Opinion

Felix Salmon

The stocks-housing disconnect

Felix Salmon
May 31, 2011 17:21 UTC

The double dip in the housing market — with house prices nationally now back to their 2002 levels — stands in stark contrast to what’s going on in the stock market, and a lot of people, myself, included, are puzzling over why that might be.

A few charts would seem to be in order here. First of all, the Case-Shiller house-price index, the blue line on this chart:

Case-shiller-mar.gif

It’s pretty clear from this chart that house prices are going down rather than up, and have been doing so for a good five years at this point.

Next there’s houses priced in stocks:

20110604_WOC820_0.gif

This is particularly interesting because it dates the big decline in housing as a worthwhile asset class all the way back to the early 1980s. You can see the housing bubble and bust in the spike at the end of the chart, but you can also see that this is a very volatile series, and that houses can and probably will become much cheaper still, relative to stocks.

Cullen Roche, looking at these charts, concludes:

Despite all the attempts to manipulate the real estate market, the government has largely failed in attempting to stabilize prices. In other words, it’s undergone a much more natural price discovery process. The equity market, of course, has been intervened in at every step of the way and the government has undoubtedly succeeded in propping up this market.

I don’t agree here at all. The government has done much more to intervene in the housing market than it has in the equity market, to the point at which the government at this point guarantees the overwhelming majority of mortgages. There’s nothing natural about the housing market price discovery process, and there won’t be anything natural about it for the foreseeable future, unless and until banks start taking mortgage risk again. And the large number of houses which have been sitting on the market for well over a year now is proof that this market isn’t clearing and that a lot of homeowners are still pretty delusional when it comes to what they think their home is worth.

But still the question refuses to go away: why is there such a difference between the housing market and the stock market? It’s something to do with investability, I think, because if you look at ways to invest in the housing market, they turn out to behave pretty much like stocks, rather than like houses. Here’s the Vanguard REIT ETF, overlaid with the S&P 500:

vnq.tiff

The point here is that houses are largely insulated from the kind of capital flows which drive everything from the stock market to the price of gold. There was a brief speculative bubble in housing from about 2000 to 2006, but even then the capital being deployed was largely borrowed rather than invested. Real estate is and always will be a game of debt: it’s almost unheard-of for people to buy up investment properties for cash.

The other weird thing about the housing-stocks disconnect is that it seems to be peculiarly American. There have been gruesome property-market crashes in other countries too, of course — look at commercial property in Ireland, or speculative beach resorts in Spain. But in general, countries with much larger property bubbles than we saw in the U.S. have seen property prices fall much less during the bust. And indeed there are brand-new property bubbles popping up all over the Pacific Rim: what is it that’s causing huge demand in Sydney and Hong Kong and Shanghai and Vancouver which doesn’t seem to have any effect on San Francisco?

I don’t have any good answers here, except to say that if housing is getting cheaper, in many ways that’s a good thing. Sure, it’s bad for banks, and it’s unpleasant for anybody who bought a house as an investment. But in general, the less money we Americans spend on housing every month, the more money we have to spend on more productive sectors of the economy, and the higher our disposable incomes. Falling house prices don’t make people richer. But they can make you feel richer than if you were spending hundreds of dollars more per month on a mortgage.

COMMENT

This may be primarily due to demographics. As baby boomers are selling their house to fund their retirement, house prices continue to slide. Besides baby boomers are more investing in annuities and other safe haven and moving away from real estate. Some nice facts and stats from bankers life and casualty company here.

Posted by RICKCHARLES | Report as abusive

The hardship of pro bono clients, Steven Simkin edition

Felix Salmon
May 31, 2011 16:11 UTC

Peter Lattman follows up today on the only-in-New-York story of Paul Weiss partner Steven Simkin, who wants to claw back money from his ex-wife on the grounds that he was invested with Bernie Madoff when they got divorced:

Mr. Simkin’s lawyers — his colleagues at Paul Weiss — described their partner in court papers as “gravely damaged” and suffering “extreme hardship” as a result of the Madoff fraud.

The annual profits per partner at Paul Weiss are about $3 million, according to The American Lawyer magazine. Last October, Mr. Simkin sold his Scarsdale home for $5.7 million and bought another in nearby Mamaroneck for $4.1 million, according to state real estate records. Paul Weiss, a law firm renowned for its litigation department, is representing Mr. Simkin free of charge.

