Commentaries

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from Rolfe Winkler:

Bond Bears: Beware of “crypto QE”

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The guys at Variant Perception make a great point. Some reform plans for the banking sector (so-called "narrow banking" being the most extreme) would have banks invest more deposits in government paper in order to keep them safe. To the degree such plans get traction, that could keep a lid on yields despite rising government spending.

The following chart shows how the US 10yr yield has disconnected from the price of commodities. We believe yields are not reflecting the future risk of inflation, and the fiscal situation of many sovereign issuers. However, there are no limits to what governments may do to support their debt. In the UK, a recent ruling was announced by the FSA forcing banks to increase their holdings of government bonds. In India a similar initiative has just been announced. In Japan, already over 50% of outstanding JGBs are owned by public sector institutions. In the US, only 0.9% of commercial banks’ assets are treasuries; in 1994 it was as high as 8.7%, so there’s great scope for it to increase. Mandated purchases of government bonds by banks and other financial institutions – crypto-quantitative easing – could persist long after official QE comes to an end, keeping bond markets supported for longer than many think.

Nevertheless, we think longer-term yields will move higher. Sell rallies.

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Commercial property borrowers falling short

Commercial real estate loan delinquencies are on the rise again, and September’s increase is the largest ever, according to Moody’s Investors Service’s latest tally of those loans included in CMBS deals.

Delinquencies stand at 3.64%, up from 0.54% a year ago and 0.41 percentage points higher than August. The hotel sector showed the biggest increase in late payments, up 0.79 ppt to 4.97%. The multi-family housing sector now stands at 6.09% – the highest of any property type.

Automatic debt-to-equity swap?

That’s what Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo seems to be advocating in his speech, which you can find here.

Here’s the graph, emphasis mine:

We must also adopt new regulatory mechanisms to counteract the systemic and too-big-to-fail problems that became so embedded in our financial system. One possible approach is a special charge–possibly a special capital requirement–that would be calibrated to the systemic importance of a firm. Needless to say, developing a metric for such a requirement is a new, and not altogether straightforward, exercise. Another proposal, which strikes me as having particular promise, is that large financial institutions be required to have specified forms of “contingent capital.” One form of this proposal would have firms regularly issue special debt instruments that would convert to equity during times of financial stress. If well devised, such instruments would not only provide an increased capital buffer at the moment when it is most needed. They would also inject an additional element of market discipline into large financial firms, since the price of those instruments would reflect market perceptions of the stability of the firm.

The EC bank smackdown

Dexia and ING’s recent decisions to call some of their subordinated debt has puzzled market observers, as they seem to fly in the face of the European Commission and its crusade on burden-sharing for banks that have received state aid.

The Commission wants junior creditors of bailed-out banks to share some of the pain along with the public sector, and wants to make sure public funds aren’t used to repay equity or junior debt if a bank can’t. Holders of some of RBS’ subordinated debt recently found this out to their horror when the bank chose not to call the bonds at the first opportunity. The Dexia and ING bondholders, by contrast, will have had a nice pay day. The Dexia upper tier 2 bond was trading below par in the mid 70s area, according to CreditSights.

So much for that de-leveraging

You would think it would take a little longer for hedge funds and other investors addicted to using borrowed funds to juice returns before they started loading up on high-yielding junk. But with short-term borrowing costs so low, I suppose it was just too hard to resist yields found in the depths of high-yield bond market.

CCC-rated bonds, the darlings of the current rally in corporate debt, have broken though another milestone , according to Martin Fridson of Fridson Investment Advisors. Its spread over Treasurys as measured by Merrill Lynch, fell to 12.18 percentage points this week, below it’s historical average. Meanwhile, higher-rated junk spreads are still much higher than their averages.

Citi back for more, but sans FDIC help

It looks like Citi is on a mission to prove it doesn’t need any stinking help from the federal government. Earlier this week it tapped the bond market for $5 billion, but the notes carried the FDIC guarantee. As the FT noted in its piece yesterday, the move seemed at odds with the bank’s supposed attempts to get out from under the government’s thumb.

So today, the bank is back with five-year note offering that comes without the FDIC backstop. But it’s going to have pay for that. IFR price guidance puts the risk premium at 3.25 percentage points over Treasurys. Just for a little perspective, JP Morgan has bond maturing January 2015 trading at 1.38 percentage point over Treasurys, according to MarketAxess.

Good hybrid crack

It’s interesting to see the Irish government seems to have been keeping a close eye on the hybrid debt fiasco, as it is now embracing the securities as a way to ensure the country’s banks don’t get an easy ride offloading dud property loans to NAMA, its bad bank scheme. I guess you could call it a form of payback.

Hybrid debt has played its own special role in creating the current mess.
Banks used hybrid debt to bolster their capital ratios even though the securities weren’t always very good at absorbing losses.

A Confucian conundrum for China

The Chinese own more United States Treasury bills than can be counted in a lifetime, and as the dollar printing press roars on, the rulers of the People’s Republic are getting nervous. They would like to see another reserve currency, and quite like the idea of it being the renminbi. After all, the euro and the yen are really too small to fulfill the role, while sterling is just small change.

So China has this week decided to issue its first sovereign bonds denominated in its own currency which foreigners can buy, at least in small amounts. After all, if the world is to hold renminbi reserves, it needs a proper market in its central bank IOUs.

Anyone for cov-lite?

In our post-credit crunch era of avowed simplicity and rigorous credit analysis, you’d have thought that bond investors would be demanding tougher terms than ever to finance high yield companies.

Not at all, according to recent research by Moody’s on the growing European high yield bond market, where deal structures are looking rather toppy. 

The European Commission strikes back

Reeling from the humiliation of failing to stop Belgian bank KBC paying interest on some of its subordinated bonds, the European Commission has won a new victory in its bid to see bondholders share the pain of bank bailouts.

Acting as a sort-of policeman for Brussels, the UK’s Financial Services Authority has prevented the Royal Bank of Scotland from repaying four subordinated bonds at their first opportunity, causing prices to plunge by up to 15 percent. The Upper Tier 2 euro-denominated bonds fell to between 70 and 75 cents, depending on who you ask.

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