NPC Dr. H.W. Evans, Imperial Wizard 1925
The by far biggest issue of our times. The world will never be the same. Ever.
Encouraged by years of central bank easing, investors are ploughing too much cash into unproductive and increasingly speculative investments while shunning businesses building economic growth, the OECD warned on Wednesday. In its first Business and Finance Outlook, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development highlighted a growing divergence between investors rushing into ever riskier assets while companies remain too risk-averse to make investments. It urged regulators to keep a close eye on investors as they piled into leveraged hedge funds and private equity and poured cash into illiquid assets like high-yield corporate bonds.
Meanwhile, judging by stock market returns, investors were rewarding corporate managers focused on share-buybacks, dividends, mergers and acquisitions rather than those CEOS betting on long-term investment in research and development. “Stock markets in advanced economies are punishing firms that invest,” OECD secretary general Angel Gurria said in a presentation of the report. “The incentives are skewed.” According to the OECD’s research, over the 2009-2014 period buying US shares in companies with a low investment spending while selling those with high capital expenditure would have added 50% to an investor’s portfolio.
Fidelity Worldwide chief investment officer for equities Dominic Rossi begged to differ with the OECD’s pessimism on corporate investment, saying that for every dollar of depreciation companies were reporting that 1.3 was invested. “Our own analysis would point to quite healthy levels of investment,” Rossi said, adding however that it was lower in the Unites States than in other countries.
Can’t hurt to inject some humility there.
All is not well in corporate Germany. Be it Deutsche Bank or Deutsche Lufthansa, Siemens or RWE, the missteps plaguing the country’s flagbearers have helped turn the DAX into Europe’s worst-performing benchmark index this quarter and a laggard compared with U.S. gauges. Some of the biggest companies in Europe’s economic powerhouse are in upheaval and finding themselves playing catch-up as competitors adapt more quickly to disruptive technologies and new challengers. The problem: As European peers scale back fixed-income trading and other investment-bank activities, the bank that once boasted about making it through the financial crisis without state aid has pledged to gain market share as others retreat.
The plan hasn’t quite worked out as regulatory demands to rein in risk are shaving profit margins and prompting shareholders to question the bank’s strategy. The precedent: UBS Group. Deutsche Bank has appointed John Cryan to succeed Anshu Jain as co-CEO and become sole CEO next year as the bank prepares to carry out a strategic overhaul not unlike the one Cryan undertook about six years ago as finance chief at the bank’s Swiss rival. Siemens: The problem: Europe’s largest engineering company has frequently lagged the profitability of its biggest competitors. CEO Joe Kaeser’s response has been to shed fringe businesses such as home appliances with annual sales of about €11 billion and focus on energy generation and industrial processes.
That bet has proven ill-timed, with a slump in oil prices prompting even more job cuts. The precedent: General Electric. CEO Jeff Immelt started shedding the entertainment, finance and home appliances arms four years ago as he seeks to focus the Fairfield, Connecticut-based company on its industrial business.
That’s not just in Europe.
The latest judgment of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) casts a harsh light on the flawed construction of a currency union without a political union. In the summer of 2012 all citizens owed Mario Draghi a debt of gratitude for uttering a single sentence that saved them from the disastrous consequences of the threat of an immediate collapse of their currency. By announcing the purchase if need be of unlimited amounts of government bonds, he pulled the chestnuts out of the fire for the Eurogroup. He had to press ahead alone because the heads of government were incapable of acting in the common European interest; they remained locked into their respective national interests and frozen in a state of shock. Financial markets reacted then with relief over a single sentence with which the head of the ECB simulated a fiscal sovereignty he did not possess.
It is still the central banks of the member states, as before, which act as the lender of last resort. The ECJ has not ruled out this competence as contrary to the letter of the European Treaties; but as a consequence of its judgment the ECB can in fact, subject to a few restrictions, occupy the room for manoeuvre of just such a lender of last resort. The court signed off on a rescue action that was not entirely constitutional and the German federal constitutional court will probably follow that judgment with some additional precisions. One is tempted to say that the law of the European Treaties must not be directly bent by its protectors but it can be tweaked even so in order to iron out, on a case by case basis, the unfortunate consequences of that flawed construction of the European Monetary Union.