There are two outrageous things going on here. First is the claim of “extreme hardship” — a claim that Paul Weiss is actually making with a straight face.

extreme.tiff

Does anybody at Paul Weiss have the slightest notion what “extreme hardship” actually is? Or any hardship at all, for that matter, beyond the hardship involved in drafting SEC shelf registrations at 3 am? Notably, the complaint in this case doesn’t actually give any concrete indication of what Simkin’s extreme hardship entails, probably because any such indication would be ludicrous on its face. (He had to give up his dreams of a third home in the Caribbean!)

More scandalous still, however, is the fact that Paul Weiss’s lawyers are working pro bono for their multi-millionaire colleague and client. The New York City Bar Association’s statement of pro bono principles, which is meant to be available here, seems to have disappeared from the web, but Noah Kazis summarized it when writing about Gibson Dunn in February. Pro bono clients should be confined to:

  • persons of limited means,
  • charitable, religious, civic, cultural, community, governmental and educational organizations committed to serving the needs of persons of limited means and/or in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means,
  • individuals, groups or organizations seeking to secure or protect civil rights, civil liberties or public rights,
  • individuals, groups or organizations who have been harmed by a natural disaster or public emergency or who are providing assistance to persons harmed by a natural disaster or public emergency, and
  • charitable, religious, civic, cultural, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters in furtherance of their organizational purposes, where the payment of legal fees would significantly deplete the organization’s economic resources.”

It’s pretty obvious that Simkin doesn’t fall into any of these categories.

A few questions, then, for Paul Weiss: What are the grounds on which you decided to take on Simkin as a pro bono client? Do you represent all your partners for free when they get into litigation with their exes? Does the work you’re doing on the Simkin case count towards the total pro bono hours that you’re reporting to the New York City bar? And what, exactly, is the “extreme hardship” that Simkin is suffering?

I’ll be very impressed indeed if Paul Weiss even attempts to answer these questions. But given that they refused to comment to the New York Times, I’m not holding my breath.

COMMENT

It will be really shocking if the court does not summarily dismiss this suit. Typically courts treat contracts seriously, and are alive to attempts to utilize obscure logic such as the one in this suit in order to game a financial payday from a ruling. Maybe Simkin’s partners are just trying to make their dilapidated colleague feel better. But contracts don’t get all rubbery when one of the parties loses all his savings at a casino, even if that casino happened to rent a swanky office in the Lipstick building.

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The Fed vs Bloomberg, ST OMO edition

Felix Salmon
May 31, 2011 14:28 UTC

Dave Altig, who wonderfully moved Macroblog over to the Atlanta Fed when he took a job there, is very unimpressed with Bob Ivry’s Bloomberg piece on that obscure short-term loan scheme by the Fed.

Altig’s main point is that the ST OMO scheme was not secret at all: to the contrary, it was publicly announced! This is true — but it’s also true that Ivry linked, in his story, to the exact same announcement. (Click on the word “adapted,” in paragraph eight.)

Here’s Ivry Altig:

These transactions were hardly, in my view, “secretive.”…

While it is true that specific transactions with specific institutions were not published in real time, the overall results of the auctions (both total purchases and the lowest interest rate paid) were posted each day (as noted in the Bloomberg article), and the list of potential counterparties (the primary dealers) was (and is) available for all to see. I suppose we could have a reasonable debate about how much information is required to support the claim that “details” were made available. But I have a hard time with the notion that publicly announcing the program, offering details on size and prices in each day’s transactions, and providing general information about the entities in the game constitutes “secretive.”

With some of this I come down on the side of Altig, and would actually go even further than he does: Ivry does not say that the Fed posted the results of the auctions each day. There are only two points in Ivry’s article where he hints at what information the Fed did make public. The first is when he hyperlinks the term ST OMO on first use, sending readers to a Federal Reserve search page. And the second comes in a discussion of Goldman Sachs:

Goldman Sachs, led by Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein, tapped the program most in December 2008, when data on the New York Fed website show the loans were least expensive. The lowest winning bid at an ST OMO auction declined to 0.01 percent on Dec. 30, 2008, New York Fed data show. At the time, the rate charged at the discount window was 0.5 percent.

Stephen Cohen, a spokesman for Goldman Sachs, declined to comment.

