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Will The Japanese Earthquake Be The Straw That Breaks Europe's Back?

Two months ago many were scratching their heads when Japan announced it was buying Eurozone bonds.  After all - why would Europe want to have a marginal buyer (or as the case may be seller) of its debt be the country that is known by all to be the most indebted entity in the world? Of course, it became promptly clear that it was not the Japanese government doing the buying, but mostly its financial companies, with an emphasis on its insurance and reinsurance companies. Fast forward to today when Japanese insurance companies are getting pummeled in local trading on concerns the payoffs to the decimated Japanese infrastructure will be unprecedented. So what will happen? Why a scramble for liquidity of course, just like we saw back in September 2008, when cash stricken companies sold all their liquid assets first, resulting in a toxic loop of self-fulfilling prophecy selling which almost tobbled the $25 trillion shadow banking system. And what will said Japanese insurance companies sell first? Why the very same Eurozone bonds they acquired with so much pomp and circumstance, by the minions of the insolvent Eurozone, back in January of course. Furthermore, now that Japan will have no choice but to launch a mini round of Quantitative Easing and flood the market with JGBs, there will be a dramatic spike in supply for sovereign paper, which of course means yields across the board will rise. Which begs the question: if an earthquake flips its wings in Japan, does the Eurozone go bankrupt, especially in the month when its most insolvent countries face billions in debt rollover requirements, tens of billions in maturity funding needs, even more in deficit funding requirements... and no cash?

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Japan Megaquake And Tsunami - Gold Mixed As Yen Surges Against All Currencies

The massive earthquake and tsunami that has rocked Japan is being digested by markets and the economic ramifications and uncertainty is leading to risk aversion. Tokyo gold futures rose on the news with the most active gold contract on the Tokyo Commodity Exchange, February 2012 inching 0.22% higher to 118,000 yen prior to giving up those gains. Gold is marginally lower in dollars but higher in euros, Swiss francs and British pounds. After the falls on Wall Street yesterday the Nikkei was already under pressure when news of the quake broke at the end of the trading day. The Nikkei fell 1.7% today and is down over 4.11% for the week. The Japanese yen was sold in the immediate aftermath of the quake. Counter-intuitively it then recovered and is the strongest currency in the world today (see table). Market participants appear to be seriously underestimating the risk posed by the megaquake to the Japanese economy and assets. Alternatively, there may have been intervention by the Japanese authorities in order to maintain confidence and protect the value of their currency and bonds. The Bank of Japan, like the Federal Reserve, regularly intervenes in foreign exchange markets and has even intervened in equity markets by buying ETFs linked to the Nikkei and the Topix. Considering the sharp selloff seen in equity markets in recent days, gold’s resilience is impressive. Gold is down nearly 1% for the week and a lower weekly close could see the short term momentum change and a period of correction and consolidation.

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European Peripheral Bonds Go Berserk

The market has been acting very weird all morning, with the oddness culminating in peripheral European bonds as of several minutes ago. Something odd is happening in the shorter end of Portuguese and Irish bonds, where a sudden move sent the curve to an unprecedented inverted levels as if by a fat finger across the board. Note the dramatic move in the 5 Year of both countries' bonds without any catalytic newsflow, which sent the Portuguese 5 Year to a lifetime high 7.93%. Have the stock HFT algos gone rogue and are now taking over the sovereign bond space?

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One Minute Macro Update: Compromise Or Conflict In Brussels?

An earthquake in Japan earlier today sent markets down this morning as today’s EU summit on a rescue mechanism lingers in the background. Treasuries rallied again yesterday as European sovereign news and slow Chinese export growth clogged headlines. The budget deficit expanded in February, pushing out to its largest point ever at $220.5B due to increased spending. The new record occurs in the background of a split Congress that has not yet been able to meet a compromise on this year’s budget and a CBO-projected $1.5T deficit in 2011. Today’s release of February’s retail sales will likely be strong given the spike in gas and food prices, with advance retail sales at 1.0%E v 0.3% prior. Excluding those inflationary boosts, retail sales should still be moderate given the lighter weather experienced in months prior. We expect some upside to expectations here, but note that any disappointment will certainly exacerbate the negative headlines this AM.

