Posts tagged ‘ECB’

Draghi & ECB Pass Trash and Serve Brussels Sprouts

ECB (European Central Bank) President Mario Draghi made it clear with his most recent monetary banking announcements that he is perfectly willing to shovel the sovereign debt trash around the financial system, but he just doesn’t want the ECB to gobble up heaps of the smelly debt.

On the same day that Draghi lowered the key benchmark interest rate by -0.25% to 1.00%, he also reduced the lending credit rating threshold for acceptable banking collateral to “single-A” and offered banks endless three-year loans with . But wait…there’s more! In typical infomercial fashion, Draghi had an additional stimulative gift offering – he halved the reserve requirement ratios for European banks.

Although Draghi is handing out lots of hugs and kisses to the banks, including infinite amounts of three-year loans, he is also providing very little direct love to European debt-laden governments. In other words, Draghi isn’t ready to pull out the printing press bazooka to sop up mounds of trashy sovereign debt (i.e., Greece, Italy, and Spain). Draghi may be willing to make the ECB the lender of last resort for the banks, but he is not signaling the same lender of last resort commitment for careless governments.

Despite Draghi’s public aversion to bond buying (a.k.a. QE or quantitative easing), he indirectly is funding quantitative easing anyway. Rather than having the ECB accelerate the direct purchase of besieged sovereign debt, he indirectly is giving money to the banks to purchase the same struggling bonds. Sneaky, but clever…I like it.

Eat Your Brussels Sprouts!

Draghi in his new role as ECB President is clearly trying to be a responsible parent to the Euro leaders, but as a result, he could be placing himself in trouble with the law. I haven’t contacted my attorneys yet, however Mario Draghi is blatantly infringing on my patented “Brussels sprouts mandate” that I regularly use at the dinner table with my children. On any given night, by 6:30 p.m. my kids are practically frothing at the mouth for some unhealthy dessert delight. The problem with the situation is unfinished Brussels sprouts sitting on their plates, so with respected authority I command, “If you want dessert tonight, you better eat your Brussels sprouts!” Normally this is not a bad strategy because my plea usually results in an extra consumed sprout or two. Ultimately, given the softy that I am, all parties involved know that dessert will be served regardless of the number of sprouts consumed.

Draghi, in dealing with the irresponsible fiscal actions of the sovereigns, is using the same precise “sprout mandate.” In a recent press conference, here’s how Draghi delivered his tough talk:

“All euro-area governments urgently need to do their utmost” for fiscal sustainability. “Policy makers need to correct excessive deficits and move to balanced budgets in the coming years. This will strengthen overall economic sentiment. To accompany fiscal consolidation, the governing council has called for bold and ambitious structural reforms.”

 

Just as it makes sense for me not to say, “Hey kids, don’t worry about eating your vegetables, save room for the ice cream sundae buffet,” it probably doesn’t make sense for Draghi to inform European leaders, “Hey kids, don’t worry about those massive debts and deficits, the ECB will give you plenty of money to buy up all that trashy sovereign debt of yours.”

Hypocritical Or Shrewd?

I applaud Signore Draghi for implementing his bold actions as lender of last resort for European Banks, but isn’t it a tad bit hypocritical? The ECB President talks seriously about Basel III capital requirements, yet he is easing rules on collateral and reserves. Why is it OK for the ECB to condone reckless behavior and introduce moral hazards for the banks (i.e., limitless ECB backstop), but not for irresponsible governments too? If I am a European bank with continuous access to ECB loans, why not roll the dice and risk shareholder capital in hopes of a big risky payoff? I’m sure Jon Corzine at MF Global (MFGLQ.PK) would appreciate similar financial backing. What’s more, how credible can Draghi be about his tough fiscal love and anti-quantitative easing stances when he is currently offering never-ending amounts of money to the banks and already buying collapsing sovereign bonds as we speak?

