The Week Ahead — 06 Jun 2022: Is India a geopolitical trend setter?

This past week, we had a flat S&P 500. Nasdaq was up slightly. Bond yields were up slightly. It was a summer stall this week. Not a lot happening from the beginning to the end of the week. In this episode, we’re going to focus on geopolitics.

Key themes:

Is India a geopolitical trendsetter?
China, MBS & Biden — BFFs?
What does Turkey get out of halting NATO expansion?
What’s ahead for next week?
This is the 21st episode of The Week Ahead, where experts talk about the week that just happened and what will most likely happen in the coming week.

Follow The Week Ahead experts on Twitter:

Tony: https://twitter.com/TonyNashNerd
Sam: https://twitter.com/SamuelRines
Albert: https://twitter.com/amlivemon
Tracy: https://twitter.com/chigrl

Time Stamps
0:00 Start
1:36 India as a geopolitical trendsetter now?
3:55 US is frustrated with India? What’s going?
7:35 Is India being ridiculously nationalistic?
8:00 China, MBS, and Biden as BFFs?
10:08 How does MBS look at Biden with China opening up?
11:31 Awkward and Desperate: Is the US-Saudi a short-term diplomatic issue?
14:45 Is there any place they can go for energy supply?
16:00 What does Turkey get out of halting the NATA expansion?
20:20 What impacts on some countries by opening the Bosphorus.
21:22 What is DC thinking and do out of the gun discussions?
24:24 What to expect for the week ahead?

Transcript

TN: Hi, and welcome to The Week Ahead. I’m Tony Nash. And as always, we’re joined by Sam, Albert, and Tracy. Before we get started, could you please like and subscribe? It’s very important. But here’s what’s more important today. If you could comment on the episode, we would appreciate it. We check that stuff every week. If you disagree with us, if you think we’re full of it, let us know and let us know why. Okay.

So this week, this past week, we had a flat S&P 500. Nasdaq was up slightly. Bond yields were up slightly. Kind of a summer stall this week. Not a lot happening from beginning to end of the week. So we’re going to focus on geopolitics this week.

We’re looking at a few things. Is India a geopolitical trendsetter now? That’ll be a really interesting discussion. Second, we have China, MBS, and Biden as BFFs. So let’s see what’s there. What does Turkey get out of halting NATO expansion? Really, Turkey becoming a real geopolitical linchpin. And then we’ll have a quick chat on what we expect for the week ahead.

So first is India as a geopolitical trendsetter. India recently has halted some commodity exports. They’ve done some deals with Russia for energy, and they’ve been really independent. And India’s typically independent with foreign policy. But I’m curious if we can look at, say, the energy deals first, Tracy, can you help us understand a little bit about that, and what is India doing there?

TS: Well, I mean, absolutely. First of all, India has been complaining about oil price and saying that it’s unsustainable for them for months now, right. As we’ve been over $100. And so when they were typically not really buying anything from Russia.

However, after the Ukraine invasion, then we had that discount. The Euro to Brent discount fell to almost $40 at one point. So India started buying a lot of oil from Russia, obviously, because it’s less expensive. And they said outright energy security is more important to us right now than anything else because they are also having issues with coal. And whatnot really that’s their focus right now.

And so what we think is that likely they’ll probably become a semi permanent customer of them and probably will take in about 500,000 barrels per day going forward. So what is coming off of the European market is actually going to India and China.

TN: A lot of Westerners don’t understand that India and Russia or the former Soviet Union have had a long political ties, longtime political ties, and those long term political ties tend to come up when people need friends. There is a connection between India and Russia that a lot of Westerners don’t understand.

Albert. I guess the US tends to do this very binary. You’re with us or against us. And I would imagine that the White House and State Department, if we actually have a State Department, that they’re a little bit frustrated with India. What’s going through the US’s mind with the India relationship right now?

AM: Well, this is basically goes back to Obama, actually, with his animosity towards Modi. But the Biden, State Department and the DoD just have this naive idea of how things work in the world. India, like you said, the Russian ties with India are long standing because they use them as a counterbalance against the Chinese aggression. Right.

If you look at a map, because I always say this on Twitter, look at a map before you start talking about geopolitics. India’s surrounded by Pakistan, China, all these other proxies to China and Russia. So they can’t afford they can’t afford to sit there and poke the Hornets nest in the region because it’ll just come back at them. I mean, Pakistanika starts things in Kashmir.