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Tear Gas Fired At Kuwait Demonstrators

Domino #2. If a peaceful protest results in tear gas, one wonders what the napalm content of the response would be if anyone makes any false moves. "Kuwait riot police fired tear gas Friday to break up a small, peaceful demonstration by stateless Arabs who were demanding greater rights in the oil-rich Gulf nation. Besides Kuwait, protests were also expected Friday in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, while tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators also took to the streets of the poorest nation in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen."

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Live MSNBC Video Coverage Of Earthquake

For those who don't have access to a TV...

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Flash Developments Post Earthquake

A snapshot summary of the immediately known geopolitical and financial consequences of the Japanese earthquake per Reuters

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Photos From Earthquake Aftermath

The Yen is surging on repatriation concerns as infrastructure spending is expected to pick up following the countrywide devastation. Below are pictures summarizing just how dramatically the earthquake and following tsunami have impacted Japan.

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More Than 200 Protesters Take To Streets In Hofuf, Eastern Saudi Arabia

And while crude drops on a sudden plunge in oil demand following Japanese refinery shutdowns, supply issues may promptly be rearing their ugly head. Per preliminary Reuters reports at least 200 people protest in eastern Saudi Arabia. "More than 200 protesters took to the streets on Friday in the Saudi Arabian city of Hofuf, two activists told Reuters, responding to a call by online social networks for protests in favour of political reform. Hofuf, a major urban centre in Saudi Arabia's oil rich Eastern Province close to the Ghawar oil field, has seen scattered protests by minority Shi'ites in the last two weeks." This is just the first report of what will likely be a massive protest wave across the region following news that Yemen, Kuwait And Bahrain will all be joining in today's day of rage.

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Massive Earthquake Strikes Japan, At Least 44 Dead As 10 Meter Tsunami Hits Pacific Coast, Kan Mobilizes Forces, Declares Nuclear Emergency

A massive magnitude 8.9 earthquake, the 5th strongest since 1900 and 7th largest in history, struck Japan last night off the coast of Sendai, launching a 10 meter Tsunami across the entire Pacific ocean, killing numerous people and sending Japan into a tailspin. Bloomberg reports: "Prime Minister Naoto Kan mobilized Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the central bank pledged to ensure financial stability after a magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck off the coast of Sendai, a city of 1 million, causing damage across the east coast of Japan. “I call on citizens to act calmly,” Kan told reporters in Tokyo after convening his emergency disaster response team. “The Self-Defense Forces are already mobilized in various places. The government is making its utmost effort to minimize the damage,” he said, saying later in a news conference that the impact was widespread. The Ministry of Finance said it’s too soon to gauge the economic impact of the temblor, the world’s biggest in more than six years. Japan’s central bank set up an emergency task force and said it will do everything it can to provide ample liquidity. The BOJ, which has already cut its benchmark rate to zero in an effort to end deflation, had last month said the economy was poised to recover from a contraction in the fourth quarter." The financial reaction was swift: "Japan’s stocks slid 1.7 percent in Tokyo today as the earthquake struck less than half an hour before the market closed. The yen advanced 0.2 percent to 82.77 per dollar as of 5:07 p.m. in Tokyo. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index dropped 1.4 percent as of 5:22 p.m. in Tokyo, with losses accelerating after the quake. Futures on the Euro Stoxx 50 Index fell 1 percent. The central bank said in a statement that its settlement system was working and that it was able to settle all accounts today without disruption." News agencies report a ship carrying around 100 was swept away by the tsunami. The assessment of the impact is only starting and will likely be massive when all is said and done.

