Tag Archives: Term repo

Sleepwalking Toward A Crisis – Got Gold?

“By sticking to the new orthodoxy of monetary policy and pretending that we have made the banking system safe, we are sleepwalking towards that crisis.” – Mervyn King, former head of the Bank of England in a lecture at the IMF’s recent annual meeting

The market levitates higher on phony economic data from the Government, Trump tweets, Fed money printing and hedge fund algorithms chasing headline and twitter sound bites. Currently the stock market, dulled by money printing and official interventions, could care less about economic reality and rising global systemic geopolitical and financial risk. Corporate headline earnings “beats” are considered bullish even if the earnings declined YoY or sequentially.

But for those who don’t have their head in the sand, clinging desperately to the “hope” offered by the misdirecting Orwellian propaganda, it’s difficult to ignore the message signaled by the legendary levels of insider selling.

Someone is not telling the truth – The Fed once again last week increased the size of both the overnight and “term” repo operations. Starting Thursday (Oct 24th) the overnight repos were increased from $75 billion to “at least” $120 billion and the term repos (2 week term) of “at least” $35 billion were extended to the end of November, with two “at least $45 billion” term repos thrown in for good measure. The Fed is also outright printing helicopter money for the banks at a rate of $60 billion per month (via “T-bill POMOs).

At the height of the last QE/money printing cycle, the Fed was doing $75 billion per month. So whatever the problem is behind the curtain, it’s already as large or larger than the 2008 crisis.

That escalated quickly – When the repo operations started in September, the Fed attributed the need to “relieve funding pressures.” At the time the public was fed the fairytale that corporations were pulling funds from money market funds to pay quarter-end taxes. Well, we’re over five weeks past that event and the repo operations have escalated in size and duration three times. Someone is not telling the truth…

The rapid increase in Fed money printing in just five weeks reflects serious problems developing in the global financial system. Actually, the problem is easy to identify:   At every level – government, corporate and household – the level of debt has become unsustainable, with not insignificant portions of that debt in non-performing status (seriously delinquent or in default). Thus, the Central Banks have had to resort to money printing to help the banks manage the rising level of distress on their balance sheet and to monetize the escalating rate of Treasury debt issuance.

The quote at the beginning is from the former head of the Bank of England, Mervyn King. King is warning that the global financial system is headed toward a crisis and that money printing ultimately won’t save it.  While it’s pretty obvious that a disaster waits on the horizon, when the former head of a big Central Bank delivers a message like that instead of Orwellian gobbledygook, the world should pay heed.  I would suggest that the Fed’s money printing signals that the risk of a crisis intensifies weekly.  Got Gold?

The Fed Cranks Up Its Printing Press

“Like gold, U.S. dollars have value only to the extent that they are strictly limited in supply. But the U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost.” Helicopter Ben Bernanke’s address to the National Economic Club, 2002

It took the Fed more than 4 1/2 years to remove from the banking system just $750 billion of the $4.5 trillion in money it printed. The Fed stopped the removal process (“Quantitative Tightening”) at the beginning of September. But just 13 days later the Fed began adding liquidity back into the banking system via its repo operations. 42 days later, the Fed’s balance sheet has spiked up by $253 billion and is back over $4 trillion:

41% of that $253 billion ($104 billion) was put into the banking system in the last three days of this past week.

Apparently the repo/term repo operations were not enough.  On October 11th, the Fed announced that it was going to purchase at least $60 billion T-bills per month through at least the 2nd quarter of 2020.  The rationale was “in light of recent and expected increases in the Federal Reserves non-reserve liabilities” (link).  “Non-reserve liabilities” refers specifically to “currency in circulation.” The only way to increase currency in circulation is to create it. Thus, the above rationale is a decorative phrase for “money printing.”

The problems in the banking system targeted by the Fed’s money printing are likely getting worse by the day.  The Fed has now conducted three outright money printing operations since October 11th. Each operations has been progressively more over-subscribed. Today’s operation of $7.5 billion had nearly $6 of demand for every $1 printed and offered.

As I have asserted since the Fed’s repo operations commenced, the problem is significantly more profound than the “quarter-end liquidity” needs of corporations and banks. I suggested that the liquidity injection program would quickly increase in size and duration, ultimately morphing into permanent QE/balance sheet growth/money printing.

