Friday, April 30, 2010

Euro Sales Extend as Morgan Stanley Mulls EU Breakup

This is forex times ... April 29 (Bloomberg)- Investors are abandoning the euro at a rate not seen since the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. as Europe’s worsening fiscal crisis threatens to splinter the 16-nation currency union.

Pension funds and banks sold euros this month at the fastest pace since the second half of 2008, when the currency tumbled more than 25 percent against the dollar between mid-July and the end of October, according to Bank of New York Mellon Corp., the world’s biggest custodian of financial assets with $23 trillion. Demand for options giving the right to sell the euro against the dollar versus those allowing for purchases rose yesterday to the highest level since November 2008.

“The assumptions that went into the makeup of the euro- zone, and hence the euro, are now being brought into question and revalued,” said Eric Busay, a manager of currencies and international bonds in Sacramento at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the largest U.S. public pension, with $202 billion under management. “There are differences, and screaming differences, that have now been shown between the regions of the euro-zone.”

While the euro became a rival to the dollar after the common currency’s inception in 1999, the debt crisis that began in Greece shows how it is being shaken by one country comprising 2.6 percent of the region’s economy. The euro’s 11 percent decline in the past six months made it the worst performer among its 16 most-traded peers. Standard & Poor’s cut the credit ratings on Greece, Portugal and Spain in the last two days.

Central-Bank Holdings

Credit-default swaps on the debt of Greece, Portugal and Spain climbed to record highs as the 16 nations making up the euro failed to bridge economic and political differences fast enough for traders.

The euro fell to a one-year low of $1.3115 yesterday in New York, down from 2009’s high of $1.5144 on Nov. 25, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin the “stability of the euro zone” was at stake if a 45 billion-euro ($59 billion) loan package for Greece orchestrated by the International Monetary Fund can’t be delivered soon.

Currency strategists are having a hard time keeping up with the decline. The median average of 32 forecasts compiled by Bloomberg is for the currency to end the year at $1.32. In February, the estimate was $1.43. The euro was at $1.3236 at 3:25 p.m. in London today.

Dumping Bonds

Bank of New York Mellon’s chief currency strategist, Simon Derrick in London, said the euro may tumble to $1.10 by the end of 2011. Morgan Stanley predicts it will trade at $1.24 by year- end. Without central bank support, the euro’s long-term fair value is $1.20, UBS AG said April 26.

Investors are on course to sell a net 50 billion euros of euro-region bonds this year, compared with purchases of 225 billion euros in 2009, according to a Nomura Holdings Inc. projection.

Central banks reduced the share of euros in their $8.1 trillion of reserves to 27.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 from 28 percent in the previous three months, according to Morgan Stanley calculations based on IMF data. The figure was about 17 percent when the euro was introduced 11 years ago.

“Central bankers and institutional investors have spent 10 years pricing out the likelihood of a euro-zone break-up, and now they have to price it in again,” said Emma Lawson, a currency strategist in London at Morgan Stanley. “The euro will no longer have this additional support going forward.”

‘Shift in Attitudes’

The euro’s one-month option risk-reversal rate fell to minus 1.97 percent yesterday, the lowest level since Nov. 4, 2008, and down from minus 0.9 two weeks earlier, signaling a relative increase in demand for puts, which grant traders the right to sell the currency. It was at minus 1.7 percent today.

“Euro weakness is driven by a broad shift in investor attitudes, a shift which goes well beyond shorter-term foreign- exchange position changes within hedge funds,” Nomura foreign- exchange analysts Jennifer Hau in London and Jens Nordvig in New York wrote in an April 20 report to clients.

The euro, introduced on Jan. 1, 1999, at a rate of about $1.17, weakened to 82.30 U.S. cents in 2000 as the region’s economy slumped amid the bursting of the dot-com bubble. It peaked at $1.6038 in July 2008 as the global financial crisis worsened.

