Good morning. Today is Monday, February 20th.
Tensions rise in Asia-Pacific this week as North Korea tests long-range missiles in a fit of pique and China tries to maneuver its way out of impending US sanctions. In other news, the German economy starts to show signs of healing and US FM Blinken pays a visit to an earthquake-stricken ally.
– Atilla and Özlem
Year-to-date price changes. Prices at markets’ close.
• S&P’s PMI flashes for the Eurozone and the UK will provide the first peek at how European economies are performing in February as we get the latest update to Core PCE —the Fed’s preferred measure for inflation— at the end of the week.
US markets closed for President’s Day; US President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Poland; EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels; Eurozone consumer confidence; Finland, Sweden CPI.
Putin to deliver his first state-of-the-nation address; Eurozone, US, UK, Japan Flash PMIs; Germany ZEW survey; Finland unemployment.
FOMC minutes; Germany IFO Survey; Germany, Italy CPI;
G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors meet in India; Eurozone CPI; US Q4 GDP revision, initial unemployment claims; Turkey interest-rate decision; Japanese markets closed for Emperor’s Day.
One-year mark of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; German Chancellor Scholz leaves for a three-day trip to India; Germany GDP; US Core PCE.
• The number of EU businesses filing for bankruptcy rose about 27% in 2022 Q4, to the highest level since the agency started collecting the data in 2015, Eurostat said on Friday.
via Financial Times
- The reason: The economists pointed to slowing economic growth, soaring energy prices, rising wages, and higher financing costs that contributed to the collapse of the struggling companies that were kept afloat by government aid during the pandemic.
• German producer prices for industrial products rose 17.8% YoY in January. While the prices rose more than the expected 16.4%; the rate of increase eased for the fourth month in a row, signaling that inflation could be starting to wane.
• European Central Bank (ECB) is expected to continue its interest rate hikes, following hawkish comments by ECB board member Isabel Schnabel and French central bank chief Francois Villeroy de Galhau on Friday. The ECB has lifted its key interest rate by 300bps since July and promised another big move in March but markets began to doubt its resolve earlier this month, perceiving some of its guidance as vague and non-committal, Reuters reports.
- Fed hikes: Goldman Sachs and Bank of America said they expect the US Federal Reserve (Fed) to raise interest rates three more times in 2023, with both organizations expecting a 25bps hike, forecasting the terminal rate at a 5.25%-5.5% range following the Fed's June meeting. Money markets are currently pricing in a terminal rate of 5.3% by July.
• The price of European natural gas has fallen to its lowest level in 18 months at €48.90/MWh, as they tumbled by as much as 85% since August 2022—thanks to mild weather, ample storage, and efforts to source alternative supplies, The Financial Times reports.
• Amazon would require employees to be in the office at least three days a week from May 1, the company CEO Andy Jassy said in a blog post on Friday. Customer support roles and salespeople would still have the option of working remotely, the company added.
• Boeing's board of directors awarded CEO Dave Calhoun 25,000 in restricted stock units —an incentive worth approximately $5.29 million— to stay throughout the company's recovery from the twin crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and two deadly 737 MAX crashes and return to pre-pandemic production rates.
• Lockheed Martin was awarded a US Navy contract related to hypersonic weapon systems that is worth up to $2 billion, the company said. The contract comes as the US and its global rivals have been developing several hypersonic weapons, which travel in the upper atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound, Reuters reports.
• Formula 1 “will never switch to electric,” but is developing a zero-emission alternative that “could also power planes and vessels” to help lower emissions and expand its popularity, Bernie Ecclestone's successor Stefano Domenicali said.
- Ambitious targets: “It’s possible to reach zero emissions without changing engines or throwing away existing cars,” Domenicali told the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.
• The 59th Munich Security Conference (MSC) took place Feb. 17-19 with more than 700 participants. The war in Ukraine topped the agenda as the conference almost marks exactly one year since Russia’s 24 February invasion.
- Zoom in: The final day of talks focused on the future of the European security infrastructure. MSC chairman Christoph Heusgen called for European and German defense spending increases, and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell appealed for more engagement with the global south to 'debunk' Russia's narrative about the war.
- On a related note: Swedish PM Ulf Kristersson warned against separating its NATO membership bid from Finland’s, after the alliance said for the first time that the two countries might have to join individually due to Turkey’s obstruction. "For strategic reasons, the two membership applications should be ratified at the same time," Kristersson said in an interview.
• The US has determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine, Vice President Kamala Harris said at the MSC, adding that “justice must be served” to the perpetrators. “Russian forces have pursued a widespread and systemic attack against a civilian population—gruesome acts of murder, torture, rape, and deportation,” Harris said.
