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.
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.
"There is a big flight to quality," warns one trader as the spread between interest rate swaps (implicitly bank risk) and government bonds soared to a record high. This "crisis gauge" flashing red is also followed by 3 month SHIBOR (short-dated interbank lending rates) surging to an 8-month high. China's CDS have jumped 30bps since the Fed taper and as Bloomberg reports that billionaire investors like George Soros and Bill Gross have drawn uncomfortable parallels between the situation in China now and the US before 2008 (when this crisis gauge was key in spotting the carnage to come). Simply put, the banks don't trust each other...
It would indeed be supremely ironic if the "strong" foreign law bond indenture would be tested, and breached, not by Greek bonds, as so many expected in late 2011 and early 2012, but by one of the last contries in Europe which is still AAA-rated. We would find it less ironic if the next leg of the global financial crisis was once again unleashed by an Austrian bank: after all history does rhyme...
Asian equities are trading lower across the board on the back of some negative credit stories from China. Shanghai Securities News noted that ICBC and some other banks have curbed loans to developers in sectors such as steel and cement. Slower gains in home property prices in China’s tier 1 cities are also not helping sentiment. Beijing and Shenzhen prices rose 0.4% in January, which looks to be the slowest monthly gain since October 2012 according to Bloomberg. Elsewhere there are reports that a property developer in Hangzhou (Tier 2 city in China) is reducing its unit prices by 19%. Our property analysts noted that given the strong gains seen in Tier-1 and some bigger Tier-2 cities in 2013, a slowdown or negative trends in price growth should not be a surprise. Nevertheless, it has been a very weak day for Chinese and HK markets with the Shanghai Composite and the Hang Seng indices down -2.0% and -1.2% lower as we type. Across the region, bourses in Japan and Korea are down -1.0% and -0.6%, respectively.
As happens at the end of every year, sellside analysts and economists, all predicted that this year would be different, and the long overdue capex spending would finally be unleashed. Apparently they had far greater visibility on this matter, than on the topic of snowfall in the winter, and its disastrous impact on a $17 trillion economy, whose Q1 GDP growth forecast has cratered from 3% at the start of the year, to barely half that number currently. One of the firms that preached that the CapEx recovery is imminent is none other than Goldman Sachs, the same firm that also year after year predicts a new golden age for the US, only to see its forecast crash and burn some 4-6 months later, couched in the tried (or is that now trite) and true scapegoatings: snow, unrest in Europe, inflation or deflation in Japan, the usual. However, this time may indeed be different, and the same Goldman has just released a piece wondering "Why no capex recovery?" (despite the firm's own forecasts to the contrary -just recall David Mericle's "Capex: The Fundamentals Remain Strong" which now in retrospect is completely wrong).
With Putin hoping that they can just keep it from going full civil war for a few more days, Ukraine continues to slide towards a dismal result. This morning sees the next level of escalation in the break-away Western region:
- *UKRAINE'S SECURITY SERVICE SAYS WEAPONS CACHE STOLEN: INTERFAX
- *UKRAINE SECURITY SERVICE SAYS PROTESTERS SEIZED 1,500 GUNS
- *UKRAINE SERVICE SAYS PROTESTERS SEIZED 100,000 ROUNDS OF AMMO
- *UKRAINE SERVICE SAYS PROTESTERS GUILTY OF `TERRORIST ACTS'
And with that, the 'excuse' the military needed to get involved as Interfax reports the Ukraine's SBU starts "Anti-terrorist" operation in the Western region of Ivano-Frankvisk. With 25 dead and 241 injured, according to the AP, we suspect these numbers are sadly just the start.
There is a very good chance that the crisis that began in 2008 is actually not over by any stretch – it is merely moving from one place to the next. After all, the developments discussed below are a direct result of the reaction of the world's monetary authorities to the initial crisis. China's credit bubble and ZIRP in the US and Europe are all children of the crisis and have evidently sown the seeds for the next crisis. As we always stress, we expect that the next major crisis will eventually lead to a crisis of confidence in said monetary authorities. At some point, faith in central banks is bound to crumble and then we will really experience 'interesting times'.
Following the 20% devaluation of Kazakhstan's currency on Tuesday, the nation has quietly drifted into a very un-safe scenario. As the following clip shows, tanks and Humvees are lining the streets around Almaty as stores are closed and food is running desperately short. Local accounts note that the people are growing increasingly indignant. At a mere 192bps, the cost of protecting Kazakhstan sovereign debt from default (or further devaluation) seems cheap in light of this.
A sneaky overnight levitation pushed the Spoos above 1800 thanks to a modest USDJPY run (as we had forecast) despite, or maybe due to, the lack of any newsflow, although today's first official Humphrey Hawkins conference by the new Fed chairman, Janet Yellen, before the House and followed by the first post-mortem to her testimony where several prominent hawks will speak and comprising of John B. Taylor, Mark A. Calabria, Abby M. McCloskey, and Donald Kohn, could promptly put an end to this modest euphoria. Also, keep in mind both today, and Thursday, when Yellens' testimoeny before the Senate takes place, are POMO-free days. So things may get exciting quick, especially since as Goldman's Jan Hatzius opined overnight, the third tapering - down to $55 billion per month - is on deck.
Yesterday we reported a warning by BNP that "The Run On Ukrainian Deposits May Have Already Started." Obviously, while the real implications for the country's financial system should a full-blown bank run emerge would be dire , they would take some time to manifest themselves, especially since as Interfax reported, the country's central bank still has $17.8 billion in reserves as of today (if sliding at an alarming pace). To be expected, overnight the same central bank reiterated its support for the currency, knowing that the last thing it can afford is an evaporation in confidence. However, judging by the surge in Ukraine CDS ealier today, which soared by 89bps to 1,089bps today, highest since Dec. 10 on closing basis, i.e., before the Russian bailout (which may or may not be concluded), investors are hardly convinced by the local developments. And the final confirmation that very soon it will be all up to a Russian bailout to fix the situation, was news from minutes ago that the Ukraine just had a failed bond auction. Then again, Russia itself had a failed bond auction just days ago, so perhaps it has bigger fish to fry than pre-funding the Ukraine rescue package.
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.
UDPATE: At today's Treasury auction - 4-week bills yield 13bps, 52-week bills yield 11.5bps... 1.5bps inverted!
Whether Treasury Secretary Lew's words were meant to calm and chaosify the markets yesterday, his comments on the debt ceiling have sparked a notable sell-off in ultra-short-dated Treasury Bills. As we noted previously the 2/28 ish date appears to be the market's bogey for now with the yield more than tripling from 3bps to 11bps in the last 2 days. CDS on the USA has also risen notably in the last few days with the 5Y now trading inverted to the 1Y cost of protection once again.
Kudos to the Bank of Japan. Its heroic campaign to water down the yen has borne fruit.
First, the Obama administration showed during the course of the GM and Chrysler bankruptcy proceedings, that when it comes to Most Preferred Voter classes, some unsecured creditors - namely labor unions, and the millions of votes they bring - are more equal than other unsecured creditors - namely bondholders, and the zero votes they bring. Five years later we are about to get a stark reminder that under the superpriority rule of a community organizer for whom "fairness" trumps contract law any day, it is now Detroit's turn to make a mockery of the recovery waterfall. As it turns out, bankrupt Detroit is proposing to favor pension funds at roughly double the rate of bondholders to resolve an estimated $18 billion in long-term obligations, according to a draft of a debt-cutting plan reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.