Margaret Macmillan recently warned there are dangerous parallels between the year WWI broke out and today. Pivoting off the well-know Mark Twain adage that history does not repeat itself, but does rhyme, Macmillan suggests that the one-hundredth anniversary of World War I encourages us to reflect on the “valuable warnings” of the past. The actual and potential conflicts in the year ahead are many, and some of the same structural forces that lead to the Great War a century ago will be prevalent in 2014.
We warned last week of the rising nationalism and concerns about Abe's intentions and this evening the escalating tensions in the East China Sea are clear once again. In an effort to "normalize" an officially 'pacifist' policy, a hawkish Abe announced that Japan has tonight increased its military budget notably to buy drones, amphibious vehicles, submarines, and vertical take-off aircraft to boost defenses around the remote Senkaku islands. It seems the farce is getting more surreal as Japan also considers obtaining the means to counter ballistic missiles the point of launch. Why go to war and risk it all by printing and deficit spending your country into oblivion for a 'purpose' when you can do it without spilling a drop of blood?
Overnight rhetoric in Asia became increasingly heated when China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed "strong dissastisfaction" at the slanderous actions of Abe's Japanese government over the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and the "theft and embezzlement" of the Diaoyu Islands. "Japan's attempt is doomed to failure," China warned ominously and as we highlight below, a reflection on the possible rational reasons for China and Japan to go to war over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands highlights the seriousness of the ongoing brinksmanship in the East China Sea. If a war is fought over these long-contested islands, it will have an eminently rational explanation underlying all the historical mistrust and nationalism on the surface. War in the East China Sea is possible, despite the economic costs.
One of the singular best investment strategies is to buy assets/asset classes which are most reviled by investors. Right now, junior gold miners fit the bill.
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.
As fear and nationalism rise in Japan (and Abe's grip on the people founders amid falling approval ratings and underperforming economic indicators such as GDP tonight), so another party has joined the debacle in the East China Sea. As NHK World reports, South Korea has officially announced that it will expand its air defense identification zone, making it partially overlap those of Japan and China. The game of chicken over small islands (and submerged rocks!) in the middle of nowhere continues...
Following China's unveiling of its air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, overlapping a large expanse of territory also claimed by Japan, the Japanese media has, as The Japan Times reports, had a dramatically visceral reaction on the various scenarios of a shooting war. From Sunday Mainichi's "Sino-Japanese war to break out in January," to Flash's "Simulated breakout of war over the Senkakus," the nationalism (that Kyle Bass so notably commented on) is rising. Which side, wonders Shukan Gendai ominously, will respond to a provocation by pulling the trigger? The game of chicken between two great superpowers is about to begin has begun.
"There are going to be consequences to central bank balance sheet expansion all over the world," Kyle Bass tells Steven Drobny in his new book, The New House of Money, adding "It’s a beggar-thy-neighbor policy, but everyone is beggaring thy neighbor." The Texan remains concerned at QE's effects on wealth inequality and worries that "at some point this is going to ignite and set cost pressures off." While Gold-in-JPY is his recommended trade for non-clients, his hugely convex trades on Japan's eventual collapse remain as he explains the endgame for his thesis, "won't buy back until JPY is at 350," and fears "the logical conclusion is war."
This is a macro global trend well underway and I don't see anything in the cards stopping it.
Here’s the crucial part of what Summers and Krugman are saying: this is not a temporary gig. This isn’t going to just “get better” on its own over time. This really is, as Mohamed El-Erian of PIMCO would call it, the New Normal. And if you’re Jeremy Grantham or anyone for whom a stock has meaning as a fractional ownership stake in a real-world company rather than as a casino chip that gives you “market exposure” … well, that’s really bad news... Just don’t kid yourself into thinking that your deep dive into the value fundamentals of some large-cap bank has any predictive value whatsoever for the bank’s stock price, or that a return to the happy days of yesteryear is just around the corner. It doesn’t and it’s not, and even if you’re making money you’re going to be miserable and ornery while you wait nostalgically for what you do and what you’re good at to matter again. Spoiler Alert: Godot never shows up.
The following five themes (and three bonus ones) are what UBS Andrew Cates believes will be of the greatest importance for global economic and capital markets outcomes for the next five years. There is little to surprise here but the aggregation of these factors and the increasingly binary outcomes of each of them suggest there may be a little more uncertainty about the future than most people sheepishly admit...
Attracting some attention in Russian media today is proposed legislation by State Duma lawmaker Mikhail Degtyaryov of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's controversial Liberal Democratic Party and former candidate for mayor of Moscow (where he got 2.86% of the vote), who seeks to ban dollar deposits and transactions at Russian banks warning that the U.S. dollar is on the brink of collapse. As Moscow Times reports, "Mikhail Degtyaryov said the dollar will collapse in 2017 if U.S. national debt continues to grow at the current rate, and he cautioned that countries with a high dependence on the currency would suffer an economic disaster... In light of this, the fact that confidence in the dollar is growing among Russian citizens is extremely dangerous," he said in an explanatory note attached to the bill, according to Interfax. But before anyone scrambles to convert all their dollars into crisp rubles, keep in mind this is the same candidate who previously proposed banning gay and bisexual men from donating blood, paid days off for menstruating women, and has said he believes Russia will lead the world in vanquishing the Antichrist.
Every now and then, it is good to refresh knowledge of what is truly important in life. So it’s time to post “The Greatest Speech Ever” by Charlie Chaplin. Charlie Chaplin was known as the greatest silent actor ever. The most powerful excerpts from his speech, still very relevant today, in my opinion, are below:
An inept Indian government is attempting to use the age old tactic of scapegoating in order to deflect attention away from its widespread policy failures. In the case of India, the target is gold. It’s a logical target for any crony Indian bureaucrat or Central Banker to go after. Wealth confiscation is a tried and true method historically used by corrupt elites to stay in power, and there is plenty of gold floating around the subcontinent. Easy pickings... or so they thought. It appears some of the temples are now drawing a line in the sand, and are in fact refusing to provide details about their holdings...
- U.S., Russia to push for new Syria peace talks (Reuters)
- Elite Syrian Unit Scatters Chemical Arms Stockpile (WSJ)
- Obama to nominate Summers as Fed chief: Nikkei (Reuters)
- Boehner Wants Joint Talks on Debt, Budget (WSJ)
- House Republicans go for broke in fiscal battles (Reuters)
- Pimco, BlackRock Together Received More Than a Quarter of Verizon's $49 Billion Bond Deal (WSJ)
- Insane financial system lives post-Lehman (Gillian Tett)
- JPM to add $2.5 billion to its litigation reserves in the second half of the year (WSJ)
- Goldman’s Zurich offices visited over working-hours complaint (FT)