It has been a largely event-free weekend except, of course, for the previously reported re-escalation in Ukraine following what was a lethal shooting in the east Ukraine city of Slavyansk blamed on Ukraine's Right Front, which has made a mockery, as expected, of the Geneva Ukraine de-escalation announcement from last Thursday. Overnight in Asia, Japan reported its largest ever trade deficit, providing yet more evidence that Abenomics has been an abysmal failure: all we are waiting for now is confirmation that basic Japanese wages have fallen yet again, which would make nearly 2 years in a row of declines. Still, the USDJPY, gamed as usual by HFT algos for which FX is now the last respite as the equity market crackdown gets louder, is doing its best to ramp from the overnight lows and ahead of the traditional US market open surge, as a result equity futures are modestly higher.
While the White House has continually threatened further sanctions against Russia for non-de-escalation (even as it un-de-escalates itself), the specifics of the additional sanctions have been sparse. German CEO warnings over blowback from economic sanctions... the "nonsense" of replacing Russian gas with US gas... the Russian warnings of "interdependence" and "boomerangs"... all reduce the West's arsenal of financial sanctions. But, as The Times of London reports, perhaps the US has found a crucial pain point for Putin - a sanctions regime that would target Putin's personal wealth, which includes a reported $40 billion stashed in Swiss bank accounts.
"Is it true that nearly 80% of Nevada is still owned by the Federal Government who then pays no tax to the State of Nevada? This seems very strange if true as a backdrop to this entire Bundy affair." The truth behind Nevada is of course just a quagmire of politics. Sorry, but to all the commentators who call Bundy a tax-cheat and an outlaw, be careful of what you speak for the Supreme Court has made it clear in 1845 that the Constitution forbids the federal rangers to be out there to begin with for the Feds could not retain ownership of the territory and simultaneously grant state sovereignty. At the very minimum, it became state land – not federal.
UPDATE: Goldman folds on "J-Curve" - the pace of that improvement will be far more modest than in past periods of yen weakness.
Another month, another colossal miss for the "waiting-for-the-j-curve" Japanese trade balance. At 1.7tn, this month's adjusted trade balance is the 2nd largest on record, and is the 36th month in a row - the worst March deficit ever. Exports missed dramatically (+1.8% vs 6.5% expected) so, so much for devaluation driving competitiveness in a globally interdependent product development cycle - nearly the lowest YoY gain in exports since Abenomics began. Imports rose more than expected (+18.1% vs 16.2%) as the devalued JPY makes living standards more difficult to maintain. The result of this dismal data - JPY weakness which can mean only one thing - a 120 point rally in the Nikkei.
Mere days before President Obama is due to visit on his Asia tour, Japan is making some rather uncomfortable 'diplomatic' moves. First, a senior Japanese cabinet official - Keiji Furuya - visited the highly controversial Yasukuni shrine (which is where "Class A" war criminals are enshrined alongside other war dead). And second, and perhaps even more concerning, is, as Reuters reports, Japan began its first military expansion at the western end of its island chain in more than 40 years on Saturday, breaking ground on a radar station on a tropical island off Taiwan. Both moves risk angering China at a time when non-Chinese Asia is looking for reassurance from Obama on his willingness to suport them.
If Cheniere Energy's CEO calling the Obama plan to export LNG to Europe "nonsense" is not enough, the following will provide more than enough color to explain why, as Peak Prosperity's Chris Martenson pointedly remarks, recent entreaties by various US politicians to help wean Europe off of Russian gas are simply preposterous. The numbers don't add up, and they never will.
With JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank having exited the commodities business (and numerous other banks discussing it ahead of the Fed and regulators' decisions over banking rules of ownership), it appears a few short months of regulatory scrutiny is enough to warrant more broad-based cuts across bulge-bracket banks historically most manipulated and profitable business units. As The FT reports, Barclays, one of the world’s biggest commodities traders, is planning to exit large parts of its metals, agricultural and energy business in a move expected to be announced this week. This comes on the heels of Barclays shuttering its power-trading operations (after refusing to pay $470mm in fines) with CEO Jenkins expected to announce several thousand layoffs. This leaves Goldman (for now), Mercuria (ex-JPM), and Glencore to run the commodities world.
At $3.67, US Regular gasoline prices are their highest since March 2013 having risen over 12% (40c) in the last 2 months. This must be great news, right? It must mean world demand is picking up and driving up prices of crude oil as global trade soars (amid a collapsing Baltic Dry and decelerating Chinese growth). This can't be related to "war premia" right? - as we noted here - because stocks (which always know best) have discounted all this tomfoolery. However, as the following chart shows, each time gas prices have surged up toards the Maginot Line of $3.80, US macro-economic fundamentals have collapsed... the only problem is, this time is different - because macro data is already weak going in (and expectations for the post-weather pop are high).
Ultimately, I think the problem for HFT liquidity providers is not that they are skinning investors, but that they are outsiders. They're doing what the keepers of the market infrastructure keys have always done - skin investors, retail and institutional alike, to the outer limits of what technology and the law allows. But while their outward behavior and appearance may be familiar, they are clearly an alien species on the inside, without so much as a microgram of Wall Street DNA. They are Rakshasa's. HFT liquidity providers are technology companies disguised as financial intermediaries. They hijacked the market infrastructure in the aftermath of the Great Recession, stealing it away from under the noses of the big financial firms who had come to see control over market structure as their birthright, and they had a good run. But now the big boys want their market infrastructure back, and they're going to get it.
While US central bankers seem to believe that you can eat iPads, it seems one Indian fellow has taken the ongoing restrictions on gold imports, owning, or transacting in India to a whole new level. As we have noted previously - have led to an epidemic of smuggling as Indians continue to horde the precious metal (the only true source of financial security in their view) by any means possible. As The BBC reports, 12 bars of gold have been removed from the stomach of a 63-year-old businessman in the Indian capital Delhi. The surgeon said he had never seen a "case like this before," and customs officials were called and confiscated the gold - where whistleblowers for gold smuggling are rewarded more richly than for cocaine and heroine smuggling.
It's not just beef, pork, shrimp, eggs, and orange juice... If you think that the price of food is high now? Just wait. If current trends continue, many of the most common food items that Americans buy will cost more than twice as much by the end of this decade. Even if nothing else bad happens (and that is a very questionable assumption to make), our food prices are going to be moving aggressively upward for the foreseeable future. But what if something does happen? In recent years, global food reserves have dipped to extremely low levels, and a single major global event (war, pandemic, terror attack, planetary natural disaster, etc.) could create an unprecedented global food crisis very rapidly.
As China's ravenous appetite for oil surpasses that of the US which is enjoying an unexpected, if transitory, boom of shale oil production, which according to some experts may have already peaked, it means suddenly China is far more are the mercy of its core suppliers - the same way that for decades the US had no choice but to be best friends with Saudi Arabia, at least until Canada became the biggest supplier of crude to the US by a huge margin. So which are the countries that China relies most on for its daily energy importing needs? The map below has the answer.
Keep interest rates at zero, whilst printing trillions of dollars, pounds and yen out of thin air, and you can make investors do some pretty extraordinary things. "Central bankers control the price of money and therefore indirectly influence every market in the world. Given this immense power, the ideal central banker would be humble, cautious and deferential to market signals. Instead, modern central bankers are both bold and arrogant in their efforts to bend markets to their will. Top-down central planning, dictating resource allocation and industrial output based on supposedly superior knowledge of needs and wants, is an impulse that has infected political players throughout history." The result was always a conspicuous and dismal failure. Today’s central planners, especially the Federal Reserve, will encounter the same failure in time. The open issues are, when and at what cost to society?