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2 Charts Explain Slowest Economy In History – STA WEALTH

2 Charts Explain Slowest Economy In History – STA WEALTH.

Written by Lance Roberts | Thursday, March 06, 2014

Earlier this week I discussed the expectations for an increase in reported earnings of 50%over the next two years:

“Currently, according to the S&P website, reported corporate earnings are expected to grow by 20.26% in 2014, and by an additional 20.28% in 2015.  In total, reported earnings are expected to grow by almost 50% ($100.28/share as of 2013 to $147.50/share in 2015) over the next two years.

However, as I also noted, the rise in corporate profitability has come from accounting magic and cost cutting along with a healthy dose of share buybacks.  Since there is “no free lunch,”the drive for greater corporate profitability has come at an economic expense.  Since 1999, the annual real economic growth rate has run at 1.94%, which is the lowest growth rate in history including the “Great Depression.”  I have broken down economic growth into major cycles for clarity.

GDP-Growth-ByCycle-030614

As I discussed previously:

“Since 2000, each dollar of gross sales has been increased into more than $1 in operating and reported profits through financial engineering and cost suppression.  The next chart shows that the surge in corporate profitability in recent years is a result of a consistent reduction of both employment and wage growth.  This has been achieved by increases in productivity, technology and offshoring of labor.  However, it is important to note that benefits from such actions are finite.”

The latest report on unit labor costs and productivity produced the following two charts which underscore this point and suggests that the current rate of economic growth is unlikely to change anytime soon.

stated previously, that in in 2013 reported earnings per share for the S&P 500 rose by 15.9% to a record of $100.28 per share.  Importantly, roughly 40% of that increase occurring in the 4th quarter alone.  The chart of real, inflation adjusted, compensation per hour as compared to output per hour shows a likely reason why this occurred.  The sharp increase in output per hour combined with the sharp decline in compensation costs is a direct push to bottom line profitability.

Productivity-employment-030614

However, it was not just a decrease in compensation costs but in total labor costs as well which includes benefits and other labor related costs.  This suggests that the drop off in hiring in the 4th quarter was more than just “weather” related.

Compensation-UnitLaborCosts-030614

Labor costs are one of the largest detractors from net profitability on any income statement.  The problem with cost cutting, wage suppression, labor hoarding and stock buybacks, along with a myriad of accounting gimmicks, is that there is a finite limit to their effectiveness.

I say this because of something my friend Cullen Roche recently pointed out:

We’re in the backstretch of the recovery.  We’re now into month 47 of the current economic recovery.  The average expansion in the post-war period has lasted 63 months.  That means we’re probably in the 6th inning of the current expansion so we’re about to pull our starter and make a call to the bullpen.  The odds say we’re closer to the beginning of a recession than the beginning of the expansion.  That puts the Fed in a really odd position and not likely one where they’re on the verge of tightening any time soon.”

This is a very important point.  While the Fed’s ongoing interventions since 2009 have provided support to the current economic cycle, they have not “repealed” the business cycle completely.  The Fed’s actions work to pull forward future consumption to support the current economy.  This has boosted corporate profitability at a time when the effectiveness ofcorporate profitability tools were most effective.

However, such actions leave a void in the future that must be filled by organic economic growth. The problem comes when such growth does not appear.  With the economy continuing to “struggle” at an anaemic pace, the effects of cost cutting are becoming less effective.

This is not a “bearish” prediction of an impending economic crash, but rather just a realization that all economic, and earnings, forecasts, are subject to the overall business cycle.  What the unit labor costs and productivity report suggest is that economic growth remains very weak.  This puts current forward expectations of accelerated economic and earnings growth at risk.  With asset prices extended, valuations rich and optimism at extremes, such a combination has historically become a rather toxic brew when exuberant expectations fail to align with reality.

Near-Bankrupt Rome Bailed Out As Italy Unemployment Rises To All Time High, Grows By Most On Record In 2013 | Zero Hedge

Near-Bankrupt Rome Bailed Out As Italy Unemployment Rises To All Time High, Grows By Most On Record In 2013 | Zero Hedge.

