Global Investing

Fears of collateral drought questioned

Have fears of global shortage of high-grade collateral been exaggerated?

As the world braces for several more years of painful deleveraging from the pre-2007 credit excesses, one big fear has been that a shrinking pool of top-rated or AAA assets — due varioulsy to sovereign credit rating downgrades, deteriorating mortgage quality, Basel III banking regulations, central bank reserve accumulation and central clearing of OTC derivatives — has exaggerated the ongoing credit crunch. Along with interbank mistrust, the resulting shortage of high-quality collateral available to be pledged and re-pledged between banks and asset managers,  it has been argued, meant the overall amount of credit being generating in the system has been shrinking,  pushing up the cost and lowering the availability of borrowing in the real economy. Quantitative easing and bond buying by the world’s major central banks, some economists warned, was only exaggerating that shortage by removing the highest quality collateral from the banking system.

But economists at JPMorgan cast doubt on this. The bank claims that the universe of AAA/AA bonds is actually growing by around $1trillion per year.  While central bank reserve managers absorb the lion’s share of this in banking hard currency reserves,  JPM reckon they still take less than half of the total created and, even then, some of that top-rated debt does re-enter the system as some central bank reserve managers engage in securities lending.

Citing a recent speech by ECB Executive Board member Benoit Coere dismissing ideas of a collateral shortage in the euro zone, JPM said ECB action in primary covered bond markets and in accepting lower-rated and foreign currency collateral had helped. It added that the average amount of eligible collateral available for Eurosystem liquidity operations was 14.3 trillion euros in the second quarter of 2012 — with 2.5 trillion euros of that put forward as collateral by euro zone banks to be used in the ECB’s repo operations of 1.3 trillion.  Critically, the majority of that 2.5 trillion posted at the ECB was either illiquid collateral such as bank loans or collateral associated with peripheral issuers and thus unlikely eligible for use in private repo markets anyway, they added. This process of absorbing low quality collateral in order to free up higher-quality assets for private use has been an approach of both the ECB and Bank of England.

More generally, JPM argues that strict AAA requirements across the financial system are a thing of the past. The likes of tri-party repos in Europe now accepting AA paper, for example, and there are few bond funds left with specific AAA mandates. Similar restrictrions have disappeared for most insurance and pension funds. While central banks have bought some $3.5 trillion of bonds since 2008, they have created about $5 trillion of reserves via QE and long-term repos and that net $1.5 trillion of cash is collateral of the highest quality. Neither did detailed analysis of Basel III liquidity coverage needs  or OTC derivatives central clearing needs throw up onerous collateral requirements, they said.

Are these (collateral shortage) worries justified? Not in our opinion. The universe of AAA/AA bonds is actually growing in absolute terms. It has grown by $9tr (in the Barcap Multiverse index) since the end of 2008. We expect around $1tr of extra AAA/AA bond supply a year over the coming years due to elevated and persistent government deficits among major developed countries.

Next Week: Big Black Cloud

Following are notes from our weekly editorial planning meeting:

Not unlike this year’s British “summer”, the gloom is now all pervasive. Not panicky mind, just gloomy. And there is a significant difference where markets are concerned at least. The former involves surprise and being wrongfooted — but latter has been slow realisation that what were once extreme views on the depth of the credit swamp are fast becoming consensus thinking. The conclusion for many now is that we’re probably stuck in this mire for several more years – anywhere between 5 and 20 years, depending on your favoured doom-monger. Yet, the other thing is that markets also probably positioned in large part for that perma-funk — be it negative yields on core government debt or euro zone equities now with half the p/e ratios of US counterparts. In short, the herd has already  hunkered down and finds it hard to see any horizon. Those who can will resort to short-term tactical plays based on second-guessing government and central bank policy responses (there will likely be more QE or related actions stateside eventually despite hesitancy in the FOMC minutes  and Fed chief Bernanke will likely give a glimpse of that thinking in his congressional testimony next week); or hoping to surf mini econ cycles aided by things like cheaper energy; or hoping to spot one off corporate success stories like a new Apple or somesuch.

So has all hope been snuffed out? The reason for the relapse mid-year depression is only partly related to the political minefield frustrating a resolution of the euro crisis – in some ways, things there look more encouraging policywise than they did two months ago. It stems as much from a realization of just how broken the banks credit creation system remains – a system that had hinged heavily on extensive collateral chains that have now largely been broken or shortened and starved of acceptable high-quality collateral. Curiously, QE – by removing even more of the top quality collateral – may even be exaggerating the problem. Some even say the extreme shortage of this quality “collateral” may require more, not less, government debt in the US and UK and would also benefit from a pooling of euro debt  – but everyone knows how easy all that’s going to be politically.

Despite all this, global markets have remained fairly stable over the past week – in part due to policy hopes underpinning risk markets and in part because there’s not many places left to hide without losing money in “safe-haven” bunkers. World equities are down about 2 percent over the past week,  but still up more than 6 percent from early June. Risk measured by volatility indicesis a smidgen higher too. Oil has firmed back toward $100pb, disappointing everyone apart from oil exporters. Spanish and Italian 10-yr yields are a touch higher. And at least part of the caution everywhere is ae vigil ahead of Chinese Q2 GDP data on Friday – numbers that now almost rival the U.S.  monthly payrolls in global market impact.

from Funds Hub:

Markets could be derailed again, warns Soros

CLIMATE-COPENHAGEN/Railway porter-turned-billionaire financier George Soros delivered a stark warning last night that the financial world is on the wrong track and that we may be hurtling towards an even bigger boom and bust than in the credit crisis.

