John Vachon “Career Girl” New York 1955
Hi, Ilargi here. As per October 3, the Daily Links that used to be in the top space on every page will now become part of a daily separate post, entitled Debt Rattle +date (to be found below where all posts are, at about 8am ET every day), which will also include the quotes from these same links, which used to be below our own daily essays. The latter will now stand on themselves, and also be separate posts. So the only change for you is that to get to the links, you will need to execute one extra click, but then you get everything I read everyday presented in one go.
If you think this is the worst idea ever, or if you think it’s great, please do let me know at ilargi •AT• theautomaticearth •DOT• com. And thanks for your support. Talking of which: our donate box is at the top of the left hand column, below the ad; please donate what you can. This site runs well below the poverty line these days, and that’s neither right nor sustainable. I want to bring back a lot more Nicole Foss here, but she does have to make a living.
Yours, Raúl Ilargi Meijer
The boys don’t sound too convinced yet.
Amid wild fluctuations in stocks and range-bound trading in bonds this week, the U.S. dollar marched ever higher. The currency is set to finish another week stronger, which would mark 12-straight weeks of gains, the longest winning streak ever. And pros say though the move has been sharp, the uptrend is still firmly intact. First, a warning: Buying the dollar is the trade du jour. As the U.S. economy flexes its muscles amid an increasingly uncertain global backdrop, more investors have jumped on the strong dollar bandwagon. Weekly data from the Commodities Futures Trading Commission show hedge funds and other large speculators’ positions have increased substantially in the past few weeks, and the net long dollar bet now stands at $35.81 billion, not far from its its highest ever. Net shorts on the euro and yen grew larger as well. Those crowded trades mean the dollar is vulnerable to a painful drop when momentum turns on any given day and trades unwind. However, it doesn’t change the logic for buying the dollar and the currency’s trajectory.
“As the Fed steps away from ultra-loose policies, the dollar should gain against the chief beneficiaries of those policies, namely emerging market and commodity currencies,” currency strategists led by Kit Juckes at Societe Generale wrote in a note this week. That goes for the dollar against emerging markets’ currencies, too. “The jump in total debt levels in the emerging markets in recent years leaves them vulnerable to rising interest rates and a resurgent dollar,” Juckes wrote. In the third quarter, the dollar index shot up 7%, the biggest gain since the third quarter of 2008, when investors everywhere were scrambling for safe-haven assets as the financial crisis gripped the globe. Lee Hardman, currency strategist at Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, found that after a strong quarterly performance, there’s still scope for further gains. “Looking back over the last 20 years, we found that similarly large quarterly gains have tended to be followed by further, although more modest, gains in the following quarter,” Hardman wrote in a note this week.
If only they didn’t need to trade ….
The U.S. is proving to be an oasis of prosperity in the midst of a troubled world economy. Unemployment dropped to a six-year low of 5.9% in September as payrolls rose by a greater-than-forecast 248,000, a Labor Department report showed yesterday. Other data this week showed U.S. factories had their strongest quarter in more than three years, while exports rose to a record in August. St. Louis-based Macroeconomic Advisers bumped up its estimate of third-quarter growth to 3.3%, from 2.8%, after government data published yesterday showed the U.S. trade deficit shrank in August to its lowest level in seven months. “The internal dynamics of the economy are very strong right now,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist in Lexington, Massachusetts, for consultants IHS Inc. “We can withstand a lot of shocks.” U.S. stocks rose with the dollar as the jobs data boosted confidence in the economy. After weakening earlier in the week on concerns about global growth, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 1.1% to 1,967.9 yesterday in New York.
The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index climbed to a four-year high. The solid performance by the U.S. contrasts with what’s happening in much of the rest of the world. The euro area’s economy stagnated in the second quarter and is suffering from the softest inflation in five years, while a consumer-tax increase in Japan triggered its biggest economic contraction since 2009. China’s economy, which helped bring advanced economies out of the recession in 2009, this year may undershoot the government’s growth target of about 7.5% amid a property slump and the slowest expansion in factory output in five years. “Matters can be described as American exceptionalism,” said Larry Hatheway, chief economist at UBS AG in London. “The U.S. is the only large economic bloc experiencing an acceleration of growth, preparing for a tightening of monetary policy and enjoying an appreciating currency.”
Did the Saudis make another deal with Washington, this time to cripple Putin and IS? Remember, they reported a deficit recently.
