Guest Post: Can Ukraine Be Saved?

Yes, a tentative settlement has been reached, following mediation by European Union foreign ministers, with a promise of early elections. But such settlements have been proposed before, and no agreement is likely to gain broad acceptance unless it includes the immediate departure of President Viktor Yanukovich. The vast majority of demonstrators on the Maidans across the country are ordinary people angry about abuse of power, state violence, official impunity, and corruption. For the venal and vicious elites who have taken control of Ukraine, the real threat is these demonstrators’ perseverance, not the provocations of a radical fringe. "Indeed, while I refuse to believe that Ukraine’s march to civil war is unstoppable, I also know that our citizens will never be silenced again."

Hugh Hendry Suffers Biggest Monthly Loss Since Inception

Having thrown in his bearish towel in December, the self-proclaimed "last bear standing" has had a tough January. His plan, to "just be long pretty much anything" appears to have back-fired (for now) as Eclectica reports a 3.6% loss in January - the worst month since the Fund's inception. His largest loss was on a long Japan theme (leveraged) and that was somewhat offset by gains in his short emerging markets and short China themes. It appears nothing hs changed from Hendry's December perspective of the inexorable melt-up in developed markets thanks to central bank largesse (247% of NAV exposed to stocks) though he does note "renewed turmoil" which, we suppose, merely supports his thesis longer term.

Is It Really Just The Weather?

The "common knowledge" meme among the uber-paid economists and talking-heads os Wall Street remains that if data is bad, it's the weather's fault; but if data is good, that's the recovery. However, as Lance Roberts explains in this brief clip, the deterioration in US fundamental macro data is not a one-month blip and in fact "the trend of economic growth has clearly been on the decline rather than gaining strength as has been hoped by the majority of economists". Furthermore, he notes (and shows in simple chart form) that the trend of consumer weakness, which makes up 70% of economic growth, has declined to levels that are more normally associated with very slow growth economies. Simply put, it's not the weather stupid, it's the economy.

The Moment When The Fed Admits It Has Become The Market's Muppet

The following exchange between then-Kansas Fed president (and current FDIC director) Thomas Hoenig and the Chairsatan, uttered during the historic Sept 16, 2008 FOMC meeting, is of particular importance for four reasons: 1) it appears to be the first instance in the Fed records, where the phrase "too big to fail" is memorialized; 2) it highlights something that has become all too clear by now: in giving to a culture of moral hazard, the Fed is now being openly "played" by the market (read the big banks); 3) it confirms that the Fed has learned zero lessons from the crisis and 4) the thinking behind the "Bernanke (global) Put" is laid out for all to see.

Why Banks Are Doomed: Technology And Risk

The entire banking sector is based on two illusions: 1) Thanks to modern portfolio management, bank debt is now riskless; and 2) Technology only enhances banks' tools to skim profits; it does not undermine the fundamental role of banks. The global financial meltdown of 2008-09 definitively proved riskless bank debt is an illusion. It's not just that banks are no longer needed - they pose a needless and potentially catastrophic risk to the nation. To understand why, we need to understand the key characteristics of risk.

Venezuela Revokes CNN Journalist Credentials Amid "War Propaganda"

"The CNN team was informed that their correspondent credentials were revoked," Venezuela's Information Ministry vice-president Francisco Perez stated. Ironically, for CNN, the decision was announced vis Perez' Twitter account, following Maduro's proclamations last night that "Enough! I won't accept war propaganda against Venezuela." Interestingly, given the opposition's need to raise the awareness among the 'poor' in Venezuela if they are to succeed, local television networks have provided almost no live coverage of the protests against Maduro. While just one "journalist" has his credentials revoked, Maduro has threatened, to expel the whole network from the country if it did not "rectify" the way it has covered deadly political protests.

Russia Freezes Aid For Ukraine; Urges Respect For Legitimate Government

“We planned to allocate another tranche according to that arrangement. Yet in the current situation we have many questions as to how the money will be used and how it will be paid back," said Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, according to ITAR-TASS this morning.

*RUSSIA URGES RESPECT FOR UKRAINE SOVEREIGNTY, LEGITIMATE GOVT

Siluanov also added "[central bank] interventions can prove a waste of gold and currency reserves that will lead to nothing and will not prevent the hryvnia's devaluation."

At Least The Fed Ended The Catastrophic 2008 On A Funny Note

The world may have been crashing and burning, and as Bernanke admitted in March 2008, "At some point, of course, either things will stabilize or there will be some kind of massive governmental intervention, but I just don’t have much confidence about the timing of that" (guess which one it was), but at least the Fed ended the catastrophic 2008 yeat on a high note. The chart below shows the number of the time the FOMC committee had an moment of levity as captured by [Laughter] in the FOMC transcripts. Perhaps not surprisingly, the December 2008 meeting, when the market was in free fall, saw the biggest number of laugh lines in the entire year.