The man who 'broke' the Bank of England (and who is still able to earn a cool $3.3 bln in a year) said the same strategy of borrowing and spending that had got us out of the Asian crisis could shunt us towards another crisis unless tough lessons are learned.

Soros, who worked as a porter to pay for his studies at the London School of Economics after emigrating from Hungary, warned us to heed the lesson that modern economics had got it wrong and that markets are not inherently stable.

from MacroScope:

Press that reset button…

resetbuttonMohamed El-Erian, CEO and co-CIO of the world's biggest bond fund PIMCO, says 2010 is the beginning of the multi-year resetting of the global economy.

In the period up to the crisis, there were two labels that dominated the world -- Great Moderation and Goldilocks. Not too cold, not too hot. 2009 was about crisis management -- the label was 'whatever it takes'. The 2010 label is post-crisis. It's not just about post-crisis. In our view, 2010 is about multi-year resetting of the global economy. It will be a bumpy journey to the new normal.

Speaking in London ths week, he warned that migration of wealth and growth dynamics of advanced economies to systemically important emerging economies must be on top of investor radar screen in 2010, as well as sovereign risks.

from Raw Japan:

Investing as charity

While Japan took few direct hits in the global credit crisis, the aftershocks have been immense, and long-lasting. The United States and Europe may now be showing some signs of recovery, but the world's second-largest economy is still straggling behind and gasping for air.

Predictably, equity markets reflect Japan's wheezy struggle. The Nikkei 225 is the worst performer among the benchmark indexes of the G7 nations, up just 10 percent so far this year. (The best performer, by the way, is Toronto at nearly 27 percent. The Dow has posted a respectable 17 percent return.)MARKETS-JAPAN-STOCKS

Some discrepancy between Japan and other advanced industrialised nations is to be expected. Tokyo's top companies are largely exporters reliant on the United States, where consumer spending has been whiplashed by the recession. A resurgent yen, which drives up the price of Japanese goods overseas, hasn't helped either.

from MacroScope:

SWF 2.0

The easing of the credit crisis is giving way for a new generation of sovereign wealth funds.

Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Bolivia, Nigeria, Canada are just some of the places where a public debate has begun on establishing some form of sovereign wealth fund. And even Scotland is now looking at establishing such a fund to manage oil wealth.

China is also close to launching an agency to restructure and consolidate state-owned enterprises -- dubbed by Chinese media as CIC 2.0 in reference to the country's $200 bln SWF China Investment Corp.

from MacroScope:

Who do you blame for the credit crisis?

Greedy bankers are routinely blamed for the credit crisis but one British-based poll of -- well, financiers -- spreads the blame more widely.

Gary Jenkins, head of fixed income research at Evolution Securities, wanted a more specific scapegoat and ran a poll of about 200 mostly fund managers and investors asking them to pick their credit crisis culprit. Former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was the clear winner, picking up 35
percent of the votes. He has been widely criticised over the past year for low interest rate policies that helped fuel the credit boom.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton also figured quite prominently with about 10 percent of  votes, and British prime minister Gordon Brown got quite a few.

from Funds Hub:

No defence

Sheltering from the credit crisis in so-called defensive stocks could prove a disappointment to investors and a great opportunity for short-sellers, according to Liontrust hedge fund manager James Inglis-Jones.

rtr226iq2Inglis-Jones, who runs a hedge fund for Liontrust and who recently took on the First Income fund after the departure of star manager Jeremy Lang, has short positions in sectors such as tobacco and pharmaceuticals and has recently added more.

"It's an interesting opportunity when something is seen as safe," he told me. "When the company delivers a disappointment the payoff can be pretty good."

from Funds Hub:

Batten down the hatches

It's fashionable now for leading economists and financial wizards to claim that they saw the credit crunch coming and the kind of dislocation it would create. But how many have predicted where the next implosion will occur?

bad-building1Dr Andrew Lo, founder of hedge fund firm AlphaSimplex, and director of the MIT laboratory for financial engineering, has spent his career studying market behaviour, publishing papers examining why quant funds imploded in August 2007, and trying to reconcile behavioural economics with efficient market theory.

He sees the next big meltdown in commercial mortgages, but this time it's pensions funds that will bear the brunt of the losses rather than banks. Lo points out that commercial mortgages have been packed and sold in the same way as residential mortgages - different levels of risk exposure sliced and diced and wrapped up together in one package with a triple A rating slapped on top.

Stressed out?

Trying to second guess reaction to news during this financial crisis has been a fraught exercise and the U.S. Treasury may have a few advisers playing game theory to assess the impact of results from bank stress tests.

The tests are an attempt to determine which banks can survive more trouble, and who can’t. And how big any balance sheet holes might be. The results are due out on May 4.

If the results look too good, the process will look like a whitewash. Too negative, and it will destabilise still-jumpy markets. Yet showing up problems at one or a few banks could hang them out to dry.