While some of the money being printed will be used absorb the massive amount of new Treasury issuance, the nexus of the problem is seeded in the big bank balance sheets and business operations. The problems leading up to the 2008 crisis were never fixed – just papered over. Furthermore, the legislation that was promoted to prevent a repeat of 2008 and protect the taxpayers was nothing more than window dressing which enabled the banks to hide their massive fee-generating recklessness (Dodd-Frank, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau).

The “Too Big To Fail” bank balance sheets collectively are close to double their size in 2008. A frighteningly large portion of these assets are sub-prime or near-sub-prime loans plus OTC derivatives that have been well-hidden off-balance-sheet. One of the regulatory initiatives put into effect in 2010 enabled banks to hide their total derivatives holdings behind a nebulous concept called “net derivatives exposure.” The “net” metric supposedly measures a bank’s unhedged net economic risk exposure, netting out off-setting hedges with counterparties.

But counterparty defaults were one of the key detonators of the 2008 financial melt-down. Unfortunately, Congress and the Fed have enabled the banks, after monetizing their catastrophic business decisions in 2008, to create a financial Frankenstein that is now financially apocalyptic in scale. The rapid escalation of the repo operations is evidence that the fuses on the various financial bombs have been lit.

Stocks Bubble Up From More Money Printing

The stock market spiked up last week as Trump started in with his trade war optimism tweets, which excited the algos and momentum chasers. As Monday rolled around, however,  it was determined that a “Phase 1” trade agreement amounted to nothing more than a commitment from China to buy some farm products. On Tuesday China made the purchases contingent on Trump removing tariffs. So there is no “Phase 1” trade deal.

But the hedge fund computers don’t care.  Now the market is bubbling higher on the reimplementation of Federal Reserve money printing. Call it whatever your want – QE, balance sheet growth, term repos, whatever. But the bottom line is that Fed is printing money and injecting it into the banking system, which thereby acts as a transmission mechanism channeling some portion of this liquidity into the stock market.

The semiconductor sector is traveling higher at the fastest rate as hedge fund computers and daytraders are chasing the highest beta stocks up the most. The SOXX index is pressing its all-time today.   This is in complete disregard to underlying fundamentals in the sector which are melting down precipitously.

For the 1st ten days of October, exports from South Korea fell 8.5% YoY with chip exports down a staggering 27.2%. Remember back in January when the CEO of Lam Research forecast an upturn in 2H of 2019? Does that look like an industry upturn? Two of the world’s five largest chip manufacturers are based in S Korea:  Samsung is the world’s largest and Hynix is ranked fourth.

Today the Fed’s daily money printing repo program surged to $87.7 billion, which is the highest since “QE Renewed”  began in mid-September.  Recall back then the popular Orwellian narrative explained that the “temporary” funding was necessary  to address quarter-end cash needs by corporations and banks.  Well, certainly the banks need the money…

But on Friday the Fed announced that it was going to extend the overnight and term repo operations at least until January. In addition, the Fed added a  $60 billion per month T-bill purchasing program. The Fed explained that it was implementing the  operation to supplement the liability side of its balance sheet.  Besides currency and coin issued by the Fed, deposits from “depository institutions” –  aka demand deposits from banks – represent the largest liability on the Fed’s balance sheet.

This means that this liability account needs more funding because either bank customers are holding less cash at banks OR banks need to increase reserves to maintain regulatory reserve ratios. The latter issue would imply that bank assets – aka loans – are deteriorating more quickly than the banks can raise the funds needed to meet reserve requirements. Given the recent data on MZM, it would appear that customer cash deposits at banks have increased recently. This implies that banks are experiencing stress in the performance of the loans and derivatives on their balance sheet, thereby requiring more reserve capital.

Money printing apologists want to point at DB or JPM as the target of the Fed’s money printing.  And I’m certain they are among the largest contributors to the problem.   But GS, MS, BAC, HSBC, C should be included in there as well.  They’re all connected via derivatives and I’m guessing subprime asset exposure at all the big banks is blowing up,  causing cash flow shortfalls and counterparty derivatives defaults on credit default and interest rate swaps.  Just look at the dent  WeWork is putting into the exposure to the failed unicorn at JPM and GS.  Then there’s the melt-down going in energy/shale sector debt…

Eventually the Fed will have to announce that it is permanently implementing temporary liquidity relief programs – or “organic” balance sheet growth operations.  Jerome Powell will take painstaking measures to assure the market this is not Quantitative Easing.   And he’ll be right. That’s because it is outright money printing.