You have to read this very carefully indeed to get the point that information about individual loans was published on the New York Fed website, rather than to simply get the main thrust of the passage, which is about Goldman Sachs.

On the other hand, Altig makes the Fed seem a lot more transparent than it actually is. For instance, he produces this chart:

chartwi.jpg

Generating this chart is decidedly non-trivial. But still, there’s no indication in Ivry’s piece that putting this chart together would even be possible.

In order to generate a chart like this, you need to go to that NY Fed search page, and type in the dates March 2008 to December 2008. When you do that, a very long page appears, giving you a long list of the temporary open market operations the Fed conducted in that period. You can export that data in Excel format, where column I shows you the operations which were 28 days long — the ones that Ivry was writing about. So you then sort by column I (Term-CD), and then by date. You can then show the size of each operation (column AG, “Total-Accept”), and the average interest rate charged (column AC, “MBS-Wght Avg):

stomo.jpg

From reading Ivry’s story, I had no idea I could put together this chart. But the fact is that this data is highly inaccessible: unless you have someone like Altig holding your hand and explaining exactly what you have to do, you’re very unlikely to be able to find it.

And certainly the Fed gives no information at all about which banks took advantage of the ST OMO scheme. Altig is a bit disingenuous when he says that the list of primary dealers is public: yes, it is, but as we saw with Ivry’s article, there’s a huge difference between the primary dealers, who were eligible to participate in the scheme, and the list of European banks who actually used it.

More to the point, after formally announcing the program at inception, and dutifully ensuring that hard-to-parse data was buried on its website somewhere, the Fed did nothing to help public understanding of ST OMO, or even to help the public know that it existed. Transparency isn’t just about clearing some theoretical bar of public disclosure: it’s about ensuring that the public knows what you’re doing. And until Ivry’s article came along, the public — including Barney Frank — did not know about this scheme. Instead, they were told about it in the kind of way which seems designed to make sure that nobody notices. And when Bloomberg started asking for extra details about ST OMO, the Fed fought all the way to the Supreme Court in an attempt to avoid providing that information, for no good reason at all.

The Fed has a deeply-ingrained culture of secrecy, and virtually everything which goes on at the New York Fed (as opposed to at the level of the Board of Governors in Washington) is made public only begrudgingly, in an opaque and unhelpful manner — if, that is, it’s made public at all. That helps to set up an adversarial relationship between the New York Fed, on the one hand, and reporters, on the other. If Altig wants to know why Ivry was less than generous to the Fed in his story, that’s why. Maybe if the New York Fed cooperated more with requests for help and information, instead of fighting those requests in the courts, Altig would find less in the press to complain about.

COMMENT

Thanks, Felix. It takes your level of expertise and connections (and your impressive Excel skills!) to fully flesh this out. Which means the Fed was hiding the ball. Now, Fed issues aside, where is the 8-K from GS that shows that it had to borrow $30B to stay solvent?

Wouldn’t investors want to know? There is where someone had a duty to disclose.

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Counterparties

Felix Salmon
May 31, 2011 05:48 UTC

Prince Philip: Ninety gaffes in ninety years — Independent

There are more people over 35 making $200k than there are people under 35 making $100k — TBI

The Startup Genome Project’s empirical research on startups — Steve Blank

Your tax dollars at work. “At a training session, ‘most attendees dressed like hippies’” — NYT

Dancing protestors arrested at the Jefferson Memorial — WTOP

What the British say, What the British mean, and What others understand — LL

Obama’s meta-joke about the Queen, the Pope, and Nelson Mandela — YouTube

Paul Romer to NYU — NYT

COMMENT

Being of Slavic decent and having a pot belly, I found No. 6 to be particularly amusing: “You can’t have been here that long – you haven’t got a pot belly.”

Posted by flippant | Report as abusive

Nastygram of the day, NYSE edition

Felix Salmon
May 27, 2011 19:48 UTC

RTR2JER9_Comp.jpg

This is a photo of the NYSE trading floor. It was taken on March 3 by Reuters photographer Lucas Jackson, and Reuters holds the copyright. The only permission I need to run this photo is that of Reuters. The NYSE, however, thinks otherwise:

NYSE has common law and Federal trademark rights in and to NYSE’s name and images of the Trading Floor… Moreover, NYSE owns Federal Trademark rights in one depiction of the Trading Floor and common law rights in the Trading Floor viewed from virtually any angle (collectively, “Trademarks”). Accordingly, NYSE has the right to prevent unauthorized use of its Trademarks and reference to NYSE by others.