A few days ago, we reported that, seemingly out of the blue, the city of Rome was on the verge of a “Detroit-style bankruptcy.” In the article, Guido Guidesi, a parliamentarian from the Northern League, was quoted as saying “It’s time to stop the accounting tricks and declare Rome’s default.” Of course, that would be unthinkable: we said that if “if one stops the accounting tricks, not only Rome, but all of Europe, as well as the US and China would all be swept under a global bankruptcy tsunami. So it is safe to assume that the tricks will continue. Especially when one considers that as Mirko Coratti, head of Rome’s city council said on Wednesday, “A default of Italy’s capital city would trigger a chain reaction that could sweep across the national economy.” Well we can’t have that, especially not with everyone in Europe living with their head stuck in the sand of universal denial, assisted by the soothing lies of Mario Draghi and all the other European spin masters.” And just as expected, yesterday Rome was bailed out.

As Reuters reported, Matteo Renzi’s new Italian government on Friday approved an emergency decree to bail out Rome city council whose mayor had warned the capital would have to halt essential services unless it got financial help.

The decree transfers 570 million euros ($787 million) to the city to pay the salaries of municipal workers and ensure services such as public transport and garbage collection. Renzi, under pressure from critics who say Rome is getting favorable treatment, attached conditions to the bailout.

Rome must spell out how it will rein in its debt, justify its current levels of staff, seek more efficient ways of running its public services and sell off some of its real estate, the government decree said. Rome’s finances have been in a parlous state for years and it has debts of almost 14 billion euros which it plans to pay off gradually by 2048.

The city has around 25,000 employees of its own with another 30,000 or so working for some 20 municipal companies providing services running from electricity to garbage collection. ATAC, which runs the city’s loss-making buses and metros, employs more than 12,000 staff, almost as many as national airline Alitalia. Rome’s administrators say it needs help with extra costs associated with housing the central government, such as ensuring public order for political demonstrations, and to provide services for millions of tourists.

Here is the punchline, about Rome’s viability, not to mention Italy’s and Europe’s solvency:

The city of some 2.6 million people has been bailed out by the central government each year since 2008.

What is certain is that this year will not be the last one Rome is bailed out either. In fact, it will continue getting rescued for years to come because contrary to the propaganda, the Italian economy continues to get worse with every passing month, yields on Italian bonds notwithstanding.

Ansa reports that in January the Italian unemployment rate rose to a record 12.9%, and that “reducing Italy’s “shocking” rate of unemployment must be the government’s highest priority, Premier Matteo Renzi said Friday.” How, by pretending everything is ok, kicking the Roman can and hoping things improve by bailing out anyone that is insolvent?

Youth unemployment is particularly vicious, with an average rate of 42.4% in January for people aged 15-24, the highest since 1977, Istat reported on Friday. Reflecting the hard times, Istat also reported that the number of people in Italy who have given up the search for work is still growing. The so-called “discouraged”, who have surrendered to the idea that there is no hope of finding employment, reached an average of 1.79 million people in 2013, growing by 11.6% over the previous year.

Putting 2013 in perspective, this is the year when according to national statistical agency Istat, some 478,000 jobs were lost in Italy in 2013, the worst year since the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, with an average annual jobless rate of 12.2% last year. The new year got off to an even more dismal start, with the January jobless rate up 0.2 percentage points over December, Istat said.

Between 2008 and 2013, a total of 984,000 jobs in Italy were lost to the economic crisis – something that is “shocking,” Renzi posted on his Twitter account during a meeting of his cabinet.

“Unemployment is at 12.9%. Shocking numbers, the highest for 35 years,” tweeted Renzi, who has previously described Italy’s unemployment rates as “merciless and devastating”.

And then comes the hope and prayer of change:

“That’s why the first measure will be the Jobs Act,” which Renzi, who formed his executive only one week ago, proposed last month before the leader of the Democratic Party (PD) became premier. Earlier this week, Renzi said he would have his labour reforms and job-boosting measures, based on the Jobs Act, ready before a bilateral summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel next month.

Fast action is needed promote business investment, improve labour market efficiency while cutting relevant taxes, Labour Minister Giuliano Poletti said after Friday’s cabinet meeting.

