Dismantling clock outside Daily Telegraph building, Fleet Street, London, 1930
Just so you know. Motorcycle Boy.
• Jim Rogers Says Fed Has No Clue, Will ‘Ruin Us All’ (BBG)
Jim Rogers, chairman at Rogers Holdings, explains what the Federal Reserve did wrong in response to the financial crisis and how their mistakes spread to global central banks. Jane Foley, senior FX strategist at Rabobank, joins the conversation with Bloomberg’s Francine Lacqua on “Bloomberg Surveillance.”
Nothing to fear but…
• Article 50: British PM May Signs Letter That Will Trigger Brexit (BBC)
Theresa May has signed the letter that will formally begin the UK’s departure from the European Union. Giving official notice under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, it will be delivered to European Council president Donald Tusk later. In a statement in the Commons, the prime minister will then tell MPs this marks “the moment for the country to come together”. It follows June’s referendum which resulted in a vote to leave the EU. Mrs May’s letter will be delivered at 12:30 BST on Wednesday by the British ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow. The prime minister, who will chair a cabinet meeting in the morning, will then make a statement to MPs confirming the countdown to the UK’s departure from the EU is under way.
She will promise to “represent every person in the whole United Kingdom” during the negotiations – including EU nationals, whose status after Brexit has yet to be settled. “It is my fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person in this country,” she will say. “For, as we face the opportunities ahead of us on this momentous journey, our shared values, interests and ambitions can – and must – bring us together.” Attempting to move on from the divisions of June’s referendum, Mrs May will add: “We are one great union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future. “And, now that the decision has been made to leave the EU, it is time to come together.”
Guardian front page today. Got to wonder why they left off Greece.
How many referendums will it take in the end?
• Scottish Parliament Votes For Second Independence Referendum (G.)
Nicola Sturgeon has won a key Holyrood vote on her plans for a second independence referendum, triggering accusations from UK ministers that her demands are premature. Sturgeon won by a 10-vote majority after the Scottish Greens backed her proposals to formally request from the UK government the powers to stage a fresh independence vote at around the time Britain leaves the EU, in spring 2019. She is due to write to Theresa May later this week, asking for Westminster to hand Holyrood the temporary powers to stage the referendum under a section 30 order. She said she would avoid writing until the prime minister had invoked article 50 to trigger the Brexit process, which she is expected to do on Wednesday. “It is not my intention to do so confrontationally, instead I only seek sensible discussion,” Sturgeon told MSPs.
The vote, which split the Scottish parliament cleanly between pro- and anti-independence parties, deepened the dispute between the two governments over both the need for and the timing of the vote. David Mundell, the Scottish secretary, told the BBC the answer to Sturgeon’s request would be no. “We won’t be entering any negotiations at all until the Brexit process is complete,” he said. “Now is the time for the Scottish government to come together with the UK government, work together to get the best possible deal for the UK, and that means Scotland, as we leave the EU.” Mundell rejected Sturgeon’s claims that May had told her the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU and its new trade deal would be clear in about 18 months. Sturgeon said that timeframe matched her preference for a referendum just as the UK quits the EU in March 2019. He said it was too early to say how quickly a Brexit deal could be concluded or whether transitional arrangements were needed.
“We don’t change our position according to elections..”
• Why Brexit Is Best for Britain: The Left-Wing Case (NYT)
Ms. Watkins is a “Lexiteer,” as left-wing supporters of ‘Brexit’ like me are known. We were hardly a significant force among the 52% of Britons who voted to leave in the referendum of June 23. But we were an influence. A counterweight to the anti-immigrant fear mongering of the former leader of the right-wing U.K. Independence Party, Nigel Farage, Lexiteers argued a left-wing, democratic and internationalist case for Brexit. The position was expressed crisply by Perry Anderson, the former longtime editor of New Left Review: “The E.U. is now widely seen for what it has become: an oligarchic structure, riddled with corruption, built on a denial of any sort of popular sovereignty, enforcing a bitter economic regime of privilege for the few and duress for the many.”
Although Lexiteers have little patience for the national nihilism of “Davos Man,” the globalist elite, we are no xenophobes. We voted Leave because we believe it is essential to preserve the two things we value most: a democratic political system and a social-democratic society. We fear that the European Union’s authoritarian project of neoliberal integration is a breeding ground for the far right. By sealing off so much policy, including the imposition of long-term austerity measures and mass immigration, from the democratic process, the union has broken the contract between mainstream national politicians and their voters. This has opened the door to right-wing populists who claim to represent “the people,” already angry at austerity, against the immigrant.