No matter the view you hold, the ECB is openly demonstrating it will not sit idle watching the banking system collapse under its own watch, much like the Federal Reserve and Ben Bernanke did not sit idle in 2008-2009. Perhaps Draghi isn’t being hypocritical, but is rather being shrewd? Although Draghi wants governments to eat their fiscal Brussels sprouts, let’s not kid ourselves. Just as Draghi is willing to pass the trash and appease the banking system, if the eurozone sovereign debt crisis continues worsening, don’t be surprised to see Draghi roll out his ice cream sundae buffet of aggressive bond buying. That will taste much better than Brussels sprouts.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in MF Global (MFGLQ.PK), or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

December 10, 2011 at 2:14 pm Leave a comment

Dominoes, Deleveraging, and Justin Bieber

Despite significant 2011 estimated corporate profit growth (+17% S&P 500) and a sharp rebound in the markets since early October (+18% since the lows), investors remain scared of their own shadows. Even with trembling trillions in cash on the sidelines, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up +5.0% for the year (+11% in 2010), and that excludes dividends. Not too shabby, if you think about the trillions melting away to inflation in CDs, savings accounts, and cash. With capital panicking into 10-year Treasuries, hovering near record lows of 2%, it should be no surprise to anyone that fears of a Greek domino toppling Italy, the eurozone, and the global economy have sapped confidence and retarded economic growth.

Deleveraging is a painful process, and U.S. consumers and corporations have experienced this first hand since the financial crisis of 2008 gained a full head of steam. Sure, housing has not recovered, and many domestic banks continue to chew threw a slew of foreclosures and underwater loan modifications. However, our European friends are now going through the same joyful process with their banks that we went through in 2008-2009. Certainly, when it comes to the government arena, the U.S. has only just begun to scratch the deleveraging surface. Fortunately, we will get a fresh update of how we’re doing in this department, come November 23rd, when the Congressional “Super Committee” will update us on $1.2 trillion+ in expected 10-year debt reductions.

Death by Dominoes?

Is now the time to stock your cave with a survival kit, gun, and gold? I’m going to go out on a limb and say we may see some more volatility surrounding the European PIIGS debt hangover (Portugal/Italy/Ireland/Greece/Spain) before normality returns, but Greece defaulting and/or exiting the euro does not mean the world is coming to an end. At the end of the day, despite legal ambiguity, the ECB (European Central Bank) will come to the rescue and steal a page from Ben Bernanke’s quantitative easing printing press playbook (see European Deadbeat Cousin).

Greece isn’t the first country to be attacked by bond vigilantes who push  borrowing costs up or the first country to suffer an economic collapse. Memories are short, but it was not too long ago that a hedge fund on ice called Iceland experienced a massive economic collapse. It wasn’t pretty – Iceland’s three largest banks suffered $100 billion in losses (vs. a $13 billion GDP); Iceland’s stock market collapsed 95%; Iceland’s currency (krona) dropped 50% in a week. The country is already on the comeback trail. Currently, unemployment (@ 6.8%) in Iceland is significantly less than the U.S. (@ 9.0%), and Iceland’s economy is expanding +2.5%, with another +2.5% growth rate forecasted by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) in 2012.

Iceland used a formula of austerity and deleveraging, similar in some fashions to Ireland, which also has seen a dramatic -15% decrease in its sovereign debt borrowing costs (see chart below).

Source: Bloomberg.com

OK, sure, Iceland and Ireland are small potatoes (no pun intended), so how realistic is comparing these small countries’ problems to the massive $2.6 trillion in Italian sovereign debt that bearish investors expect to imminently implode? If these countries aren’t credibly large enough, then why not take a peek at Japan, which was the universe’s second largest economy in 1989. Since then, this South Pacific economic behemoth has experienced an unprecedented depression that has lasted longer than two decades, and seen the value of its stock market decline by -78% (from 38,916 to 8,514). Over that same timeframe, the U.S. economy has seen its economy grow from roughly $5.5 trillion to $15.2 trillion.

There’s no question in mind, if Greece exits the euro, financial markets will fall in the short-run, but if you believe the following…

1.) The world is NOT going to end.

2.) 2012 S&P profits are NOT declining to $65.

AND/OR

3.) Justin Bieber will NOT run and overtake Mitt Romney as the leading Republican candidate

…then I believe the financial markets are poised to move in a more constructive direction. Perhaps I am a bit too Pollyannaish, but as I decide if this is truly the case, I think I’ll go play a game of dominoes.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

November 12, 2011 at 6:59 pm 1 comment

Solving Europe and Your Deadbeat Cousin

The fall holidays are quickly approaching, and almost every family has at least one black-sheep member among the bunch. You know, the unemployed second cousin who shows up for Thanksgiving dinner intoxicated – who then proceeds to pull you aside after a full meal to ask you for some money because of an unlucky trip to Las Vegas. For simplicity purposes, let’s name our deadbeat cousin Joe.

