ECB starts QE programme

The European Central Bank (ECB) started its 1.1 trillion euro QE programme today at 9:25am Frankfurt time by purchasing German and Italian government bonds. While bond yields expectedly fell further, the euro remained almost unchanged.

The EURUSD exchange rate is trading at $1.0852 as of this writing -- having fallen sharply below $1.10 after Mario Draghi's press conference on Thursday last week.

EURUSD Monthly 15-Year Chart 2015-03-09

The euro remains a sell versus the US dollar. From a technical point of view, the next support level is the September 2003 low at $1.0765. A more significant support should be the crossing of the upward and downward sloping trend lines in the $1.057-1.060 area. The geopolitical and economic situations in and around Europe are not supporting the single currency, either. Greece remains a bottomless pit that European politicians continue to throw money into. Greece's list of proposed measures to counter its dire state was rejected by the country's creditors -- perhaps understandably so considering that the list contained such unconventional measures as "hiring non-professional tax collectors, such as tourists". The Russia/Ukraine conflict weighs on investor sentiment, too.

Taking all this into account, I still believe we will see parity by the end of this year, but a short-term upward correction becomes ever more likely. Euro bulls should perhaps wait until one of the above-mentioned support levels has been reached before adding euro long positions, because the trend is still very much intact. On the other hand, I would be very careful with entering into new EURUSD short positions at current levels. Personally, I choose to keep my existing short positions with a 50% take profit at $1.0765 and another 50% take profit at $1.06. If the exchange rate indeed turns around before reaching those levels, I'm prepared to add to my short positions once we get back into the $1.11-12 region.

ECB QE + Alexis Tsipras = EUR short

Mario Draghi surprised markets on Thursday by announcing that European national central banks would purchase €60bn worth of assets per month at least through September 2016, bringing the total amount above €1,000bn. Sidenote: On Wednesday, a number of €50bn had been leaked to the press ("sources") -- Draghi is indeed one crafty Italian who knows all about expectations and how to control them. Consequently, the euro fell sharply after the real number came out. The Friday closing price relative to the US dollar was just above the $1.12 support level; intraday lows were below $1.115.

Combine ECB QE with negative interest rates and a diverging Fed monetary policy, and you can only see one way for the EURUSD exchange rate to go: Further down. Last Sunday's target of $1.12 was admittedly reached faster than expected (after all, Draghi had not done his magic yet). So what is a likely next stop? The long-term chart dating back to the year 2000 tells us that there are no significant support levels between $1.1 and parity. After today's news of Alexis Tsipras emerging as the election winner in Greece, the EUR is already at $1.113 in early Asian trading. Taking into account the leftist politician's proclamation that the troika was finally "over", Greece once again spells trouble for Europe.

Conclusion: Stay EURUSD short with a take profit at $1.1 and a tight trailing stop-loss order (max 100 pips, say). If you are not positioned yet, wait out for a less oversold point of entry. Watch EURUSD futures net positioning and sell EURUSD rallies. After a pull-back, which can well extend towards $1.2, EURUSD will most likely resume its downtrend back to $1.1 and beyond.

ECB flew €5.26bn in cash into Greece in 2010 & 2011

The Bank of Greece has finally confirmed the long-time rumour that it received cash shipments from the ECB during the height of the euro crisis in its Chronicle of the Great Crisis (PDF, 10MB, English extract from longer Greek version):

Bank of Greece - ECB Cash Shipments 2010, 2011

As the above table from page 28 of the publication shows, the Bank of Greece received euro note bundles worth a total of €5.26bn during the years 2010 and 2011 when the Greek banking system was on the verge of a collapse. The money was reportedly flown into the country in Hercules C-130 cargo planes owned by the Greek military.

The Greek population was quickly losing faith in their banks at the time, leading to a sudden spike in cash withdrawals that banks would not have been able to handle without the extra cash from other European countries. Without the secret cash injections there would likely have been a run on Greek banks, followed by the closure of ATMs and branches. It is notable that the money came from the central banks of Austria and Italy and not from larger European economies such as Germany or France. The report does not state why that was the case, however.

The cash shipments led to an increase in euro notes in circulation from about 8% of GDP in 2009 to almost 25% of GDP in June 2012 as the Bank of Greece gradually released the bank notes into the economy. Cash withdrawals peaked in 2012 right before the parliamentary elections on June 17 when savers demanded almost €3.5bn in cash from their banks.

As this story demonstrates, one can only wonder what is secretly going on behind closed doors in politics and central banking.

Markets await Greek Vote on Austerity Plan

As Greek unions continue their 48-hour general strike before the vote by lawmakers on the proposed five-year austerity plan on Wednesday, markets have been slightly optimistic today. Given that European stock indices are up today (with banking stocks particularly strong), Greek 10yr bond yields are at a three-week low and CDS spreads have tightened, it looks as if the market is quietly betting on Greece's Prime Minister George Papandreou to gain lawmakers' support in tomorrow's vote. The decision on whether or not to pass Papandreou's €28bn austerity measures is a crucial one that will likely have a significant impact on the financial markets, considering that a failure to pass the plan could result in the euro area's first sovereign default. After all, Greece will only receive the fifth €12bn installment of the €110bn bailout from the EU and the IMF if its parliament will vote in favor of Papandreou's plan. The tranche will ensure that Greece will be able to pay creditors through mid July. After that, the country will be dependent on a new EU/IMF bailout package believed to be worth €120bn that, too, is conditional on the passage of the austerity program and the laws needed for its implementation.

Meanwhile, European banks are discussing ways of contributing to this second rescue package for Greece. French institutions announced they would be willing to roll over 70% of their Greek debt maturing between 2011 and 2014. Apparently, 50% of the proceeds from those bonds would be reinvested in new 30-year bonds with the remaining 20% to be invested in zero-coupon AAA bonds with deferred interest. It is possible that the new bonds will be placed in a special purpose vehicle (SPV) backed by the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) so they won't show up in the banks' balance sheets anymore. According to Deutsche Bank's Josef Ackermann, German banks are looking into the French model as well as other possiblities, too. Although it was Germany's Angela Merkel who first proposed a private sector participation, again it is Nicolas Sarkozy who seems to be getting things done. Mrs Merkel continues to appear indecisive when it comes to actually closing deals instead of merely coming up with possible strategies. Anyway, France has a special interest in Greece not defaulting on its debt, because French banks have the biggest exposure to Greek debt with €65bn in liabilities. Next in line is Greece itself with around €59bn, followed by Germany (€40bn) and the UK (€19bn). The ECB remains the largest single creditor with €49bn worth of Greek bonds on its balance sheet.

The private sector's search for a good strategy for helping with the rescue of Greece is also made difficult by the fact that rating agencies could classify such an undertaking as a default event, depending on how it were to be executed. Fitch already said it was likely that the company would cut Greece to default if the EU were to go through with its plan to have private investors roll over their Greek debt. In any case, it is very important that the Greek parliament will back its Prime Minister on Wednesday. This will send positive signals to investors worldwide. I am not sure anymore whether Greece can be saved from defaulting, though. It is important for the EU to have a strategy in place for such a scenario. An orderly default of Greece might be unavoidable in the long run if the EU's other member states do not want to throw ever more good money after bad.