That flaw – as lawyers, political scientists and economists have proven again and again over the years – can only be rectified by a reform of the institutions. The case that is passed to and from between Karlsruhe and Luxembourg shines a light on a gap in the construction of the currency union which the ECB has filled by means of emergency relief. But the lack of fiscal sovereignty is just one of the many weak spots. This currency union will remain unstable as long as it is not enhanced by a banking, fiscal and economic union. But that means expanding the EMU into a Political Union if we want to avoid even strengthening the present technocratic character of the EU and overtly writing off democracy as merely decorative.
Those dramatic events of 2012 explain why Mario Draghi is swimming against the sluggish tide of a short-sighted, nay panic-stricken policy mix. With the change of government in Greece he immediately piped up: “We need a quantum leap in institutional convergence…. We must put to one side a rules-based system for national economic policy and instead hand over more sovereignty to common institutions.” Even if it’s not what one expects a former Goldman Sachs banker to say, he even wanted to couple these overdue reforms with “more democratic accountability” (Süddeutsche Zeitung, March 17, 2015).
“What do you think happened next? Yes, you got it; the mutiny on the Bounty.”
Did you know that on the same day that Greece – home of the first openly gay city, Sparta – was forced to humiliate itself again at the feet of the EU’s creditor nations, the isolated island of Pitcairn became the smallest nation to legalise same-sex marriage, despite having only 48 inhabitants and no gay couples? While reading about Pitcairn, the expression attributed to Captain Bligh of the stricken HMS Bounty, against whom the mutineers revolted, came to mind. While flogging sailors for small misdemeanours, he is said to have declared: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” When we see the torture of Greece by its creditors, I see that the EU has taken the same approach with one of its own family. The economic beatings of Greece will continue until its political morale improves.
Have you ever seen anything so stupid? The Greek crisis has gone on for the past five or six years now. It is a brilliant example of Einstein’s observation that the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Yesterday, Greece promised to raise a fresh €8bn in taxes from the rich in order to satisfy the EU creditors. The cycle has been more or less the same, year in year out. Every year, the Greek government cuts spending and raises taxes. This is followed by the economy collapsing, and so tax revenues fall and this means more austerity is demanded – and the process is repeated. All the while, the economy shrinks. It is 25pc smaller than it was in 2009 and wages are down by 35pc. As activity and wages fall, so too does demand.
The EU response is to repeat the beatings. Every time, the EU imposes a creditors’ levy in the form of higher taxes. The people of Greece, knowing that the taxes won’t go to paying for Greek education or health but will line the pockets of rich creditors, try to find ways to avoid paying the creditors’ levy. So what does the EU do? It imposes more taxes on a problem that was in part due to the inability of the government to raise taxes on the rich in the first place. What do you think will happen now? Do you think the Greeks will give in, and say ‘take our money’? Of course they won’t. The rule of the world is the higher the personal tax, the higher the tax evasion. Did we not learn that in our tax amnesties of the 1980s and 1990s?
The Greeks will just find different ways of getting their money out of the country because they know that the money isn’t being raised for Greece, but for Germany. What would you do if you had the ability? So this latest EU solution will fail spectacularly and we will be back at square one. What then? Repeat the beatings until Greek morale improves? [..] What do you think happened next? Yes, you got it; the mutiny on the Bounty.
Steve and I are on the same page. And we both know it too.
The most recent of the almost daily “Greek Crises” has made one thing clear: the Troika of the IMF, the EU and the ECB is out to break the government of Greece. There is no other way to interpret their refusal to accept the Greek’s latest proposal, which accepted huge government surpluses of 1% of GDP in 2015 and 2% in 2016, imposed VAT increases, and further cut pensions which are already below the poverty line for almost half of Greece’s pensioners. Instead, though the Greeks offered cuts effectively worth €8 billion, they wanted different cuts worth €11 billion. Syriza, which had been elected by the Greek people on a proposal to end austerity, is being forced to continue imposing austerity—regardless of the promises it made to its electorate.