I expect the stock markets to get a temporary “meth” fix that pushes the SPX back up to the 3,000 area of resistance.  I also expect that it will fail there again, triggering a sharp sell-off into the end of the year, similar to last year. The risk the Fed is running here by using more money printing to juice the stock market is that eventually – like all heroin or meth addicts – stocks will become immune to increasing doses of the happy drug.   At what point will the Fed be forced administer a dosage level that kills the market?

An Unavoidable Global Debt Implosion

“[Whatever] the repo failure involved, it is likely to prove a watershed moment, causing US bankers to more widely consider their exposure to counterparty risk and risky loans, particularly leveraged loans and their collateralised form in CLOs. a new banking crisis is not only in the making, for which the repo problem serves as an early warning, but it could escalate quite rapidly.” Alasdair Macleod, “The Ghost of Failed Bank Returns”

The delinquency and default rate on consumer and corporate debt is rising. This creates funding gaps and cash flow shortfalls at banks. In a fractional banking system, banks only have to put up $1 of reserve for every $9 of money loaned. When the value of the loans declines because of non-performance, it requires capital – cash liquidity – to make up the shortfall in debt service payments received by the banks. In simple terms, the banks are staring at a systemic “margin call.”

To be sure, the current repo funding shortfall may subside. But it will not fix the underlying causes (Deutsche Bank, CLO Trusts, subprime debt, consumer debt, derivatives), which are likely leading up to another round of what happened in 2008 – only worse this time.

Chris Marcus of  Arcadia Economics  invited me to discuss my thoughts on the meaning behind the sudden need for the Fed to inject $10’s of billions into the overnight bank lending system:

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Repo Madness – An Enormous “Margin Call”

“Central Banks are panicking…the whole system is on the verge of disappearing into a black hole.” – Egon Von Greyerz on USAWatchdog.com

On Wednesday, after Wednesday’s overnight Repo operation had $92 billion in demand for the $75 billion operations, announced that it was increasing overnight Repos to $100 billion and doubling the two-week term Repo operations to $60 billion. Well, that escalated quickly.

The rationalization is “end of quarter liquidity needs” by the banks who have to increase reserves against assets (loans) or face taking earnings write-downs. But this dynamic occurs every quarter and Repo operations have not been required to keep the banking system from seizing up since QE was initiated.

Note that overnight repo operations were not necessary when the Fed flooded the banking system with QE funds.  The banking system requires immediate liquidity for the first time since QE commenced.  Why?  Recall how you go bankrupt: gradually then suddenly.

Typically the repo rate should correlate tightly with the Fed Funds Rate. But last Tuesday it spiked up briefly to 10%. The media and Wall Street analysts did a good job reporting that there was an obvious liquidity squeeze in the banking system but they did nothing to explain the underlying causes. Moreover, there’s still $1.3 trillion remaining from QE sitting in the Fed’s Excess Reserve Account,  which means banks with cash have plenty of cash to lend overnight to banks which need money.

But the banks with cash were unwilling to lend that cash even on an overnight basis.  So why did the Fed have to inject, by last Wednesday, $75 billion in liquidity into the banking system?

Think about what happened as the start of a giant “margin call” on a global financial system that is likely reaching its limit on credit creation. The enormous increase in derivatives magnifies the problem.  One immediate contributing factor may been losses connected with the cliff-dive in the price of the 10yr Treasury bond.  Hedge funds loaded up on Treasuries chasing the momentum higher using margin provided by the banks (prime brokerage loan agreements). The 10yr Treasury price dropped $4 in eight trading days – i.e. the 10yr benchmark yield jumped 55 basis points.

This may not sound like a lot in stock price terms, but losses on speculative Treasury bond and Treasury bond futures positions likely ran into the  billions. Several entities lost a lot of money during that rate rise, which means there had to have been some margin calls and derivatives blow-ups which required cash collateral or faced liquidation.  Banks themselves carry large Treasury positions which fell $10s of millions in value over that 8-day period.

In addition to losses on Treasury bonds, I’m certain there’s been a general erosion of bank assets – primarily debt-based securities and loans, which have led to enormous losses when Credit Default Swap derivatives are factored into the mix. In effect, there likely was a large systemic margin call which has created a cash and collateral squeeze in the banking system with the primary dealers, which is why the overnight funding mechanism required a cash injection by the Fed eight days in a row now. This is similar what happened in 2008.

For now the Fed is going to plug the funding gap at the banks with these Repo operations. But my bet is that the problem is escalating rapidly.  It is much bigger in aggregate globally than anyone can know,  just like in 2008.  In all probability the Fed has no clue how big the potential problem is and these Repo operations will eventually morph into outright money printing.