This note was originally published at 8am on September 13, 2013 for Hedgeye subscribers.
“There lived a certain man in Russia long ago,
He was big and strong, in his eyes a flaming glow,
Most people looked at him with terror and with fear,
But to Moscow chicks he was such a lovely dear.”
Over the course of history, Russia has certainly been known for its strong leaders. The Boney M song, “Rasputin”, from which the verse above was taken, is about one of the most enigmatic of Russia’s leaders: Grigori Rasputin.
Rasputin was a Russian mystic that lived from 1869 – 1916. He became an advisor to the Romanovs, the reigning royal family in Russia at the time, after being asked to try and heal their son Alexei, who suffered from hemophilia. Probably more by the stroke of luck than any knowledge of medicine, Rasputin was successful in healing Alexei and became a key advisor and intimate to the Czar’s family, especially his wife Alexandra Feodoronva.
From 1906 – 1914, many Russian politicians and journalists used Rasputin’s influence over the Romanovs to discredit them. His influence only accelerated with the advent of World War I when the Czarina took over domestic policy, with Rasputin as her key advisor.
Eventually, Rasputin’s influence created contempt amongst the Czar political allies and rivals. Ultimately, a group of conspirators led by the Czar’s first cousin Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, murdered Rasputin. Rasputin had the last laugh as he wrote to Czar Nicholas shortly before his death that if he were killed by government officials, the entire imperial family would be killed by the Russian people.
Rasputin’s prophecy came true a short 15 months later when the Czar, his wife and all their children were murdered by assassins during the Russian Revolution. Directly and indirectly, Rasputin has been pointed to as a key catalyst for the fall of the Romanovs.
Certainly, the current situation in Syria does not have direct parallels to the Russian Revolution, but to be seen to be under the influence of a Russian, especially the Botox laden Putin, will not be a positive turn of events for President Obama. In part, Obama backed himself into a corner by deciding to go to Congress to get approval to use military force in Syria, even as he acknowledged he didn’t legally need Congressional approval.
When it became clear that Congress wasn’t going to support the action, the door was left open for the Russians to propose a more “commercial” solution. Of course now President Obama has lost all leverage and, as a friend of mine who runs a major investment bank said, has been completely re-traded. So much so that President Assad is now making demands on the United States (via Russian TV of course)! As the state-owned Syrian newspaper put it bluntly in a headline on Thursday, “Moscow and Damascus have pulled the rug out from under the feet of Obama.”
Given the turn of events, it is no surprise then that President Obama’s approval rating has plummeted close to all-time lows. Currently, on the Real Clear politics poll aggregate, 7.6% more people disapprove then approve of Obama. As it relates to foreign policy, 17.6% more Americans disapprove of the job he is doing. It seems the President has become a lame duck quicker than most second term Presidents.
My colleague Keith McCullough proposed a unique idea yesterday to James Pethokoukis at the American Enterprise Institute yesterday, which was to turn Larry Summers loose on the Russians. As Keith said in the interview:
“We really need to embrace the weapon that we have as a country, which is the most powerful weapon that we’ve had for a very long period of time, which is, of course, the currency of the people, and that currency has basically been de-botched and devalued ’til the cows come home. We need to start to stand up for these things and that’ll help us stand up against guys like Vladimir Putin. Bring in, probably, a guy like Larry Summers to deliver the message because you do need somebody to stand up with a backbone and actually say it in a really forceful way, which, at a bare minimum, that’s what Larry Summers can do. $65 oil would be fantastic for the American people and it would be absolutely pulverizing to Putin’s power.”
As we’ve been writing for a while, a strong dollar equals a strong America. If the rumors from the Japanese press this morning are even remotely true and Larry Summers is destined to be the next Chairman of the Federal Reserve then it is very bullish for the U.S. dollar and bearish for commodities. The action this morning, with gold down, oil down and the U.S. dollar up, is likely only the beginning of the sustained move we will see if Chairman Summers becomes more than prophesy.
Of course, there is economic data at play here as well. On that note, jobless claims came in at the lowest absolute number since 2000 at 228,000 yesterday. Year-over-year improvement on this data series moves to -23.8% versus -13.2% last week and the rolling 4-week average is -14.5%.
In the Chart of the Day, we show what this improving data series means for interest rates as we chart the 10-year yield versus the 4-week rolling initial claims. As you can see from the chart, there is a very tight correlation between the labor market improving and interest rates going up.
The combination of a continued improvement in the U.S. labor market and increasing chatter of the likelihood that Larry Summers takes over the Federal Reserve will combine to be an economic weapon of mass destruction for bonds, gold, oil and the Russians alike.
Our immediate-term Risk Ranges are now as follows:
UST 10yr Yield 2.86-3.03% (bullish)
SPX 1664-1701 (bullish)
Nikkei 14117-14638 (bullish)
USD 81.39-81.93 (bullish)
Brent 110.54-113.91 (bullish)
Gold 1307-1365 (bearish)
Enjoy your weekend.
Daryl G. Jones
Director of Research