Thursday, 7 January 2016

Macro and Credit - The fourth wall

"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French pilot and writer
While enjoying the festive season in Paris, we watched with interest a couple of interesting credit and market events that made us think about a theatrical reference which we decided to use as our title analogy. The fourth wall is the imaginary "wall" at the front of the stage in a traditional three-walled box set in a proscenium theatre, through which the audience sees the action in the world of the play (or markets). Speaking directly to, otherwise acknowledging or doing something to the audience through this imaginary wall – or, in film and television, through a camera – is known as "breaking the fourth wall" (think Ferris Bueller's day off...). The fourth wall being an established convention and given our disregard for conventions (us being contrarian), we will, therefore, in this first of the year conversation "break the fourth wall". The acceptance of the transparency of the fourth wall is part of the suspension of disbelief (or delusion) between the "fictional" recovery we have commented on numerous occasions and you, the audience.

Before we dive more into our first conversation of the year, which will relate once more to the state of affairs in the credit and macro space, we would like to make a quick parenthesis on two subjects of interest of ours, namely idiosyncratic risks in credit markets and the state of shipping (given for us it is not only a deflationary indicator, but a credit indicator as per our past conversations).

A good illustration of the idiosyncratic risk in the credit space was once more illustrated on the 29th of December by the price action relating to the "sucker punch" delivered to the senior bond holders of Novo Banco, the supposedly "good part" of former Portuguese bank Banco Espirito Santo - graph source Bloomberg:
- graph source Bloomberg

So what happened on the 29th of December that spooked the "innocent" senior financial bond holders you might rightly ask dear audience? Well, Bank of America Merrill Lynch in their note on Novo Banco from the 4th of January tells it all:
"The Bank of Portugal announced that, as part of the resolution of BES, it was transferring five bonds from Novo, back to the ‘bad bank’, BES. We believe that the resolution of BES could be viewed as a process and not a discrete series of events, since Novo is still a ‘bridge’ institution (the intention is that the resolution of Novo is complete when it is sold, although the deadline for the sale now appears to be indefinite). In our view, recovery on these securities should be viewed as uncertain as BES’s total assets were only €197m at end-2014 compared to a negative net asset position of €2.7bn, before the transfer of a further €2bn of senior bonds. It is our understanding that the senior bonds’ Governing Law is Portuguese. We note that in the original resolution of BES, the Bank of Portugal, as resolution authority, has reserved the right to move assets and liabilities between ‘bad’ bank and ‘bridge’ bank. In addition, the BoP appears to have chosen large denomination seniors, to avoid imposing losses on retail bondholders. In any case, with the transferred securities trading at ~€11, and BES now to be liquidated. 
Further losses could lie ahead 
Novo has in effect been given a further €2bn in capital post-transfer which, according to the company, means that its CET1 ratio has now increased to 13%. However, Negocios, at the end of 2015, reported that a further €2bn of ‘irregular’ loans linked to the ancien regime of the bank had been discovered (the newspaper adduces these irregular loans as the reason for the senior bail-in). The newspaper reports that the provisions relating to these exposures may be taken in 4Q15 (and beyond) leading to a significant deterioration in the accounts of the bank. Note Novo Bank did not comment on the press reports. The June report already detailed a loss of €252m. We would expect this to deepen through year end as provisioning likely catches up with the asset quality decline we saw at the bank in 2015. 
Cheap but we await clarity 
In our view the 5% bonds are quite cheap, with yields of nearly 10%. However, many erstwhile bondholders of Novo are now nursing substantial losses from their senior exposures – we assume this could lead to a degree of reluctance to take exposure on the name, at least for a while, which could mean poor technicals for the bonds. We understand that Novo is now better capitalised. However, this capital could come under pressure in the coming quarters if more losses are recognised. Events of the past few weeks have highlighted Novo’s problems and the fact that the deadline for its sale is no longer subject to public disclosure suggests a drawn-out sales process, especially as Santander has just bought Banif, so arguably does not necessarily need to add to its Portuguese assets." - source Bank of America Merrill Lynch
No, these bonds are not "cheap" and should be avoided. 

