2014 was quite a bizarre year. The past 12 months brought us MH370, Ebola, civil war in Ukraine, civil unrest in Ferguson, the rise of ISIS and the fall of the Democrats in the midterm elections. Our world is becoming crazier and more unstable with each passing day, and we have a feeling that things are going to accelerate greatly in 2015... despite record-er-est US stock prices.
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.
Back in July it was all everyone could talk about: who shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 flying over east Ukraine? A hurriedly-prepared official report (by Western authorites) quickly put the blame on Russia, ignoring any suggestion the downing may have been the result of a Ukraine fighter jet, and said the catastrophe was the result of a Russian-made missile shot by Russian separatists. Then the story promptly disappeared. Russia, however, continued digging, and overnight, Russia’s Investigative Committee says it has uncovered evidence Ukraine was involved in the crash citing a military defector from the Ukraine.
While Ukraine continues to plead with the international community that the Russian annexation of Crimea is illegal and against all international norms and directives, and just after it voted to end its non-aligned status and work towards Nato membership, a move Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called "counterproductive" and said it would boost tensions, overnight Kiev had little problems with leaving "its" population in the Black Sea peninsula in the dark on Christmas eve.
- Russia says NATO turning Ukraine into 'frontline of confrontation' (Reuters)
- Oil Drillers Under Pressure to Scrap Rigs to Cope With Downturn (BBG)
- Demonstrators Defy NYC Mayor's Call to Suspend Police Protests (BBG)
- U.S. to send more private contractors to Iraq (Reuters)
- ISIS Shoots Down Jet From U.S.-Led Coalition, Syrian Monitors Say (NYT)
- Russians Race to Secure Mortgages Before Costs Spiral (BBG)
- Abe Brings in Former Soldier Nakatani as Defense Minister (BBG)
- At Coke, Newest Flavor Is Austerity (WSJ)
- Fear and retribution in Xi's corruption purge (Reuters)
- UBS Raises Flag on China’s $1 Trillion Overseas Debt Pile (BBG)
From no greater laureate than UBS' NYSE Floor director Art Cashin... the year behind us (and the one ahead) in rhythmic narrative.
At present, the choice between the two available models on the planet seems stark indeed: Eurasian integration or a spreading empire of chaos. China and Russia know what they want, and so, it seems, does Washington. The question is: What will the other moving parts of Eurasia choose to do? All these interlocked developments suggest a geopolitical tectonic shift in Eurasia that the American media simply hasn’t begun to grasp. Which doesn’t mean that no one notices anything. You can smell the incipient panic in the air in the Washington establishment. So long to the unipolar moment... 2015 is "going to be a real hardcore year."
As the year winds down, a Gordian knot tying Russia, oil prices and China together is receiving a great deal of attention. Let's see if we can unravel some of the confusing twists and turns.
We turn first to China's offer of assistance to Russia. The idea that Russia could activate its CNY150 bln (~$24 bln) currency swap line with China is capturing the imagination of many.
- Christmas rally enters sixth day in Europe (Reuters)
- Downing North Korea's Internet not much of a scalp (Reuters)
- North Korean Internet Access Restored After Hours-Long Outage (BBG)
- At U.N. council, U.S. calls life in North Korea 'living nightmare' (Reuters)
- Ukraine Cuts Gold Reserve to Nine-Year Low as Russia Buys (BBG)
- De Blasio Seeks to Heal Rifts With Police After Officers Slain (BBG)
- Oil steady around $60 on hopes of strong U.S. data (Reuters) - so it fell below $60 because...
- Australian Dollar Hits Four and a Half Year Low on Chine Growth Worries (Reuters)
The story of Ukraine's corzined gold just got far better, and far, far more bizarre and surreal. As Bloomberg reports, Ukraine opened a criminal probe after several gold bars at the central bank’s storage in the southern city of Odessa turned to be painted lead. The latest gold fraud involved a central bank employee passing lead bars covered with golden paint to the storage unit, registering them as gold, the Vesti newspaper reported today, citing an unidentified person with knowledge of the matter in Odessa’s police department. In other words, the central bank was actually conned into buying the gold-plated lead.
"if anything defines 2014 for me, it’s the advent of incessant claims for which no proof – apparently – needs to be provided. Everything related to Ukraine over the past year carries that trait; the economy too, and now Sony/North Korea. Never any proof, you just have to believe what your government says."
- Police officers' slaying raises pressure on New York mayor (Reuters)
- People Call for Cooling of Racial Tensions After Murder of NYPD Officers (BBG)
- The $6.3 Trillion Frenzy That Vanquished Treasury Bears (BBG)
- China Investigates Possible Stock-Price Manipulation (WSJ)
- Citigroup Was Wary of Metals-Backed Loans (WSJ)
- UPS Turns Parking Lots Into Sorting Centers to Add Speed (BBG)
- U.S. Move to Normalize Cuba Ties Boosts Firms’ Asset Claims (WSJ)
- Meredith Whitney’s Fund Said to Drop 11% as Office Put on Market (BBG)
- Railcar Bottleneck Looms for Oil (WSJ)
"The oil-price weapon, in the face of the terminal enfeeblement of the Obama administration, is the last recourse before the Saudis and Turks, whatever their autocues of racist rhetoric, invite Israel to smash the Iranian nuclear program from the air."
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!"