Are these the only truly free countries left in the world - those that are not joined at the hip with the United States and ready and willing to do Obama's bidding at the drop of a hat? The NSA's most infamous whistleblower certainly thinks so.
Following Putin's colorful description of the no-man's-land that Edward Snowden seems to reside in, Wikileaks has confirmed this morning that "Mr. Snowden is not being 'debriefed' by the FSB. He is well." As Rianovosti notes, there has been widespread skepticism that the presence of the Snowden at a Moscow airport would not have prompted any interest from Russian intelligence officials. Snowden’s ultimate destination is unknown, but Ecuador – which has given refuge to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its embassy in London – has now demanded that, as The South China Morning Post reports, the US must “submit its position” regarding Snowden to the Ecuadorian government in writing as it considers his request for asylum. Ecuador's foreign minister added, "his government could take months to decide whether to grant asylum."
China has certainly been busy since it won observer status at the May Arctic Council summit in Kiruna, Sweden. China is clearly after more than simply investment and trade opportunities as it continues to display its obsession with securing energy and other supplies where the U.S. Navy cannot or will not go. Unfortunately for Moscow, not only China but also the other new Asian members will seek to maximize their influence in the Council for many of the same reasons. The Arctic may be Russia’s home, but it can no longer be its castle.
As noted yesterday, and perhspa even more prescient now Anastasiades is back with the begging bowl, the debt crisis in Cyprus and the subsequent "bail-in" confiscation of bank depositors' money matter for two reasons: 1. The banking/debt crisis in Cyprus shares many characteristics with other banking/debt crises. 2. The official Eurozone resolution of the crisis may provide a template for future resolutions of other banking/debt crises. It also matters for another reason: not only is the bail-in a direct theft of depositors' money, the entire bailout is essentially a wholesale theft of national assets. This is the inevitable result of political Elites swearing allegiance to the European Monetary Union.
Overnight, following the disappointing BOJ announcement which contained none of the Goldman-expected "buy thesis" elements in it, things started going rapidly out of control, and culminated with the USDJPY plunging from 99 to under 96.50 as of minutes ago, which was the equivalent of a 2.3% jump in the Yen, the currency's biggest surge in over three years. Adding insult to injury was finance ministry official Eisuke Sakakibara who said that further weakening of yen "not likely" at the moment, that the currency will hover around 100 (or surge as the case may be) and that 2% inflation is "a dream." Bottom line, NKY225 futures have had one of their trademark 700 points swing days, and are back knocking on the 12-handle door. Once again, the muppets have been slain. Golf clap Goldman.
House prices - with respect to both levels and changes - differ widely across OECD countries. As a simple measure of relative rich or cheapness, the OECD calculates if the price-to-rent ratio (a measure of the profitability of owning a house) and the price-to-income ratio (a measure of affordability) are above their long-term averages, house prices are said to be overvalued, and vice-versa. There are clearly some nations that are extremely over-valued and others that are cheap but as SocGen's Albert Edwards notes, it is the UK that stands out as authorities have gone out of their way to prop up house prices - still extremely over-valued (20-30%) - despite being at the epicenter of the global credit bust. Summing up the central bankers anthem, Edwards exclaims: "what makes me genuinely really angry is that burdening our children with more debt to buy ridiculously expensive houses is seen as a solution to the problem of excessively expensive housing." It's not different this time.
China’s credit growth has been outstripping economic growth for five quarters with the corporate debt bubble looking increasingly precarious (as we explained here and here). This raises one key question: where has the money gone? As SocGen notes, although such divergence is not unprecedented, it potentially suggests a trend that gives greater cause for concern – China is approaching a Minsky moment. At the micro level, SocGen points out that a non-negligible share of the corporate sector and local government financial vehicles are struggling to cover their financial expense. At the macro level, they estimate that China’s debt servicing costs have significantly exceeded underlying economic growth. As a result, the debt snowball is getting bigger and bigger, without contributing to real activity (see CCFDs for a very big example). This is probably where most of China’s missing money went.
We are told that it’s the youth that is our future. These are the people that supposedly will be governing us one day not in the not too distant future when we sit comfortable doing whatever we have to (or rather, will be able to) do as retirees.
Mervyn King gave a speech in Helsinki Finland today just before he takes retirement from the Bank of England in which he said that both austerity and growth were at fault of grossly exaggerated statements to purely political ends: "This debate has been vastly exaggerated by people who want to make political arguments”. He went on to add that it was a time for common sense.
