Mar 262015
 
 March 26, 2015  Posted by at 11:19 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Bridge with 5-ton coal bucket, Milwaukee Western Fuel Co 1942

When money managers talk outside their narrow field, nonsense is guaranteed to ensue. No better example than this Bloomberg piece on Ukraine’s ‘debt restructuring’ plans, which are as much a political tool as they are anything else at all. Ukraine’s American Finance Minister has announced a broad restructuring plan with a wide range of severe haircuts for creditors, and she – well, obviously – wishes to include Russia in the group of creditors who are about to get their heads shaved.

And despite all obvious angles to the issue that are not purely economical, Bloomberg presents a whole array of finance professionals who are free to spout their entirely irrelevant opinions on the topic. If you didn’t know any better, you’d be inclined to think that perhaps Russia is indeed just another creditor to Kiev.

Putin Plays Wildcard as Ukraine Bond Restructuring Talks Begin

As Ukraine begins bond-restructuring talks, it finds itself face-to-face with a familiar foe: Russia. President Vladimir Putin bought $3 billion of Ukrainian bonds in late 2013. The cash was meant to support an ally, then-President Yanukovych.

That is, for starters, a far too narrow way of putting it. Russia simply wanted to make sure Ukraine would remain a stable nation, both politically and economically, because A) it didn’t want a failed state on its borders and B) it wanted to ensure a smooth transfer of its gas sales to Europe through the Ukraine pipeline systems. Whether that would be achieved through Yanukovych or someone else was a secondary issue. Putin was never a big fan of the former president, but at least he kept the gas flowing.

While his government fell just two months later, Russia was left with the securities. Now, those holdings take on an added importance as Putin’s stance on the debt talks could affect the terms that all other bondholders get in the restructuring. Russia, which is Ukraine’s second-biggest bondholder, has maintained that it won’t take part in any restructuring deal. Here are the three most likely tacks – as seen by money managers and analysts – that Putin’s government could pursue.

Here’s the biggest issue here, one which Bloomberg conveniently omits. Not only was Russia left with the securities after the Maidan coup (or revolution if you must), but the money provided through them to Ukraine began to be used to organize and fund various battalions and other groups, thrown together into a Kiev ‘army’, that started aiming for and at the Russian speaking population in East Ukraine. 6000 of them did not survive this.

The same would have happened in Crimea (Moscow is convinced of this) had not Putin made it part of Russia before that could happen. Do note that one of the very first decrees issued by US installed PM Yatsenyuk and his ‘cabinet’ was one that banned Russian to be used as an official language by millions of people who speak only Russian. That Yats withdrew the decree within a week didn’t matter anymore, the game was on right then and there.

Ukraine, after gaining a lifeline from the IMF, included Russia’s bond among the 29 securities and enterprise loans it seeks to renegotiate with creditors before June. Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko has promised not to give any creditor special treatment. The revamp will include a reduction in the coupon, an extension in maturities as well as a cut in the face value, she said.

Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergey Storchak said March 17 that the nation isn’t taking part in the debt negotiations because it’s an “official” creditor, not a private bondholder. If the Kremlin maintains this view, it would be “negative” for private bondholders as “other investors will be more tempted to hold out as well,” according to Marco Ruijer at ING. He predicts a 45% chance of a hold out, while Michael Ganske at Rogge in London says it’s 70%.

Here’s where we get into la-la land, with money managers speaking out on things they don’t know anything about. Which can then be used to lead up to a goal-seeked conclusion, as we will see. Because of the situation I painted above, Russia cannot and will not take part in the ‘debt negotiations’ the west tries to shove down its throat through Jaresko’s restructuring plans.

If only because as soon as the restructuring has given Kiev some financial breathing space, is will use it to reinforce its troops and go after its Russian speaking compatriots again. It’s a not a finance issue at all, it’s life and death, and that makes percentages thrown around by money guys behind desks in high rises not just futile, but positively inane.

There is little precedence of sovereigns and private bondholders taking part in the same talks, given that a nation’s debt considerations include a “foreign-policy dimension,” according to Matthias Goldmann at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg, Germany. Ukraine and Russia may need to find an “appropriate forum,” such as the Paris Club, for separate negotiations, he said.

