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.
Global gold prices may have been manipulated on 50% of occasions between January 2010 and December 2013, according to analysis by Fideres, a consultancy. Pension funds, hedge funds, commodity trading advisers, futures traders and ordinary investors are likely to have suffered losses as a result. Many of these groups were "definitely ready" to file lawsuits.
Several hours ago, and a day after the latest truce lasted about a few minutes before the the shooting returned and resulted in the bloodiest day of Ukraine's protests so far, there was hope that the situation in Ukraine may finally be getting resolved, when Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovich announced plans for early elections in a series of concessions to his pro-European opponents. As Reuters reported earlier, Russian-backed Yanukovich, under pressure to quit from mass demonstrations in central Kiev, promised a national unity government and constitutional change to reduce his powers, as well as the presidential polls. He made the announcement in a statement on the presidential website without waiting for a signed agreement with opposition leaders after at least 77 people were killed in the worst violence since Ukraine became independent 22 years ago. This comes in the aftermath of S&P's announcement overnight that the Ukraine will default in absence of favorable changes.
So is this the favorable change that everyone has been expecting. Nope.
Argentina is a country re-entering crisis territory it knows too well. The country has defaulted on its sovereign debt three times in the past 32 years and looks poised to do so again soon. Its currency, the peso, devalued by more than 20% in January alone. Inflation is currently running at 25%. Argentina's budget deficit is exploding, and, based on credit default swap rates, the market is placing an 85% chance of a sovereign default within the next five years. Want to know what it's like living through a currency collapse? Argentina is providing us with a real-time window.
Following yesterday's early morning surge when gold jumped $30 from the low $1230, on news that India may relax its gold capital controls, today's sharp spike follow through is more a function of ongoing emerging market currency devaluation and overall risk-offness hitting equities around the globe. And with Bitcoin going nowhere even as both Turkey and Argentina continue to turmoil, it means there is only one good old faithful fiat-alternative - the barbarous relic. Sure enough, at last check, gold was trading north of $1270, back to levels last seen in November, and one sovereign default away from soaring a few hundred fiat equivalents higher. And since all hopes now rest on more BOJ easing (or else watch out below), and more of the same pent up inflation, we may have seen recent lows in gold for quite some time, especially with Gartman once again openly "hating" gold.
The whole fulcrum of the bloated American state is beyond ready for a radical deconstruction. The same goes for most nation-states in the West. The continual borrowing, serviced indiscreetly by an accommodating central bank, has made an entirety of the populace fat and happy off of debt. This is no realistic method for operating any institution. Something has to give eventually. Any conservative who places high value on civil society over the intrusion of government should balk at the prospect of a higher debt load. It makes certain that the ruling political class will not cease in their effort to infiltrate private life. Unfortunately it appears as if some otherwise sharp minds have fallen prey to the liberal device of alarmism.
In and of itself, the government shutdown appears to be a limited market event. The indirect effect, however, is on the other main risk scenario for markets – the deal on the debt ceiling (which will need to be in place before October 17). An increase in the probability of breaching the debt ceiling would likely be destabilizing for the market. For one, the effect on growth will be far larger – our economists estimate that it would imply an immediate cut in spending equal to 4.2% of GDP (4Q average of the fiscal deficit). Second, it would raise the risk of a US sovereign default because the Treasury does not believe it has the authority to prioritize interest payments above other obligations. As such, with markets firmly focused on US fiscal matters - so where to from here?
No, we are not talking the stock market reaction, which is driven purely by trillions in excess global, fungible liquidity sloshing around and as a result stocks are up on government shutdown day in a complete mockery of, well, everything. Instead, this is what Wall Street sellside strategists believe will be the impact of the shutdown (and how it ties in with the far more important debt ceiling negotiation). It should not be at all surprising that to virtually everyone, the shutdown (or any other negative development) is a "buying opportunity" which makes sense: after all the person who is truly in charge of the "wealth effect" will be up and running uninterrupted and there is no risk today's $2.75 - $3.50 billion POMO will be even modestly delayed.
