its domicile and the corporate ties between Austrian companies and the EE corporates where most of RBI’s operations are placed. It does not have direct exposure to the Austrian complex in the way that e.g. BAWAG or Erste Bank have. The RBIAV 6% is probably down a point from its highs in the last week or so. We see the impact on RBI as quite tangential: if Austria takes a tough stance with bondholders, it’s more negative for sentiment on the banks, given that it implies a reduced sovereign exposure – so hardly negative for the sovereign from e.g. higher debt levels, albeit lower contingent liabilities.
- About half of Erste Bank’s credit risk exposure is to Austria. It is therefore more of an ‘Austrian’ bank than RBI but that’s not really the problem here, in our view.
- We are still very comfortable with RBI at this point, especially given the recent capital increase. However, we recommend reducing risk by switching into lower cash priced bonds versus higher cash price bonds. That means out of e.g. the 6.625% bond with a cash price of about €113 into lower cash priced bonds like the 6% (€106.5) or the 5.163%, though this is a much more illiquid security. We downgrade the 6.625% bonds to Underweight-30%.
The wider implications of what happens in the HAA case include:
- If we do move to some kind of forced loss imposition from Austria on these bonds, then it probably isn’t a good moment for bank risk (or indeed European risk). However, as we explain, in this case loss imposition is rather tricky to do, given the existence of the guarantees from Carinthia.
- Whatever happens, we see the HAA situation as reflecting a growing impatience with marginal and near-failing banks and that a hard line is likely to be followed in resolving them. It underlines that we have moved to a bail-in regime where investors will contribute to the costs of bank clean-up. This has implications for other very marginal banks e.g. the Cooperative Bank in the UK which we think is struggling. Underweight-70% the 11% T2 bonds of the Coop Bank at £123.
- The Carinthia guarantee is a throwback to a very different banking world – when banks enjoyed implicit and explicit institutional support. Those days are over. Such support often allowed excessive expansion on the back of cheap funding – we can point to the continued need for adjustment in the Landesbank sector for evidence of that.
- One final point: in our view there would be a negative read-across to the German Landesbanken more generally if a way was found around the deficiency guarantee in this case. The Landesbanken heavily rely on State guarantees. For example, HSH Nordbank has a €10bn guarantee (that helps its capital position) form Hamburg and Schleswig- Holstein.
Funny HAA HAA or funny peculiar?
A special case?
We think there is a good argument for saying that HAA is a special case amongst European banks. One can read its downfall and subsequent full nationalization as a familiar juxtaposition of overexpansion (in the former Yugoslavia) without sufficient risk controls being in place as a result of too cheap funding, owing to its funding guarantee from the Austrian State of Carinthia (currently rated A2 by Moody’s). Yet the narrative is worsened by allegations of serious past misconduct involving money laundering, fraud and possibly murder. See for example The Economist, Sept 9th 2010 or the New York Times, October 20th 2010.
Whilst mismanagement may well have been a feature of some European banks before the crisis; we would hesitate to attribute this level of alleged misconduct, however, to even many of the most stressed European banks. The nature of the allegations, in our view, serves to underline Austrian public antipathy for taxpayers having to pay for the continuing losses at the bank. It also differentiates it sharply from other European, and of course Austrian, banks. HAA’s situation and alleged misconduct is simply too severe to have systemic implications for other Austrian banks, in our view.
Could there be a haircut? Wait!
Bloomberg reports that two thirds of the Austrian public is against the use of further public monies being used to prop up the bank. With such a powerful consensus against such a move and elections next year, it’s not surprising that recently the rhetoric has turned firmly towards finding solutions for HAA that involve imposing losses somewhere – anywhere – other than at the door of the Austrian taxpayer. Hence, the comments from the Finance Minister Spindelegger on Feb 21 that Austria was looking at ways to get bondholders to contribute.
So far, so straightforward: the only problem is that the bulk of HAA senior bonds enjoy a deficiency guarantee from the State of Carinthia. This complicates the burden sharing. We note, by the way, that the EC ruling on State Aid for HAA made no mention of senior bondholder losses at all. Is it really possible to get around the deficiency guarantee and impose losses?
Our understanding is that the deficiency guarantee is not quite like other guarantees. It’s this ‘gap’ that allowed Moody’s to downgrade HAA to Baa2 from A1 on Feb 14. It means that a creditor must have attempted in vain to satisfy his or her claims against (in this case) HAA first before he can use the guarantee, though not if bankruptcy proceedings were already started. Non-payment alone may not be sufficient to invoke the guarantee, absent due process. Even so, it still looks to us that it’s just a matter of time before creditors could ask Carinthia to satisfy their claims. It seems doubtful that the State could afford to perform on the guarantee however with the €12.3bn or more of bonds being many multiples of Carinthia’s income, according to Moody’s. It seems hardly credible that we could be looking at bankruptcy of a Federal State of one of the richest countries in Europe.
Hence, the dilemma. This really would be a new departure for a European country – we’ve had bondholder haircuts before, but not on instruments guaranteed by a governmental entity like Carinthia.
What’s the size of the hole at HAA?
The European Commission in its decision on State Aid (dated 3rd Sept 2013) puts the capital need at €5.4bn in its stressed, or worst case, scenario. Similarly, the liquidity needs are put at €3.3bn in the stressed scenario, assuming that the above capital is provided in cash, meaning that the total outlay could be as high as €8.7bn, in addition to the billions that have already been committed by the current and former shareholders. HAA’s total assets as of June 2013 were ‘only’ €31.3bn, remember, and of this, €3.5bn was already earmarked as for disposal – giving a pro forma number of €27.8bn. To put this in further context, existing capital resources at HAA (equity plus sub debt) are €3bn, and provisions existing already are €3.5bn. Loans net of provisions are ~€17bn.
