With a March 16th date set for Crimea's referendum (to confirm that the region, which has an ethnic Russian majority, is a part of Russia) and a few short days after Ukraine's Prime Minister Yatsenyuk is due to meet President Obama in the White House, Reuters reports that The United States will not recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia if residents of the region vote to leave Ukraine. Obama has said a referendum on Crimea would violate international law and the Ukrainian constitution... but this raises 3 awkward (and apparently hypocritical) questions on the right to self-determination... and pins March 16th as a crucial inflection point between Russia and US.
Big Bubble Brutally Bursts ... Bringing Bankruptcies, Bond Busts
The word “tantrums” referenced in the title was the paper’s attempt to explain adverse market reactions, e.g., last year’s reaction from ‘taper-talk’. The authors stated that risk premiums can jump quickly, simply because non-bank market participants (read: mutual funds) are motivated by their peer performance rank. The authors had 3 subsequent conclusions: 1) the relative peerperformance race causes momentum in return; 2) return chasing can reverse sharply; and 3) changes in the stance of monetary policy can trigger heavy fund inflows and outflows. These conclusions partially explain (empirically) the herd mentality and momentum in recent years behind tight credit spreads and elevated equity prices. Investors are so fearful of missing the upside and underperforming peers that they frantically scramble to remain ahead of them (i.e., seek risk). However, the conference and paper suggests that there is a threshold point during the Fed’s attempt to normalize policy where the tide reverses and investors join in a selloff in a race to avoid being left behind. This is why I’ve been calling it the greater fool theory. The most surprising part of the conference was Rubin’s keynote speech. Rather than speak about Washington’s messy politics or such, he basically gave a speech that criticized and questioned Fed policy.
With the world still on edge over developments in the Ukraine, overnight newsflow was far less dramatic than yesterday, with no "bombshell" uttered at today's Putin press conferences in which he said nothing new and simply reiterated the party line and yet the market saw it as a full abdication, he did have some soundbites saying Russia should keep economic issues separate from politics, and that Russia should cooperate with all partners on Ukraine. Elsewhere Gazprom kept the heat on, or rather off, saying Ukraine recently paid $10 million of its nat gas debt, but that for February alone Ukraine owes $440 million for gas, which Ukraine has informed Gazprom it can't pay in full. Adding the overdue amounts for prior months, means Ukraine's current payable on gas is nearly $2 billion. Which is why almost concurrently Barosso announced that Europe would offer €1.6 billion in loans as part of EU package, which however is condition on striking a deal with the IMF (thank you US taxpayers), and that total aid could be as large as $15 billion, once again offloading the bulk of the obligations to the IMF. And so one more country joins the Troika bailout routine, and this one isn't even in the Eurozone, or the EU.
While everyone was focusing on the threat of tumbling debt dominoes in China's shadow banking sector, a new threat has re-emerged: regular, plain vanilla corporate bankruptcies, in the country with the $12 trillion corporate bond market (these are official numbers - the unofficial, and accurate, one is certainly far higher). And while anywhere else in the world this would be a non-event, in China, where corporate - as well as shadow banking - bankruptcies are taboo, a default would immediately reprice the entire bond market lower and have adverse follow through consequences to all other financial products. This explains is why in the past two months, China was forced to bail out not one but two Trusts with exposure to the coal industry as we reported previously in great detail. However, the Chinese Default Protection Team will have its hands full as soon as Friday, March 7, which is when the interest on a bond issued by Shanghai Chaori Solar Energy Science & Technology a Chinese maker of solar cells, falls due. That payment, as of this moment, will not be made, following an announcement made late on Tuesday that it will not be able to repay the CNY89.8 million interest on a CNY1 billion bond issued on March 7th 2012.
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.
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.
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.
Three unlucky attempts in a row to retake the S&P 500 all time high may have been all we get, at least for now, because the fourth one is shaping up to be rather problematic following events out of the Crimean in the past three hours where the Ukraine situation has gone from bad to worse, and have dragged the all important risk indicator, the USDJPY, below 102.000 once again. As a result, global stock futures have fallen from the European open this morning, with the DAX future well below 9600 to mark levels not seen since last Thursday. Escalated tensions in the Ukraine have raised concerns of the spillover effects to Western Europe and Russia, as a Russian flag is lifted by occupying gunmen in the Crimean (Southern Ukrainian peninsula) parliament, prompting an emergency session of Crimean lawmakers to discuss the fate of the region. This, allied with reports of the mobilisation of Russian jets on the Western border has weighed on risk sentiment, sending the German 10yr yield to July 2013 lows.
