Since Ukraine is the only wildcard variable in the news these past few days, it was to be expected that following i) the end of the large Russian military drill begun two weeks ago and ii) a press conference by Putin in which he toned down the war rhetoric, even if he did not actually say anything indicating Russia will difuse the tension, futures have soared and have retraced all their losses from yesterday. And not only in the US - European equity indices gapped higher at the open this morning in reaction to reports that Russian President Putin has ordered troops engaged in military exercises to return to their bases. Consequent broad based reduction in risk premia built up over the past few sessions meant that in spite of looming risk events (ECB, BoE policy meetings and NFP release this Friday), Bund also failed to close the opening gap lower. At the same time, USD/JPY and EUR/CHF benefited as the recent flight to quality sentiment was reversed, with energy and precious metal prices also coming off overnight highs.
Perhaps surprisingly, Germany's DAX index was the weakest in Europe today as the Russia-Ukraine debacle escalates, underperforming high-beta "safe-havens" like Spain and Italy (which also fell rather notably). Despite the 2.5% to 3% declines across all major European equity markets, sovereign bond spreads barely budged! Seriously, Italian and Spanish bond spread rose a mere 5bps on the day. European banks collapsed 3.6%, its biggest drop in 6 months. EURCHF continues to collapse, now at 14 month lows (-200 pips today) as 2Y Swiss rates close at -11.4bps (the lows of 2014).
We were perhaps even more amused than our readers by our Friday headline "Stocks Close At New Record High On Russian Invasion, GDP Decline And Pending Home Sales Miss." It appears that today the market forgot to take its lithium, and is finally focusing on the Ukraine part of the headline, at least until 3:30 pm again when everything should once again be back to market ramp normal. As expected, the PMI data from China and Europe in February, was promptly ignored and it was all about Ukraine again, where Russia sternly refuses to yield to Western demands, forcing the shocked market to retreat lower, and sending Russian stocks lower by over 11%. This is happening even as Ukraine is sending Russian gas to European consumers as normal, gas transport monopoly Ukrtransgas said on Monday. "Ukrtransgas is carrying out all its obligations, fulfilling all agreements with Gazprom. The transit (via Ukraine to Europe) totalled 200 million cubic meters as of March 1," Ukrtransgas spokesman Maksim Belyavsky said. In other words, it can easily get worse should Russia indeed use its trump card.
"If I ask you what’s the risk in investing, you would answer the risk of losing money. But there actually are two risks in investing: One is to lose money and the other is to miss opportunity. You can eliminate either one, but you can’t eliminate both at the same time. So the question is how you’re going to position yourself versus these two risks: straight down the middle, more aggressive or more defensive. I think of it like a comedy movie where a guy is considering some activity. On his right shoulder is sitting an angel in a white robe. He says: «No, don’t do it! It’s not prudent, it’s not a good idea, it’s not proper and you’ll get in trouble». On the other shoulder is the devil in a red robe with his pitchfork. He whispers: «Do it, you’ll get rich». In the end, the devil usually wins. Caution, maturity and doing the right thing are old-fashioned ideas. And when they do battle against the desire to get rich, other than in panic times the desire to get rich usually wins. That’s why bubbles are created and frauds like Bernie Madoff get money." - Howard Marks
In addition to the already noted fireworks out of China, where the Yuan saw the biggest daily plunge since 2008 and the ongoing and very rapid newsflow out of the Ukraine, focus this morning was very much of the latest Eurozone CPI data, which despite matching previous low levels, came in above expectations and in turn resulted in an aggressive unwind of short-EUR bets as market participants were forced to re-asses the likelihood of more easing by the ECB. Still, even though the Euribor curve bear steepened and Bunds came under significant selling pressure, the EONIA forward curve remained inverted, signifying that there is still a degree of apprehension over what is unarguably very low inflation data.
According to the stock markets in the US and in Europe, the world’s economy is not just in good shape, but is in the best shape it’s ever been. The S&P 500 hit an intraday new record high of 1,858.71 on Feb 24, 2014, and is now 18.6% above the peak it hit in 2007, a moment everybody now recognizes was heavily overvalued. An almost 19% gain above the prior all time high is an enormous and unusual event. Surely, you are thinking, there must be an equally compelling story and loads of fundamental data to support such a bull market?
Well, there really isn’t.
The political and economic crisis in Ukraine has led to a currency crisis. The Ukrainian hryvnia has fallen by 50.14% against gold in 2014 and by 28% in the last four days alone. Ukrainians who own gold have protected their savings - again showing gold’s safe haven properties.