Crude oil is poised to extend the biggest slump in more than two years after Saudi Arabia signaled it’s ready for a price war with other OPEC members, according to Commerzbank and Citigroup. Saudi Aramco, the state-run oil producer of the world’s biggest exporter, cut prices on Oct. 1 for all its exports, reducing those for Asia to the lowest level since 2008. The move suggests that the biggest member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is prepared to let prices fall rather than cede market share by paring output to clear a supply surplus, according to Commerzbank. “There is no indication whatsoever that the Saudis are going to put a floor into this market,” Seth Kleinman, head of European energy research at Citigroup in London, said by e-mail.
“Saudi market share in Asia is really under assault. It is a price war. The Saudis will win, but it won’t be painless.” Saudi Arabia has acted in the past to stop a plunge in prices. It made the biggest contribution to OPEC’s production cuts of almost 5 million barrels a day in 2008 and 2009 as demand contracted amid the financial crisis. The kingdom would need to reduce output about 500,000 barrels a day to eliminate the supply glut now stemming from the highest U.S. output in three decades, Citigroup and Barclays Plc estimate. While the banks said Saudi Arabia’s strategy may weaken prices in the short-term, they forecast a recovery later. Commerzbank projects Brent will average $105 a barrel in 2015, Citigroup predicts $97.50. Brent for November settlement traded for $93.54 as of 10:07 a.m. local time.
Aramco reduced official selling prices, or OSPs, for all grades of crudes to all regions for November. It lowered the OSP for Arab Light to Asia by $1 a barrel to a discount of $1.05 to the average of Oman and Dubai crude, the lowest level since December 2008. OSPs are regional adjustments Aramco makes to price formulas to compete against oil from other countries. “OPEC appears to be gearing up for a price war,” Eugen Weinberg, head of commodities research at Commerzbank in Frankfurt, said in a report yesterday. “We therefore do not expect prices to stabilize until this impression disappears and OPEC returns to coordinated production cuts.”
These graphs are so damning it’s positively crazy that job numbers still get presented as positive by just about all media.
While by now everyone should know the answer, for those curious why the US unemployment rate just slid once more to a meager 5.9%, the lowest print since the summer of 2008, the answer is the same one we have shown every month since 2010: the collapse in the labor force participation rate, which in September slid from an already three decade low 62.8% to 62.7% – the lowest in over 36 years, matching the February 1978 lows. And while according to the Household Survey, 232,000 people found jobs, what is more disturbing is that the people not in the labor force, rose to a new record high, increasing by 315,000 to 92.6 million!
And that’s how you get a fresh cycle low in the unemployment rate.
As I said repeatedly before. Democracy in Europe is dead. Elect a eurosceptic government and you’ll find out for yourself.
So the truth comes out at last. The EU/IMF Troika – actually the ECB – compelled the Irish state to take on the vast liabilities of Anglo-Irish and other banks in the white heat of the financial crisis. It threatened to pull the plug on ECB support for the Irish banking system, in breach of its own core duty to act as a lender-of-last resort, unless the Irish taxpayer took the full losses. This protected bondholders from their condign fate, even though these creditors were fully complicit in Ireland’s credit bubble. Indeed, they helped to cause it, along with the ECB’s ultra-loose monetary policy and negative real rates (set for German needs) during the boom. Even the riskiest tranches of junior bank debt were deemed off limits. Working class youths in Cork, Limerick, and Dublin will have to service a very high public debt – currently 124pc of GDP, up from 25pc in 2007 – for a very long time. Patrick Honohan, Ireland’s central bank governor, told a group of foreign journalists in Dublin some time ago that this had occurred.
We knew, but were sworn to silence, forced to bite our tongues every time we had to listen to the usual pack of lies from certain quarters. Now he has spoken out in a new book on the former Irish finance minister, the late Brian Lenihan. Extracts were published in the Irish Independent on Sunday. Those who follow Ireland will already be aware of this, so forgive me for coming to it late. Mr Honohan was in an impossible position in 2010. The ECB could at any time have withheld emergency support, sending the Irish financial system crashing down in flames. Yet the ECB’s terms for a rescue programme were that Ireland protect all creditors. (Many of them British, Dutch, Belgian, and German) “The Troika staff told Brian in categorical terms that burning the bondholders would mean no programme and, accordingly, could not be countenanced,” he said. “For whatever reason, they waited until after this showdown to inform me of this decision, which had apparently been taken at a very high-level teleconference to which no Irish representative was invited.”
Sounds cute and all, but he’s already been whistled back by the two biggest economies in the eurozone.
