Heading into the North American open, stocks in Europe are seen broadly lower, with consumer services seen as the worst performing sector, where the UK based retailers have underperformed amid fears that a combination of heavy discounting, along with bad weather, impacted heavily on overall performance. Of note, the SMI index in Switzerland underperformed throughout the session, with Swatch shares under pressure after officials were unable to say what caused the fire at the weekend at the co.'s ETA unit factory in Grenchen, which destroyed one workshop and damaged another. As expected, traded volume is far below the daily avg and this trend is expected to continue this week. The euro is stronger against the dollar. Japanese 10yr bond yields rise; Italian yields decline. Commodities little changed, with silver, gold underperforming and natural gas outperforming. U.S. pending home sales, Dallas Fed manufacturing data due later.
Sir Halford Mackinder’s 1904 speach in which he outlined his “Heartland Theory” was a founding moment for geo-politics. He argued that control of the Eurasian landmass (Europe, Asia and the Middle East), which contained the bulk of the world’s population and natural resources, was the major geo-political prize. As time passed, energy (first crude oil then natural gas), became increasingly integral to this concept and its strategic significance cannot be overstated. Remarkably, Mackinder’s theory has remained equally valid, if not more so, in the modern era - although key “pivot areas” for exercising control have evolved. In addition to Central Asia and Trans-Caucasus in Mackinder’s day, the oil producing nations of the Middle East took on increasing importance in the “New Great Game”. We see a “New New Great Game” emerging.
It was in October 2012 when we explained how Iran evades the Western blockade (ostensibly with the implicit nod of none other than the US), and when we first defined the concept of PetroGold in the context of the Turkey-Dubai-Iran crude-for-gold triangle. One year later, following Iran's unperturbed ability to exist in a world without US dollars, the blockade of Iran is a thing of the past, and the west has engaged in a full-blown detente with the country, much to the fury of both Israel and Saudi Arabia, lowering and in many cases outright eliminating Iran sanctions, which proved futile. So a happy ending for Iran (if only briefly). However, one country that has seen better days, whose government may be on the edge of collapse due to an unprecedented corruption scandal precisely for enabling said PetroGold scheme, and which has been in the news on a daily basis recently, is Turkey. As Turkey's Today's Zaman explains in "Iran's Turkish Gold Rush", the political crisis Turkey finds itself in may be nothing but a consequence of the PetroGold scheme conceived over a year ago, and in which Turkey played a crucial role. Here is how the Turkey-Dubai-Iran PetroGold triangle, or as the Zaman calls it, "gas for gold", may soon result in the toppling of yet another government, simply because it showed that existence outside of the clutches of the 'Petrodollar' is perfectly possible...
Even Before 9/11, NSA Knew In Real-Time Which Countries Both Parties to Phone Calls Were In
Less than two weeks after Federal Judge Richard Leon ruled that the NSA's "indiscriminate and arbitrary" invasion of privacy is "likely" unconstitutional, giving a trace of hope that America may rise above its Orwellian Banana republic status, here comes New York City District Judge William Pauley to slam the coffin shut on US privacy and the Fourth amendment, and make a mockery of Edward Snowden's alternative Christmas message. Moments ago the WSJ reported that "a federal judge in New York City has ruled that a massive U.S. phone-tracking program is legal." Bananas for everyone!
While the US is debating which set of Al Qaeda "rebels" in Syria is the best local partner for the State Department to provide military support to, once Qatar's demands for a trans-Syria pipeline return some time in 2014, Vladimir Putin - fresh from his diplomatic oup in the Ukraine - is reinforcing his other major victory in 2013: the preservation of the Assad state, this time however with more than words. As Reuters reports, Russia has sent 25 armored trucks and 50 other vehicles to Syria to help transport toxins that are to be destroyed under an international agreement to rid the nation of its chemical arsenal, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Monday. Or in other words, Russia just sent Syria more than 75 military vehicles.
The notion that individual conviction and bravery is a #MassiveFail when compared to a machine gun nest seems obvious and trite to us today. Strangely enough, though, when it comes to prevalent notions of market behavior it feels like we’re still in 1936. What I mean is that there is still a dominant belief in individual decision-making as the most effective route to successful investing, that if we could just learn a little bit more about Company X or Sector Y we will win the day. Is your individual knowledge and conviction level in Company X important for investing success? Absolutely, in exactly the same way that physical and psychological bravery is important for war-fighting success. Still more important, though, is the strength and cohesion of the groups that share your investment philosophy. Not your specific investment opinions, any more than one soldier has the same amount and type of instantiated bravery as another soldier in his unit, but the coherence of investment goals and operational practices across your fellow market participants in a particular market segment.
Global monetary conditions remain easy and despite the Fed's decision to taper, peak monetary accommodation is not here yet.
While a military campaign against Syria (and Iran) on the usual grounds has been postponed indefinitely, two nations in the Middle East have been seething: Saudi Arabia and, of course, Israel. Yet while Saudi Arabia rarely if ever gets its own hands dirty, instead executing its geopolitcal strategy through puppet states in need of its oil, Israel has never had a problem with engaging in offensive wars. And now that the threat of an imminent war, one which would have been largely carried out on the back of the US military, is gone Israel is preparing to do just that. According to UPI, "Israeli generals are preparing for a decisive -- and probably brief -- war against Hezbollah, one of Israel's most implacable foes, with plans to smash the Iranian-backed Lebanese movement's military power, a study says. The Israelis' primary objective will be to eradicate Hezbollah's reputedly massive arsenal of missiles and rockets "for years to come," the report by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv said."
US equity markets were the first to move yesterday on the news of the tapering which is a loosening and not a tightening move by the Fed. Overnight and today has seen stocks stabilize as the rest of the world wakes up to what this slowing of flow actually means... From EM FX to precious metals to colossal flattening in the US Treasury term structure, things are making major moves...
All I can say with certainty is that stocks are in a dangerous position. They’ve been in one for a while now and the higher they go the more dangerous it becomes.
It’s like a futuristic film with hoards of evil masses of people, poverty-stricken, living off the land, while the rich and wealthy continue to lord it, served to their hearts content and just raking it in, while the others hardly get enough to eat and drink.
Could we have another bullish year in 2014? It is certainly possible as long as the Federal Reserve remains engaged in their ongoing balance sheet expansions. But maybe the ongoing inflation of assets, without the underlying improvement in organic, sustainable, economic growth, will eventually lead to the next market bubble and bust. Of course, for anyone that has payed attention, such an outcome would be of little surprise. The important point is that, as an investor, you need to pay attention to the ever decreasing reward/risk ratio of chasing the financial markets. The "low hanging fruit" has long been harvested and the risk currently far outweighs the potential reward of being aggressively invested. Of course, it is not popular, or fun, to rain on the bullish parade. However, while they will likely appear to be correct in the short term; the long term outcome will most likely be far less pleasant.
As a general rule, extreme economic decline is almost always followed by extreme international conflict. Sometimes, these disasters can be attributed to the human survival imperative and the desire to accumulate resources during crisis. But most often, war amid fiscal distress is usually a means for the political and financial elite to distract the masses away from their empty wallets and empty stomachs. War galvanizes societies, usually under false pretenses. We're not talking about superficial “police actions” or absurd crusades to “spread democracy” to Third World enclaves that don’t want it. No, we're talking about REAL war: war that threatens the fabric of a culture, war that tumbles violently across people’s doorsteps. The reality of near-total annihilation is what oligarchs use to avoid blame for economic distress while molding nations and populations. Because of the very predictable correlation between financial catastrophe and military conflagration, it makes quite a bit of sense for Americans today to be concerned.