What scares me about the Clash of Civilizations is that the three leaders of the three biggest civilizations – the US (Western), China (Sinic), and Russia (Orthodox) – will misplay their hands and take on another civilization directly or, worse, take on each other, and that will vaporize the Narrative of Central Bank Omnipotence in a nanosecond. The existential risk here for markets is not that China/Russia/Europe/America might “collapse”, whatever that means. No, the existential risk is that the great civilizations of the world will be “hollowed out” internally, so that the process of managing the ten thousand year old competition between civilizations devolves into an unstable game of pandering to domestic crowds rather than a stable equilibrium of balance of power.
Halloween has a socialist tenor. Menacing figures arrive at your door uninvited, demand your property, and threaten to perform an unspecified "trick" if you don't fork over. That's the way the government works in a nutshell. Thanksgiving has been reinterpreted as the white man, after burning, raping, and pillaging the noble Indian, trying to make amends with a cheap turkey dinner. New Year's can be ruined as the beginning of a new tax year, and the knowledge that the next five or six months will be spent working for the government. That's why I love Christmas.
Olive-Skinned Gold Bug?
The oil price drop that has dominated the headlines in recent weeks has been framed almost exclusively in terms of oil market economics, with most media outlets blaming Saudi Arabia, through its OPEC Trojan horse, for driving down the price, thus causing serious damage to the world's major oil exporters – most notably Russia. While the market explanation is partially true, it is simplistic, and fails to address key geopolitical pressure points in the Middle East.
In an oddly familiar echo of Bernie Madoff's massive ponzi collapse, The Telegraph reports, a currency trader has vanished along with £130 million in investors’ cash in an alleged fraud that could be one of the biggest in recent British history. Joe Lewis, 59, is being investigated by police over almost $200 million which he claimed was in clients’ accounts (incluidng professional footballers and golfers) but now no longer exists. In a stunning email sent to clients 2 weeks ago, Lewis admitted that his company - JL Trading - had stopped operating in 2009 (after suffering heavy losses on disastrous FX trades), adding that "I have covered up my mistakes from everyone including my staff, no one else knew what was happening." The father of two has since failed to answer emails and phone calls, and at his Istanbul apartment a doorman said he had not been seen for a few weeks.
Despite the authorities' best efforts to keep everything orderly, we know how this global Game of Geopolitical Tetris ends: "Players lose a typical game of Tetris when they can no longer keep up with the increasing speed, and the Tetriminos stack up to the top of the playing field. This is commonly referred to as topping out."
"I’m tired of being outraged!"
For the past 150 years, crude oil prices have varied between around $10 per barrel and around $120 per barrel. For many decades, oil prices were relatively "stable" but a funny thing happened in the early 70s and everything changed - whether coincidental or causative the linkages between the oil crisis and Nixon's Gold-Standard-busting of Bretton Woods are clear in the chart below. Goldman expects continued high oil price volatility with risks skewed to the downside as the market searches for a new equilibrium... and a period of macroeconomic adjustment to structurally lower oil prices. Is oil adjusting to a new 'gold-standard-esque' normal?
Every year, David Collum writes a detailed "Year in Review" synopsis full of keen perspective and plenty of wit. This year's is no exception. "I have not seen a year in which so many risks - some truly existential - piled up so quickly. Each risk has its own, often unknown, probability of morphing into a destructive force. It feels like we’re in the final throes of a geopolitical Game of Tetris as financial and political authorities race to place the pieces correctly. But the acceleration is palpable. The proximate trigger for pain and ultimately a collapse can be small, as anyone who’s ever stepped barefoot on a Lego knows..."
"Most investors go about their job trying to identify ‘winners’. But more often than not, investing is about avoiding losers. Like successful gamblers at the racing track, an investor’s starting point should be to eliminate the assets that do not stand a chance, and then spread the rest of one’s capital amongst the remainder." So as the year draws to a close, it may be helpful if we recap the main questions confronting investors and the themes we strongly believe in, region by region.
There are some signs of trouble in emerging markets. And the money at risk now is bigger than ever.
"Over the next five years investors now expect inflation to average just below 1.3%. This level of expected inflation has always previously been associated with a decline in US equity prices. There have been no exceptions until today." Russell Napier
If the US has become the undisputed world leader in sending non-lethal "military advisors" to the middle east, then Russia is learning fast, and as Interfax just reported, the head of the Russian Armed Forces chief of staff Gerasimov just confirmed that Russian "military specialists" are now working in the Donetsk region, although not to support the separatist army, but to promote "conflict de-escalation." One just has to admire politically correct war talk. But the punchline, from both Interfax and Bloomberg which also just reported this news, is that Russia is doing so at the "request of Ukraine's head of general staff." In other words, Ukraine actually invited the Russians.
On the wall of George Orwell's Ministry of Truth from his novel 1984 there were three slogans: "WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH" It occurred to us that these apply just a little bit too well to the way the Washington, DC establishment operates. But there is a fourth slogan they need to add to the wall of Washington's Ministry of Truth. It is this: DEFEAT IS VICTORY!
- China’s Stocks Sink Most Since 2009 as Turnover Jumps to Record (BBG)
- Greek Stocks, Bonds Tumble (WSJ)
- China tightens LGFV funding screws (BBG)
- Crude Rebounds From Five-Year Low Amid Shale-Oil Spending Curbs (BBG)
- Sexual threats, other CIA methods detailed in Senate report (Reuters)
- U.S. Takes Security Precautions Overseas Ahead of CIA Report (WSJ)
- Light-Speed Treasury Trading Governed by Rules Dating to 1998 (BBG)
- Delhi to ban all internet taxi firms after Uber rape claim (Reuters)
- Supreme Group Fined $389 Million for Overcharging Pentagon (WSJ)
It wasn't just China's long overdue crash last night. In addition to the Shanghai Composite suffering its biggest plunge since August 2009, there has been a sharp slide in the USDJPY which has broken its uptrend to +∞ (and hyperinflation), and around the time Chinese gamblers were panicking, the FX pair tumbled under 120, although since then the 120 tractor beam has been activated. Elsewhere, the Athens stock exchange is also crashing by over 10% this morning on the heels of news that the Greek government has accelerated the process to elect the next president and possibly, a rerun of the drama from the summer of 2012 when the Eurozone was hanging by a thread when Tsipras almost won the presidential vote and killed the world's most artificial and insolvent monetary union. And finally, the crude plunge appears to have finally caught up with ground zero, with ADX General Index in Abu Dhabi plunging 3.5%, also poised for the biggest drop since 2009. In fact the only thing that isn't crashing (at least not this moment), is Brent, which did drop to new 5 year lows earlier under $66, but has since staged a feeble rebound.