One of the main aims of Renzi’s Jobs Act would be to simplify Italy’s labour system, eliminating many parts of the current myriad of work contracts and lay-off benefits. A key proposal of the package Renzi announced last month, before unseating his PD colleague Enrico Letta as premier and taking the helm of government, is to have a single employment contract with job protection measures growing with seniority.

At present, older workers with regular contracts tend to enjoy extremely high levels of job protection, while young people are often forced to accept temporary contracts or other forms of freelance employment that guarantee them few rights and little job security. The current system has been blamed for making firms reluctant to hire, as it is so hard to dismiss workers once they are on the books, and contributing to the high levels of joblessness, especially among the young. Making the task for Renzi’s government more difficult are grim economic forecasts.

Earlier this week, the European Commission forecast growth in the Italian economy will be weaker this year than previously forecast and the country’s debt as a percentage of gross domestic product will rise in 2014. The EC revised down Italy’s 2014 growth forecast to 0.60% but said 2015 looks brighter, as stronger consumer confidence and external demand boost the economy. It also warned that the jobless rate this year will likely be worse than expected, lowering its forecast to an average 12.6% unemployment for 2014 due to weak labour market conditions and still sluggish demand.

Finally, if all of that fails, there is always war to grow insolvent economies in a Keynesian world. Such as the now annual attempt to stir conflit in the middla east, and, as of this week, Ukraine. Fingers crossed for Italy, and the rest of the “developed world” the Keynesian priests get what they have so long been hoping for.

Near-Bankrupt Rome Bailed Out As Italy Unemployment Rises To All Time High, Grows By Most On Record In 2013 | Zero Hedge

Near-Bankrupt Rome Bailed Out As Italy Unemployment Rises To All Time High, Grows By Most On Record In 2013 | Zero Hedge.

A few days ago, we reported that, seemingly out of the blue, the city of Rome was on the verge of a “Detroit-style bankruptcy.” In the article, Guido Guidesi, a parliamentarian from the Northern League, was quoted as saying “It’s time to stop the accounting tricks and declare Rome’s default.” Of course, that would be unthinkable: we said that if “if one stops the accounting tricks, not only Rome, but all of Europe, as well as the US and China would all be swept under a global bankruptcy tsunami. So it is safe to assume that the tricks will continue. Especially when one considers that as Mirko Coratti, head of Rome’s city council said on Wednesday, “A default of Italy’s capital city would trigger a chain reaction that could sweep across the national economy.” Well we can’t have that, especially not with everyone in Europe living with their head stuck in the sand of universal denial, assisted by the soothing lies of Mario Draghi and all the other European spin masters.” And just as expected, yesterday Rome was bailed out.

As Reuters reported, Matteo Renzi’s new Italian government on Friday approved an emergency decree to bail out Rome city council whose mayor had warned the capital would have to halt essential services unless it got financial help.

The decree transfers 570 million euros ($787 million) to the city to pay the salaries of municipal workers and ensure services such as public transport and garbage collection. Renzi, under pressure from critics who say Rome is getting favorable treatment, attached conditions to the bailout.

Rome must spell out how it will rein in its debt, justify its current levels of staff, seek more efficient ways of running its public services and sell off some of its real estate, the government decree said. Rome’s finances have been in a parlous state for years and it has debts of almost 14 billion euros which it plans to pay off gradually by 2048.

The city has around 25,000 employees of its own with another 30,000 or so working for some 20 municipal companies providing services running from electricity to garbage collection. ATAC, which runs the city’s loss-making buses and metros, employs more than 12,000 staff, almost as many as national airline Alitalia. Rome’s administrators say it needs help with extra costs associated with housing the central government, such as ensuring public order for political demonstrations, and to provide services for millions of tourists.

Here is the punchline, about Rome’s viability, not to mention Italy’s and Europe’s solvency:

The city of some 2.6 million people has been bailed out by the central government each year since 2008.

What is certain is that this year will not be the last one Rome is bailed out either. In fact, it will continue getting rescued for years to come because contrary to the propaganda, the Italian economy continues to get worse with every passing month, yields on Italian bonds notwithstanding.

