European equity markets are trading higher across the board ahead of the US open, with the financials sector outstripping others and Health Care lagging behind, although still in positive territory. The main news from yesterday’s finance minister’s meeting was instruction to reduce their deficit by a further 0.5% of GDP; this is having an effect on the Spanish spread against the German bund today, underperforming against other European spreads. The main data of the European session so far comes from Germany, with the ZEW survey for Economic sentiment beating expectations for March, as well as the UK trade balance figures showing a record high in the UK’s non-EU exports. As the session progresses, participants will be looking towards the US retail sales data and the latest FOMC rate decision.
What is one sure thing sure to set triggerhappy warmonger fingers in the US and Israel on Defcon 1 more than the word Iran? The words Iran and North Korea. How about three nouns that will send crude soaring by at least $10 the second a CL trading algo sees them fly across Bloomberg? Try "Iran" "North Korea" and "Nukes." And if the following report just released by the Wiener Zeitung is even remotely correct, then Israel, the military industrial complex, and crude are all about to go ballistic, not necessarily in that order.
- China’s Holdings of Treasuries Dropped in ’11 (BusinessWeek)
- Bundesbank at Odds With ECB Over Loans (FT)
- Euro zone puts Greece's efforts under microscope (Reuters)
- Bank of America Considers a Revamp That Would Affect Millions of Customers (WSJ)
- In Days Leading Up to MF Global's Collapse, $165 Million Transfer OK'd in a Flash (WSJ)
- Greece Approves Welfare Cuts for 2nd Bailout (Bloomberg)
- Irish Minister Pushes to Cut Bail-Out Cost (FT)
- China to Support Tech Sectors (China Daily)
- Spanish Bond Yields Fall in Debt Auction After ECB (Reuters)
- China to Expand Cross-Border RMB Businesses (China Daily)
It had been a quiet week in terms of geopolitical developments out of Middle East. Too quiet, well aside for that whole US escalating once again bit, and forcing Iran to eventually go over the edge. And while the role of the US and Iran has been extensively digested in the past few weeks, it is Iran that has remained in the shadows recently. No longer: as Al Arabiya reports, "Israeli officials say they won’t warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, according to one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions. The pronouncement, delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations, sets a tense tone ahead of meetings in the coming days at the White House and Capitol Hill. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivered the message to a series of top-level U.S. visitors to the country, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser and the director of national intelligence, and top U.S. lawmakers, all trying to close the trust gap between Israel and the U.S. over how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions, according to The Associated Press." Needless to say, the thoroughly effete and comical US foreign policy has no response to follow up queries: "The White House did not respond to requests for comment, and the Pentagon and Office of Director of National Intelligence declined to comment, as did the Israeli Embassy." And while there may be no comments here, look for more warnings about Israeli citizens being targetted by deranged Iranian around the world. Because when all else fails, fearmonger. Next up: the Status Quo will be telling the world how not attacking Iran would be tantamount to global destruction. The only trade off - will the spike in crude to $150 outdo the surge in Obama's popularity rating as the Nobel Peace Prize winner puts his name in the hat for a nomination in the Nobel War Prize category as well.
The better tone in risk markets is largely being driven by encouraging economic data from the US and Europe, which as a result saw Bunds trade in negative territory. Of note, ECB’s Liikanen has said that inflation is not a particular concern in Europe, adding that the ECB has never said that there is an interest rate floor. On the other hand, Gilts are being supported by comments from BoE’s Fisher, as well as less than impressive GDP report. Nevertheless, EUR/USD took out touted barrier at the 1.3400 level earlier in the session, while USD/JPY is trading in close proximity to an intraday option expiry at 80.60.
The softer PMI reports have weighed on risk markets, which as a result saw equities trade lower throughout the session. In addition to that, market participants continued to fret over the latest Greek debt swap proposals, which according to the Greek CAC bill will give bond holders at least 10 days to decide on new bond terms following the public invitation, and the majority required to change bond terms is set at 2/3 of represented bond holders. Looking elsewhere, EUR/USD spot is flat, while GBP/USD is trading sharply lower after the latest BoE minutes revealed that BoE's Posen and Miles voted for GBP 75bln increase in APF. Going forward, the second half of the session sees the release of the latest Housing data from the US, as well as the USD 35bln 5y note auction by the US Treasury.
