DPC Pine Street below Kearney after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire 1906
‘The end of easy money’ will only come through collapse.
The U.S. Federal Reserve’s long-stalled ‘liftoff’ of interest rates may finally get airborne this year as policymakers from Chair Janet Yellen on Friday to regional leaders across the United States signaled that the era of easy money is drawing to a close. Yellen capped off a seemingly coordinated push from the central bank on Friday when she cemented the view that the Fed will raise interest rates at its next meeting on March 14-15, and likely be able to move faster after that than it has in years. It’s a welcome turn for the Fed chair, who has hoped to get rates off the ground throughout her three-year tenure, and now sees the economy on track and investors aligned around the idea.
“At our meeting later this month, the committee will evaluate whether employment and inflation are continuing to evolve in line with our expectations, in which case a further adjustment of the federal funds rate would likely be appropriate,” Yellen said at a business luncheon in Chicago. “The process of scaling back accommodation likely will not be as slow as it was in 2015 and 2016,” she added. Stocks were up slightly, and futures tied to rate-hike expectations moved little on Yellen’s remarks. The comments from Fed speakers this week had already pushed market pricing of a March hike to 80%. The Fed has struggled for the past three years to raise interest rates off the zero lower bound as the U.S. economy slowly healed after the Great Recession. Issues from sluggish inflation globally to the dampening effect of a strong dollar and low energy prices blew them off course. By contrast, 2017 may be the year the Fed is able to follow through on its forecast of three rate hikes.
Central bank manipulation is a craziness that can end in one way only.
Stocks are at record highs. And while the Trump administration’s early days have been filled with internal political chaos, the market’s reaction has continued to remain positive. On Wednesday, when U.S. stocks had their best day of the year, the popular SPY ETF, which tracks the S&P 500, saw $8.2 billion in new inflows, its single-best day since December 2014. But something else happened on Wednesday that should have equity bulls quite a bit more concerned: markets got behind the idea the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in March and, perhaps, be more aggressive about raising rates in than previously expected.On Friday, Fed Chair Janet Yellen signaled that a March rate hike is on the table and said the pace of the Fed raising rates in 2017 would likely exceed that seen in 2015 and 2016.
And while an accomodative Fed has been seen as a backstop for markets during the post-crisis bull run higher, a tighter Fed is bad news for stocks because when rates begin to rise, the end of the bull market has already been signaled. As we highlighted in our daily market outlook post, David Rosenberg at Gluskin Sheff wrote Thursday that, “Monetary policy is profoundly more important to the markets and the economy than is the case with fiscal policy, though all the Fed is doing now is removing accommodation.” Rosenberg added that, “there have been 13 Fed rate hike cycles in the post-WWII era, and 10 landed the economy in recession. Soft landing are rare and when they have occurred, they have come in the third year of the expansion, not the eighth.”
The gray bars mark recessions. Ahead of recessions, rates usually rise. Right now, rates are set to rise.
Fear vs greed.
Wall Street’s so-called fear index has started to move in lockstep with stock prices and that has one money manager warning of an impending selloff even as market sentiment remains fairly stable. Jesse Felder, founder of the Felder Report and an alumni of Bear Stearns, on Friday shared a chart that showed an increasingly positive correlation between the S&P 500 and the CBOE Market Volatility Index. “Normally stocks and the VIX move in opposite directions…and it makes sense that rising stock prices mean less fear and vice versa,” said Felder. However, that reverse relationship has started to change in recent days as expectations of a market correction mount.
The VIX is a measure of the market’s expectation for volatility over the next 30 days and is calculated from the implied volatilities of S&P 500 index options. A low reading indicates a placid market while a higher number suggests elevated uncertainty. “The options market is pricing in greater volatility ahead even though stocks don’t yet reflect this same dynamic,” Felder told MarketWatch. “Over the past few years this signal has preceded anywhere from a 2% to a 10% correction.”
