Ukraine Crisis Roils Global Markets Oil prices rose and investors rushed into perceived haven assets. Russian markets saw heavy losses, and shockwaves were felt across European stocks.
U.S. Stock Futures Down Sharply U.S. stock futures dropped sharply, extending a global selloff, as the escalating crisis in Ukraine sent investors fleeing risky investments and into perceived havens such as gold and bonds.
(…) Can Mr Obama stand up to Vladimir Putin, the Russian fox circling the chicken coop? It is unclear whether he has the will and the skill – let alone the means – to do so. Yet the future of his presidency depends on it. There can be little doubt that Mr Putin wants to restore the boundaries of the Russian empire. Mr Obama must somehow find a way to frustrate him. (…)
Russia’s occupation of the Crimea dramatically changes the landscape. Everything that Mr Obama wants – nation building at home, a nuclear deal with Iran, a quiescent Middle East and the pivot to Asia – hinges on how he responds to Mr Putin. At the start of his presidency, Mr Obama offered to “reset” US-Russia relations. That is now in tatters. Along with many others, Mr Obama has consistently underestimated Mr Putin’s readiness to challenge the status quo. As recently as last Thursday, the White House dismissed predictions of a Russian incursion into Crimea. In a 90-minute phone call on Saturday, Mr Putin hinted to Mr Obama he was prepared to extend Russia’s Crimean occupation into eastern Ukraine. It would be naive to assume he will not. (…)
There is no US military solution to the crisis. Drawing a “red line” between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine, or between its eastern and western halves, would merely invite Moscow to call Washington’s bluff. Besides, Mr Obama’s record on red lines is a poor one. The last one he drew was in Syria, where he promised to intervene if Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons on his people. Mr Assad repeatedly called Mr Obama’s bluff last summer. Ironically, it was Mr Putin who saved the US president from the consequences of his own rhetoric – and a humiliating rebuff on Capitol Hill – by persuading Syria’s dictator to agree to dismantle his chemical stockpile. That now looks to be a dead letter. In retrospect it would have been better if Mr Obama had ordered air strikes on Syria without consulting anyone. In any case, red lines will only embolden Mr Putin. (…)
Diplomacy is Mr Obama’s preferred weapon. Now he must prove that he knows how to wield it. (…) Rallying America’s allies to the side of Ukraine’s shaky government is obviously one. That must include large pledges of cash. Reassuring America’s eastern European allies that their sovereignty will be protected is another. This could include restoring the missile defence systems Mr Obama scrapped in the days of the “reset”. He could also accelerate plans to export US natural gas and oil to Europe to counter Moscow’s energy stranglehold.
Above all, Mr Obama needs to convince Mr Putin that he will not be outfoxed. That means summoning a determination he has too often lacked. It will mean taking risks without being reckless. In 1991, Bush senior flew to Kiev to warn Ukrainians against “suicidal nationalism”. Mr Obama must warn Mr Putin against embarking on a course of suicidal imperialism. In spite of everything, he remains the right person to deliver that message. Kiev would be the perfect venue to deliver it.
Russia raises rates as rouble tumbles Investors pull money out on fears of war with Ukraine
The rouble, already one of the world’s worst performing currencies this year, slid as much as 2.9 per cent early on Monday to a new low of Rbs36.90 against the dollar as investors pulled their money out of Russia, fearing the prospect of war in Ukraine and international financial sanctions.
The central bank made the surprise announcement on Monday morning that it would raise its benchmark lending rate from 5.5 per cent to 7 per cent from 11am Moscow time. It justified the move in a short statement, saying: “The decision is directed at preventing the emergence of risks for inflation and financial stability associated with the recently observed increased levels of volatility in financial markets.” (…)
Economists said the impact of hostilities with Ukraine could tip the already struggling Russian economy into recession. Moreover, analysts said, the prospect of international sanctions against Russia was likely to drive both Russian and foreign investors to withdraw money from the country.
U.S. MANUFACTURING PMI SURGES
This morning’s Markit PMI for the U.S. showed strength across the board. There were some curious segments in Markit’s release including these:
- Some manufacturers noted that unusually bad weather had a less disruptive impact on production growth than in the previous month, in part due to efforts to build up inventories of critical inputs at their plants.
- In a further sign of pressures on capacity, latest data indicated that stocks of finished goods fell for the eighth month in a row.
Given the apparent bulge in auto inventories, the “efforts to build up inventories” is bizarre.
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported that pending sales of single-family homes ticked up 0.1% during January following a 5.8% December decline, revised from an 8.7% shortfall. The latest uptick followed six consecutive months of sharp decline. Therefore, sales were 14.3% below the peak last June.
