Rising US corporate default rates during a tightening monetary policy cycle

In this study, we mainly focus on the refinancing issues that US [non-financial] companies will face within the next five years as a lot of corporations are trading at a distressed price (or yield) due to the lack of global growth and low commodity prices. In the first session, we review the US credit market structure. Then, the second session introduces a two-state Markov switching model (Hamilton, 1989), followed by a presentation of the paper Corporate bond default risk: a 150-year perspective (Giesecke & al., 2011), a study that uses a set of macroeconomic and financial variables to forecast default rates in the US. In the third Section, we comment the potential change in the explanatory variables since 2009 and we discuss a solution to avoid a new clustered default event over the next five years.

Link ==> Studies on Corporate Defaults

March: ECB’s painful month?

As you know, the Euro has been massively under pressure since the ECB’s May meeting last year and decreased from 1.40 to a low of 1.11 before edging back to 1.14. In my article The Euro Strength and The ECB’s options, I explained the ‘Euro strength story’ (July 2012 – May 2014) by the following three factors:

  • Narrowing peripheral-core spreads (After Draghi’s ‘Whatever it takes’ and OMT introduction)
  • Divergence between the ECB and the Fed’s balance sheet total assets
  • Current Account back into positive territories

During this ‘prosperous’ period, nothing was able to stop the Euro despite poor fundamentals (i.e. flat growth, high unemployment rate and declining inflation). Then, Draghi’s promise ‘the Council is comfortable with acting in June’ completely broke the upside trend and the market has been totally relying on the ECB’s balance sheet expansion plan. It is clear now that EZ policymakers’ goal is to see the central bank’s balance sheet expend by 1.14tr Euros within the next 18 months and reach June 2012 levels (approximately 3.1tr Euros). As you can see it on the graph below (EURUSD monthly chart), the market got really excited about this news and traders and investors have completely switch to a bearish view when it comes to EURUSD (and EURGBP). We saw that Bulge Bracket banks reviewed their EURUSD forecasts for 2015. Sell-side research predicts a EURUSD between 0.90 and 1.00 within the next 6 to 12 months. Moreover, if we have a quick look at the last CFTC’s Commitments of Traders report, ‘net speculative’ positions were approximately -186,000 in the week ending February 17, and are closely approaching June 2012 low of -215,000.

Screen Shot 02-23-15 at 12.44 AM

(Source: Oanda, CoT)

If you ask me where I see EURUSD in the long term, there is no doubt that my answer is ‘South’. With the Fed considering starting its monetary policy tightening cycle (June meeting for a first 25bps shift probably), monetary policy divergence will weigh on the currency pair in the LT and parity looks like a reasonable level to me. In addition, Grexit contagion effect to ‘scarier’ countries such as Spain could also trigger another episode of peripheral-core yield spread divergence and therefore add more selling pressure on the single currency.

However, I think that traders and investors should be careful at the moment. Over the past two weeks, volatility has dropped in the market and EURUSD has been trading within a tight 180-range (1.1270 – 1.1450). Based on the last discussions I had, some of the traders were clearly waiting for a breakout ahead of the Greek deal, therefore the 1.1270 support was carefully watched on Friday (this is the reason why I put my take profit slightly above at 1.1300, see article Pocketful of Miracles). However, the Euro looks resilient based on current market conditions and I have to admit that I see potential Euro strength in the month coming ahead. As you can see it below, EURUSD reached a 11-year low at the end of last month at 1.11 before coming back to 1.14. The Fibonacci retracements were built based on October 200 low of 0.8230 and July 2008 high of 1.6040 range. Unless contagion risk spreads to other EZ countries (i.e. higher core-peripheral risk), the bullish trend could last for a month or two (based on previous bull consolidation after sharp sell-off).

Screen Shot 02-23-15 at 12.50 AM

(Source: FXCM)

The ECB bond buying program: Ambitious plan, disappointing results?

