Skirmishes in the South China Sea lead to full-scale naval confrontation. Israel bombs Iran, setting off an escalation of violence across the Middle East. Nigeria crumbles as oil prices fall and radicals gain strength. Bloomberg News asked foreign policy analysts, military experts, economists and investors to identify the possible worst-case scenarios, based on current global conflicts, that concern them most heading into 2015.
I realise that it is not normal to have a bearish risk view for December through to mid-January. Normally markets tend to ramp up in December and early January before selling off later in January. But this year I do think things are different. One look at the moves in core bond markets over 2014, when almost everyone I talked to had been bearish bonds, paints a stunning picture. I would entitle this picture ‘The Victory of Deflation’, or (as many folks now talk about (but still generally dismiss)) ‘The Japanification of the World’. I may end up eating my words in 2015 if the US consumer does come through, but if he or she does not, then we may well need QE4 from the Fed to battle the incredibly strong headwinds of deflation around the world. And I will revert on this subject, but to me the coming ECB QE and more BOJ QE are woefully inadequate substitutes for USD Fed QE.
Dubai's Financial Market General Index is now down 40% since the peak in oil prices in June this year. For now, only Qatar is clinging to gains year-to-date as the rest of the Middle Eastern equity markets give up 30-60% gains from mid-year and tumble to negative. Dubai and Abu Dhabi alone are down over 8% since Friday. Saudi Arabia is down 7.3% today - the biggest drop in 6 years.
Slowing the rebalancing and creating further downside risk is a very strong consensus view that this pull back is temporary and that oil prices will quickly rebound as they did in 2009. According to a recent Bloomberg survey, the median WTI forecast for 2016 is $86/bbl (even we forecast it going back to $80/bbl). All of these forecasts are based upon now outdated cost data that is shifting as fast as the price. It is precisely this strong view for a rebound in prices and the behavior it creates, that not only suggests that oil prices can go lower for longer, but also that the new normal is far lower than we thought just one month ago. Instead of optimizing against a lower price environment, many oil producers are trying to position themselves for the rebound in prices
After the worst week for stocks in years, and following a significantly oversold condition, it will hardly come as a surprise that the mean reversion algos (if only to the upside), as well as the markets themselves (derivative trading on the NYSE Euronext decided to break early this morning just to give some more comfort that excessive selling would not be tolerated) are doing all they can to ramp equities around the globe, and futures in the US as high as possible on as little as possible volume. And sure enough, having traded with a modestly bullish bias overnight and rising back over 2000, the E-Mini has seen the now traditional low volume spike in the last few minutes, pushing it up over 15 points with the expectation being that the generic algo ramp in USDJPY ahead of the US open should allow futures to begin today's regular session solidly in the green, even if it is unclear if the modest rebound in the dollar and crude will sustain, or - like on every day in the past week - roll over quickly after the open. Also, we hope someone at Liberty 33 tells the 10Y that futures are soaring: at 2.13% the 10Y is pricing in nothing but bad economic news as far as the eye can see.
Has too much bearish sentiment been priced in too fast in the price of oil?
Following Friday's US weakness and UAE's hint that $40 oil is coming next, the crude carnage continues as Middle East markets are crashing. As WSJ reports, the bearish direction of oil prices again spooked investors in Dubai where the DFM General Index finished down 7.6%, extending Thursday’s 7.4% rout. The bloodbath extended across the entire region with Abu Dhabi down 3.6%, Qatar slid 5.9%, Kuwait fell 2.9%, and Saudi Arabia’s market, the largest bourse in the region, retreated 3.3%. As one analyst warned, "the severity of this decline could very well be explained by investors covering margin calls as leverage was used on the way up over the past year."
This weekend's reading list is a collection of articles discussing the good, the bad and the ugly of the dive in crude oil prices.