The now former Chairman of the Bank, Mr. Liebscher, has previously commented that HAA could require up to €4bn of further capital (‘only €400mn a year over 10 years’). Capital needs could vary considerably if assets were transferred out of the regulatory capital environment e.g. to an asset management company, since these require much less capital. We note too that Weiner has reported that the loss for the year at HAA may have grown to €1.8bn (from the €0.8bn at half year 2013) – we think it’s likely that is already reflected in the EC’s numbers though we’re not completely sure.
The €5.4bn of capital needs calculated by the EC could be higher or lower therefore but let’s use it as a basis for thinking about outcomes. Are there any offsets? Certainly,
HAA believes so. It is claiming that €4.6bn of funds extended to the bank in 2008 by BayernLB is an equity substitution under Austrian Law. €2.3bn of this is still outstanding (it’s not being serviced by HAA) but HAA has applied to the Munich Regional Court for a return of amounts that they’ve already paid back. Our core case is that BayernLB will lose some of this money (if only to settle the case) but we have no real idea how much they and HAA would settle at, of course, or if they will settle at all.
How (much) could bondholders pay?
Is it conceivable that the senior bondholders could be expected to contribute a sizeable chunk of the €5.4bn? As of end-June 2013, issued bonds at HAA totaled €11.1bn (we exclude Pfandbriefe); we don’t have data for any redemptions in 2H13. We do however know that there is a very substantial redemption of senior debt on March 17th of €750m (the HAA 3.75% bond). Again, the interim financials showed a cash balance of €2.6bn at the bank which on its own should comfortably cover the repayment. We are more skeptical about HAA’s liquidity, given the continued deterioration of its financial position implied by the reported further €1bn loss in 2H13. Perhaps it is this that is focusing the attention of Austrian policymakers on bondholders.
Repaying this bond would be a substantial cash outflow from the bank and bondholders would be getting par – these bonds are currently quoted at a mid-cash price of ~€96 but the bid/offer is something like 5 points, underlining the huge uncertainty. But it would also probably be taken as a pointer towards future treatment of bonds and so, if repaid, would likely positively impact prices.
The €5.4bn additional capital need would imply a forced senior bondholder haircut of anything from 20% upwards in our view depending on what is considered the pool of bailin-able liabilities, though admittedly we find it quite hard to believe this will be the actual outcome at this point. This number could be kept down not least by any settlement with BayernLB – and we can’t really imagine that Austria will make a zero contribution here. Even the €5.4bn total capital needs number calculated by the EC is ‘only’ about 2% of Austrian GDP.
We also struggle to see how those positing bondholder losses get around the guarantee from Carinthia and all that implies. It’s this, we think, that is the really interesting part for European bank bondholders. We have seen headlines suggesting that the Republic of Austria would substitute itself as guarantor for the bonds, subject to bondholders agreeing to a substantial haircut.When the bonds were at par, that looked really unlikely, but with e.g. the 2016 and 2017 bonds having traded down so dramatically in the last few days (currently quoted with a cash price at around €85-86), perhaps the conditions are beginning to evolve for this type of liability management.
Ultimately, we think it’s unlikely that Carinthia could pay back bondholders and remain solvent itself – as Moody’s highlights in its downgrade of the State on Feb 14 2014, the debt outstanding is some six times Carinthia’s 2013 budgeted operating revenue. Recall that HAA is 100% owned by the Republic of Austria – it seems unlikely that the shareholder would enforce the insolvency of a regional State without acting itself.
We also wonder if there is some leeway in terms of the timing difference implied by the final payment under the deficiency guarantee – how prompt might this be? Months? Years? Longer? If it could be demonstrated that bondholders would have to wait many years before getting any of their principal back, then perhaps there is the basis for an offer that gives investors liquidity today, albeit at a discounted price.
What could induce bondholders to agree to any changes?
We suspect that this is currently under consideration – there likely is little limit to the scenarios that could be conceived, but it all depends on the view the Republic takes of itself in the markets and its concerns about any likely fallout from its actions. Freezing the liabilities of the bank and the guarantee? Rescission of the guarantee? Anything is possible but perhaps some of these worst scenarios are not the most probable. However, what is clear is that the outcome for bondholders, as we have seen before in these haircut scenarios, is highly unpredictable and politicized.
In spite of the Austrian Finance Minister’s comments to the contrary, we are of the view that most HAA bonds are still with the original, investment grade, investor base. We believe that the rotation into ‘trader’ or ‘hot money’ hands is probably only still at the beginning – only recently have we heard that blocks of bonds have been coming out, rather than the trading of very small amounts. This could change rapidly in the coming weeks if Austria decides to step up the bondholder loss rhetoric of course but at this point, it would be ordinary money managers, we think, who would be absorbing most of the losses, not hot money or speculators.
As an added twist, we note that HAA bonds issued under the August 2006 Prospectus are under German Law (rather than Austrian). Again, this points in the direction of either repayment of the bonds under the guarantee, or a negotiated settlement with bondholders, rather than the imposition of an arrangement by the Austrian Government, since legally they may not have the flexibility to do much else.