That’s from one of the most ridiculous nastygrams I’ve seen in a long time, sent by NYSE chief counsel Kendra Goldenberg to Talking Points Memo. If Goldenberg really believes what she’s saying here, none of us is even allowed to mention the name NYSE if we’re not authorized to do so by the NYSE itself — let alone show a photograph of it.

The back story here is that TPM used a photo of the NYSE trading floor back in November, and then suddenly got the cease-and-desist note a couple of days ago, after everybody had forgotten about their story. At no point in the intervening months did the NYSE bother asking TPM nicely whether the photo was really relevant to the story or the right way to illustrate it. Instead, they just came out with a ridiculously tardy — and legally extremely dubious — c&d:

We demand that TMP remove all images of the Trademarks immediately. If we do not receive your response and written confirmation of the removal of all Trademarks within ten (10) days of your receipt of this letter, we will have no choice but to pursue further remedies.

This is an outright lie from the NYSE. TPM did the right thing, and stood its ground, refusing to take down the photo it had every right to use. That’s the end of the story: there’s no way that the NYSE will “pursue further remedies” at this point, they’ve made themselves enough of a laughingstock already. Rather than pursuing further remedies, then, Goldenberg and the NYSE are going to lick their wounds and slink quietly away.

The lessons here are clear: always publish any c&d you receive — it’s the best possible response. Don’t be intimidated by legalese; know your rights. And encourage other publishers to do the same thing: if big companies know that their nastygrams are likely to be ridiculed across the internet, they might be less likely to send them out.

I am a bit worried by the bit of Josh Marshall’s blog post where he says that “TPM is represented on Media and IP matters by extremely capable specialist outside counsel”. You shouldn’t need expensive lawyers to stand up to bullies — and in fact you don’t need expensive lawyers to stand up to bullies. In the vast majority of cases, a c&d is the only bullet these companies will ever fire: if it doesn’t do the job on its own, they won’t take things any further. Unless and until you get an actual lawsuit, there’s no need for lawyers.

Meanwhile, it’s worth wondering how many other publications have started receiving nastygrams from Kendra Goldenberg when they portray the NYSE in an unflattering light — and how many of them have simply folded rather than risk a legal battle with a multi-billion-dollar multinational corporation. That’s why c&ds should always be published, even if you comply with them.

If NYSE knows that even successful c&ds will always be accompanied by widespread ridicule, it might start respecting everybody else’s right to talk about them in any way they please. And it might instead start using the much more intelligent tactic of simply asking nicely if it thinks that it deserves some kind of change or edit.

Speaking personally, when I get a request for an edit or correction or update, I nearly always comply. Blogs are iterative; I make mistakes; I like to correct them. But the one time I don’t make corrections is when there’s been a legal letter sent straight to my superiors or to Reuters’s in-house counsel. At that point, things are immediately adversarial, and out of my hands. So if you want some changes, ask me nicely, directly. It’s much more effective than setting the likes of Kendra Goldenberg on my lawyers.

COMMENT

The medieval guild of type-setters probably sent similar letters to the NYTimes in the past. The new wrinkle is that I bet this was robo-signed.

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The Fed’s secret giveaway to European banks

Felix Salmon
May 27, 2011 14:23 UTC

File under “things you never knew the Fed did during the financial crisis”: an $80 billion loan scheme known as ST OMO, which was so obscure that even Barney Frank had no idea it existed when he required the Fed to turn over its lending data in his Dodd-Frank bill.

In any case, Bloomberg’s Bob Ivry has the details, thanks to a FOIA which went all the way to the Supreme Court. As with most of these things, it’s impossible to work out what the Fed was so worried about — but it’s easy to see how the Fed made it as hard as possible for Ivry to get information on ST OMO. Not only did they refuse to give him the information he was asking for, but then, when they were ordered to, they dumped 29,000 pages of documents on him. Hidden in which we find charts like these:

stomo.tiff

What we’re looking at here is the pink bars, which are labeled ST OMO; the height of each bar corresponds to the billions of dollars that each bank had borrowed from the Fed that day.