There are many anomalies in Greece—which its creditor overlords are exploiting to the hilt in their campaign against Syriza—but these anomalies alone do not explain Greece’s predicament. If they did, then Spain would be an economic heaven, because none of those anomalies exist there. But Spain is in the same economic state as Greece, because it is suffering under the same Troika-imposed austerity program. The willingness of the Troika to point out Greece’s failures stands in marked contrast to its unwillingness to discuss its own failings too—like, for example, the IMF’s predictions in 2010 of the impact of its austerity policies on Greece. The IMF predicted, for example, that by following its program, Greece’s economy would start growing by 2012, and unemployment would peak at under 15% the same year.
Instead, unemployment has exceeded 25%, and the economy has only grown in real (read “inflation-adjusted”) terms in the last year because the fall in prices was greater than the fall in nominal GDP. That is, measured in Euros, the Greek economy is still shrinking, four years after the IMF forecast that it would return to growth. A huge part of Greece’s excessive government debt to GDP ratio is due to the collapse in GDP, for which the Troika is directly responsible. This trumpeting of Greece’s failures, and unwillingness to even discuss its own, is the hallmark of a bully. And it makes transparently obvious that the agenda underlying the EU itself is fundamentally anti-democratic. Obviously the overthrow of democracy was not the public agenda of the EU—far from it. The core political principles of the EU were always about escaping from Europe’s despotic past, of moving from its conflictual history and the horrors of Nazism towards a collective brotherhood of Europe.
Sapir’s been writing a good series.
The latest adventures in the negotiations between the Greek government and its creditors shines a light against the grain of many commentators. They assume that the Greek government “can only give” or “will inevitably give way” and consider each tactical concessions made by the Greek government as “proof” of its future capitulation, or that it regrets the promises of their vows. From this point of view, there is a strange and unhealthy synergy between the most reactionary commentators and others who want to pass for “radicals” who deliberately fail to take into account the complexity of the struggle led by the Greek government. The latter fights with the courage of Achilles and the cunning of Odysseus. Let us note today that all those who had announced the “capitulation” of the Greek government were wrong. We must understand why.
In fact, although the Greek government made significant concessions from the month of February, all these concessions are conditional on a general agreement on the issue of debt. Be aware that it is the burden of repayments that is forcing the Greek government to be in the dependence of its creditors. The tragedy of Greece is that it has made considerable budgetary effort but only to the benefit of creditors. Investment, both tangible and intangible (education, health) has been sacrificed on the altar of creditors. In these circumstances it is hardly surprising that the productive apparatus of Greece is deteriorating and that she regularly loses competitiveness. It is this situation that the current government of Greece, born of the alliance between SYRIZA and ANEL, seeks to reverse. The Greek Government did not request additional money from its creditors. It asked that the money that Greece produces can be used to invest in both the private and public sectors, both in tangible and intangible investments. And on this point, it is not ready to compromise, at least until now.
The creditors of Greece, meanwhile, continue to demand a full refund – despite knowing perfectly weII that this is impossible – so as to maintain the right to take money from Greece via debt interest payments. Everyone knows that no State has repaid all its debt. From this perspective the discourses that are adorned with moral arguments are completely ridiculous. But, it is appropriate to maintain the fiction of the inviolability of debt if we want to maintain the reality of Greece’s flow of money to the creditor countries. When on June 24, Alexis Tsipras noted the failure to reach an agreement, which he summarized in a tweet into two parts, he pointed to this problem.
But no surplus will ever be enough.
The Greek economy is at its worst point since entering the bailout process over five years ago, as reflected in the data on the execution of the state budget. The result for the first five months may show a surplus, but this is misleading. The shortfall in tax revenues in the year to end-May exceeded €1.7 billion, while, apart from salaries and pensions, the state is not paying its obligations within the country, as expenditure was €2.6 billion less than that provided for in the budget. Had the government not decided to freeze all payments in a bid to secure cash for the timely payment of salaries and pensions, the primary budget balance would have shown a deficit of €1 billion, against the €1.5 billion primary surplus it showed in the January-May period, according to the official data.
However, the cash reserves have now run dry, as according to sources there will not even be enough for the payment of salaries and pensions at the end of June unless the social security funds and local authorities contribute their own reserves. The figures released on Thursday by the Finance Ministry showed that tax revenues were lagging €1.74 billion in the year to end-May, as in direct tax revenues not a single euro has yet been collected from taxpayers and companies in the form of 2015 income tax. Meanwhile, Alternate Finance Minister Nadia Valavani on Thursday issued a decision extending the deadline for the submission of income tax declarations from June 30 to July 27, with the exception of companies that have to file their statements by July 20.
