A new era is dawning in Chinese foreign policy as the country’s economic growth enables it to move from past timorousness in declaring itself a global leader and a relative inability to defend its interests, to one in which Beijing can seek adjustments in the security environment it has faced for the last sixty years. In the Chinese-language media, politicians are increasingly talking of China as a great power. Yet Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put Beijing’s new foreign policy to the test and raised questions about the extent of China’s global role. China is close to meeting all the measures of what defines a global great power: political, economic, and military might with a global reach. But it does not appear to act like a great power in terms of its contribution to international leadership during conflict situations such as in Ukraine. Instead we repeatedly only see Beijing being assertive when it comes to defending its own narrow interests.
Despite much hope that the current breakout of the markets is the beginning of a new secular "bull" market - the economic and fundamental variables suggest otherwise. Valuations and sentiment are at very elevated levels while interest rates, inflation, wages and savings rates are all at historically low levels. This set of fundamental variables are normally seen at the end of secular bull market periods. It is entirely conceivable that stock prices can be driven higher through the Federal Reserve's ongoing interventions, current momentum, and excessive optimism. However, the current economic variables, demographic trends and underlying fundamentals make it currently impossible to "replay the tape" of the 80's and 90's. These dynamics increase the potential of a rather nasty mean reversion at some point in the future. The good news is that it is precisely that reversion that will likely create the "set up" necessary to launch the next great secular bull market. However, as was seen at the bottom of the market in 1974, there were few individual investors left to enjoy the beginning of that ride.
Has the market done it again? Two weeks ago, Putin's first speech of the Ukraine conflict was taken by the USDJPY algos - which seemingly need to take a remedial class in Real Politik - as a conciliatory step, and words like "blinking" at the West were used when describing Putin, leading to a market surge. Promptly thereafter Russia seized Crimea and is now on the verge of formally annexing it. Over the weekend, we had the exact same misreading of the situation, when the Crimean referendum, whose purpose is to give Russia the green light to enter the country, was actually misinterpreted as a risk on event, not realizing that all the Russian apparatus needed to get a green light for further incursions into Ukraine or other neighboring countries was just the market surge the algos orchestrated. Anyway, yesterday's risk on, zero volume euphoria has been tapered overnight, with the USDJPY sliding from nearly 102.00 to just above 101.30 dragging futures with it, in advance of Putin's speech to parliament, in which he is expected to provide clarity on the Russian response to US sanctions, as well as formulate the nation's further strategy vis-a-vis Crimea and the Ukraine.
Having offloaded its short-dated Ukraine bonds to clients (recommending they buy them in size when Yanukovych was ousted for a decent loss so far), the boys from Goldman are up to their old tricks with a lorry-load of German stocks to sell you... "Year to date, the DAX is one of the worst performing indices in Europe (down 4.6% relative to the European market which is flat)... but we think the overall German market will outperform the pan-European STOXX Europe 600 index, and also highlight a list of DAX stocks that are currently Buy rated by our analysts."
As the US and EU press forward with sanctions - proclaiming them as the first step in punishing economic actions - the world's stock markets could not be happier. European stocks are up over 1% - their best day in 6 weeks; Germany - notably hard-hit on the basis of its gas-dependence - is surging by the 2nd most this year as Italian stocks rally a ridiculous 2.4% (its 2nd best day in 7 months). Everyone loves a good short-squeeze on war escalation but we suspect the surge in Russian stocks - up 8.5% from Friday lows - (and the Ruble) will be disappointing more than a few of the world's great thinkers in Washington and Brussels.
These Six Euroarea Countries Are In Outright Deflation As Eurozone Inflation Slides To Four Year LowsSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 03/17/2014 11:47 -0400
When S&P 500 futures opened they tumbled ten points very quickly along with JPY crosses. This pressed US stocks to their lowest intraday level since 2/24, hovering at key post-correction lows support. However, thanks to an impressive liftathon in JPY-carry, S&P futures rallied all the way back to green - until China opened with its wider trading bands slowing carry-traders. Gold prices surged (as stocks fall) then fell back (as stocks rallied) and are now unchanged. Key overnight will be Europe's reaction as Germany appeared to edge away from sanctions against Russia while Barroso and Van Rompuy were all-guns-blazing.
German banks are not heavily exposed to the Ukraine. Germany’s main vulnerability is natural gas.
