Learning by Proxy | Russian Spring

Dictators like to dictate till such time that there is nobody willing to take the dictation

Politics and stock markets are very closely related. Each can change the fortunes of the other. There are dictators in both realms. Political kinds are easy to spot, the stock market kinds are harder to spot. This week neither are having a good time!

Russian Spring

As the winter was ending in 1848, the Revolution of 1848, or as it was called, the Springtimes of the People erupted across Europe. The discontentment amongst people had reached a place where they wished to get rid of the monarchy and move towards democracy. The protests spread across Italy, France, Germany, Denmark, Hapsburg (Austria, Hungary), and others.

In December 2010, what started out as protests in Tunisia, spread all across the MENA region. Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen also saw huge protests during this time to move to a democratic regime and overthrow the authoritarians. Many governments fell, authoritarians were removed, and hope that a new order would emerge persisted in many states. Unfortunately, few if any could enjoy sustained stability even after overthrowing their oppressors. Inspired by 1848, these protests were called The Arab Spring, which lasted 2 years and started a refugee crisis, which still plagues Europe.

The actual cause of these protests was climate change. The soil on which the rural people sustained was becoming useless, and they were not finding means for their livelihood. This caused the discontentment that led to the upheaval but we can dive into that another time.

Another Winter, another unrest, another spring!

Last year, Russia had unsuccessfully attempted assassinating Alexei Navalny. Navalny has been one of the most staunch critiques of Putin and the Russian government. He was poisoned using a nerve agent called Novichok. He was in Siberia at the time and was evacuated to Germany, where he was treated and survived.

I am sure somebody was beheaded at the KGB, but I digress.

A week ago, Navalny went back to Russia to continue his crusade against the government. No sooner had he landed on Russian soil...

In hours of live-streamed drama that played out in Berlin, in the air and at two Moscow airports, Mr. Navalny careened headlong into near-certain detention after deciding to leave the relative safety of Germany, where he had been recovering from last summer’s poisoning.

Hundreds of people braved the bitter cold outside Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport to greet Mr. Navalny, but the low-cost Russian airline he was flying was diverted just before landing to a different Moscow airport. There, at passport control, Mr. Navalny was confronted by uniformed policemen in black masks.

Source: New York Times

He was arrested at the airport, not only that, he was presented in the court the very next day and the court ordered a 30-day detention.

A judge in Moscow has ordered that Alexei Navalny be held in custody for 30 days until a parole review that could imprison him for years, as Russia defied international pressure to release the Kremlin critic.

Despite international outcry led by US and European leaders and joined by activists including Edward Snowden, a Russian resident, the Kremlin has moved forward with the legal framework it would need to send one of Vladimir Putin’s most tenacious opponents to a penal colony by the end of the month.

Source: Guardian

The international outcry from leaders of various countries across the world was swift and forceful. Every western democracy condemned the action and put pressure on the Kremlin to release him.

Sensing the discontentment brewing in the country, the Russian government turned to Social Media companies and ask them to censor. And of all social media companies, guess which one!?

Russia has asked social networks, including the video-sharing app TikTok, to stop the spread of posts encouraging minors to take part in unsanctioned rallies on Saturday in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Source: Reuters

A ‘TikTok-er’ was arrested! Russians took to the streets in Moscow and dozens of other cities across the country, braving temperatures of -50 degrees Celsius.

In Moscow, thousands of demonstrators filled Pushkin Square in the city center, where clashes with police broke out and demonstrators were roughly dragged off by helmeted riot officers to police buses and detention trucks, some beaten with batons.

Navalny’s wife Yulia was among those arrested.

Police eventually pushed demonstrators out of the square. Thousands then regrouped along a wide boulevard about a kilometer (half-mile) away, many of them throwing snowballs at the police before dispersing.

Source: AP

The arrest of one man has snowballed into an enormous problem for the Russian government. The thousands on the streets draw the attention of thousands more. It remains to be seen how the Russian people react to the arrests and how long they keep up the protests. This can have a significant impact on the outcome of the protests.

While Russia is authoritarian, it is not been as tightfisted as China. Till now. Not only Social Media, but Russia also wants to put an end to regular media as well.

Russia’s government is threatening Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty with multimillion-dollar fines and possible criminal charges against its employees, raising the possibility of the American-funded news organization being pushed out of Russia just as President Biden seeks to reorient the U.S. relationship with the Kremlin.

RFE/RL, one of the biggest online news outlets in Russia that does not toe the official line, says the government in recent weeks has notified it of dozens of individual violations of newly restrictive requirements that it label all of its content as being produced by a “foreign agent.” Its editors say that unless the Kremlin changes course, they will be forced to shut down their official presence in the country for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Source: New York Times

The Russian sure have an interesting way of showing their anger!