The IMF should be dismantled, along with the EU. These clubs only hurt people.
All sides are working hard to prevent Greece from defaulting on its debt obligations to the IMF – and with good reason: Such an outcome would have dire consequences not only for Greece and Europe but also for the international monetary system. The IMF’s “preferred creditor status” underpins its ability to lend to countries facing great difficulties (especially when all other creditors are either frozen or looking to get out). Yet that capacity to act as lender of last resort is now under unprecedented threat. Preferred creditor status, though it isn’t a formal legal concept, has translated into a general acceptance that the IMF gets paid before almost any other lender.
And should debtors fail to meet payments, they can expect significant pressure from many of the fund’s other 187 member countries. That’s why instances of nations in arrears to the fund have been limited to fragile and failed states, particularly in Africa. The IMF has been able to act as the world’s firefighter, willing to walk into a burning building when all others run the other way. Time and again, its involvement has proved critical in stabilizing national financial crises and limiting the effects for other countries. Not long ago, it would have been improbable for the IMF to engage in large-scale lending to advanced European economies (the last time it did so before the euro crisis was in the 1970s with the U.K.). And it would have been unthinkable for the fund to worry about not getting paid back by a European borrower.
Yet both are happening in the case of Greece. Moreover, compounding the unprecedented nature of the Greek situation, other creditors (such as the European Central Bank and other European institutions) are in a position to help provide Greece with the money it needs to repay the IMF. Yet that would only happen if an agreement is reached on a policy package that is implemented in a consistent and durable fashion. If Greece defaults to the IMF, it would find its access to other funding immediately and severely impacted, including the emergency liquidity support from the ECB that is keeping its banks afloat. The resulting intensification of the country’s credit crunch would push the economy into an even deeper recession, add to an already alarming unemployment crisis, accelerate capital flight, make capital controls inevitable and, most probably, force the country to abandon Europe’s single currency.
I know, I know, quoting Krugman. Got to get used to that yet.
I’ve been staying fairly quiet on Greece, not wanting to shout Grexit in a crowded theater. But given reports from the negotiations in Brussels, something must be said — namely, what do the creditors, and in particular the IMF, think they’re doing?
This ought to be a negotiation about targets for the primary surplus, and then about debt relief that heads off endless future crises. And the Greek government has agreed to what are actually fairly high surplus targets, especially given the fact that the budget would be in huge primary surplus if the economy weren’t so depressed. But the creditors keep rejecting Greek proposals on the grounds that they rely too much on taxes and not enough on spending cuts. So we’re still in the business of dictating domestic policy.
The supposed reason for the rejection of a tax-based response is that it will hurt growth. The obvious response is, are you kidding us? The people who utterly failed to see the damage austerity would do — see the chart, which compares the projections in the 2010 standby agreement with reality — are now lecturing others on growth? Furthermore, the growth concerns are all supply-side, in an economy surely operating at least 20% below capacity. Talk to IMF people and they will go on about the impossibility of dealing with Syriza, their annoyance at the grandstanding, and so on. But we’re not in high school here. And right now it’s the creditors, much more than the Greeks, who keep moving the goalposts.
So what is happening? Is the goal to break Syriza? Is it to force Greece into a presumably disastrous default, to encourage the others? At this point it’s time to stop talking about “Graccident”; if Grexit happens it will be because the creditors, or at least the IMF, wanted it to happen.
Alibaba for president!
There is an overarching force in China with tentacles reaching deep into almost everybody’s life. That force is not the Communist party, whose influence in people’s day-to-day affairs — though all too real — has waned and can appear almost invisible to those who do not seek to buck the system. The more disruptive force to be reckoned with these days is epitomised by the three large internet groups: Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, collectively known as BAT, which have turned much of China upside down in just a few short years. Take the example of Ant Financial. Last week, it completed fundraising that values the company at $45bn to $50bn. It operates Alipay, an online payments system that claims to handle nearly $800bn in e-transactions a year, three times more than PayPal, its US equivalent.
