Going into the US open, European equity markets have carried across some risk appetite from last night’s Wall Street news that 15 out of 19 major US banks had passed the Fed’s stress test scenarios. This risk appetite is evident in Europe today with financials outperforming all other sectors, currently up over 2%. Data released so far today has been relatively uneventful, with Eurozone CPI coming in alongside expectations and Industrial Production just below the expected reading for January. Taking a look at the energy complex, WTI and Brent crude futures are seen on a slight downwards trajectory so far in session following some overnight comments from China, highlighting the imbalance in the Chinese property market, dampening future demand for oil. Looking ahead in the session, the DOE crude oil inventories will shed further light on the current standing of US energy inventories.
The Greek CDS auction has not yet taken place, nor has one quantified how many Greece-guaranteed orphan bonds with UK-law indentures have to be made whole (at a cost to Greece of course, no matter how much Venizelos protests), and somehow the world is already moving on to bigger and better risk strawmen. Because if one sticks their head in the sand deep enough, it will be easy to ignore that European banks have gradually over the past year or quite suddenly (as in the case of Austrian KA Finanz) taken about €100 billion in now definitive losses on their Greek bonds and CDS exposure. Luckily, just like in the US, there is now over $1.3 trillion in fungible cash sloshing in the system, allowing banks to 'fungibly' fund capital shortfalls and otherwise abuse every trace of proper accounting, when it comes to a post-Greek default world. The problem is that none of this actually solves the fundamental insolvency issues plaguing the 'old world', but what it does do, is force the accelerated depletion of an aging and amortizing asset base. That's fine - as Draghi said the ECB can "always loosen collateral requirements even more." So while we await to hear just who will sue Greece and Europe, and how much cash will have to be paid out to UK-law bondholders (before the Greek default is even remotely put to rest), here is a listing of what Bank of America (recall - BofA is the one bank most desperate to remove any lipstick from the pig due to its need for more QE) believes will be the biggest risks to its outlook going forward. In order of importance: 1) Oil prices (remember when a month ago we said this then ignored issue may soon hit the very top of investors worry lists?), 2) Europe; 3) US Economy; and 4) China. That about covers it. Oh and massive debt issuance supply too as well as the even more epic straw man that is this Thursday's stress test. Remember: stress tests will continue until confidence in the ponzi returns!
An economic fiasco, a political football ... and (quietly) a growing export product in a declining market.
Just because being officially the first broke Eurozone country, having 50%+ youth unemployment, and a collapsing economy is not enough, adding absolutely insult to injury is the following chart from Reuters, which shows that compared to other European economies, Greece now has the highest gas price in the old continent. And indicatively while America complains over what is now the highest gas prices in 2012 per AAA, at $3.80 average for a gallon of regular, 30 cents higher than a month ago, and 35 cents higher compared to a year earlier, gas in Greece now sells for over $9.00/gallon. But at least the IMF's worst case projects that Greek economy will be flat in 2013. And that's the "worst case scenario." But at least Europe sure taught Iran a lesson by halting crude imports. Oh yes, that Iran just happened to be one of the biggest suppliers to Greece - oh well. At least Greece still gets to proudly say it is a European colony, everything else be damned.
Today at noon Eastern, the storied aircraft carrier Enterprise, aka CVN-65, left its home port of Naval Station Norfolk one final time for its final voyage with a heading: Arabian Sea, aka Iran. There in a week it will join CVN 72 Lincoln and CVN 70 Vinson, as well as LHD 8 Makin Island, all of which are supporting any potential escalation of "hostilities" in the Persian Gulf region. As a reminder, back in January we learned that the Enterprise's final voyage will be in proximity to Iran, and in the meantime, the aircraft carrier held extended drills off the Florida coast to attack a "faux theocracy" consisting of fundamentalist "Shahida" states. Why the Arabian Sea in about 7-10 days will be home to not two but three aircraft carriers and a big deck amphibious warfare ship is very much an open question, although we may have some thoughts.
According to the doctrine of pre-emptive war, Iran can be attacked based on its alleged desire to develop nuclear weapons, just as Iraq was attacked in 2003. In fact, Congress is currently debating whether a nuclear capability alone (which Brazil, Japan, and other countries enjoy) could justify the 'preventive' attack. I believe it is time to negate this doctrine by postulating that Iran in fact has a right, as a sovereign nation, to a nuclear capability. Having traveled to Iran recently, I can attest to the Joint Chiefs' General Dempsey's reference to Iran as a 'rational' actor. The Iranians have no interest in destroying America, or Israel, at the expense of one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world, dating back about 2600 years. Iran is currently surrounded by over 40 U.S. military installations, not counting Israel's still-unaccounted nuclear arsenal. To assert that Iran would jeopardize its culture for a one-shot nuclear attack is a complete miscalculation of the Iranian spirit; that spirit gave rise to a revolution in 1979 against what they perceived as Anglo-American imperialism in the form of the Shah, much as our own revolution opposed British imperialism.
