Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Euro zone crisis is tough going -- for traders


Life is not easy for the financial market traders who are making things so hard for euro zone policymakers. There are no pumped-up traders cheering from their screens as Italy's bond yields rise or as France gets sucked into a debt crisis which has already forced Greece, Ireland, and Portugal to seek international bailouts. The mood is weary and fraught. Bond traders see their own business throttled off by the same market forces that squeeze Italy's public finances and stir speculation about France's triple-A credit rating. "Things have felt almost as bad as it was back during the Lehman days in terms of liquidity - it is increasingly hard to get any business done and, to be honest, we think it is going to get worse," a London-based bond trader said. "Two-way markets have gone, the size of business you can get done at these bid/offer rates is minimal, bonuses and jobs are being cut. It's depressing and what is worse, there is no guarantee that anything is going to be better next year." Talk to fund managers and it is easy to see why a debt crisis which has mutated into an existential crisis for the euro is not translated into a bonanza for traders. "What if the currency union falls apart? Our premise is that it doesn't happen. (But) if you think that is going to happen, don't buy equities. Don't buy anything. Just go and hide," a London fund manager running money for institutional investors said. UNRELENTING STRESS As investors stampede to exit some euro zone bond markets, price swings have become bigger and the business of trading -- which relies on finding buyers or sellers before the market moves against you -- has become harder. "People are just exhausted because of the intensity of what is going on," said a bond salesman in London who has been working in the financial market for decades. "It is unbelievable stress and it is unrelenting. People are just hunkered down and working their socks off as everything is just more difficult -- hedging your risk, avoiding losses, everything." There is somewhat less gloom in equity markets, where investors are still trying to spot pockets of value. But the extent to which stock markets have been moving in lockstep with the price of Italian, Spanish, or French bonds in recent days means that trading behavior is far from normal even in equities. "Over the past few days there have very quiet periods punctuated by mad dealing frenzies," said Yusuf Heusen, sales trader at IG Index in London. "The quiet periods have been really very quiet as traders have not been taking on much risk other than to short the euro markets. The busy periods are absolutely manic as everybody wants to get on at the same time and generally same direction and sell offs are extreme as a consequence."