Cashing in on the Greek Crisis

Try as I may, there is absolutely no way to escape a financial crisis in the modern world anymore, not even in the dusty, remote Western Sahara village of Taghazout, Morocco.

There is an Ebola Virus outbreak 1,000 miles to the south, and 35 British tourists were massacred on a beach in neighboring Tunisia last week. There were exactly four passengers on my flight from Lisbon to Morocco.

Was it a warning, or a confirmation of hubris?

Starving stray dogs and cats wander the street, garbage lines the beach, and raw sewage seeps into the ocean. Rangy, two humped camels vainly await riders at the edge of town.

But satellite dishes sprout from the rooftop of even the most forlorn, impoverished, broken down cinder block structures, and the hum of the global markets is never more than a few channels away.

The CNBC here is available only in Arabic, and is fiercely competing with Omani soap operas and the Iraqi Business Channel (yes, despite ISIS, there is such a thing).

But it didn?t take me long to figure out that the people of Greece rejected the ECB latest bailout proposal by an overwhelming 61.5% to 38.5% margin.

It was no surprise to me.

You would think that voting against punishingly higher taxes and an excruciatingly longer recession was a no brainer. But the markets were expecting otherwise, and have been caught seriously wrong footed. Poor summer liquidity is exacerbating the moves.

My somewhat passable French enabled me to discern that the prices were taking it on the nose. Japan and China each dove 2%, while Australia and the Euro pared 1% apiece.

This was going to be a ?RISK OFF? day on steroids.

Suddenly, I smell opportunity everywhere.

Now we know the kneejerk response to an imminent Greek default.

However, the cold, harsh reality of the situation requires a little deeper analysis.

CNN was utterly useless, choosing instead to focus on the human side of the tragedy, the freshly impoverished Greek goat herder and the island hotel operator who can?t pay his staff.

No great insight there.

Greek citizens are now limited to withdrawing 60 Euros a day from an ATM, if they can find one that has any cash at all. To head off a certain run and Armageddon, the Greek banks have all been closed for a week, with no reopening in sight.

Thousands of foreign tourists are now stranded in the land of moussaka, retsina, and Zorba, cursing their vacation destination choice.

So I?ll refer to my May conversation with former Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, who ran the country from 2009 to 2011, and shepherded the country through the post financial crisis 2010 debacle.

His late father, Andreas, was also a Prime Minister, as was his grandfather, Georgio, who spent time in jail for his services, consider running this ungovernable country the family business.

To a large extent, the ECB (read the Germans) are in a subprime crisis entirely of their own making.

German banks provided funds to their Greek counterparts, initially to build the $8 billion 2000 Athens Olympics, which was almost entirely subcontracted to German engineering firms.

They then fueled the economic boom that followed, making possible the export of tens of thousands of Mercedes, BMW?s and Volkswagens. That bankrolled a major increase in the Greek standard of living, while adding several points to German GDP growth.

When dubious financial statements were presented to justify this lending binge, bankers simply winked, and looked the other way.

A decade and a half later, they are ?shocked, shocked? that some of the accompanying disclosures were inaccurate, as police inspector Claude Rains might have said in Casablanca (which, by the way, is only 400 miles north of here).

?Gambling in the casino? Perish the thought.? How do you say that in German?

The reality is that this is all a storm in a teacup. Accounting for only 2% of European GDP, it is neither here nor there whether the country stays or goes from the European Community or the Euro.

Total Greek debt to the ECB is now $3.5 billion, a drop in the bucket in the global scheme of things.

What?s more, this crisis is far less serious than the ones that occurred in 2010 and 2012. This time around, Greek bonds have already been taken off the books of German and French banks at cost, and placed with numerous multinational agencies, largely the ECB itself.

What is almost completely lacking here is private risk, unless you happen to own a Greek bank, or the shares of other Greek companies.

What?s more, all of this is happening in the face of a massive 60 billion a month ECB quantitative easing program. The amount Greece owes comes to less than two days worth of this amount.

Never take a liquidity crisis in the middle of a structural global cash glut too seriously.

Even this paltry amount can be easily refinanced by the International Monetary Fund on a slow day. That?s what they are there for.

This pales in comparison to the 39 billion euros spent to bail out the Spanish banking system a few years ago, or the $4 billion IMF rescue of the United Kingdom in 1976.

In the end, the amounts are sofa change to the Chinese, who are starved for high yield investments. It was they who nailed the top of the last European bond yield spike (on my advice, I might add), acting as the buyer of last resort then.

In the end this will be solved, as have all international debt crises since time immemorial, since the British seized the Suez Canal from the French as collateral for bad debts in 1882. Extend and pretend. Move debt maturities out another ten years and hope everything gets solved by then.

It always works.

What all of this does do is create a great buying opportunity for the assets not directly involved in this crisis, notably US equities. Modest over valuation has encumbered main indexes with declining volumes, narrowing breadth, and shrinking volatility for all of 2015.

At the very least, the Euro crisis du jour will present a second test of the (SPY) 200-day moving average at $205.74. The best case is that it gives us a real gift, a visit to a full 10% retreat to $193, a pullback whose ferociousness has not been seen since October.

That?s where you load the boat for a rally to new index highs at yearend.

You can expect similar moves in other assets classes.

In this scenario, volatility (VIX) will rocket to 30%. The Euro (FXE) collapses to $103 once more, and the Japanese yen (FXY) revisits $82. Treasury bonds (TLT) enjoy a flight to safety bid that takes yields at least back to 2.30%. Gold (GLD) and silver (SLV) do nothing, as usual.

For followers of my Trade Alert service, this is all a dream come true. Having made 26.71%, or much more, in the first half of this year, you now have the opportunity to repeat this feat in the second half.

Going into a crisis like this with 100% cash and only dry powder is every trader?s wildest fantasy. Make sure you let the current Greek debt crisis play out before you commit.

This is what you all pay me for. At least I?ll get something for suffering through the hell holes and gin joints of West Africa.

I think I?ll go give those camels some business.

SPX 7-2-15

TLT 7-2-15

VIX 7-2-15

FXE 7-2-15

George Papandreou


John Thomas