- Diplomats best hopes for Minsk is for freeze in hostilities
- Russia engages the U.S. in war of words as tensions mount
- Greece and EU buy time – no agreement thus far
- Anti-austerity parties in Spain and Greece may bring down the euro
The Minsk Summit which was called at the urgent behest of Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande seems not to have yielded any tangible outcome despite the high stakes on all sides.
Media reports present little new information regarding the talks which ran through the night. The Guardian reports that President Putin confirmed a ceasefire agreement has been reached which would come into effect on Sunday.
Ukraine’s Poroshenko denied an agreement had reached, insisting that some of Russia’s demands were “unacceptable”.
While a ceasefire, if it does transpire, will bring much relief to the people of East Ukraine it is unlikely to last without a real political solution. The Pro-Russian rebels do not trust Poroshenko.
The Donetsk and Luhansk regions – which are inhabited predominantly by ethnic Russians – voted to secede from Ukraine following the overthrow of former, pro-Russian, Prime Minister Yanukovich last year.
As such, the rebels do not recognize Poroshenko as the leader of Ukraine and reject a return to the Ukrainian state in it’s current form. They are apparently willing to return as part of a federalized Ukraine which would limit the power of both Kiev and Moscow which seems reasonable.
However, for the moment, the most that can be hoped for is a “freezing” of hostilities according to the BBC.
But while Germany and France seek to calm the situation in Ukraine to avert it escalating into a proxy war on an already unstable Europe’s border, Russia and the U.S. seem intent on provoking each other. While Obama, on Tuesday evening, warned Putin that he must reverse course and cease arming the rebels, the head Russia’s Security Council made a counter-warning.
Bloomberg reported Nicolai Patrushev, one of Putin’s closest advisors as saying, “the current U.S. approach will lead to inevitable confrontation with Russia and China.”
The European de-facto leadership clearly view the resolution of the Ukraine crisis as of the utmost urgency. At the same time the U.S. are taking a very hawkish stance. If the U.S. where to begin arming Ukraine’s government it would lead to great tension with Europe.
At the same time Europe is at risk of imploding. Yesterday’s talks among finance ministers yielded nothing and the EU appears to be buying time saying they need to be continued on Monday. Greece appear to have succeeded in calling Europe’s bluff, at least for now, given that Wednesday had been announced as the dead-line for Greece to comply.
It would appear Europe fears a Greek exit from the euro more than they had suggested. In Today’s Telegraph, Ambrose Evans Pritchard has an interesting piece blaming the Northern European elites for the rise of left wing groups in Southern Europe.
In Spain the left-wing Podemos party are polling at 28%. The ruling conservative party only have the support of 21% of the population.
“Europe’s policy elites can rail angrily at the folly of these plans if they wish, but they must answer why ex-Trotskyists threatening to dismantle market capitalism are taking a major EMU state by storm. It is what happens when 5.46m people lack jobs, when 2m households still have no earned income, and when youth unemployment is still running at 51.4pc, and home prices are down 42pc, six years into a depression.”
In Italy he identifies a similar pattern,
“The revolt in Italy has different contours but is just as dangerous for Brussels. Italians may not wish to leave the euro but political consent for the project but broken down. All three opposition parties are now anti-euro in one way or another. Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement – with 108 seats in parliament – is openly calling for a return to the lira.”
These are serious developments for the EU and whatever the result of Syriza’s brinkmanship the anti-austerity groups are likely to be bolstered by the defiance of the Greeks. What loyalty can the 51% of unemployed youth have to the European project?
More frighteningly for Europe, what reason have these European groups not to pivot toward Russia and the East. But Europe cannot afford to write down the debts of these countries so it is in a catch-22 situation.
Irish Finance Minister, Michael Noonan, is not willing – at this strategically expedient time – to put pressure on the EU to make similar concessions to Ireland should Greece achieve a write-down in it’s debt or some other favorable outcome.
The same cannot be said for Spain and Italy whose incumbent governments are facing massive pressure from their anti-austerity opponents domestically.
In the absence of a strong and united anti-austerity movement in Ireland it is likely that the government will continue with some slight justification to support the status quo despite crises in homelessness, health care and repossession of family homes.
Europe seems to be in disarray. A currency crisis may be imminent. Owners of physical gold will find it a safe harbour in the coming months and years.
For an in depth look at currency wars read: Currency Wars: Bye, Bye Petrodollar – Buy, Buy Gold
Today’s AM fix was USD 1,225.25, EUR 1,080.75 and GBP 803.13 per ounce.
Yesterday’s AM fix was USD 1,235.50, EUR 1,092.40 and GBP 807.73 per ounce.
Gold fell 1.16 percent or $14.30 and closed at $1,219.70 an ounce yesterday, while silver slipped 0.71 percent or $0.12 closing at $16.79 an ounce.
Gold inched up after its 1 percent loss overnight, after hitting a five week low in Asia. Demand for the yellow metal has been driven by safe haven bids from the eurozone ‘Grexit’ scenario and also from Chinese buying the dip ahead of Lunar New Year.
Near the end of day trading in Singapore spot gold was trading at $1,222.30 an ounce.
Yesterday, the U.S. dollar hit a three week high versus other major currencies. Eurozone finance ministers were not able to reach an agreement on Greece’s bail-out and austerity terms.
The next U.S. Federal Reserve meeting is scheduled for March 17-18, but until then the horizon for U.S. interest rate hikes looks likely for June. A rise in the interest rate could strengthen the U.S. dollar further and dampen the appeal for the yellow metal. Whether the hike is already being priced into the gold price or not, time will tell.
Gold in London fell to its lowest since January 9th at $1,216.45 an ounce, before recovering to trade up 0.4 percent at $1,223.78. Silver rose 1 percent to $16.92 an ounce. Platinum gained 1.1 percent at $1,203.85 an ounce, while palladium was up 0.9 percent at $772.75 an ounce.
The World Gold Council data released today noted that gold demand hit a five-year low last year as buying of jewellery, coins and bars failed to keep pace with 2013’s elevated levels, particularly in major consumer China.
The Bank of Japan deflated hopes of further monetary easing which gave gold a boost early in trading to hit $1,233.10. The Bank of England lowered its 2015 inflation rate target to 0.5 percent from 1.4 percent after what it sees as a temporary slump. While Sweden’s Central Bank, the Riksbank, slashed interest rates by 10 basis points in efforts to stop the nordic country’s spiralling deflation problem.
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