These loans were insanely cheap — the interest rate on them was as low as 0.01%, even as the Fed’s main bank window was charging 0.5%. Ivry has looked at these charts very carefully, and by measuring how tall the bars are he’s worked out how much money each bank borrowed at any given time; Credit Suisse topped out at $45 billion, for instance.

Why was the Fed so reluctant to discuss this program? After all, Fed spokesman Jeffrey Smith had nothing but great stuff to say about it to Ivry, gushing about how it “helped alleviate strains in financial markets and support the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses”. You’d think if it was so great, the Fed wouldn’t be so quiet about it.

One possible reason is hinted at in the charts above. They cover four banks: Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, BofA, and RBS. (RBS is still referred to, quaintly, under its old name of Greenwich Capital, the shop bought by NatWest before NatWest was bought by RBS.) The three European banks all borrowed 11-figure sums from the facility, while the one American bank barely used it.

And that fits the overall usage pattern of ST OMO very well. If you look at the charts, only one U.S. bank was a big user of the facility: Goldman Sachs. And even Goldman was very late to the ST OMO game, with its big borrowings taking place at the very end of the program, in December. All the other big borrowers were European: Credit Suisse, Deutsche, RBS, Barclays, BNP Paribas, UBS.

Why did the Fed set up a short-term lending program which seems to have been aimed overwhelmingly at European banks? And how does lending $45 billion to Credit Suisse support the flow of credit to U.S. households, in any but the most circuitous manner? It’s probably not worth asking the Fed these questions. But it does seem that the governments of Switzerland, Germany, France, and the UK should all be sending thank-you letters to 33 Liberty Street if they haven’t already done so: it’s entirely possible that the New York Fed bailed out their banks without those governments even knowing about it. That’s just how generous we are, in this country.

Counterparties

Felix Salmon
May 27, 2011 06:20 UTC

This Jim Dwyer column would be much better if it actually tried to answer the question in its headline — NYT

“Richard Phillips would like to thank the Chateau Marmont” — Gagosian

SEC Charges Former NASDAQ Managing Director Donald L. Johnson with Insider Trading — SEC

“This year I’ve basically become a vegetarian since the only meat I’m eating is from animals I’ve killed myself” — Zuckerberg

iMac puzzles — Tumblr

Jaw on floor, Tetris edition — Kottke

Dan Frommer leaving Business Insider — TBI

The dreadful story of how Reuters journalist Suleiman al-Khalidi witnessed Syria’s torture chambers — Reuters

Not Cool, Urban Outfitters — Tru.che

The entire HBO movie ‘Too Big To Fail’ condensed into 80 seconds — Vimeo

Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s $50,000/Month Tribeca Rental — Curbed

Skype Goes Down, App’s Crashing For Many — TNW

COMMENT

“This Jim Dwyer column would be much better if it actually tried to answer the question in its headline”. I thought he did answer the questions, by noting that the investigators failed to find any DNA evidence of rape.

I think that’s the gold standard these days.

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Chart of the day: When U.S. companies IPO abroad

Felix Salmon
May 27, 2011 03:58 UTC

As I secretly hoped that he might, Guan came to the rescue and provided me with exactly what I was looking for — and with Thomson Reuters data, no less! (It comes from SDC Platinum, I should probably befriend someone there.) I wanted a chart of the ratio of foreign IPOs to domestic ones, for U.S. companies, on a rolling five-year basis, to see whether the current level around 10% constitutes a big spike upwards. And the answer is that yes, it does:

foreipo.png

Guan cautions that the data from before 1980 or so might not be particularly reliable, since it’s hard to know when a U.S. company lists abroad unless you’re a truly global company. But that doesn’t really matter: the proportion of IPOs of U.S. companies which took place abroad only cracked 2% for the first time in 1999. It stayed between 1% and 2.5% all the way from 1998 through 2004, and then it suddenly started spiking: 7.1% in 2005, 8.4% in 2006, 9.3% in 2007, and a whopping 15.7% in 2008, when 6 companies had IPOs abroad and only 38 managed the feat domestically.

On an absolute rather than percentage level, the record year was 2007, when there were 24 foreign IPOs; there’s a three-way tie for second place, with 17 foreign IPOs in each of 1999, 2005, and 2006.

In any case, the thick blue line is what I was looking for, and it’s going up and to the right about as fast as any five-year moving average is ever likely to.