Right now the European union (EU) is dealing with a similar situation, but rather than being forced to deal with money-begging cousin named Joe, the EU is being forced to confront the irresponsible debt-binging practices of its own relatives – the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain). The European troika (International Monetary Fund/IMF; European Union/EU; and European Central Bank/ECB), spearheaded by German and French persuasion, is contemplating everything from prescribing direct bank recapitalization, bailouts via the leveraging of the EFSF (European Financial Stability Facility), ECB bond purchases, debt guarantees, unlimited central bank loans, and more.

New stress tests are being reevaluated as we speak. Previous tests failed in gaining the necessary credibility because inadequate haircuts were applied to the values of PIIGS debt held by European banks. European Leaders are beginning to gain some religion as to the urgency and intensity of the financial crisis. Just today, Germany’s chancellor (Angela Merkel) and France’s President (Nicolas Sarkozy) announced that they will introduce a comprehensive package of measures to stabilize the eurozone by the end of this month, right before the summit of the G20 leading global economies in Cannes, France.

Pick Your Poison

Whatever the path used to mop up debt excesses, the options for solving the financial mess can be lumped together in the following categories:

1. Austerity: Plain, unadulterated spending cuts is one prescription being administerd in hopes of curing bloated European sovereign debt issues. Negatives: Slowing economic growth, slowing tax receipts, potentially widening deficits (reference Greece), and political reelection self interests call into question the feasibility of the austerity option. Positives: Austerity is a morally correct fiscal response, which has the potential of placing a country’s financial situation back on a sustainable path.

2. Bailouts: The troika is also talking about infusing the troubled banks with new capital. Negatives: This action could result in more debt placed on country balance sheets, a potentially lower credit rating, higher costs of borrowing, higher tax burden for blameless taxpayers, and often an impossible political path of success. Positives: Financial markets may respond constructively in the short-run, but providing an alcoholic more alcohol doesn’t solve long-term fiscal responsibility, and also introduces the problem of moral hazard.

3. Haircuts: Voluntary or involuntary haircuts to principal debt obligations may occur in conjunction with previously described bailout efforts, depending on the severity of debt levels. Negatives: There are many different sets of constituents and investors, which can make voluntary haircut/debt restructuring terms difficult to agree upon. If the haircuts are too severe, banking reserves across the EU will become decimated, which will only lead to more austerity, bailouts, and potential credit downgrades. Such actions could hamper or eliminated future access to capital, and the cost of access to future capital could be cost prohibitive for the borrowing countries that defaulted/restructured. Positives: Haircuts eliminate or lessen the need for other more painful austerity or restructuring measures, and force borrowers to become more fiscally responsible, not to mention, investors are forced to conduct more thorough due diligence.

4. Printing Press: Buying back debt with freshly printed euros hot off the press is another strategy. Negatives: Inflation is an invisible tax on everyone, including those constituents who are behaving in a fiscally responsible manner. Positives: Not only is this strategy more politically palatable because the inflation tax is spread across the whole union, but this path to debt reduction also does not require as painful and unpopular cuts in spending as experienced in other options.

The Costs

What is the cost for this massive European debt-binging rehabilitation? Estimates vary widely, but a JP Morgan analyst sized it up this way as explained in the The Financial Times:

“In a worst-case, severe recession scenario, €230bn in new capital is needed to meet Basel III requirements, assuming a 60 per cent debt writedown on Greece, 40 per cent on Ireland and Portugal and 20 per cent on Italy and Spain, and that banks withhold dividends.”

 

More bearish estimates with larger bond loss haircuts, stricter regulatory guidelines, and harsher austerity measures have generated recapitalization numbers north of €1 trillion euros. Regardless of the estimates, European governments, regulators, and central banks are likely to select a combination of the poisons listed above. There is no silver bullet solution, and any of the chosen paths come with their own unique set of consequences.

As time passes and the European crisis matures, I am confident that you will be hearing more about ECB involvement and the firing-up of the printing presses. Perhaps the ECB will fund and work jointly with the EFSF to soak up debt and/or capitalize weak banks. Alternatively, and more simply, the ECB is likely to follow the path of the U.S. and implement significant amounts of quantitative easing (i.e., provide liquidity to the financial system via sovereign debt purchases and guarantees).

