Sunday, May 20, 2012
1--Foreclosures Show No Sign of Decline, WSJ
Excerpt: At the end of March, 11.8% of all loans were at least 30 days past due or in foreclosure, the report from the Mortgage Bankers Association said. While that is still high by historical standards, it has improved steadily over the past two years, falling from 12.8% a year ago and 14.7% two years ago.
The decline in the share of homeowners late on payments was due almost entirely to fewer new cases of delinquency, a sign that households' finances are improving. The percentage of borrowers behind on their mortgage but not in foreclosure fell to 7.4% at the end of March from 8.3% a year earlier.
Foreclosures, however, remain a concern. Although banks initiated fewer foreclosures in the first quarter than at any time since 2007, the share of loans in the process remains high....
Some 4.4% of mortgages were in some stage of foreclosure at the end of March, unchanged from the previous quarter and down only slightly from 4.5% a year ago.
The numbers mask big variations by state. The national foreclosure rate remains elevated largely because of states that require banks to process foreclosures through the courts. In these so-called judicial states, banks have moved to take back homes very slowly since judges uncovered record-keeping abuses in foreclosure processing 18 months ago. Banks have encountered fewer hurdles in nonjudicial states....
Of the 11 states with foreclosure rates above the national average, 10 of them have judicial processes. The top three are all judicial states: Florida had a foreclosure rate of 14.3% at the end of March, followed by New Jersey (8.4%) and Illinois (7.5%).
Several nonjudicial states that had severe housing problems, such as California and Arizona, have seen foreclosure rates drop below the national average. While there are signs that home prices are beginning to rise in more markets, including hard-hit Phoenix and Miami, those communities with a large "shadow" inventory of potential foreclosures could face renewed price pressure once banks take back and list for sale more of those properties.
In those states, investors have grown more confident that more foreclosures won't be dumped on the market, said Mr. Brinkmann. There, "the market is stabilizing and people are coming back. I don't think that's true in Illinois right now."
2--Data Douse Hopes for China Growth, WSJ
Excerpt: China bears can take their pick of weak April data. Numbers for investment, industrial production, domestic consumption, exports and bank loans all disappointed.
The area of new residential property under construction shrunk 7.9% year-to-year in the first four months. Growth in industrial output fell to 9.3% in April, the lowest level since May 2009.
The instinct for the government will be to push the stimulus button, encouraging the banks to lend more. That's always worked in the past. This time it might not be so straightforward.
China's monetary policy makers have already been working hard to ease liquidity conditions. One week repo rates have come down to 3.2% this week, from highs above 5% at the end of February—that makes it easier for banks to lend. Yet new loans in April totaled 681 billion yuan ($107 billion), down from 1,010 billion yuan in March.
This points to the depressing conclusion that despite easing credit conditions, bank customers do not want to borrow.
China's government is not out of options. The fiscal position remains conservative, with the government running a surplus year to date. Low public debt mean there is scope to turn that around, with higher government spending buoying demand.
Falling inflation—with the consumer price index edging down to 3.4% year-to-year in April from 3.6% in March—also means room to do more on the monetary front.
Given ample liquidity in the system already, a cut in the reserve requirement ratio—freeing up still more funds to lend—would be a largely symbolic show of support. If April's gloom continues further into the second quarter, a cut in the interest rate to buoy loan demand could be on the agenda.
3--Europe's Missing Contingency Plan as Greek Exit Fears Rise, WSJ
Excerpt: The challenge now is to ensure a Greek exit doesn't lead to the entire single currency falling apart with unknowable but potentially cataclysmic consequences. Worryingly, very little contingency planning has taken place, some senior policy makers privately concede. Yet the bold action required to contain the contagion likely to engulf Spain and Italy will have such far-reaching consequences for relations between member states that they can hardly be taken in the heat of the moment.
Nobody believes the current bailout funds—capped at €700 billion ($891.1 billion)—are anywhere near big enough to impress the markets, so the decisive crisis response will fall upon the European Central Bank. To head off a possible run on peripheral European banks, it would need to offer to provide unlimited liquidity—and since many banks are already short of eligible collateral, it would have to do so with very little security. That will expose the ECB—and by extension, European taxpayers—to credit risk.