That system, an essential part of China’s financial and retail architecture, and one familiar to almost every Chinese urbanite, is no brainchild of the Communist party. Instead it was the creation of Jack Ma, the former English teacher who founded Alibaba. Mr Ma established the system a decade ago as the backbone for Taobao, his consumer-to-consumer business. The name literally means “digging for treasure”, something that Mr Ma, one of China’s richest people, has clearly found. Alibaba handles 80% of China’s ecommerce, according to iResearch, a Beijing-based consultancy. That is a monopolistic position that even the Communist party, with its 87m members out of a population of 1.3bn, can only dream about.
True, the Communist party still regulates where people live (in the city or the countryside), what they publish (though less what they say) and how many children they have (though the one-child policy is fast fading). China’s internet companies, on the other hand, hold ever greater sway on how people shop, invest, travel, entertain themselves and interact socially. The BAT companies, which dominate search, ecommerce and gaming/social media, together with other upstarts, such as Xiaomi, a five-year-old company that has pioneered the $50 smartphone, are upending how people live.
Sounds cute, but will happen when Chinese stock markets crash?
Few events will be as significant for the world in the next 15 years as China opening its capital borders, a shift that economists and regulators across the world are now starting to grapple with. With China’s leadership aiming to scale back the role of investment in the domestic economy, the nation’s surfeit of savings – deposits currently stand at $21 trillion – will increasingly need to be deployed overseas. That’s also becoming easier, as Premier Li Keqiang relaxes capital-flow regulations. The consequences ultimately could rival the transformation wrought by the Communist nation’s fusion with the global trading system, capped by its 2001 World Trade Organization entry. That stage saw goods made cheaper across the world, boosting the purchasing power of low-income families at the cost of hollowed-out industries.
Some changes are easy to envision: watch out for Mao Zedong’s visage on banknotes as the yuan makes its way into more corners of the globe. China’s giant banks will increasingly dot New York, London and Tokyo skylines, joining U.S., European and Japanese names. Property prices from California to Sydney to Southeast Asia already have seen the influence of Chinese buying. Other shifts are tougher to gauge. International investors including pension funds, which have had limited entry to China to date, will pour in, clouding how big a net money exporter China will be. Deutsche Bank is among those foreseeing mass net outflows, which could go to fund large-scale infrastructure, or stoke asset prices by depressing long-term borrowing costs.
“This era will be marked by China shifting from a large net importer of capital to one of the world’s largest exporters of capital,” Charles Li of Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing, the city’s stock market, wrote in a blog this month. Eventually, there will be “fund outflows of historic proportions, driven by China’s needs to deploy and diversify its national wealth to the global markets,” he wrote. The continuing opening of China’s capital account will also promote the trading of commodities in yuan, and boost China’s ability to influence their prices, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence. As was the case with China’s WTO entry, where many of the hurdles had been cleared in the years leading up to 2001, policy makers in Beijing have been easing restrictions on the currency, the flow of money and interest rates for years.
China will fall to bits if there’s a real crackdown.
China’s shadow banks, increasingly wary of lending into a slowing economy, have turned to the stock market, fueling a surge in unregulated margin lending that has driven the market’s dizzying gains over the past year. Now regulators are cracking down on shadow lending to stock investors, a campaign analysts say is partly to blame for last week’s 13% fall in the Shanghai Composite Index — the largest weekly drop since the global financial crisis in 2008. “The price of funds has increased, the flow has shrunk, and transaction structures are getting more complicated,” says a Chongqing-based shadow banker who provides grey-market loans to stock investors.
“We’re no longer in a growth period. It’s more like, feed the addiction until you die, earn fast money. No one treats this as their main career.” China officially launched margin trading by securities brokerages as a pilot project in 2010. It expanded the program in 2012 with the creation of the China Securities Finance, established by the state-backed stock exchanges specifically to provide funds for brokerages to lend to clients. Official margin lending totaled Rmb2.2 trillion ($354 billion) as of Wednesday’s close, up from Rmb403 billion a year earlier, according to stock exchange figures. Yet this officially sanctioned margin lending, which is tightly regulated and relatively transparent, is only the tip of the iceberg for Chinese leveraged stock investing.
