“You’ve got three days left.”
The British pound whipsawed and selling of U.K. government bonds intensified on Wednesday after another head-snapping turn of events that left investors confused and worried about what’s coming next. Yields of 30-year government bonds, known as gilts, hit 5 percent, near the levels that forced the Bank of England to intervene in markets two weeks ago.
The Bank of England muddied the waters. The central bank spent much of Tuesday trying to ease investors’ fears about the scheduled end on Friday of its bond-buying program, including by suggesting that it would continue to buy gilts beyond this week, according to The Financial Times.
But then Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, warned in a speech — after the bond market had closed — that the gilt repurchase program would definitively end on Friday. He bluntly told British pension funds looking to sell gilt holdings to raise collateral, “You’ve got three days left.”
(On Wednesday, the Bank of England firmly restated that the bond-buying operation will end on Friday. “The governor confirmed this position yesterday and it has been made absolutely clear in contact with the banks at senior levels,” the central bank said in a statement.)
You can imagine what happened next. The pound sank immediately after his speech, falling below $1.10, though it recovered on Wednesday. Yields on 30-year U.K. debt shot up when trading opened, approaching the levels that prompted the Bank of England to gin up the bond-buying operation in the first place.
The Bank of England’s credibility is now in question. Market commentators swiftly panned the comments by Bailey (who, in fairness, may not have been at his best — he said he had been up for over 24 hours watching the markets). John Authers of Bloomberg Opinion called it “an all-time central banking gaffe,” while the research group CrossBorder Capital tweeted that Bailey had just delivered the “shortest suicide note in history.”
Any loss of confidence in the central bank removes yet another sliver of hope for British investors, who have already been bewildered by the government’s insistence on broad tax cuts to bolster economic growth. (The I.M.F. reiterated its concern that those unfunded cuts would juice inflation, forcing the Bank of England to keep raising interest rates.) And it comes as Britain’s economy continues to sputter.
Britain’s woes are spilling over into other markets as well. The prices of bonds tied to collateralized loan obligations, investment vehicles that buy loans made to junk-rated corporate borrowers, have fallen in recent weeks as British pension funds sell off their holdings to raise cash. That is making life difficult for the likes of private equity firms, which rely on C.L.O.s to fund leveraged buyouts — and, investors worry, potentially other parts of the market that haven’t come to the fore just yet.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
President Biden turns up the heat on Saudi Arabia. He vowed yesterday to impose “consequences” on the kingdom after it teamed up with Russia for a huge cut in oil production. That may mean reducing arms sales. It’s not clear that Riyadh is scared: Saudi Arabia reportedly went ahead with the cut despite private warnings from Washington, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Gig workers could get a boost from the White House. The Labor Department proposed making it easier to classify a company’s workers as employees instead of independent contractors, potentially entitling them to a minimum wage and overtime. Shares in DoorDash, Lyft and Uber all fell on the news.
Peloton’s ex-C.E.O. concedes pressure on his stock borrowing. John Foley, who left the embattled home-fitness company last month, faced margin calls from Goldman Sachs on loans he borrowed against his Peloton holdings, according to The Wall Street Journal. Foley didn’t elaborate on his borrowing but told The Journal, “This was not a fun personal balance-sheet reset.”
TikTok faces questions over gifts meant for Syrian refugees. A BBC investigation into refugees begging for money on the video platform found that they received only around 30 percent of the money sent via the company’s gifts offering. TikTok said it would investigate “exploitative begging” but would not say what cut it takes of gifts.
Musk vs. Bremmer
Elon Musk found yet another adversary yesterday, this time in Ian Bremmer, the well-connected political scientist who has the ear of C.E.O.s and policymakers. Bremmer, the founder of the political risk firm Eurasia Group, wrote in his latest newsletter that Musk told him he’d spoken directly with President Vladimir Putin about what it would take to end Russia’s war in Ukraine. Musk denied Bremmer’s account, adding to the fireworks.
What Bremmer initially published: According to Bremmer, Musk said Putin made three stipulations for ending the war: Crimea remains Russian; Ukraine accepts a form of neutrality and demilitarizes; and Ukraine recognizes Russia’s annexation of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Musk posted a similar list on Twitter last week and was subsequently slammed by Ukrainian officials.
Musk denied Bremmer’s account. “I have spoken to Putin only once and that was about 18 months ago. The subject matter was space,” he tweeted.
Bremmer denied Musk’s denial. “elon musk told me he had spoken with putin and the kremlin directly about ukraine. he also told me what the kremlin’s red lines were,” Bremmer tweeted.
Does it matter? Yes, Bremmer argued in his newsletter, where he also eschews capital letters: “given that elon musk now looks increasingly likely to buy twitter, at which point he’ll reinstate the former president, you’ll have those same views with trump and his full political base behind it, potentially leading the united states to become fundamentally divided on the issue.” Musk in his last tweet on the matter was a little more personal: “Nobody should trust Bremmer.”
Blaming the Fed
Top economic officials are gathering this week in Washington for the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Atop the agenda: How to bring down inflation and revive a slowing global economy to ensure the turmoil doesn’t mushroom into the next global financial crisis.
Look for central banks, and specifically the Fed, to get some of the blame for economic volatility, which has spilled into the financial markets. Yesterday, economists at the I.M.F. said in its World Economic Outlook report that the Fed’s aggressive efforts to crush domestic inflation, primarily by rapidly raising interest rates, had turbocharged the dollar’s value, increasing the odds of an international debt crisis. That follows a United Nations agency warning that the Fed’s interest rate policy would ultimately deprive developing nations of $360 billion in “future income,” and “signal more trouble ahead.” Josep Borrell, a foreign policy chief for the E.U., was just as blunt, saying U.S. monetary policy risks creating “a world recession.”
With criticism mounting, Vincent Reinhart, a former top Fed economist who is now at Dreyfus and Mellon, said “it’s very possible that the view that it’s all the Fed’s fault could emerge as the consensus by Friday.”
The big worry: The Fed could be pressured to rein in its inflation-fighting efforts, even if tomorrow’s Consumer Price Index report shows tough measures are still needed to stabilize prices. It puts the Fed in a tough — and possibly misunderstood — spot, particularly as supply-chain disruptions and a global energy crisis continue to roil the global economy and undermine the Fed’s inflation-fighting efforts. “Central bankers around the globe have a huge set of headaches,” said David Wilcox, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute and the director of U.S. economic research at Bloomberg Economics. “But are those headaches substantially Fed-driven in origin? The answer to that is no.”
“The way I think about labor hoarding is, it has option value.”
— Benjamin Friedrich, an associate professor of strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, on the phenomenon of labor hoarding, and why companies may be inclined to retain employees even if the economy falls into recession.
Moving closer to global rules on crypto controls
A group of financial regulators tasked with preventing globe-spanning financial crises laid out a new framework to regulate crypto yesterday, saying rapid adoption and the recent crash show more oversight is urgently needed. “Crypto-asset markets are fast evolving and could reach a point where they represent a threat to global financial stability due to their scale, structural vulnerabilities and increasing interconnectedness with the traditional financial system,” the Financial Stability Board, a group formed in 2009 in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, warned in its report to Group of 20 finance ministers and central bank governors.
News that underscored the urgency soon followed. BNY Mellon — the U.S.’s oldest bank and one of 30 institutions deemed “global systemically important banks” by the F.S.B. — announced that it had begun acting as a crypto custodian for clients. It’s the first major U.S. bank to go into that business. But it probably won’t be the last, which is why authorities are scrambling to come up with a plan to mitigate risks before too many more bridges are built between the old and new financial systems.
Crypto’s “inherent global nature” complicates oversight, the F.S.B. said. It highlighted several challenges, including inconsistent legal approaches across jurisdictions that incentivize regulatory arbitrage, data gaps that make risk assessment difficult and new products and tools that don’t neatly fit in traditional categories and may need new rules. The “cross-border” nature of crypto is another hurdle, officials noted.
There are rules to enforce, though more may be needed. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, and the Office of Foreign Assets Control, both part of the Treasury Department, announced yesterday that they had settled matters with the crypto exchange Bittrex. The exchange was accused of violating sanctions and the Bank Secrecy Act when it allowed users in Crimea, Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria to use its platform between 2014 and 2017.
Bittrex agreed to pay $24 million to the Treasury. FinCEN assessed a $29 million penalty, but will credit Bittrex’s other payment. It was the first parallel crypto action by the two, and O.F.A.C’s “largest virtual currency enforcement action to date,” the department said. The size of the penalty was meant to send a clear signal to the crypto industry of “the importance of implementing compliance controls and meeting obligations,” it said.THE SPEED READ
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