Holding out can lead to two outcomes: Russia gets paid back in full after the notes mature in December, or Ukraine defaults. The former option is politically unacceptable in Kiev, according to Tim Ash at Standard Bank, while the latter would likely start litigation and delay the borrower’s return to foreign capital markets, which Jaresko expects in 2017. “Russia will be holdouts, to try and force a messy restructuring,” Ash said by e-mail on March 19.

No, Russia is not interested in a ‘messy restructuring’. It will simply refuse to throw Kiev’s aggression against its own people a lifeline, and it will insist on finding that “appropriate forum”, instead of the one Jaresko tries to force it into. Russia will demand to be paid in full, and if that means a Ukraine default, it is fine with that. Don’t forget that the $3 billion in bonds is by no means the only debt Ukraine owes Moscow. There are many billions in unpaid gas purchases, and undoubtedly many other bills.

If Russia holds out and litigates, there is a “real threat” that Ukraine will deem the Eurobond an odious debt, Lutz Roehmeyer at Landesbank Berlin said. This refers to a legal theory that a nation shouldn’t be forced to repay international obligations if they don’t serve the best interests of the country and its citizens.

Nice theory. Why don’t we have Greece use it too? Russia would obviously never accept this. At the very minimum, gas would stop flowing through Ukraine to Europe.

The chance of Russia joining the talks is about 10%, according to ING’s Ruijer and Rogge’s Ganske. If Russia joins it would be “somewhat positive as all investors will be treated equally, and then it can be resolved quicker,” Ruijer said.

These guys really have no idea what’s going on. They see the planet exclusively in dollar terms. And they have no idea why they said 10%, might as well have been 5% or 25%. Hot air.

Bank of America said in a note last week that Ukraine will seek a principal reduction of about 35% in its opening salvo, which may be rejected by creditors. It said that bond valuations around 40 cents on the dollar, indicate a probability of a 20% reduction in principal as well as a reduction in interest rates. Ukraine’s benchmark 2017 dollar notes traded at 37.8 cents on the dollar on Thursday.

Sounds like things in the real world are already much worse than in BoA notes.

“By participating in the talks, Russia would have a better chance of getting a deal it wants,” Liza Ermolenko at Capital Economics, said. “However, it seems that politics, rather than economics, will be behind whatever Russia decides to do.”

No kidding, Liza.

There is no collective-agreement clause which could make any deal binding for Russia, Anna Gelpern, a Georgetown law professor, said.

And there we get to the core of the matter. If Jaresko wants to force anything on Russia, she’ll have to move outside of the law. Which I’m sure she, and the US cabal that rules Kiev, would be more than willing to do, but it would mean a default no matter what happens, simply because time is of the essence, and the issue would drag on for a long time.

The restructuring of each bond must be agreed to by a majority of its holders, according to Olena Zubchenko, a lawyer at Lavrynovych & Partners, a legal adviser to Ukraine during the bond issue to Russia in December 2013. The Eurobonds are governed by English law and traded on the Dublin Exchange. The Russian bond has a covenant allowing the holder to call it if Ukraine’s public debt tops 60% of economic output, which the IMF said took place last year.

Another noteworthy detail: Russia could have called the bonds quite a while ago, but has so far decided against that. They could still do it at any moment, though. And since the IMF has approved another loan to Ukraine recently, and Capitol Hill has agreed to send deadly offensive weapons to Kiev, they have good reason to do it. The Jaresko idea of ‘we will saddle you with losses, so we can go kill more Russian speaking people’ will certainly not appeal to Moscow, not will it be condoned.

“It’s a kind of nuclear option, evaporating their leverage,” Rogge’s Ganske said. “If Russia accelerates, then Ukraine has to pay or default on it — i.e. game over.”

This bond issue is of course just one of many ways in which the west seeks to aggravate Russia. If and/or when the US starts shipping arms to Kiev, and the internal civil war restarts, Russia will have to take measures. Which is exactly what the west has been trying to provoke it to do for at least a full year now. It is therefore Russia’s task to find those measures that take ‘the other side’ by surprise and leaves it scrambling for answers.