For standardized margin lending by brokerages, only investors with cash and stock worth Rmb500,000 in their securities accounts may participate. Leverage is capped at Rmb2 in loans for every Rmb1 of the investor’s own funds, and only certain stocks are eligible for margin trading. In the murky world of grey-market margin lending, however, few rules apply. Leverage can reach 5:1 or higher, and there are no limits on which shares investors can bet on. The money for these leveraged bets comes mainly from wealth management products sold by banks and trust companies. WMPs, a form of structured deposit that banks market to customers as a higher-yielding alternative to traditional savings deposits, also spurred China’s original shadow banking boom beginning in 2010.
Can’t go wrong with a headline t like that.
There’s a mesmerizing video making the rounds on Facebook of a guy who takes a trombone out into an empty cow pasture, sits down in a lawn chair and plays the song “Royals” by the New Zealand singer Lorde. Before he even gets to the first chorus, cows begin hustling over the hill toward the sound of the music. By the end of the video, he has a whole herd crowded together in front of him and they all wag their tales and moo their approval for the trombonist. What on Earth, you may ask, does this Facebook video have to do with the stock market? Great question, thanks for asking! Returns have been a lot like these cows – individual stocks over the last few years have appeared to be moving together like a herd of cows mesmerized by the same trombonist.
Market pundits have lamented this lack of return dispersion again and again and tried to wish it away, without much success. It’s hard to know – without access to a herd of cattle, a trombone and a lot of free time – whether it’s the specific song or the moo-like sound of the instrument itself that has enthralled the cattle. Similarly, it’s not 100% obvious what’s caused the herding in the stock market – maybe it’s the sweet music of low interest rates played by the Federal Reserve that has caused fixed-income cows to march into the stocks pasture, or maybe it’s the growth in popularity of index funds that makes the whole market look like a field of grass rather than a buffet table covered with an assortment of treats.
Yet, there’s an interesting surprise lurking amid all this herding in returns: dispersion among performance of equity hedge funds is actually increasing. The spread between the top fourth and bottom fourth of long-short strategy returns in the Credit Suisse Hedge Fund Index has widened from 10% to as high as 20% over the last year. That type of contrast is usually only seen during very volatile periods, not the calm markets we’ve seen this year, according to Mark Connors, Credit Suisse’s global head of risk advisory.
A great take on UK housing. Don Corleone would be proud.
Golden towers emerge from a canopy of trees on a hoarding in Elephant and Castle, snaking around a nine-hectare strip of south London where soon will rise “a vibrant, established neighbourhood, where everybody loves to belong”. It is a bold claim, given that there was an established neighbourhood here before, called the Heygate Estate – home to 3,000 people in a group of 1970s concrete slab blocks that have since been crushed to hardcore and spread in mounds across the site, from which a few remaining trees still poke. Everybody might love to belong in Australian developer Lend Lease’s gilded vision for the area, but few will be able to afford it.
While the Heygate was home to 1,194 social-rented flats at the time of its demolition, the new £1.2bn Elephant Park will provide just 74 such homes among its 2,500 units. Five hundred flats will be “affordable” – ie rented out at up to 80% of London’s superheated market rate – but the bulk are for private sale, and are currently being marketed in a green-roofed sales cabin on the site. Nestling in a shipping-container village of temporary restaurants and pop-up pilates classes, the sales suite has a sense of shabby chic that belies the prices: a place in the Elephant dream costs £569,000 for a studio, or £801,000 for a two-bed flat.
None of this should come as a surprise, being the familiar aftermath of London’s regenerative steamroller, which continues to crush council estates and replace them with less and less affordable housing. But alarm bells should sound when you realise that Southwark council is a development partner in the Elephant Park project, and that its own planning policy would require 432 social-rented homes, not 74, to be provided in a scheme of this size – a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by Adrian Glasspool, a former leaseholder on the Heygate Estate.
No ride at all.
There has been a lot of speculation about how deeply and how quickly U.S. shale production would contract in the low price environment. The industry has proven resilient, with rig counts having fallen by more than half since October 2014 but actual production not exhibiting a corresponding precipitous decline. That could soon change. Shale companies drastically cut spending and drilling programs following the collapse in oil prices. For example, Continental Resources, a prominent producer in the Bakken, slashed capital expenditures for 2015 from $5.2 billion to $2.7 billion. Whiting Petroleum, another Bakken producer, gutted its capex by half. The list goes on. To be sure, exploration companies are achieving a lot of efficiency gains in their drilling operations.