Heading into the North American open, equities are trading lower with the benchmark EU volatility index up 1.6%, with financials underperforming on concerns that the latest Greek bailout deal will need to be revised yet again. Officials said that the deal will require Greece’s private creditors to take a deeper write-down on the face value of their EUR 200bln in holdings than first agreed. The haircut on the face value of privately held Greek debt will now be over 53%. As a result of the measures adopted, the creditors now assume that Greece’s gross debt will fall to just over 120% of GDP by 2020, from around 164% currently, according to the officials. However as noted by analysts at the Troika in their latest debt sustainability report - “…there are notable risks. Given the high prospective level and share of senior debt, the prospects for Greece to be able to return to the market in the years following the end of the new program are uncertain and require more analysis”. Still, Bunds are down and a touch steeper in 2/10s under moderately light volume, while bond yield spreads around Europe are tighter.
Let’s be honest, quite a few Americans love a good war, especially those Americans who have never had to bear witness to one first hand. War is the ultimate tribally vicarious experience. Anyone, even pudgy armchair generals with deep-seated feelings of personal inadequacy, can revel in the victories and actions of armies a half a world away as if they themselves stood on the front lines risking possible annihilation at the hands of dastardly cartoon-land “evil doers”. They may have never done a single worthwhile thing in their lives, but at least they can bask in the perceived glory of their country’s military might. This attitude of swollen ego through proxy is not limited to the “Right” side of the political spectrum as some might expect. In fact, if the terrifyingly demented presidency of Barack Obama has proven anything so far, it is that elements of the “Left” are just as bloodthirsty as any NeoCon, and just as ready to blindly support the political supremacy of their “side” regardless of any broken promises, abandoned principles, or openly flaunted hypocrisies. No matter how reasonable or irrefutable the arguments against a particular conflict are, there will ALWAYS be a certain percentage of the populace which ignores all logic and barrels forward to cheerlead violent actions which ultimately only benefit a select and elite few.
The drums of war are beating louder and louder ... What's really going on?
Previously we presented some alternative thoughts to the mainstream misperception of the Iranian "isolation" by some of its biggest oil trading partners. Unlike others, we simply believe that the gulf nation, together with the new axis of anti-USD (as confirmed once again earlier today) is simply preparing itself for a barter based economy, or alternatively, one with commoditized intermediates. However, this ignores the likelihood of geopolitical instability caused by intervening US and Israeli interest in the region. Below are some thoughts from Doug Casey of Casey Research on the likelihood of another full blown shooting war erupting in the Persian Gulf, as well as his thoughts on how one may prepare for such a contingency.
Much has been made of today's Reuters story how "Iran turns to barter for food as sanctions cripple imports" in which we learn that "Iran is turning to barter - offering gold bullion in overseas vaults or tankerloads of oil - in return for food", and whose purpose no doubt is to demonstrate just how crippled the Iranian economy is as a result of the ongoing US embargo. Incidentally this story is 100% the opposite of the Debka-spun groundless disinformation from a few weeks ago that India was preparing to pay for Iran's oil in gold (they got the asset right, but the flow of funds direction hopelessly wrong). While there is certainly truth to the fact that the US is actively seeking to destabilize the local government, we wonder why? After all as the opportunity cost for the existing regime to do something drastic gets ever lower as the popular resentment rises, leaving the local administration with few options but to engage either the US or Israel. Unless of course, this is the ultimate goal. Yet going back to the Reuters story, it would be quite dramatic, if only it was not the case that Iran has been laying the groundwork for a barter economy for many months now, something which various other analysts perceive as the basis for the destruction of the petrodollar system. Perhaps regular readers will recall that back in July, we wrote an article titled "China And Iran To Bypass Dollar, Plan Oil Barter System." Specifically, we wrote that "according to the FT, China has decided to commence a barter system in which Iranian oil is exchanged directly for Chinese exports. The net result: not only a slap for the US Dollar, but implicitly for all fiat intermediaries, as Iran and China are about to prove that when it comes to exchanging hard resources for critical Chinese goods and services, the world's so called reserve currency is completely irrelevant." Seen in this light the fact that Iran is actually proceeding with a barter system, something that had been in the works for quite a while, actually puts the Reuters story in a totally different light: instead of one predicting the imminent demise of the Iranian economy, the conclusion is inverted, and underscores the culmination of what may have been an extended barter preparation period, has finally gone from beta to (pardon the pun) gold, and Iran is now successfully engaging in global trade without the use of the historical reserve currency.