Over the past year and change, after the Kiev putsch and the subsequent aggression on the side of the newly installed ‘government’ against its own citizens in East Ukraine, Russia has always insisted on talking about the EU and US as its ‘partners’, even as the language thrown at it deteriorated at a rapid clip. It must already be about a year ago that Hillary Clinton first referred to Putin as Hitler. As for the anti-Moscow utterances by the Kiev ‘government’, let’s not even go there.

The Russians have shown recently that they understand very well what the intentions are behind the NATO build-up and all the hollow accusations and innuendo in the western media. They have also made clear that they are ready and prepared to activate any and all defense systems, including nuclear, at their disposal.

Russia sees the world as one in which multiple major powers can govern together. The US sees Russia as a power that must be defeated by any means necessary, and subdued. One of these worldviews must prevail in the end. Perhaps we won’t know which one that will be until the third power, China, raises its voice. What we do know is that Russia will back down only so far, and then it will no more.

Mar 062015
 
 March 6, 2015  Posted by at 4:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing US Weather Bureau kiosque, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 1921

See, by now you would think that anyone who reads that all 31 US banks that were tested have passed the Fed stress test, knows this says absolutely nothing about the banks, but all the more about the test. You would think. But the media try – and succeed – to cram it down the public’s throat as a success story anyway.

There’s simply a very strong feeling, if not conviction, in the western media, that they’ve won the propaganda battle. They have no adversary other than the blogosphere, and since they reach a thousand times more people, who are to a (wo)man more complacent and gullible than any of your typical interwebs readers, Bob’s their uncle.

But come on guys, are we really going to let this happen without raising our voices or even batting as much as one of our eyes? We’re drowning in nonsense here, and we’re prepared to just die without even trying to swim?

Look, I find real fun in reading that the UK House of Lords issues a report that claims 150,000 jobs will be created by 2050 in the ‘drone industry’, and at the same time clamors for a ‘personal drone registry’. I mean, these guys are way too old to even know how to spell ‘drone’. But that’s just mindless ‘journalism’, and to a point innocent.

What is not is the two portraits of US girl power in Ukraine from the Guardian and Bloomberg that appeared over the past two days. That’s not innocent, that’s vile and bastardly lies. Victoria Nuland and Natalie Jaresko should not be praised by the western media, they should be taken apart bone by bone, because the roles they play are far too shady to stand up to our alleged democratic principles.

Bloomberg is, well, Bloomberg, but why the Guardian gets involved in this sort of apologetic feel-good ‘reporting’ is beyond me. Other than: how much does it pay?! I mean, who needs a brain when you have a keyboard? Nuland and her hubby Robert Kagan – and don’t you even try and make me picture them in bed together plotting fresh invasions – are the flashing neon signs for everything neocon in America today.

She has – more or less voluntarily – admitted to staging the year-old Kiev coup and installing US puppet Yatsenyuk as Ukraine PM, as well as pushing $5 billion in US taxpayer funds to various Ukraine ‘charities’ to make it happen.

And then the Guardian has the gall to present her as your average American girl next door? Nuland creates wars, and misery, and bloodshed, and she does so fully convinced she’s serving some deity’s purpose. She should have long since been removed from any and all offices, but she’s still in place, which paints a damning enough picture of US politics all by itself.

Yeah, sure, let’s make Victoria look normal, right, Guardian?

Victoria Nuland: Russia’s Actions In Ukraine Conflict An ‘Invasion’

Assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland has admitted the US considers Russia’s actions in Ukraine “an invasion”, in what may be the first time a senior American official has used the term to describe a conflict that has killed more than 6,000 people. Speaking before the House committee on foreign affairs, Nuland was asked by representative Brian Higgins about Russia’s support of rebels in eastern Ukraine, through weapons, heavy armor, money and soldiers: “In practical terms does that constitute an invasion?”

Nuland at first replied that “we have made clear that Russia is responsible for fielding this war,” until pressed by Higgins to answer “yes or no” whether it constitutes an invasion. “We have used that word in the past, yes,” Nuland said, apparently marking the first time a senior official has allowed the term in reference to Russia’s interference in eastern Ukraine, and not simply its continued occupation of the Crimean peninsula.