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Chinese Inflation Heats Up Again As PBoC Takes Another Step To Establish Yuan As Reserve Currency

That China's February inflation just came out at a consensus-beating 4.9% is no surprise. After all, the country miraculous slipped just below the consensus so the Department of Truth had to keep things somewhat symmetric. And yes, while this is the 5th consecutive month that Chinese inflation is higher than the official target of 4%, this is not the news of the evening: a press release just issued by the PBoC however is...

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Complete QE2 Cheat Sheet

The chart that answers all pent up QE2-related questions: whether one wants to know the summary purchase statistics during the life of QE2, the cumulative market reaction, the monetary aggregate response, or seeks an answer to more occult topics such as variance around the Submitted-Accepted ratio, or weighted age of purchases, it can all be found here.

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Adjusted Monetary Base: Up, Up And Away

Shortly Zero Hedge will present our quarterly analysis of the liabilities held by the shadow banking system. It's quite a doozy, and cements our belief that whether immediately following or shortly after June 30 (a day, a week, a month), the Fed will have no choice but to proceed with further monetization of public debt issuance, as the private sector debt retrenchment continues at truly alarming levels, leaving just one source of debt money available - the US central bank itself. And with the Fed's desire to stimulate inflationary expectations, it will be forced to do what it is doing precisely as shown below. In the last fortnight period, the Adjusted Monetary Base increased by the second biggest amount in the past year, or $80 billion, following the previous increase of $142 billion as of February 23, or a $222 billion increase in a month. This is due to a surge in excess reserves following the winddown of the SFP program which in the past week increased by $82.6 billion (full Fed Balance sheet breakdown to follow). We continue to expect that Excess Reserves will hit $1.7 trillion by July, or over $300 billion higher from the current level of $1.380 trillion. In the meantime, observe what happens when the Fed goes hog wild with inflationary expectations. A few more days like today in the S&P, and expect Jon Hilsenrath to start the QE3 leaks. And never forget - to the Fed, the Economy and the Russell 2000 are equivalent.

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Guest Post: Chinese Gold Fever

Earlier Lear Capital presented their view on what the basis for Chinese gold accumulation may be. Next we present a comparable analysis by SmartMoney.eu which takes a deeper dive into the demand mechanics originating in China. To wit: "In some parts of Asia, inflation is rampant. Especially in India, food prices and other staples are going through the roof. The prices of some vegetables and spices has risen more than 100%... In China, the prime goal of the communist party is to maintain social stability and to avoid unrest. Targeting inflation is key. Therefore, many Asians are investing their hard-earned money into precious metals. The latest news from China corroborates this: in the first two months of 2011, the Chinese have imported 200 tonnes of gold, which is as much as in the entire year 2010! This is just individual investor demand, we are not even speaking about central bank demand, accounting for the entire Chinese mainland gold production! Chinese gold fever has caused gold demand to triple in the past 10 years, according to the World Gold Council. The Chinese are about to overtake the Indians as the world’s biggest gold consumers." For short-term market timers, as we predicted a week ago, continued pressure on risk assets, such as that today, will most certainly result in forced liquidation in precious metals such as gold and silver. This is absolutely guaranteed as margin calls pile in, and hedge funds, already levered to the hilt have no choice but to sell all outperforming assets, among which gold is at the top. Once liquidations are completed, the question will then be: does the Fed resume its inflationary path (and as a just completed analysis by Zero Hedge confirms, the shadow banking system is once again declining leaving few options for Bernanke). If that is the case, then the long-term fundamentals from a speculative standpoint revert. Add to that the discussed organic demand, and increasingly loud calls for $2,000 gold may materialize sooner rather than later.

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Lear Capital: China Hints at Purpose for Gold Accumulation

It's no secret that China's gold demand is soaring. They are buying mines, concentrates from which to extract gold and as much physical gold as they can secretly buy in world markets.

Reports also indicate, the people of China are being encouraged to buy some gold with every paycheck as the future of the world economy is uncertain at best. As world debt expands, currencies are debased and gold prices rise as a result.

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