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In conclusion all we have to add is that it would indeed be supremely ironic if the “strong” foreign law bond indenture would be tested, and breached, not by Greek bonds, as so many expected in late 2011 and early 2012, but by one of the last contries in Europe which is still AAA-rated. We would find it less ironic if the next leg of the global financial crisis was once again unleashed by an Austrian bank: after all history does rhyme…
Disturbing Trend: Average Foreign Purchases Of US Securities Take Out Lehman Bottom, Hit All Time Low | Zero Hedge
As we reported earlier today, for whatever reason China sold the second biggest amount of US Treasurys in December. However, that was only part of the story. In fact, as we also noted, while the two largest US foreign creditors were net sellers, total foreign bond holdings actually rose in the last month of 2013 and as the chart below confirms, when it comes to Long-Term Treasury paper, foreigners were actually buyers of some $18 billion in Treasurys. It is everything else that they sold in the month when the S&P hit its all time high: specifically, foreigners were net sellers of Agency securities ($15.4 billion), Corporate Bonds ($7.5 billion) and Corporate Equities ($13.7 billion) something which hardly fits with the narrative of the record stock market high generating confidence in even more buying down the line.
In the chart above it is the black line – gross purchases of US long-term securities – that is the most troubling, as its trend is hardly anyone’s friend.
So what happens when one smooths out the line to normalize for monthly fluctuations? This:
The chart is very disturbing: it shows that as the S&P rises higher and higher (on ever declining volumes), foreigners are buying fewer and fewer US securities. In fact, on a 12 Month Moving Average basis, foreigners bought less long-term US securities than they did when Lehman crashed!
Luckily we live in a New Normal when price is no longer determined by simple supply and demand (and certainly not from retail investors who have long since given up on the fraudulent, broken US capital “markets”) but Fed jawboning of a record $2.5 trillion in bank excess reserves, corporate buybacks and HFT algos spurring momentum ignition and buying because others are buying.
And so we have come full circle, because while, understandably, nobody had any appetite for US securities around the Lehman crash when until the Fed stepped in and singlehandedly took over the US capital markets it was unclear if there even would be a US capital markets, now that five years later the S&P has risen to a level nearly three times the March 2009 lows thanks entirely to the Fed’s $4.1 trillion balance sheet backstop, the interest in US securities is… lower than it was in the days just after Lehman!
While the eyes of the world were focused on the now infamous “Credit Equals Gold #1” Chinese wealth management product – it’s imminent default and last-minute bailout by ‘investors’ unknown – thecoal industry in China continued to collapse (as we noted here). We noted at the time how bailing out current high-yield product investors would merely amplify the problems down the line and it seems that Chinese authorities have heard that message. As Reuters reports, a high-yield investment product backed by a loan to a debt-ridden coal company failed to repay investors when it matured last Friday, state media reported on Wednesday.
A high-yield investment product backed by a loan to a debt-ridden coal company failed to repay investors when it matured last Friday, state media reported on Wednesday, in the latest sign of financial stress in China’s shadow bank sector.
“It matured on Feb. 7, but CCB passed on an announcement from Jilin Trust saying ‘We currently can’t be certain when (Liansheng) funds will be returned,'” the official Shanghai Securities News quoted an unnamed investor in the trust product as saying.
Though the maturity date has already passed, producing a technical default, Jilin Trust appears to be working to recover investor funds.
“Restructuring isn’t bankruptcy. As far as we know, there is no problem with the firm’s assets. The firm is in negotiations with investors,” the paper quoted an unnamed Jilin Trust official as saying.
Backed by China’s 2nd largest lender China Construction Bank (note we discussed the largest shadow-bank here), the product is as follows:
The fourth tranche of Jilin Trust’s product is name “Songhua River #77 Shanxi Opulent Blessing Project” raised 289 million yuan from investors in February 2012, promising a 9.8% yield – we will see if this technical default results in actual losses for investors.
backed by a coal-industry loan to Shanxi Liansheng Energy Co Ltd…
Shares of China’s biggest listed coal producers have dropped to their lowest valuations on record as falling fuel prices make it harder to repay debt.
China’s coal industry is “dead,” said Laban Yu, a Jefferies Group LLC analyst in Hong Kong with an underperform rating on all three stocks. “There are 10,000 producers in China. A lot of them are taking on debt. It gets harder and harder to service debts when coal prices keep falling.
and the risk of more defaults is not going away – in fact will onkly get worse in the next 3 months!!
For those who have forgotten, below is a quick schematic of what a WMP looks like:
“There is an unresolved self-contradiction in China’s current policies: restarting the furnaces also reignites exponential debt growth, which cannot be sustained for much longer than a couple of years.”
The “eerie resemblances” – as Soros previously noted – to the US in 2008 have profound consequences for China and the world – nowhere is that more dangerously exposed (just as in the US) than in the Chinese shadow banking sector as explained above.
The bottom-line is that China seems to be testing the reaction of markets to small ‘technical’ defaults (such as this one)…
Technical defaults caused by repayment delays have occurred before, but market watchers say that China’s shadow bank sector is still waiting for a precedent-setting default in which investors are forced to absorb substantial losses.
Such an event could shatter the widespread assumption that even high-yielding investments carry an implicit guarantee from state banks. But Jilin Trust is apparently still looking for ways to recover investors’ funds.
The question is – doe s the PBOC really think that desparate borrowers will stop borrowing – and contract the size of the shadow-banking system reining in the out of control credit creation (and its subprime-like consequences)…
…borrowers are facing rising pressures for loan repayments in an environment of overcapacity and unprofitable investments. Unable to generate cash to service their loans, they have to turn to the shadow-banking sector for credit and avoid default. The result is an explosive growth of the size of the shadow-banking sector (now conservatively estimated to account for 20-30 percent of GDP).
