Stocks are down across the globe on war fears, with the Russian stock market down 11.5% and the rouble at record lows against the dollar and euro. The yen and Swiss franc are seeing heavy safe haven demand, as well as gold.
Gold hit $1,350 an ounce in early New York trading this morning, as Russia sends armor reinforcements into the Crimea region of Ukraine, and Russian President Putin publicly declares Russia’s right to invade more of the nation to protect ethnic Russians. Russian fighter jets have violated Ukrainian airspace after Russian troops seized Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile batteries, and more Russian ships have appeared along the coastline. Ukrainian army bases in the Crimea are surrounded by the Russian army, and airports and government buildings have been seized.
The global rush to safe haven assets is also sweeping oil, natural gas, and grains higher. Russia is the world’s #2 oil exporter and #1 natural gas exporter, and Western Europe imports the majority of its energy from Russia. Putin is bargaining that Europe’s energy dependence to Russia will ensure he gets away with taking the Crimea.
Grains are higher, as the threat of war in eastern Ukraine proper would endanger a region that was once called “the breadbasket of the Soviet Union.” Ukraine is (was) on track to become the world’s #3 corn producer and #6 wheat producer this year, and exports its farm products as far away as China.
In economic news, U.S. consumer spending for January was reported up 0.4%, mostly on utilities as people tried to keep warm in the “polar vortex” storms that saw snow and ice as far south as central Georgia. December consumer spending had been recorded at that same 0.4% rise, but was revised downward in this report to a weak 0.1% gain. The Markit manufacturing PMI rose to 57.1 from the previous month’s three-month low of 53.7.
Hedge funds last week raised their bullish bets on gold to the highest level in 14 months. Despite ending the month on a low note, gold was up 6.5% for February.
Other global hotspots to watch this week are Venezuela and Thailand, where deadly clashes have gone on for weeks. Venezuela in particular has the possibility of anti-corruption demonstrations spiraling into a civil war. Platinum prices are starting to be bid, as above-ground supplies in South Africa begin running out as a result of a protracted strike by mineworkers.