Slog highlights real threat to France from sovereign bond future trading
Lloyd Blankfein, Morgan Stanley, French debt and Nicolas Sarkozy: whatever the motives, this has all the makings of a huge scandal.
Growing unease in senior French political circles about ‘Laffaire FOATs’ is supported by The Slog’s expose below. It shows that bond futures market-maker Morgan Stanley has a clear, vested interest in using the new sector – which will launch on April 16th – to France’s grave disadvantage. And it delves into some of the more intriguing facts that lie behind the French Left’s suspicions of a Sarkozyist involvolvement in the launch of the country’s new FOAT market.
Yesterday, The Slog posted a special ‘bollocks’ header which quoted French President Nicolas Sarkozy as telling the French electorate that the only alternative to him would be “a financial disaster”. I was amused by the underlying assumption behind Sarko’s claim, viz, that France wasn’t already in the poo. But a Gallic Slogger has pointed me at an intriguing story that has Sarkozy’s opponents genuinely worried.
There exists a French word, ‘attentat’. Difficult to translate exactly, but generally it means ‘a dastardly attack’ – usually in relation to a ‘hit’ via assassination or bomb. However, as the French elections draw ever closer – and Nicolas Sarkozy stares down the barrel of defeat – a growing number of observers in France are beginning to sense what they see as a coming ‘attentat financier’.
The thing we need to get at here (as always in today’s world) is, what’s going on? Is it just more trader madness and greed? Or is it a dastardly scorched-earth attack on the coming Presidency of Francois Hollande…by Sarko and his allies in the globalist elite?
I don’t pretend to be an expert in this area, but the upside of that is you will be able to understand what I’m going to write – as opposed to reading paragraphs of jargonised bollocks trying to hide the fundamental insanity involved. Prose, for example, like this stuff from Ciaran O’Flynn, co-head of European government bond trading at Morgan Stanley, which will act as a market-maker for a new sector of contracts….French bond futures:
“There is demand in all markets for multiple instruments to trade as this creates arbitrage opportunities, which can enhance liquidity in all versions of the market.”
Always be suspicious of any idea that doesn’t state simply what it is…which I will now do. Bond futures are simply another way for the maniacs pulling one-armed bandits in the gambling casino to take a punt. Or rather, in this case, to get their F* OATs: bets made on the futures of 8-12 year duration French Obligations Assimilables du Tresor. (FOATS)
OK so far? Good. The only problem for those of us with a training in history is that these products tend to appear just before something bad happens. The reason for this is that, in the eurozone, bond prices and yields differ massively depending on whether you’re Germany or Greece – ie, solvent or bust. The points in between those two are called Italy, Portugal and Spain.
There’s a sort of chicken and egg – which came first? – dimension to this. But basically, if your national finances look as if they might go pear-shaped, there is always a dickhead somewhere who can see a way to make money betting on it. There are or have been thriving Sovereign bond futures sectors in all the PIGS. Logically, it is common sense to observe that, if enough people have an interest in talking up the dangers and yields likely to be present in government debt, then a self-fulfilling prophecy is being made: all those nasty speed-of-light Vulture Fund liquidity pool bottom feeders will be pumping in market-changing moves designed to make good their bets….with the unfortunate side-effect of turning a parlous national finance problem into a hopeless basket-case.
This very syndrome was the biggest single problem facing Mario Monti when he took over as Goldman Implant in Residence for Italy. But being a GS veteran, Monti knew what he was dealing with, and poured forth a torrent of dazzlingly untrue data and good news that, for a week or two, managed to persuade some commentators that Italy would survive and prosper. Only now are the markets fully aware that nothing has changed there, other than things getting worse.
On April 16th – just prior to the first round in the French Presidential Election, France will become a member of this unhappy club with a sovereign bond futures market. And so a lot of folks in Paris are wondering if Sarko was being literal when he said ‘financial disaster’.
It could, of course, simply be Leftist conspiracy theory trying to present the Little Man as so indescribably nasty, he is quite happy to put the survival of his chums in the global elite before those of France. On the other hand, the Left is on a good wicket doing this, because my own researches into Sarkozy’s cultural milieu suggest that such observations about him are entirely accurate. In many ways, Sarko is a sort of closet American financier.
But talking of Goldman Sachs, here’s an interesting little fact: God’s own worker Lloyd Blankfein was received at the Elysée in November 2011, where had a long and private one-to-one meeting with Nicolas Sarkozy. Only Le Figaro relayed the information, but didn’t enlarge upon what Lloyd was doing there, or indeed why a Wall Street banker was worth so much of Sarko’s precious time.
I blogged extensively last month about the long arm of Geithner and Obama in relation to the proposed amputation of Greece….that’s the default that happened, but then everyone said “Look! Over there!”, and suddenly it wasn’t a default any more. This isn’t conspiracy paranoia, it’s geopolitical reality. Be in no doubt: America’s arse is on the line if Europe falls apart. In the same way that last year they bombed the Iranian currency to get Ahmadinnejhad back to the negotiating table, in Europe American schemes are everywhere designed to ensure the survival of the ‘correct’ leaders…aka, leaders who will do what it takes to protect American banks, and build firewalls they believe can protect the US from its horrendous debt obligations.