We are aware now that the ECB has announced a round of measures in order to counter the deflationary cycle (inflation rate of -0.6% in January) and of course support investment and consumption, the two key contributors of the 19-nation economy. The last one was of course the January announcement of additional purchases (combined monthly asset purchases of 60bn Euros from March to September 2016). This programs involves private assets such as covered bonds (safe form of debt issued by banks), ABS and public debt (bonds of national government and European institutions). However, unlike the Fed, the ECB will have to seek them in the secondary market; in other words, find the banks that will sell them these bonds. And Draghi’s (and Co.) problem here is that the ECB may face unwilling sellers. As some of you know, banks’ treasury desks usually buy short-term bonds and use government debt as a liquidity buffer: regulators require banks to hold high-quality liquid assets – HQLAs – against future cash outflows in periods of market stress. As some of you may know, most bonds issued by banks are excluded as they may prove illiquid during a financial crisis; however, the eligibility requirements imposed on government bonds look loose. Therefore, this implies that that government bonds currently represent a considerable portion of bank assets.

In the European Union, there are two new ratios:

  • Liquidity Coverage Ratio LCR, requiring banks to hold a stock of liquid assets for an amount covering the net liquidity outflows which might be experienced, under stressed condition, over the following 30 days,
  • Net Stable Funding Ratio (NFSR), which requires that the amount of available stable funding (i.e. portion of capital and liabilities expected to be reliable over a one-year time horizon) should be at least equal to the required amount of stable funding or the matching assets (i.e. illiquid assets which cannot be easily turned into cash over the following 12 months).

These two ratios were enacted through a Capital Requirements Directive (CDR4) and Regulation (CRR) issued in June 2013. Based on the Basel 3 documents, liquid assets in the LCR should mainly consists of:

  • Cash
  • Central bank reserves (including required reserves)
  • Marketable securities representing claims on or guaranteed by sovereign, central banks, PSEs, BIS, IMF, the ECB and European Community, or multilateral development banks
  • Bonds issued by non-financial firms and covered bonds with a rating at least equal to AA, subject to a 15% haircut and a 40% concentration limit

The two questions now that comes to my mind are:

  1. Who will sell those bonds to the ECB?
  2. Suppose the ECB offers good prices (i.e. good realized PnL for bond trading desks), what will traders do with this new cash with a deposit rate now at -0.2%?

Disappointing ECB could lead to Euro strength…

To conclude, I think there is potential risk that the ECB disappoints the market in March based on their purchases as the central bank won’t find the liquidity in the market. In my opinion, this scenario could play in favor of the single currency. My point is that we may see a bull consolidation before reaching the parity level that everyone seems to be talking about. The next couple of resistances to watch on the topside would be at 1.1530 and 1.1680.

January 2015: A Rough Start

The past month has been quite eventful in the financial market and I am sure that some of the decisions (if not all) surprised many of us. After the SNB announce on January 15th, the ECB took over and unveiled a €60bn monthly QE (not open-ended) through September 2016; so 19 months at €60bn equals €1.14tr. The ECB, which has already been buying private assets such as covered bonds (a safe form of debt issued by banks) and ABS, will add an additional €50bn worth of public debt (bonds of national government and European institutions) to its current program starting in March this year. The purchases of these securities (in the secondary market) will be based on the Eurosystem NCB’s shares in the ECB’s capital.
In addition, President Draghi also added that the ECB will remove the 10bp spread on the TLTROs, and the interest rate applied will be equal to the rate on the Eurosystem’s MRO (5bp).

We saw on Friday that EZ preliminary inflation fell by 0.6% in January after a -0.2% print in December, the largest decline since July 2009 when prices also fell 0.6% following GFC.

The ECB decision(s) sent the Euro to newest lows last week, down to 1.1120 (11-year lows) against the greenback and below the 0.75 level (0.7440) against the pound. But more importantly, it sent a bigger amount of government debt in the negative territory (yields). According to JP Morgan, there is currently (approximately) €1.5tr of Euro area government bond with longer than 1-year maturity trading at negative yields over time, and a ‘mind-blowing’ €3.6tr of global government bond debt (nearly a fifth of the total) with negative yields as the chat below shows us. For instance, the entire 10-year Swiss curve is  now negative.