The ECB will also need to deploy its unlimited firepower to stabilize government bond markets. But simply reactivating the Securities Markets Program in its current format is no solution. The ECB's insistence on being ranked senior to other creditors in Greece means the more bonds the ECB buys, the more likely a country will be permanently shut out of markets. The only way around this problem is for member states to commit to fully indemnify the ECB against losses, putting taxpayers further on the hook.
Meanwhile the euro zone's bailout funds—the European Financial Stability Facility and European Stability Mechanism—should be used to recapitalize banks directly, rather than channeling funds via national governments. Given the added strain from a Greek exit on peripheral banking systems, major bank bailouts are inevitable. This has to be done in a way that breaks the link between sovereign and bank solvency if countries such as Italy and Spain are to have any chance of retaining market access.
But these measures come up against a familiar stumbling block: If the euro zone agrees to such far-reaching debt pooling, how can it be sure member states will continue with painful but vital reforms? The Greek election has shown the current euro zone political set-up can't provide the necessary discipline. Until now, one of the biggest obstacles to deeper political union has been Gaullist France. Is newly elected President Francois Hollande willing to sacrifice substantial sovereignty to save the euro? If not, it will surely fail.
4--Fall in Chinese Loans Poses Economic Threat, WSJ
Excerpt: When growth in China's economy slows, government leaders typically call on state-owned banks to make loans to rev up activity. But that tactic may not work this time.
Bank lending plunged in April, according to the People's Bank of China, and has remained weak in May, bankers and borrowers said. The decline owes to companies being wary about borrowing when demand is uncertain and profits are evaporating.
The fall also is due to Chinese banks' unwillingness to lend to companies in problem markets—like exporters, or companies out of favor with the Chinese government, such as property developers, and practical difficulty shifting loans to new priority areas like small businesses.
The result: China's banks can't turbocharge the economy as they have in the past.
"It is critical for bank lending to stabilize or pick up in order to support steady economic growth," said Huang Yiping, an analyst at Barclays Capital.
But medium- and long-term loans to business, a key measure of appetite for investment, have been on a declining trend since the beginning of 2010. Data for April 2012, published last week, show 126.5 billion yuan ($20 billion) in new medium-term and long-term business loans, down 46% from a year ago....
Over the long term, China wants to shift the economy away from a reliance on exports and investment, toward domestic consumption, even if that means somewhat slower growth. But Beijing has a more pressing short-term goal: Keep growth high enough so unemployment doesn't surge. That is a particular concern this year as China makes its once-in-a-decade leadership change, a process that already has been marred by the turmoil surrounding the ouster of Politburo member Bo Xilai....
But China's leaders are wary of cutting rates, for fear of igniting a bout of inflation.
The alternative more cautious approach, continued reductions in the reserve requirement ratio and instructions to the banks to lend more, has worked in the past. Trouble is, with business demand for loans low, it isn't as effective as it once was.
5--Goldman Hoards Italy's Debt, WSJ
Excerpt: Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS -1.64%revved up its exposure to Italy's sovereign debt during the first quarter even as the securities firm shrank its vulnerability to Italian banks.
In a securities filing, the New York company said its exposure to short-term Italian government debt more than doubled to $8.22 billion as of March 31 from $3.05 billion at the end of 2011.
Yet Goldman nearly eliminated its exposure to banks in Italy, cutting it to $623 million from $6.72 billion as of Dec. 31.
6--JPM On Grexit, TARGET2, And The ECB, zero hedge
Excerpt: Unless Greece chooses to leave the Euro area, which JPMorgan doubts will happen, the rest of the region will have to push Greece out. The mechanism for this will be the ECB excluding the Greek central bank from Target2, the regional payments and settlement system. Although this might look like a technical decision about monetary plumbing, the ECB will elevate this to Euro area Heads of State.
There is understandably a lot of interest in the mechanics of how a possible Greek exit from the Euro would play out in relation to the ECB. Reports of significant deposit withdrawal from Greek banks also direct attention toward the support for Greek banks coming from the Greek Central Bank and the Eurosystem. And yesterday’s announcement by the ECB of restricted access to regular repo Eurosystem financing for a number of Greek banks adds some more complication. Though we would not place a lot of emphasis on what the ECB announced yesterday as a signal of broader attitudes toward Greece, understanding the mechanics matters more broadly....
