"In my view, the European interbank market is virtually dead and dusted, and the ECB and the Fed are now effectively the only thing between Europe’s banks and large scale failures. Since early September 750 billion USD worth of liquidity has been provided to the European banking system of which 100 billion sits on the Fed balance sheet through USD swap lines.
Who will bet against the final 3y LTRO auction to take this beyond one trillion USD?
Spanish and Italian curves are now nicely steep again after a brush with inversion which obviously was one of the main objectives even if it was always debatable whether banks would buy government bonds with the liquidity taken up at the ECB.
The question is; how do you unwind all this? 750 billion USD to roll short term liabilities with the ECB and the Fed seems to me to be one of the biggest gambles in monetary history.
While the BOE and the Fed have been transparent in their QE efforts and the BOJ never really having left the zero bound the ECB has been more covert. However, it is my contention that with the expansion of the securities market programme (SMP) in 2011 to buy considerable amounts of government bonds (1) as well as the 3y LTRO the ECB is now fully engaged in quantitative easing.
This is certainly true by the letter of the law but one has to wonder whether the ECB will ever get paid back here. I mean 3 years is an awful lot of time. The ECB can roll these loans as long as need be (it has already effectively been rolling bank funding since 2008) while maintaining the fig leaf that it is not funding sovereigns. This may be true, but it is effectively funding the sovereign’s banks and postponing the day of reckoning which is bank failures or nationalisation or both.
If the ECB is then forced take a hit on the collateral or the loans themselves, it will need to create the money to pay for these loans by printing euros. This sounds as a plan to me except that it does not solve the funding risks of governments which may or may not be able to ask their banks for help. The likely answer is that they won’t be unless the ECB and EU decide to wield the ultimate weapon of financial oppression which would be to penalise reserves over a given level with negative interest rates at the same time as banks would be forced, through regulation, to hold government bonds.
But Edward makes another interesting point;
Looking at the Greek PSI, what they would try and do (if all this gets that far, I mean if the Euro holds together long enough in this Byzantine world) ) is load up the private sector share of the haircut, and keep the ECB as untouchable official sector. At the limit they can use ELA to keep the banks afloat while the sovereign restructures and then recapitalises.
Why would any ex Eurozone third party want to be counterparty to anything which might end up being subordinated to ECB exposure later on down the line. The more I think about it the more it seems to me that the 3 yr LTROs might end up choking the European banking system to death.
It is difficult to disagree on the gist of this point, namely that the ECB is digging itself a very big hole. If banks can exchange under water assets at the ECB for a deposit asset at the ECB (albeit with a negative carry) the ECB is running the risk that it becomes the sole counterparty of bad assets in the euro zone in which case seniority will mean very little.
The Greek situation is a good example. Private creditors face an almost certain 100% wipeout exactly because they represent such a small tranche of the total stock of debt. In such a situation the asymmetric relationship between subordinate and senior debt holders mean that the latter essentially become equity holders. But once subordinate creditors are wiped out the turn comes to the senior debt tranches and the further the ECB goes along the road of providing full allotment liquidity the higher will be its implicit direct claim on assets of all sorts of qualities.
In conclusion, it is my view that the ECB is now the only thing between the economy and widespread bank failures, but I also concur that the consequence of this is a permanent outsourcing of the interbank market in Europe to the ECB’s balance sheet and, quite possibly, Fed’s USD swap lines.This post originally appeared at Claus Vistesen’s Blog"