The Baltic States are unique in Europe in that they went through an austerity crash program a while ago already (beginning right after the 2008 crisis) and have in the meantime recovered strongly. Der Spiegel has an interesting interview with Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, in which she explains her views on the topic. It can obviously be done successfully. And while we are aware that every case is unique - the problems are not the same in every country, and due to cultural norms and traditions, it may be easier to enact reform in certain countries than others; it seems that no matter how many times Paul Krugman insists that no Baltic nation can possibly be held up as an example, the fact remains that they have imposed fiscal austerity and implemented wide-ranging reform measures and have succeeded.
There have been five developments over the weekend. Which is noise and which the signal ?
A peculiar trading session, in which the usual overnight futures levitation has not been led by the BOJ-inspired USDJPY rise (even as the Nikkei225 rose another 0.6% more than offset by the Shanghai Composite drop of 0.86%), which actually has slid all session briefly dipping under 99 moments ago, but by the EURUSD, which saw a bout of buying around 5 am Eastern, just after news hit that the UK would avoid a triple dip recession with Q1 GDP rising 0.3% versus expectations of a 0.1% rise, up from a -0.3% in Q4 (more in Goldman note below). Since the news that the BOE will likely delay engaging in more QE (just in time for the arrival of Carney) is hardly EUR positive we look at the other news hitting around that time, such as Finland saying that the euro can survive in Cyprus exits the Eurozone, and that Merkel has rejected standardized bank guarantees for the foreseeable future, and we are left scratching our heads what is the reason for the brief burst in the Euro.
After a disastrous few days in early April, bitcoin is back over $100 and up on the month, the year and its short lifetime. ConvergEx's Nick Colas is intrigued and continues to believe that this phenomenon is the most provocative economic experiment since the invention of the euro and well worth watching. The next chapter of the story, he believes, will be the entry of a host of "Smart money" venture capitalists looking to build the currency's infrastructure. Money and currency are exactly the kind of large, scalable and complex opportunity that gets VCs very, very excited. Yes, it could all still end in tears, either by regulation or mismanagement. But bitcoin isn’t dead just yet, and it remains one of the most potentially disruptive forces in modern finance. In summary, bitcoin is what he calls a "Beta currency." How it all shakes out, however, will be both instructive to watch and potentially profitable for those on the right side of this very novel trade.
With the entire world's attention focused on Boston, the FX carry pair traders knew they had a wide berth to push futures, courtesy of some EURUSD and USDJPY levitation overnight, which started following news out of Japan that the G-20 would have no objection to its big monetary stimulus - of course they don't: they encourage it: just look at the levitation in the global wealth effect stock markets since it started. The Friday humor started early: "Japan explained that its monetary policy is aimed at achieving price stability and economic recovery, and therefore is in line with the G20 agreement in February," Aso told reporters. "There was no objection to that at the meeting." "We explained (at the G20 meeting) that we're convinced that the measures we're taking will be good for the global economy as they will help revive Japanese growth," Aso said. And by global economy he of course means stocks. Shortly thereafter, when Europe opened, the real levitation started as someone, somewhere had to offset what would otherwise be a 100 point plunge in the DJIA just on IBM's miserable results alone. Sure enough what better way to do that than with a wholesale market "tide" offsetting one or two founder boats.
As we have vociferously warned since September 2011, and most recently as the Cyprus debacle exploded explained why it is just beginning, Germany's Council of Economic Experts (or so-called 'Five Wise Men') just confirmed a wealth tax is coming. As the Telegraph reports, confirming our expectations, Germany warns that states in trouble must pay more for their own salvation, arguing that there is enough wealth in homes and private assets across the Mediterranean to cover bail-out costs. They further added that targeting deposit-holders is also a mistake, since the "resourceful rich just move their money to banks in northern Europe and avoid paying," preferring instead taxes on property or other less-mobile assets, "for example, over the next 10 years, the rich should give up a portion of their assets." As we noted here and here, the differences between mean and median wealth in the peripheral nations suggest that people in the bailed-out countries are often better-off than those in Germany - - "this shows that Germany has been right to take a tough line of euro rescue loans." However, the implications of a wealth tax - implicitly impacting the pro-euro Southern European uber-rich - raises the specter of EU breakup once again.