Category Archives: CDS

26/1/15: Markets v Greece: Too Cool for School… for now

There is much talk about the impact (or rather lack thereof) of Greek elections on the markets.

In fact, the euro continued to price in the effects of a much larger factor - the QE announcement by the ECB, the stock markets did the same. Only bonds and CDS markets reacted to the Greek elections, and even here the re-pricing of Greek risks was moderate so far (see chart below and the day summary for CDS - both courtesy of CMA).

The reason for this reaction is two-fold.

Firstly, Greece is a small blip on the overall radar map of Euro area's problems. Even in terms of Government debt. Here is the summary of the Government debt overhang levels (over and above 60% of debt/GDP benchmark) across the Euro area:

In simple terms, real problems for the euro, in terms of risk pricing, are in Italy, France and Spain.

Secondly, Greece is a political risk, not a financial risk to the Euro area. And it is a risk in so far, only, as yesterday's election increases the probability of a Grexit. But increasing probability of a Grexit does not mean that this increase is worth re-pricing. It is only worth worrying about if (1) increase in probability is significant enough, and (2) if elections changed the timing of the possible event, bringing it closer to today compared to previous markets expectations.

Now, here is the problem: neither (1) nor (2) have been materially changed by the Syriza victory last night. My comments to two publications yesterday and today, summarised below, explain.

Greek elections came as a watershed for both the markets analysts and the European elites, both of which expected a much weaker majority for the Syriza-led so-called 'extreme left' coalition. The final outcome of yesterday's vote, however, is far from certain, and this has been now fully realised by the markets participants.

The confrontation with the EU, ECB and the IMF, promised by Zyriza, is but one part of the dimension of the policy course that Greece will take from here on. Another part, less talked about today in the wake of the vote is accommodation.

Let me explain first why accommodation is a necessary condition for both sides in the conflict to proceed.

Greece is systemically important to the euro area, despite all claims by various European politicians to the contrary. Greece is carrying a huge burden of debt, accumulated, in part due to its own profligacy, in part due to the botched crisis resolution measures developed and deployed by the EU. It's debt is no longer held by the German, French and Italian banks, so much is true. German and French banks held some EUR27 billion worth of Greek Government debt at the end of 2010. This has now been reduced to less than EUR100 million. There is no direct contagion route from Greek official default to the euro area banking sector worth talking about. But Greek private sector debts still amount to roughly EUR10 billion in German and French banking systems (with more than EUR8 billion of this in German banks alone). Greek default will trigger defaults on these debts too, blowing pretty sizeable hole in the euro area banks.

However, lion's share of Greek public debt is now held in various European institutions. As the result, German taxpayers are on the hook for countless tens of billions in Greek liabilities via the likes of the EFSF and Eurosystem.

And then there is the reputational costs: letting Greece slip out into a default and out of the euro area will mark the beginning of an end for the euro, especially if, post-Grexit, Greece proves to be a success.

In short, one side of the equation - the Troika - has all the incentives to deal with Syriza.

One the other side, we can expect the fighting rhetoric of Syriza to be moderated as well. The reason for this is also simple: the EU-IMF-ECB Troika contains the Lender of Desperate Resort (the ECB) and the Lender of Last Resort (the IMF). Beyond these two, there is no funding available to Greece and Syriza elections promises make it painfully clear that it cannot entertain the possibility of a sharp exit from the euro, because such an exit would require the Government to run a full-blown budgetary surplus, not just a primary surplus. For anyone offering an end to austerity, this is a no-go territory.

So we can expect Syriza to present, in its first round of talks with the Troika, some proposals on dealing with the Greek debt overhang (currently this stands at around EUR 210 billion in excess debt over the 60% debt/GDP limit), backed by a list of reforms that the Syriza government can put forward in return for EU concessions on debt.

These reforms are the critical point to any future negotiations with the EU and the IMF. If Syriza can offer the EU deep institutional reforms, especially in the areas so far failed by the previous Government: improving the efficiency and accountability of the Greek public services, robust weeding out of political and financial corruption, and developing a functional system of tax collections, we are likely to see EU counter-offers on debt, including debt restructuring.

So far, Syriza has promised to respect the IMF loans and conditions. But its rhetoric about the end of Troika surveillance is not helping this cause of keeping the IMF calm - IMF too, like the ECB and the EU Commission, requires monitoring and surveillance of its programme countries. Syriza also promised to balance the budget, while simultaneously alleviating the negative effects of austerity. In simple, brutally financial terms, these sets of objectives are mutually exclusive.

With contradictory objectives in place, perhaps the only certainty coming on foot of the latest Greek elections is that political risks in Greece and the euro area have amplified once again and are unlikely to abate any time soon. Expect the Greek Crisis 4.0 to be rolling in any time in the next 6 months.