How Greece could get cut off from Target2
But a much more challenging question is what happens after the election. Let’s imagine Syriza is able to form a government, declares a debt moratorium, and antagonizes the rest of the region by rejecting the Troika programme in its entirety. Even with no further disbursements of official loans, the region’s loans to Greece via the target 2 system will be continuing to grow. Loans from the Greek central bank to Greek banks would be almost completely forced into ELA.
The ECB can “shut off” the Target2 loans if it exercises its veto over ELA loans (requiring a two-thirds majority on the Governing Council), and if the Greek central bank respects that veto.
7--Markets crumple as euro break-up fears soar, emerging markets
Excerpt: Fears of contagion triggered by a Greek exit from the euro swept through the eurozone yesterday, wiping billions off the value of European stock markets and fuelling fears of a repeat of the economic carnage seen in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse.
Moody’s, the credit ratings agency, unveiled a downgrade of four Spanish regions as shares in Bankia, the bank part-nationalized this week, plunged by a quarter as the government was forced to deny a report customers had withdrawn €1billion from the bank over the past week.
The downgrade followed its decision to downgrade 26 Italian banks while fears of a bank run surged on Wednesday after the Greek officials revealed depositors had withdrawn as much as E1.2 billion from bank accounts on Monday and Tuesday.
“Rather than the beginning of the end, it could be the end of the end,” Barry Eichengreen, economics professor at the University of California and an acknowledged expert on the euro, told Emerging Markets.
“Once bank runs like this start, they can be stopped only with overwhelming force, something that the Greek government doesn’t possess and the European Central Bank doesn’t seem to be willing to deploy.”
Stocks markets across Europe fell by more than 1% while the yields on government bonds issued by the in Italy and Spain rose sharply.
Concern spread to the US where the Dow Jones last night closed down 156 points, falling for the 11th day in 12.
Eichengreen said contagion was a “very real danger”, adding: “Everyone would be asking: if Greece can go, then whey not Portugal, Spain or Italy?”
Asked what the impact of a major euro crisis would be on the wider economy, he said: “No one can say with any confidence what the ramifications would be. I worry that they would be ‘Lehman Bros. Squared’
8--Obama presses ailing Europe to focus on growth, Reuters
Excerpt: A growing chorus of world leaders on Friday pushed for a shift toward more pro-growth policies to help ease a European crisis that threatens to oust Greece from the euro zone and reverberate throughout the global economy.
Setting the tone for a weekend G8 summit, President Barack Obama aligned himself with the new French president's drive for more economic stimulus in recession-plagued Europe, in a swipe at the tough austerity programs that have been spearheaded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
9--Greece and the global crisis of capitalism, WSWS
Excerpt: The political, economic and social breakdown in Greece is an acute expression of a broader crisis of European and world capitalism.
The fate of this small nation is being decided solely according to the predatory interests of the global financiers and their political representatives at the head of national governments as well as the “troika”—the European Union (EU), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
For Greek workers, the impact has been catastrophic. They have already suffered the greatest decline in living standards since the Nazi occupation. Unemployment has doubled to 22 percent and 50.8 percent among young people, while millions more are relegated to precarious and part-time work.
Mass unemployment and poverty are set to worsen. The social counterrevolution in Greece is, moreover, setting a benchmark for all of Europe as the economic crisis spins out of control and the world is plunged into a recession deeper than that triggered by the crash of 2008.
The political stalemate in Greece, following the virtual collapse of the country’s two traditional ruling parties in the May 6 election, takes place within the context of a deteriorating economic situation in Europe, the US and Asia. Falling global equity markets, bank downgrades, rising unemployment and stagnating or declining growth rates point to a slide into depression......
There is an air of unreality surrounding all official discussions on Greece. Politicians and media commentators speak of imminent economic collapse and social devastation in one breath, only to demand that more money be paid over to the banks and greater hardship imposed on working people in the next.
Each proposed way out of the crisis only creates the conditions for deeper crisis down the road. All the money supposedly paid over to Greece as a “bailout” has gone straight into the coffers of its major creditors. Any additional loans will go to feeding the same ravenous beast.