The Chinese have been building mountaintop air bases to stress India over the watershed in the Himalayas. There’s so many issues that the Indians have to deal with and balance that with their Western counterparts, animosity with the dealings with Russia. It’s not that complex if you sit there and talk about it for 15 minutes. But for some reason, our State Department just can’t come to grips with that. And it’s actually causing quite the damage of the state relations of United States and India right now.

And you can talk about the Chinese component and how they stress India because they’re a major competitor in the manufacturing sector.

TN: Right.

SR: And not to mention that India has always been a very large importer of energy. And it’s a critical part of their development going forward. And they’re a 1.1 billion population. If you begin to have significant problems with energy prices and food prices, that’s a big problem for a democracy in that part of the world.

And not to mention, I think it’s somewhat hypocritical for the US government to be so mad about them buying 500,000 barrels a day when you still have Europe buying oil and gas every single day and being like, well, maybe we’ll be done by the end of the year.

TN: Right.

SR: The number of hypocrites that just keep coming out. Is India really our friend? It’s like, well, it’s Germany, it’s France, Italy.

TN: Those are valid questions.

SR: I mean, to me, it’s a little bit insincere for us to continuously be pounding on India for trying to survive as a democracy. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

TN: Well, you conveniently overlook the fact that India regularly imports energy from Iran. Korea places like Korea regularly import energy from Iran. The State Department and White House regularly just overlook things conveniently because they want to. Right. But when it comes to Russia, for some reason, it’s a major issue.

So one quick thing I want to talk about with regard to India, and this has happened with some other Asian countries where India stopped exporting sugar and a few other commodities. We saw Indonesia stopped exporting, say, palm oil and a few other things. So this has been kind of painted as some sort of nationalistic action.

My contention has been, look, a nation state has the kind of obligation to look after their own people first. What do you guys think about that? Is India being ridiculously nationalistic by not exporting sugar and a few other things?

AM: Absolutely not. I mean, this is a case of survival, not just for India, but for multiple countries. Egypt recently, Morocco and all the other North African countries are following suit. I mean, they got to feed their own people. You can’t have your own citizens miss meals because pitchforks and torches start coming out.

TN: Yes, I think that’s a perfect way to say it. Okay, let’s move on to kind of a little bit of a crazily, delicately balanced series of relationships with China, MBS in Saudi Arabia, and Joe Biden. There’s been talk of a trip of a Biden trip to Saudi Arabia, which is a little bit awkward given the fact that MBS wouldn’t take his phone call last month. And then we’ve got China as energy importer. There are a number of levers there.

So, Sam, actually, Tracy, can you take us down that path a little bit on the energy side of what happens there and why that is so important?

TS: Well, I mean, I think it’s a thing. Relations have already been strained. Right. So I think it’s too little, too late. And second of all, to go ahead and think that Saudi Arabia or OPEC, for that matter, can lower oil prices in the US or lower gasoline prices in the US is completely misguided. We should be focusing domestically on what we can be doing here instead of banking other countries.

TN: Let me stop you right there and ask the refinery capacity is like the highest it’s been in 20 years or something, right? 92.4% or something.

TS: Yeah, it was 92.7% this week. The prior week was we were at 93.4%. So we’re pretty much at we’re cranking it out. We definitely need more refining capacity going forward. We haven’t had a major refinery built since 1977. Brownfield projects, but not real Greenfield projects.

TN: Okay. Going back to the Biden-Saudi visit, Sam, what are your thoughts on that? And if you can throw a little bit of China analysis, if China is actually opening up. How does MBS look at Biden with the potential of China opening up more aggressively?

SR: I think he looks at it as a little bit desperate. Right. And probably wants quite a bit out of doing anything. And to begin with, Sunny doesn’t have that much fair capacity. There’s not a whole lot they can do very quickly, maybe release some stocks, et cetera, but there’s not a whole lot they can do to get oil on the market quickly. And there’s a lot less that they can do to magically make diesel.

We don’t have the amount of diesel out there that we need. And we are building a refinery, and a refinery takes three to five years to build. So good luck with that. So I think it’s going to smack is a little bit desperate to MBS, and I think there’s going to be a pretty good bargaining spot for him to be in, given that China has largely shut down for a month and a half to two months, maybe reopening, and that’s going to be another tailwind to oil consumption.