Understandably, the PBOC does not look upon the shadow banking sector favorably. Since shadow-banking sector gets its short-term liquidity mainly through interbanking loans, the PBOC thought that it could put a painful squeeze on this sector through reducing liquidity. Apparently, the PBOC underestimated the effects of its measure. Largely because Chinese borrowers tend to cross-guarantee each other’s debt, squeezing even a relatively small number of borrowers could produce a cascade of default. The reaction in the credit market was thus almost instant and frightening. Borrowers facing imminent default are willing to borrow at any rate while banks with money are unwilling to loan it out no matter how attractive the terms are.
Should this situation continue, China’s real economy would suffer a nasty shock. Chain default would produce a paralyzing effect on economic activities even though there is no run on the banks. Clearly, this is not a prospect the CCP’s top leadership relishes.
So the PBOC’s efforts are merely exacerbating the situation for the worst companies…
However, this just hit the wire…
- *CHINA BANS BOND TRADE BETWEEN PROPRIETARY, WMP ACCOUNTS
Which sounds ominously like the PBOC won;t allow banks to bail their own WMP investors out and take the risky crap back on their off-balance-sheet books… i.e. The PBOC wants real defaults… not ‘technical’ defaults
Another Conspiracy Theory Becomes Fact: Meet The Men With The Plan Behind Italy’s Bloodless Coup | Zero Hedge
The chart below is very familiar to anyone who was observing the hourly turmoil in the European bond market in November of 2011, when Italian bonds crashed, when yields soared to record levels, and every downtick of the Euro could have been its last.
What the chart may not show are the dramatic transformations in Italy’s government that took place just as the Italian bond spread exploded, which saw the resignation of career-politician Sylvio Berlusconi literally days after yields soared, and the instatement of Goldman technocrat Mario Monti as Italy’s next Prime Minister.
In fact as some, and certainly this website, had suggested the blow out in Italian yields was merely a grand plan orchestrated to usher in a new Italian government that would, with the support of yet another Goldman alum, the ECB’s then brand new head Mario Draghi, unleash a new era in Italian life, supposedly one of austerity (ignoring that two years after Berlusconi, Italy’s debt to GDP ratio has never been higher), and which would give the impression that Europe is being fixed all the while preserving the broken European monetary system for at least another year or two. In other words a grand conspiracy theory of a pre-planned bloodless coup. That all this would take place under the auspices and with the blessing of Italy’s president Napolitano, only made things worse since Italy is not a parliamentary republic but a parliamentary democracy, where such cloak and dagger arrangements are certainly not permitted under the constitution.
And so, as lately so often happens, courtesy of the narrative by Alan Friedman of what really happened that summer, this too conspiracy theory has just become conspiracy fact. Thanks to the FT’s “Monti’s secret summer“, we learn with painful detail (especially for those of our readers who may be Italian), just how the grand conspiracy to out Berlusconi took shape, and how it was deviously executed with the assistance of none other than the European Central Bank.
It all started on In the summer of 2011 when Carlo De Benedetti, the Italian industrial tycoon, hosted Mario Monti, Italy’s then former prime minister and an old friend of De Benedetti’s in the St Moritz-based alpine retreat of the industrialist for dinner, and a private chat to discuss “a development that was to have profound public consequences.” We go to the FT for the full details:
“Mario asked if we could get together, and I chose a typical little Swiss trattoria for dinner, just outside of St Moritz. But at the last minute he said he wanted to talk in private and so I said ‘Sure, stop by my house before dinner’ and so he came by,” Mr De Benedetti says. “And it was then he told me that it was possible that the president of the republic, Napolitano, would ask him to become prime minister, and he asked my advice.”
Mr De Benedetti says the two men “discussed whether he should accept the offer, and when would be the right moment to do so. This happened at my house in August, so in fact he had already spoken with President Napolitano.”
The offer from Giorgio Napolitano, the Italian president, to Mr Monti of the job of prime minister – a post that was still very much occupied by Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire centre-right politician – is at the core of serious questions of legitimacy in Italy. What happened in Italy that summer and autumn as policy makers battled the crisis gripping the eurozone is still a subject of intense debate.
Here, the story takes a detour to a glimpse of the denouement, by advising readers that the president’s “planning the replacement of the elected Mr Berlusconi by the unelected technocrat Mr Monti – months ahead of the eventual transfer of power in November – reinforces concerns about Mr Napolitano’s repeated and forceful interventions in politics. His outsized role since the crisis has led many to question whether he stretched his constitutional powers to their limits – or even beyond.” Of course, he did – and so did all other European bankers and business tycoons who knew they had to perpetuate the legacy status quo as long as possible or else their fortunes would come crumbling down before their eyes. But we already knew that. What we did not know were the explicit details of how the immaculate plan to wrest control of Italy from the playboy billionaire and hand it over to what essentially were Goldman’s key European tentacles, were conceived. So we read on:
Outside the calm of St Moritz that summer, the eurozone crisis was raging. Market speculation against Italian and Spanish sovereign debt was rampant and the spread between Italian Treasury bonds and German Bunds was rocketing. As its borrowing costs rose there was talk that Italy could default. Italy was in crisis – politically as well as economically.
In Rome, Mr Berlusconi was presiding over a rancorous, unstable coalition and increasingly distracted by allegations over sexual relations with Karim el-Mahroug, a Moroccan nightclub dancer. All of Europe seemed to be lambasting him.
Yet despite the controversy engulfing Mr Berlusconi, he was still the sitting prime minister and his government was legitimate under the rules of Italy’s parliamentary democracy.