Obama administration officials across departments have strenuously avoided calling the conflict an invasion for months, instead performing verbal contortions to describe an “incursion”, “violation of territorial sovereignty” and an “escalation of aggression”. In November Vice-President Joe Biden, who has acted as one of Obama’s primary liaisons with the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, rapidly corrected himself after breaking from the White House’s careful language on CNN, saying “When the Russians invaded – crossed the border – into Ukraine, it was, ‘My god. It’s over.’”

But that’s nothing compared to today’s Bloomberg portrait of Natalie Jaresko, the US stooge installed late last year to run Ukraine’s economy into the ground as finance minister. This is something else altogether. The first thing that comes to mind is: ‘have you no shame?’, but then you realize it’s Bloomberg. The subtitle is: Why Natalie Jaresko Is As Important As The Country’s Generals. I kid you not. In days of old, the CIA would have had to look through the Yellow Pages, but this time around I’m pretty sure they used Facebook to find Americans with Ukie blood ties. They then pumped her full of dollars, 100s of millions of them, and then she was ready to go. Mind you, she was picked way ahead of the regime change a year ago. The whole thing was planned well in advance. 10 years or so in advance.

C’mon, the first paragraph alone should be profoundly sickening to any functioning neuron:

The American Woman Who Stands Between Putin and Ukraine

Ukraine is a nation at war, which is why Natalie Jaresko, the minister of finance, has traveled 20 miles from Kiev to the town of Irpin, a settlement of 40,000 on the edge of a pine forest. She’s here to visit a rearguard army hospital and to console convalescing veterans of recent battles against Russian forces and their proxies in the Ukrainian east. “Where did you serve?” she asks, moving slowly from room to room. “How were you wounded?” She may be from Chicago’s West Side, but she speaks Ukrainian fluently, and if anyone notices her American accent, no one seems to care. Jaresko tells the soldiers they’re heroes, the country’s national accountant handling a job for generals. The crisis has thrust people into unlikely roles.

Three months ago, Jaresko, 49, left the private equity firm that she co-founded in Ukraine in 2006 to join the government of Petro Poroshenko. At the time, Jaresko didn’t even have Ukrainian citizenship. Now, as the country’s top economic official, she’s Ukraine’s liaison to the World Bank, the IMF, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Tax reform is hers. So is the treasury.

The country’s bankrupt. So much so that no amount of IMF funding can change that. Besides, a substantial amount of whatever funding will be made available, will need to go to what is still called an army, lest Kiev loses out completely against the rebels it has tried to annihilate for a year now. But it can get worse, just read this bit:

[..].. whether Ukraine succeeds as an independent democratic nation arguably depends as much on the efforts of Jaresko and her colleagues as it does on the military battles. Together they must rebuild a shattered economy and restore international confidence in Ukraine while confronting the corruption and cronyism that have haunted the country since the fall of communism. And they must somehow do so as state-owned banks teeter on the brink of collapse, the national treasury counts its last foreign notes, and inflation is at 28% and rising. The longer the war carries on and reforms are delayed, the more hostile Ukrainians will become to their government and its Western supporters, leaving the country even more vulnerable to Vladimir Putin.

Uh-uh. The people will turn against the US and EU, but they don’t really know what’s good for them do they? Even if they hate the heebees out of us, we must still protect them from Vlad the Impaler. Sorry, it’s for your own good…

Jaresko, 5 feet 6 inches tall, wears her dark hair at chin length. As she continues through the Irpin hospital, she’s solemn, respectful. More soldiers receive her, cramped two and three to closetlike rooms, jammed into beds sized for children. They discuss their lack of firepower in the field: Why don’t we have modern weapons? How does the enemy know where we are all the time? Jaresko listens. She knows better than any general that Ukraine doesn’t have the funds to better arm itself. She asks the soldiers what they plan to do once they’ve recovered. To a man, they say they’ll return to the front lines.

Ex-f##king-cuse me, but since I know anywhere between half a million to over a full million men have fled the country just to escape serving in the Kiev army, I’m wondering what lengths Bloomberg’s Brett Forrest and his new-found Mother Teresa went through to find a hospital where defeated soldiers, to a man no less, claimed they’d go back if only they could. Who believes this shit? And who needs it to begin with?