And if you all of a sudden have higher oil consumption coming out of China, that’s going to be a problem for oil prices, even from $1.20, $1.15 where we’re sitting right now. That’s a tailwind that I think MBS kind of has a little bit of a grin on his face saying, hey, nothing I can do here.

TN: Right? And tell me a little bit more about the political dynamics there. Does the US and Saudi Arabia, is this kind of a short-term, say, diplomatic issue, or is it something longer term?

AM: Well, you and Sam said two key words, “awkward” and “desperate.” At the moment, Biden going to Saudi Arabia to meet with the King, which was rejected, so they’re actually pushing them off to MBS is such a black eye to the United States foreign policy. Unbelievable. I mean, at this point, you’re going to have Joe Biden go meet with MBS, who Biden’s cabinet brought up Khashoggi not too long ago, which prompted the phone call to be not even taken by the Saudi, leader of a US President. I can’t even remember when last time US President was ignored by the Saudi Arabians. I mean, it’s a disaster in the making that will probably take a good ten to 15 years to rectify.

The Saudis, what are they really going to do? A couple of hundred thousand barrels extra in a pump just to make Joe Biden happy? It’s not going to do anything. I mean, swallowed up by demand almost instantly. But when it comes to the political stuff, you have a realignment between Saudi Arabia, Russia and China happening right under our noses. And it seems to be just completely missed by the State Department of Biden administration.

SR: And to Albert’s point here, and I think it’s an extremely, extremely important point. Saudi doesn’t need the US anymore. Saudi needed the US for a while. We were their biggest customer. We are not their largest customer by a mile, and we’re unlikely to be their largest customer ever again.

So their pivot towards Asia and away from the US makes strategic sense for them. And that, to me, is an understated long term fundamental issue facing the US-Saudi relationship.

AM: That’s exactly right, Sam. And the only other component that actually contradicts that is because of the security situation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Saudis need US armaments, they need the relationship with Israel, and they need to re-mend relationships with Turkey. But if Russia at this point, if they’re not poking the Iranians to mess with the Saudis, there’s really no real desperate need by the Saudis for the US defense umbrella at the moment and they can just be free to sell to the Chinese, the Asians and whoever else. And remember that Biden attempted to go to Venezuela to try to get them to pump more, but then realized that while their refinery is broken down and can’t really produce anything at the moment.

SR: So the Arabians went to fix it.

TN: Yeah.

AM: There’s a lot of hypocrisy and a lot of awkward things that’s coming out of the Biden administration right now for geopolitical issues concerning the Saudis.

TN: It’s amateur hour, guys. Lincoln is a joke, often as a joke. I can’t believe it’s embarrassing where we are right now. Tracy, is there any place else they can go for supply right now?

TS: If you look at OPEC, OPEC can’t even produce what their current quote is, right? Because you have too many, too many laggards. So it doesn’t really matter. I mean, they’re 2 million barrels plus below quota last month. So it doesn’t matter if they keep raising or not. They just don’t have the spare capacity. And a lot of the smaller countries are having problems with production.

There’s nowhere else to go. Right. Especially if you’re trying to push Russia out, which is, depending on the month, the second or third largest producer. Right.

TN: Okay. And I think we can all agree that if we just buy electric cars, that would solve everything.

TS: Oh, absolutely. With the announcement that we’re going to have rolling blackouts in the Midwest this summer, I’m sure that rush right out and get EVs should help us.

TN: Right? Exactly. Okay. Let’s move on to Turkey and get really interested in the power dynamics with Turkey right now and their veto power over NATO expansion and some of their control of energy going through the Bosphorus. Turkey has really emerged as a real regional power.

I remember reading about this with George what’s his name’s book the next 100 years, reading that Turkey would be really powerful. This was a 20 year old book. Right. George Freedman. Right. And so it hasn’t happened exactly as he thought. But at the time I thought, “no, Turkey can’t reemerge.” And it’s happening right now. Right.

Albert, can you talk us through what does Turkey get out of halting NATO expansion?

AM: Well, a few things actually, quite. They really want to stop the Kurdish money system support system coming out of the Scandinavian countries because that’s where a lot of the money and support groups based themselves out of Stockholm and parts of the Baltic area. So they really want to stop that. Right. But that’s not really what they’re after because the Scandinavians put a block on their sales of arms. Right. So the Turks obviously want to sell their drones.

They want to sell some military equipment to the EU and to other players in the region. The Turks, they have a big economic problem. Right. And so they’re using every point of leverage they possibly can use. They’re trying to press the EU to give more loans, trying to stress the refugee situation, trying to stress the energy situation, trying to stress the food situation through the Bosphors. And I’ll let Sam and Tracy touch on that.

But for them right now, if you look at it like I said, with India, look at a map. Turkey right now is arguably the most geostrategic position in the entire world right now with concerns to wheat, gas, oil, refugee status. You can just pick a topic and Turkey is pretty much top five.

TN: Okay. Sam talked us through kind of from a macro perspective. What does that mean? What opportunities does that bring up?

SR: I mean, it brings leverage, right? It brings incredible amount of leverage, particularly as you begin to have Sri Lankan type issues. Go to North Africa. The easiest way for North Africa to solve its problems is for Turkey to solve the problems very quickly by opening the Bosphorus or doing something along those lines. So I think from a macro perspective, it’s really about leverage and what type of leverage they want. Right.

They actually manufacture really good, fairly cheap drones. That’s a pretty easy thing for NATO, the EU, to kind of give them a pound on the back and say, okay, yeah, go. Right. That’s something that they can actually do. And quite frankly, if you’re Sweden and Finland, guess what? You don’t really have a choice.

Turkey is going to be selling drones. Turkey is going to have some leverage on what they get to do, and you’re not going to be able to veto it or you’re going to be sitting there like a sitting duck for the next time that Putin decides he wants a little extra territory.

TN: Right. Okay.

AM: And to expand on that, Tony, the Turks, in sort of cooperation with the Iranians and the Russians, have been moving into Africa using old Ottoman trading post colonies, I mean, through West Africa, North Africa, Horn of Africa, everywhere. And there’s been absolutely no talk about it, no counteraction against it. They’re acting as if they were a major superpower with no one really putting them in their place.

TN: Well, this potentially could turn into I don’t know how much you guys know about Ottoman history 1860s, 18870s, debt load that the Turks had and the refinancing that the British and French came in to do it. And I wonder if that’s where we’ll be in five or ten years. It’s really interesting to see how that Ottoman history played through and see if that happens again with Turkey. I hope it doesn’t, because that ended up leading to World War One. But this could be really interesting.

Tracy, they opened the Bosphorus. What impact does that have on some of these countries, like Egypt and North African countries and say, Lebanon and some of these other countries that are really desperately waiting for some things out of Russia and Ukraine?

TS: Yeah. I mean, obviously that’s going to help. We’re going to get some wheat out. It looks like that is going to happen and that we are starting to see shipments flow that’s obviously going to ease tensions. Hungry people tend to revolt. So something needed to be done, in other words. And so it looks like that’s starting to happen, which is obviously a good thing.

TN: Great. Okay. I want to spring a kind of a surprise topic on you guys just really quickly. It’s a big debate in the US since we’re talking geopolitics. Guns on top of everyone’s mind. Some shootings in the States over the past few weeks.

Albert, I know, you know, DC probably better than all of us. So can you walk us through really quickly? Excuse me, what is DC thinking? What will likely happen in DC out of all of the gun discussions?

AM: Well, because it’s an election year, probably nothing. And I’ll tell you what. In politics, you cannot take a singular issue, isolate it and solve the problem. It doesn’t work like that. So, for instance, and this is something I always stress about. When you look at guns, you have to look at it as what voters intentions are and feelings are with the guns because they’re electing their members. Right.

When you have guns, they’re typically rural Americans that are religious, that have views on abortion and are farmers. Right. What’s under farmlands? Oil. So not only do you have to tackle the religious voter, the anti abortion voter, the rural farm voter, but then also big oil that actually funds all these people. So you can’t take guns alone and say, I’m going to solve it without agitating another 40 million Americans and Senate races are completely dependent on rural voters, not so much urban because that tends to go Democratic anyways. But there is actually swing cities and swing areas on top of the conservative areas that there’s a political calculation and numbers game that has to be played.

So for this year, I don’t see anything happening with guns at all. Maybe something extremely minor, but nothing that would actually be effective.

TN: For people who are non Americans, what do people outside of America not understand about the gun discussion in the US?

AM: It’s a cultural thing. The United States prides itself on being a system of checks and balances. Right. And for guns, Americans tend to think we are not going to let our government intrude and overtake us. That’s our checks and balances to dictatorships. Right. Authoritarian systems.

As other issues come up from the left and come up from the right, just everyone’s going to get more pulverized on this. There’s never going to be 100% solution. The Europeans are definitely not going to understand why Americans love their guns. But it’s just…

TN: Europeans, Australians, Asians, they don’t actually some in Asia get it.

AM: Some in Asia get it. The Swiss hilariously get it. They’re mandatory. They have Pentagon, everyone’s. And it’s unfair for the rest of the world to compare a small country of like, say, 10 million people statistically to the United States that has 350,000,000 plus people out there, the giant system.

TN: Yeah.

AM: We’re doing our best and nothing is a perfect system and we’re getting towards it. But it’ll take decades.

TN: Yes. Okay, good. I just wanted to cover that off since it’s been such a big topic lately. Okay, guys, the week ahead. We had a kind of a lackluster week this week. Tracy, what do you see happening in the week ahead? Crude actually had a fantastic week. What do you see going on next week in, say, energy and commodities?

TS: I’m still bullish energy and commodities. From a technical standpoint, we broke out of a technical pattern. Right. I don’t see anything changing, in other words, in the physical landscape, I mean, markets are tight. We have a structural deficit. The whole complex is in bacridation. So I expect energy prices to stay high. Really? I don’t think Biden’s meeting is going to do anything.

TN: Right. Okay. Very good. Shannon, what are you looking for?

SR: More chop. A lot more chop. I think the jobs report on Friday, there was a quote that it was goldilocks-ish it was not goldilocks-ish if you’re the Fed. The Fed saw a lot of jobs created. It’s a participation tick up and it’s average hourly earnings still sitting at 5.5% for everyone on a year over year basis. Those are three things that they don’t really want to see sitting that high.

TN: Right.

SR: It’s that simple. They would be much happier with 100,000 jobs created or lower. I think they want a couple of negative prints. An average hourly earnings that’s closer to 2% year over year. That means that the wage price spiral isn’t happening. And they really want an awful lot of call it pain in the inflation space. So you’re not really seeing anything to knock the Fed off of its current path. And if anything, you probably gave it a little bit of a tailwind to some more hawkish rhetoric.

Brainard being a Hawk? That should scare everyone. Because when Brainard comes out as a Hawk, that’s a signal.

TN: That’s weird.

SR: That’s a signal that they’re going and they’re going hard.

TN: Yeah, that’s upside down world weird. And then was it May said out yesterday saying they could do another fifty in September?

SR: Yeah. After the print on Friday, guess what, this is the best part about the Brainard statement is she said in order to have a better balance in the labor market, they need to see job openings decline.

This is critical, though. Job openings are reported a month lagged to everything else. Right. So in September, they’re going to be looking at maybe August.

TN: Let me ask you this. Elon Musk was out this week saying, hey, if you’re not going to come back to the office, we’re going to consider that you resigned. Are we going to see more CEOs do that? And could that potentially have an impact on the jobs numbers?

SR: Not really. One, Musk, then he said we’re over staffed by 10% across salaried workers. So the statement for Musk was probably more to get some natural attrition. So we didn’t have to actually lay off people because it’s a lot cheaper when people quit than it is when people get laid off. And Musk needs a couple of headlines because his Twitter deal was a really dumb idea.

TN: Yeah. And also I kind of preempted Musk by two years. I told my staff in June of 2020, but if you don’t show up, you could resign. So I was early on that boat. So Albert, what do you expect in the week ahead.

AM: Everyone saw Yellen come out and say I missed the inflation and how bad it’s going to be. That’s her getting ahead of the CPI print. It’s going to be a bad one. I think it actually could get close to 9% which would be not good for the markets.

On top of that Opex Fed minute coming up, I think we’re going to be like Sam said, I think there’s going to be some chop. They’re doing their best to keep this thing above 4200. So I think we’re going to be looking at probably push 4250 which is a bull bear line this week until CPI print comes in and then Armageddon.

TN: That’s what you said last week.

AM: That’s a 4200 on that Monday on futures.

TN: Okay.

AM: They tried but they sold it. Everyone’s just selling.

TN: Okay. So we have another chance this week.

AM: Yes.

TN: Great guys. Thank you very much. This has been a great discussion. Thanks so much and I really appreciate this. Have a great week ahead.

AM, SR, TS: Thank you. Bye.

This Week Ahead is originally published at https://www.completeintel.com/weekahead/the-week-ahead-6-jun-2022

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