Reuters

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Iraq Buys Massive 36 Tonnes Of Gold In March





The Central Bank of Iraq said it bought 36 tons of gold this month to help stabilise the Iraqi dinar against foreign currencies, according to a statement from the bank that was emailed this morning. It is very large in tonnage terms and Iraq’s purchases this month alone surpasses the entire demand of many large industrial nations in all of 2013. It surpasses the entire demand of large countries such as France, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Italy, Japan, the UK, Brazil and Mexico. Indeed, it is just below the entire gold demand of voracious Hong Kong for all of 2013 according to GFMS data (see chart).  Iraq had 27 tonnes of gold reserves at the end of 2013 according to the IMF data and thus Iraq has more than doubled their reserves with their allocations to gold this month. Gold remains less than 5% of their overall foreign exchange reserves showing that there is the possibility of further diversification into gold in the coming months. The governor of the Iraqi Central Bank, Abdel Basset Turki, told a news conference that, "the bank bought 36 tonnes of gold to boost reserves and this move is to strengthen the financial capacity of the country and increase the elements of security and insurance reserves of the Central Bank of Iraq." He added that "the central bank seeks through the purchase of large quantities of gold to stabilize the Iraqi dinar against foreign currencies.” Iraq quadrupled its gold holdings to 31.07 tonnes over the course of three months between August and October 2012, data from the International Monetary Fund shows.

 


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Frontrunning: March 25





  • Putin Threatened With More Sanctions as Russia Out of G-8 (BBG)
  • China Faces ‘Mini Crisis’ on Debt Defaults, Ex-PBOC Adviser Says (BBG)
  • Don't laugh too hard: Obama to propose ending NSA bulk collection of phone records (Reuters)
  • SEC Is Probing Dealings by Banks and Companies in Loan Securities (WSJ)
  • Japan GPIF asset review not aimed at supporting domestic stocks (Reuters)
  • Chinese families clash with police, slam Malaysia over lost plane (Reuters)
  • Russian Capital Flight Surges in First Quarter, Fueled by Ukraine Crisis (WSJ)
  • Democrats ditch Nate Silver after data whiz predicts dismal midterm outcome (DN)
  • China’s Urbanization Loses Momentum as Growth Slows (BBG)
 


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Stocks Levitate Into US Open In Yet Another "Deja Vu All Over Again" Moment





With another session in which US futures levitate into the open, despite a modest drop in the Nikkei225 (to be expected after the president of Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, the world’s largest pension fund, said that a review of asset allocations into stocks is not aimed at supporting domestic share prices) and an unchanged Shanghai Composite while the currency pair du jour, the USDCNY, closes higher despite tumbling in early trade (which also was to be expected after a former adviser to the People’s Bank of China said China is headed for a “mini crisis” in its local- government debt market as economic reforms lead to the first defaults) everyone is asking: will it be deja vu all over again, and after a solid ramp into 9:30 am, facilitated without doubt by the traditional Yen carry trade, will stocks roll over as first biotech and then all other bubble stocks are whacked? We will find out in just over two hours.

 


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“Do You Think That Because I’m CHAIRMAN of The Intelligence Committee That I Just Say “I Want It”, and They Give It To Me? ...





... They Control It. All Of It. ALL of It. ALL THE TIME. I Only Get – and My Committee Only Gets – What They WANT To Give Me.”

 


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Russia Is Slowly Turning The NatGas Tap Off To Europe





While Naftogaz (Ukraine's gas pipeline operator) states that all gas transportation from Russia to Europe is running normally, Bloomberg reports that Russian natgas exports to Europe are declining. Shipments are down over 4% from the prior week and also lower to Ukraine. This 'adjustment' follows increased sanctions by the West as Medvedev's notable statement this morning that Ukraine owes Russia $16bn. Furthermore, Gazprom has cut its Diesel output by the most in 7 months... and just to rub some Black Sea salt into the wound, NY Times reports that Russia's asking price for natgas to Europe is soaring.

 


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Venezuela Bolivar Devalues 89% in Start of New FX Market





Venezuela's exchange rate is a Gordian Knot of rules and regulations meant to baffle onlookers with bullshit and, we suspect, hide the hyperinflation from prying eyes just a little longer. Today's launch of SICAD II, a new currency market which allows the free-market to bid for USD (in Bolivars), appears to be an effort to provide liquidity to a black-market for dollars. SICAD II priced at 55 Bolivars today - an 88% devaluation from the official rate of 6.29.

 


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Russian Politician Suggests Dividing Ukraine Along Lines Of Nazi-Soviet Pact, Proposes West Ukraine Referendum





It has been a while since well-known Russian nationalist and spotlight-grabbing politician, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, made headlines. The recent flame up of Cold War 2.0 is precisely the cover the flamboyant individual needed to reemerge once more, scandalous as ever. Because while the west scrambles to find a way to punish Russia for openly flaunting its relentless hollow threats by annexing Crimea, Zhirinovsky is back and has a "modest proposal" for Ukraine, and the countries neighboring the troubled former USSR territory: namely dividing the country along the lines of an infamous Nazi-Soviet pact, suggesting that regions in Western Ukraine hold referendums on breaking away from Kiev. In a letter sent to the governments of Poland, Romania and Hungary, Vladimir Zhirinovsky also suggested those countries hold referendums on incorporating the regions into their territory. The question is whether Zhirinovsky, who traditionally has been just a bit of a loose cannon yet whose nationalist Liberal Democratic party largely backs President Vladimir Putin in the Russian parliament,speaks only for himself, or whether Putin is using him the way the Fed uses Hilsenrath.