Dealing with irresponsible and intoxicated deadbeat second cousins (or European countries) fishing for money is never a pleasurable experience. There are many ways to address the problem, but ignoring the issue will only make the situation worse. Fortunately, our European friends on the other side of the pond appear to be taking notice. As in the U.S., if government officials delay or ignore the immediate problems, the financial market cops (a.k.a., “bond vigilantes”) will force them into action. In the recent past, European officials have used a strategy of sober talking “tough love,” but signs that the ECB printing presses are now beginning to warm up are evident. Once the euros come flying off the presses to detoxify the debt binging banks, perhaps the ECB can print a few extra euros for my cousin Joe.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in JPM, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

October 9, 2011 at 4:36 pm 2 comments

Playing Whack-A-Mole with the Pros

Source: Flickr

Deciphering the ups and the downs of the financial markets is a lot like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole. First the market is up 300 points, then down 300 points. Next Greece and Europe are going down the drain, and then Germany and the ECB (European Central Bank) are here to save the day. The daily data points are a rapid moving target, and if history continues to serve as a guide (see History Often Rhymes with the Future), the bobbing consensus views of pundits will continue to get hammered by investors’ mallets.

Let’s take a look at recent history to see who has been the “whack-er” and whom has been the “whack-ee.” Whether it was the gloom and doom consensus view in the early 1980s (reference BusinessWeek’s 1979 front page “The Death of Equities) or the euphoric championing of tech stocks in the 1990s (see Money magazine’s March 2000 cover, “The Hottest Market Ever), the consensus view was wrong then, and is likely wrong again today.

Here are some of the fresher consensus views that have popped up and then gotten beaten down:

End of QE2The Consensus: If you rewind the clock back to June 2011 when the Federal Reserve’s $600 billion QE2 (Quantitative Easing Part II) monetary stimulus program was coming to an end, a majority of pundits expected bond prices to tank in the absence of the Fed’s Ben Bernanke’s checkbook support. Before the end of QE2, Reuters financial service surveyed 64 professionals, and a substantial majority predicted bond prices would tank and interest rates would catapult upwards.   Actual Result: The pundits were wrong and rates did not go up, they in fact went down.  As a result, bond prices screamed higher – bond values increased significantly as 10-year Treasury yields fell from 3.16% to a low of 1.72% last week.

Debt Ceiling DebateThe Consensus: Just one month later, Democrats and Republicans were playing a game of political “chicken” in the process of raising the debt ceiling to over $16 trillion. Bill Gross, bond guru and CEO of fixed income giant PIMCO, was one of the many pros who earlier this year sold Treasuries in droves because fears of bond vigilantes shredding prices of U.S. Treasury bonds .

Here was the prevalent thought process at the time:  Profligate spending by irresponsible bureaucrats in Washington if not curtailed dramatically would cascade into a disaster, which would lead to higher default risk, cancerous inflation, and exploding interest rates ala Greece. Actual Result: Once again, the pundits were proved wrong in the deciphering of their cloudy crystal balls. Interest rates did not rise, they actually fell.  As a result, bond prices screamed higher and 10-year Treasury yields dived from 2.74% to the recent low of 1.72%.

S&P Credit DowngradeThe Consensus: The S&P credit rating agency warned Washington that a failure to come to meaningful consensus on deficit and debt reduction would result in bitter consequences. Despite a $2 trillion error made by S&P, the agency kept its word and downgraded the U.S.’s long-term debt rating to AA+ from AAA. Research from JP Morgan (JPM) cautioned investors of the imminent punishment to be placed on $4 trillion in Treasury collateral, which could lead to a seizing in credit markets.  Actual Result: Rather than becoming the ugly stepchild, U.S. Treasuries became a global safe-haven for investors around the world to pile into. Not only did bond prices steadily climb (and yields decline), but the value of our currency as measured by the Dollar Index (DXY) has risen significantly since then.

Dollar Index (DXY) Source: Bloomberg

What is next? Nobody knows for certain. In the meantime, grab some cotton candy, popcorn, and a rubber mallet. There is never a shortage of confident mole-like experts popping up on TV, newspapers, blogs, and radio. So when the deafening noise about the inevitable collapse of Europe and the global economy comes roaring in, make sure you are the one holding the mallet and not the mole getting whacked on the head.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in JPM, MHP, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

October 1, 2011 at 5:53 am Leave a comment

Dealing Currency Drug to Export Addicts

Source: Photobucket

With the first phase of the post-financial crisis global economic bounce largely behind us, growth is becoming scarcer and countries are becoming more desperate – especially in developed countries with challenged exports and high unemployment. The United States, like other expansion challenged countries, fits this bill and is doing everything in its power to stem the tide by blasting foreigners’ currency policies in hopes of stimulating exports.

