Markets are moving positively across the board today following comments from Fitch, dampening speculation that France may be downgraded from its Triple A status. Fitch’s Parker commented that he does not expect to see France downgraded at all throughout 2012. However he added that there are continuing pressures for France from national banks and EFSF liabilities, Parker also reinforced German confidence stating that Germany’s Triple A rating is safe. Markets were also experiencing upwards pressure from strong French manufacturing data performing above expectations and successful Austrian auctions today, tightening the spread between France and Austria on 10-year bunds.
The bullishness is rather interesting considering the notable headwinds that exist in the European sovereign debt markets, the geopolitical risk seen in light sweet crude oil futures, and the potential for a recession to play out in Europe.
In keeping with the theme of everything decoupling from everything else these days, a comparable decoupling pattern could be observed in China's December trade data, which experienced a surprising jump in its trade surplus from $14.5 billion in November to $16.5 billion in December, even if exports broadly slowed down and grew at the slowest pace in 10 months. This number was quite odd as it represents almost double the consensus forecast $8.8 billion, predicated by a matched slow down in imports which were up only 11.8% Y/Y, the smallest rise since the October 2009 decline of 6.4%. The odd jump in the trade surplus appeared at a time when many were expecting that the slowing Chinese economy would be well on its way to shifting from surplus to deficit, leading to a devaluation of the CNY (as opposed to the constant badgering form the US and Chuck Schumer demanding a revaluation of the renminbi). Furthermore, as the year winds down to the Chinese Near Year in February, this has been a traditional time when Chinese surpluses decline and go negative, even in good years (see 2010 and 2011). Yet a quick glance at China's two primary trading partners: the US and EU does not reveal anything peculiar: both were either flat or saw just a modest drop in the trade surplus - good news for anyone concerned if the European slowdown would hit the country's largest trading partner. Which is where the decoupling occurred, as the surplus soared in the "rest of the world" or the non-EU/US category. As can be seen below, December is traditionally a month when the surplus contracts and approaches the flatline. Yet this year, oddly enough, the December surplus doubled from $5.8 billion to $11.4 billion. Just who is it, outside of the US and EU, that suddenly saw a pressing need for Chinese imports?And yet all of the above is likely just minutae when one considers something far more important: Chinese Oil imports. As the chart below shows, sooner or later excess capacity within the OPEC system is going to disappear. And then it gets really interesting.
Markets are quiet halfway through the European session as most are awaiting the outcome of the meeting between German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy in Berlin at 1230GMT. The meeting is likely to centre around Greece, as well as the PSI update that, according to the FT may see the holders of Greek bonds accept higher losses as the contentious negotiation over writing down Greece’s debt burden are due to be concluded soon. German Industrial Production figures for November came in roughly in line with expectations, with the German Economic Minister commenting that this measure is likely to remain subdued over the winter months. Data released from Switzerland today shows Retail sales performing much stronger than expected, showing strong consumer demand in Switzerland across November.
Previously we heard Pimco's thoughts on the matter of an Iranian escalation with "Pimco's 4 "Iran Invasion" Oil Price Scenarios: From $140 To "Doomsday"", now it is the turn of SocGen's Michael Wittner to take a more nuanced approach adapting to the times, with an analysis of what happens under two scenarios - 1) a full blown EU embargo (which contrary to what some may think is coming far sooner than generally expected), and the logical aftermath: 2) a complete closure of the Straits. The forecast is as follows: 1) "Scenario 1: EU enacts a full ban on 0.6 Mb/d of imports of Iranian crude. In this scenario, we would expect Brent crude prices to surge into the $125-150 range." 2) "Scenario 2: Iran shuts down the Straits of Hormuz, disrupting 15 Mb/d of crude flows. In this scenario, we would expect Brent prices to spike into the $150-200 range for a limited time period." The consequences of even just scenario 1 is rather dramatic: while the adverse impact on the US economy will be substantial, it would be the debt-funded wealth transfer out of Europe into Saudi Arabia that would be the most notable aftermath. And if there is one thing an already austere Europe will be crippled by, is the price of a gallon of gas entering the double digits. And then there are the considerations of who benefits from an Iranian supply deterioration: because Europe's loss is someone else's gain. And with 1.5 million of the 2.4 Mb/d in output already going to Asia (China, India, Japan and South Korea) it is pretty clear that China will be more than glad to take away all the production that Europe decides it does not need (which would amount to just 0.8 Mb/d anyway).
While the aftermath of the first 10 day Iranian wargame in the Straits of Hormuz is still lingering, especially in the price of oil, and the world is bracing itself for parallel exercises between a joint US-Israel operation and a concurrent Iranian effort in the weeks ahead, Iran is not waiting and has already started a brand new military exercise, this time inland and far closer to a key US strategic asset - Afghanistan (and its poppies). From Reuters: "Iran launched a military manoeuvre near its border with Afghanistan on Saturday, the semi-official Fars news agency reported, days after naval exercises in the Gulf increased tensions with the West and pushed up oil prices. Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the Revolutionary Guards' ground forces, said the "Martyrs of Unity" exercises near Khvat, 60 km (40 miles) from Afghanistan, were "aimed at boosting security along the Iranian borders," Fars reported." Naturally, this "reason" is bogus. That said, at this point we are at a loss as to which country it is that is desiring a military escalation more, because both sides appear hell bent on moving past the foreplay stage. Regardless, the whole situation is starting to smell more and more like the summer of 2008 when crude would move up in $5 increments on flaring tensions between Israel and Iran, coupled with Goldman predictions of near-quadruple digit Brent, only to have the entire energy complex implode in the aftermath of Lehman. The recent decoupling of oil from all other risk indicators (oil higher is not a good thing for the economy) is vaguely reminiscent...