For the first time in four years there are signs of life in Europe’s market for asset-backed securities. Mario Draghi’s plan to kick-start growth by buying the securities spurred more than €10 billion ($12.7 billion) of issuance in September. That’s almost double the monthly average for the year, signaling a revival in a market that’s shrunk more than 40% since 2010, according to JPMorgan Chase. The European Central Bank president said yesterday that purchases of asset-backed debt will start before the end of the year and may include notes from the junk-rated nations of Greece and Cyprus. He’s made the revival of the market a top priority because he says it will allow banks to increase lending and boost economic growth. “ABS sales have been pretty low over the past few years so the ECB’s plans could be the jolt the market needs to get started again.” said Gareth Davies, the London-based head of European asset-backed securities research at JPMorgan.
“With all the questions about what it can buy, an obvious area of supply would be the new-issue market, which we expect to become more active.” There are two new deals in the market now, including bonds backed by a loan financing a Westfield Corp. shopping center in London, JPMorgan data show. Even after the surge in transactions over the past month, issuance of €57 billion of asset-backed debt issuance this year is the least since 2009, the data show. Draghi’s plans have cut borrowing costs for issuers of the notes to the lowest level in seven years, according to data compiled by Barclays Plc. The extra yield investors demand to hold Spanish and Italian residential mortgage-backed securities, compared with benchmark rates, fell below 1 percentage point in September, data compiled by JPMorgan show.
What are we coming to? You pay 10% a week, banks pay 0.1% a year?
Thousands of Americans exit the banking system after turning to last-resort lenders, according to a study released yesterday by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Of 252 online payday-loan borrowers surveyed by Pew as part of a three-year research project, 22% closed a checking account or had one closed for them. Payday lending is migrating to the Internet as states from New York to California restrict the costly short-term loans, which are secured by a borrower’s next paycheck. The websites charge twice as much on average as payday stores and account for a disproportionate share of consumer complaints about fraudulent charges or harassment by debt collectors, according to Pew. “Abusive practices in the online payday-loan market not only exist but are widespread,” Nick Bourke, director of the Pew project, said in a statement. Pew is releasing the study as the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau weighs the first federal payday-loan guidelines. Regulators should require lenders to make more affordable loans and disclose the cost clearly, Pew said.
Payday lenders say they provide a valuable service to people who lack access to cheaper forms of credit. The Online Lenders Alliance, a lobbying group, said in a statement responding to the Pew study that “its members are working to ensure consumers are treated fairly.” Some of the borrowers surveyed by Pew who closed their bank accounts said lenders were making unauthorized withdrawals, while others said they couldn’t keep up with the payments. The average interest on a $100 loan is about $25 every two weeks, or an annual rate of 652%, according to Pew. About a third of borrowers said their loans were set up to only withdraw those fees, meaning they ended up making several payments without reducing the principal. “Their business model is based on churning — getting people a loan and then having people re-up it so they stay in debt indefinitely,” said Liz Murray, policy director for National People’s Action, a network of community organizations that ran protests against payday lenders in August that it called “Shark Week.”
A lot of hurt is in the air.
Borrowers are feeling the pinch in the U.S. loan market as the Federal Reserve boosts its oversight of high-risk corporate debt. Banks increased interest rates on almost 54% of the leveraged loans they arranged last month, up from 36% in August and the most since January 2013, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Micro Focus International Plc may pay 1 %age point more than it initially sought on a $1.35 billion loan backing its purchase of Attachmate Group Inc. as prices in the $800 billion market for corporate loans drop to a 21-month low. The Fed, which along with other regulators has been asking banks for more than a year to adhere to guidelines aimed at curbing risky underwriting practices, will now start reviewing individual deals after previous warnings were largely ignored.
The heightened scrutiny adds to the difficulty in finding loan buyers willing to accept lower margins after investors pulled money from funds that invest in the debt in each of the last 12 weeks, bringing withdrawals for the year to $6.9 billion. “People are taking a step back from risk at the moment, and you can sense the market is uneasy,” Tim Anderson, chief fixed-income officer at Richmond, Virginia-based RiverFront Investment Group, said in a telephone interview. “Regulators have picked up on underwriting standards, and when people see and read that, they realize that they aren’t being compensated enough for some of the risks they are taking.”
Foot in mouth.