Ansa reports that in January the Italian unemployment rate rose to a record 12.9%, and that “reducing Italy’s “shocking” rate of unemployment must be the government’s highest priority, Premier Matteo Renzi said Friday.” How, by pretending everything is ok, kicking the Roman can and hoping things improve by bailing out anyone that is insolvent?

Youth unemployment is particularly vicious, with an average rate of 42.4% in January for people aged 15-24, the highest since 1977, Istat reported on Friday. Reflecting the hard times, Istat also reported that the number of people in Italy who have given up the search for work is still growing. The so-called “discouraged”, who have surrendered to the idea that there is no hope of finding employment, reached an average of 1.79 million people in 2013, growing by 11.6% over the previous year.

Putting 2013 in perspective, this is the year when according to national statistical agency Istat, some 478,000 jobs were lost in Italy in 2013, the worst year since the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, with an average annual jobless rate of 12.2% last year. The new year got off to an even more dismal start, with the January jobless rate up 0.2 percentage points over December, Istat said.

Between 2008 and 2013, a total of 984,000 jobs in Italy were lost to the economic crisis – something that is “shocking,” Renzi posted on his Twitter account during a meeting of his cabinet.

“Unemployment is at 12.9%. Shocking numbers, the highest for 35 years,” tweeted Renzi, who has previously described Italy’s unemployment rates as “merciless and devastating”.

And then comes the hope and prayer of change:

“That’s why the first measure will be the Jobs Act,” which Renzi, who formed his executive only one week ago, proposed last month before the leader of the Democratic Party (PD) became premier. Earlier this week, Renzi said he would have his labour reforms and job-boosting measures, based on the Jobs Act, ready before a bilateral summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel next month.

Fast action is needed promote business investment, improve labour market efficiency while cutting relevant taxes, Labour Minister Giuliano Poletti said after Friday’s cabinet meeting.

One of the main aims of Renzi’s Jobs Act would be to simplify Italy’s labour system, eliminating many parts of the current myriad of work contracts and lay-off benefits. A key proposal of the package Renzi announced last month, before unseating his PD colleague Enrico Letta as premier and taking the helm of government, is to have a single employment contract with job protection measures growing with seniority.

At present, older workers with regular contracts tend to enjoy extremely high levels of job protection, while young people are often forced to accept temporary contracts or other forms of freelance employment that guarantee them few rights and little job security. The current system has been blamed for making firms reluctant to hire, as it is so hard to dismiss workers once they are on the books, and contributing to the high levels of joblessness, especially among the young. Making the task for Renzi’s government more difficult are grim economic forecasts.

Earlier this week, the European Commission forecast growth in the Italian economy will be weaker this year than previously forecast and the country’s debt as a percentage of gross domestic product will rise in 2014. The EC revised down Italy’s 2014 growth forecast to 0.60% but said 2015 looks brighter, as stronger consumer confidence and external demand boost the economy. It also warned that the jobless rate this year will likely be worse than expected, lowering its forecast to an average 12.6% unemployment for 2014 due to weak labour market conditions and still sluggish demand.

Finally, if all of that fails, there is always war to grow insolvent economies in a Keynesian world. Such as the now annual attempt to stir conflit in the middla east, and, as of this week, Ukraine. Fingers crossed for Italy, and the rest of the “developed world” the Keynesian priests get what they have so long been hoping for.

China’s Corporate Debt Hits Record $12 Trillion | Zero Hedge

China’s Corporate Debt Hits Record $12 Trillion | Zero Hedge.

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 trillionFrom 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:

And 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 

HAA HAA: Will Another Creditanstalt Be Revealed Once The Hypo Alpe Aldria “Black Box” Is Opened? | Zero Hedge

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.

* * *

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.

Direct implications?

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%.

Indirect implications?

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’sIt 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.

* * *

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…

G-20 Agrees To Grow Global Economy By $2 Trillion, Has No Idea How To Actually Achieve It | Zero Hedge

G-20 Agrees To Grow Global Economy By $2 Trillion, Has No Idea How To Actually Achieve It | Zero Hedge.