How long that might last was a subject of conversation between Mr De Benedetti and Mr Monti that August.
“I told Mario that he should take the job but that it was all a question of timing. If Napolitano formalised the offer in September then that was fine, but if he left it until December then it would be too late,” recounts Mr De Benedetti.
So now we know the timeframe for the upcoming coup: ideally sometime, in October or November of 2011. But before that, it was the turn of another element – this time the European connection Romano Prodi – to give his blessing and to explain to Monti why he would soon be the “happiest man alive:”
Romano Prodi, a former president of the European Commission and another old friend of Mr Monti’s, recalls a similar conversation, but even earlier, towards the end of June 2011. “We had a long and friendly conversation,” Mr Prodi says, “and he asked for my thoughts, and I told him, ‘look here Mario, there is nothing you can do to become prime minister but if the job is offered to you then you cannot say no. So you should be the happiest man alive’.”
Finally, the only missing link was the codification of the “reforms” that Italy would undergo the second Berlusconi was booted out.
Corrado Passera, a leading banker who was to become Mr Monti’s minister for economic development, infrastructure and transport, was meanwhile given the green light that summer by Mr Napolitano to prepare a confidential 196-page document containing his own proposals for a wide-ranging “shock therapy” for the Italian economy. It was a programme of proposed government policies and reforms that went through four successive drafts as Mr Napolitano and Mr Passera discussed it back and forth that summer and into the autumn.
With all that in place, it was time to put the plan into effect.
Italy’s crisis intensified throughout the autumn of 2011. All Italians still remember the smirk of scepticism on the faces of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, when they were asked at a press conference in October if they had confidence in Mr Berlusconi’s ability to cut the deficit or reduce the debt, which was then at 120 per cent of gross domestic product. (The latest figure is 133 per cent.)
So yes, for anyone still confused – since total debt/GDP has risen by 13% in the past two years, the last thing Italy engaged in was austerity designed to moderate its out of control public spending. What it did engage in, was epic capital misallocation, even greater corruption, and gross incompetence. All of these, however, were conveniently scapegoated on the only well-known traditional fallback.
At this point, we should remind readers of a concurrent story, one involving Italy’s then-member of the ECB executive council, Lorenzo Bini-Smaghi, who revealed in a recent book that at just around this time Berlusconi was realizing that the trap was closing. Bini-Smaghi revealed that Berlusconi had “discussed (threatened?) Italian withdrawal from the euro in private meetings with other EMU governments, presumably with Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, since he does not negotiate with underlings.”
And so the ECB went to task, and under its new boss, yet another Italian, former Goldmanite Mario Draghi, allowed Italian bond yields to crater and take the country, and the Eurozone, and thus the entire developed world, to the edge of collapse. Just so Italy’s president had a pretext to accelerate the demise of Berlusconi and catalyze his replacement with a technocrat crony of the financial establishment. Once again, as a reminder, here is the dynamic of bond yields soaring just as Berlusconi was threatening to end the European dream in which “so much political capital is invested”:
What happened after that moment is part of the public record:
On November 9 2011 Mr Napolitano appointed Mr Monti a senator for life, thus making him a member of parliament. On November 12, at a meeting with the president, Mr Berlusconi resigned, ending his third stint as prime minister. Within 24 hours – rather than call for fresh elections – Mr Napolitano named Mr Monti, the economics professor and former European commissioner who had never held elected office, as prime minister. The full cabinet was sworn in three days later.
Mr Berlusconi’s supporters cried foul and made noisy claims that there had been a “coup”.
They were right, and now – from the horse’s mouth – we know the facts.
In a lengthy videotaped interview with Mr Monti, he confirmed the conversation with Mr De Benedetti in St Moritz. He also acknowledged the conversation with Mr Prodi in June 2011, though at first he played down these talks, saying that the idea of him becoming prime minister “was sort of in the air”.
He recalled with a giggle that “Yes, Prodi came to see me at the end of June and the spread [between Italian and German government bond yields] was then about 220 or 250 basis points, and he told me: ‘Get ready, because when the spread hits 300 you will be called in’. And then the spread hit 550!”
… as if by magic. Supposedly Draghi wasn’t quite willing to do “whatever it takes” just yet.
Mr Monti confirmed that he knew all about the Passera document being prepared for the president. “Corrado Passera told me he was working on this and he said he would show it to me, and he did, and he told me he had given it to Napolitano and would give it to me,” Mr Monti said. “And on one occasion I discussed the Passera document with Napolitano, and then later on, months later, when I was named prime minister, I immediately asked Passera to join the Cabinet.”
But when asked if it was made clear to him in the summer of 2011 in his talks with Mr Napolitano that the president was asking him to be ready to take over from Mr Berlusconi, Mr Monti hesitated. “Well, President Napolitano and I had been talking for a long time, for years, not about this, but then things sort of came to a head.”
When pressed further to explain if Mr Napolitano had explicitly asked him to be on standby during their talks back in June and July 2011 – four to five months before he replaced Mr Berlusconi as prime minister – Mr Monti demurred: “Look here: I will not reveal details of conversations that I had with the president of the republic.”
Pressed again, and asked if he wished to deny on the record that in June and July of 2011 President Napolitano had either asked him explicitly or had made it clear that he wanted him to be available to become the new prime minister, Mr Monti replied falteringly, in a voice that became almost a whisper: “Yes. He, uh, he gave me a signal in that direction.” After this revelation a look of extreme discomfort spread across Mr Monti’s face and he stared off to one side.
