MacroScope

from Jeremy Gaunt:

Democracy and Chaos are both Greek

It seems as if almost everyone was surprised by Prime Minister George Papandreou's decision to hold a referendum on the euro zone's bailout package for his country. At the very least, it can probably be said that he is weary of being hammered from all sides --  his own party, the opposition, the people on the street, Germany, the tabloid press, you name it.

A lot will obviously depend on what question is asked. Do you want an end to austerity, would get a clear yes vote. Do you want to leave the euro zone -- perhaps not.

Financial markets, however, do not initially appear content to wait.  Talk of an end-of-year rally is off the table (at least for now).  It's not exactly χάος (chaos) out there, but Papandreou's  experiment  in δημοκρατία (democracy) has sent the whole euro zone project into a new, risky phase.

It was a typo, but RBS's take on the Greek referendum this morning will have had some resonance:

"We view this as a major negative for Greece and the rest of the momentary union".

Europe sobers up after Italian auction

After a hopeful couple of weeks and the ”euphoria” caused by an agreement to tackle the euro zone debt crisis, financial markets got a reality check from Italy’s sale of 7.94 billion euros of government bonds. The debt met lower demand than at previous auctions, forcing the country to pay the highest premium since joining the single currency to sell 10-year debt.

The results suggest markets did not think the euro zone rescue deal — which includes an agreement on the write-down of Greek debt, recapitalisation of European banks and leveraging of the euro zone rescue fund – went far enough to restore investor appetite for Italian debt.

Italian yields rose as high as 6.03 percent near levels not seen since early August, when the European Central Bank first began purchasing Italian and Spanish bonds in the secondary market to bring funding costs down to more affordable levels. Brian Barry, analyst at Evolution Securities, says that move alone speaks volumes:

from Global Investing:

Trash heap for sovereign CDS?

For all the ifs and buts about the latest euro rescue agreement, one of its most profound market legacies may be to sound the death knell for sovereign credit default swaps -- at least those covering richer developed economies. In short, the agreement reached in Brussels last night outlined a haircut on Greek government bonds of some 50 percent as a way to keep the country's debt mountain sustainable over time. But anyone who had bought default insurance on the debt in the form of CDS would not get compensated as long as the "restructuring" was voluntary, or so says a top lawyer for the International Swaps and Derivatives Association -- the arbiter of CDS contracts.

ISDA general counsel  David Geen said there would be no change in the ruling to account for the size of the haircut:

As far we can see it's still a voluntary arrangement and therefore we are in the same position as we were with the 21 percent when that was agreed (in July)

New twist in Hungary’s Swiss debt saga. Banks beware.

A fresh twist in Hungary’s Swiss franc debt saga. The ruling party, Fidesz, is proposing to offer mortgage holders the opportunity to repay their franc-denominated loans in one fell swoop at an exchange rate to be  fixed well below the market rate.  This is a deviation from the existing plan, agreed in June, which allows households to repay mortgage installments at a fixed rate of 180 forints per Swiss franc (well below the current 230 rate). Households would repay the difference, with interest, after 2015.

If this step is implemented and many loan holders take up the offer, it would be terrible news for Hungary’s banks. The biggest local lender OTP could face a loss of $2 billion forints, analysts at Budapest-based brokerage Equilor calculate.  Not surprisingly, OTP shares plunged 10 percent on Friday after the news, forcing regulators to suspend trade in the stock. Shares in another bank FHB are down 8 percent.

But Fidesz’ message is unequivocal.  ”The financial consequences should be borne by the banks,”  Janos Lazar, the Fidesz official behind the plan says. The government is to debate the proposal on Sunday.

Hungary’s central bank in policy bind

Pity Hungary’s central bank. If ever there was a country that needed an interest rate cut, here it is.  With the euro zone in the doldrums, the Hungarian economy is taking a big hit, with April-June growth coming in at a measly 1.5 percent on an annual basis, well below expectations. Quarter-on-quarter growth was in fact zero. Data last week showed annual inflation at two-year lows last month. Despite a cut to personal income tax rates this year, household consumption is stagnating. Unemployment is running at 11 percent. 