Iran Blinks, Delays Vote On European Crude Export Halt Even As US Escalates Military Developments Against CountrySubmitted by Tyler Durden on 01/29/2012 13:29 -0500
After it was the west backing down from further unnecessary escalation with Iran two weeks ago, when Israel and the US delayed indefinitely joint naval operations in the Arabian Gulf, it is now Iran's turn to blink. Following reports that Iran would pass a law halting crude exports to European countries, in advance of the full-blown embargo expected to take place some time by June, or as soon as European countries have found alternative supplies, we now learn that "Iran's parliament on Sunday postponed the debate over the bill." This is happening just as nuclear inspectors are arriving in the country "to probe allegations of a secret atomic weapons program." Yet does this mean that Iran has just exposed a major weakness that the West will immediately pounce on? It is still unclear - Reuters reports that "Iran's oil minister said on Sunday the Islamic state would soon stop exporting crude to "some" countries, the state news agency IRNA reported." Naturally the vague, open-endedness of this statement makes it quite clear that it was Iran's turn to de-escalate this time around. Or does this simply mean that Iran has been unable to conclude alternative oil trade arrangements with China, Russia and India just yet?
In each of the years 2008, 2009, and 2010, significant worries emerged that Western nations might attack Iran. Here again in 2012, similar concerns are once again at the surface. Why revisit this topic again? Simply because if actions against Iran trigger a shutdown of the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40% of the world's daily sea-borne oil passes, oil prices will spike, the world's teetering economy will slump, and the arrival of the next financial emergency will be hastened. Even if the strait remains open but Iran is blocked from being an oil exporter for a period of time, it bears mentioning that Iran is the third largest exporter of oil in the world after Saudi Arabia and Russia. Once again, I am deeply confused as to the timing of the perception of an Iranian threat, right now at this critical moment of economic weakness. The very last thing the world economies need is a vastly increased price for oil, which is precisely what a war with Iran will deliver. Let me back up. The US has already committed acts of war against Iran, though no formal declaration of war has yet been made. At least if Iran had violated US airspace with stealth drones and then signed into law the equivalent of the recent US bill that will freeze any and all financial institutions that deal with Iran out of US financial markets, we could be quite confident that these would be perceived as acts of war against the US by Iran. And rightly so.
Heading into the North American open, European equity futures are trading lower, with comments from Fitch’s Riley, who suggested that the ECB must do more to prevent cataclysmic EURO collapse, causing the most recent bout of risk averse sentiment. As a result, major FX pairs are trading lower, with EUR/USD testing 1.2700, while GBP/USD fell through 1.5400 level. Looking elsewhere, apart from being buoyed by Fitch comments, German Bunds benefited from a well received German Bobl auction. Of note, European bond yield spreads are predominantly tighter for the time being, with analysts noting buying of Spanish and Italian paper by domestic and real money account names. Finally, there is little in terms of macro-economic data and instead the attention will be on the publication of various EU related economic outlooks and the US Treasury is set to sell USD 21bln in 10-y notes.
Markets are moving positively across the board today following comments from Fitch, dampening speculation that France may be downgraded from its Triple A status. Fitch’s Parker commented that he does not expect to see France downgraded at all throughout 2012. However he added that there are continuing pressures for France from national banks and EFSF liabilities, Parker also reinforced German confidence stating that Germany’s Triple A rating is safe. Markets were also experiencing upwards pressure from strong French manufacturing data performing above expectations and successful Austrian auctions today, tightening the spread between France and Austria on 10-year bunds.