Stocks are not the only thing enjoying the ECB's $800 billion balance sheet expansion (and just announced additional Bank of England Quantiative Easing) over the past 6 months. Lately a new and unwelcome visitor has also figured out the Euroean Central Bank's sneaky motives. No, not Germany, they still are hopelessly confused and still believe the ECB is not "printing" money. Nor gold. It did long ago, just as Roubini was calling for an imminent crash following the 200 DMA breach - it is headed over $2000 in short order. No, this time it is that last entrant to any reliqufication party, who just happens to be the guaranteed party-pooper: gasoline.
With major trade partners battered by recession, the latest trade data seem to give credence to a China hard-landing crash scenario by some forecasters.
Minxin Pei, the most original of current Sinologists, makes the point authoritarian/totalitarian regimes inherently prioritize requirements for protecting regime leaders over long-term national interest.
As Brent and WTI prices ebb and flow from local and global fundamentals and risk premia, Morgan Stanley notes that to be bullish from here, one would need to believe a supply disruption is coming. Considering conflict with Iran, sustained Middle East tensions, and the potential for sustained supply disruption their flowchart of price expectations notes that prices follow inventories and that as price rises, fundamentals will weaken (as without an OPEC production cut, inventories would balloon by 2Q12) and therefore to maintain current prices across the curve, supply risk premia must continue to grow. They raise their estimate for 2012 average Brent price to $105/bbl from $100/bbl which leaves them bearish given the forward curve priced around $115/bbl, as their base case adjusts to a belief that Middle East tensions persist but a conflict with Iran does not occur as they address QE3 expectations and EM inflation/hard landing concerns.
Say what you will about the tenets of Chinese economic slowdown assumptions and what not (despite inflation obviously continuing to be a rather pesky issue), at least its steadfast determination to have the world's largest crude oil stockpile is an ethos. At 23.4k metric tons of imports in January, China just imported the most crude in its history, despite the traditionally slow period around the Chinese new year. The trendline is unmissable - at this rate China will become the world's largest importer of Crude in a few short years, surpassing the US easily with its 28K metric tons of imports in a couple of years. Oh, and anyone who thinks that China will volunteer to lose Iran as a primary source of crude imports as its oil is "liberated" by Western powers as the country is obviously en route to having the world's largest crude stockpile (as to why this may be the case, read here), we have a bridge to Isfahan to sell you.
Hands up anyone who is surprised that the Bank of England has added another £50 billion to the quantitative easing pot? The same hands will also believe that the Greeks have agreed terms for the next bail out tranche with the Troika (the European Union, the IMF and the European Central Bank). This ongoing epic odyssey of the voyage to nowhere has grabbed the headlines, but the BoE’s quiet announcement is equally significant to us Brits. Central banks never utter the words quantitative easing, so the Bank calls it an addition to its “asset purchase programme”, which was only hiked to £275 billion back in October. The accompanying rhetoric states that inflation is on the way back down and may fall below their target of 2%, mainly as a result of the VAT increase last January falling out of the equation and lower energy prices, (despite Brent crude being over 10% higher Y-o-Y in sterling terms..); a convenient excuse perhaps.
Much has been made of today's Reuters story how "Iran turns to barter for food as sanctions cripple imports" in which we learn that "Iran is turning to barter - offering gold bullion in overseas vaults or tankerloads of oil - in return for food", and whose purpose no doubt is to demonstrate just how crippled the Iranian economy is as a result of the ongoing US embargo. Incidentally this story is 100% the opposite of the Debka-spun groundless disinformation from a few weeks ago that India was preparing to pay for Iran's oil in gold (they got the asset right, but the flow of funds direction hopelessly wrong). While there is certainly truth to the fact that the US is actively seeking to destabilize the local government, we wonder why? After all as the opportunity cost for the existing regime to do something drastic gets ever lower as the popular resentment rises, leaving the local administration with few options but to engage either the US or Israel. Unless of course, this is the ultimate goal. Yet going back to the Reuters story, it would be quite dramatic, if only it was not the case that Iran has been laying the groundwork for a barter economy for many months now, something which various other analysts perceive as the basis for the destruction of the petrodollar system. Perhaps regular readers will recall that back in July, we wrote an article titled "China And Iran To Bypass Dollar, Plan Oil Barter System." Specifically, we wrote that "according to the FT, China has decided to commence a barter system in which Iranian oil is exchanged directly for Chinese exports. The net result: not only a slap for the US Dollar, but implicitly for all fiat intermediaries, as Iran and China are about to prove that when it comes to exchanging hard resources for critical Chinese goods and services, the world's so called reserve currency is completely irrelevant." Seen in this light the fact that Iran is actually proceeding with a barter system, something that had been in the works for quite a while, actually puts the Reuters story in a totally different light: instead of one predicting the imminent demise of the Iranian economy, the conclusion is inverted, and underscores the culmination of what may have been an extended barter preparation period, has finally gone from beta to (pardon the pun) gold, and Iran is now successfully engaging in global trade without the use of the historical reserve currency.