So in the nutshell, don't expect much of fireworks now - we all know two deadlines faced by Greece over the next month:

These are the markers for the markets to worry about and these are the timings that will start revealing to us more information about Syriza policy stance too. Until then, ride the wave of QE and sip that kool-aid lads... too cool to worry about that history lesson, for now...

16/1/2015: S&P Capital IQ Global Sovereign Debt Report: Q4 2014

S&P Capital IQ’s Global Sovereign Debt Report is out for Q4 2014, with some interesting, albeit already known trends. Still, a good summary.

Per S&P Capital IQ: "The dramatic fall in oil prices dominated the news in Q4 2014, affecting the credit default swaps (CDS) and bond spreads of major oil producing sovereigns which have a dependence on oil revenues. Venezuela, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Nigeria all widened as the price of oil plummeted over 40%. Separately, Greece also saw a major deterioration in CDS levels as it faces a possible early election."

And "Globally, CDS spreads widened 16%."

No surprises, as I said, but the 16% rise globally is quite telling, especially given CDS and bond swaps for the advanced economies have been largely on a downward trend. The result is: commodities slump and dollar appreciation are hitting emerging markets hard. Not just Russia and Ukraine, but across the board.

Some big moves on the upside of risks:

  • "Venezuela remains at the top of the table of the most risky sovereign credits following Argentina’s default in Q3 2014, resulting in its removal from the report, with spreads widening 169% and the 5Y CDS implied cumulative default probability (CPD) moving from 66% to 89%." 
  • The only major risk source, unrelated to commodities prices is Greece where CDS spreads "widened to 1281bps - an election as early as January could see a change of government and fears over a possible exit from the Eurozone have affected CDS prices." 
  • "Russia enters the top 10 most risky table as CDS spreads widened around 90% following the fall in oil price which is adding more pressure to an economy already subject to continued economic sanctions." 
  • "Ukraine CDS spreads also widened by 90%." 
  • "CDS quoting for Nigeria remained extremely low throughout the last quarter of 2014. Bond Z-Spreads widened 150bps for the Bonds maturing in January 2021 and July 2023 but remained very active." 

Venezuela and Ukraine are clear 'leaders' in terms of risks - two candidates for default next.

Other top-10 are charted over time below:

Again, per S&P Capital IQ:

  • "The CDS market now implies an 11% probability (down from 34% in Q3 2014) that Venezuela will meet all its debt obligations over the next 5 years, as oil prices dropped 40% in Q4 2014." 
  • "Russia and Ukraine CDS spreads widened 90% during Q4 2014. The Russia CDS curve also inverted this quarter with the 1Y CDS level higher than the 5Y. Curve inversion occurs when investors become concerned about a potential ‘jump to default’ and buy short dated as opposed to 5Y protection." This, of course, is tied to the risks relating to bonds redemptions due in H1 2015, which are peaking in the first 6 months of the year, followed by still substantial call on redemptions in H2 (some details here: As readers of the blog know, I have been tracking Russian and Ukrainian CDS for some time, especially during the peak of the Ruble crisis last month - you can see some comparatives in a more dynamic setting here: and in precedent links, by searching the blog for "CDS".
  • "Greece, which restructured debt in March 2012, returned to the debt markets this year. CDS spreads widened to 1281bps and the 4.75Y April 2019 Bonds, which were issued with a yield of 4.95%, now trade with a yield of over 10%, according to S&P Capital IQ Bond Quotes." 

By percentage widening, the picture is much the same:

So all together - a rather unhappy picture in the emerging markets - a knock on effect of oil prices collapse, decline across all major commodities prices, dollar appreciation and the risk of higher US interest rates (the last two factors weighing heavily on the risk of USD carry trades unwinding) - all are having significant adverse effect across all EMs. Russia is facing added pressures from the sanctions, but even absent these things would be pretty tough.

Note 1: latest pressure on Ukraine is from the risk of Russia potentially calling in USD3 billion loan extended in December 2013. Kiev has now breached loan covenants and as it expects to receive EUR1.8 billion worth of EU loans next, Moscow can call in the loans. The added driver here (in addition to Moscow actually needing all cash it can get) is the risk that George Soros is trying to get his own holdings of Ukrainian debt prioritised for repayment. These holdings have been a persistent rumour in the media as Soros engaged in a massive, active and quite open campaign to convince Western governments of the need to pump billions into the Ukrainian economy. Still, all major media outlets are providing Soros with a ready platform to advance his views, without questioning or reporting his potential conflicts of interest. 

Note 2: Not being George Soros, I should probably disclose that I hold zero exposures (short or long) to either Ukrainian or Russian debt. My currency exposure to Hrivna is nil, to Ruble is RUB3,550 (to cover taxi fare from airport to the city centre on my next trip). Despite all these differences with Mr Soros, I agree that Ukraine needs much more significant aid for rebuilding and investment. Only I would restrict its terms of use not to repay billionaires' and oligarchs' debts but to provide real investment in competitive and non-corrupt enterprises.