Austria Demands "Profitable" Bondholders Pay Up Before Bad Bank Bailout

While, for now, depositors at Austria's Hypo-Alde-Adria-Bank (nationalized in 2009) have not had assets confiscated, Austrian authorities are shifting in an unusual (scary precedent-setting) direction. Amid the resignation of the bank's CEO, the government is taking aim at 'speculators' who dared to buy the bank's bonds below par - and made money therefore on the back of the taxpayer. "What financial markets expect is not always what you want politically," Austria's finance minister warned, "if someone buys today at a lower price, saying ‘shortly, I’ll get 100 back,’ that’s what’s agitating the people."It seems Europe has a new template.

Spot The Weather's Impact On Existing Home Sales

While it's useful to keep the dream alive (and blame the weather for any weakness that ruins the "sustainable recovery" meme) the data (once again) does not support that "common knowledge" whatsoever...

Non-Existing Home Sales Miss Expectations, Plunge 14% From Highs, Drop To 18 Month Low

Existing home sales plunged 5.1% (considerably worse than the 4.1% drop expected) to its lowest level in 18 months. This extends the string of missed expectations to 5 months as even the ever-credible NAR chief economist said it was not the weather but "we can’t ignore the ongoing headwinds of tight credit, limited inventory, higher prices and higher mortgage interest rates." First-time homebuyers plunged to a mere 26% of the total - the lowest share on record as all-cash (and spec) investors rose to a record 53% share of sales.

Hedge Funds Declare Buyer's (And Seller's) Strike: Q4 Position Turnover Drops To Record Low

In a world in which there is no risk, only return (thank you Federal Reserve Risk Management LLC), hedge funds - used to generating Profits just by sitting on legacy positions - see no need to reallocate their portfolios. Nowhere was this more evident than in the position turnover in Q4. As Goldman calculates, total asset turnover in Q4 dropped to 28% - a new all time low. In fact, the only increase in turnover, either buying or selling, was in the tech and infotech spaces. Everything else saw an unprecedented buyers and sellers strike.

Ukraine Crisis Settlement Agreement Reached: Full Statement

1. Within 48 hours of the signing of this agreement, a special law will be adopted, signed and promulgated, which will restore the Constitution of 2004 including amendments passed until now. Signatories declare their intention to create a coalition and form a national unity government within 10 days thereafter. 

2. Constitutional reform, balancing the powers of the President, the government and parliament, will start immediately and be completed in September 2014.

3. Presidential elections will be held as soon as the new Constitution is adopted  but no later than December 2014. New electoral laws will be passed and a new Central Election Commission will be formed on the basis of proportionality and in accordance with the OSCE & Venice commission rules.

4. Investigation into recent acts of violence will be conducted under joint monitoring from the authorities, the opposition and the Council of Europe.

5. The authorities will not impose a state of emergency. The authorities and the opposition will refrain from the use of violence. The Parliament will adopt the 3rd amnesty, covering the same range of illegal actions as the 17th February 2014 law.

Russia Prepared To Fight War Over Ukraine, Senior Government Official Admits

"If Ukraine breaks apart, it will trigger a war," warns a senior Russian government official. The FT reports Russia is prepared to fight a war over the Ukrainian territory of Crimea (where the largest ethnic Russian population lives and they have a military base). Conjuring images of the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, the official told the FT, "they will lose Crimea first [because] we will go in and protect [it], just as we did in Georgia." The Kremlin regards the Georgian conflict as the biggest stand-off between Russia and the west since the end of the Cold War and it has fed determination in Moscow to push back against what it believes to be western attempts to contain Russia.

Buffett's Hypocrisy Exposed Yet Again

All you need to know about the New Normal breed of crony capitalism and unbridled hypocrisy is once again best exemplified by the following quote by Charlie Munger - the lifetime business partner of crony capitalist par excellence Warren Buffett - from May 2013, in which he said that "I think it is very stupid to allow a system to evolve where half of the trading is a bunch of short term people trying to get information one millionth of a nanosecond ahead of somebody else. It's legalized front-running. I think it is basically evil and I don't think it should have ever been allowed to reach the size that it did. Why should all of us pay a little group of people to engage in legalized front-running of our orders?" Noble, noble words Charlie. What Munger, however, did not disclose is that as part of the Berkshire Hathaway-owned Business Wire news service, the company was enabling just this "basically evil" frontrunning, by allowing some, those who could afford the hefty fee of course, to make Munger and Buffett even richer and to subscribe to BW's HFT direct news access which gave them a few millisecond headstart and in the process frontrun everyone else.

Is Yellen The Most Worthless Central Banker?

Most people in the world believe you get what you pay for. Furthermore, the dream of a meritocratic society remains alive and well in the corporate world. As the following chart shows, however, the US (and perhaps even the world) better hope that they don't get what they are paying for...