The top question of the week has got to be this: Are markets paying too much attention to Cyprus, or not enough attention?
Major indexes have seesawed throughout the week, as investors react to developments: The S&P 500 saw its second-biggest gain of the month on Wednesday, only to sustain its biggest loss of the month on Thursday. Elsewhere, the Euro Stoxx 50 index jumped 1.4 per cent on Wednesday, only to fall 1.2 per cent on Thursday. Friday is shaping up as a rally.
Of course, investors have had more to chew on than Cyprus alone. There was the Federal Reserve meeting earlier in the week, and earnings from influential stocks like FedEx Corp. and Oracle Corp. But you do get a feeling that Cyprus has been the rollercoaster ride of the week – from the initial bailout plan, to the rejection of the plan, to the appeal to Russia for financial help, to the rejection from Russia, to a stern reaction from the European Central Bank, to a potential solution.
Cyprus is clearly in trouble, but how that trouble reverberates through the rest of the world is a point for debate. Here are some thoughts on the crisis/non-event that are circulating right now. As you’ll see, there is little consensus emerging.
Katie Martin at the Wall Street Journal found there were three leading explanations among market watchers for the market’s reaction: Cyprus doesn’t matter, there is a lot of grandstanding going on, and traders don’t know how to react.
Stephen Lewis at Monument Securities (via FT Alphaville ): “More likely, investors realize the ‘knock-on’ effects from a Cypriot default are literally incalculable. But they are insensitive to bad news. They respond to th ose factors which would lead them to buy financial assets; they can do nothing with any other information.”
Eddy Elfenbein, Crossing Wall Street blog: “The big fear is that once one country agrees to a tax on bank deposits, a new precedent will be set, and it could be done elsewhere. That fear would in turn lead to a run on banks in countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal. While I can’t rule a scenario like that out, it’s simply too far down the road for investors to worry about. Cyprus is such a small and unusual case that it may turn out to be a story that isn’t repeated elsewhere.”
Sheraz Mian, Zacks: “As far as financial markets are concerned, the Cyprus story is nothing more than background noise – they are ‘too-small-to-matter’. Far more important to the market than Cyprus is to figure out what the weak results from the likes of Oracle and FedEx tell us about global capital spending and economic growth.”
Steve Forbes, Forbes: “The fact that Cyprus is small is irrelevant. The germane fact is that it was Western Europe, supposedly a strong believer in the rule of law, that engaged in this Hugo Chavez-like move [to tax bank deposits]. Now, it’s not inconceivable that President Obama or somebody with a similar ideology could propose seizing and integrating people’s 401K plans into Social Security.”