That this trend comes on top of the 10-year Treasury yield’s nearly 40% surge over the past year as the Federal Reserve prepares to tighten monetary policy suggest risky assets such as equities will face significant selling pressure. Analysts are projecting the Fed to raise interest rates three times this year, a view reinforced by comments from Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen on Friday that a rate hike at the next Federal Open Market Committee in mid-March is likely. “The Fed looks like it will take its third step toward tightening here soon so it might pay to remember the old Wall Street adage ‘three steps and a stumble.’ For these reasons, I think the chance of a major reversal is higher than it has been in the past,” he said.
“Some things are too big to fail; some are too broken to fix.”
The ObamaCare quandary. A fiasco for sure. Under it, not uncommonly, a family pays $12,000-a-year for a policy that carries a $5,000 deductible. That’s an interesting number in a land were most people don’t even have enough ready cash for routine car repairs. The cruel and idiotic injustice of such a set-up could only happen in a society that has normalized pervasive lying, universal accounting fraud, and corporate racketeering. I personally doubt the existing health care system can be reformed. Anyway, we’re starting in the wrong place with it. The part that nobody talks about is the psychopathic pricing system that drives medicine. The average cost for a normal (non-surgical) hospital childbirth in America these days is $10,000. WTF? An appendectomy: between $9,000 and $20,000 depending on where. WTF?
These days, a hip replacement runs about $38,000. Of course, you will never find out what a treatment or procedure costs before-the-fact. They simply won’t tell you. They’ll say something utterly ridiculous like, “we just don’t know.” You’ll find out when the bills roll in. Last time I had a hip replacement, I received a single line-item hospital charge report from the insurance company that said: “Room and board, 36 hours… $23,000.” Say what? This was apart from the surgeon’s bill and the cost of the metal implant, just for occupying a bed for a day and a half pending discharge. They didn’t do a damn thing besides take my blood pressure and temperature a dozen times, and give me a few hydrocodone pills.
The ugly truth, readers, is that medicine in the USA is a hostage racket. They have you in a tight spot at a weak moment and they extract maximum payment to allow you to get on with your life, with no meaningful correlation to services rendered — just whatever they could get. Until these racketeers are compelled under law to post their prices openly and transparently, no amount of tweaking the role of insurers or government policy will make any difference. Note, too, that there is a direct connection between the outrageous salaries of hospital executives and their non-transparent, dishonest, and extortionist pricing machinations. The pharma industry is, of course, a subsidiary racket and needs to be subject to the kind of treatment the Department of Justice used to dispense to the likes of the Teamsters Union.
The healthcare system probably will not be reformed, but rather will collapse, and when it does, it will reorganize itself in a way that barely resembles current practice. For one thing, citizens will have to gain control over their own disastrous behavior, especially their eating, or else suffer the consequences, namely an early death. Second, the hospital system must be decentralized so that localities are once again served by small hospitals and clinics. The current system represents a mergers-and-acquisitions orgy that went berserk the past quarter century. The resulting administrative over-burden at every medical practice in the land is a perfectly designed fraud machine for enabling rackets. Preliminary verdict: congress will get nowhere in 2017 trying to fix this mess. Some things are too big to fail; some are too broken to fix. The coming debacle in finance, markets, and currencies will speed its demise.
Because of climate legislation.
In an industry first, one of the world’s biggest oil companies has warned it could face legal action over climate change. Chevron, the California-based multinational, admitted it could be the subject of “governmental investigations and, potentially, private litigation” because of its role in causing global warming. And the firm added that regulations designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions might also render the “extraction of the company’s oil and gas resources economically infeasible”. Environmentalists suggested the decision to admit the threat to the company could be a reaction to legal case brought last year against Exxon Mobil by the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation, which alleges the fossil fuel company tried to discredit climate science despite knowing the risks in order to make money.
Chevron was one of a number of oil firms targeted in a campaign by the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US to “stop funding climate disinformation”. And, in an official filing about the state of its financial health to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company lays out possible reasons why it might have been in its interest to cast doubt on scientific evidence that its products are causing a problem. Laws requiring the reduction of emissions – like legislation that could be in the UK Government’s long-delayed Emissions Reduction Plan – “may result in increased and substantial … costs and could, among other things, reduce demand for hydrocarbons”, Chevron said in a section called “risk factors”.