John Lewis’s managing director has apologised for a string of derogatory remarks about France, as the deputy mayor of Paris dismissed his tirade as “false and idiotic”. Andy Street told a gathering of British entrepreneurs on Thursday night that France was “sclerotic, hopeless and downbeat” and urged them to get out if they had investments there because the country was “finished”. His comments sparked outrage in France and a sharp rebuttal from Jean-Louis Missika, a deputy Paris mayor in charge of economic development and the attractiveness of Paris to investors. He told the Guardian that if Andy Street was joking, perhaps Paris should respond in kind. “What he says is false and idiotic. As we say, everything excessive is exaggerated, but then it seems French bashing is all the fashion chez vous.
“Factually it’s false because figures show that last year Paris attracted more foreign investment than London, and because Paris is a dynamic city with a quality of service that is often better than in London. “But this guy has shops in London, right, so of course he wants to attract people away from the shops in Paris. I think it’s called publicity.” Street, who is launching a French-language version of John Lewis’s website soon, apologised on Friday afternoon as the reaction to his comments snowballed. Waitrose, the John-Lewis-owned supermarket, also has a deal to sell food on Eurostar. “The remarks I made were supposed to be lighthearted views, and tongue in cheek,” said Street. “On reflection I clearly went too far. I regret the comments, and apologise unreservedly.”
There you go. That’ll show ’em.
Business students’ textbooks have an addition for their “PR disasters” chapters. With John Lewis planning to launch a French-language version of its website, allowing customers to pay in euros, its managing director, Andy Street, returning from a short trip in Paris to collect an award for the group, said France was “finished”. And that’s not all. Street is the coloratura soprano of French-bashing: his repertoire is colourful and flowery, with a high range. His savoury piques include, “I have never been to a country more ill at ease … nothing works and worse, nobody cares about it”. British entrepreneurs with investments in the country should “get them out quickly”, he advised; while the award he got in Paris at the World Retail Congress was “made of plastic and is frankly revolting”. “If I needed any further evidence of a country in decline, here it is. Every time I [see it], I shall think, God help France.”
Meanwhile, “In Salle Wagram, this beautiful salon, just off the Champs-Élysées, we were treated to the naffest troupe of modern dance you’ve ever known and, literally, a chap’s trousers fell down.” The French embassy in London had the embarrassing task of defending France against Street’s attacks with figures and facts. I won’t. France doesn’t need defending, especially from fools. What I’d like to do is to help Street understand a thing or two about France that probably never crossed his mind. Street has since said his comments were “tongue in cheek”. So are mine. Finished, hopeless, sclerotic and downbeat are precisely how we like things. Love is finished, life is hopeless, we are in essence a grumpy and downbeat people and nobody will ever take it away from us. Heard of Jean-Paul Sartre? Probably not. He was a joyous human being, very funny, very ugly and supremely intelligent. He gave us the greatest gift of all, a philosophy called existentialism. We and we alone are responsible for our own misery. We have never looked back since.
“… the $1.3 trillion U.S. junk-bond market is being inflated by a growing amount of leverage being used by buyers”. Please act surprised.
If stock investors are any guide, the $1.3 trillion U.S. junk-bond market is being inflated by a growing amount of leverage being used by buyers. Both stock and junk-bond managers tend to deploy more leverage when markets are booming, and more than ever is being used to purchase U.S. equities, based on levels of margin debt on the New York Stock Exchange, according to UBS analysts. That suggests junk-debt buyers are engaging in similar financing activities. As investors use more borrowed cash, they increase the potential for bigger losses in a downturn. This trend adds to concern that six years of unprecedented Federal Reserve stimulus has produced a bubble in the junk-bond market — and one that will be all the more painful when it eventually pops.
“Rising debt levels will be a problem going forward,” UBS analysts Stephen Caprio and Matthew Mish wrote in a report dated Oct. 2. Investors increase “leverage to meet return hurdles that are more challenging to hit as prices rise.” Measuring leverage in the junk bond market with any kind of precision is a tricky thing. Caprio said in an interview that he doesn’t know of a direct way to do it. Margin debt has surged to more than 2.5% of U.S. gross domestic product, about the highest level in data going back to the early 1990s, the UBS analysts wrote. The measure of leverage tends to be a leading indicator of relative yields on speculative-grade bonds, with a rising level of margin debt increasing the odds of future spread widening.
Teenage angst can cause all kinds of unfortunate behaviour, but when schoolgirls tell their parents they want to join the fight in Syria and Iraq, then society has a serious problem. Alarmingly, this is increasingly happening in France, as young Muslims express their desire for jihad. Worse still, an estimated 100-150 young women and girls have actually joined groups such as the self-styled Islamic State (Isis), travelling to a war zone to devote their lives to setting up a highly militarised caliphate and, if necessary, dying for the cause. The situation has been replicated in Britain, but in smaller numbers, and women tend to be far less hateful of the country where they were often born and raised. There are no verified figures on either side of the Channel, but anecdotal evidence suggests that, in France, alienation from society is a far greater incentive to join a conflict than it is in Britain. Thus, in June, a 14-year-old girl known as Sarah disappeared from her home in a Parisian suburb, heading for Syria.
She texted her parents, telling them to search her bedroom where, under the mattress, they found a pained letter saying she was “heading for a country where they do not prevent you from following your religion”. Rather than a fanatical interpretation of Islamic teaching, or anger at western attacks on countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, Sarah’s motivations were based on what she regards as homegrown discrimination. This is markedly different from British jihadis, who tend to position themselves in a worldwide struggle against aggressive interference in the Muslim world. Numerous other girls in France regularly fill social media sites with reasons why they would consider fleeing abroad. Two, aged 15 and 17, are under judicial supervision after apparently corresponding with Sarah with a view to joining her in Syria, where they would almost certainly take husbands among the French combatants already there, as well as being trained in the use of weaponry. All of the would-be women militants rally against France’s distrust of Islam, which has manifested itself in a range of discriminatory legislation.
It seems an Anglo-Saxon movement.
Australia’s investment in renewable energy projects has slumped below that of Algeria, Thailand and Myanmar, new figures have shown, with the sector “paralysed” by the government’s review of the Renewable Energy Target. Just $193m was invested in new large-scale clean energy projects in the third quarter of 2014, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Investment in the year to date is $238m. This represents a massive 70% slump on 2013 investment and has resulted in Australia slipping from the world’s 11th largest investor in clean energy to 31st in 2014. This ranking is below Algeria, Myanmar, Thailand and Uruguay. By comparison, Canada has invested $US3.1bn in large clean energy projects so far in 2014. The slowdown in renewable energy investment is pinned squarely by Bloomberg on the government’s review of the RET, which mandates that 41,000 gigawatt hours of Australia’s energy comes from renewable sources by 2020.
A recent review of the RET by businessman Dick Warburton found that although it has created jobs and driven investment, it should either be suspended or shut down completely. The government has yet to formally respond to the report, instead holding talks with Labor on a “compromise” position that may see the RET altered in some way without being scrapped entirely. Labor, the Greens and the Palmer United Party all oppose any change to the RET. Kobad Bhavnagri, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, told Guardian Australia that the renewables sector is “in the doldrums.” “The government’s position has caused this, it has had some pretty strong anti-renewables rhetoric, particularly anti-wind, and wants to close certain clean energy programs,” he said. “The review has been particularly protracted. The industry was fearful the recommendations would be extreme and they were. It has been shattering.
The world now knows in great detail how Thomas Eric Duncan, a man who just a few weeks ago showed admirable compassion for a sick, pregnant neighbor in Liberia, has become the first person to come down with Ebola in the United States. What is less well known is how the virus came to West Africa to infect Duncan’s neighbor. Knowing and acting on that story is absolutely critical if we hope to contain future outbreaks of Ebola and other scary diseases before they turn into global headlines. The Ebola epidemic in West Africa may have surprised most of the medical establishment – this is the first such outbreak in the region – but the risk had been steadily rising for at least a decade. The risk had grown so high, in fact, that this outbreak was almost inevitable and very possibly predictable.
All that was needed was to see the danger was a bat’s eye view of the region. Once blanketed with forests, West Africa has been skinned alive over the last decade. Guinea’s rainforests have been reduced by 80%, while Liberia has sold logging rights to over half its forests. Within the next few years Sierra Leone is on track to be completely deforested. This matters because those forests were habitat for fruit bats, Ebola’s reservoir host. With their homes cut down around them, the bats are concentrating into the remnants of their once-abundant habitat. At the same time, mining has become big business in the region, employing thousands of workers who regularly travel into bat territory to get to the mines. The result: virus, bats and people have had more opportunities to meet.
Fruit bats carry the Ebola virus, but generally don’t die from it. The virus could easily have migrated from Central to West Africa inside them in much the same way that birds spread West Nile virus across North America: passing it among flocks during seasonal migrations. Although bats have long been on the menu in West Africa, there are other transmission routes for the virus besides bushmeat. It is conceivable the two-year-old boy in Guinea thought to be the first case in this outbreak was infected after eating bat-contaminated fruit. This mode of transmission may also explain how the disease gets into wild gorilla populations.