The Bitcoin phenomenon has now reached the mainstream media where it met with a reception that ranged from sceptical to outright hostile. The recent volatility in the price of bitcoins and the issues surrounding Bitcoin-exchange Mt. Gox have led to additional negative publicity. It is clear that on a conceptual level, Bitcoin has much more in common with a gold and silver as monetary assets than with state fiat money. The supply of gold, silver and Bitcoin, is not under the control of any issuing authority. It is money of no authority – and this is precisely why such assets were chosen as money for thousands of years. Gold, silver and Bitcoin do not require trust and faith in a powerful and privileged institution, such as a central bank bureaucracy. Under a gold standard you have to trust Mother Nature and the spontaneous market order that employs gold as money. Under Bitcoin you have to trust the algorithm and the spontaneous market order that employs bitcoins as money (if the public so chooses). Under the fiat money system you have to trust Ben Bernanke, Janet Yellen, and their hordes of economics PhDs and statisticians.
Three unlucky attempts in a row to retake the S&P 500 all time high may have been all we get, at least for now, because the fourth one is shaping up to be rather problematic following events out of the Crimean in the past three hours where the Ukraine situation has gone from bad to worse, and have dragged the all important risk indicator, the USDJPY, below 102.000 once again. As a result, global stock futures have fallen from the European open this morning, with the DAX future well below 9600 to mark levels not seen since last Thursday. Escalated tensions in the Ukraine have raised concerns of the spillover effects to Western Europe and Russia, as a Russian flag is lifted by occupying gunmen in the Crimean (Southern Ukrainian peninsula) parliament, prompting an emergency session of Crimean lawmakers to discuss the fate of the region. This, allied with reports of the mobilisation of Russian jets on the Western border has weighed on risk sentiment, sending the German 10yr yield to July 2013 lows.
By accusing someone else of being responsible for my emotional outbursts I am in essence avoiding responsibility for my own actions. By blaming others for my ‘State of Mind’ I’m assigning myself to the ‘role’ of victim status.
As Deutsche Bank revealed in a note overnight, the GCC may have, quite deliberately, opened a Pandora's Box with its decision which according to Europe's largest bank, and the one whose derivatives exposure makes that of JPM pale by comparison, (i) made it clear it regards OMT as exceeding the competences granted to the ECB by the European Treaty and that (ii) would not consider itself bound by a positive ruling of the European Court of Justice. And while in DB's opinion this action does not have any immediate market consequences, the report's authors think that it "alters substantially the level of insurance we could expect from the ECB against any return of sovereign turmoil."
The German Constitutional Court’s recent decision to refer the complaint against the European Central Bank’s so-called “outright monetary transactions” to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) leaves the scheme’s fate uncertain. What is clear is that the economics behind OMT is flawed – and so is the politics. The line between audacity and hubris is a fine one. Rather than constituting a great success, OMT may well be remembered as an error born of expediency. Worse, it could undermine the ECB’s hard-won independence and credibility. That is an outcome that the eurozone might not survive.
Is it any wonder Mario Draghi didn't lift a quantitative-easing finger this week? Despite record unemployment, record (and disastrous youth unemployment), record suicide rates, record non-performing loans, and an inextricably-linked banking system facing $3 trillion in exposure to emerging markets... Spanish bond yields have collapsed to their lowest since 2006 (and Italian close behind). With an entirely broken transmission mechanism of monetary policy, it seems the "market" for European bonds knows no bounds as spreads on the riskiest sovereigns drop to pre-crisis levels and 10Y Spain yields are now lower than 30Y US Treasuries.
Today the lingering problems of the "emerging" world and concerns about the Fed's tapering take a back seat to what the European Central Bank may do, which ranges from nothing, to a rate cut (which sends deposit rates negative), to outright, unsterilized QE - we will find out shortly: with 61 out of the 66 economists polled by Bloomberg looking for no rate changes from the ECB today it virtually assures a surprise . However, despite - or perhaps in spite of - various disappointing news overnight, most notably German factory orders which missed -0.5% on expectations of a +0.2% print, down from 2.4%, the USDJPY has been supported which as everyone knows by now, is all that matters, even if it was unable to push the Nikkei 225 higher for the second day in a row and the Japanese correction persists.
It's snowing in New York so the market must be down. Just kidding - everyone know the only thing that matters for the state of global risk is the level of USDJPY and it is this that nearly caused a bump in the night after pushing the Nikkei as low as 13,995, before the Japanese PPT intervened and rammed the carry trade higher, and thus the Japanese index higher by 1.23% before the close of Japan trading. However, since then the USDJPY has failed to levitate as it usually does overnight and at last check was fluctuating within dangerous territory of 101.000, below which there be tigers. The earlier report of European retail sales tumbling by 1.6% on expectations of a modest 0.6% drop from a downward revised 0.9% only confirmed that the last traces of last year's illusionary European recovery have long gone. Then again, it's all the cold weather's fault. In Europe, not in the US that is.