Home sales were mixed across the country last month. In the South, sales rose 3.5% (-5.5% y/y) following a 5.7% December drop. In the Northeast, a 2.3% rise (-5.3% y/y) followed two months of sharp decline. In the West, sales declined 4.8% (-17.5% y/y) and have fallen in each of the last seven months, a decline totaling more than one-quarter from the peak. In the Midwest, sales fell 2.5% last month (-9.3% y/y), off for the seventh straight month and down 17.6% from the May peak.
Weather blamed again. Haver’s headline writer did not even bother to read the text where he might have found a hint or two that weather was not the big factor in January. Sales rose in the NE and declined in the West…And if he had looked at the past 3-6 months data, he would have seen that overall, January was a pretty good month.
But weather-blaming can get even more ridiculous. Take this WSJ piece Mess in the West: Home Sales Index Hits 7-Year Low (my emphasis, of course):
The index fell in the West to its third lowest level since the NAR began its tab in 2001, surpassing only two months from the summer of 2007, when housing markets were beginning their free fall. (…)
It’s not clear that weather can be blamed on this: the index is seasonally adjusted, and this is the West, where winters are milder.
Not clear! Economists may be taking their cues from Mrs. Yellen:
“A number of data releases have pointed to softer spending than analysts had expected,” Ms. Yellen told members of the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday. “That may reflect in part adverse weather conditions, but at this point it is difficult to discern exactly how much.”
Housing is now leaving investors cold. From Zerohedge via Lance Roberts via Doug Short:
Alas, just like the rental bubble whose bursting we chronicled here just last week, so the institutional bubble has just popped, which we know courtesy of RealtyTrac data reporting that institutional investors — defined as entities purchasing at least 10 properties in a calendar year — accounted for 5.2 percent of all U.S. residential property sales in January,down from 7.9 percent in December and down from 8.2 percent in January 2013.
“Many have anticipated that the large institutional investors backed by private equity would start winding down their purchases of homes to rent, and the January sales numbers provide early evidence this is happening,” said Daren Blomquist. “It’s unlikely that this pullback in purchasing is weather-related given that there were increases in the institutional investor share of purchases in colder-weather markets such as Denver and Cincinnati, even while many warmer-weather markets in Florida and Arizona saw substantial decreases in the share of institutional investors from a year ago.”
COLD SHOWER ON ACCELERATION THESIS: GDP Growth Sharply Lowered
Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced across the economy, grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.4% in the final quarter of the year, the Commerce Department said Friday, down from an initial reading of 3.2%. Private economists’ projections for the first quarter are even weaker, with many coming in below 2%.
The economy’s trajectory has dipped since the fall, when a healthy 4.1% growth rate sparked enthusiasm across financial markets and corporate America about a stronger expansion, faster job creation and rising wages this year. (…)
Friday’s report showed consumers continued to drive growth with steady spending, though not as much as initially estimated. Personal consumption expenditures, adjusted for inflation, rose 2.6% in the quarter, below the initially reported 3.3% pace.
(…) Americans have been saving less to maintain spending—the saving rate was only 4.5% in the fourth quarter, about a percentage point below the average of the prior three years.
While consumers were spending, the U.S. government was pulling back. Federal spending and investment dropped 12.8% in the final quarter of 2013, a period that included the October government shutdown. Now, with a budget in place and little risk of another fiscal showdown, the federal government should be less of a drag on the economy.
A sharp buildup in companies’ inventories drove much of the strong growth in last year’s third quarter and a bit in the fourth quarter. A drawdown of those stockpiles is expected to weigh on overall growth in first three months of this year. (…)
Business spending was a bright spot late last year, with companies investing more in equipment, software and buildings. Overall, nonresidential fixed investment expanded 7.3% in the fourth quarter, up from the advance estimate of 3.8%. The big gain may be a sign of optimism for future growth. (…)
Here’s the best GDP chart from Doug Short:
Soaring Prices Test Wealthy’s Will to Pay The luxury-goods business has been relying on sharp price increases to drive sales. But there are signs that even the very rich are nearing their limits.
In the past five years, the price of a Chanel quilted handbag has increased 70% to $4,900. Cartier’s Trinity gold bracelet now sells for $16,300, 48% more than in 2009. And the price of Piaget’s ultrathin Altiplano watch is now $19,000, up $6,000 from 2011. (…)
The U.S. price of a basket of luxury goods tracked by market-research firm Euromonitor International rose 13% last year, while the consumer-price index increased just 1.5%. (…)
Spending on luxury apparel, leather goods, watches, jewelry and cosmetics reached $390 billion last year, according to Boston Consulting Group. But growth is starting to slow from its postrecession pace. Sales of such items rose 7% last year, down from the 11% annual rate in 2010 through 2012, according to the firm. BCG forecast that sales growth would hover around 6% for the next few years. (…)
LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA MC.FR -2.11% said sales growth for fashion and leather goods slowed to 5% last year from 7% the year before, excluding the effects of acquisitions and currency movements. But the French company said it increased prices on its Vuitton products around 3% to 4.5% last year without an impact on its business.