The "most shorted" stocks have quadrupled the performance of the broad market this week as the dash-for-trash remains the best-performing strategy under the premise of an ever-rising strike Yellen put. The ammo for this latest rampapalooza, as we noted here, was hedge fund specs the 'shortest' in over a year which were then squeezed by an ever-present visible hand willing to sell JPY against any and everything in the world (or smash VIX - which ever works best). But as one more skeptical manager noted, "I’ve been a non-believer for so long that I just am not believing yet."
With US equity markets hitting fresh all-time highs (as much of the rest of the world is 10-15% off its highs and falling), the meme that rules the "common knowledge" talking-head world is "US decoupling" or yet another version of 'cleanest dirty shirt'. Well, as much as we hate to steal the jam from many an asset-gatherer's donut, the BIS provides us with a simple quick efficient guide to show that no, not all...as the BIS finds the US business cycle is entirely co-dependent on Asian (and Emerging Market) economic cycles. Perhaps it is snowing everywhere in the world?
This is a headwind we shouldn't ignore.
While The Russell 2000 briefly regained positive territory for 2014 (up 1.5% on the week), the Dow, S&P, and Trannies ended the shortened and low volume week practically unchanged (and the Dow -2.6% YTD). Treasury yields oscillated as bad-news-good-news played out but ended the week practcically unchanged (10Y -1bps, 5Y +1bps). The USD drifted lower today to end the week very modestly positive (+0.1%) as EUR strangeth dominated JPY and CAD weakness). VIX went higher all week (admittedly OPEX-impacted) as underlying stocks remained bid. Credit markets ended the week wider than they opened on Tuesday (despite equity strength). Depsite the USD, commodities rose on the week with Silver and WTI crude up almost 2% and gold up 0.5%. For an options-expiration day, today's volume was very weak. And 2014's best performing S&P 500 sectors... Healthcare and Utilities.
"The Pig In The Python Is About To Be Expelled": A Walk Thru Of China's Hard Landing, And The Upcoming Global Harder ResetSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/21/2014 10:37 -0400
The die has been cast, and it appears that the world is finally on the path to the great "carry-trade unwind" endgame. If so, this is what it will look like...
WTF will be the head-scratching meme of the day. After spending weeks 'denying' facts and blaming weather for just how bad all the macro data in the US has been recently (US Macro index at six-month lows), Markit's US PMI just smashed expectations, printing at 56.7 (vs 53.6 exp.). All the main sub-indices from new orders to employment rose markedly suggesting all is well with the recovery and that weather has had no effect whatsoever. In fact, US PMI jumped the most on record in February. Of course, USDJPY was spanked on this 'great news' and that smashed US equity markets higher, filling the China PMI miss gap down.
After being rebuffed by SnapChat last year to the tune of $3 billion, Facebook decided that growth at any price was all that matters by blowing more than 5 times as much on the purchase of privately-owned WhatsApp. For $16 billion ($4bn cash and $12bn stock), Facebook gets 320 million active WhatsApp users at a whopping $50 per user. Why whopping? Because a few days ago Rakuten bought Viber's 300 million users for $900 million, or about $3 a pop, and about ten times less than what Facebook just paid. Not surprisingly FB shareholders are not happy. The company, which allows users to send messages over the web for free (as opposed to traditional text messages which most Telcos are now offering for free also) "is on a path to connect 1 billion people," Zuckerberg said, adding that they are "adding 1 million people per day..." It seems, as we noted previously, that the real bubble is in private markets not public.
After surging yesterday for no reason whatsoever because as we explained on several occasions, there were no surprises in the Tuesday BOJ statement, and the doubling and extension of its loan facilities was implicit and factored into the doubling of its monetary policy (as goldman explained quite well), both the Nikkei and the USDJPY has been forced to revert, with the latter all important carry funding pair back to 102 and in danger of sliding lower, as a result ES is now below yesterday's lows. Which is why the 102 USDJPY "invisible hand" tractor beam will be all important today especially if the market finally starts paying attention to the proxy civil war that has gripped the Ukraine. Stocks traded lower, albeit in a relatively range-bound range this morning, with the Spanish IBEX-35 underperforming. Banking names remained under pressure, with focus still on yesterday’s reports that Spanish banks' bad loans marked a fresh record, together with comments by ECB's Weidmann, who said that sovereign debt purchases would constrain the central bank via political pressure. Similar view was also echoed by ECB’s Nowotny, who said that government bond buying US Fed-style would be difficult to do under ECB's mandate.