My next project, which maybe I can find someone at SDC Platinum to help me with, is to have a look at all those U.S. companies which had an IPO abroad — there are 157 of them, altogether — and work out how many of them ended up getting a fully-fledged US listing. Could a listing on, say, London’s AIM end up being a reasonably common bunny slope for U.S. companies which want a cheaper and gentler introduction to the world of being public than a major listing on the New York Stock Exchange?

COMMENT

FYI, the image doesn’t show up in firefox, only the .png file name.

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Are Greek bonds pricing in a massive default?

Felix Salmon
May 26, 2011 20:21 UTC

Martin Feldstein reckons that the market is pricing in a “massive” Greek default:

Even though the additional loans that Greece will soon receive from the European Union and the IMF carry low interest rates, the level of Greek debt will rise rapidly to unsustainable levels. That’s why market interest rates on privately held Greek bonds and prices for credit-default swaps indicate that a massive default is coming.

And a massive default, together with a very large sustained cut in the annual budget deficit, is, in fact, needed to restore Greek fiscal sustainability. More specifically, even if a default brings the country’s debt down to 60% of GDP, Greece would still have to reduce its annual budget deficit from the current 10% of GDP to about 3% if it is to prevent the debt ratio from rising again.

I don’t think this is true. The Greek yield curve is odd: 3-month T-bills yield about 6%, the 30-year bond yields about 10.8%, and the big spike is at 2 years out, where the yield is about 25%. Clearly the market isn’t pricing in any kind of massive default over the next three months. But let’s look at that benchmark 2-year bond, since if any instrument is pricing in a massive default it’s that one. The bond carries a coupon of 4.6%, and is trading at 71 cents on the dollar.

Now what would happen to that bond if there was a massive default? Let’s be conservative and say that Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio will be about 150%, and let’s take Feldstein’s target ratio of 60% as where the country is going to end up. In that event, the face value of Greece’s debt would have to fall by at least 60%, and probably more, given the hit to GDP which normally accompanies a big default.

Clearly, traders pricing the 2-year note at 71 cents on the dollar are not pricing in any kind of event in which Greece will swap that note out for an instrument worth only 40 cents on the dollar.

In fact, any priced-in default looks decidedly modest to me. Let’s say that Greece defaults before the next coupon payment, which is due on May 20, 2012. And let’s say that traders in this risky asset want a return of at least 10% if there’s a default. Then someone buying the bond at 71 cents now is betting that it’s going to be worth at least 78 cents post-default. Which implies a pretty modest haircut of just 22% — something which would bring Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio from 150% to a still-unsustainable 117%.

In fact, any priced-in haircut is even lower than that, since the post-default bonds aren’t going to trade at par.

My point here is that although yields on Greek debt are indeed high, they’re not anywhere near the really distressed levels that we’d expect to see if the market was expecting a massive and imminent default. If you buy a bond at 71 cents on the dollar, that’s cheap, to be sure, but there’s also an enormous amount of downside: if Greece does default in anything but the gentlest possible manner, then you’ll end up losing money.

The current price of Greek debt, then, says to me that traders are requiring hefty returns of 25% in order to pay them for taking the risk that Greece might default. They know that they’ll lose money if that happens, but they reckon that, more likely than not, Greece will muddle through — in which case they will make very good money.

The further you go out the curve, of course, the higher the default probability becomes. According to Thomson Reuters analytics, the CDS market is pricing in a 71% probability of a default in the next 5 years, and an 83% probability of a default in the next 10 years — both assuming a recovery rate of 41.5 cents on the dollar. But the Greek single-name CDS market is small and speculative; we have to be a bit careful about drawing too many conclusions from where it’s trading. If you want to protect yourself against default, you’re going to pay through the nose: this particular insurance market is very expensive. But if you’re buying Greek bonds at these levels, you’re not expecting a massive default. Quite the opposite.

COMMENT

Math, math, math.

Take the 30-year Greek bond. Compound it out 30 years. Take the 30-year bund. Do the same. Divide the expected Greek total return by the expected German total return. Then divide by 30.

You will see that the market is discounting a 30% annual loss likelihood over the next 30 years. That is, if Greek-like debt loses money 30% of the time, a rational investor is indifferent between the two. Note: this is a LOSS probability. If you assume a 50% recovery, then the probability of default is 60%.

Through the magic of compounding, a lower 30-year yield is required to discount this same likelihood than is necessary with a 2-year bond. But the probability is similar.

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