For those who have been following every twist and turn of the Ukrainian political crisis ever since its start in November of last year, the following post is likely a recap of familiar facts and dates. For everyone else, or those who just wish to plug the occasional hole in their memory, here is a full timeline of events that led to the coup that replaced the elected president Yanukovich - despite the signing of an agreement memorandum which was endorsed by Europe and the West keeping him in power and calling for presidential elections - with an acting president who has been classified as illegitimate by Russia, in exchange for which, as well as for numerous other reasons, Moscow has completely occupied the Crimea and increasingly more cities in east Ukraine are telegraphing their alliance with Putin.
European sovereign bond spreads have not batted an eyelid during the recent Russia-Ukraine crisis... and why should they, Draghi will do "whatever it takes." Even HY credit in Europe is holding up - despite an ugly squeeze wider on Friday (chatter that positioning in very long credit). But with Europe's VIX above 20, the broad European stock index is now below pre-Putin levels. What is perhaps most stunning is that while investors have piled out of German, Swiss, and French stocks in the last few days, they have backed-up-the-truck in "new normal" safe-haven Portugal. The reason proferred by some - Portugal is further from Ukraine (and less dependent on Russia's gas) - which of course is the critical swing factor for an economy that remains crushed aside from trade with Germany.
"It's the weather" That's all Abe has left to pretend that 'recovery' is right around the corner. Japan just printed its worst current account deficit on record and its worst GDP growth since Abenomics was unveiled - both missing by the proverbial garden mile and both confirming that all is not well in Asia. As for the perpetual hope of a J-curve (or miracle hockey-stick reversal)? There won't be one! As Patrick Barron noted, "monetary debasement does not result in an economic recovery, because no nation can force another to pay for its recovery."And the latest joke from Asian trading floors: "when asked what he thought of the recovery, Shinzo Abe responded "Depends!""
A week ago, when the idea of sanctions against Russia was first officially announced, we made a statement, which was obviously in jest yet which, as so often happens, was so rooted in reality: "U.S. CONSIDERING SANCTIONS ON RUSSIAN BANKS, OFFICIAL SAYS. So short London/NYC real estate you say?" How is this an indication of reality? Well, for one, as we reported previously, the one country that has the most to lose from Russian sanctions, Germany, and specifically its industrial superlobby has already said "Nein" to any truly crippling trade blockade of Moscow would backfire on Germany's own economy and bottom line. But what about London? Here, the NYT explains why, once again, it was all about the money, and why were right even when we were being humorous: "It boils down to this: Britain is ready to betray the United States to protect the City of London’s hold on dirty Russian money. And forget about Ukraine."
I clearly have a very hard time reconciling a U.S. stock market making new all-time-highs almost daily, especially in the face of what most economists consider to be a weak domestic economy with negligible growth prospects. Moreover, when you layover the thoroughly stalled and certainly weaker overall global economic picture, it’s even harder to rationalize. Finally, throw into the mix the gravity of threatening geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and Russia, the two nations with the largest stockpiles of tactical nuclear weapons on earth, and the market actually welcomes it. Something majorly does not add up, well, to this Idiot anyways.
South Korea stands out as a buying opportunity amid the indiscriminate emerging markets sell-off.
With a March 16th date set for Crimea's referendum (to confirm that the region, which has an ethnic Russian majority, is a part of Russia) and a few short days after Ukraine's Prime Minister Yatsenyuk is due to meet President Obama in the White House, Reuters reports that The United States will not recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia if residents of the region vote to leave Ukraine. Obama has said a referendum on Crimea would violate international law and the Ukrainian constitution... but this raises 3 awkward (and apparently hypocritical) questions on the right to self-determination... and pins March 16th as a crucial inflection point between Russia and US.
With 40% of the portfolio in cash and having returned $4 billion to clients at year-end, Seth Klarman's Baupost Group has "drawn the line in the sand" as they reflect on the diminished opportunities in the so-called "Truman Show" market we see today. In the face of mixed economic data and at a critical inflection point in Federal Reserve policy, Klarman notes, the stock market, heading into 2014, resembles a Rorschach test - "what investors see in the inkblots says considerably more about them than it does about the market." From "born bulls" to "worry genes" and from Bitcoin to flash-mob-speculation, "there is a growing gap between the financial markets and the real economy...and the overall picture is one of growing risk and inadequate potential return almost everywhere one looks... as every 'Truman' under Bernanke’s dome knows the environment is phony."
When one studies history, all events seem to revolve around the applications and degenerations of war. Great feats of human understanding, realization and enlightenment barely register in the mental footnotes of the average person. War is what we remember, idealize and aggrandize, which is why war is the tool most often exploited by oligarchy to distract the masses while it centralizes power. With the exception of a few revolutions, most wars are instigated and controlled by financial elites, manipulating governments on both sides of the game to produce a preconceived result. Every major international crisis for the past century or more has ended with an even greater consolidation of world power into the hands of the few, and this is no accident.
It was about a month ago when it was revealed that the infamous JPMorgan physical commodities group, plagued by both perpetual accusations of precious metal manipulation and legal charges most recently with FERC for $410 million that it had manipulated electricity markets, was in exclusive talks to be sold to Geneva-based Marcuria Group. It was also revealed that Blythe Masters, JPMorgan’s commodities chief, "probably won’t join Mercuria as part of the deal." Of course, we all learned the very next day that Ms. Masters - an affirmed commodities market manipulator - and soon to be out of a job, had shockingly intended to join the CFTC trading commission as an advisor, a decisions which was promptly reversed following an epic outcry on the internet. This is all great news, but one thing remained unclear: just who is this mysterious Swiss-based company that is about to leave Blythe without a job? Today, courtesy of Bloomberg we have the answer.
Greek President Karolos Papoulias raised the issue of World War II reparations to his German counterpart Joachim Gauck currently on a 3-day official visit to Athens. But as expected, Gauck repeated the official legal position of Berlin. Karolos Papoulias told Gauck that Greece has not dropped its compensation claim over the Nazi atrocities and the enforced loan by the Nazi occupiers during the World War II. “I want to point out that Greece has never given up its claim of German reparations, ” Papoulias reportedly told Gauch at a private meeting in Presidential Manson adding “it is necessary to solve the problem with the earliest possible start of negotiations.”
European bond markets, simply put, did not blink at anything this week (and Portugal spreads actually rallied) as the insanity of that segment of the market remains. Europe's high-yield credit market moves to near record low spreads (on rumors of an aggressive hedge fund squeeze). But all of this beggars belief as we see European stocks giving up their post-Putin gains and collapsing today on the good-news-is-bad-news from the US but much more critically the Gazprom threats (which smashed Germany's DAX red for 2014 and down around 2% today).
"Will there be war in Ukraine? I am afraid so. After all, the extremists who seized power in Kiev want to see a bloodbath. Only fear for their own lives might stop them from inciting such a conflict... Russia will not annex Crimea. It has enough territory already.
At the same time, however, it will also not stand by passively while Russophobic and neo-Nazi gangs hold the people of Crimea, Kharkiv and Donetsk at their mercy."
While the biggest strategic news of the day is that the Crimean parliament voted to join Russia with a done deal referendum to be held in a few days, as well as collapse of the anti-Russian sanction lobby with Germany and others getting cold feet against boycotting Russian goods, the tactical developments continue. Of note: earlier today the leader of the most persistent pro-Moscow protest movement in eastern Ukraine was arrested at his home in the city of Donetsk on Thursday, a Reuters journalist who was with police on the raid said. Around 10 members of the SBU security service arrested Pavel Gubarev at his apartment in a five-story Soviet-era block in the eastern city, on charges of "infringing the territorial integrity and independence of the state". He did not resist.
Prepare for more...