For the second night in a row, China, and specifically its currency rate which saw the Yuan weaken once more, preoccupied investors - and certainly those who had bet on endless strenghtening of the Chinese currency - however this time it appeared more "priced in, and after trading as low as 2000, the SHCOMP managed to close modestly green, which however is more than can be said about the Nikkei which ended the session down 0.5%. Still, the USDJPY was firmly supported by the 102.00 "fundamental" fair value barrier and as a result equity futures, which had to reallign from tracking the AUDUSD to the old faithful Yen carry, have been propped up once more and are set to open at all time highs. If equities fail to breach the record barrier for the third time in a row and a selloff ensues after the open in deja vu trading, it will be time to watch out below if only purely for technical reasons.
"If you like your bailout, you can keep your bailout," is the message from the latest Troika mission to Greece; but there is one (or two) big 'but's... As ekathimerini reports, Greece is "very close" to a deal with the Troika for the next EUR8.8 billion with negotiations hanging on a few final things including... the troika wants Greece to extend the shelf life of fresh milk! Maybe they should just rename it 'greek yoghurt'.
Asian equities are trading lower across the board on the back of some negative credit stories from China. Shanghai Securities News noted that ICBC and some other banks have curbed loans to developers in sectors such as steel and cement. Slower gains in home property prices in China’s tier 1 cities are also not helping sentiment. Beijing and Shenzhen prices rose 0.4% in January, which looks to be the slowest monthly gain since October 2012 according to Bloomberg. Elsewhere there are reports that a property developer in Hangzhou (Tier 2 city in China) is reducing its unit prices by 19%. Our property analysts noted that given the strong gains seen in Tier-1 and some bigger Tier-2 cities in 2013, a slowdown or negative trends in price growth should not be a surprise. Nevertheless, it has been a very weak day for Chinese and HK markets with the Shanghai Composite and the Hang Seng indices down -2.0% and -1.2% lower as we type. Across the region, bourses in Japan and Korea are down -1.0% and -0.6%, respectively.
After learning that it snowed in China this winter following the release of the abysmal February Flash HSBC PMI numbers, we found out that there had also been snow in Europe, following misses across virtually all key French, German and composite PMIs with the exception of the German Services PMI which was the sole "beater" out of 6. To wit:
- Eurozone PMI Manufacturing (Feb A) M/M 53.0 vs Exp. 54.0 (Prev. 54.0); Eurozone PMI Services (Feb A) M/M 51.7 vs Exp. 51.9 (Prev. 51.6)
- German Manufacturing PMI (Feb A) M/M 54.7 vs. Exp. 56.3 (Prev. 56.5); German PMI Services (Feb A) M/M 55.4 vs Exp. 53.4 (Prev. 53.1)
- French PMI Manufacturing (Feb P) M/M 48.5 vs. Exp. 49.6 (Prev. 49.3); French PMI Services (Feb P) M/M 46.9 vs. Exp. 49.4 (Prev. 48.9)
Of course, economic data is the last thing that matters in a manipulated market. Instead, all that does matter is what the USDJPY does overnight, and as we forecast yesterday, the USDJPY 102 tractor beam is alive and well and managed to pull equity futures from a -10 drop overnight to nearly unchanged, despite the now traditional pattern of USDJPY selling during the overnight session and buying during the US session.
You know what’s it like, the driver stands there in front of the car that has just hit you up the back while looking at something happening down the street rather than checking on you hitting your breaks…and yet, he says “sorry, but you stopped too quickly, it wasn’t my bad driving”.
Keynes will be remembered as "a man with a great many ideas that knew very little economics," Friedrich Hayek notes in this brief interview and when challenged on his 'parochial' knowledge of economic history he was "not sheepish in the least... he was much too self-assured." Hayek's perspective casts Keynes in a very different light than his fan's apostolic adoration might suggest, "he was utterly contemptuous of anything that had been done before." While Hayek describes Keynes as one of the most intelligent people he had known, he perhaps sums up the man's work in this brief phrase - "economics was just a side-line for him." As we note below, many describe Keynesian policy as 'dumb', however a more appropriate word would be 'foolish'.