Tag Archives: Italy

It’s Not the Heat; It’s the Liquidity

It’s not the heat, it’s the liquidity, says Nouriel Roubini on why Italy’s days in the eurozone are numbered.

Even as stocks and Italian bonds posted a recovery after Wednesday’s surge in Italian yields, Roubini, better known as Dr. Doom, said in the Financial Times, the only way to avert “the upcoming disaster is “if the ECB became an unlimited lender of last resort and cut policy rates to zero”, combined with the euro’s value falling to even with the dollar, “fiscal stimulus in Germany” and the deflation in the eurozone’s. Since the ECB can’t do that without rewriting the eurozone treaties, it doesn’t really matter that the other four are basically impossible as well. More to the point, even if Italy isn’t insolvent, the lack of liquidity in its system could be just as fatal.

Meanwhile, an extremely cute economist named Megan Greene agrees with Roubini. Greene has been waiting for the eurozone to go “into full meltdown mode” for months. She says “the only possible way Italy could regain market confidence at this point is if it swiftly implemented a package of austerity and structural reforms under a government with cross-party consensus and a strong, respectable leader, and this package immediately yielded results. This is nearly impossible.” Of course, being cute has nothing to do with it. She writes a blog called Euro area debt crisis. I’m going to assume that if your blog title is that specific, you’ve got a pretty good read on the situation. My favorite tab on the blog is “Beyond the Pigs.” It lends itself to so many interpretations.

Roubini says Italy, and the next bailout in line, Spain, are “too-big-to-fail but also too-big-to-save,” and will need a restructuring of 1.9 trillion euros of public debt. However, the European financial stability facility has already committed half of its resources to Greece, Ireland and Portugal, leaving just 200 billion euros for Italy and Spain. Efforts to leverage that 200 billion euros to 2 trillion, “is a turkey that will not fly, because the original EFSF was already a giant collateralized debt obligation, where a bunch of dodgy, sub-triple-A sovereigns try to achieve, by miracle, a triple-A rating via bilateral guarantees.” He calls it another “a giant sub-prime CDO scam.”

Still Wall Street isn’t going down easy. After Italy passed an austerity measure, the S&P 500 jumped 2% to 1264 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 2.2% to 12158. The yield on Italy’s benchmark bonds fell to 5.69%.

The rebound was so strong that some of the ETFs that tumbled on Wednesday are now trading above Tuesday’s close. These include the PowerShares DB Italian Treasury Bond Futures ETN (ITLY) up 3% to $18.25 and the PowerShares DB 3x Italian Treasury Bond Futures ETN (ITLT) up 10% to $14.29. These ETNs measure the performance of a long position in Euro-BTP futures, whose underlying assets are Italian government debt with an original term of no longer than 16 years. The ITLT ETN provides leveraged exposure three times greater than the unleveraged bonds.

Meanwhile, while not above the Nov. 8, close, these still made a nice recovery. The iShares MSCI Italy Index Fund (EWI), which tracks about 85% of the Italian equity market, gained 4% to $13.24 and the CurrencyShares Euro Trust (FXE), which offers U.S. investors a way to bet on the euro without trading on the foreign exchange markets, climbed back to $137.

Stocks, ETFs Plunge as Italian Bonds Top 7%

If you had any hopes that Europe would get its act together and come up with a reasonable plan to deal with its debt crisis, I think it’s time to give the points to the cynics.

Italian bond yields spiked to 7.25% today on fears that Italy has replaced Greece as the next flash point in the European debt crisis. People were hoping Italy would be able to institute some austerity measures if Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stepped down. However, news that Berlusconi had pledged to resign, and his insistence on elections instead of an interim government, instead sent markets reeling.

With Italian bonds hitting an all-time high since the euro’s 1999 introduction, they reached the same level that forced Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek bailouts. This sent U.S. stocks plunging. The S&P 500 Index tumbled 47 points, or 3.7% to 1229.

The evaporation of investor confidence was clear by the movement of ETFs that track the Italian bond and equity markets. The PowerShares DB Italian Treasury Bond Futures ETN (ITLY) fell 3% to a new low of $17.38 and the PowerShares DB 3x Italian Treasury Bond Futures ETN (ITLT) sank 10.3% to $12.37. These ETNs measure the performance of a long position in Euro-BTP futures, whose underlying assets are Italian government debt with an original term of no longer than 16 years. The ITLT ETN provides leveraged exposure three times greater than the unleveraged bonds. They have expense ratios of 0.5% and 0.95% respectively. If you’re looking for a good way to short the Italian bond market, these offer a good proxy. Just be aware, the ETNs are unsecured debt notes subjected to Deutsche Bank’s credit risk.

After months of failed plans, it’s become apparent that the European politicians are unable to make the hard choices to avert a disaster and that this has all been a huge shell game to push the problem forward without actually doing anything. I think it’s time for people to get out of U.S. stocks. We’re in for another hard landing.

Other ways to take advantage of the clustercuss that I fear will soon envelope Europe are the iShares MSCI Italy Index Fund (EWI), which tracks about 85% of the Italian equity market, and the CurrencyShares Euro Trust (FXE), which offers U.S. investors a way to bet on the euro without trading on the foreign exchange markets. The MSCI Italy fund, which charges 0.54%, plummeted 9.4% to $12.30, while the Euro Trust, which charges 0.4%, fell 2% to $135.03.

With Berlusconi demanding new elections, he effectively leaves Italy leaderless at the depths of the crisis, bringing the country close to a breaking point.

Meanwhile, late Wednesday, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou did officially quit, without naming a successor.

It’s hard to see things getting better soon. The market’s recent bounce gave most people an opportunity to get out of the market with some profits. I think it’s a good time to go to cash.