In addition to senior bond holders nurturing their losses, as of the 1st of January, depositors are now "pari passu" with senior creditors and are indeed next in the line of fire should additional "hidden losses" materialize (they will). When it comes to recovery assumption, we read with interest CMA (now part of Capital IQ)'s take on the estimated recovery value. They estimate it to be at 1%. You read that correctly. So much for an assumed recovery value of 40% for senior CDS. 

We might be sounding yet again in 2016 as a broken record but, we told you before dear readers, in the next downturn in credit, recovery values, rest assured, will be much lower. That's a given.

Moving on to the second part of our parenthesis namely "shipping", and "cheap credit", we read with interest the FT's recent article on the subject from the 3rd of January entitled "Cash burning up for shipowners as finance runs dry":
"The challenges facing DryShips are among the most acute of those facing nearly all dry bulk shipping companies after a slump in earnings drove most owners’ revenues well below their operating costs. Owners are haemorrhaging cash. Owners of Capesize ships — the largest kind — currently bring in around $3,000 a day less than the $8,000 they cost to operate. The losses for the many owners who have to service debts secured against vessels are far higher.
Basil Karatzas, a New York-based corporate finance adviser, points out that in an industry that has already been making steady losses for 18 months, such substantial losses quickly mount up.
“If you have 10 ships and you’re losing $3,000 to $4,000 per day per ship, that’s, let’s say, $40,000 per day, times 30 in a month, times 12 in a year,” he says. “You are losing some very serious money.”
The question is how long dry bulk owners — and the private equity firms which have invested heavily in the companies — can survive the miserable market conditions.
Michael Bodouroglou, chief executive of Paragon Shipping, another New York-listed dry bulk shipowner, says that owners are looking to negotiate partial repayments, standstills and payment moratoriums with their banks.
“They’re trying to batten down the hatches, reduce costs as much as they can,” he says.
Yet the brief arrest — seizure over unpaid debts — in November in Singapore of the Sparta, a Capesize dry bulk carrier controlled by private equity firms, illustrates why shipowners are especially pessimistic about this slump. The vessel’s arrest, at the request of Deutsche Bank, has been widely interpreted as a sign that banks’ readiness to keep amending loan terms to allow owners to ride out the slump might be coming to an end." - source Financial Times
We chuckled because although some pundits have the memory span of a goldfish, we don't and we clearly remembered the warnings we gave back in December 2013 on the billions poured by Private Equity players in the shipping industry in our conversation "All that glitters ain't gold":
"There is a wave of private equity money flowing into shipping, which for us is yet another manifestation of "mis-allocation" and "Cantillon Effects".We have long argued that "Shipping is a leading credit indicator", as well as a "leading deflationary indicator". We have also discussed at length the link between consumer spending, housing, credit and shipping back in August 2012.
The latest manifestation of the consequences of "cheap credit" and record cash is leading outside players such as private equity investors to dip into the structured finance shipping business
Whereas traditional shipowners tend to hold vessels for at least 20 years, private equity groups hope to turn a quick profit by listing companies or selling their vessels once charter rates and ship valuations recover.
The issue of course for our private equity friends that they will soon discover is that if quick profits depend on valuations, they also depend on "recovery". We think they are bound for some disappointment as overcapacity is still plaguing the industry. " - Macronomics, December 2013
Given the "evident signs" of the recovery as displayed in the latest dismal print for the Baltic Dry Index to 467, a new record low (since its creation in 1985), one might wonder if indeed the PE players will make their "quick buck" on their "shipping" ventures. We don't think so:
- source Bloomberg.

Why we don't think so? Because "cheap credit" has led to "malinvestments" with PE pundits placing bets on a business they hardly know, and they have added overcapacity to overcapacity. Simply put, there is a "shipping" glut.

One can ascertained QEs and ZIRP have been deflationary by looking at the fall in the US of M2 "velocity":
-source CLSA