- Shale operaters Goodrich, Oasis Petroleum cut spending for 2015 as oil slides (Reuters)
- Greece to hold elections in January if president vote fails (Reuters)
- Norway’s Shock Rate Cut Drives Krone to Lowest Since 2009 (BBG)
- ‘Severe Downturn’ Threatening Norway, Central Bank Governor Says (BBG)
- Russia’s Fifth Rate Increase Fails to Halt Ruble Slide to Record (BBG)
- SNB Says Deflation Risks Increased as Franc Cap Maintained (BBG)
- China eases bank lending restrictions, PBOC targets 10 trillion yuan in loans for 2014 (Reuters)
- Mobius Says China’s Bull Market Is Just Getting Started (BBG)
- How Wal-Mart Made Its Crumbling China Business Look So Good for So Long (BBG)
- New Normal headlines: Global stocks up on hopes of China policy easing (Reuters)
- China inflation eases to five-year low (BBC)
- U.S. Lawmakers Agree on $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill (WSJ)
- U.S. Braced for Blowback as CIA Report Lays Bare Abuses (BBG)
- CIA tortured, misled, U.S. report finds, drawing calls for action (Reuters)
- CIA Made False Claims Torture Prevented Heathrow Attacks (BBG)
- Oil Resumes Drop as Iran Sees $40 If There’s OPEC Discord (BBG)
- OPEC Says 2015 Demand for Its Crude Will Be Weakest in 12 Years (BBG)
- Greek yield curve inverted as politics raise default fears (Reuters)
If the US has become the undisputed world leader in sending non-lethal "military advisors" to the middle east, then Russia is learning fast, and as Interfax just reported, the head of the Russian Armed Forces chief of staff Gerasimov just confirmed that Russian "military specialists" are now working in the Donetsk region, although not to support the separatist army, but to promote "conflict de-escalation." One just has to admire politically correct war talk. But the punchline, from both Interfax and Bloomberg which also just reported this news, is that Russia is doing so at the "request of Ukraine's head of general staff." In other words, Ukraine actually invited the Russians.
Europe's banks are vulnerable in 2015 due to weak macroeconomic conditions, unfinished regulatory hurdles and the risk of bail-ins according to credit rating agencies ... Oh what a tangled web, we weave ...
Not long ago, we wrote Ten Reasons Why High Oil Prices are a Problem. If high oil prices can be a problem, how can low oil prices also be a problem? In particular, how can the steep drop in oil prices we have recently been experiencing also be a problem? In our view, a rapid drop in oil prices is likely a symptom that we are approaching a debt-related collapse. Underlying this debt-related collapse is the fact that we seem to be reaching the limits of a finite world. There is a growing mismatch between what workers in oil importing countries can afford, and the rising real costs of extraction, including associated governmental costs. This has been covered up to date by rising debt, but at some point, it will not be possible to keep increasing the debt sufficiently. At some point the debt situation will eventually reach a breaking point.
Without doubt, the most memorable line from the latest quarterly report by the BIS, one which shows how shocked even the central banks' central bank is with how perverted and broken the "market" has become is the following: "The highly abnormal is becoming uncomfortably normal.... There is something vaguely troubling when the unthinkable becomes routine." Overnight, "markets" did all in their (central banks') power to justify the BIS' amazement, when first the Nikkei closed green following another shocker of Japanese econ data, when it was revealed that the quadruple-dip recession was even worse than expected, and then the Shanghai composite soaring over 3000 or up 2.8% for the session, following news of the worst trade data - whether completely fabricated or not - out of China in over half a year.
"This small group of horrible people are willing to put the world on the line so their lineage can continue to rule the world while the rest of us struggle to simply stop the financial bleeding that has become a 15 year epidemic. This all sounds like the stuff of fiction novels but unfortunately the facts tell us this is all too real. What is hard for me to believe is that we so readily ignore and deny the most essential lessons of history. Perhaps the foremost being that the political class will always be willing to sacrifice the working class in order to retain its power."