Calls for further sacrifice have become impossible to accept. Mass working class opposition to austerity is on the rise across Europe. This has been expressed not only in the Greek election, but in France and other recent elections in Britain and Germany, where voters repudiated those parties most closely associated with austerity policies.
This reflects an extreme heightening of social tensions, rooted in the existence of an irreconcilable conflict between the most basic needs of the masses and the institutions of capitalist Europe.
Greek workers registered their opposition by rejecting the parties directly involved in negotiating the bailout conditions—PASOK and New Democracy. But the main beneficiary of this sentiment was SYRIZA, a party that speaks for a section of the Greek bourgeoisie that wants more extended debt repayment to avoid economic collapse and cosmetic alterations in the deficit-reduction terms to placate popular opposition. SYRIZA categorically defends the European Union and the euro, while presenting itself as an opponent of austerity, but this circle cannot be squared. Austerity and ever-deeper attacks on the working class are an integral requirement of the bankers’ EU and the capitalist order it defends.
The proposed solution advanced by the Greek Communist Party (KKE)—exit from the euro and a return to the drachma—is also fielded by numerous international commentators. But this would still leave Greek workers at the mercy of the global financiers and keep the rule of the Greek capitalists intact, while the value of workers’ homes, wages and what little savings they have would be immediately slashed by as much as 80 percent.
Ever broader layers within the ruling elite are coming to the conclusion that Greece will be forced to exit the euro zone. Some boast that this can be “managed” and that Greece should be simply pummelled until every last euro has been extracted from its people. Others warn that the very survival of the euro is threatened, as financial contagion spreads throughout the continent and beyond.
The latter view is more grounded in reality. Global financial institutions have a $536 billion exposure to Greek debt, but the Institute of International Finance estimates the true global cost of a Greek exit to be closer to $1.2 trillion, entailing “killer losses”. Wirtschaft Woche magazine says an exit would cost euro zone governments alone $300 billion and would push the continent into a 1930s style depression.
More importantly, a Greek exit will inevitably hasten the collapse of much bigger economies that are teetering on the brink such as Spain, Portugal and Italy. The run on Greek banks, which have already lost more than a third of their deposits since 2010, points to the dangers ahead. A full-blown bank run can quickly develop in one European country after another.
Workers in Greece and Europe have come face to face with the consequences of the failure of the capitalist system. Every “solution” to the present economic crisis that does not take this as its starting point brings with it the danger of further social destruction and a descent into barbarism.
Fresh Greek elections are scheduled for June 17, but they have no more chance of resolving the crisis than those that took place this month.
A new period has opened up where only the most radical solution is realistic. Greek workers must now adopt a revolutionary socialist and international perspective on which to base the struggles ahead. The same applies to the workers in Europe, the US and internationally.
The ruling class anticipates and is preparing for an upsurge in the class struggle, in which they know the destiny of Greece will be decided. PASOK’s Michalis Chrisochoidi, who heads the Ministry of Citizen Protection encompassing the police and secret services, this week warned that following an exit from the euro, “What will prevail are armed gangs with Kalashnikovs, and which one has the greatest number of Kalashnikovs will count … we will end up in civil war.”
Historically, the Greek bourgeoisie has demonstrated that it will stop at nothing, including military dictatorship, when it comes to preserving its rule. The working class must act in this knowledge
10--Hollande the "phony" leftist appoints right wing cabinet, WSWS
Excerpt: Drawn from more openly right-wing layers inside the PS, it will try to continue imposing austerity measures in response to the economic crisis in Europe, and imperialist wars abroad. It is yet another indication of the political bankruptcy of the petty-bourgeois “left” forces, such as the Left Front and the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA), who called for an unconditional vote for Hollande in the May 6 presidential run-off elections.
PS veteran Martine Aubry, the first secretary of the party, was passed over for the post of prime minister and then for any ministerial position whatsoever. This decision, taken within the narrow confines of the PS’s pro-business politics, is a political signal. Aubry—the daughter of former European Commission chief Jacques Delors, and who has built a bureaucratic power base in industrially devastated northern France—is nonetheless considered on the “left” of the PS.
The author of a subsequently repealed law reducing the workweek to 35 hours, she criticized Hollande during the PS presidential primaries for representing “the soft left.” While Aubry bases herself on the interests of finance capital no less than Hollande, her comment sought to appeal to popular intuition that a Hollande government would be a totally devoted to the interests of big business.
