Just like the US and the EU, Switzerland at the federal level is ruled by a group of elites who are more concerned with their own status, well-being, and international reputation than with the good of the country. The gold referendum, if it is successful, will be a slap in the face to those elites. The Swiss people appreciate the work their forefathers put into building up large gold reserves, a respected currency, and a strong, independent banking system. They do not want to see centuries of struggle squandered by a central bank. The results of the November referendum may be a bellwether, indicating just how strong popular movements can be in establishing central bank accountability and returning gold to a monetary role.
At a global aggregated level deflation has been non-existent over the last 80 years. Prior to the twentieth century, Deutsche Bank notes that years of deflation were almost as common as years of inflation. However this all changed over the last 100 years or so as global currency links to precious metals broke down periodically and then collapsed as of 1971. Furthermore, since then inflation has had an upward bias relative to most of prior history, and as such, Deutsche warns, the longer-term investor has evidence that they must approach the current low levels of bond yields with extreme caution.
Last week we noted the very significant activity by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority as it bought USDollars in size to support its peg. It appears we have found at least one smoking gun for why they were forced to do this. In what appears to be another sanctions-blowback, Russian oligarchs are de-dollarizing their cash holdings and shifting to Hong Kong Dollars. As Bloomberg reports, various Russian entities are shifting up to 40% of their cash to HKD. “Keeping money in Hong Kong dollars is essentially equivalent to keeping it in U.S. dollars because of the currency peg," notes BofA's Vladimir Osakovskiy, adding "for Russian companies it’s still much safer from the standpoint of sanctions."
Yesterday saw something quite unusual in the New York trading session. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority bought $715 million (selling HKD) in the FX markets to manage its currency peg, injecting the money into the banking system (and expanding its balance sheet) to prevent HKD from rising above its permitted range. HKMA projects its balance sheet to grow to the end of July, but as Simon Black (of Sovereign Man blog) notes, this could well be the start of a bigger shift - an end to the US Dollar peg..."The US is no longer the undisputed superpower it once was. The US dollar is dragging them down. Hong Kong is easily strong enough to stand on its own."
It will be a long night in Kiev, where as warned previously, once things start rolling downhill, they will deteriorate rapidly. Via Bloomberg:
RIOT POLICE ARMED WITH CHAINSAWS APPROACH KIEV BARRICADES
UKRAINIAN POLICE MASS NEAR BARRICADES AT KIEV SQUARE
POLICE STORM PROTEST CAMP IN CENTER OF KIEV, AP REPORTS
UKRAINIAN POLICE INSIDE KIEV PROTEST CAMP
Ongoing anti-regime demonstrations in Ukraine are weighing on investor's risk perceptions as CDS spike to near three-year highs today (up over 100bps). At a minimum developments lower president Yanukovich's chances of remaining in power beyond the spring 2015 elections and possibly undermine his hold on power earlier, further decreasing the likelihood of sizeable financial support from Russia. With Moody's earlier comments on the nation's "precarious external liquidity" position; as Goldman warns, with even higher political uncertainty ahead, an acceleration of capital outflows might also follow and while they think the authorities will eventually turn to the IMF to avoid a disorderly sell-off of the currency, recent events arguably raise the risks to that view. However, the capital outflows are already having an impact as Reuters notes, Russian banks are considerably exposed as Ukrainian banks should deposit runs escalate.
Recent problems in Asia ex-Japan appear solvable. But the time for reform is now if the region's to take the next leap forward in its economic development.
Both the U.S. and China are now attempting to deflate asset bubbles. The former is likely to have second thoughts while the latter isn't.
Switzerland is the place that has traditionally stood above all the rest in its reputation for financial stability. Why? Because the currency was well-managed, the banking system was sound, and the country had a long tradition of treating capital well. Over the last few years, however, these advantages have collapsed. Just a small handful of countries inspire confidence in the marketplace. And the most popular seems to be Australia. Now, there’s really no such thing as a “good” fiat currency. But given such fundamentals, it’s easy to see why Australia is replacing Switzerland as a global safe haven.
The Treasury Department planted a "dirty bomb" at the Bank of Japan, and tossed a grenade at the Swiss National Bank.
Bitcoin has been all the rage lately. The stuff, or lack thereof, runs on peer-to-peer technology, is fully decentralized, has no patents, and is open source. Currently, there are almost 11 million bitcoin units in existence and the maximum amount of bitcoin units that will ever be created by the logic of its design are 21 million. While bitcoins are designed so that they cannot be hyperinflated in name, they certainly can be hyperinflated in substance. There is no doubt that bitcoin is a spontaneous answer to the monetary instability that we see all around us today. On one side of the pond people are worried about the glorified currency peg known as the Euro and on the other about the amount of damage that Bernanke is willing to inflict upon the world’s reserve currency. However, let us not become so enamored of an innovative stateless solution that we forget Austrian economics and hitch libertarianism’s wagon to something heading for a crash.
This week's events show that the Chinese government realises that its stimulus efforts have got out of hand and its economy is in trouble.
"Are the key governments and their leaders able to maintain confidence in this fragile system?" "Are 'they' going to do the 'right' things?"
- Dead Heat for Romney, Obama (WSJ)
- The Cheerful Billionaire Who Thinks Obama's a Socialist (Businessweek)
- "Get to work, Mr. Japanese Chairman": Japan Exports Tumble 10% as Maehara Presses BOJ to Ease (Bloomberg)
- Chinese Investors Fear Chill in Canada (WSJ)
- Rosneft Buys BP’s TNK-BP Stake for $26 Billion in Cash, Shares (Bloomberg)
- Hong Kong Defends Its Currency Peg for First Time Since 2009 (Bloomberg)
- Democrats threaten payroll tax cut consensus (FT)
- Spain's Rajoy gets mixed message in regional votes (Reuters)
- Merkel to warn UK on Europe budget veto (FT)
- Netanyahu says doesn't know of any U.S.-Iran talks (Reuters)... neither does Iran, so near certainty
- Der Kurrency Tsar: ECB’s Knot Backs Schaeuble Call for Stronger EU Budget Power (Bloomberg)
- Fannie Mae Limiting Loans Helps JPMorgan Mortgage Profits (Bloomberg)
"Prolonged economic weakness will persist - especially in the peripheral countries - with further periods of intense financial market stress" is how Citi's Willem Buiter's economics team sees the future in Europe. While they continue to believe that the probability of a Greece exit from the Euro is around 90% in the next 12-18 months; but more critically it is increasingly likely in the next six months - conceivably as soon as September/October depending on the TROIKA report. There is a crucial series of meetings and events in coming weeks and while they believe that the ECB's conditional bond-buying (and ESM/EFSF) may help avoid a 'Lehman moment' around the GRExit, they believe that there will still be considerably capital flight out of periphery assets should it occur. The reason being simply that even if funding costs were reduced, the current mix of fiscal austerity and supply-side reform will not return any periphery country to a sustainable fiscal path in coming years.