Sunday, November 27, 2011

27/11/2011: Even with IMF's €600bn - Italy is too big to bail

There are some interesting reports in the media over the weekend, speculating that the IMF is preparing a super package for Italy, rumored to reach €600 billion. Here's a link from zerohedge that outlines the details of these rumors (here). There are several reasons to be skeptical as the feasibility of such a package and the potential effectiveness of it.

Here are these reasons.

Firstly, the IMF is a rules-based organization that normally can lend only 4-5 times (400-500%) of the country quota. Italy's country quota is SDR7.8823 billion or €10.7bn which can allow IMF to lend under normal arrangements up to €53.5 billion (at a severe stretch, I must add as the fund prefers not to lend to the full leverage of 500%).

In addition, IMF has announced two new programmes last week (discussed here). The Flexible Credit Line programme - whereby IMF does not specify lending leverage to be achieved, applies only to "members with very strong track records... based on pre-set qualification criteria to deal with all types of balance of payments problems." So IMF would have to qualify Italy as a country with "strong track record" and its solvency problems as "balance of payments problem". This, of couse, is possible, though not probable, as Italy's "strong track record" is hardly that "strong". In addition, the new lending will have to take place outside the normal arrangements mentioned above, as the deployment of such arrangements would not be consistent with "strong track record" even in theory. So to raise €600 billion, IMF will have to leverage Italy's SDR allocation 6,000%.

Let's put this number into perspective. Lehman Bros TCE leverage ratio was 4,400% at the time of collapse and its average TCE leverage ratio prior to collapse was 3,100%.

At any rate, IMF is most likely to assign Italy a precautionary borrower status under Precautionary Credit Line (see link above) which allows for 24 months leveraging up to 1,000%. This, of course means Italy will be able to raise just €107 billion through IMF loans or about 1/3rd of its roll-over requirements (not to mention new borrowings demand) through 2012.

Secondly, suppose IMF does indeed lend Italy €600 billion - enough to barely cover the country refinancing needs for 2012-2013. Then, two things happen:

  1. 1/3rd of Italy's total Gross Government Debt becomes overnight senior to the rest of its debt - as IMF always assumes seniority in lending. This will push existent Italian bonds yields to 15% or 18% or more. We do not know, of course, exactly where the debt will be traded, but what we do know with almost certainty is that there is not a snowball's chance in hell Italy will be able to refinance maturing debt after 2013 on its own. So IMF lending Italy today commits IMF to lend to Italy in 2014 and on.
  2. €600 billion is unlikely to cover all Italian needs for 2012-2013, especially if Italian banks are to take a hit on other sovereign bonds. let me run through the EBA banks stress tests model under the following assumptions: Greece haircut 80%, Italy haircut 10%, Portugal haircut 25%, Spain haircut 10% (notice - all very benign) and CT1 ratio of 9%. Italian banks shortfall on capital is €34 billion. Now, recall that Italy also has insurance companies (e.g. A.Gen) and pensions funds - which will see some fall-outs from the haircuts as well. Say €10 billion. Italian bonds downgrade due to IMF lending (see item 1 above) is likely to cost banks and other financial sector companies another  €11 billion and €4 billion. So we are into total bill of ca €60 billion right there. Italian deficits in 2012-2014 are expected to gross €76 billion per IMF latests forecasts. As shown in the chart above, debt maturity, plus new deficits financing will consume some €453.4 billion in 2012-2014 and €630.5 billion in 2012-2016. 
So the total funding that Italy might require is in the neighborhood of €510-690 billion, depending on which period we assume the package will cover (2012 through either 2014 or 2016 respectively).

And this assumes no deterioration in GDP growth (tax revenues) or deficit spending etc. It also assumes that market funding costs IMF built into its deficit forecasts (4% 10-year average pre-November 2010) remain under the IMF lending deal. In fact, of course, that is open to speculation if IMF can lend Italy €600 billion at anything below 5.3-5.8%.

So overall, folks, I am skeptical as to the IMF's ability to conjure €600 billion for Italy. And furthermore, I am skeptical as to Italy's ability to manage cover for its deficits, banks and roll-over needs under such a package. This doesn't even begin to address my concerns as to Spain waiting in the shadows.

Now, lastly, you might suggest that the IMF loans can come in conjunction with EFSF loans. Alas, the EFSF has some serious troubles itself - the following two posts from the zerohedge amply illustrate: here and here.

You see, Italy is too big to bail. Even if it is also too big to fail.
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