As the identity of the ministers in the interim government makes clear, this is precisely what has come about.
The choice of Laurent Fabius as foreign minister—officially, the number two position in the government—is highly symbolic. Fabius was PS President François Mitterrand’s prime minister from 1984 to 1986, earned deep unpopularity in the working class for his industrial restructuring and social austerity measures. He escaped all criminal responsibility for his government’s role in blocking the use of US technology to test for the AIDS virus in French blood banks, a decision that led to the infection with AIDS and the death of virtually all of France’s hemophiliacs....
Manuel Valls took the powerful post of interior minister. A right-wing figure, he has pushed for the PS to drop the word “Socialist” from its party name. He also championed law-and-order hysteria and racist appeals to anti-immigrant sentiment.
Financial matters will be in the hands of two supporters of former International Monetary Fund (IMF) chairman Dominique Strauss-Kahn—Minister of Economy and Finance Pierre Moscovici, and Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac. This indicates the government’s firmly anti-working class intentions.
Arnaud Montebourg was named minister of the restoration of production. Médiapart said that his appointment aims to “add a little left feel” to the government—a comment that indicates primarily the chauvinist character of what passes for the French “left.”
Depicted as a “left” by the media and petty-bourgeois “left” parties, Montebourg visited factories facing closure during the primaries campaign, preaching economic nationalism and denouncing Germany. The agenda for his ministry is to work with the unions to boost French capitalism’s competitiveness and production, by cutting labor costs and attacking the workers.
11--Greece must Exit, Nouriel Roubini, Project Syndicate
Excerpt: Greece is stuck in a vicious cycle of insolvency, lost competitiveness, external deficits, and ever-deepening depression. The only way to stop it is to begin an orderly default and exit, coordinated and financed by the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund (the “Troika”), that minimizes collateral damage to Greece and the rest of the eurozone.....
Reintroducing the drachma risks exchange-rate depreciation in excess of what is necessary to restore competitiveness, which would be inflationary and impose greater losses on drachmatized external debts. To minimize that risk, the Troika reserves currently devoted to the Greek bailout should be used to limit exchange-rate overshooting; capital controls would help, too.
CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphThose who claim that contagion from a Greek exit would drag others into the crisis are also in denial. Other peripheral countries already have Greek-style problems of debt sustainability and eroded competitiveness. Portugal, for example, may eventually have to restructure its debt and exit the euro. Illiquid but potentially solvent economies, such as Italy and Spain, will need support from Europe regardless of whether Greece exits; indeed, without such liquidity support, a self-fulfilling run on Italian and Spanish public debt is likely
12--Toxic mortgage bonds flourish as other sectors slump, IFR
Excerpt: Hunger for yield is giving non-agency US RMBS – the much-maligned asset class backed by toxic home loans from the 2005 to 2007 crisis era – a new lease on life. So far this year, amid global market volatility, the asset class has outperformed broader markets, helped by demand from the same investors that avoided the sector like the plague during the 2008–2009 post-crisis years.
Private-label RMBS, which ravaged capital markets and the economy during the financial crisis, are now paradoxically considered an opportunistic yield play by insurance companies, money managers and hedge funds. They believe that the sector presents a great deal of upside in the long-term if housing starts to recover – perhaps more than even “junk”-rated corporate bonds.
Rich yields offered by RMBS in the current low-rate environment – anywhere from 5% to 20% depending on whether the bonds are backed by prime, Alt-A, or sub-prime loans – make it an intriguing investment alternative to corporate high-yield bonds.
“RMBS has become more stable as the securities have seasoned. It is definitely a competitive sector to high-yield bonds,” said Paul Jablansky, co-head of the mortgage investment group at Western Asset Management. “Loss-adjusted yields on RMBS build in more cushion, which is a potential advantage over the high-yield market
Jumped since January
The average price of the most senior so-called option adjustable-rate mortgage RMBS was 57 cents last week, increasing from 51 cents in the first week of January, according to Barclays. In fact, a handful of these bonds were trading last week as high as 78 cents on the dollar.
Hybrid senior Alt-A mortgage bonds started off the year at an average of 48 cents on the dollar, and are now changing hands in the mid-50s, according to Barclays, with one Alt-A bond seen last week as high as 66 cents on the dollar.