Perhaps because Monti had just realized he admitted that Italy had undergone presidentially-blessed government coup – one whose execution stretched far beyond any constitutional powers awarded to the president, and one which involved numerous foreign (and financial) interests (and conflicts thereof).
At this point attention turns to Italy’s president, 89-year old Giorgio Napolitan0, whose direct intervention was instrumental in allowing this carefully laid “bloodless coup” plan of bankers and technocrats to proceed:
Mr Napolitano did not agree to an interview despite repeated requests. His spokesman had no comment on a series of written questions, including one about which month in 2011 Mr Napolitano had first sounded out Mr Monti to become prime minister.
But last week Mr Napolitano commented for the first time on the controversy over his naming of Mr Monti. During a visit to the European parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Napolitano said that while some had described his naming of Mr Monti “as almost invented by me as a personal whim”, in fact he had done so on the basis of indications given to him by parliamentary and political leaders “in the course of consultations as is required”.
This explanation could raise further questions in Italy, where such “consultations as is required” would typically have begun only upon the resignation of the prime minister. In Mr Berlusconi’s case, these would have begun upon his November 12 resignation.
We now know that all such consultations took place well before said resignation. But where it gets better is just how grand the chess game truly was:
The Monti government acted swiftly to introduce harsh austerity measures, spending cuts, a value added tax rise and new property duties as well as reform of the pensions system. Praise was duly heaped on him by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and financial markets.
Many Italians still despise Mr Monti for the austerity programme and see him as a pawn of the European Commission or of Ms Merkel. In retrospect he lacked a political touch but was a useful transition figure at a time of crisis.
Mr Monti says his greatest achievement was to jump into electoral politics during the election of February 2013 at the expense of Berlusconi’s party. “Had it not been for my taking votes away from the centre-right,” Mr Monti said in the interview, “Berlusconi today would be either the president of the republic or the prime minister, so I did achieve a concrete result in blocking that.”
Of course, Berlusconi’s star has now faded, and with it the danger that the supposedly irrational politician, who once had threatened to dissolve the Eurozone and thus saddle Germany with a TARGET2 bill amounting to almost $1 trillion. Which meant that the status quo of the “equity tranche” (read – the global banker aristocracy) had been preserved. In this way, Napolitano, Prodi and Monti, assisted by their fourth Italian friend – ECB’s Mario Draghi – effectively subjugated the Italian population to call it austerity, call it gross and premeditated capital misallocation, but certainly call it the will of the bankers. And all without firing a shot.
Which brings up the question of just how constitutional, if at all, was the overthrow of Berlusconi.
Adopted in 1948 after more than 20 years of chaos and brutal fascist rule, Italy’s constitution is one of the few documents universally respected by Italians. It guarantees their most basic rights. It is sacrosanct.
Planning in secret, even as a contingency measure, to appoint a new prime minister when a parliamentary majority is in place may be a prudent and responsible action for a president but it is not an explicit power assigned by the constitution, even if there is a financial crisis under way in half of Europe as was the case in the summer of 2011.
Most ironic, however, is that the only person who seems to care about the trampling of the constitution is… a former comedian.
Whatever one thinks of Mr Berlusconi, serious constitutional questions are raised by the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring that resulted in the appointment of his successor. Perhaps the loudest voice to raise these questions is that of Beppe Grillo, the comedian-turned-politician who garnered 25 per cent of the national vote last year.
Mr Napolitano, an 89-year-old former communist, has reacted with anger at Mr Grillo’s incessant accusations of the subversion of democracy. Mr Grillo has frequently called for Mr Napolitano’s impeachment.
Today, Italy is emerging from recession slowly, with an exceedingly weak and uneven economic recovery. This year is expected to bring less than 1 per cent growth in GDP.
Italy remains sharply divided over the events of 2011 and Mr Napolitano’s role in them. The issue of whether Mr Napolitano went beyond his constitutional powers during the summer and autumn of 2011 can be left to future historians. But what is clear now – thanks to Mr Monti’s own admission – is that he and the president had been discussing the prospect of his taking over from Mr Berlusconi long before his official appointment in November of 2011. For Mario Monti it had been a long and secret summer.
Indeed it had. And now we know that in order to effectuate the banker plan of preserving Europe’s “political capital” which is simply another name of trillions in wealth on paper (and on funny-colored pieces of European currency) that would evaporate if and when the Eurozone inevitably dissolves, it took just four Italians – Monti, Prodi, Napolitano and, of course, Draghi – willing to trample their constitution in order to achieve the goal of perpetuating the status quo no matter the cost.
As for the fallout, namely “youth unemployment is at a record high of 41.6 per cent, nationwide joblessness is 12.7 per cent and almost a third of families are near the poverty line. Productivity and competitiveness have dropped sharply in recent years. Mr Monti’s successor, Enrico Letta, another leader championed by Mr Napolitano, is under fire for his handling of the economy”… well, all those are problems of the “99%”. And as everyone knows by know, the 99% is the last thing on the mind of the global ruling class.
Guest Post: Underneath Their Autocratic Rulers, Russia And U.S. On Diverging Societal Paths | Zero Hedge
Submitted by L. Todd Wood, a former special operations helicopter pilot and bond trader.
Underneath Their Autocratic Rulers, Russia and U.S. on Diverging Societal Paths
As the State of the Union address highlighted, both the Russia Federation and the United States have leaders that lean toward various degrees of autocratic government to achieve their agendas. President Putin rules with an iron fist and treats the legislative branch as an afterthought to use as needed but otherwise ignores. President Obama declares he will use executive action to get what he wants and quietly uses government agencies to intimidate and stifle his opposition in flagrant abuses of power. Putin has dismantled the Russian free press and imprisoned vocal opponents. The majority of the American press does Obama’s bidding for him while the administration puts movie makers in jail.