Apparently all it takes to kick the world out of a secular recession and back into growth mode, is for several dozen finance ministers and central bankers to sit down and sign on the dotted line, agreeing it has to be done. That is the take home message from the just concluded latest G-20 meeting in Syndey, where said leaders agreed that it is time to finally grow the world economy by 2% over the next 5 years.

The final G-20 communiqué announced its member nations would take concrete action to increase investment and employment, among other reforms. “We will develop ambitious but realistic policies with the aim to lift our collective GDP by more than 2 percent above the trajectory implied by current policies over the coming 5 years,” the G20 statement said.

Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey, who hosted the meeting, sold the plan as a new day for cooperation in the G20.

“We are putting a number to it for the first time — putting a real number to what we are trying to achieve,” Hockey told a news conference. “We want to add over $2 trillion more in economic activity and tens of millions of new jobs.

And to think all it took was several dozen of politicians sitting down for 2 days in balny Syndey and agreeing. So over five years after the start of the second great depression the G-20 has finally agreed and decided it is time to grow the economy: supposedly the reason there was no such growth previously is because the G-20 never willed it…

There is only one problem: the G-20 has absolutely no idea how to actually achieve its goal of boosting global output by more than the world’s eighth largest economy Russia produces in a year. Nor does it have any measures to prod and punish any laggards from this most grand of central planning schemes. From Reuters:

There was no road map on how nations intend to get there or repercussions if they never arrive. The aim was to come up with the goal now, then have each country develop an action plan and a growth strategy for delivery at a November summit of G20 leaders in Brisbane.

 

“Each country will bring its own plan for economic growth,” said Hockey. “Each country has to do the heavy lifting.”

 

Agreeing on any goal is a step forward for the group that has failed in the past to agree on fiscal and current account targets. And it was a sea change from recent meetings where the debate was still on where their focus should lie: on growth or budget austerity.

So who is the mastermind behind this grand plan? Why the IMF of course: “The growth plan borrows wholesale from an IMF paper prepared for the Sydney meeting, which estimated that structural reforms would raise world economic output by about 0.5 percent per year over the next five years, boosting global output by $2.25 trillion.”

The same IMF whose “forecasts” can best be summarized in the following chart (which will be revised lower shortly to account for all the snow in the Northeast US):

 

Aside from this idiocy, the other topic under boondoggle discussion was the fate of the taper, and specifically how emerging markets will (continue to) suffer should the Fed continue to withdraw liquidity. Here, once again, the developed nations won out, leaving the EMs, and particularly India’s Raghuram Rajan – who has been pleading for far more coordination between central banks in a time of globla tightening – high and dry.

  • RBI’S RAJAN: POLICY TIGHTENING MUSTN’T UPSET GLOBAL ECONOMY
  • RAJAN SAYS INFLATION IS HURTING GROWTH
  • INDIA’S RAJAN SAYS BRINGING DOWN INFLATION BIGGEST CHALLENGE
  • RAJAN: DEVELOPED, EM NATIONS AGREE ON NEED TO CALIBRATE POLICY

What inflation? As for coordination, here is what the G-20 did agree on: whatever Yellen says, goes:

Financial markets had been wary of the possibility of friction between advanced and emerging economies, but nothing suggested the meeting would cause ripples on Monday. “The text of the communiqué indicates that the standard U.S. line that what is good for the core of the world economy is good for all seems to have won out,” said Huw McKay, a senior economist at Westpac, noting there was nothing that could be taken as “inflammatory” about recent volatility in markets.

 

There was a nod to concerns by emerging nations that the Federal Reserve consider the impact of its policy tapering, which has led to bouts of capital flight from some of the more vulnerable markets.

 

“All our central banks maintain their commitment that monetary policy settings will continue to be carefully calibrated and clearly communicated, in the context of ongoing exchange of information and being mindful of impacts on the global economy,” the communiqué read. There was never much expectation the Fed would consider actually slowing the pace of tapering, but its emerging peers had at least hoped for more cooperation on policy.

 

Hockey said there had been honest discussions among members on the impact of tapering and that newly installed Fed Chair Janet Yellen was “hugely impressive” when dealing with them.