Some senior fixed-rate prime jumbo RMBS were trading at 77 cents on the dollar last week, after starting off in January at 70 cents on the dollar.....
On the flip-side, the high-yield market is poised to become intrinsically more volatile as many bonds have been bid up to extremely high levels. With prices of many junk bonds rising above par, future returns are less likely to be fundamentally driven by prices. Moreover, with systemic risk out of Europe and a high correlation with equities, the high-yield sector is under selling pressure.
“Yields on non-agency MBS currently account for the severe economic scenario of all delinquent mortgages and most current loans defaulting,” wrote MBS portfolio managers from TCW on a recent brochure pitching the TCW Total Return Bond Fund, which is 85% comprised of both non-agency and agency RMBS.
13--.Nine banks lead Open Grid Europe financing, IFR
Excerpt: Nine banks are leading an infrastructure loan of up to €2.7bn backing a Macquarie-led acquisition of German utility E.ON’s Open Grid Europe gas distribution network, which was sold for €3.2bn last week after a hard-fought auction....
“Getting 20 out of 21 banks for that financing was a sure sign that the LTRO is having an impact – more banks were prepared to do the deal,” said a senior banker, referring to the ECB’s two three-year long-term refinancing operations. “I don’t think we were expecting that much liquidity chasing that deal.”...
“No-one’s going to make any money with nine banks sharing the economics – there are too many banks involved and the ancillary business will be shared out. An aggressively-priced deal with large tickets doesn’t make sense,” a banker said.
14--Euro turmoil leads to FX hedging, IFR
Excerpt: Growing concerns that Greece could eventually exit the single-currency union has driven a pick-up in euro-dollar trading as corporates seek to hedge a tumbling euro, which hit four-month lows against the dollar last week.
“Selling euros and buying dollars is a good hedge against a lot of different risks that corporates are facing right now. For equity portfolios, euro-dollar is a good and cheap proxy hedge for a world that has so much uncertainty,” said Fabio Madar, global head of corporate sales for FX at Deutsche Bank.
Euro-dollar had been stuck in a 1.30–1.40 range as sovereign wealth funds led a rush of buying whenever the lower level was tested (see chart). But a dip through 1.30 earlier this month has gathered momentum.
“We’ve seen a big pick-up in corporate hedging over the last couple of weeks with flows dominated by Asian clients,” said Vincent Craignou, global head of FX and precious metals derivatives at HSBC. “That trend could intensify and if we go towards 1.20, we could begin to see hedging activity from Germany and France as well.”...
The wider impact of a Greek exit is so great that hedging strategy decisions are being elevated to the highest level within corporates.
15--Derivatives desks prep for Greek exit, IFR
Excerpt: Major dealers have been furiously scanning through the legal contracts governing their derivatives trades with Greek counterparties, as fears of Greece pulling out of the eurozone have intensified during the past week.
Banks ran fire drills last year for scenarios ranging from a Greek exit to a complete break-up of the eurozone. But the failure of Greek political parties to form a government last week has increased the possibility of the country falling out of the single currency, and has caused risk managers to reassess their potential exposures.
“The first thing is to control our existing position. Who is our counterparty and what is our exposure? We’re getting daily reports on this all the time. We’re also having detailed legal discussions about how in practical terms things could work out: how many days we’ll have to close positions, for example. You need to be on top of everything and plan in advance constantly,” said a senior banker at a major institution....
“Of course, there is little a bank could do if the derivative contract was under Greek law and it was re-denominated into drachmas, but that is more likely to be an issue for domestic bonds and loans.”...
There are no public figures for the derivatives exposure of international banks to Greek corporate and financial institutions. However, the stress tests published by the European Banking Authority in July 2011 did provide some colour on eurozone banks’ swaps with the Greek Treasury.
BNP Paribas had the largest exposure to Greece out of the international banks, at €207m in-the-money oits swaps with the sovereign. HSBC was owed €82m, while Societe Generale was owed €29m.
The size of these numbers may be particularly worrying for the banks involved given that sovereigns don’t tend to post collateral against derivatives. Swap trades with Greek banks may well be collateralised, although Greek corporates would most likely not post collateral to their bank counterparties.