Yet the central bank’s hands are tied. A rate cut would weaken the forint currency and that would hurt the Hungarian families, municipalities and companies that are struggling with tens of billions of dollars in Swiss franc-denominated loans. The surging franc has already lopped half a percent off  Hungarian growth this year as families cut back on consumption to keep up loan repayments, Nomura analysts calculate. Another reason Hungary cannot really afford a weaker forint at this stage is its dependance on imports — they make up some 75 percent of GDP, far higher than in neighbouring Poland, says Neil Shearing at Capital Economics

Bond markets are betting on a rate cut — swaps are pricing in a half point cut over the next year. But will the central bank bite the bullet any time soon? ING Bank analysts think not. Hungary could need the protection of high interest rates in event of a global market selloff, they note. Hence the bank can afford to cut rates only next year. Shearing of Capital Economics agrees: “The central bank is in a bind. Provided the euro zone doesn’t melt down, there could be room for one or two rate cuts next year but at the moment its hands are tied by the currency issue.”

Greek firewall looks porous

The second Greek bailout was aimed at ring-fencing euro zone contagion, but could unleash it instead.

Comments from rating agencies since euro zone leaders agreed to involve the private sector in a  Greek rescue plan suggest last week’s events have increased rather than decreased the risk of contagion in the medium-term, says Gary Jenkins of Evolution Securities.

Fitch ratings stated on Friday:

If the Irish and Portuguese economies and public finances are not firmly on a sustainable path going into 2013, when both will need to regain access to medium-term market funding, the potential precedent set by PSI (private-sector involvement) in the Greek package will be incorporated into Fitch’s assessment of the risks to bondholders and reflected in its sovereign rating opinions and actions.

from Global Investing:

Jean-Claude Trichet, EM c.bankers’ new friend

What a friend emerging central bankers have in Jean-Claude Trichet. Last month the ECB boss stopped euro bears in their tracks by unexpectedly signalling concern over inflation in the euro zone. Since then the euro has pushed steadily higher  -- against the dollar of course, but also against emerging currencies. The bet now is that interest rates -- and the yield on euro investments -- will start rising some time this year, possibly as early as this summer.

That's ptrichetrovided some relief to central banks in the developing world who have struggled for months to stem the relentless rise in their currencies.

Being short euro versus emerging currencies was a popular investment theme at the start of 2011, partly because of EM strength but also because of the euro zone debt crisis. "What that also means is that people who were short euro against emerging currencies had to get out of those positions really fast," says Manik Narain, a strategist at investment bank UBS. Check out the Turkish lira -- that's fallen around 5 percent against the euro since Trichet's Jan 13 comments and is at the highest in over a year. South Africa's rand is down 6 percent too. Moves in other crosses have been less dramatic but the euro's star is definitely in the ascendant. The short EM trade versus the euro  has more room to run, Narain reckons.

from Global Investing:

What fund managers think

Bank of America-Merrill Lynch's monthly poll of around 200 fund managers had a few nuggets in the June version, aside from the usual mood-taking.

Gold is too expensive.  A net 27 percent of respondent thought it overvalued, up from 13 percent in May. Then again, the respondents to this poll have reckoned gold is too pricey since September 2009.

The fall in the euro should be tailing off. A net 14 percent reckon the single currency is still overvalued, but that is way down from the net 45 percent who thought so in the May poll.

ECB’s Stark takes aim at euro bears, rating agencies

Reuters/Ralph Orlowski

Reuters/Ralph Orlowski

Top European Central Bank policymaker Juergen Stark took aim at investors and ratings agencies for playing up worries about the future of the euro zone, accusing credit agencies of irresponsible behaviour and saying there was “no alternative” to the single currency.

“Markets are clearly, in the current circumstances, overshooting,” he told a Reuters Insider panel discussion in Frankfurt, saying investors were not taking the region’s economic fundamentals into account when they drove down the euro and drove up the cost of some countries’ debt.

Credit rating agencies compounded the problem by downgrading countries even as they announced ambitious plans to cut costs and debt, he said, pointing darkly to the possibility of  “vested interests” at work.

Upcoming live video: ECB board member Jüergen Stark debates future of the euro

A demonstrator burns a five euro note during a protest in downtown Madrid against capitalism and the G20 Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy November 15, 2008. REUTERS/Susana Ver

Join us at 9 a.m. GMT on Friday (5 a.m. ET) for a live Reuters debate with ECB board member Jüergen Stark, “Is there a future for the euro?” After a period of turmoil for the European currency, the debate will be a timely reflection on where the currency goes next. Joining Stark will be Thomas Mayer, chief economist at Deutsche Bank, and Volker Wieland, professor of monetary policy at Goethe University in Frankfurt. You can watch the event live here. We’ll post a recording of the event on the same URL shortly after.