European stocks advanced today following reports that the ECB is said to be willing to exchange Greek bonds with EFSF. In addition to that, although a vast majority of officials remain adamant that no haircuts will be applied, WSJ report indicated that the concession by the ECB will contribute to the Greek debt reduction, and the concession depends on the overall debt agreement being set. However it remains to be seen what effect using the EFSF for such spurious purposes will have on the demand for EFSF issued bonds in the future. Still, the renewed sense of optimism that debt swap talks are nearing an end depressed investor appetite for fixed income securities, which in turn resulted in further tightening of peripheral bond yield spreads. The stand out was the 10-year Spanish bond, amid a syndicated issuance from the Treasury. Going forward, Greek PM is scheduled to meet party leaders on a loan deal at 1300GMT, while other reports have suggested that the Troika is keen on meeting Greek parties individually. There is little in terms of macro-economic data releases today, however the US Treasury is due to sell USD 24bln in 10y notes.
After the announcement of the Seaway reversal back in November 2011, a development which some say was oddly anticipated by the market, the Brent-WTI spread collapse from a near record $30 to just $7 in the span of three months. Further alleviating tensions was the fact that Italy is now once again back firmly in control of Libyan Brent production. Yet recent developments in the Persian Gulf, and elsewhere, have led to the Brent-WTI spread trade becoming an energy trader's widowmaker yet again, as it has doubled from $10 to $20 as of early this morning in less than a month. What happens next, and what are the implications for the energy market as a result of the violent move wider? Here is Goldman's David Greely with some observations and some suggestions.
Ahead of the North American open, European Indices are trading in negative territory following further deliberations over a Greek settlement, with a tentative meeting between the Greek PM and his respective Party Leaders scheduled for some time after 1600GMT as well as an underperforming Basic Materials sector following caution over the upcoming Glencore/Xstrata merger. In foreign exchange news, the EUR/CHF currency pair has exhibited volatility following comments from the SNB’s acting Chair Jordan. Jordan has committed the Central Banks’ resources to preventing any further appreciation of the CHF adding that the SNB will buy unlimited amounts of Forex to defend the minimum level of 1.2000. Overnight, the AUD index has appreciated following an unexpected move by the RBA to hold its base rate at 4.25%, with many analysts expecting a drop in rates due to the global economic outlook and domestic job losses. In terms of European economic releases, German Industrial Production data fell below expectations for the month of December, posting a 2.9% fall while the figure was expected to stay flat at 0.0%.
Weekend talks between Greek government officials failed to reach a definitive conclusion and as such market sentiment has been risk averse across the asset classes. The equity market has been chiefly weighed upon by the banking sector and as such underpinned the rise in fixed income futures. However, recent trade has seen a slight pullback led by tightening of the French spreads on reports of good domestic buying noted in the belly of the French curve. Today marks the deadline for Greece to provide feedback as to the proposed bailout terms put forth by the Troika, but with continued disagreement on the fine print in the additional austerity proposals, market participants remain disappointed in the lack of progress. Of note a PASOK spokesman has said that Greece should not hold a general election after clinching an agreement on a second bailout package, suggesting instead an extension of Lucas Papademos' tenure. However, the two main unions of Greece have called for a 24hr strike on Tuesday. Looking ahead there is little in the way of major US economic data today so Greece will likely remain the dominant theme for the rest of the session.