Political Hot Potato

The global race to devalue currencies in many ways is like a drug addict doing whatever it can to gain a short-term high. Sadly, the euphoric short-term benefit form lower exchange rates will be fleeting. Regardless, Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, has openly indicated his willingness to become the economy’s drug dealer and “provide additional accommodation” in the form of quantitative easing part two (QE2).

Unfortunately, there is no long-term free lunch in global economics. The consequences of manipulating (depressing) exchange rates can lead to short-term artificial export growth, but eventually results convert to unwanted inflation. China too is like a crack dealer selling cheap imports as a drug to addicted buyers all over the world – ourselves included. We all love the $2.99 t-shirts and $5.99 toys made in China that we purchase at Wal-Mart (WMT), but don’t consciously realize the indirect cost of these cheap goods – primarily the export of manufacturing jobs overseas.

Global Political Pressure Cooker

Congressional mid-term elections are a mere few weeks away, but a sluggish global economic recovery is creating a global political pressure cooker. While domestic politicians worry about whining voters screaming about unemployment and lack of job availability, politicians in China still worry about social unrest developing from a billion job-starved rural farmers and citizens. The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 are still fresh in the minds of Chinese officials and the government is doing everything in its power to keep the restless natives content. In fact, Premier Wen Jiabao believes a free-floating U.S.-China currency exchange rate would “bring disaster to China and the world.”

While China continues to enjoy near double-digit percentage economic growth, other global players are not sitting idly. Like every country, others would also like to crank out exports and fill their factories with workers as well.

The latest high profile devaluation effort has come from Japan. The Japanese Prime Minister post has become a non-stop revolving door and their central bank has become desperate, like ours, by nudging its target interest rate to zero. In addition, the Japanese have been aggressively selling currency in the open market in hopes of lowering the value of the Yen. Japan hasn’t stopped there. The Bank of Japan recently announced a plan to pump the equivalent of approximately $60 billion into the economy by buying not only government bonds but also short-term debt and securitized loans from banks and corporations.

Europe is not sitting around sucking its thumb either. The ECB (European Central Bank) is scooping up some of the toxic bonds from its most debt-laden member countries. Stay tuned for future initiatives if European growth doesn’t progress as optimistically planned.

Dealing with Angry Parents

When it comes to the United States, the Obama administration campaigned on “change,” and the near 10% unemployment rate wasn’t the type of change many voters were hoping for. The Federal Reserve is supposed to be “independent,” but the institution does not live in a vacuum. The Fed in many ways is like a grown adult living away from home, but regrettably Bernanke and the Fed periodically get called by into Congress (the parents) to receive a verbal scolding for not following a policy loose enough to create jobs. Technically the Fed is supposed to be living on its own, able to maintain its independence, but sadly a constant barrage of political criticism has leaked into the Fed’s decision making process and Bernanke appears to be willing to entertain any extreme monetary measure regardless of the potential negative impact on long-term price stability.

Just over the last four months, as the dollar index has weakened over 10%, we have witnessed the CRB Index (commodities proxy) increase over 10% and crude oil increase about 10% too.  

In the end, artificially manipulating currencies in hopes of raising economic activity may result in a short-term adrenaline boost in export orders, but lasting benefits will not be felt because printing money will not ultimately create jobs. Any successful devaluation in currency rates will eventually be offset by price changes (inflation).  Finance ministers and central bankers from 187 countries all over the world are now meeting in Washington at the annual International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting. We all want to witness a sustained, coordinated global economic recovery, but a never-ending, unanimous quest for devaluation nirvana will only lead to export addicts ruining the party for everyone.

See also Arbitrage Vigilantes

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®  

Plan. Invest. Prosper.  

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and WMT, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

October 8, 2010 at 2:48 am 2 comments

Newer Posts


Receive Investing Caffeine blog posts by email.

Join 1,804 other followers

Meet Wade Slome, CFA, CFP®

More on Sidoxia Services

Recognition

Top Financial Advisor Blogs And Bloggers – Rankings From Nerd’s Eye View | Kitces.com

Wade on Twitter…

Share this blog

Bookmark and Share

Subscribe to Blog RSS

Monthly Archives