After years of pursuing a drill-anywhere strategy, many are now approaching the shale patch with more forethought and cost-saving technologies. Oil field service companies are also dropping their rates, allowing for drilling costs to decline. That will allow U.S. companies to squeeze more oil out of shale while spending less. However, the improved productivity could be temporary. Much of the cost reductions have come in the form of layoffs rather than fundamental gains in the cost of operations. If drilling activity picks up in earnest, costs could rise again as workers will need to be rehired. The tumbling “breakeven” costs for producing a barrel of oil could be a bit of a mirage.
If oil prices remain relatively weak, or even drop further in the second half of the year, the problems could start to mount. Shale wells suffer from steep decline rates after an initial rush of output. That means that unless enough new wells are drilled to offset natural decline, overall output could drop precipitously. Add to that the fact that the companies are bringing in 40% less per barrel than they were last year because of lower oil prices, and falling revenues start to become a problem for weaker companies.
Has it really been such a disaster?
Chief Justice John Roberts did more than simply save Obamacare by ruling for the administration on Thursday – he etched the president’s signature policy into American law for a generation or more. And in a bitter irony for the political right, Robert’s ruling actually puts Obamacare on firmer ground than it would have been if conservatives never brought the suit in the first place. A narrow decision could have simply upheld today’s health care subsidies by accepting the Obama administration’s interpretation of the health law’s tax rules. Roberts’ decision in King v. Burwell goes further, however, in a way many policymakers and critics have yet to fully grasp.
The ruling not only upholds current healthcare subsidies – the first big headline on Thursday – it also establishes an expansive precedent making it far harder for future administrations to unwind them. That is because Roberts’ opinion doesn’t simply find today’s subsidies legal. It holds that they are an integral, essentially permanent part of Obamacare. In other words, for the first time, the Supreme Court is ruling that because Congress turned on this spigot for national health care funding, only Congress can turn it off. That is bad news for potential Republican presidents, who may have hoped that down the road they might hinder Obamacare by executive action. Now their only apparent route to dialing back the policy is by controlling the White House, the House, and a 60-vote margin in the Senate.
Roberts establishes this precedent by essentially wresting power from the White House, and handing it back to Congress. While that might sound like a good thing for Republicans, who control Congress now, the case attacked the statute’s original meaning, so Roberts hands that power to the Democratic Congress that enacted Obamacare. That legal reasoning is the crucial backdrop for one of the most striking lines in the opinion, Roberts’ closing flourish that Congress passed the ACA “to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”
Still a good idea.
French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira thinks National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange might be allowed to settle in France. If France decides to offer them asylum, she would “absolutely not be surprised,” she told French news channel BFMTV on Thursday (translated from the French). She said it would be a “symbolic gesture.” Taubira was asked about the NSA’s sweeping surveillance of three French presidents, disclosed by WikiLeaks this week, and called it an “unspeakable practice.”
Her comments echoed those in an editorial in France’s leftist newspaper Libération Thursday morning, which said giving Snowden asylum would be a “single gesture” that would send “a clear and useful message to Washington,” in response to the “contempt” the U.S. showed by spying on France’s president. Snowden, who faces criminal espionage charges in the U.S., has found himself stranded in Moscow with temporary asylum as he awaits responses from two dozen countries where he’d like to live; and Assange is trapped inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden. Taubira, the chief of France’s Ministry of Justice, holds the equivalent position of the attorney general in the United States.
She has been described in the press as a “maverick,” targeting issues such as poverty and same-sex marriage, often inspiring anger among French right-wingers. Taubira doesn’t actually have the power to offer asylum herself, however. She said in the interview that such a decision would be up to the French president, prime minister and foreign minister. And Taubira just last week threatened to quit her job unless French President François Hollande implemented her juvenile justice reforms.
Explode that union. Get it over with. People are getting killed.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi rebuked fellow EU leaders on Thursday for failing to agree a plan to take in 40,000 asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece, saying they were not worthy of calling themselves Europeans. EU leaders are divided over a growing migrant crisis in the Mediterranean and have largely left Italy and Greece to handle thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. “If you do not agree with the figure of 40,000 (asylum seekers) you do not deserve to call yourself Europeans,” Renzi told an EU summit in Brussels. “If this is your idea of Europe, you can keep it. Either there’s solidarity or don’t waste our time,” he said.
Another official described the debate as “controversial”. Much of the tension appeared to be about ensuring that the migration plan was voluntary, not mandatory as the European Commission had initially suggested. Stung by deaths this year of almost 2,000 migrants trying to reach Europe by boat, the European Union has promised an emergency response but not national quotas for taking people. According to a draft final summit communique, governments would agree to relocation over two years from Italy and Greece to other member states of 40,000 people needing protection. It said all member states will participate.
As EU leaders tackled the issue over dinner, some eastern and central European countries, which are reluctant to take refugees, sought guarantees that the system be temporary and voluntary. “We have no consensus on mandatory quotas for migrants, but … that cannot be an excuse to do nothing,” said Donald Tusk, president of the European Council who chairs summits. “Solidarity without sacrifice is pure hypocrisy.”
It’s all in the design. No escaping that.
I have a hard time with people not being willing to recognize what’s obviously in front of their faces. It’s a voluntary mind game people play with themselves to justify whatever it is they think they want. This is massively exacerbated by an array of social engineering tactics, many of which are to create the very mind sets and desires people so adamantly defend. But that’s no excuse for a lack of simple conscious recognition and frankly makes absolutely no sense. We can’t blame these manipulators for everything. Ultimately we all have free choice. Plainly seeing what’s right in front of our noses, no matter how well sold or disguised, is our human responsibility. That people would relinquish this innate right and capability totally escapes me.
The Handwriting On the Wall Actually, it’s much more obvious than even that. Pointless wars costing millions of innocent lives, poisoned food, air and water, demolished resources, manipulated economies run by elitist bankers who nonchalantly lend money with conditions for “interest”, corporate profiteering at any cost to humanity, a medical system built on sickness instead of health, media mindmush poisoning children and adults alike, draconian clampdowns for any reason, and on and on. Why is this not obvious to people that something is seriously wrong, and clearly intended to be just the way it is? Do they really think it’s gonna iron itself out, especially with clearly psychopathic power mad corrupt maniacs in charge? That’s what they’ll tell you. “Give it time, we’re just going through a hiccup. Everything works out…” yada yada. Why? Because that’s what they want to believe. And the constructed world system is waiting with open arms to reinforce that insanity. And “Heck, if millions of others feel the same as me I can’t possibly be wrong.”
Fear of Drawing Conclusions That’s pretty much the bottom line. Acceptance for seeming security. However, if even one of these inroads of control vectors becomes clear to people then their whole world threatens to turn upside down. When two or more start appearing then the discomfort becomes quite intense, and that’s when the decision takes place. Either they keep pursuing this line of awakened thought or they shut it down. It’s all about comfort. And what a deceptive thing that is! Call it sleepwalking to oblivion or what have you, it’s endemic to today’s dumbed-down society. This is why the education system was their primary target since way back, conditioning humanity from childhood to not think analytically but to simply repeat whatever is in their carefully sculpted curriculum. But most of all do not question authority.
And have a yearly man-eating fest?!
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who used to be gloomy about a distant future dominated by artificial intelligence, now believes it would be good for humanity in the long run. Super smart robots would keep us as pets, he believes. “They’re going to be smarter than us and if they’re smarter than us then they’ll realize they need us,” Wozniak told an audience of 2,500 people at the Moody Theater in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday. The speech was part of the Freescale Technology Forum 2015. “They’ll be so smart by then that they’ll know they have to keep nature, and humans are part of nature. So I got over my fear that we’d be replaced by computers. They’re going to help us. We’re at least the gods originally,” he explained.
The timetable for humans to be reduced from the self-crowned kings of Earth to obsolete sentient life forms sustained by their own creations is measured in hundreds of years, Woz soothed the audience. And for our distant descendants life won’t really be bad. “If it turned on us, it would surprise us. But we want to be the family pet and be taken care of all the time,” he said. “I got this idea a few years ago and so I started feeding my dog filet steak and chicken every night because ‘do unto others,'” he quipped. Wozniak, who invested some $10 million into an IA firm, used to refer to artificial intelligence as “our biggest existential threat.” The concern is shared by some leading IT experts, inventors and scientists, including Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking.