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One of the top stories for the week is also an event that has fallen under the radar from mainstream attention spans. With the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine focused almost exclusively on the effects of U.S.-backed economic sanctions against the Russian Federation, the small nation of Hungary recently leveled an ironic twist towards the ever-developing geopolitical storyline. Despite deep-seated historical conflicts with Russia during the Soviet Union era, the Associated Press reported that on Tuesday, February 17th, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban announced that a “political agreement” had been reached with Moscow regarding a new gas pipeline deal, a key objective for Mr. Orban whose country had hosted Russian president Vladimir Putin for the high-level discussions.
The right-wing administration that controls Hungary’s affairs has advocated vigorously for “cooperation and good relations” between Europe and Russia, a sentiment that is likewise echoed by European Union members but from a critically different perspective. Both the United States and Europe, in particular Germany, have pushed for peace but under stipulations that are favorable to Western interests, which imply the coaxing of Ukraine into NATO’s sphere of influence. Russia, for obvious strategic and nationalistic reasons, wishes to counter this effort. Stuck between a contractual European partnership in which they have little leverage and the threat of a widening scope of conflict in its backyard, Hungary has few viable options, since it is dependent on two warring parties for economic support and natural resources.
But Orban’s decision to cozy up to the Russian leader has led many critics, especially amongst EU policy makers, to label him “Little Putin,” an accusation that Csaba Toth of Budapest’s Republikon Institute asserts is an exaggeration. Nevertheless, on the eve of Putin’s visit, approximately 2,000 protestors marched between Budapest Keleti pályaudvar to Nyugati. The route, which moved from the Hungarian capital’s eastern-most railway terminal to its western counterpart, was symbolic, representing the country’s desire to foster EU ties, according to testimony provided to French media outlet AFP by the organizers of the protest.
Individual reasons to join in on the movement struck a more emotional chord. A 67-year-old protestor named Maria Toth told the AFP, quote, ” I lived most of my life under communist rule, I don’t want this country to fall under Russian influence again.” Marton Gulyas, one of the movement leaders, accused Prime Minister Orban of holding secret meetings with Putin, implying that such a measure is a throwback to the harsh tactics used by the Soviet Union when Hungary was a communist satellite nation. Indeed, millions of Hungarians and their diaspora have strong memories of the 1956 revolution, in which a populist uprising against Soviet rule was brutally shut down by then Soviet premiere, Nikita Khrushchev, leaving nearly 3,000 Hungarians dead and forcing 200,000 people to flee the country. And it is precisely for this reason that Orban’s Russian escapade, however practical it may be, stands on very shaky ground.
In financial news, the domestic equities sector pulled back slightly from record-breaking gains earlier in the week, with the benchmark S&P 500 closing down eleven-tenths of a percent from the prior session. The precious metals complex absorbed heavy technical selling, with gold dropping near the 1,200 dollar level, while silver has struggled to find its footing, closing down at 16.34. Industrial metal palladium bucked the trend, moving up to 786 dollars under relatively heavy volume. In digital currency news, bitcoin has finally pulled together a string of positive performances, rising to 241 dollars at last count.
And that will do it for this edition. Thanks for watching and we’ll see you next week!