In similar fashion in the shipping industry, the "velocity" of ships aka their speed has been as well falling as reported by Bloomberg in their article entitled "Slowing Boat From China Provides Clue to Health of World Trade" from the 17th of December:
"Even with fuel at its cheapest price in almost a decade, the ships that carry goods around the world have been reducing speed in line with the slowdown in China, the biggest exporter.
Shipping companies have been “slow steaming” since the global financial crisis in 2008, as a way to save costs and keep as many ships active as possible. Vessels are now operating at an average of 9.69 knots, compared with 13.06 knots seven years ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 
That means Nike sneakers and Barbie dolls made in China can now take two weeks to arrive in Los Angeles and a month to reach Le Havre, France -- a week longer than if the ships were moving at full speed. And there’s scope for ships to go even slower, according to A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S.
“This is the new norm,” said Rahul Kapoor, a Singapore-based director at Drewry Maritime Services Pvt. “The overall speed of the industry has gone down and there’s no going back.”
In the boom years before the 2008 financial crisis, shipping lines expanded fleets and ran ships as fast as they could to keep up with the surging demand for goods manufactured half a world away. As demand dropped, the lines were left with too many vessels, and customers eager to reduce inventory, who would rather pay a lower rate to receive goods than guarantee quick delivery." - source Bloomberg
The new norm has been slower M2 velocity, slower growth, slower shipping. For the PE punters who have played the "recovery" game, they will have to face the "music". End of our parenthesis.

In this week's conversation, given the on-going "bloodbath" in the oil space, we will look at some of the implications. We will also look at the debilitating state of the credit markets once more.

  • US Energy sector (ETF XLE) versus oil price - Much more downside to come
  • Credit - The credit cycle has turned and global financial conditions are tightening
  • Final chart - Correlations getting higher in a macro-driven market

  • US Energy sector (ETF XLE) versus oil price - Much more downside to come
While watching the continuous downward spiral of oil prices, what really struck us is the resilience from the US energy sector in the equity space versus the price of oil. We are convinced that there is more downside to come on the equity side - graph source Bloomberg from the 6th of January:
- graph source Bloomberg.

Whereas at the end of 2008, oil and XLE where trading roughly at the same levels, today it appears to us that ETF XLE as a proxy for the oil equity sector is still at least 30% above the lows of 2009 with an oil barrel at a much lower level. More pain to come, we think...

On a side note, should a rebound of oil happen at some point in 2016, one sure way of playing it would be through Fx via the Canadian Dollar (CAD) and/or the Norwegian Krona (NOK). 

Whereas, equities present more downside risk, credit has already significantly underperformed in recent month in fact as indicated by Barclays in their Oil and Gas monthly note from the 5th of January indicates the following:
"High Yield Energy Bonds Drop 23.6% in 2015 
The Barclays high yield energy index decreased 12.2% in December, the second largest monthly decline since 1991 (worst was October 2008 at -19.2%). This month’s drop leaves high yield energy down 23.6% for the year, underperforming the overall high yield market by 19.1% in 2015. In December, high yield energy credits moved lower because of a 12% decline in front month WTI and a collapse in natural gas prices to a low of $1.75/mmBtu on warm winter weather. By rating category, BB bonds returned -11.6%, B bonds returned -13.6%, and CCCs returned -12.9%. The independent index declined 18.3% in December, reflecting sharp decreases in the unsecured bonds of California Resources, Legacy Reserves, Vanguard Natural Resources, and Memorial Production Partners. Oilfield services dropped 8.4% on decreases in Seadrill, Atwood Oceanics, and CGG. New issue activity dried up completely in December, leaving year-to-date high yield energy issuance at $33bn, down from $55bn issued in 2014. 
Leverage Sensitivities and Breakevens at $40/bbl WTI 
We recently published an E&P update on leverage sensitivities and breakevens at $40/bbl WTI (report). In the report, we show sensitivities to debt/EBITDA in 2016 assuming $40/bbl WTI and $2.25/mmbtu Henry Hub, close to where strip prices are today. Two-thirds of the peer group has leverage north of 5.0x and five companies have leverage north of 10x (SandRidge, California Resources, MEG Energy, Denbury, and EXCO). However, hedging gains account for almost half of the peer group EBITDA in 2016, leaving unhedged debt/EBITDA at an average of 20x. Under this screen, 16 of the 27 companies we model have leverage north of 10x. Lowest leveraged companies under a $40/2.25 deck include Concho Resources (2.2x), Hilcorp Energy (3.2x), Baytex Energy (3.7x), and EP Energy (3.8x). Although not our base case, we note that Moody’s recently lowered its 2016 price forecast to $40/2.25, potentially foreshadowing additional ratings downgrades. 
Hedging Protection is Limited in 2017 
In our latest hedge study (report), we found that high yield E&P companies have protected 36% of 2016 oil and gas production and only 12% of 2017 production. While some high yield producers used the rally in oil to $60/bbl in May 2015 to fortify hedges, few producers have added to hedges in 4Q15 given the decline in strip prices. Almost half the peer group remains unhedged in 2017. As of 3Q15, we estimate that the peer group had a hedge book value of $12.6bn, with Antero Resources leading the peer group at $2.8bn. Top hedgers in 2016 and 2017 include Memorial Production Partners and Antero Resources, with an average 78% and 76% of 2016/17 production hedged, respectively. Credits with no hedges in place for 2016/17 include Goodrich Petroleum, MEG Energy, Midstates Petroleum, and Swift Energy. Energy Spreads Wider in DecemberIn December, energy spreads widened 292bp, to 1,296bp, compared with 58bp of widening for the overall market. December’s move left energy spreads trading 636bp wider than the high yield market, cheap compared with the 10-year average of 38bp through. The sharpest outperformance came in the oilfield services subsector, which widened as little as 5bp versus the high yield market." 
- source Barclays