Indeed, in the three weeks that Yellen has been Chairmanwoman, she has been truly hugely impressive. It’s the next three years that may be more problematic.

“The Pig In The Python Is About To Be Expelled”: A Walk Thru Of China’s Hard Landing, And The Upcoming Global Harder Reset | Zero Hedge

“The Pig In The Python Is About To Be Expelled”: A Walk Thru Of China’s Hard Landing, And The Upcoming Global Harder Reset | Zero Hedge.

By now everyone knows that the Chinese credit bubble has hit unprecedented proportions. If they don’t, we remind them with the following chart of total bank “assets” (read debt) added since the collapse of Lehman: China literally puts the US to shame, where in addition to everything, the only actual source of incremental credit growth over the same time period has been the Fed as banks have used reserves as margin for risk purchases instead of lending.

 

Everyone should also know that like a metastatic cancer, the amount of non-performing, bad loans within the Chinese financial system is growing at an exponential pace.

 

Finally, what everyone learned over the past month, is that as the two massive, and unresolvable forces, come to a head, the first cracks in the facade are starting to appear as first one then another shadow-banking Trust product failed and had to be bailed out in the last minute.

However, as we showed last week, and then again last night, the default party in China is only just beginning as Trust failures in the coming months are set to accelerate at a breakneck pace.

 

The $64K question is will the various forms of government be able to intercept and bail these out in time, as they have been doing so far despite their hollow promises of cracking down on moral hazard: after all, everyone certainly knows what happened when Lehman was allowed to meet its destiny without a bailout – to say that the CNY10 trillion Chinese shadow banking industry will not have far more dire consequences if allowed to fall without government support is simply idiotic.

But what could be the catalyst for this outcome which inevitably would unleash the long-overdue Chinese hard landing, and with it, a new global depression?

Ironically, the culprit may be none other than the Fed with the recently instituted taper, and the gradual, at first, then quite rapid unwind of the global carry trade.

Bank of America explains:

QE and the Emerging Markets carry trade

 

The QE channel has worked through Emerging Markets and China is a key vehicle. By lowering the US government bond yields to a bare minimum, and zero –ish at the short end, a search for yield globally ensued. Emerging market banks and corporates have gone on an international leverage binge, yet another carry trade, the third in 20 years. The first one was driven by European banks, financing East Asian capex – that ended in 1997. The second one was global banks and equity-FDI supporting mainly capex in the BRICs. That ended in 2008. This time, it is increasingly non-equity: commercial banks and more importantly, the bond market – often undercounted in the BoP and external debt statistics that conventional analysis looks at.

 

Chart 9 shows the rise of EM external loans and bond issuance (both by residence and nationality). Since, end-3Q2008 to end-3Q2013, external borrowing from banks and bonds has risen USD1.9tn. Bank loans have risen by USD855bn and bond issuance in foreign currencies by nationality is up USD1,042bn. In the prior five-year period (i.e. end-3Q2003 – end-3Q2008), forex bond issuance rose only USD432bn. Clearly, the importance of external bond issuance is rising. See Table 5 for details.

 

In China, since, end-3Q2008 to end-3Q2013, outstanding external borrowing from banks and bonds has gone from USD207bn to USD849n – a net rise of USD655bn. Outstanding bank loans are up from USD161bn to USD609bn – a net rise of USD464bn. Bond issuance in foreign currencies by nationality is up from USD46bn to USD240bn – a net rise of USD191bn. In the prior five-year period (ie, end-3Q2003 – end-3Q2008), forex bond issuance rose only USD28bn in China. Clearly, the importance of external bond issuance is rising in China.

 

 

There is more to this story.

 

As mentioned earlier, for externally-issued bonds, USD1,042bn has been raised by the nationality of the EM borrower since end-3Q 2008, but USD724bn by residence of the borrower – a gap of USD318bn, or 44%. This undercount is USD165bn in China, USD100bn in Brazil, USD62bn in Russia, and USD37bn in India. The carry trade this time around was helped substantially by access to the bond market, especially from overseas affiliates of EM banks and corporations.