Going into the US open, markets are digesting the news that the Greek PSI deal has been completed, with the announcement being made at 0600GMT. The Greek Finance Ministry have announced that 85.8% of bondholders have agreed to the swap, and with CACs enforced, the participation rate can rise to 95.7%. However it should be noted that the Greek government have not enacted the CACs as yet. This has prompted a muted market reaction as participants await any further news from European officials. In the next few hours, the Eurogroup are holding a conference call concerning the recent activity in Greece, and the ISDA are also meeting to determine whether a Greek credit event has occurred. International market focus will now shift towards the key US Non-Farm Payrolls data, due at 1330GMT: US Change in Non-Farm Payrolls M/M (Feb) Exp. +210K (Prev. +243K, Dec +200K). Chinese demand for US Treasuries could slow for a second year as the country as well as others find themselves holding fewer USD to use on US debt. This could see yields moving higher in 2012, according to analysis by Bank of America.
Earlier today we reported that based on various sources, the chief topic of conversation between Obama and Netanyahu at this week's talk between the two leaders was the calendar for Operation Desert Glass and Operation Enduring Brent Freedom, just so the ensuing price surge in crude does not impair Obama's reelection chances. From that point on it was merely a countdown to the official denial from the US government, as the last thing the president needs is the perception that the fate of the US' top post is somehow in the hands of Israel, which in turn needs to be bribed with concrete penetrating presents of the GBU-XXX family to withhold from doing what it feels like doing. Sure enough...
Gasoline consumption in the United States has been dropping for years. In the last decade, vehicle fuel efficiency has improved by 20%, and the combination of that shift and a weak economy of late has pushed gasoline demand to its lowest level in a decade. At the same time, US oil production is at its highest level in a decade. Deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico and horizontal fracs in the Bakken shale have turned America's domestic oil production scene around. After 20 years of declining production, US crude output rates started to climb in 2008 and have increased every year since. With production up and demand down, the basics of supply and demand indicate that oil prices should be falling. Americans should be paying less at the pump. Instead, the average US price at the pump reached US$3.80 per gallon on March 5, after 27 consecutive days of gains. That's 26.7¢ above the old record for March 5, set last year. The price of gasoline has climbed 32¢ or 9.3% since February 1; analysts expect prices to continue rising, reaching a national average of something like US$4.25 per gallon. What gives? Is it all about Iran? Are speculators manipulating the market? Do any politicians have good ideas on how to "fix" the high cost of gasoline? And is there relief on the horizon?
Yesterday we were quite amused to note that following the Hilsenrath leak (pre-backpeddaling as a result of some FRBNY spanking) of a sterilized QE that for supposedly tries to avoid "generating" inflation (hence confirming that QE does in fact stimulate inflation instead of being a tool to lower rates and make housing affordable) the market reaction was... inflationary, with stocks rising, but far less than crude and gold. So much for the Fed's trial balloon to see if it can intervene in the market without costing Obama a few million ballots. Today, Art Cashin observes precisely the same paradoxical response in his daily note.
Two days ago Obama held a press conference in which he openly prevaricated and disinformed the world about the true nature of his meeting with Israel PM Netanyahu. Today we find what was truly discussed, courtesy of Israel's Maariv newspaper, Spiegel and Reuters, which all tell us that it was a simple case of quid pro quo, namely that Barack Obama would supply Israel with bunker-busters and refueling planes if Bibi promised to delay an Iran attack until after the presidential election. The implication is simple - avoid an oil price shock this summer and delay it until next winter when Obama will be safely in his throne for another 4 years, at which point US citizens can fuel their cars with combustible urine following nights of binging on Everclear in hopes of ending their sorrows with alcohol poisoning, or better yet, all be in possession of the heavily subsidized flaming half ton block of metal known as the Obama Pinto, er, Volt.
European stock futures have trended higher today in relatively light volumes as the market awaits key interest rate decisions (BoE & ECB) and with the deadline for the Greek debt swap deal looming. The latest talk this morning has been that the participation in the PSI deal has been well received and coupled with speculation of a Chinese RRR cut overnight and stops tripped in the E-mini S&P and Eurostoxx futures earlier this morning, contributed to a large portion of the move higher. As a consequence, the USD index has weakened (-0.5%) which has lifted the EUR/USD pair back firmly though the 1.3200 level to the upside and Brent/WTI crude futures are seen higher ahead of the NYMEX pit open. Looking ahead we await the ECB press conference as well as the latest jobs data from the US due at 1330GMT.
The rally for what could be World War III is in full swing. The truth amounts to very little on the eve of war. Iraq and the lies surrounding weapons of mass destruction proved this lesson almost a decade ago. Unfortunately for the people of America, Israel, and Iran, the political class and power wielders of their respective governments refuse to learn. Their desire is for more authority and prestige; no matter how many bodies it costs. With the administration now seeking to provide assistance to the opposition forces in Syria, intervention and war with Iran is only an eventuality at this point.
Perhaps not so shockingly, AP is reporting tonight that satellite images of Iranian military facilities show trucks and other earth moving vehicles. Diplomats, accredited to the IAEA, suggest this indicates attempted cleanup of radioactive traces possibly left by tests of a nuclear-weapon trigger. As sanctions grow more burdensome and Israel's pre-emptive rhetoric rises, the discovery of this sanitization effort only raises the stakes as the images are said to be very recent and updated constantly and suggest evidence of tests of a small experimental neutron device. This wouldn't be the first time a site has been 'sanitized' prior to IAEA inspector visits but as The Boston Globe reports IAEA expert teams have tried twice - and failed - in recent weeks to get Iranian permission to visit this area and now (following the apparent clean-up) they have finally been granted access. As the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China postpone their meeting, in an effort to find more moderate language to criticize Iran, it seems to us that actions may just start having more impact than words very soon.