 


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Russia Retaliates; Sanctions 13 Canadian Officials





With the list of high-ranking US officials running dry, it appears Russia has turned its attention, in the tit-for-tat sanction battle, to Canada. Following Canada's sanctions against 10 top Russian an Ukrainian officials last week, Russia has placed travel bans on 13 Canadian lawmakers and officials.

  • *RUSSIA SETS SANCTIONS AGAINST 13 CANADIANS IN RETALIATORY STEP

The list includes aides to PM Harper and the head of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, and is, according to Russia's foreign minister, a response to the "unacceptable action by the Canadian side that has inflicted serious damage to bilateral relations."

 


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Russian Bank Impacted By US Sanctions Hit By Mini Bank Run Over The Weekend





Last week, after western sanctions against Russia expanded to include not only the first financial institution, Bank Rosiya, but also SMP bank whose main shareholders were on the sanctions list, unexpectedly both Visa and MasterCard halted providing transaction services to the two banks, without providing an explanation. Over the weekend, one of the banks got its full credit card functionality back after Visa Inc and MasterCard both resumed services for payment transactions for clients at Russia's SMP bank. What was the purpose of this escalation? Simple: as Reuters reports, SMP Bank said on Monday around 9 billion roubles ($248 million) had been withdrawn by depositors since U.S. sanctions were announced last week. Washington imposed sanctions on Thursday against 20 Russians close to President Vladimir Putin over Moscow's involvement in the Ukraine crisis, including Boris Rotenberg and his older brother Arkady, the co-owners of SMP Bank. SMP CEO Dmitry Kalantyrsky told a news conference that an estimated 4 billion roubles had been withdrawn by individuals and 5 billion by organisations. In other words, the staggered escalations against Russian banks, to which credit card processors have joined without any specific reason, were meant solely to incite a bank panic and to promote bank run conditions. With SMP this succeeded partially, with quarter of a billion withdrawn, however hardly enough to cripple the bank. At least for now.

 


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Futures Rise As More Weak Chinese Data Prompts More Stimulus Hopes





If there was one thing that the market was demanding after last night's disappointing March HSBC manufacturing PMI, which has now fallen so low, local market participants are convinced a stimulus is imminent (despite China's own warnings not to expect this), and sent both the SHCOMP and the CNY surging, it would have been further weak data out of Europe, where the other possible, if not probable, "QE-stimulus" bank is located now that the Fed is in full taper mode. It didn't get precisely that however there was a step in the right direction when overnight the Euro area Composite Flash PMI eased marginally from 53.3 to 53.2 in March, largely as expected. The country breakdown showed a narrowing of the Germany/France Composite PMI gap owing to a notable (3.7pt) increase in the French PMI while the German PMI eased somewhat (1.4pt). On the basis of past correlations, a Euro area Composite PMI of 53.2 is consistent with GDP growth of around +0.4%qoq, slightly stronger than our Current Activity Indicator (+0.35%qoq).

 


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Frontrunning: March 24





  • U.S. Small-Cap Rally Sends Valuation 26% Above 1990s  (BBG)
  • Russian troops seize Ukraine marine base in Crimea (Reuters)
  • Apple in Talks With Comcast About Streaming-TV Service (WSJ)
  • Top J.P. Morgan Executive in China to Leave Bank (WSJ)
  • Treasury's Lew to undergo treatment for enlarged prostate (Reuters)
  • Billionaire Sought by U.S. Holds Key to Putin Gas Cash  (BBG)
  • Israel closes embassies around the world as diplomats strike (Reuters)
  • Herbalife to Nominate Three More Icahn Candidates to Board (BBG)
  • Australian ship homes in on possible debris from Malaysia plane (Reuters)
  • California DMV Investigating Potential Credit Card Breach (WSJ)
 


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Spanish 'Anti-Austerity' Protesters "Sick Of This System They Call Democracy"





"I'm here to fight for my children's future," exclaims one father as Spaniards rallied in Madrid against poverty and EU-imposed austerity. As Reuters reports, the largely peaceful protest later marred by violent clashes in which police fired rubber bullets. The so-called "Dignity Marches" brought hundreds of thousands to the capital with banners making it clear what their feelings about record 26% unemployment were - "Bread, jobs and housing for everyone" and "Corruption and robbery, Spain's trademark." One protester summed up the people's views of the government, "I'm sick of this system they call democracy... I want things to change."

 


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Turkish F-16 Shoots Down Syrian Plane, Caught On Live Video





In the aftermath of what appears a tenuous detente over the Crimea while Putin plans his next step of how to "merge" with east Ukraine as he sets off to rebuild the USSR, Syria just may be set to regain its place at the top of the global geopolitical risk pyramid. Case in point, early this morning, the fragile ceasefire between Syria and Turkey was shatered after a Turkish F- 16 shot down a Syrian plane on Sunday after it crossed into Turkish air space in a border region where Syrian rebels have been battling President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

 

 


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Feds Probe GM Over Ignition Problem Bankruptcy Fraud





Not only is GM facing record high inventories of slow-to-sell cars and the recall of million sof its cars (and a sale halt), Reuters reports that the terrible ignition switch problem - that has caused 13 deaths - may have been known about (and not disclosed) prior to the bankruptcy (and subsequent taxpayer bailout). The Justic Department is investigating whether GM understated (or hid) the information from regulators and committed bankruptcy fraud.

 


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Russian Forces Storm Crimean Military Base In Belbek - Live Webcast





As we reported earlier, while Ukraine military forces are either slowly leaving the Crimea or joining the Russian army, one outpost, that at the Crimean airforce base of Belbek, remains undaunted by Russian demands to hand over the premises as the Russian ultimatum to surrender has expired, and moments ago wire services reported that shots were fired as Russian forces stormed the front gate of the Crimean outpost. Watch a live webcast from the scene below as the Russian force take control of the last place of presence of Ukraine forces in the Crimea.

 


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