MacroScope

Law of diminishing returns

The law of diminishing returns?
The first euro zone bailout, of Greece, bought a few months of respite, the next ones bought weeks, latterly it was days. Now … hours. Spanish bond yields ended higher on the day and, more worryingly, Italy’s 10-year broke above six percent. It was always unlikely the deal to revive Spanish banks was going to lead to a durable market rally with make-or-break Greek elections looming on Sunday but there were other things at play.

Top of the list is that the bailout will inflate Spain’s public debt and the dangerous loop of damaged banks buying Spanish government bonds that are falling in value. There’s also the fact that Germany and others are keen to use the new ESM rescue fund to funnel money to Spain because of the greater flexibility it offers. That will make private investors subordinate to the ESM which could prompt another rush for the exits which Madrid can ill afford since this is the first euro zone bailout which keeps the recipient active in the bond market.
It’s for the same reason that a revival of the ECB’s bond-buying programme, which it still doesn’t fancy, could prove counter-productive.

Officials are already pondering that conundrum, suggesting that the loan to Spain could initially be made under the existing EFSF bailout fund then taken over by the ESM, though that sounds like the sort of creative thinking in Brussels that generally fails to convince investors.
Another cracking Retuers exclusive following our breaking of the Spanish bailout on Friday, showing European finance officials have discussed limiting the size of withdrawals from ATM machines, imposing border checks and introducing euro zone capital controls as a worst-case scenario should Athens decide to leave the euro, is unlikely to have settle market nerves.

Today, the ECB releases its bi-annual report on risks facing the financial system. I’d imagine it will have a fair amount to say. For now, it seems content to let governments take all the strain of crisis management. Plenty of policymakers, Hollande, Merkel, Monti and Van Rompuy included, are speaking today but having done their bit for Spain over the weekend it’s really eyes down for the Greek election now, swiftly followed by a G20 summit and a key gathering of EU leaders at the end of the month.
There, some light will be shed on longer-term plans to make the euro zone a more durable economic union, although this is going to be a long haul – too late to address the current crisis. We’re expecting French and German briefings today, the latter on the Los Cabos G20.

There’s also a groundswell behind setting up a banking union, including a deposit guarantee fund, quickly. European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, ECB policymaker Christian Noyer and French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici are all espousing it today. Germany, where the bill will fall, is much more reticent and wants to see the drive to fiscal union, which will take many months even years of negotiation, treaty change and parliamentary ratifications, completed first.

Today in the euro zone – a blizzard of bailout numbers

Brace yourself for a blizzard of numbers.

EU finance ministers gathered in Copenhagen are poised to decide precisely how much firepower their new rescue fund – to be launched mid-year – will have. A draft communiqué suggests that as of mid-2013, presuming no new bailouts have been required in the interim, the combined lending ceiling of the future ESM and existing EFSF bailout funds will be set at 700 billion euros (500 billion pledged to the ESM plus the roughly 200 billion already committed to Greek, Irish and Portuguese rescue programmes).

Up to mid-2013, if 700 billion proves to be insufficient — i.e. someone else needs bailing out — euro zone leaders will be able to bolster it with the 240 billion euros as yet unused in the EFSF, according to the draft, although German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said last night that 800 billion should be the absolute limit.

Sorry, there’s more. Because the ESM will not have its full 500 billion euros capacity on day one – it will build up over time – the real available figure for the next year is more like 640 billion euros.
Confused? You should be.

Today in the euro zone – the elusive firewall

Conflicting pressures for the euro zone bond market today – a strong signal from Germany that it is willing to increase the firewall built around the currency bloc but ongoing concerns that Spain is being dragged into the mire.

Litmus tests are provided by an auction of a mixture of Italian debt worth up to four billion euros and the sale of short-term Spanish t-bills. While Spanish yields on the secondary market have come under pressure there has been no sign yet that primary sales will have any difficulty, given the more than 1 trillion euros of three-year ECB money sloshing round the financial system.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and Spain’s Mariano Rajoy are both in South Korea for a nuclear summit and could well break cover.

Today in the euro zone

Investors who bought Greek default insurance discover how much they will be paid today. Memories of the chaos that flowed from CDS payouts after the collapse of Lehmans mean there is a degree of nervousness but the signs are this will be nothing like as serious.

A  payout of around $2.5 billion to holders of the insurance contracts on Greek bonds will not cause the calamity once feared by euro zone politicians and the ECB as it represents a drop in the ocean of losses investors have already taken on money lent to Greece. That doesn’t mean, however,  that a few banks have not been foolish enough to write vast amounts of contracts on Greek debt which will now fall due.

There is a complex auction process to go through where bonds are bought and sold in order to determine a final price, or ‘recovery rate’. That will also give a more accurate guide to the market outlook for Greece since the new bonds issued as part of the bond swap are barely being traded so far. That view ain’t likely to be pretty.

from Amplifications:

The ECB’s battle against central banking

By J. Bradford DeLong
The opinions expressed are his own.

When the European Central Bank announced its program of government-bond purchases, it let financial markets know that it thoroughly disliked the idea, was not fully committed to it, and would reverse the policy as soon as it could. Indeed, the ECB proclaimed its belief that the stabilization of government-bond prices brought about by such purchases would be only temporary.

It is difficult to think of a more self-defeating way to implement a bond-purchase program. By making it clear from the outset that it did not trust its own policy, the ECB practically guaranteed its failure. If it so evidently lacked confidence in the very bonds that it was buying, why should investors feel any differently?

The ECB continues to believe that financial stability is not part of its core business. As its outgoing president, Jean-Claude Trichet, put it, the ECB has “only one needle on [its] compass, and that is inflation.” The ECB’s refusal to be a lender of last resort forced the creation of a surrogate institution, the European Financial Stability Mechanism. But everyone in the financial markets knows that the EFSF has insufficient firepower to undertake that task – and that it has an unworkable governance structure to boot.

Investment Week: From the Trenches…

Early September skirmishes turned this week into full-scale “currency wars”, to use Brazil’s terminology. Dramatic language, but not unwarranted. The markets have taken Fed signals of preparation for further money printing as an effective attempt at a dollar devaluation, allowing the country export its deflationary pressures overseas via capital outflows to higher-yielding developing countries.

GERMANY-IFO/

The major developing nations, for all the arguments favouring currency revaluations of 20-25% over the next couple of years, are not going to stand idly by and watch that happen overnight. But their attempts to offset the impact of soaring local currencies and attendant asset bubbles merely floods local economies with cash at a time when fighting inflation — not deflation — is their priority. Brazil has raised the red flag, but the likes of Turkey and Taiwan are also registering fears about the impact of another bout of US monetary pump priming. Meantime, the gloves are off in the US-China yuan row; possible trade measures are being invoked in DC; and there is little chance of cooler heads prevailing this side of the US mid-term elections. This story will run.

What’s certain is the G20 finance meeting in South Korea on Oct 22 has significant work to do. Next week the battle lines are already drawing up at the Asia-Europe summit in Brussels (and China’s PM Wen and Japan’s PM Kan both travel) and then the annual IMF/G7 meetings in DC. The key US September payrolls report on Friday, for good measure, may be the deciding data set for the Fed to pull the trigger on QEII. And also meeting next Thursday is the Bank of England, itself back in a QE frame of mind if you listened this week to one of its policymakers Adam Posen