Yada yada, Jaresko life story, Ellis Island, Chicago, yada yada, and then this:

In the mid-1990s, Ukraine endured hyperinflation of 10,000%. A few years later came the shock waves of Russia’s financial crisis. The Ukrainian economy showed its first signs of growth only in 2000, after almost a decade of decline. Then, in 2004, came the Orange Revolution. While the country entered a new period of uncertainty, international institutional investors began to arrive. Two years later, Jaresko and three partners opened investment management firm Horizon Capital. It managed the Western NIS Enterprise Fund and eventually raised two more. When she left last December, it had roughly $600 million of Ukrainian investments under management.

I don’t think that’s Ukrainian investments, I’m thinking it’s western investments in Ukraine. Jaresko was set up very well, financially. From the $5 billion VIctoria Nuland admitted the US had spent to change the regime. She’s a well paid stooge. You do have to wonder what’s left of Jaresko’s riches now that Kiev’s as broke as a wino in the dead of winter.

Last year’s regime change, Jaresko says, represented a real turning point—a chance to finally end kleptocratic rule. “Anyone close to Ukraine understood that this was an incredible moment to take Ukraine forward in a way that it hadn’t gone quickly enough over the past 22 years,” she says. “That there had been a radical change in civil society, and that civil society’s expectations could no longer be put on the back burner by anyone.”

‘Forward’ in this case apparently means into war and bankruptcy, that’s all that’s been accomplished. Yeah, sure, Nuland’s neocons understood that ‘this was an incredible moment to take Ukraine forward in a way that it hadn’t gone quickly enough over the past 22 years..’ Just read that sentence again knowing it comes from that woman, and knowing she’s helped bring down the entire nation. It gives it a whole other meaning.

Yada yada, headhunting firm happenstanced upon an American CEO in Kiev (there’s so many of them it’s hard to keep track ;-)). “They played hard on my patriotism..” “I sometimes wonder what my father would think..” Please hand me a bucket!

Then some to and fro about how the state is too weak to fight Russia – which they’re not, they’re fighting their own citizens -, and paragraphs of financial blubber and outright lies, culminating in:

…economics minister Abromavicius saying his office projects a 5.5% reduction in the economy this year. That doesn’t take into account Putin’s future actions in the east. We work under the assumption that there will be peace very soon, he says. This conflict is misguided. The Russian leadership is misguided about Ukraine in general. They just don’t understand Ukraine. This country wants to be left alone. This country wants to make its own decisions.

‘This country wants to make its own decisions?’ Well, you should have made sure you didn’t go broke then. Because from here on in, you’ll never again make any decision you can call your own, and that includes choosing the color of toilet paper in your government offices. The US will do that for you. That’s why Jaresko is where she is. Ukraine had a lot more freedom before Maidan.

As the young government’s leaders and supporters tirelessly point out, the war with Russia has so far been contained to less than 10% of Ukraine’s territory.

First, there is no war with Russia, only with Ukrainian citizens. And if it’s less than 10% of the territory, that’s only because the rebels have no claim on anything but their own land. They don’t want Kiev, they just want Kiev to leave them alone and stop killing their women and children. But if it won’t, the rebels will take more territory, just so Kiev can’t use it to attack them anymore.

But it must be convenient to be able to hang an entire country’s demise on one person, no matter what happens. I just read that US House Speaker Boehner sent a letter to Obama claiming that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are a ‘grotesque violation of international law’. If that is so, what does that say about America’s actions in Ukraine?

The US must withdraw Nuland and Jaresko from their respective positions starting yesterday morning. But they won’t, they have achieved exactly what they were aiming for: a nation so shattered it’s dependent on US and IMF money just to survive, just to pay for the ink needed to draw its borders on a map.

From here on, it’s just a matter of waiting for Putin to get so sick of all this he decides he can’t let Kiev go down any further, lest all that’s left is neonazis and neocons, and they start aiming their US and/or UAE supplied ‘lethal defensive’ weapons eastward. And then they’ll get what they’ve wanted all along, Yatsenyuk and Poroshenko and Nuland and Jaresko: They’ll get War. But it won’t come the way they envisioned it. Putin’s way too smart for that.

Anyway, what a shameless depiction of Ukraine we get here. It’s all-out propaganda, no prisoners taken. I’m getting tired of getting angry about it, but someone has to.