The U.S. government and the Russian government have both been forced into positions where neither one of them can afford to back down. If Barack Obama backs down, he will be greatly criticized for being "weak" and for having been beaten by Vladimir Putin once again. If Putin backs down, he will be greatly criticized for being "weak" and for abandoning the Russians that live in Crimea. In essence, Obama and Putin find themselves trapped in a macho game of "chicken" and critics on both sides stand ready to pounce on the one who backs down. But this is not just an innocent game of "chicken" from a fifties movie. This is the real deal, and if nobody backs down the entire world will pay the price.
- Spot the inaccuracies: Stocks rise on Ukraine diplomacy, ECB easing speculation (Reuters)
- Bank of England Extends Record-Low Rates Into a Sixth Year (BBG)
- China's Chaori Solar poised for landmark bond default (Reuters), explained here previously
- EU leaders meet in Brussels to address Ukraine crisis (FT)
- Nine-month-old baby may have been cured of HIV, U.S. scientists say (Reuters)
- China Raises Defense Spending 12.2% for 2014 (WSJ)
- China Stock Index Rises as Developers Jump on Policy Speculation (BBG)
- VTB Cancels New York Forum as U.S. Relations Sour (BBG)
- IBM workers strike in China over terms of Lenovo takeover (FT)
- College Board Redesigns SAT Exam Making Essay Portion Optional (BBG)
General Keith Alexander, who has furiously denounced the Snowden revelations, said at a Tuesday cybersecurity panel that unspecified “headway” on what he termed “media leaks” was forthcoming in the next several weeks, possibly to include “media leaks legislation.” Alexander genuinely thinks that intelligence officials know best, and should not be subject to any sort of accountability. You don’t need to be a card-carrying member of the ACLU to see how dangerous this perspective is. To endorse this notion that “journalists have no standing when it comes to national security issues,” is to effectively make illegal one of the most important free speech rights in any democracy. This sort of attitude represents the antithesis of American values.
"Hello there citizen! I hope you are enjoying your day. I also hope you are enjoying your freedom from oppression that our kind, benevolent government provides. As a former lead bureaucrat in the Obama Administration, let me assure you, Washington is working around the clock to protect you and add fulfillment to your life..."
In what is becoming an epic embarrassment, the WSJ reports that the Obama administration announced today that consumers can keep insurance plans that don't comply with the federal health law for another two years, pushing a potential firestorm over cancellations and broken promises that "you can keep your health plan". As The Hill adds, the unprecedented move will protect vulnerable Democrats in the midterm elections by staving off a wave of cancellation notices and for some consumers, rather stunningly, Obamacare will not be in place for all Americans when President Obama leaves office. Sickeningly, the administration explicitly gave cover to 13 vulnerable Democratic lawmakers by saying the extension was developed in “close consultation” with those members.
With the world still on edge over developments in the Ukraine, overnight newsflow was far less dramatic than yesterday, with no "bombshell" uttered at today's Putin press conferences in which he said nothing new and simply reiterated the party line and yet the market saw it as a full abdication, he did have some soundbites saying Russia should keep economic issues separate from politics, and that Russia should cooperate with all partners on Ukraine. Elsewhere Gazprom kept the heat on, or rather off, saying Ukraine recently paid $10 million of its nat gas debt, but that for February alone Ukraine owes $440 million for gas, which Ukraine has informed Gazprom it can't pay in full. Adding the overdue amounts for prior months, means Ukraine's current payable on gas is nearly $2 billion. Which is why almost concurrently Barosso announced that Europe would offer €1.6 billion in loans as part of EU package, which however is condition on striking a deal with the IMF (thank you US taxpayers), and that total aid could be as large as $15 billion, once again offloading the bulk of the obligations to the IMF. And so one more country joins the Troika bailout routine, and this one isn't even in the Eurozone, or the EU.