“The client base is used to that type of price increase,” Chief Financial Officer Jean-Jacques Guiony said. Vuitton raised the price of a monogrammed Speedy bag in the U.S. by 15% last year to $910. That made it 32% more expensive than in 2009. (…)
One reason ultraluxury brands are raising prices is to distinguish their products from entry-level luxury goods that are fast picking up market share.
“The more Tory Burches and Michael Kors there are, the more the Chanels and Louis Vuittons will try to price up,” said Milton Pedraza, the chief executive of the Luxury Institute, a research and consulting firm.
The unintended consequence could be that the luxury brands drive even more customers toward less-expensive rivals. (…)
A prolonged period of low inflation in the euro zone may derail the currency area’s fragile economic recovery, and must be fought with additional monetary stimulus, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said Monday.
Ms. Lagarde, who was speaking at a conference in Bilbao, northern Spain, said that while the European Central Bank already has taken a number of strong measures to help the euro area, “even further accommodative policies and targeted measures are needed to address low, below-target inflation and achieve lasting growth and jobs.”
Annual inflation in the euro zone was 0.8% in February, according to European statistics office Eurostat, well below the ECB’s target of just below 2%. The ECB will meet Thursday to decide on interest rates for the area.
The government’s official purchasing managers index fell to 50.2 in February from 50.5 in January, where any number of more than 50 indicates expansion.
A preliminary reading of the HSBC manufacturing PMI, a competing index, fell to 48.3 in January, well into contractionary territory.
“The effects of the holiday can’t be excluded,” when interpreting the PMI, said a statement from the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing, which compiles the index along with China’s official statistical bureau. “Based on market demand and the production situation in some sectors, we expect that future economic growth will remain generally stable.”
The PMI subindex for new export orders fell to 48.2 from 49.3, casting doubt on the strength of global demand for Chinese goods. China’s exports in January rose 10.6% from the same month of 2013, a strong performance that was nevertheless muddied by the holiday effect and persistent doubts about the quality of China’s trade data.
South Korea’s exports, which serve a similar market, rose a lackluster 1.6% year-over-year in February, according to data released Friday.
Still, the poor showing for export orders might be a result of one-off factors such as the exceptionally cold winter in the U.S., said Ting Lu, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “I would expect the PMI to rebound in March,” he said.
The more reliable HSBC PMI was out this morning (HSBC CHINA MANUFACTURING PMI CONFIRMS SLOWDOWN)
(…) On Friday, the People’s Bank of China stepped up its week-and-a-half-long effort to weaken the yuan by instructing big state-owned banks to buy dollars aggressively in the mainland market, according to currency traders at both Chinese and foreign banks. The move caught the market by surprise and caused the yuan to register its biggest one-day fall since its revaluation in 2005, when China dropped a decadelong peg to the dollar. The yuan ended at 6.1450 per dollar Friday, down 1.5% since the beginning of the year and its lowest level in 10 months.
“Nobody dares to trade against the PBOC. Nobody dares to buy the yuan heavily,” said a Shanghai-based trader at a large foreign bank. (…)
Why Maxed-Out Canadians Are Pulling Back on Borrowing While their spending is still the key driver of economic growth, Canadians are pulling back on borrowing, says a report from Moody’s Analytics.
Moody’s points to declining growth in consumer borrowing; total household credit growth slipped to 4.1% annually in December. It hasn’t been that low in more than 20 years.
GDP data released Friday showed Canadian households were still spending pretty freely in the fourth quarter of the year. In fact, the solid growth recorded in the quarter depended heavily on their spending.
Average weekly earnings grew by 2.9% in December, the fastest pace since last February.
Friday’s fourth-quarter GDP report from Statistics Canada, which said the household saving rate increased to 5.0% in the fourth quarter, as disposable income grew at a slightly faster pace than that of household spending.
S&P’s rise underpinned by borrowed money Margin debt levels have increased by 20% in a year to fresh high
Though margin debt has been hitting record highs in recent months, it now stands at $451bn on the NYSE, a rise of more than 20 per cent over the past year and above 2007’s peak of $381bn. Five years ago it hit a low of $173bn.
In past market peaks, excessive levels of margin debt exacerbated the subsequent slide in stocks, as investors were forced to quickly sell their holdings as prices fell, sparking a nasty downward spiral.