“In the years ahead, companies in the energy industry, like Chevron, may be challenged by an increase in international and domestic regulation relating to greenhouse gas emissions,” it said. “Such regulation could have the impact of curtailing profitability in the oil and gas sector or rendering the extraction of the company’s oil and gas resources economically infeasible.”
Makes me fear for Greece.
A row between Ankara and Berlin over a series of cancelled Turkish political rallies in Germany is continuing to escalate. On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Berlin of “aiding and harbouring” terror. He said a German-Turkish journalist detained by Turkey was a “German agent” and a member of the outlawed Kurdish militant group, the PKK. A source in Germany’s foreign ministry told Reuters the claims were “absurd”. Earlier German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she respected local authorities’ decisions to cancel rallies that Turkey’s justice and economy ministers had been scheduled to address. Turkey is trying to woo ethnic Turkish voters ahead of a key referendum. About 1.4 million Turks living in Germany are eligible to vote in the April referendum, in which President Erdogan aims to win backing for sweeping new powers.
The constitutional changes would boost Mr Erdogan’s presidency and significantly weaken parliament’s role. Turkish officials have been angered after local German officials withdrew permission for rallies in Gaggenau, Cologne and Frechen. Gaggenau authorities had said there was insufficient space for the rally, while Cologne officials said they had been misled about the purpose of the event. Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, who had been due to speak in Gaggenau, said he saw “old illnesses flaring up” between the two Nato allies. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the German government of backing opposition to Mr Erdogan’s planned constitutional changes. He said: “You are not Turkey’s boss. You are not a first class [country] and Turkey is not second class. We are not treating you like that, and you have to treat Turkey properly. “If you want to maintain your relations with us, you have to learn how to behave.”
Germany’s foreign ministry said the central government had nothing to do with the cancellations, and Ankara should refrain from “pouring oil on the fire”. The growing row is troubling for Chancellor Merkel because she persuaded Turkey to help block the surge of migrants – many of them Syrian refugees – into the EU. Separately, the Dutch government on Friday described plans for a Turkish referendum campaign rally in Rotterdam as “undesirable”. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was reportedly meant to attend the rally scheduled for 11 March. Ties between Berlin and Istanbul are also strained over Turkey’s arrest of Deniz Yucel, a journalist who works for Die Welt. Mr Yucel “hid in the German embassy as a member of the PKK and a German agent for one month”, Mr Erdogan said. “When we told them to hand him over to be tried, they refused.” German’s foreign ministry called the spy claims “absurd”. Ms Merkel, referring to the case earlier, told reporters in Tunis: “We support freedom of expression and we can criticise Turkey.”
The EU’s position in the talks will weaken as the union crumbles.
The UK could walk away from the European Union in 2019 without paying a penny, the House of Lords has said, in a report bound to raise tensions with Brussels in the run-up to Brexit talks. The British government would have no legal obligation to either pay a €60bn Brexit bill mooted by the European commission or honour payments into the EU budget promised by the former prime minister David Cameron, according to analysis by the House of Lords EU financial affairs sub-committee. In a report published on Saturday, the committee argues that the British government would be on strong legal ground if it chose to leave the EU without paying anything, adding that Brussels would have no realistic chance of getting any money.
The peers stress, however, that if the government wants goodwill from EU countries and a deal on access to European markets, agreement on the budget will be important. “The UK appears to have a strong legal position in respect of the EU budget post-Brexit and this provides important context to the article 50 negotiations,” said Lady Falkner of Margravine, the Liberal Democrat peer who chairs the sub-committee. “Even though we consider that the UK will not be legally obliged to pay into the EU budget after Brexit, the issue will be a prominent factor in withdrawal negotiations. The government will have to set the financial and political costs of making such payments against potential gains from other elements of the negotiations.”
