We look briefly at China, not as an investment, but more an existential threat. And we finish the lessons of the Greek coup in 2015. While little else surprises? Except perhaps the pessimism apparently shown by the long bond.

But even that might have a good reason.

DIRE STRAITS

I looked idly at a certain pink paper’s New Year quiz and asked my companion for views, and on most topics, we had one, or could find one. But on one, ‘will Xi invade Taiwan?’ I had no idea.

Not because after Ukraine there is any doubt it would be mindlessly stupid to do so, and plunge China back into the dark ages. That much is obvious. There is no way China can “go it alone” – without Western markets, capital, and innovation, it heads back to where Iran, Pakistan, Congo, and Argentina have been.

But a distant echo tells me that I don’t know for certain. Perhaps my confidence that Putin would not be so stupid as to invade Ukraine, tints my view; I was wrong there.

I am also largely assuming any military contest is unpredictable, so I tend to focus on the long-term economic impacts alone.  But I still don’t know that Xi won’t try, which will clearly crash world markets.

I will deliberately not gaze into that abyss, but I can’t ignore it. The best response I have is where two stocks are equally attractive, and on like valuations, I would buy the one with the lower Chinese exposure. Maybe my limited action says that I think it is possible, but really not that likely. The other option of course is adding to gold and safe haven currencies.

Looked at a Swiss Franc graph of late?

From : Google Finance currency page

Most investable firms can shed China, just as many have shed Russia, but at a much higher price. The reciprocal asset seizures will be vast.

And although it won’t cripple Starbucks, Tesla or Apple, it will be a big slice of asset destruction for them.

 

NO DEMOCRACY

Back to Greece – when we last wrote it was to note the ravages imposed by the EU and IMF on the Greek economy, and how the scars still remain. But completing Yanis Varoufakis and his seminal tome, other contexts are clear.

As an academic his note taking and indeed voice and video recordings were quite an exceptional contemporaneous record. Not just of Greece, but of how Europe really worked, in a crisis.

We forget now, that Ukraine also needed a big bailout in 2015, and a choice was made as to which mattered more to, in effect, Germany. The answer in 2015 was Ukraine, with the late Wolfgang Schauble wanting Greece out of the Euro, and Angela Merkel seeing that as a lesser evil, for Germany, than the collapse of the Ukrainian economy.

There is very little ‘EU’ in this incidentally, Germany was the dominant and controlling creditor. The IMF largely sat safely behind its super creditor status. As Yanis notes the IMF funds itself on interest, and that mainly comes from having plenty of distressed debt. Not an attractive feedback loop, however logical. And of course, it largely stood back from Greece – inactivity is often an action taken.

Moving on, the Greek crisis was closely followed by Brexit, at the time we thought that was chance. It is clear it was not, and both sides had learnt a lot from the prior event, to take into the next battle. The EU and Merkel in particular had no interest in rational arguments, having waded through all that guff in Greece; you can see Cameron may have been useless, but he really had no hand to play in his “re-negotiation”. Simply ‘nein’ had worked well in Greece, so Merkel pressed repeat.

The old apparatchik’s argument about “reform from the inside” was clearly flannel; popular mandates are for the birds. As a result, the Brexit faction knew it had to be a clean exit, with one shot to the head. Sadly, Theresa May failed to realise that, and when the EU subsequently realised she had thrown her majority away, they had no reason to agree any deal, or not to expect another craven capitulation.

What of Greece now?

Well, it simply lost a big chunk of its economy (circa 20%) to creditors and demolished welfare payments and entitlements, for a generation. Was that fatal? Not really, life expectancy rose through that decade, as elsewhere in Europe.

The left largely destroyed its high-water mark, one-off advantage, but remains a mid-teens political faction.

The October 2023 regional elections saw even more regional governorships fall to the centre right New Democracy. This was along with a rip-roaring stock market in 2023 as the long rebound continued.

 

EU

And in Europe? Well, those June Parliament elections are getting interesting, Syriza will suffer more losses, and the gains by the centre right in Italy, Holland etc. are likewise yet to show up in Strasbourg. This provides context for this week’s defenestration of the French prime minister, for a near novice (at ministerial level). It seems this was a poisoned chalice for the big guns of En Marche, as the party are well behind Le Pen in the polls.

The European Parliament is such a mash-up of parties, and with limited real power, no change can be dramatic, but for once it could be at least interesting. The super-spending high regulating internationalist left, may get a setback.

 

Financial markets

Markets? I don’t think they ever get going till after Martin Luther King’s birthday is celebrated on Monday. Despite the need for news, the decline in global rates is baked in, and remains positive for equities, especially rate sensitive stocks.

You can stare into the Chinese abyss, but be careful that is does not stare back at you, you will see what you most fear or least know, as Nietzsche knew.

 

 

 

Happy New Year.