It was the free-market economist Friedrich Hayek, the intellectual architect of neoliberalism, who called in 1939 for “interstate federalism” in Europe to prevent voters from using democracy to interfere with the operation of the free market. Simply put, as Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission (the union’s executive body), did: “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.” The union’s structures and treaties are designed accordingly. The European Commission is appointed, not elected, and it is proudly unaccountable to any electorate. “We don’t change our position according to elections” was how the commission’s vice president Jyrki Katainen greeted the victory of the anti-austerity party Syriza in Greece in 2015.
The European Parliament is not a real parliament. It is not a legislature; its deputies neither offer manifestoes nor carry out the ideas they propose to voters. Elections in improbably large constituencies, with pitifully low turnouts, change nothing. As a Parliament staff member said at the European Research Seminar at the London School of Economics, “The only people who listen to M.E.P.s are the interpreters,” referring to the members of the Parliament. The European Council, an intergovernmental body where decisive legislative power actually lies, especially for Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, comprises member countries’ heads of state, who generally meet just four times a year. They are not directly elected by the inhabitants of the nations whose fate they decide. As for the union principle of “subsidiarity,” a supposed preference for decentralized governance, it is ignored in all practical matters.
Oh, those days of innocence …
Fine, but who’s going to do it? The ECB is independent?!
• ECB Needs Democratic Oversight If The Euro Is To Survive (TI)
The ECB urgently needs to increase democratic oversight and accountability if the euro is to survive the next crisis, according to a new report on the Bank’s governance by Transparency International EU entitled “Two sides of the same coin? Independence and accountability at the ECB”. The report finds that a lack of political leadership and decisive reform has led the ECB to stray into the area of political decision-making, without appropriate democratic scrutiny. This has been accompanied by a marked decline in public trust at a time when the ECB has been granted extensive new powers to supervise major European banks.
“While the ECB has saved the single currency more than once, the absence of a Eurozone finance ministry as counterpart to the ECB means that the Bank has had to stretch its mandate to breaking point,” said Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm, Research and Advocacy Coordinator at Transparency International EU. “If the euro is to survive the next crisis, then EU Member States need to stop hiding behind the technocrats at the ECB, overcome political inertia and get serious about reforming the Eurozone”, continued Hoffmann-Axthelm. The report finds that preserving the ECB’s independence limits its accountability to citizens, and recommends that the Bank should compensate this by increasing its transparency. The ECB should take immediate steps, such as automatically publishing its decisions and opinions and being more open about the political choices it faces, rather than insisting its decisions are purely technical.
For example, at the height of the Greece crisis in 2015 the ECB repeatedly limited the ceiling on Emergency Liquidity Assistance for the country’s banks without publicly announcing it. The ECB’s discretionary powers allowed it to put pressure on Greek banks while negotiating bailout reforms with the Greek government as part of the Troika of international creditors. Similar dynamics could play out in the upcoming negotiations with Greece, and with the current recapitalisation of Italian lender Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which threaten the Eurozone’s current fragile stability, according to the group. “Clearly decisions which affect the fate of whole economies should have some kind of democratic oversight. The ECB should not be in a position to pull the plug on a country’s euro membership, a decision ultimately down to democratically elected politicians”, said Hoffmann-Axthelm.
An entertaining and educational list.
• 12 People, Things That Ruined The EU (Pol.)
Last weekend, European leaders gathered in Rome for the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. They discussed, not for the first time, how to get the EU back on track. And they told each other they are still committed to the Union and believe in its future. (We’ve heard that one before, too.) But let’s just suppose that, when the European leaders sat down for lunch at the Quirinal Palace, some of them had a little too much of the pinot grigio and waxed nostalgic about the days when the idea of a united Europe was still young and promising and beautiful. And then they talked about this week and how British Prime Minister Theresa May would send her goodbye letter and they started slurring their words, saying Grexit, Brexit, Frexit, and they finally admitted to each other that something has gone horribly wrong. When they stood up and got ready to leave, they were devastated, saying to each other: “Good God, how did it come this and, more importantly, who is to blame?” We’ve gathered a dozen suggestions.
1. Zeus Whenever Europe is in trouble, its advocates claim the EU lacks a proper narrative. The whole idea of an “ever-closer union” is still a fine one, they argue, and the only thing that’s needed for people to understand it is a memorable story. The most memorable story about Europe, of course, is the one about Zeus. The Greek God disguised himself as a white bull in order to approach a beautiful girl called Europa. When Europa, perhaps naively, climbed on his back, the God-turned-bull abducted and ravished her. No need to take the story too literally when analyzing the EU’s current malaise (no white bulls there). But it is good to keep in mind that Europe’s founding myth doesn’t exactly bode well for its future. If negative narratives about the EU seem to resonate far more than positive ones, maybe it’s because the Greek gods loaded the dice.
2. Edith Cresson Going straight from Zeus, ruler of Mount Olympus, to good old Edith Cresson may seem a bit of a stretch. But as a strong contender for the title of worst European commissioner ever, the Frenchwoman does have a claim to fame, too. In the early 1990s, Cresson was a French prime minister who quickly fell out of favor and was forced to resign after less than a year in office. That apparently qualified her for a high-powered job in Brussels. As commissioner for science, research and development, Cresson famously paid her dentist to be a scientific adviser. In 1999, allegations of fraud intended to target Cresson ended up bringing down the entire Commission. To put it crudely: Cresson did to the EU what Zeus did to Europa.
Le Pen won’t ruin the EU. That’s already been done.
• Le Pen Victory Five Times As Dangerous As Greek Meltdown – UBS (CNBC)
Europe could be on track to encounter a shock wave up to five times as turbulent as the start of the euro zone debt crisis if French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen was able to secure victory in May, according to a team of UBS analysts. Strategists at the Swiss banking giant stressed the prominence of the anti-immigration and anti-European Union National Front leader meant France’s fast approaching general election would be the most serious political risk event in the region this year. Le Pen, who leads in the latest opinion polls, has vowed to renegotiate the terms of France’s membership of the EU and ditch the single currency if elected as the country’s new premier in just over two months’ time.
“The systemic importance of France for the European project is such that the margin for damage limitation may well be a lot thinner than has been the case in Greece in the past or could be the case for Spain or Italy even,” UBS analysts said in a note. The bank predicted the shock of a Le Pen victory on sovereign spreads could be as dramatic as when Spain and Italy appeared to be on the brink of financial collapse in 2012. UBS forecast a move of up to 500 basis points in sovereign spreads if Le Pen entered the Élysée Palace in early May. In comparison to a peripheral economy such as Greece, when Athens was on the brink of financial collapse in 2010, sovereign spreads widened by around 100 basis points. “It is certainly arguable that risks to the euro zone’s cohesion emanating from the core are by definition more severe and harder to diffuse than those emanating from the periphery,” UBS analysts added.
A curious case. Shares fell 85% (indefinite trading halt) and nobody seems to know why.
• China Is Desperately Trying To Save A Too Big To Fail Dairy Company (Qz)
A mysterious collapse in a Chinese dairy maker’s shares last week has renewed fears that China’s financial system is so shaky that authorities can do nothing but to muddle through a credit crunch. Shares of China Huishan Dairy Holdings plunged 85% in an hour on March 24, wiping more than $4 billion from its market value. The crash, the biggest-ever intraday fall in Hong Kong, prompted an indefinite trading halt. It also caused collateral damage to firms linked to the Liaoning-based company, which has more than 11,600 employees and operates the largest number of dairy farms in China. Market observers are still trying to figure out what exactly triggered the sudden sell-off. A company statement filed to the Hong Kong stock exchange March 28 unearthed at least part of the mystery.
In its first public comments since the stock crash, Huishan confirmed media reports that it had missed interest payments to its creditors, and that on March 23 the Liaoning provincial government held a meeting with the company and its 20-plus creditor banks to discuss remedies. According to the statement, the Liaoning government proposed an “action plan” to solve any overdue interest payments within two weeks and to help improve Huishan’s liquidity position within a month. Some creditors—including Bank of China and Jilin Jiutai Rural Commercial Bank—pledged in the meeting that they “would continue to have confidence in the Group [Huishan] which has over 60 years of operating history,” said the statement. The company also dismissed previous reports that it had issued fake invoices, and that chairman and controlling shareholder Yang Kai had misappropriated funds to invest in real estate in Shenyang, Liaoning’s capital.
The statement confirmed that Yang’s wife Ge Kun, who is also an executive director in charge of relationships with the company’s principal bankers, has been out of contact since March 21, the same day that Yang learned of the late payments. Financial news outlet Caixin revealed more details (link in Chinese) about the bailout package, based on an interview with creditor Hongling Capital head Zhou Shiping, who was at the March 23 meeting. The Liaoning government will pay over 90 million yuan ($13 million) for land owned by Huishan to inject cash into the company. It also ordered financial institutions involved not to downgrade the company’s credit rating or file lawsuits against it.
Huishan is a bunch of highly leveraged shadow cows.
• Huishan Dairy Turmoil Highlights China’s $8 Trillion Shadow Loan Risk (BBG)
Turmoil at a small Chinese dairy company is shedding rare light on the final destination for some of the country’s estimated $8 trillion of shadow banking loans. Jilin Jiutai Rural Commercial Bank, a major creditor to embattled China Huishan Dairy., said late Tuesday it has extended a total of 1.35 billion yuan ($196 million) in credit to the dairy producer, including 750 million yuan through the purchase of investment receivables from a finance lease company. Investment receivables – a category that can include using wealth-management products, asset-management plans and trust-beneficiary rights to disguise what are in effect loans – allow banks to reduce the amount of cash they need to set aside for capital and provisions for loan losses.
The practice of recording loan-type exposures on balance sheets under categories including investment receivables has allowed hundreds of smaller Chinese banks to boost assets and profits. At the same time, it has created opaque risks that could lead to failures, bailouts or liquidity shocks with the potential to jolt national and global markets. The external public relations agency for Jiutai didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment. The bank doesn’t appear to have broken any disclosure rules on its receivables. China’s shadow banking system could lead to losses of $375 billion, CLSA estimated in September. The brokerage said such financing expanded at an annual 30% pace from 2011 through 2015 to reach 54 trillion yuan, or 79% of the nation’s GDP. But details have rarely surfaced on the specifics of individual shadow banking arrangements.
“Chinese banks are lending more and more money to companies in recent years through investment receivables, partly to circumvent regulatory or internal rules,” said Yulia Wan, a Shanghai-based banking analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. Lenders don’t disclose enough information about where the money goes, according to Wan. In addition, the banks usually don’t provision enough for such exposures, and they fund the transactions through short-term borrowing from other financial institutions, Wan said. “This practice poses risks to both investors and banks themselves.”
People will find a way. And then so will the money.
• Hong Kong Underground Banks Cash In On Flood Of Money Out Of China (BBG)
Business is good, but Dickson Chan is worried. The Hong Kong money changer saw remittances from mainland China increase by 10% to 20% last month from the end of 2016, yet he is not sure how long the operation can last. The company he works for, Professional Foreign Currency Exchange, helps clients move cash between China and Hong Kong with a bank account in each place by squaring opposing transactions. “Now people feel that the Chinese government may tighten capital controls further and it wants more yuan depreciation, so many clients want to transfer money to Hong Kong more quickly,” Chan said from his store, located in the basement of a drab mall in Causeway Bay, the world’s second-priciest retail district. “We’re worried the Chinese government will introduce some regulations to ban this business, so now although we’re still doing it, we’re trying to raise revenues from other currencies.”
The fate of Hong Kong’s money changers shows both the reach of Chinese authorities, and the limits to their power. While a determined crackdown could kill the industry, such a response would risk spooking China’s citizens and exacerbating outflow pressures. The exodus of funds from Asia’s largest economy has spurred three years of yuan depreciation that at times roiled global markets and influenced monetary policies worldwide, and pushed up asset prices in cities from Hong Kong to Vancouver. An estimated $1.8 trillion has left Asia’s largest economy from the start of 2015 through January 2017, as the yuan lost almost 10% and returns on onshore assets dropped amid slowing economic growth. To stem the flows, the authorities have tightened capital curbs, stepping up scrutiny of residents’ foreign-currency purchases and limiting insurance buying in Hong Kong.Money changers in Hong Kong provide ways to sidestep such restrictions.
Once the cash reaches the semi-autonomous Chinese city, which has no capital controls, it can go almost anywhere. Hong Kong’s shopping districts are dotted with money changers advertising their remittance services and yuan conversion rates in simplified Chinese characters typically used on the mainland. There are 1,891 licensed money operators in the city, Hong Kong customs data show. Money changers or remittance firms need to obtain a license from the government, which requires the companies to conduct customer due diligence and keep records. As part of a sweeping effort to contain outflows, just before the new year, Chinese regulators boosted disclosure requirements for citizens converting yuan into foreign exchange — while retaining the $50,000 annual quota. Authorities busted at least 380 cases of major underground banking involving more than 900 billion yuan ($131 billion) of funds last year.
A bit shaky in predictions etc., but this is very much is where we’re going. Retirement was an anomaly.
• A World Without Retirement (G.)
We are entering the age of no retirement. The journey into that chilling reality is not a long one: the first generation who will experience it are now in their 40s and 50s. They grew up assuming they could expect the kind of retirement their parents enjoyed – stopping work in their mid-60s on a generous income, with time and good health enough to fulfil long-held dreams. For them, it may already be too late to make the changes necessary to retire at all. In 2010, British women got their state pension at 60 and men got theirs at 65. By October 2020, both sexes will have to wait until they are 66. By 2028, the age will rise again, to 67. And the creep will continue. By the early 2060s, people will still be working in their 70s, but according to research, we will all need to keep working into our 80s if we want to enjoy the same standard of retirement as our parents.
This is what a world without retirement looks like. Workers will be unable to down tools, even when they can barely hold them with hands gnarled by age-related arthritis. The raising of the state retirement age will create a new social inequality. Those living in areas in which the average life expectancy is lower than the state retirement age (south-east England has the highest average life expectancy, Scotland the lowest) will subsidise those better off by dying before they can claim the pension they have contributed to throughout their lives. In other words, wealthier people become beneficiaries of what remains of the welfare state. Retirement is likely to be sustained in recognisable form in the short and medium term. Looming on the horizon, however, is a complete dismantling of this safety net.
For those of pensionable age who cannot afford to retire, but cannot continue working – because of poor health, or ageing parents who need care, or because potential employers would rather hire younger workers – the great progress Britain has made in tackling poverty among the elderly over the last two decades will be reversed. This group is liable to suffer the sort of widespread poverty not seen in Britain for 30 to 40 years. Many now in their 20s will be unable to save throughout their youth and middle age because of increasingly casualised employment, student debt and rising property prices. By the time they are old, members of this new generation of poor pensioners are liable to be, on average, far worse off than the average poor pensioner today.
The strongest wording I’ve seen to date.
• Germany Questions Erdogan’s Turkey ‘Coup’ Narrative (BBC)
German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere has said Turkey will not be allowed to spy on Turks living in Germany. Reports say the head of Turkey’s intelligence service handed a list of people suspected of opposition sympathies to his German counterpart. The list is said to include surveillance photos and personal data. Germany and other EU states have banned local rallies in support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkish ministers have been seeking to campaign among ethnic Turks in a referendum on 16 April on increasing his powers. Some 41,000 people have been arrested in Turkey since a coup was defeated in July of last year.
According to Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and several public broadcasters, the head of Turkey’s intelligence service MIT, Hakan Fidan, handed Bruno Kahl a list of 300 individuals and 200 organisations thought to be linked to the Gulen movement at a security conference in Munich in February The apparent aim was to persuade Germany’s authorities to help their Turkish counterparts but the result was that the individuals were warned not to travel to Turkey or visit Turkish diplomatic addresses within Germany, home to 1.4 million voters eligible to vote in the referendum. Mr De Maiziere said the reports were unsurprising.
“We have repeatedly told Turkey that something like this is unacceptable,” he said. “No matter what position someone may have on the Gulen movement, here German jurisdiction applies and citizens will not be spied on by foreign countries.” [..] “Outside Turkey I don’t think anyone believes that the Gulen movement was behind the attempted putsch,” said German spy chief Hans-Georg Maassen. “At any rate I don’t know anyone outside Turkey who has been convinced by the Turkish government.” And Lower Saxony Interior Minister Boris Pistorius went further, saying, “We have to say very clearly that it involves a fear of conspiracy you can class as paranoid.”
And Brussels is toothless. But it will all come down on Greece anyway, so why bother?
• Central Europe’s Leaders Reject EU’s Relocation Of Refugees (AP)
Leaders from Central Europe said Tuesday they reject a European Union policy that calls for all member states to receive migrants, protesting suggestions that the level of their compliance could be linked to the availability of EU funds to them. A meeting in Warsaw of the so-called Visegrad Group brought together Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and her counterparts from Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic for talks including EUs migrant policies and a plan of sharing some 160,000 migrants among member states to ease the migrant wave pressure on Greece and Italy.
The EU recently warned of financial consequences to those who do not comply. Central European leaders said they reject the relocation plan and will not yield under the financial pressure, which they called an attempt at blackmail. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his country was further sealing its borders and tightening regulations to block access to any more migrants. The Visegrad Group aspires to have a greater role in EU policies while at the same time makes a point of criticizing the bloc’s decisions. [AP]
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