With rumors this evening of the White House calling around for support for Yellen, Marc Faber's comments today during a Bloomberg TV interview are even more prescient. Fearing that Janet Yellen "would make Bernanke look like a hawk," Faber explains that he is not entirely surprised by today's no-taper news since he believes we are now in QE-unlimited and the people at the Fed "never worked a single-day in the business of ordinary people," adding that "they don't understand that if you print money, it benefits basically a handful of people." Following today's action, Faber is waiting to seeing if there is any follow-through but notes that "Feds have already lost control of the bond market. The question is when will it lose control of the stock market." The Fed, he warns, has boxed themselves in and "the endgame is a total collapse, but from a higher diving board."
Today’s bizarre confluence of negative real interest rates, money printing, eurozone sovereign default, aberrant asset prices, high unemployment, political polarization, growing distrust… none of it was supposed to happen. It is the unintended consequence of past crisis-fighting campaigns, like a troupe of comedy firemen leaving behind them a bigger fire than the one they came to extinguish. What will be the unintended consequences of today’s firefighting? We shudder to think.
Global conditions in early 1928 were oddly similar to today (Benjamin Strong puzzling over a strange brew of rising stock prices, uneven economic recovery, suspect banking practices and unusual strains in Europe’s monetary system), but skewed in a direction that would cause our current policymakers to apply even stronger stimulus than we’ve seen in 2013. The analogy suggests to us that today’s Fed is threatening mistakes that aren’t unlike those of the 1920s Fed. But what about the stock market? Unfortunately, a few market characteristics fit the late 1920s timeline pretty well... There can be little doubt that today’s Fed-fueled asset price rallies merely bring future price appreciation forward to the present. Asset prices eventually return to fundamental values, and as they do the Fed’s cherished wealth effects work in reverse. This is another risk that should be considered when you decide whether to take Bernanke’s bait and “reach for yield” in stocks and other risky assets.
On occasion of an address to economists at a conference in France, Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann reminded the audience that 'the ECB cannot solve the crisis', because it is due to structural reasons and therefore requires structural reform. Weidmann rightly fears that governments will begin to postpone or even stop their reform efforts now that the ECB has managed to calm markets down. In a Reuters article on the topic, a number of people are quoted remarking on ECB policy. What is so interesting about this is how far removed from reality general perceptions are when it comes to judging current central bank policies. In short, Weidmann wants to end the three card Monte, whereby commercial banks buy the bonds issued by governments because they don't have to put any capital aside for the purpose, which bonds they then can in turn pawn off to the central bank for refinancing purposes. Weidmann wants to see the connection between banks and sovereigns severed, a connection that has been fostered by governments over many centuries in order to enable them to spend more than they take in through tax revenues.
The volatility of recent weeks is but a mere small taste of the volatility in store for all markets in the coming months and years. The global debt crisis is likely to continue for the rest of the decade as politicians and central bankers have merely delayed the day of reckoning. They have ensured that when the day of reckoning comes it will be even more painful and costly then it would have been previously.
Earlier this month, in an article for “Project Syndicate” famous American economist Nouriel Roubini joined the chorus of those who declare that the multi-year run up in the gold price was just an almighty bubble, that that bubble has now popped and that it will continue to deflate. Gold is now in a bear market, a multi-year bear market, and Roubini gives six reasons (he himself helpfully counts them down for us) for why gold is a bad investment. His arguments for a continued bear market in gold range from the indisputably accurate to the questionable and contradictory to the simply false and outright bizarre. But what is most worrying, and most disturbing, is Roubini’s pathetic attempt to label gold bugs political extremists. It is evident from Roubini’s essay that he not only considers the gold bugs to be wrong and foolish, they also annoy him profoundly. They anger him. Why? – Because he thinks they also have a “political agenda”. Gold bugs are destructive. They are misguided and even dangerous people.
Starting today, and continuing through tomorrow, the German Federal Constitutional Court (FCC) will consider the legality and conformability of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the ECB’s Outright Monetary Transaction programme (OMT) in particular. What does the press expect will be the outcome of the FCC's deliberations (spoiler alert: nobody will dare to threaten Deutsche Bank's towering mountain of derivatives, all $56 trillion of them, but let's pretend it is exciting). Here is a brief recap via Bruegel Think Tank.