Despite the barrage of geopolitical headlines involving Iran, and as of today, the US and Israel, especially as pertains to wargame exercises in the Straits of Hormuz, a different, and potentially much more important story is to be found in the country's capital markets, and specifically its currency, which has continued to tumble ever since Obama signed the Iran financial boycott on New Year's Day as reported here. And, as we predicted, it is the aftershocks of the boycott which may have the most adverse impact on geopolitics. Because if the Iran regime finds itself in a lose-lose situation with its economy imploding and its currency crashing, the opportunity cost of doing something very irrational, from a military standpoint or otherwise, gets lower and lower. Then again, something tells us the US administration has been well aware of this sequence of events all along. Here is Art Cashing explaining it all.
- Markets await US Non-Farm Payrolls data, released 1330GMT
- UniCredit experiences another disrupted trading session, trades down 11%, then returns to almost unchanged
- Iran causes further unease with plans to engage in wargame exercises in the Strait of Hormuz
Iran To Hold New "Massive" Naval Exercise Near Straits Of Hormuz, To Run Parallel With Joint US-Israel WargameSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/06/2012 08:34 -0400
The selloff in crude yesterday, provoked by this Reuters article stating that Iran is ready to resume nuclear talks with the West, is now well over and the accumulation has again resumed, following (not so) stunning news that merely days after its 10 day Straits of Hormuz military exercise ended, the country is already preparing for yet another, "massive" naval exercise. As RT reports, "Iran is planning to hold new “massive” naval exercises near the strategic Strait of Hormuz within the next few weeks, the country’s Fars news agency has said, as Tehran’s tensions with the West continue to escalate following threats of new sanctions against the Islamic Republic over its controversial nuclear program." And this time the wargame comes with a twist - it will likely occur just across from a comparable drill ran jointly by the US and Israel: "The newly announced Iranian drills, codenamed The Great Prophet, may coincide with major naval exercises that Israel and the United States are planning to hold in the Persian Gulf in the near future. AP quoted on Thursday a senior Israeli military official as saying the drills would be held in the next few weeks." And since the Tonkin Gulf Resolution script is being used point by point, any lost escalation "chances" in the end of 2011 will surely be regained within days.
Fed and/or ECB intervention is coming: whether it is called LSAP, QE x, Nominal GDP targetting, selling Treasury puts, or what have you. A regime that now exists only by central planning intervention, by definition requires ever more central planning intervention to sustain itself, let alone grow further. Furthermore, the banks not only want QE, they need QE. And since central banks serve other banks, not the people it is only a matter of time. Don't believe us? Read anything written by Bill Gross in the past year. So what to do ahead of QE3? Luckily, SocGen has released a complete cheat sheet of not only the dates of the next steps, but what to buy and what to sell ahead of the announcement. In short - one should buy Mortgage Backed Securities, in order to "simply buy MBS before the Fed" - something Bill Gross knows too well and has been hoarding MBS relentlessly as a result, as reported here. More importantly - one should buy gold. Lots of it as "USD debasement restarts." You didn't think the Fed will allow US corporate earnings - the only thing keeping the market alive - to be crushed with a EURUSD that will soon go under 1.20, now did you? And as for crude going to $250 - yes, it may cause huge headaches for regular folks but for banks it means record bonuses, and as a reminder, the Fed works for the banks, not the people, pardon neo-feudal debt slaves...
While Americans were purchasing stuff they don't need with money they don't have to impress people they don't like in the holiday week (but making sure to keep those tags off - you don't get record gift returns if you damage the product or rip the tags off), it appears they did so by walking everywhere. Either that or when it comes to determining real consumer purchasing power, the real answer lies at the pump. According to MasterCard, U.S. gasoline demand sank 14 percent from the prior week to the lowest level in more than seven years of records, as reported by Bloomberg. "Drivers bought 8.16 million barrels a day of gasoline in the week ended Dec. 30, down from 9.46 million the week before, according to MasterCard’s SpendingPulse report. MasterCard’s data goes back to July 2004." So we have just had the lowest gas demand week on record, and that's with gas still at relatively low prices considering what has happened with WTI. One wonders what will happen to end demand when prices finally trickle through. Or perhaps this is all just the central planners' insidious plan to get everyone in America to buy Government Motors magically exploding electrical fire hazard bumper cars? The people demand to know.
As if the situation in the Gulf was not enough on edge, here comes Europe with news, via Reuters, that EU governments have reached a deal to ban Iranian oil imports. The only thing pending is the determination of the starting date and other details. The result, as expected, is another leg up in crude. Sooner or later, this relentless rise higher will spill through to the pump, which according to the Michigan Bizarro confidence indicator will sent consumer optimism to historic levels. And now, the escalation hot grenade is back in Iran's court. Expect more missiles to be fired into the water and more rhetoric about Straits of Hormuz closure in 5...4...3...