Underneath the tyrannical policies of the two Presidents, American and Russian society are diverging. First let’s look at welfare – it really doesn’t exist in Russia. If you’re a single mother raising your child alone, the state will pay you less than $50 a month. Unemployment insurance is also miniscule. The minimum wage is around $200 a month. I recently asked a Russian friend what they would receive if they lost their job. Her answer was, “It’s my problem, why should the government pay?” Health care is free but of very low quality. Russians with money typically choose private care and buy their own private health insurance.
In the United States, we are seeing an obscene explosion of the nanny-state. Obamacare has been exposed as a huge wealth redistribution scheme. The CBO states that the ACA is a disincentive to work. Disability payments are skyrocketing. The number of Americans receiving food stamps has doubled and is spiraling out of control. Welfare work requirements have been weakened. The left continuously pushes to add more immigrants to the government dole and refuses to enforce current immigration law.
The difference in the tax code between the two countries is also striking. If you live in New York, the combined government tax bite is above sixty percent. It is a safe bet that any Democratic state government will continue to try and raise taxes. Obama raised rates on the top earners in America and would boost them across the board if he could. In Russia, the individual tax rate is a flat thirteen percent. There is an eighteen percent VAT and the corporate rate is twenty-four percent. If Russia could remove her corrupt barriers to entry, her economy would explode higher.
The difference between the two nations when approaching geopolitical challenges cannot be more extreme. The United States has shown a willingness to abandon long standing allies time and time again on the global chessboard. Whether it be Israel, Poland, or Saudi Arabia, the Obama administration has shrank from global leadership and left a gigantic vacuum for President Putin to happily fill. Russia has shown a willingness to ignore Western political correctness and stand up for Russian long-term interests. One only has to look to the Iranian nuclear issue, the Syrian situation, or the Snowden embarrassment to see evidence of Putin schooling the American government. The American position seems to consist of avoiding conflict and appeasing adversaries rather than standing up for historical American values, our allies, and our way of life.
One of the most interesting differences that has been inconveniently obvious in the international press is the Russian refusal to embrace the religion of global warming. While the American government strives to shut down energy economic engines of power, Russia uses energy to achieve its national goals. Putin has been quoted as describing the climate change alarmist agenda as a marketing scheme. Putin has not bought into the madness of crowds to the benefit of Russia.
Perhaps the most curious cavern between the United States and Russia is their approach to religion. The church was effectively shut down during the Soviet experiment. However, in the last few decades, the Russian Orthodox Church has roared back to favor in Russian government opinion. President Putin has even felt emboldened enough to accuse the West of being morally decadent. The Democratic Party in the United States has largely morphed into an atheistic, anything goes, hedonist entity. One only has to look at the refusal of the Obama administration to enforce marijuana laws in America to find evidence of this fact.
I recently had a conversation with a young urban professional in Moscow. Their comment to me was that most young Russians were embarrassed of the communist revolution in Russia. “They killed our best people,” this person commented. I find it curious that the Rolling Stone recently published an article extolling the benefits of the teachings of Karl Marx and echoing the mindset of many of the current millennial generation in America. When the youth of American are yearning for communism, I fear America must relearn the very harsh lessons of the past. If Russia can ever deal with the specter of corruption, her society may leap to the future.
Paul Singer’s “Vision” Of The Coming “Riot Point” And The Fed’s “Formula For Destruction” | Zero Hedge
We sympathize with traditional stock and bond investors, who are faced with extremely poor choices today. QE has distorted the prices of all traditional asset classes to such an extent that none currently promises a fair return with modest risk…. Because the dominant force in securities-price movements today is government policy, particularly the governmental buying of bonds and stocks, there is a vulnerability to all trading and investing prospects that cannot be assessed or measured with confidence… Since there is no history of Americans losing confidence in the basic soundness of their currency and their government, and since monetary policy today is so manipulative and large, it will be hard to parse the reasons for any particular market moves in 2014.
– Paul Singer, Elliott Management
As always, perhaps the best periodic commentary on the state of the “markets” (even if such a thing has not existed for the past 5 years) and global economy comes from the person whose opinion has not been swayed by fly-by-night screechers and book-peddling pundits who fit in CNBC’s octobox and who come fast and are forgotten even faster, and whose 37 year track record at Elliott Management, whose assets he has grown from $1.3 million to $23 billion, speaks for itself: Paul Singer.
Below are the key excerpts from his January letter.
Imagine how mainstream experts would have reacted to the following set of predictions in 2006: “In two years Lehman will be bankrupt; Merrill and Bear will be acquired in distressed takeunders; Citicorp, AIG, Chrysler, GM, Delphi, Fannie and Freddie will be taken over by the government facing possibly hundreds of billions of dollars of losses; and only 13 global megabanks will survive.”
The 2008 crisis had a lasting and profound impact on virtually the entire developed world. The financial system was brought to the brink of collapse; conditions were created for the radical monetary policy of the past five years and a severely distorted recovery; the plans and dreams of hundreds of millions of people were disrupted, in some cases catastrophically; and societal values were significantly twisted away from individual responsibility toward dependency. In fact, the consequences of the bubble, the bust and the policy aftermath are not yet in full historical view. Despite all the pain, policymakers
refuse to take responsibility for the bubble, the distortions of the bubble years, the ensuing failure to lay the groundwork for strong post-bust growth, the continued riskiness and fragility of the major financial institutions, the lack of appropriate policies to deal with the bust, or their total inability to deal with competitive and technological challenges in the labor market.