 

There are a lot of moving parts in the balance of payments that finally affect the change in international reserves at any EM central bank – eg, the current account, portfolio equity investment and direct equity investment, and debt flows – both from the bond market and lending from banks. We focus on the link between these debt flows and the international reserves in China. As Table 5 below shows, China’s external debt – from bond issuance and forex borrowing from banks – rose USD655bn during 3Q08-3013.

 

 

We posit that this large rise was in part driven by the carry trade offered up by QE – China banks and corporates issued substantial forex-denominated bonds, and borrowed straight loans from international banks. We recognize the caveat that correlation does not imply causation. The USD655bn rise in China debt issuance is highly correlated to the Fed’s balance sheet since late-2008. As Chart 11 shows, the rise in China debt issuance of USD 655bn has (along with FDI and the C/A surplus), boosted international reserves by USD1,773bn since late-2008. Also, as Chart 11 shows, the USD1,773bn rise in China international reserves mirrors the rise of USD2,585bn in the EM monetary base. Lastly, the rise of China’s monetary base of USD2,585bn correlates well with the USD10.9tr rise in China’s broad money expansion.

 

 

 

As the Fed tapers, and the size of its balance sheet stabilizes/contracts, we should expect this sequence to reverse. Confidence is a fragile membrane. Not only does the Fed’s balance sheet matter as a source of funds, but we believe so does the attractiveness of the recipient of the carry trade – and the trust in its collateral. As Gary Gorton puts it…

 

The output of banks is money, in the form of short-term debt which is used to store value or used as a transaction medium. Such money is backed by a portfolio of bank loans in the case of demand deposits, or by collateral in the form of a specific bond in the case of repo. The backing is designed to make the bank debt as close to riskless as possible — in fact, so close to riskless than nobody wants to really do any due diligence on the money, just transact with it. But the private sector cannot produce riskless debt and so it can happen that the backing collateral is questioned. This typically happens at the peak of the business cycle. If its value is questioned, it loses its “moneyness” so no one wants it, and cash is preferred. But as we know, if everyone wants their cash at the same moment, their demands cannot be satisfied. In this sense, the financial system is insolvent. (interview with the FT) 

 

What makes sense for an individual carry trade – borrow low, invest at higher rates – falls prey to the fallacy of composition, when too many engage in the same carry trade. And eventually question the underlying collateral, now huge, and potentially suspect. China is a case in point. If our colleagues David Cui and Bin Gao are right, the trust sector in Chinacould create rollover risks that reverse a gluttonous carry trade within China, but partly financed overseas. In China’s case, this trade was between low global interest rates, low Chinese deposit rates, expectations of perpetual RMB appreciation on the one hand, and higher investment returns promised by Trusts on the other. A part of the debt funds raised overseas, we suspect were put to work in this Trust carry trade. The HK-based banks are big participants in intermediating the China carry trade – as Chart 12 shows, their net lending to China went from 18% of HK GDP in 2007 to 148% in late-2013.

 

There are always fancy names given to carry trades – financial liberalization of capital accounts, the Bangkok International Banking Facility, currency internationalization, etc. We remain skeptics of these buzzwords.

 

 

 

The potential consequences of Trust defaults and a China carry trade unwind

 

1. If the EM carry trade diminishes as a consequence of a changed Fed policy and/or less attractive risk-adjusted returns in EMs as collateral quality is questioned, the sources of China’s forex reserve accumulation will need to change. Perhaps to bigger current account surpluses, more equity FDI and portfolio investment through privatization and more open equity markets. If that does not happen, expanding the Chinese monetary base might require PBOC to increase net lending to the financial system and/or monetize fiscal deficits (this last part has not worked so well in EMs).

 

2. Potential asset deflation is a risk, as the carry trades diminish/unwind. Property prices are at risk – the collateral value for China’s financial systems. This is not a dire projection – it simply seeks to isolate the US QE as a key driver of China’s monetary policy and asset inflation, and highlights the magnitudes involved, and the transmission mechanism. Investors should not imbue stock-price movements and property price inflation in China with too much local flavor – this is mainly a US QE-driven story, in our view.

 

3. Currently, China’s real effective exchange rate is one of the strongest in the world. Concerns about China’s Trust sector, and its underlying collateral value, sees some of this carry trade unwound, the RMB could be under pressure.