Given the lack of hedges for some as reported by Barclays, should the "oil conundrum" continues, meaning lower for longer, no doubt to us that some players are going to face the default/restructuring music in 2016. 

This brings us to the second point of our conversation relating to credit and the current state of affairs.

  • Credit - The credit cycle has turned and global financial conditions are tightening
While looking at the evolution of Global Fx reserves and their evolution since 2003 and in comparison with the recent periods, one being 2008 and the start of the rise in the cost of capital since mid 2014, if we use the evolution of these Global Fx reserves as a proxy for "global liquidity", one can ascertain that an expansion of these reserves indicates expansion, whereas a fall, indicates a global contraction - graph source Macronomics / Bloomberg:
One can notice from the above chart that during the financial crisis of 2008, between the 31st of July and the 31st of March 2009, Global Fx reserves tightened by 4.86% ($339 bn in 8 months, roughly $42bn per month). Since the 31st of July 2014 until the 31st of December 2015, Global Fx reserves have fallen by 6.39% ($768 bn in 17 months = roughly $45 bn per month). The on-going "liquidity" crisis, which is indeed a very big US dollar "margin call", is not only much bigger than in 2008, but, is lasting much more longer!

So even if some "pundits" tell you that at these levels High Yield is a "bargain", dear reader you should think again, although no doubt there are some interesting credit story out there (much more likely in Europe where leverage is lower), credit in the High Yield space continues to deteriorate in the US, hence our recommendation of moving higher in the rating spectrum for the last few months and favor Europe from a relative value perspective (better credit metrics).

When it comes to US High Yield we have to agree with Bank of America Merrill Lynch's take from their latest High Yield strategy chartbook from the 6th of January, "Winter is coming":
"2014 redux 
Last year was a lot like 2014, only amplified. Bigger oil slump, worsening fundamentals and gappier price movements in HY, more geopolitical turmoil, and higher EM volatility. These factors were already eroding investor sentiment within HY when the US economy also buckled, showing signs of a slowdown at the heels of an already faltering global economy. The news of liquidation of several HY funds due to mounting losses from distressed credits turned out to be the last straw, driving US HY to a return of -4.6%, its first negative annual return in a non-recessionary period. The only bright spot: mutual fund redemptions were comparatively much lesser last year (-$10bn) vs 2014 (-$21bn), which arguably gave US HY a level of support. Across asset classes, US HY was the second worst performer. Only EM equities underperformed more, while less risky securities such as Treasuries, Munis, and Mortgages were the best performers. Leveraged Loans outperformed HY returning -0.69bps despite the heavy outflows (-$25bn). 
Winter is coming 
It’s a binary world we live in: 2015 returns were heavily dragged down by commodities, outside of which the index was roughly flat (tab 1.01). Half the HY universe by market value today trades at 310bps, while the other half is at 1050bps. The distressed list has a disproportionate representation of commodities (33%). However, this dispersion doesn’t bode well for US HY, as our fears of valuations eventually catching up to fundamentals have not abated. Default and distress ratios are increasing, even outside commodities:
and while rating migrations ex-commodities have not reached 2011 levels, they are heading in the wrong direction. CCC issuance has plummeted (chart below) and the US-domiciled USD HY market has seen a net annual contraction for the first time since 2008:

We expect all of this to continue well into 2016, putting more pressure on non-commodity paper. In terms of opportunities, we think Fallen Angels will provide a unique one to HY investors in 2016 as demand for higher quality paper increases, especially in light of reduced primary market activity. We also like Leveraged Loans for many of the aforementioned reasons, and believe they will outperform bonds once again this year." - source Bank of America Merrill Lynch
2016, no doubt will be an interesting year for US High Yield particularly given the contagion risk, should market turmoils continue to run unabated as it seems to be the case so far. As displayed in Bank of America Merrill Lynch's data, not only leverage is higher than in 2008, but earnings have been falling faster in terms of EBITDA YoY changes:

Even Ex Energy earnings are falling...

We know nothing, Jon Snow 
Is it possible that the world remains in its current bifurcated state? Yes, if oil prices don’t bounce back and ex-commodity fundamentals don’t degenerate further. We can sympathize with the commodity bears given the levels of global oversupply, but corporate earnings power has been eroding for one too many quarters (charts above), and top cycle behavior has surfaced one too many times this past year for us to think that the corporate credit cycle has not turned. This is the foundation of our opinion that spreads have more room to widen from here, and a broader default cycle is looming, especially if outflows pick up. The more nuanced questions for 2016 and beyond however, include: what will be the direction of the global economy and how will that impact the business cycle back home? Will events in the HY market be enough to create another impediment for the US economy? Enough to turn the business cycle? The answers to these, we don’t know yet." - source Bank of America Merrill Lynch
So, don't push your luck dear reader, we might be breaking the fourth wall, but "overplaying" the "beta" game when the US credit cycle has turned is, we think asking for more trouble than "carry".

What we have long argued during the course of 2015 is that the more correlations were getting "positive" the higher the number of "sucker punches" aka large standard deviation moves. It is no surprise to us, that the year ended, for some bond holders of Novo Banco, with a bang as described earlier in our conversation. When it comes to 2016, given cross asset correlations have risen, we do expect even more "sucker punches" being delivered hence our mention of "risk reversal" opportunities in our last conversation of the year 2015. When it comes to a macro-driven market as "central banks' put" are losing their "magic", correlations unfortunately are still moving higher, which, we think is a sign of great instability brewing.

  • Final chart - Correlations getting higher in a macro-driven market
We already discussed the rise in +/-4 standard deviations moves or more in various asset classes back in August 2015 in our conversation "Charts of the Day - Positive correlations and large Standard Deviation moves":
"Cushing's syndrome" aka central banking "overmedication" leads to a rise in "positive correlations. There is a growing systemic risk posed by rising "positive correlations. Since the GFC (Great Financial Crisis), correlations have been getting more positive which, is a cause for concern" - Macronomics, August 2015
The correlation between macro variables such as bund yields, FX and oil and equity market factors (Momentum, Value, Growth, Risk) is now higher than the correlation between macro variables and the market. There lies the crux of central banks interventions. There is now deeper inter-linkages in the macro economy as well as financial markets globally post crisis. This is confirmed by our chosen chart from Bank of America Merrill Lynch's Credit Derivatives Strategist note from the 6th of January entitled "When credit met technical analysis":
"Correlations getting higher in a macro-driven market 
The credit CDS index market is a macro risk gauge. Post the global financial crisis and the subsequent central bank interventions, we find that pairwise correlations among different credits are now at a different (higher) regime (chart 4). 

Macro shocks (oil, Greece, China, EM risks, Fed, ECB) dominate credit markets. We see little prospect of the current market set-up changing in view of ECB QE.
Pairwise correlations across different asset classes have also been trending higher. Chart 5 shows the cross-asset pairwise correlations for equity, credit, implied vol and FX markets both in Europe and the US. Note that recently cross-asset correlations were at the highest level in a decade."
- source Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Sorry to be breaking again the fourth wall dear readers, but, in our book, rising cross asset correlations is not a good sign for a smooth ride, but, at least indicates, there is convexity and risk reversal opportunities out there...and volatility is therefore a buy...
"A heart well prepared for adversity in bad times hopes, and in good times fears for a change in fortune." - Horace

Stay tuned!

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