When Navalny was being arrested at the airport, he told his wife “I am not afraid”. Maybe that is the push the people of Russia required. It has become a clarion call.

Will this turn into the Russian Spring?

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Security

There are two kinds of security that policymakers and economists often talk about. These also are things that can throw an entire economy into disarray and have done so in the past. The two are food security and energy security; - ensuring that there is enough of both. The pursuit of this security has landed us up with the Global Warming problem! Attempting to produce enough of it to meet the needs of 8 Billion people. Now suggestions are being made that more of the same would be the way out!

What do climate advocates have in common with fossil fuel companies, auto firms, and farm lobbyists? Not much, yet all are joining hands to promote “carbon farming” as a form of “regenerative agriculture.” The idea is to use crop plants and pasture grass to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, moving it underground, mostly through root systems. Plants do this naturally, of course, but advocates are now saying the process, if managed properly by farmers, could significantly offset our greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels.

[...]

But before putting any taxpayer money on this train, consider some inconvenient truths: First, the carbon farming practices being promoted as something new have all been in use for decades, and all were originally adopted for reasons unrelated to climate change. Rebranding these practices as a climate solution should raise suspicion.

Source: Wired

Remains to be seen what policy steps are taken but roots grow either way, when you farm, calling that Carbon farming is just putting a positive spin on something that has been happening since farming began.

On a related note though, when Land Report, a company that specialises in tracking land purchases in America, saw a transaction for 14,500 Acres of land, it sent alarm bells ringing. It was far too large even for agricultural companies. The company that had acquired the land did not even figure in the list of large landholders and had a revenue of USD 300,000 and 2 employees.

One of my favorite Clint Eastwood movies is the 1999 mystery/thriller True Crime. In it, the four-time Academy Award winner plays an over-the-hill journalist who has “a nose” for a story. I am quite confident that Eastwood’s character, Steve Everett, would have picked up the stench from this setup a mile off: a $171 million acquisition by an LLC with two employees in a metal-sided building down a dirt road off the Bayou Teche? I forwarded the lead to our Land Report 100 Research Team. Minutes later, a terse response arrived:

“Ever hear of Bill Gates?”

Source: Land Report

Turns out, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest landholder in America. Totalling a mind-boggling 268,984 Acres across 19 states. So much for philanthropy!

When you have a Billionaire spending a Billion dollars on buying up agricultural land and then you see a proposal to consider agriculture to be the best to happen to planet earth, you know what is going on, don’t you!

This is not a new playbook, it is one that Elon Musk used to devastating effect. Declaring clean energy a priority, pushing the Obama government towards sustainable energy only to promote a 50-year-old battery technology. The energy that goes into the battery is often not clean, the batteries themselves are hard to recycle and Tesla has been cutting down forests in Germany to set up production plants - but we are saving the world!

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Oil going Renewable

If there is one thing that 2020 has shown, it is that we can change in a very short time. Often the only opposition to making that change is to preserve existing jobs which can disappear overnight.

But when the hand is forced, the changes arrive.

As half of the southern states in America are frozen under a blanket of snow, it is getting increasingly hard to ignore the reality of climate change. California and Texas are under one foot of snow!

Energy companies have started re-evaluating.

Its future, however, may be in digging for heat. The prospects for geothermal—energy extracted from the nuclear furnace at the Earth’s core—are rising after decades in the doldrums. In 2021, oil and gas majors are poised to make the first major geothermal investments in over 30 years, say industry experts and energy executives, as financial returns on fossil fuels tank.

Investors backed a record 98 companies generating geothermal energy last year, including many new startups, the most since private equity research firm PitchBook began keeping track about two decades ago. Globally, geothermal investments exceeded $675 million last year, six times more than the year prior.

Source: Quartz

Even energy companies that have traditionally survived on oil are not looking to expand their renewables portfolio. Total from France invested over $2.5 Billion to acquire the Adani renewables portfolio. Things are turning so quickly that lobby groups are losing members!

Earlier this month, oil major Total took the unusual step of abandoning the American Petroleum Institute (API), the influential trade group that has advocated for the industry’s interests in Washington for more than a century.

As an explanation for quitting the group, Total cited API’s support for the rollback of curbs on methane emissions, its opposition to electric vehicle subsidies, and its funding of electoral candidates who opposed the US’ participation in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Source: Quartz

This means fewer dollars to coax the republicans to fight for anti-climate bills or push back on climate bills. Slowly but surely the sands are shifting.

COVID

Wear something before you go out in the cold, they say. The reason - the immune system becomes more lethargic as the body cools.

This winter was always going to be hard. Especially for the countries closer to the arctics in the Northern hemisphere. Turns out there is another factor that seems to reduce the efficacy of the virus in the tropical regions.

This winter, Covid-19 is turning out to be even more dangerous than epidemiologists and public health officials had feared—and not just because of the more contagious variants now circling the globe. As recently as October, Nature reported it was “too soon to say whether COVID is seasonal like the flu.” Evidence hinted that winter weather could increase transmission of the virus: In the lab, the virus persisted under cold, dry conditions and was inactivated by the ultraviolet rays in sunlight.

Source: Quartz

This explains the surge that India saw during the monsoon months. There is a lack of sunlight as the cloud covers the country. Barring cities like Delhi, winters are rather sunny in India and the UV rays from sunlight seem to have rendered the virus comparatively incapable.

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GameStop

Most people in India would not have even heard of this company. Hell, I will bet most people in the US have not heard of this company. It is a brick and mortar retailer of video games.

Their share price resembles what Venture Capital investors like to call a hockey stick curve. But why?

Nobody likes the people on Wall Street. Wall Street traders like to “short” shares they think are going to fall. This is the equivalent of selling a share today and buying the same tomorrow to meet the obligation of handing over the share. Shorts can be of different durations. Many Wall Street Pundits had shorted GameStop expecting its demise.

A subreddit group called WallStreetBets is engaged in looking for opportunities in the stock market. GameStop became well known because of the investment made by Ryan Cohen, the founder of Chewy. The people at WallStreetBest started buying Call Options, which allows you to have the option of buying a share tomorrow at the price agreed upon today.

For instance, last Tuesday (Jan. 19), you could have bought a $50-strike call option on 100 shares of GameStop stock expiring this coming Friday (Jan. 29). Bloomberg tells me this option would have cost you about $3.35 per share, or about $335 for a 100-share option contract; the stock closed that day at $39.36. If you sold the options on Friday (Jan. 22), when the stock closed at $65.01, they were worth $18.16 per share. You put in $335 and got back $1,816; you made a 442% return in four days. If you had just bought 100 shares of stock instead, you would have had to put in $3,936 to get back $6,501, a 65% return. Of course, if the stock had stayed flat instead of going up to $65.01, you’d have lost 0% by buying shares and 100% by buying the options. So options are great if you have a relatively small amount of money and want to take a lot of risk with it. If, for instance, you are a retail trader on WallStreetBets.

Source: Bloomberg

When a call option is bought, the market maker (he who sold you the option) will buy up shares to meet the obligation. As more and more call options got bought, more and more shares got snapped up increasing demand!

The subreddit group has its sweet revenge on the wall street bankers!

About 71.66m GameStop shares are currently shorted – worth about $4.66bn. Year-to-date, those bets have cost investors about $6.12bn, which includes a loss of $2.79bn on Monday.

Monday’s stock gain of 145% in less than two hours, which extends GameStop’s gains for the year to over 300%, is the latest sign that frenetic trading by individual investors is leading to outsize stock-market swings. On Tuesday, the party continued. When, and how, it ends is anyone’s guess.

[...]

Investors on the WallStreetBets subreddit forum have been promoting GameStop aggressively, with many pitching it as a battle of regular people versus hedge funds and big Wall Street firms.

“This is quite the experience for my first month in the stock market. Holding till infinity,” posted one user on the thread. Another user said: “We’re literally more powerful than the big firms right now.”

Source: Guardian

The White House issued a statement saying that they are following the developments on GameStop. This is a war to show where the power lies.

“As someone who started trading stocks in the late 90s in college, I would always remember watching when the small retail trading groups would get crushed by hedge funds and savvy short-sellers,” Oanda market analyst Edward Moya said in a report. “What happened with GameStop’s stock is a reminder of how times are changing.”

The battle has spread further, with some accusing the financial media of backing institutional Wall Street players. In an open letter to CNBC, one Reddit user wrote: “Your contempt for the retail investor (your audience) is palpable and if you don’t get it together, you’ll lose an entire new generation of investors.”

Source: Guardian

In the meantime, wall street went to brokerage firms and asked them for help. The brokerages including Robinhood banned the purchase of GameStop while allowing selling.

The problem is that platforms like Robinhood which advertise themselves as zero brokerage platforms aggregate retail orders and sell them to hedge funds and make their money from those on the wall street. The retail investor, unfortunately, is the product! They are forced to cower to the demands of the funds or risk their business.

The Redditors have already filed a lawsuit against Robinhood and the company raised USD 1 Billion dollars on Friday. A lot of that will go towards settling the class-action case.

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Also

The ONE tree that I definitely wish to see once in my lifetime. When some of these trees were saplings, Jesus was not even born! The oldest known Sequoia tree is 3200 years old.

Maybe war tourism will be the next big thing!

Off the 67 Chess Grandmasters in India 24 hail from Tamil Nadu, many of them from Chennai - an interesting read.

This actually happened!


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