Which returns us neatly to American banks, and their agenda in all this. Because Wall Street always has an agenda. That visit to see Nico by Lloyd Blankfein came at the tail-end of some very bad news indeed for several Wall Street banking firms. Basically, after the losses made on the Dexia bailout (very costly indeed for both France and Goldman) the markets got jittery about Wall Street exposure to eurozone debt. On November 1st last year, Bloomberg recorded that
‘…..five firms had a total net exposure of $45 billion to the debt of Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy, according to disclosures the companies made at the end of the third quarter….they are JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Corp. (BAC) and Citigroup Inc.’
Ah….so, Goldman and Morgan Stanley in there. Soon afterwards, the boss of one visits Sarkozy. Soon after that, Morgan Stanley’s head of Eurobond futures announces the launch of You Know What.
Morgan Stanley is the obvious choice, because it has the most to lose from France going under. Note this piece from CNN Money on October 3rd last year, asking if MS would be ‘the next Lehman’ – my emphasis:
‘Investors are worried about what exposure Morgan Stanley may have to the sovereign debt of Greece and other so-called peripheral nations in Europe. Specifically, there are fears that Morgan Stanley could suffer big collateral damage due to its exposure to French banks that have big ties to Greece and the rest of the PIIGS.’
By December last year, Street insiders were talking about investors and shareholders ‘fretting over its exposure to toxic European sovereign debt’. MS knew it had a problem; soon afterwards, the firm announced that during January 2012 it had cut the exposure by 40% – and 40% sounds big.
However, look at the numbers, and you’ll see that what the firm did was cut 40% off a horrendous exposure, in order to get down to a very dangerous one: adding its exposure of $3.3bn to French banks to exposure to Club Med debt gives us a grand total of between $6.1-6.3bn in total. It’s also time to get qualitative here: this is almost all toxic debt. It ain’t never gonna get paid.
What Morgan Stanley hopes to create after April 16th is the perfect hedge for itself: squillions of money betting on French collapse playing off similar squillions exposed to that collapse. So those French politicians publicly suspicious of the danger to France are right on the money: this is classic Wall Street double-dealing at its worst…the sort of client conflict that made Goldman Sachs infamous.
This feels to me like the biggest and best-evidenced motive I’ve yet seen in this affair. But remember: everything today is a weapon with which to carry out l’attentat. Picture the scenario:
Hollande wins the election…still the most likely result, despite Sarko’s choreographed execution of a Toulouse Islamist the week before last. He immediately starts unpicking Merkel’s FiskalUnion, slowing down its progress, and denouncing the Troika strategy of ClubMed austerity as obviously flawed.
This is a potential disaster for American debt, for American business, and for Barack Obama’s re-election ‘certainty’. So there is no shortage of motive here: “we can’t let Hollande keep the crown”.
But suppose, the second Francois le Terrible is elected, the brand new FOAT futures market takes the news badly….with Fed help. As in, starts betting heavily on Hollande making a mess of things and leading Europe into further chaos. Nice work for Morgan Stanley, and bad news for Le Parti Socialiste.
The wave ripples outwards, and a couple of French banks get desperate. French bond yields treble. France is turning into a ClubMed….zut alors, quelle horreur et Dieu en ciel! It is a catastrophe. Sauve qui peut! What can we do?
Well….why not appoint Christine Lagarde as Minister of Economic Finances: the acceptable French face of the IMF? OK, she’s in America’s pocket – but the upside is, she’s never worked at Goldman Sachs. What a relief: it is a government of National Unity – just like in Greece. We are saved. It is a miracle.
Sound far-fetched? Perhaps. But let’s apply a few classic Maigret detection techniques:
The accused Troika has form: Greek Goldman implant in Athens, abandoned referendum, delayed elections; Italian Goldman implant in Rome; Italian Goldman implant in the ECB; Geithner mouthing off about bazookas and foaming at the mouth in Poland; openly admitted attack on the Iranian Rial.
The Troika – really, Germany + America – has motive: eurobanking contagion would sink the USA, and the last thing Americans want is a Frog Commie screwing up all those excellent critical path analysis fantasies handed out by the IMF.
Sarkozy has form and motive: remaining enigmas in the obliteration of DSK as an opponent, his role with the Fed in getting Lagarde the job as his replacement, the guy’s track-record as a wannabe moneterist supporting globalist pre-eminence: all of these suggest that Nico may well be something of a con…in both the English and French senses of the word.
The surveillance data: the problems facing Morgan Stanley after September 2011, a visit from Blankfein to the Elysee in November, the FOATs announcement in March, its launch just as we get to the election, the creation of a Get out of Jail Free card for MS.
Far, far crazier things than this have turned out to be true. For the moment, the geopolitical element remains in the realm of informed speculation….although to the questions – would they and could they? – the answer is a resounding “Yes”.
But the Morgan Stanley position is, I think, one about which the French elite – I mean the real France, not the mock versions like Sarkozy and Lagarde – have every right to be concerned. The behaviour, motive and gains apparent for the firm are so obvious as to be at least worthy of serious investigation by French regulators….although I would imagine it’s already too late for that by now.
Maybe the solid banker element to L’affaire FOATs presented here at The Slog will create an even more widespread concern than that evoked by the popular site Rue 98 yesterday, when Presidential candidates Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Jacques Cheminade spoke passionately of “a new blow from financiers against France” and “a globalist offensive being prepared against France”.
That may sound like wild talk, but whether geopolitics are involved here or not – and if not, why would Sarkozy meet Blankfein at that key time? – the French would be mad right now to introduce a bond futures sector that can, realistically, only be used to help them down a slippery slope towards the debt vortex.
So maybe it’s over to Monsieur le President: “Et alors, Sarko – pourquoi avez-vous permit ce coup de folle?”