In a rather concerning (though not entirely surprising) turn of events, the United Nations (which may well need to be renamed after this) is making headlines:
- *RUSSIA REJECTS U.S. DRAFT RESOLUTION ON UKRAINE, CHURKING SAYS
- *U.S. DRAFT DOES NOT DIRECTLY BLAME RUSSIA FOR CRISIS IN UKRAINE
- *RUSSIA VETOES UN SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION ON UKRAINE CRISIS
- *CHINA ABSTAINS ON UN RESOLUTION ON UKRAINE
And then the US comes over the top:
- *POWER SAYS UN VOTE SHOWS RUSSIA 'ISOLATED, ALONE, WRONG'
Well "isolated and alone" with China?
Broad European stocks dropped 3.3% on the week - the biggest fall since June of last year. Despite a late-day surge on the back of surprising relief from Lavrov's comments on not invading Ukraine (well, he's hardly going to pre-announce) Germany has seen its worst 2-week drop in 28 months. Sovereign bond spreads rose 10-13bps on the week for the peripheral nations (which is actually notable given how tight they trade now). Russian stocks have plunged 22% from Feb 18th highs and Russian 10Y bond yields surged to near 10% yields. Ukraine's short-date bonds remain at yields around 50% and the Hyrvnia is losing ground.
It has been a relatively quiet overnight session, aside from the already noted news surrounding China's halt on virtual credit card payments sending Chinese online commerce stocks sliding, where despite an ongoing decline in the USDJPY which has sent the Nikkei plunging by 3.3% (and which is starting to impact Abe whose approval rating dropped in March by a whopping 5.6 points to 48.1% according to a Jiji poll), US equity futures have managed to stay surprisingly strong following yesterday's market tumble. We can only assume this has to do with short covering of positions, because we fail to see how anyone can be so foolhardy to enter risk on ahead of a weekend where the worst case scenario can be an overture to World War III following a Crimean referendum which is assured to result in the formal annexation of the peninsula by Russia.
Today, as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, U.S.-Russian relations have hit their lowest point since the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 or of Czechoslovakia in 1969 — or perhaps even since they bottomed out during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The crisis escalated into a conflict between the U.S. and Russia after the West supported a coup, then lied by violating the Feb. 21 agreement when it recognized the formation of a new and illegitimate government of extremists. This conflict has the potential of sparking a new Cold War — something we never thought could happen in modern times since we believed it would have to be rooted in ideological differences. Moscow does not see the revolution in Ukraine as an attempt to create a more democratic or law-based society. Instead, it sees the events in Kiev as an attempt to make Ukraine as anti-Russian as possible.
Copper's China-credit-contraction-driven crash continues as the metal drops to fresh 5-year lows today (on par with Lehman and the US downgrade collapses). Japanese stocks are down over 1000 points from their post-Putin highs. Russian stocks are plunging, Germany's (and Swiss) bonds are surging (as is gold) and European equity and credit markets are in free-fall. But apart from that... Finally we saw the world's angst spill into Yen-carry trades (USDJPY was spanked today - almost biggest drop in 6 months). US equities plunged tick-for-tick with USDJPY (S&P's biggest drop in 6 weeks and red for 2014); Treasury yields were crushed 9-10bps from intraday highs (biggest drop in 2 months); credit spreads banged wider; gold jumped to six-month highs; and EUR weakness (post-Draghi) ramped the USD back near unchanged on the week. VIX was a one-way street higher all day (biggest low-to-high run in 6 weeks) to 6-week highs.
No one in Germany is allowed to get in the way of the sacrosanct exporters.
With Russia's MICEX down another 2% today back at May 2010 lows (and Russian govt bond yields up to 9.41%), it appears investors are anything but confident that the worst is behind us in Ukraine. Russian stocks are -18% in the last 3 weeks. Perhaps the biggest tell is the German stock market which is now the worst-performing European stock market this year and back to lows seen in mid-December. Even the glorious safety of Portuguese stocks is fading in the last few days. Europe's VIX broke 22% - its highest in 5 weeks; and Europe's high-yield credit markets (which are rumored to be heavily biased long) are squeezing wider playing catch-up to stocks. Peripheral sovereigns don't give a crap in their manipulated illiquid way but Bund yields have sluped to 1.54% (lowest since July) - its tightest to US TSYs since 2006!