While the European Union shares a common monetary policy, members are responsible for their own fiscal decisions. That allowed Greece’s budget deficit to expand to almost 14 percent of its gross domestic product, exceeding the EU’s 3 percent limit without penalty. Germany’s is 3.2 percent of its GDP.

‘Vulnerable Spot’

Greece’s $357 billion economy is 2.6 percent of the euro zone’s $13.6 trillion and compares with $3.65 trillion for Germany, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Even though Merkel called for a quick resolution of the aid package for Greece, she has delayed German approval of loans in the face of voter opposition. Almost 60 percent of Germans don’t want to help Greece, the Die Welt newspaper reported this week, citing a survey of 1,009 people.

“The problem with Europe, and people had forgotten about this over the past decade, is that the experiment of monetary union without political union, and without any sort of federalism across the euro-zone, puts them in a very vulnerable spot,” Scott Mather, head of global portfolio management at Pacific Investment Management Co. in Munich, said in a Bloomberg radio interview on April 26.

‘Nationalistic’ Tendencies

“So when push comes to shove and you have these large imbalances that develop between countries, it is very likely that they go back to the old world of being more nationalistic,” said Mather, whose Newport Beach, California- based firm runs the $220 billion Total Return Fund, the world’s biggest bond fund.

The outlook for the euro and the dollar are both poor, according to Kenneth Rogoff, a former IMF chief economist and professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. President Barack Obama has increased U.S. marketable debt to an unprecedented $7.76 trillion to fund a budget deficit the government predicts will swell to $1.6 trillion in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

“There’s a tremendous surge to diversify out of the dollar, and the euro is still the main alternative,” Rogoff said in a telephone interview. “Both the euro and the dollar have their longer-term vulnerabilities.”

Since 2001 the percentage of currency reserves held in dollars has fallen to 62.1 percent from 72.7 percent, according to the IMF in Washington.

‘Great Solution’

Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Mundell said the Greek crisis is a fiscal issue, not a broader credibility peril for Europe’s common currency.

“It’s not a euro problem; the euro has been a great solution,” Mundell, a professor at Columbia University in New York, said in an interview yesterday on Bloomberg Television. “It’s a deficit and debt problem.”

Mundell said there must be conditions attached to the financing package for Greece with a year-by-year target to reduce the country’s debt and cut its deficit “well below 3 percent” of GDP.

“It could be handled if the Greeks would be able to demonstrate to Germany and the other countries that they will keep the line and do this,” Mundell said. “There has to be that transformation, otherwise the alternative is a big restructuring of the Greek debt.”

Bigger Than TARP

The euro’s weakness may also help Europe’s economy rebound as its exports become more competitive. Bundesbank President Axel Weber said April 26 that Germany’s recovery will gather steam in the second quarter. The nation’s exports rose 5.1 percent in February from the previous month, the most since June 2009, a government report showed on April 9.

To fix the region’s fiscal crisis the EU may need a plan larger than the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program deployed by the U.S. after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc.

Lower credit ratings on EU nations may force banks to boost the amount of capital they’re required to hold against bets on sovereign debt, said Brian Yelvington, head of fixed-income strategy at broker-dealer Knight Libertas LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut. While bank capital rules give a risk weighting of zero percent for government debt rated AA- or higher, it jumps to 50 percent for debt graded BBB+ to BBB- on the S&P scale and 100 percent for BB+ to B-.

Soaring Yields

Yields on Greek two-year notes soared to a record 26 percent yesterday. Portugal’s jumped to 7.05 percent and Spain’s reached 2.53 percent. S&P lowered its rating on Greece by three steps to BB+, or below investment grade, from BBB+ on April 27, minutes after cutting Portugal to A- from A+. It reduced Spain’s rating one step to AA from AA+ yesterday.

“The euro is not the euro we initially bought into,” said Roddy Macpherson, investment director in Edinburgh at Scottish Widows Investment Partnership Ltd., which manages the equivalent of $216 billion of assets. “The whole confidence in the euro has taken a bit of a bashing. We’re short the euro.”

No comments: