Don’t let the door hit you on the way out..
“John Key took New Zealand, a nation of just 4.5m people, from almost no debt to $100 billion debt.” – Kim Dotcom
It is one of the hoary rules of politics that leaders never – almost never – go of their own accord. But John Key, not for the first time, has proved his resistance to the forces of political gravity, announcing on Monday afternoon he will exit on his own terms. “For me this feels the right time to go,” the prime minister of New Zealand said. Already the conspiracy theorists are in full flight but there is no evidence to suggest he is doing anything but that: going on his own terms, sitting as strongly as ever, a year out from the next election. He’s only 55. A spring chicken in political terms.
Key said he “feels like I am going out on top”, that he had “never seen myself as a career politician” and “didn’t want to find myself in the position many leaders around the world find themselves, which is disgruntled and unhappy”. Some media are reporting he’s leaving “for family reasons”. But while he did say he’d made sacrifices on that front and family was “a factor”, this wasn’t a “spend more time with my family” exit, or not with that euphemistic freight. The National party under Key has been lauded, rightly, for its ability to renew, with underperforming MPs finding themselves nudged out or shouldered towards retirement. But now the prime minister has performed the biggest renewal of the lot. “To be blunt, I’ve taken the knife to some other people, and now I’ve taken the knife to myself.”
Got to admit he’s way more entertaining in person than Saturday Night Live’s impression of him is. And these numbers are real:
“China charges an average 15.6% tariff on US agricultural imports and 9% on other goods [..] Chinese farm products pay 4.4% and other goods 3.6% when coming into the United States.”
US President-elect Donald Trump fired a Twitter broadside at China on Sunday, accusing the Asian giant of currency manipulation and military expansionism in the South China Sea. The taunt came two days after Trump risked offending Beijing by accepting a call from the Taiwanese president, and heralded the prospect of a trade battle between the world’s largest economies. China was a frequent target of Trump’s during his presidential campaign and, as he prepares to take office next month, every sign points to his taking an aggressive line with Beijing. “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the US doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea?” he demanded, adding: “I don’t think so!”
China is the United States’ largest trading partner, but America ran a $366 billion deficit with Beijing in goods and services in 2015, up 6.6% on the year before. US politicians often accuse China of artificially depressing its currency, the renminbi, in order to boost its exports – its value has fallen by around 15% in the past two-and-half years. Trump has vowed to formally declare China a “currency manipulator” on the first day of his presidency, which would oblige the US Treasury to open negotiations with Beijing on allowing the renminbi to rise. With China holding about a trillion dollars in US government debt, Washington would have little leverage in such talks, but the declaration would harm ties and boost the prospect of a trade war. China charges an average 15.6% tariff on US agricultural imports and 9% on other goods, according to the WTO. Chinese farm products pay 4.4% and other goods 3.6% when coming into the United States.
“Five Star founder and leader Beppe Grillo called for an election to be called “within a week”..” Not going to happen say the tea leaves.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced his resignation on Monday, hours after it was confirmed he had suffered a crushing defeat in a referendum on constitutional reform. “My experience of government finishes here,” Renzi told a press conference, acknowledging that the No campaign had won an “extraordinarily clear” victory in a vote on which he had staked his future. Interior Ministry projections suggested the No camp, led by the populist Five Star Movement, had carried the vote by a margin of almost 60-40 with a near 70% turnout underlining the high stakes and the intensity of the debate. Markets seemed to take Renzi’s departure in their stride. Stocks and the euro fell in early trading in Asia but there were no signs of panic with the possibility of his resignation having already been largely factored in.
Renzi said he would be visiting President Sergio Mattarella on Monday to hand in his resignation following a final meeting of his cabinet. Mattarella will then be charged with brokering the appointment of a new government or, if he can’t do that, ordering early elections. Five Star founder and leader Beppe Grillo called for an election to be called “within a week” on the basis of a recently adopted electoral law which is designed to ensure the leading party has a parliamentary majority – a position Five Star could well find themselves in at the next election. [..] Most analysts see early elections as unlikely with the most probable scenario involving Renzi’s administration being replaced by a caretaker one dominated by his Democratic Party which will carry on until an election due to take place by the spring of 2018. Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan is the favourite to succeed Renzi as prime minister and the outgoing leader may stay on as head of his party – which would leave him well-placed for a potential comeback to frontline politics at the next election, whenever it is.
Monte dei Paschi down 7.5% this morning. “Monte Paschi’s shares are trading at a 94% discount to the value of its assets.” “Italian households have highest share of wealth invested in bank bonds in the developed world..”
But Draghi to the rescue!
Recapitalization of Italy’s troubled banks will be harder following the failure of a referendum pushed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with ratings agencies among key actors to watch as delays may loom as the country likely heads to early polls next year. Renzi resigned after failing to win a mandate to curb the powers of the upper house legislature, throwing into questions steps such as plans by Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena to conduct a €5 billion capital increase this week, a solution backed by the outgoing premier. Barclays Economics Research, in a note to clients following the defeat, suggested that concerns surrounding Italian banks are growing.
“This outcome is likely to exacerbate concerns about the Italian banking sector and increase downgrade risks from rating agencies such as DBRS, although we do not expect rating agencies to act anytime soon, as they are likely to wait for political developments before taking any rating decision,” Barclays said in the Dec. 5 note. Italy’s banking sector has struggled with toxic debts as 14 of the largest banks sit on €286 billion of bad loans, debt securities and off-balance sheet items. Asset managers, insurers and banks had agreed earlier this year to set up a euro fund to bail out the weaker Italian lenders.
But other analysts suggest after the referendum result, investors might pull out. “[Investors] are now drawing back, they think the situation is too volatile both in Italy and in the European Union,” said Mark Grant, chief strategist at Hilltop Holdings, in a Squawk Box interview. “It’s going to be very difficult to do a raise of capital for Monte Paschi and the regional investment banks, and I think then what happens is Italy is going to be at loggerheads with the EU and the ECB,” Grant said.
“.. a “small global turning of the tide in these uncertain, not to say hysterical and even stupid times..”
Austria has decisively rejected the possibility of the EU getting its first far-right head of state, instead electing a former leader of the Green party who said he would be an “open-minded, liberal-minded and above all a pro-European president”. Alexander Van der Bellen, who ran as an independent, increased his lead over the far-right Freedom party candidate, Norbert Hofer, by a considerable margin from the original vote in May, which was annulled by the constitutional court due to voting irregularities. Hofer conceded his defeat within less than half an hour of the first exit polls on Sunday, writing on Facebook: “I congratulate Alexander Van der Bellen for his success and ask all Austrians to pull together and work together.”
The 45-year-old, who said he was “endlessly sad” and “would have liked to look after Austria”, confirmed that he would like to run again for the presidency in six years’ time. The Freedom party secretary, Herbert Kickl, who has acted as Hofer’s campaign manager, said: “The bottom line is it didn’t quite work out. In this case the establishment – which pitched in once again to block, to stonewall and to prevent renewal – has won.” Speaking in front of international press at the end of the evening, a visibly emboldened Van der Bellen said the election had not just been a repeat, “but a new election after the world around us has changed” with the Brexit vote in June and Donald Trump’s win in November.
Referring to the colours of the Austrian flag, he described the result as “a red-white-and-red signal of hope and change to all the capitals in Europe”. Werner Kogler, a Green party politician, described the result as a “small global turning of the tide in these uncertain, not to say hysterical and even stupid times”. The endorsement of the retired economics professor was particularly emphatic in urban areas, with all of Vienna’s 23 districts showing up in Van der Bellen’s green than Hofer’s blue at the end of the night.
The kind of headline where you really have to check the date of the article. But this is why Renzi lost, and this is why the EU will soon fall to bits.
Greece must implement economic reforms if it is to keep its place in the eurozone, Germany’s finance minister has insisted, ruling out debt relief for the country ahead of a crucial euro group meeting on Monday. As the finance ministers of member states using the single currency prepared to discuss fiscal plans for the coming year, Wolfgang Schäuble in effect presented Greece with an ultimatum: either it must enforce unpopular structural reforms or exit the bloc. “Athens must finally implement the needed reforms,” he told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag in an interview published on Sunday. “If Greece wants to stay in the euro, there is no way around it – in fact completely regardless of the debt level.” Asked if German voters should be prepared for the inevitability of debt relief in the run-up to national elections next year, Schäuble quipped: “That would not help Greece.”
Schäuble, who also asserted the Greek budget was not burdened by debt servicing because interest rates were now so low, made the comments as speculation mounted over how best to put the thrice-bailed-out nation back on the road to economic recovery. On Friday the German finance ministry announced that short-term measures to lighten Greece’s debt load would be among the proposals up for discussion at the euro group meeting. Athens’s leftist-led government has long argued that the country’s staggering €330bn debt load is the single biggest impediment to sustainable growth. It is an argument that has won backing from the IMF. Time is of the essence. The economic crisis enveloping Greece is far from over despite more than €300bn of emergency loans since 2010 when, after its first brush with bankruptcy, it received its first EU-IMF sponsored bailout.
Never let a good crisis go to waste.
Political uncertainty in Europe has created fresh momentum for a “comprehensive and permanent” solution to the Greek debt crisis before the year ends, a government spokesman said on Sunday. Eurozone finance ministers will meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss short-term debt relief for Greece, and Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble said it must implement reforms instead of hoping for further debt forgiveness. Greece remained optimistic for a final debt deal, however, just as Italians were voting on a constitutional referendum on Sunday and a victory for the opposition “No” camp may push the eurozone toward fresh crisis.
“Everyone realizes that Europe cannot stand a rekindling of the Greek crisis, when there are issues with Italy and amid a pre-election period in many European countries,” Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told Athens 9,84 radio. “The general uncertainty which prevails in Europe – which is both political and financial – creates … a momentum for a comprehensive and permanent solution for the Greek issue.” Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras said new measures were needed to lighten Athens’s debt burden. One option would be to extend the maturity of already granted long-term aid loans by some 20 years. “Greece needs debt sustainability and more realistic fiscal targets after the completion of the current adjustment program [in 2018],” Stournaras told German business daily Handelsblatt in an interview to be published on Monday.
China and India, the world’s most populous countries, are both ruled by megalomaniacs. Thinking they are in full control.
As Indians struggle with the chaos caused by last month’s sudden banning of their 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, money-laundering networks are spreading across the country, seizing on a new market in helping people turn their cash hoards into legal tender. While people have until year-end to deposit old notes in their bank accounts, the government has said it will scrutinize large cash deposits and money with undeclared origins — and will tax or penalize depositors. That’s created a scramble for ways to turn so-called black money, the local term for cash that has evaded taxation, into white.
Agents offering to launder money are using creative means, including flying banned cash by the planeload to northeastern states exempt from restrictions as well as connecting people to high-turnover businesses that can deem old cash as revenue, keep a portion of it, and return the rest, according to people involved in the networks. Premiums range from 10% to 50%, depending on the difficulty, they say. At least one property brokerage is offering to arrange the sale of apartments using banned money in an upscale suburb of Mumbai that’s popular with Bollywood movie stars.
While the government has been working to close loopholes – which Prime Minister Narendra Modi decried as people’s “illegal means to save their ill-gotten wealth” in a radio address last week – new ones are opening even faster. So far, the policy aimed at reducing the scale of the black economy and bringing more people into the tax net is, in the short term, leading to just the reverse: money-laundering, tax-avoidance, and new opportunities for existing organized crime, the evolution of the long-standing hawala money-transfer system, and the start of new illicit networks.
“..you’ve gone from strangers at the gate, to barbarians and eventually robbers of the industry..”
China’s top securities regulator resorted to unusually harsh language to denounce leveraged acquisitions of listed companies, as officials move to rein in financial risks associated with a surge in dealmaking. China Securities Regulatory Commission Chairman Liu Shiyu also questioned the legitimacy of the funding sources at acquirers that he didn’t identify, saying their behavior challenges the nation’s rules, as well as their own professional ethics. Such acquisitions show “retrogress and decay in humanity and commercial morals, and is by no means financial innovation,” Liu said. “By using improperly obtained money to conduct leveraged acquisitions, you’ve gone from strangers at the gate, to barbarians and eventually robbers of the industry, ” he said at a meeting of the Asset Management Association of China in Beijing on Saturday, a transcript of which was posted on the regulator’s website. “That’s not allowed.”
The comments came after China Evergrande Group, the country’s largest property developer, last month stepped up a buying spree of shares in rival China Vanke in the weeks after a warning from the Shenzhen stock exchange that it is closely monitoring Evergrande’s investments in listed companies. The bourse said it strengthened supervision after finding “abnormal trading behaviors” that affected share prices of Vanke and others. [..] Evergrande joined the fray in a tussle for control at Vanke, which has been trying to fend off advances from the Baoneng Group. Vanke labeled Baoneng “hostile” after it emerged last year as the developer’s largest shareholder, amassing a 24% stake by borrowing from brokers and fund managers who raise the money selling private high-yield instruments to wealthy clients.
There once was a time when homes were places that offered shelter.
Just a few days after Vancouver announced a tax on foreign property investors, Seattle real estate broker Lili Shang received a WeChat message from a wealthy Chinese businessman who wanted to sell a home in Canada and buy in her area. After a week of showings, he purchased a $1 million property in Bellevue, across Lake Washington from Seattle. He soon returned to buy two more, including a $2.2 million house in Clyde Hill paid for with a single cashier’s check. Shang says she’s been inundated with similar requests from China and Hong Kong after Vancouver’s provincial government enacted a 15% tax on foreign homebuyers in August to help cool soaring real estate values.
With Chinese investors – the largest pool of foreign capital – looking for a place to put their cash, the unintended consequence of the fee has been to push demand to cities such as Seattle and Toronto. “The tax was the trigger of this new wave of investment now coming to Seattle,” Shang said. “Why pay more for the same thing?” Vancouver, which has seen detached-home prices double in a decade, joined areas including Australia and Hong Kong in taking steps to slow housing demand after an unprecedented surge of foreign investment. Chinese buyers, in particular, are accelerating purchases overseas, spurred by a weakening yuan, rising prices at home and the perceived safety of real estate. They’re also venturing farther afield as costs soar in some of their favored markets.
“..the physiological decision to stay in the workforce won’t work for much longer….”
The $1.3 trillion pensions deficit just takes into account state and municipal obligations and with promised returns of 8% and funds compounding at 3% for decades it will take nothing short of an economic miracle to recover. “The average state pension in the last fiscal year returned something south of 1%. You cannot fill that gap with a bulldozer, impossible,” DiMartino Booth said. “Anyone who knows their compounding tables knows you don’t make that up. You don’t get that back unless you get some miracle.” The last time we saw significant market weakness, the baby boomers pretty much accepted that they would be retiring at 70 instead of 65, she added. “Well, guess what? They’re turning 71. And the physiological decision to stay in the workforce won’t work for much longer. And that means that these pensions are going to come under tremendous amounts of pressure.”
“And the idea that we can escape what’s to come, given demographically what we’re staring at is naive at best. And it’s reckless at worst,” DiMartino Booth said. “And when you throw private equity and all of the dry powder that they have – that they’re sitting on – still waiting to deploy on pensions’ behalf, at really egregious valuations, yeah, it’s hard to sleep at night.” “This is where the smile comes off my face. We are an angry country. We’re an angry world. The wealth effect is dead. The inequality divide is unlike anything we’ve seen since the years that preceded the Great Depression,” she told Real Vision TV. “Where’s the money going to come from? And the answer is, for now, they cut services. I’ve just written about the Winter of Discontent and the rubbish piled up in central London streets in 1979, as Thatcher was coming in. I worry about the ambulance not getting there in time. I worry about firefighters being cut to the bone and policemen.”
Russia is not the no. 1 threat. These people are.
Russia’s increasing military activities around the world have unsettled top U.S. military officials, who say they are reshaping their budget plans to better address what they now consider to be the most pressing threat to U.S. security. “Russia is the No. 1 threat to the United States. We have a number of threats that we’re dealing with, but Russia could be, because of the nuclear aspect, an existential threat to the United States,” Air Force Secretary Deborah James told Reuters in an interview at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum. James, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson and Pentagon chief arms buyer Frank Kendall, all voiced growing concern about Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior in interviews late on Saturday.
Their comments come as the Pentagon finalizes a classified security assessment for President-elect Donald Trump, who has promised to both pump up U.S. defense spending and build closer ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. European diplomats fear Moscow could use the time before Trump’s inauguration to launch more offensives in Ukraine and Syria, betting that President Barack Obama will be loathe to response forcefully so soon before he hands off power on Jan. 20. Kendall said U.S. policy had been centered on threats in the Asia-Pacific region and Middle East, but was now focused more on Russia. “Their behavior has caused us … to rethink the balance of capabilities that we’re going to need,” he said.
None of the officials gave details about how the concerns would affect the fiscal 2018 budget request, but defense officials have pointed to the need to focus on areas such as cyber security, space, nuclear capabilities and missile defense, where Russia has developed new capabilities in recent years.
Washington better back down. Trump can’t afford this fight either.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said on Sunday it turned down a permit for a controversial pipeline project running through North Dakota, in a victory for Native Americans and climate activists who have protested against the project for several months. A celebration erupted at the main protest camp in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, where the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and others have been protesting the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline for months. It may prove to be a short-lived victory, however, because Republican President-elect Donald Trump has stated that he supports the project. Trump takes over from Democratic President Barack Obama on Jan. 20 and policy experts believe he could reverse the decision if he wanted to.
The line, owned by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, had been complete except for a segment planned to run under Lake Oahe, a reservoir formed by a dam on the Missouri River. That stretch required an easement from federal authorities. The Obama administration delayed a decision on the permit twice in an effort to consult further with the tribe. “The Army will not grant an easement to cross Lake Oahe at the proposed location based on the current record,” a statement from the U.S. Army said. Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, said in a statement the decision was based on a need to explore alternate routes for the pipeline, although it remains unclear what those alternatives will be. Protesters have said the $3.8 billion project could contaminate the water supply and damage sacred tribal lands.