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The Week Begins On A Scary Note

The US markets awoke to news of several big, disturbing overseas events:

Glencore implodes. Think of Swiss commodities giant Glencore as a modern version of Enron, in the sense that it owns physical assets like mines and oil wells around the world and runs perhaps the biggest commodities derivatives trading desk. And -- also like Enron -- it's apparently unprepared for extreme commodity price volatility. This morning its stock price plunged even further and its credit default swaps -- the cost of insuring payment on its its bonds -- blew out to record levels.

If Glencore loses its investment grade rating as now seems likely, its access to cheap capital will evaporate and it will fail. This matters for several reasons, the most important of which is the company's unspecified but certainly huge derivatives book which, like AIG's in 2008, is a serious threat to the leveraged speculating community.

Commodities from oil to gold are down hard on the news.

Saudi Arabia cashes out. The world's dominant oil exporter can't pay its bills with crude at $50 a barrel so it's spending down foreign exchange reserves and borrowing hand over fist. This morning it was reported that the Saudi sovereign wealth fund -- a major player in global bond and equity markets -- was cashing out and bringing its money back home.

The amounts in question -- $70 billion so far -- are potentially a big deal for the funds that manage this money and are now seeing major outflows. According to one article: "Institutions such as State Street, Northern Trust and BNY Mellon...are therefore also likely to have been hit hard by the Gulf governments' cash grab."

VW execs investigated for fraud. Illustrating the difference between car makers and banks, the German government is considering criminal charges for the actual human Volkswagen executives responsible for falsifying auto emission results. That's good for the world in general but potentially very bad for the German economy, which is a big exporter of cars, and for global equity indexes, which include the major car companies.

Stock markets around the world were spooked by these and other stories, with most major exchanges down between 1% and 2%.

 

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