The first indications of trouble in Russia came on March 23rd when a political crisis came to a head as Russian president Boris Yeltsin suddenly dismissed Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and his entire cabinet. After an extended, nearly continuous run off an early year bottom the first wave of fear rippled through the market and it began to falter.
On July 13, a $22.6 billion International Monetary Fund and World Bank financial package was approved on to support reforms and stabilize the Russian market by swapping out an enormous volume of the quickly maturing GKO short-term bills into long-term Eurobonds. As you can see from the chart, the market was not expecting IMF/World Bank intervention and was caught by surprise.
On August 17th, Russia announced the suspension of debt payments and other measures which amounted to sovereign debt default. A panic ensued, leading to a total 23% decline in under 2 months.
A month later, Long Term Capital Management collapsed as a result of the Russian crisis and was bailed out.
Does this scenario sound familiar? The Greek Tragedy unfolding on the world stage today has thus far followed the Russian script nearly to the letter.
In January the market topped as the Euro rolled over and the US Dollar surged on fears that Greece would default and trigger a European financial contagion. As in '98, the market quickly caught its footing and rallied nearly vertically to new highs. Are we now at a peak similar to that of July 1998?
This week the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the Greek government are meeting to attempt to resolve the crisis. The consensus seems to be growing that there is no way for Greece to avoid using an IMF/EU bailout fund established last month, which would in effect be a sovereign debt default.
A default announcement could even come as soon as this weekend. Greek debt downgrades have become an almost daily event with the latest coming today from Moody's.
What can we expect when the news on Greece is announced? Will the analogy with the Russian crisis end there with a "buy the news" response? Indeed, there is potentially a setup which allows for this. In many ways the news is already out and may be priced in; this is in sharp contrast to the surprise of IMF/World Bank intervention in the Russian affair.
On the other hand, the markets are quite overextended and in all probability the only element missing from a good shakeout is an excuse. A Greece default would provide one, however anticipated. Most of the recent rise appears to be late, public money "piling on" and of course such positions are generally shaken out before the real move commences.
My guess as to a likely scenario: an initial mini-panic on the news which drives the SPX to a partial decline within the Ascending Broadening Wedge formation--a bullish setup for an quick reversal and breakout to new highs. Bulkowski's Encyclopedia of Chart Patterns estimates a 43% gain resulting from this setup. I would put a target of SPX 1150--the January high--on the partial decline. This would also retest the 38.2% Fibonacci retracement level from the February low as well as the 50 EMA. A more serious correction would take the SPX down to the 200 EMA and the 23.6% level from the entire bull run at the 1080-1090 zone.
In summation, I would not expect the fallout from a Greek default to result in a major trend reversal or shorting opportunity. Rather, it will more likely set up a good buying opportunity. I'm in cash.
Epilogue: Russia returned to the international debt market today for the first time since 1998 with the sale of $5.5 bln in bonds.
4/23/10 UPDATE: The Greek government has asked for an activation of the $45 billion IMF/EU aid package so that it can pay its debt payments due on May 12th. So far the Euro has rallied, European equities are somewhat higer by about 1%, US equities are flattish and commodities have jumped by about 1.5%. Overall the reaction seems to be somewhat muted. It appears that this is a short term stop gap measure and that the underlying issues involved have not been ameliorated. The condition of worry and doubt over Greece should persist for some time. This may be bullish for markets as it is keeping money on the sidelines, fostering the "wall of worry". It's also possible that another shoe may drop over the weekend, setting up a "sell the news" scenario for Monday. The drama continues!
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