Global NIRP(Source: JPMorgan)

Another interesting topic is of course the 3 consecutive rate cuts (in 10 days) by the Danish Central Bank, that lowered it deposit rate to a record low of -0.5% to defend its peg and keep the Danish kroner (DKK) close to 7.46 per Euro (ERM II since 1999). EURDKK went down below 7.43; we will see this week how much policymakers spent in January in order to counter a DKK appreciation (some reports estimated that the central bank had to sell more than DKK 100bn). As a consequence (of the NIRP policy), a local bank – Nordea Kredit – is now offering a mortgage with a negative interest rate.
I believe the Danish krone is a currency to watch (in addition to the CHF) this month if the situation in Greece deteriorates.

A Weak Swiss Franc…
Since the SNB surprise, the Swiss has remained weak against the major currencies, with USDCHF up 7 figures  (trading currently at 0.93) and EURCHF up from parity to 1.0550. Analysts slashed their forecast for this year and are now predicting a recession (-0.5% according to the KOF Swiss Economic Institute). I like the chart below which shows the 12-month Probability of the top 10 countries to fall into recession in the coming months according to Bloomberg economist surveys.

Probarecession(Source: Bloomberg)

Japan and JPY still under threat over the long-run
In Japan, the 10-year JGB yield rose by 9bp in the last 10 days and is now trading at 29bps. USDJPY tumbled below 117 overnight on Grexit comments and Chinese manufacturing PMI contraction in January (49.8 vs. 50.2 expected), breaking its 117.25 support and extending its trading range to 116 – 118.75. ‘Buyers on dips’ reversed the trend and the pair is now trading at 117.60.
If we look at the long-run perspective in Japan, late macro indicators showed us that Abe’s government will have to do more. Real wages are still declining and fell the most in almost 5 years and the economy has now entered in a triple-dip recession (0.5% contraction QoQ in Q3). On the top of that, inflation has been weakening for the past 8 months as energy prices (mainly weak crude oil) weight on Japanese core inflation rate.
In addition, we saw that Japan plans a record budget deficit for next fiscal year (starting April 1st 2015) to support the economy. FinMin Taro Aso reported that government minister and the ruling coalition parties approved a 96.34tr Yen budget proposal for FY2015/2016. And I believe that we haven’t reached the peak yet, as Japan’s aging population (i.e. increasing social security spending) will ‘force’ the government to print larger and larger deficits. The IMF predicts that the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio will increase to 245% in 2015. It clearly shows that the USDJPY trend is not over yet, and there is further JPY weakness (and USD strength) to come.

On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the US economy cooled in the fourth quarter. After the 5-percent Q3 print, GDP expanded at a 2.6% annual pace in the fourth quarter (first estimate). Net exports was the largest detractor from Q4 GDP (-1.02%) as imports grew faster than exports. King Dollar continues to benefit from the global weakness with the USD index trading slightly below 95. The equity market still handles the Fed’s withdrawal from the Bond Market with the S&P500 trading around 2,000 (looks like it is out of energy though), while US Treasury yields are compressing to new lows. The 10-year and the 30-year yields are trading at 1.67% and 2.25% respectively (which is quite concerning), and it seems the trend is not over yet. In regards to the inflation rate (that plummeted to 0.8% in December), the Fed delivered a hawkish statement last Wednesday (‘strong jobs gains’, ‘solid pace’ for economy), however dropping the entire ‘considerable time’ sentence and adding ‘inflation is anticipating to decline further in the near term’. The implied rate of the December 2015 Fed Funds futures contract is trading 30bps lower at 41 bps, while the December 2016 implied rate decreased by 60bps to 1.05bps in the past 6 weeks.

An important topic to follow this month will be developments in Greece which are moving very fast since the election on Sunday (January 25) and Syriza’s victory. ECB council Member Erkki Liikanen said over the week end that Greece needs to negotiate a deal before February 28th (when the Greek support program EFSF expires after the 2-month extension approved in December).