"We've created a global debt monster that's now so big and so crucial to the workings of the financial system and economy that defaults have been increasingly minimised by uber aggressive policy responses. It’s arguably too late to change course now without huge consequences. This cycle perhaps started with very easy policy after the 97/98 EM crises thus kick starting the exponential rise in leverage across the globe. Since then we saw big corporates saved in the early 00s, financials towards the end of the decade and most recently Sovereigns bailed out. It’s been many, many years since free markets decided the fate of debt markets and bail-outs have generally had to get bigger and bigger."
Alarms are going off in assorted plunge protecting offices, now that the USDJPY has breached the 102.000 "fundamental" support level, below which the Yen can comfortably soar to sub 100.000 in perfectly even 100 pip increments. The first trading day of February has brought another weaker session across Asia though some equity indices such as the KOSPI (-1.1%) are in catch-up mode given they were shut towards the back-end of last week. Over the weekend, the Chinese government published its latest official manufacturing PMI which showed a 0.5pt drop to 50.5, a six-month low, and consistent with consensus estimates. DB’s Jun Ma believes there was some element of seasonality affecting this month’s result including the fact that Chinese New Year started at the end of January (vs February last year), anti-pollution measures in the lead up to CNY and efforts to control government consumption around the holiday period. The official service PMI was released overnight (53.4) which printed at the lowest level since at least 2011. The uninspiring Chinese data has not helped market sentiment this morning, with the Nikkei plunging -2% and ASX200 once again under pressure. S&P500 futures have fluctuated around the unchanged line this morning although if support below the USDJPY fail solidly, then watch out below. Markets in Mainland China and Hong Kong remain closed for Lunar New Year.
And so following yet another Fed taper, coupled with another disappointing manufacturing data point out of China, emerging markets did their thing first thing this morning and all the most unstable EM currency pairs - the TRY, the RUB, the ZAR and the HUF - all plunged promptly in the process pushing down the USDJPY which as become a natural carry offset to EM troubles, only to rebound promptly. Specifically, USDTRY blew out 400 pips to 2.3010 highs after which it bounced, and has now stabilized around 2.27, well above the Turkish central bank intervention level, USDZAR is back down to 11.2120 after hitting five-year highs of 11.3850, the Ruble also plunged after which it jumped on speculation of Russian central bank intervention, while futures are tracking even the tiniest moves by USDJPY and pushing the Emini which is trading in a liquidity vaccum by a quarter point for ever 2 or pips. And with all news overnight shifting from bad to worse (keep an eye on declining German inflation now) it goes without saying, that EM central banks around the world now are desperately trying to keep their currencies under control: which is why the market's jitteryness is only set to increase from here on out.
The Fed tightens by a little (sorry, tapering - flow - is and always will be tightening): markets soar; Turkey tightens by a lot: markets soar. If only it was that easy everyone would tighten. Only it never is. Which is why as we just reported, the initial euphoria in Turkey is long gone and the Turkish Lira is basically at pre-announcement levels, only now the government has a furious, and loan-challenged population to deal with, not to mention an economy which has just ground to a halt. Anyway, good luck - other EMs already faded, including the ZAR which many are speculating could be the next Turkey, and certainly the USDJPY which sent futures soaring last night, only to fade all gains as well and bring equities down with it.
The depressed tone overnight following AAPL's disappointing earnings mysteriously evaporated just ahead of the European open, when around 2 am Eastern the all important USDJPY began an dramatic ramp, (with ES following just behind) which saw it rise from the Monday closing level of 102.600 all the way to 103.250, in what appears to have been a new frame-setting stop hunt ahead of a variety of news including the start of the January - Bernanke's last - FOMC meeting. One of the potential triggers for the move may have been the RBI's unexpected hike in the repurchase rate to 8.00% with an unchanged 7.75% consensus, which was its second consecutive INR-boosting "surprise." Among the amusing comments by RBI's Rajan, justifying the ongoing (loising) fight with inflation, was that India's consumer numbers are weak because of inflation. But... isn't that the Keynesian cargo cult's wet dream?
The eurozone is caught in a diabolical loop, in which weak banking systems harm their sovereigns’ fiscal positions, which in turn compromise the banking system’s stability. But, over the last couple of years, policymakers have focused largely on reducing banks’ impact on their sovereigns – for example, through a Europe-wide supervisory authority and efforts to establish a European resolution mechanism – while ignoring the feedback in the other direction. European policymakers and regulators must act now to eliminate the negative feedback loop between sovereigns and their banks. Waiting for another crisis to strike could have devastating consequences for both.
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