Scrape away the media sensationalism and geopolitical posturing and it boils down to a simple dynamic: follow the energy.
UPDATE: EU is suggesting it will help Ukraine pay its $2bn Russian gas bill (to keep its spice flowing)
The question many are asking this morning is what is the iron-first of Putin thinking? With his "military exercise" over, does he believe it enough to have shown the world his potential for disruption? We suspect another reason may have been weighing on his mind. As we noted previously, Europe accounts for around a third of Gazprom's total gas sales, and around half of Russia's total budget revenue comes from oil and gas... and whatever Putin's geo-political ambitions, we suspect he did not want to jeopardize that source of revenue - no matter how much sabre-rattling and Gazprom-fear-mongering. As the following chart shows, Europe should be sighing a huge relief this morning - but remain cognizant that this, we suspect, is far from over.
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 had previously warned that Putin's "trump card" had yet to be played and with Obama (and a quickly dropping list of allies) preparing economic sanctions (given their limited escalation options otherwise), it was only a matter of time before the pressure was once again applied from the Russian side. As ITAR-TASS reports, Russia's Gazprom warned that not only could it cancel its "supply discount" as Ukraine's overdue payments reached $1.5 billion but that "simmering political tensions in Ukraine, that are aggravated by inadequate economic conditions, may cause disruptions of gas supplies to Europe." And with that one sentence, Europe will awaken to grave concerns over Russia's next steps should sanctions be applied.
Having explained the Ukraine "situation" in one map, it appears the inter-connectedness of Ukraine and Russia is becoming any increasingly problematic part of the current crisis. As Reuters reports, absent Russian gas, Ukraine's natural gas stocks can meet just 4 months of demand. The modest silver-lining is that the stocks are generally in the west of the country (away from potential Russian intervention) but it bears noting that Ukraine meets around half its gas demand through Russian imports (and Russia has cut supplies in the past). The situatio is not just energy though as Bloomberg notes, that Ukraine relies on Russia for about 30 percent of its global trade activity, compared with Russia’s 6 percent dependency on Ukraine. However, Ukraine has another big problem - while it would like $3bn in IMF loans, that will not even cover interest and principal payments through June...
It’s Not Our Fight
The technicals break with the news!
U.K. natural gas jumped the most in more than 16 months and was 2.3% higher to $4.72 on supply concerns. Wheat and corn surged 4.3% and 3.3% respectively, also on supply concerns. Should relations between Russia and Western nations deteriorate further, it will have consequences for already vulnerable economies and lead to increased safe haven demand.
For those who follow folksy Uncle Warren, here is the breakdown of Berkshire's Q4 and full year results, as well as his latest letter to investors.
- Yuan suffers biggest weekly loss as PBOC punishes speculators (Reuters)
- Euro Gains as Bonds Decline With Stocks on Inflation Data (BBG)
- Biggest Sovereign Fund Forced to Sell Stocks as Mandate Breached (BBG)
- Because we don't already have enough fried foods.. (Reuters)
- Putin: Russia to Consider Aid to Ukraine (AP)
- Wall Street Hates JPMorgan Fee for $1 Trillion Junk Loans (BBG)
- Yellen Sticks to Plan Amid Weather Doubts (WSJ)
- U.S. Retail Chains See First Profit Decline Since Recession (BBG)
It doesn't take any special insight into the situation in Ukraine to conclude that no one narrative illuminates all the dynamics. Various contesting Grand Narratives have emerged in the media--neofascist coup, rampant corruption, east versus west, to name a few--but these only describe a few of the regional fault lines and complexities... I describe the U.S. Deep State as the National Security State which enables a vast Imperial structure that incorporates hard and soft power--military, diplomatic, intelligence, finance, commercial, energy, media, higher education--in a system of global domination and influence. One key feature of the Deep State everywhere is that it makes decisions behind closed doors and the surface government simply ratifies and implements the decisions. I have covered various aspects of geopolitics and the Deep State for years, for example:
- European Bonds Surge on Slowing German Inflation, Ukraine Tumult (BBG)
- Ukraine tensions hit shares (Reuters)
- Debating Geithner’s Appearances in 2008 Transcripts (Hilsenrath)
- Tensions in Asia Stoke Rising Nationalism in Japan (WSJ)
- GM Investigated Over Ignition Recall Linked to 13 Deaths (BBG)
- Smartphone wars shift from gadgetry to price (Reuters)
- Some Companies Alter the Bonus Playbook (WSJ)
- London’s Subterranean Luxury Manors Lure New Breed of Lenders (BBG)
- Japan No Country for Old Farmers as 7-Eleven Takes Plow (BBG)
- Dream of U.S. Oil Independence Slams Against Shale Costs (BBG)
While BofAML's Macneil Curry is a long-term bull on Natural Gas (with expectations of a push to $7.33 and on to $7.80), he warns, for now, its' time to move to the sidelines as a medium-term top is at hand...
- Ukraine Seeks $35 Billion as Yanukovych Warrant Is Issued (BBG)
- Ukraine's fugitive president wanted for mass murder (Reuters)
- Polar Vortex to Bring More Snow on Return to U.S. This Week (BBG)
- China property prices continue to rise (FT)
- Microsoft Said to Cut Windows Price 70% to Counter Rivals (BBG)
- Pentagon to propose shrinking Army, scrapping some jets (Reuters)
- Hedge Funds Turn Bearish on S&P 500 as VIX Advances (BBG)
- Draghi’s Data Jigsaw Takes Shape as ECB Readies Showdown (BBG)
- China, eyeing Japan, seeks WW2 focus for Xi during Germany visit (Reuters)
The bad feelings concerning Russia run deep in the Western parts of Ukraine (as they topple statues of Lenin in growing numbers) while in the East they see themselves much more as Russians. These feelings run very deep in the region and memories do not fade so easily as the mayor and police chief of Kerch vigorously defend the Ukrainian flag in the clip below - deep in the eastern Crimea region (that Russia has already suggested it is willing to go to war over). Russian President Vladimir Putin has now been placed in a very difficult position, as Martin Armstrong notes, the entire set of circumstances creates the image of events in Ukraine that have diminished the power of Russia, which is a matter of pride and the only stable resolution remains a split along the language faultline. The critical question then is - will Putin let it go?