The Ugly American's guide to the Greek crisis

We can argue about whether it should’ve been surprising. But there’s no denying the fact that Greek voters' resounding rejection of more austerity was a genuine surprise to pollsters, most economists and investors.

Yet this surprise won’t necessarily produce a shock across world markets. Yes, the euro declined a bit in value and European stock markets pulled back, with those of debt-burdened Mediterranean countries getting it worst.

But the response mostly mocked the predictions that a No vote in Greece or an increasingly likely exit of Greece from the Eurozone would invite a “Lehman moment.”

Unlike when Lehman failed almost seven years ago, central banks are proactive in liquefying markets, default risk is mostly borne by public institutions, and Greece just isn’t central enough. If there’s a way Greece could be like Lehman, maybe it’s in becoming the one unfortunate casualty that makes authorities vow to protect all the other vulnerable players.

The immediate implications are too complicated and fast-changing to get into. Extreme further suffering by Greek citizens is a heartbreaking certainty, as is severe stress on Greek banks. Maybe IOUs will start being issued to pensioners and government workers and a parallel currency may rise up, as some are suggesting.

Ultimately, though, markets are amoral machines that constantly ask “What’s it mean for me?” This fits with a stereotypical privileged self-centeredness of Americans.

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So here’s a quick “Ugly American’s” checklist of things to watch in the aftermath of the Greek vote.

-The damage to U.S. stocks looks to be muted.

That’s because the American equity market has served as a kind of volatility neutralizer this year, but also because a fair bit of weakness has already been working through the U.S. market for weeks. Less than 7% of S&P 500 (^GSPC) stocks are above their 10-day average, and industrial (XLI), transport (^DJT), and energy (XLE) stocks in particular have suffered.

This turns much attention on trading levels. Tactical traders are focused in the general zone of 2040 for the S&P, near last week lows and not far from the March lows that have defined the lower edge of this persistent trading range.

With many stocks already oversold and trader sentiment already downbeat, fast-money types will likely look to play stocks for a bounce if the index ever gets own there.

-Monitor the midday fade in stocks.

The benchmark index has closed below its opening level for ten straight trading days. The cumulative loss from buying the open and selling the close over that span is more than 4%, a hefty hit, which helps explain rising trader anxiety. This is not the mark of a market in strong hands. It speaks to distribution and perhaps a general risk-aversion move. Now that this pattern is getting lots of attention, let’s see if it continues.

-Watch the body language of corporate executives closely as earnings season gets underway.

While Greece is a trivial trading partner and a mere 1% of Eurozone population voted "No" on Sunday, the prospect of systemic stress and downtrodden Euro leader sentiment is exactly the kind of thing that CEOs of multinational companies focus on a lot. Just as corporate animal spirits were on the rise, it will be important to hear whether CEOs say this effects demand or investment decisions in Europe.

-And, of course, the Fed has to play into this.

Chair Janet Yellen speaks Friday, and from a big-picture view it’s hard to see her expressing anything but a gentle, accommodative view as her counterpart in Europe seeks to stem a banking crisis and perhaps manage a once-unthinkable fracturing of the currency bloc.

The market is already doubtful that the Fed will have the conditions it seeks to raise rates in September, but this target keeps moving.

The question we might be asking before long is not what Greece means for us, but whether investors here should truly wish for the circumstances that would lead to a delay in the rate-hike plans.

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