 

 

4. Given HK’s role in the China carry trade, HK property prices and its banking system should be watched carefully for signs of stress.

 

5. UK, US, and Japan banking systems have been active lenders to China since QE. They should be on watch if the Trust rollover risk materializes and creates a growth shock in China. See Chart 15.

 

 

 

6. Safe haven bids for DM government bonds, overseas property and precious metals might emerge from China.

 

Could the party go on? Yes, if for some reason a significant deterioration in the US labor market, or a deflationary shock from China, or any other surprise that could lead to a cessation of the US tapering could prolong this carry trade. This is not the house base case. We believe it is better to start preparing for a post-QE world. As one of our smartest clients told us: “the main theme in the past five years was QE. If that is coming to an end, investments and themes that worked in the past five years must therefore be questioned.” We agree.

* * *

Yes, Bank of America said all of the above – every brutally honest last word of it.

The question, however, in addition to “why”, is whether the Fed also agrees with BofA’s stunningly frank, and quite disturbing conclusion, perhaps finally realizing that aside from the US, the biggest house of cards that would topple once the “flow”-free emperor is exposed in his nudity, is that of the world’s largest “growth” (and credit) dynamo of the past two decades – China.Because, as noted above, if Lehman’s collapse was bad, a deflationary collapse brought on by Chinese hard landing coupled with a full unwind of the global carry trade, would be disastrous and send the world into a depression the likes of which have never before been seen.

Finally, for those who want the blow by blow, here is BofA’s tentative take of what the preliminary steps of the next global great depression will look like:

If we do experience a sizable default, the knee-jerk market reaction will be cash hoarding since it will strike as a big surprise. Thus, we expect the repo rate to rise first, while the long term government bond would get bid due to risk aversion flows.

 

However, what follows will be quite uncertain, aside from PBoC injecting liquidity and easing monetary policy to help short term rate come down. It has been proven again and again the Chinese government will get involved and be proactive. The bond market reaction will be different depending on the government solution.

Alas, at that point, not even the world’s largest bazooka will be enough.

At this point one should conclude that reality – through massive, unprecedented liquidity injections – has been deferred long enough. It is time to let the markets finally return to some semblance ofuncentrally-planned normalcy: there is a reason why nature abhors a vacuum. Even if it means the eruption of the very painful grand reset, washing away decades of capital misallocation, lies and ill-gotten wealth, so very overdue.

Italian Stocks & Bonds Fall As Government Collapse Looms | Zero Hedge

Italian Stocks & Bonds Fall As Government Collapse Looms | Zero Hedge.

Having rallied yesterday and totally ignored the fact that Letta’s 10-month-old government was about to collapse, Italian equity and sovereign bond markets are falling this morning by their most in two weeks. The main bone of contention for Renzi-Letta fight is jobs and growth – there is none of either – and while Prime Minister Letta assures that the Italian economy grew in Q4 (GDP data to be released tomorrow) for the first time in 10 quarters, as Bloomberg’s Niraj Shah notes, real GDP is still smaller than it was in 2000. Letta has just canceled his UK visit (planned for 2/24) and did not take part in the Democratic Party meeting with a Renzi friend saying “[Letta] will resign.”

Via Ansa

Premier Enrico Letta said Thursday that he would not attend a meeting of his centre-left Democratic Party (PD) that has been called to decide whether it should continue backing his coalition government. New PD leader Matteo Renzi may call on the party to pull its support for Letta so he can take over as premier. Letta said he would not go to the meeting so that his party could “decide with serenity”.

However, with unemployment at record levels, we suspect few will care about some manufactured, goodwill-enhanced GDP print. Italians are, of course, used to the farce that is politics – there have been 64 government since 1945.

It Begins… Another High-Yield Chinese Shadow Banking Trust Defaults | Zero Hedge

It Begins… Another High-Yield Chinese Shadow Banking Trust Defaults | Zero Hedge.

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.

Via Reuters,

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:

As Michael PettisJim ChanosZero Hedge (numerous times), and now George Soros have explained. Simply put –

“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)…

As we previously noted,

…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

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.

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