It is not that the path toward destruction was impossible to see. On the contrary, a number of people saw the disaster coming, even if they did not all see the timing or the shape of it. The strangest part of the whole series of events is that only a few large professional investors noticed the smoke and shouted “fire.” Policymakers, particularly at the Fed and including (importantly) Janet Yellen, paid some small lip service to the building risks, but they were wedded to their primitive “models” and had a completely inadequate grasp of modern financial instruments, leverage and the interconnectivity of financial institutions. Not only did policymakers fail to understand what was happening and how to deal with the crisis and its aftermath, but also many of those same policymakers, and ALL of the structures and assumptions that prevailed pre-crash, are still in place today. No apologies have been issued. There has been a great deal of partisan back-and-forth and successful lobbying, but sadly the financial system is still not sound. This may be impossible to prove until the next crisis, but you could have said the same about conditions leading up to the last one.
Policymakers were and remain asleep at the wheel. The lack of introspection at the Treasury, the Fed, Congress, the White House and other regulatory bodies is astounding. Instead of taking reasonable and conservative steps to strengthen the financial system and to reach consensus on what is necessary to generate growth, there has been a series of cronyist, ideological, punitive steps that have neither catalyzed the growth that this country needs nor made financial institutions safe. At the same time, the Administration has allowed (and encouraged) the Fed to carry the ball all by itself, heaping praise on it for saving the world at the very time that the White House is shirking its own responsibilities. The Fed’s “dual mandate” (to promote “maximum employment” as well as “price stability”) is bunk in today’s context. It seems as if the entire world is acting as if the Fed actually has a “total mandate” and the rest of the federal government gets to stand around and applaud its heroic efforts. In fact, what we have now is a lopsided recovery, gigantic price risk in financial markets because of QE, and unknown but potentially massive risks of inflation and the ultimate loss of confidence in the major paper currencies, all because the federal government is more interested in ideology than in getting the country back on track, and the Europeans are more interested in preserving the euro than promoting the prosperity of the sovereign nations of Europe.
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For private investment firms like hedge funds, leverage in the modern world is a matter of semi-volition. True, it is much more readily available than in the past, but there are credit departments and initial margins limiting the size of positions. The big financial institutions, on the other hand, found themselves in an environment starting a couple of dozen years ago in which leverage was entirely voluntary, subject to no real constraint because they were not required to post initial margins with each other. Since many of their positions were “hedges” in similar securities, they risk-underwrote those trades using models that projected very little possibility of generating losses. As a result, the entire system has become super-leveraged, super-interconnected and very brittle. Given the benefits of hindsight, we do not have to prove the proposition that the limits of leverage were exceeded in the recent past and that the system was improperly risk-managed by governments and by the managements of financial institutions. It is frustrating, therefore, that no meaningful de-risking of the financial system has occurred since the crisis. You will see a system primed for a rerun of 2008, perhaps even faster and more intense this time.
MONETARY POLICY GOING FORWARD
QE has created asset price booms, but historically high excess bank reserves are still generally not being lent, and monetary velocity remains relatively low. But last spring, we witnessed the first tangible sign that the Fed may be trapped in its current posture. The Fed cannot retreat due to excessive debt in the system, the fragility of major financial institutions (still opaque and overleveraged) and the prospect that a collapse of bond prices could lead to a quick, deep recession. This situation may be the early stages of a phase in which the Fed is afraid to act because it has the “tiger by the tail,” and perhaps is beginning to realize that the current situation carries significant risks. QE has not generated a sharp upsurge of sustaining and self-reinforcing growth thus far. What it has done is lift stock and asset prices and exacerbate inequality. If investors lose confidence in paper money, as evidenced by either a hard sell-off in one of the major currencies or a sharp fall in bond prices, the Fed and other major central bankers will be in a pickle. If they stop QE and/or raise short-term rates to deal with the loss of confidence, it could throw global markets into a tailspin and the worldwide economy into a severe new recession. However, if they try to deal with the loss of confidence by stepping up QE or keeping interest rates at zero, there could be an explosion in commodity and other asset prices and a sharp acceleration in inflation. What would be the “exit” from extraordinary Fed policy at that point? The current, benign-looking environment (low inflation and
stable economies) is by no means ordained to be the permanent state of things. At the moment, “tapering” is expected to get underway, but that prospect represents a tentative, slight diminution of bond-buying. It contains no real promise of normalizing monetary conditions. If the economy does not light up, the impact of another year of full-bore QE is impossible to predict. Five years and $4 trillion have created economic and moral distortions but very little sustainable value. Maybe the sixth year will produce the “riot point.” Nobody knows, including the Fed.
As we and others have said, the Fed is overly reliant upon models that do not account for real-world elements of instruments, markets and traders in the derivatives age. Models cannot possibly take into account unpredictable interactions among huge positions and traders in new and very complicated instruments. Thus, the Fed should be careful, humble and conservative. Instead, it is just blithely plowing ahead as if it knows exactly what is going on. Intelligent captains sail uncharted waters with extra caution and high alert; only fools think that each mile they sail without sinking the vessel further demonstrates that they are wise and the naysayers were fools. This is a formula for destruction. The crash of 2008 should have been smoking-gun evidence of the folly of this approach, but every mistake leading up to the crash, especially excessive and “invisible” leverage and interest rates that were too low, has been doubled down upon in the years since.