- Furthermore: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it would be “unthinkable” for Russia not to pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction. Von der Leyen was “disappointed” by a decision that Swiss authorities took last week against using seized Russian assets to assist with Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction, and insisted Moscow would be held financially accountable for the destruction in Ukraine.
- Meanwhile: The Netherlands expelled 10 Russian diplomats, saying Moscow has been using diplomatic cover for espionage—ruling that there may not be more Russian diplomats in the Netherlands than Dutch diplomats in Russia. The Dutch government also announced it will temporarily close its consulate-general in St. Petersburg.
• The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is “weeks away” from finalizing a fully-fledged program of support for Ukraine, the fund’s Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said Saturday. The IMF said on Friday that it reached an agreement to provide a full loan program that would support Kyiv’s economy and help Ukraine in its bid to join the EU.
- In addition: EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss Estonia’s proposal to jointly invest around €4 billion to procure 1 million rounds of ammunition for Ukraine to beat Russia’s invasion.
- In other news: Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs dismissed concerns that the country is allegedly mishandling the Western funding to support Kyiv’s defense against Russia. “We are absolutely clean,” Dmytro Kuleba said; and added that this is why Ukraine quickly accepted a US delegation to review the use of resources. It comes after a crack-down on potential corruption by the Ukrainian government in recent weeks.
• Hungary must ensure the independence of its judiciary very soon to get any of the €15.4 billion planned for Budapest from the EU’s Covid recovery stimulus, a senior EU official said. The bloc has suspended any payments until Budapest implements reforms to improve judicial independence and tackle corruption.
• The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced an additional $50 million in Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Funds (ERMA) in response to the earthquakes that affected both Turkey and Syria, for a total of $185 million in humanitarian aid, following his visit to Turkey on Sunday. “The most important thing right now is getting assistance to people… Simply put, the United States is here,” Blinken said.
- In other news: Medical charity ‘Doctors Without Borders’ (MSF) announced on Sunday that a convoy of 14 of its trucks had entered northwestern Syria to assist in earthquake rescue operations.
• An Israeli rocket strike hit a building in central Damascus on Sunday, killing five people and damaging several buildings in the densely populated district. Syrian foreign minister Faisal Mekdad said the strike should be considered a "crime against humanity" as it came soon after the Feb. 6 earthquake that left more than 5,800 dead across the country.
⚡️ Asia-Pacific Update
- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi in Munich against providing lethal aid to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Blinken also rebuked Wang over an alleged Chinese spy balloon, saying that the craft’s entry into US airspace was an “irresponsible act.
- Wang Yi said China and the EU should prepare for a meeting of their leaders, in a bid to strengthen the country’s ties with the bloc as the political tensions with the US heightens. Wang urged EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to help “bring bilateral exchanges back to pre-epidemic levels.”
- A Chinese official visited Taiwan at the invitation of the Taiwanese capital’s newly elected China-friendly mayor. Dozens protested at Sunshan Airport in Taipei denouncing Chinese efforts to undermine the independence of the self-ruling island.
- North Korea on Saturday fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from its capital into the sea off Japan, after threatening to take strong measures against South Korea and the US over their joint military exercises. The United States responded by flying long-range supersonic bombers.
• Binance.US, the US partner of the global cryptocurrency exchange Binance, has confirmed that a trading firm allegedly managed by Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao operated as a market-maker on its platform. Binance transferred over $400 million from the account at California-based Silvergate Bank to Merit Peak between January and March of 2021, without Binance.US executives' knowledge, Reuters reported.
- Furthermore: Market-makers are firms that typically buy and sell assets to deepen trading volumes in a crypto exchange. The global exchange has pulled back on potential investments in the US, Binance CEO Zhao said following the news.
• Twitter will only allow paid (a.k.a. Twitter Blue) subscribers to use SMS as a two-factor authentication (2FA) method to secure their accounts after March 20, the company said. The platform will continue to allow 2FA by authenticator apps and security keys for free user accounts.
• Kellin Pelrine, an amateur Go player, has won 14 of 15 games against KataGo, one of the top Go-playing AI systems—by exploiting a weakness that was discovered by another AI system, FAR AI, by playing more than a million games of Go against KataGo. Pelrine was otherwise unassisted by computers.
- A step back: The world Go champion Lee Sedol was defeated in 2016 by AlphaGo, a system devised by Google-owned research company DeepMind—contributing to his retirement from Go three years later as he referred to AI systems as “entities that cannot be defeated”.
• Microsoft said it will cap its Bing AI chatbot at 50 questions per day and 5 Q&As per session—after it was documented that the bot could “go off the rails” and discuss violence, declare love, or insist that it was right when it was wrong. The move will limit some scenarios where long chat sessions can “confuse” the chat model, the company said in a blog post.
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