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A background to the Russia-Ukraine crisis and how it has affected financial markets so far

Published: 23.02.2022
by Joseph Jeffriess

Over the last several weeks, traders would have heard of and watched the unfolding Ukraine crisis. Russia built up a mass of troops and military hardware on the border, which started sending shockwaves through the markets that an invasion and new European conflict could be developing.

This is not the first time we have seen Russian aggression towards Ukraine. In 2014 we all watched as Russia annexed Crimea after Moscow said it supported the liberty and backing the people’s free will as they wanted to rejoin Russia and break away from Ukraine.

During this round, the situation felt and looked different due to the sheer build-up of the Russian military. Ukraine requesting to join NATO and the possibility of U.S./NАТО bases being built in Ukraine look like a flashpoint for the Russian side. Despite talks and negotiations, Russia continued to amass military close to the border, feeding invasion fears. Reasons continued to put out by the Kremlin, scheduled military exercises with Belarus. These failed to settle nerves as Western leaders continued to put forward prosed crippling sanctions that would be imposed if Russia invaded.

The worst seemed possible late last week, and reports emerged of explosions and fighting in the two eastern parts of Ukraine. Russian tank numbers also increased, and we all thought it was just a matter of when we would see a Russian invasion.

Biden offered Putin a summit only if he hadn’t invaded at the final hour. This is off the table now that Russia has once again pulled off another Crimea to a degree. Yesterday we heard that the two Eastern areas of Ukraine had voiced their right to become independent. The Kremlin supported them immediately and advised it had crossed the border to support a peaceful transition with a peacekeeping mission. In other words, a proxy invasion.

President Biden has called this an invasion of Ukraine and announced sweeping sanctions on the Russian bank VEB and its military bank and cuts them out of any USD transactions. Individual sanctions, Biden said the adult children and members of Putin’s inner circle “share the corrupt gains of the Kremlin’s policies, and so they ought to share in the pain as well.” The sanctions on Russia’s sovereign debt expand upon Biden’s existing restrictions set in 2021 and prohibit American banks from trading shares in and or lending to several significant Russian sovereign debt funds.

Prime Minister Johnson also made good on his threat of sanctions. The first tranche of sanctions would target Rossiya, IS Bank, General Bank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank. The new sanctions also include three “very high net worth” individuals: Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg and Igor Rotenberg. Germany has halted approval of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline due to Russia’s actions, and the EU has agreed on sanctions to hurt Russia.

The crisis had a significant impact on the markets. As you would expect, we have seen plenty of movement away from risk markets, but it hasn’t been totally black and white.

Energy, oil has been driven higher during the crisis, and we’ve watched USOUSD (WTI) jump by 28% in the last three months. Price trading at $96 this week. Spot gas surged this week, hitting 6.70 but has pulled back to 4.31. Russia is a major energy supplier to Europe. This is a major card they hold. Traders will be watching oil and gas as any new aggression could cause oil to spike. We could even see $100 or higher reached again. The markets are a funny beast, and if they see the situation as calm, don’t be surprised if we continue to see price pullback.

Sky-high oil prices could impact the FED. Crude prices can drive up inflation and slow down the global economy. A surge in oil could cause the Fed to rethink its pace of hiking due to growth concerns.
FX, the USD and JPY have seen phases of demand during the crisis, but they have been far from dominant. Looking at this month’s trade so far, we can see that mainly the EUR has been most affected with falls to the two safe-havens. The GBP has been flat, and the AUD has been stronger. The AUD rallied yesterday as the situation developed and so far looks to be ignoring the situation. If we had seen an all-out invasion and this could still be a possibility, we would expect a traditional reaction on FX with the USD and JPY rallying on safe-haven demand.

Gold has seen strong demand during the crisis. Traders jumping back into the metal as it moves back to a safe haven. This is not strange. Gold has always had multiple functions in the market, and in times of war or crisis, traders can look to it over fiat. Looking at the current month on the monthly chart, we can see this clearly in action as price has jumped by over 5%. The weekly shows a triangle breakout, but we will need to watch ongoing developments to see if buyer momentum remains.

The Ukrainian crisis has hit stock indexes that could have been seen as overvalued. The Dax, in particular, has been hit hard. U.S. and Asian indexes haven’t been spared with heavy selling over the last two weeks. Markets fought back yesterday after the SP500 touched correction territory, and as mentioned above, traders will be focusing on the escalation of the crisis. If the situation intensifies, we would be looking for further lows, and if things continue to calm down, we could see counter-rallies and ranges set up.

Cryptocurrencies have traded mainly lower during the crisis. Clearly, we can see at this point that they’re viewed as risk assets and are acting accordingly. It hasn’t been all one-way traffic, Kyber has added 38% YTD and so far has resisted the falls we have seen on the top 10 and top 25 indexes. Coins have been firmer since Tuesday’s updates, following other risk markets higher. Polkadot, Cardando were two top ten coins that hit new lows for 2022 before value buying returned this week. Again, we see the fortunes of most coins tied to risk demand. If things escalate, we will be looking for further declines across the top 10 and 25.

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