Yesterday we presented why when it comes to Syria, the UN Security Council can forget any attempt at "overhauling" a regime that is a cornerstone for Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean and the middle east. Today, in the aftermath of the UN reminder that it is the world's biggest collection of post-facto hypocrites, not to mention, the world's most irrelevant and ineffectual organization, anger at the Russian and Chinese veto has already manifested itself, as protesters have attacked the Russian embassy in Tripoli and tore down the Russian flag, Al Jazeera reported on Sunday. As Itar-Tass reports, "According to Al Jazeera, the riots staged by the Syria opposition involved Libyans as well. No further details are available so far. None of the Russian diplomats has been hurt in an rally stage by the Syrian opposition in front of the Russian embassy in Tripoli on Sunday, an officer from the Russian embassy told Itar-Tass over the phone. “No one has managed to break into the territory of the Russian diplomatic mission, no one of the personnel has been hurt. All are safe and sound. Although the protesters have managed to tear down the Russian flag,” the diplomat said." Still, the wily occupiers of the Kremlin preempted what they perceived as potential 'displeasure' with Russian tactics to protect its own national interests. Because as Zero Hedge has been reminding readers on occasion, Russia has something that is far more valuable to Europe than the Goldman-alum controlled printing press: it has the world's largest natural gas reserves. Which for a continent gripped in one the coldest winters on record, whose heating infrastructure is based primarily on natgas, and where Russian imports account for 25% of total nat gas, Russia has the upper hand in, well, everything. Which it gladly reminded the world of yesterday. According to the AP: Russia's state-controlled Gazprom natural gas giant acknowledged for the first time Saturday that it "had briefly reduced gas supplies to Europe amid a spell of extreme cold." Oops... Just a fat finger there, nothing to worry about. Oh, and if anyone forgets that in the Eurasian continent it is Russia who increasingly holds all the cards, Gazprom may "briefly" cut all supplies to Europe, -40 C degree temperatures be damned. Briefly...
UPDATE: Hardly reassuring (from Bloomberg): *U.S. IS `DISGUSTED' WITH RUSSIA, AMBASSADOR RICE SAYS AT UN
The world is suddenly aflutter in its usual fake indignation (how many times have we seen this) having realized what has been going on in Syria for months on end. It was none other than the Headhunter In Chief who "condemned the "unspeakable assault" Saturday by Syrian forces on the city of Homs, a sustained attack that activists say killed more than 200 people in what may be the bloodiest confrontation of the uprising against Bashar Assad's regime. The assault sparked fierce international outcry ahead of a meeting Saturday of the U.N. Security Council, where the U.S. and other nations are pushing for a vote on an Arab League-backed resolution calling for Assad to step down." Needless to say, just like in the case of Libya, both China and Russia are now a confirmed veto for any security council resolution that enforces a regime change, no fly zone, or what have you. Only this time the stake for Russia (and China as well, as Syria is nothing but a gateway to Iran), are far higher. And as Zero Hedge noted regarding Iranian developments yesterday, "We've seen this play by play many times before and frankly at this point the posturing is getting just silly. What we do want to find out, however, is how will Russia get involved in all of this. Because if recent actions are any precedent, we fully expect Putin to send an aircraft carrier, purely symbolically, in the Arabian Sea himself, just to indicate that any invasion, pardon, liberation, of Iran crude, will first have to go through him. And not to mention China... or India." Sure enough, speaking of aircraft carriers, it was none other than the Russian navy's aircraft carrier Kuznetsov that landed at the Russian naval base in Tartus "in support of the al-Assad regime" back in November, and it is the Tartus base that is arguably one of the most critical locations for the US military vis-a-vis developments in the middle east. And here is why Russia will block any attempt by the west to impose its own will in Syria.
While the world rejoices in the aftermath of the enjoyable diversion in which a fake market surges on fake, politically-motivated data, which incidentally refutes the warning voiced last week by the Fed Chairman who has a far better grasp of the economy than the BLS, warned last week, the confluence of real events continues to indicate that something is brewing in the middle east. Only this time it is not the US adding another aircraft carrier to the three already situated by the Straits of Hormuz. This time the smoke and fire come from Israel. ABC reports that "Israeli facilities in North America -- and around the world -- are on high alert, according to an internal security document obtained by ABC News that predicted the threat from Iran against Jewish targets will increase. "We predict that the threat on our sites around the world will increase … on both our guarded sites and 'soft' sites," stated a letter circulated by the head of security for the Consul General for the Mid-Atlantic States. Guarded sites refers to government facilities like embassies and consulates, while 'soft sites' means Jewish synagogues, and schools, as well as community centers like the one hit by a terrorist bombing in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people." Hopefully the head of security's prediction track record is better than that of the CBO, and that the very act of prediction does not in effect "make it so." At least courtesy of this latest escalation by Israel we get a clue of what to focus on, if not so much who the actual aggressors will be. In the meantime, Iran, which has been dealing with hyperinflation for weeks now, and likely has bigger problems to worry about than focusing on "soft sites" will naturally sense this escalation as the provocation it may well be meant to be, respond in kind, which will lead to further responses of definite attacks imminent by Iran's adversaries, and so on, and so forth, until finally the dam wall finally cracks.
Less than One-Fifth of All Americans Favor Military or Covert Action Against Iran … Less than Half of Israelis Want to AttackSubmitted by George Washington on 02/03/2012 15:11 -0400
No one wants war ...