The JPY and some overnight developments…

The last development that I found interesting lately was certainly USDJPY breaking out of its [four-month] 101 – 103 range on August 20. Despite US LT yields trending lower (10-year trading below 2.40%) and the BoJ showing no interest of increasing QE even though the economy printed dismal figures (except a strong CPI), the Yen has weakened by almost two figures in the past couple of weeks against the greenback and is now trading slightly below 105.

I was a bit surprised by this breakout as I thought until lately that the JPY had no reason to depreciate against the US Dollar (especially with a quiet BoJ and US LT yields expected to remain low in H2 according to analysts). My thoughts was that the Yen depreciation mainly came from the carry trade positions (‘risk-on’ sentiment) with AUDJPY trading at new highs at around 97.50 (which corresponds to June 2013 levels), and I first assumed that the risk-on situation isn’t fully established and the market was just looking for ST opportunities and that any major ‘bad’ news could potentially trigger some massive carry unwinds as we saw previously (aka Yen appreciation).

However, after a few chats with some FX strategists (who I all thank for their kind answers), a first important thing to notice is the decrease in the 6-month (daily) rolling correlation between AUDJPY and S&P500 from 67% back in mid-February this year down to 47% today. In other words, the Japanese Yen sensitivity to risk-off moves has fallen as you can see it below in the Bloomberg Spread Analysis.Audcorr

(Source: Bloomberg)

Secondly, traders and investors are becoming more confident on a BoJ move later on this year, and further easing by JP policymakers (after Japan dismal figures: July household spending collapsed 5.9% YoY, Q2 GDP shrank by annualized 6.8% erasing Q1 gains, Housing starts down 14.1% in July…) is the main driver on Yen weakness according to analysts.

Eventually, another factor to look at would be Japanese institutional investors switching from bonds to stocks (and international stocks and bonds); we saw strong demand for French OAT from Japan last week. For instance, as you can see it below, GPIF, Japanese 1.2-trillion-dollar retirement fund, reduced its domestic bonds holdings by almost 10 percent in the past 3 years and has gradually increased its holdings of Japanese equities and International Bonds and Stocks. In June this year, it reported that it held 53.36% of domestic bonds and 17.26% of domestic stocks, down from 62.64% and 12.37% respectively back in 2011 (Abe’s effect). As a reminder, GPIF has a 60% target for domestic bonds and 12% for Japanese stocks, with 8% and 6% deviation limits respectively for those assets.


Having said that, the 105 level could potentially act as a psychological resistance at the moment, next important level on the topside stands at 105.44, which corresponds to January 2nd high. USDJPY looks a bit overbought as you can see it on the chart below, and I will look for lower levels to start considering buying some more.


(Source: Reuters)

Aussie pausing as I expected…

The late US Dollar rally (USD index flirting with 83.00, its highest level since July 2013) hasn’t impact the Aussie (that much) and AUDUSD is still trading within its 5-month 0.92 – 0.95 range. The RBA left its cash rate steady at 2.50% (as expected) and looks unlikely to change it for some time, which is what I was assuming (see my article RBA is giving up…). The BBSW rates, which correspond to transparent rates for the pricing and revaluation of privately negotiated bilateral Australian dollar interest swap transactions, are trading quite flat with the 1-month and 6-month bills paying 2.66% and 2.69% respectively.

Despite AU annual inflation approaching the high of the RBA [2-3] percent inflation target range (Trimmed mean CPI came in at 2.9% YoY in the second quarter), AU policymakers noted slack in the job market and rising house prices.

The trend on AUDUSD looks bearish at the moment; I will try to sell some if the pair pops back above 0.9300 ahead of US employment reports on Friday. I’d put an entry level at 0.9330, with a tight stop loss at 0.9360 and a target at 0.9210.

Figures to watch this week:

AU GDP YoY (sep. 3rd): expected to ease back to 3.0% in the second quarter, down from 3.5%.
AU Trade balance (Sep 4th): expected to come in a -1.51bn AUD in July.
US Non-Farm Payrolls (Sep 5th):  expected to print at 225K in August, above the 200K level for the for the seventh consecutive month.