With the world distracted by Putin and ICBM launches, The White House, according to the WSJ, is about to extend Obamacare deadlines by another year:
*U.S. MAY GRANT 1-YR EXTENSION ON HEALTH LAW REQUIREMENTS: WSJ
*WSJ CITES INDUSTRY OFFICIAL ON INSURANCE COS., HEALTH CARE LAW
Allowing insurers to keep selling policies that do not meet standards for another year. It seems, if you like your healthcare policy, you can keep it for one more year... (most importantly past the Midterms)
- No need to use military force in Ukraine for now: Putin (Reuters)
- Russia Orders Drill Troops Back to Bases (WSJ)
- Ukraine premier agrees to reforms for aid package (FT)
- Japan Base Wages Rise for First Time in Nearly Two Years (WSJ)
- Only the algos are trading: Citigroup Joins JPMorgan in Seeing Trading-Revenue Drop (BBG)
- Vietnam sends blogger to prison for critical posts (AP)
- At White House, Israel's Netanyahu pushes back against Obama diplomacy (Reuters)
- Obama to offer new tax breaks for workers in election year budget pitch (Reuters)
- China Banks Show Too-Connected-to-Fail Link to Shadow Loans (BBG)
- Ex-BOK Deputy Lee Named to Head South Korea Central Bank (BBG)
- No mortgage origination problem in the UK: Mortgage approvals climb to six year high (Telegraph)
As the big questions surrounding the future of the Ukraine crisis persist, the countries neighboring the former communist nation, and especially the Baltic states which are members of NATO, are asking for safeguards should Russian ambitions end up just a little too big to be contained solely by the Ukraine. As a result, the WSJ reports, they are considering calling for a greater North Atlantic Treaty Organization presence in their countries “if the situation gets worse” in the Ukraine, Ojars Kalnins, the chairman of the foreign-affairs committee of the Latvian parliament, said Monday. Mr. Kalnins said that a worsening of the Ukraine crisis “such as an outright invasion” of areas outside Crimea would present a threat to all of Russia’s neighbors, including the Baltic states–which are members of NATO. Such an expanded conflict should be reason for NATO to “bring extra military support to the Baltic region as a safeguard.”
According to the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank supported by organized labor, the answer to generating up to 6 million more jobs is as simple as ending global currency manipulation. But not in the sense of ramping USDJPY or AUDUSD at key market inflection points which mostly benefits such FX-rigging chatrooms as "the Cartel", no: they are thinking more big picture, in the "central bank manipulation sense." The report says that "several foreign countries devalue their currencies to make their products cheaper, making it difficult for U.S. manufacturers to compete, the report said." In essence what the group suggests is that the US currency is overvalued relative to the rest of the world, and that by "realigning exchange rates, U.S. trade deficits would be reduced by up to $500 billion per year by 2015. Such a move would increase U.S. gross domestic product by up to $720 billion per year and create up to 5.8 million jobs, the report said." Said otherwise: stop foreign currency manipulation, but allow and encourage the US to keep pushing its own currency even lower.
- 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)
When a hypertotalitarian banana republic takes another turn for the gigasurreal, even Elon Musk is speechless.
Listening to the media gleefully hype the numerous construction flaws and rumors of corruption at the Sochi Olympics, we couldn't help thinking that Americans in general have no clue about Russia. Here are some of the similarities and differences... "Russia is rising. Maybe we can give her a high five on our way down. Instead of criticizing others, look in the mirror America."
This was one of the all too real Bloomberg headlines posted overnight: "Asian Shares Rally as U.S. Manufacturing Data Beats Estimates." Odd: are they refering to the crashing Philly Fed, or the just as crashing Empire Fed data? Wait, it was the C-grade MarkIt PMI that nobody ever looks at, except to confirm that where everyone else sees snow, the PMI saw sunshine and growth. Remember: if the data is weak, it's the snow; if it's strong, it's the recovery. Odder still: one would think Asian shares care about manufacturing data of, say, China. Which happens to be in Asia, and which two nights ago crashed to the lowest in months. Or maybe that only impact the SHCOMP which dropped 1.2% while all other regional markets simply do what the US and Japan do - follow the USDJPY, which at one point overnight rose as high as 102.600, and brought futures to within inches of their all time closing high. Sadly, it is this that passes for "fundamental" analysis in this broken market new normal...
Last week, we highlighted the fact that the latest Press Freedom Index showcased a 13 point plunge in America’s press freedom to an embarrassing #46 position in the global ranking. If the authoritarians in the Obama Administration have their way, this country is set to fall much further in next year’s index. Incredibly, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to roll out something called the Critical Information Needs study, which will embed government “researchers” into media organizations around the nation to make sure they are doing their job properly. No this isn’t “conspiracy theory.” It is so real, and represents such a threat to the First Amendment, that a current FCC commissioner, Ajit Pai, recently wrote an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal, warning Americans of this scheme.