[..] The peers’ argument will be toxic to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, whose staff drew up the mooted bill ranging from €55bn-€60bn. This covers the UK’s share of EU civil staff pensions, unpaid bills and decommissioning nuclear power plants. Barnier is expecting the UK to pay into the EU budget in 2019 and 2020, putting the UK on the hook for payments worth £12.4bn, agreed by Cameron in 2013. The EU’s €1tn, seven-year budget was negotiated in late 2013 by EU leaders including the British prime minister. It is due to expire at the end of 2020, although bills may be trickling in until 2023. This reflects that payments for EU-funded infrastructure projects, such as roads or airports, are not settled until two to three years after being promised.
There is no reason for the ECB not to include Greece. Never was. It’s pure economic strangulation.
Greece and its creditors look poised to strike a deal that will allow the nation to draw down aid and avoid defaulting on its debts in July. That sounds good, but it is, in fact, just a fudge. What’s needed instead is for the country to regain access to capital markets in its own right. To help make that happen, the European Central Bank should add Greek bonds to the list of securities eligible for purchase under its quantitative easing program.
The deal Greece is about to agree with its European partners and the IMF is the latest in a long line of compromises that have failed to address the core issue – that Greece’s debts, now 170% of economic output, are so burdensome they are preventing a recovery. The IMF is right to argue that Greece needs additional debt relief on the €174 billion it owes to the European Financial Stability Facility and the European Stability Mechanism. With elections looming this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, however, details about that relief will probably have to wait until next year; voters don’t want to hear about Greek bailouts right now. But the ECB can act swiftly to include Greek bonds in its asset purchase program.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told ECB President Mario Draghi that she’s willing to let inclusion in his QE program be used as an incentive to persuade Greece to agree to the new deal, the Greek news service Kathimerini reported on Wednesday, without identifying the source of its information. Draghi has made a new agreement between Greece and its lenders a condition of adding Greek debt to the 60 billion euros of bonds the central bank will buy from April, as it scales back the monthly program from 80 billion euros. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told lawmakers last week that he’s hopeful the latest bailout review can be completed by March 20, when euro-region finance ministers are scheduled to meet in Brussels.
While Greek yields have declined in recent weeks, they remain too high for the country to attempt to tap the markets. Greece’s two-year borrowing cost of about 7%, for example, compares with just 2% for Italy and 1.7% for Spain, both of which have benefited from the support of ECB purchases:
“..never once laying blame to the U.S. military establishment for spending over $1 billion a year arming Syrian rebels.”
Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the politician who previously accused the U.S. of arming ISIS, is still calling on the U.S. government to stop its disastrous regime change policies in the Middle East. According to a press release made public on Tuesday, Gabbard has again called for the U.S. to stop aiding terrorists like al-Qaeda and ISIS. Gabbard’s guest at the presidential address to Congress, a Kurdish refugee activist, also called for an end to the U.S. policy of “regime change in Syria.” Gabbard said:
“In the face of unimaginable heartbreak, Tima has been a voice for the voiceless, a champion for refugees worldwide, and a strong advocate for ending the regime change war in Syria. I am honored to welcome her to Washington tonight as we raise our voices to call on our nation’s leaders to end the counterproductive regime change war in Syria that has caused great human suffering, refugees, loss of life, and devastation. We urge leaders in Congress to pass the Stop Arming Terrorists Act and end our destructive policy of using American taxpayer dollars to provide direct and indirect support to armed militants allied with terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria, who are fighting to overthrow the Syrian government.”
Gabbard also reportedly told Russian state-owned news station RT: “For years, our government has been providing both direct and indirect support to these armed militant groups, who are working directly with or under the command of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, all in their effort and fight to overthrow the Syrian government.” The activist, Tima Kurdi, is more widely known as the aunt of a three-year-old boy who drowned on the shores of Turkey in September 2015. The image went viral on social media and was easily manipulated by the mainstream media to further the United States’ agenda in the region, never once laying blame to the U.S. military establishment for spending over $1 billion a year arming Syrian rebels.
Welcome to Europe. It’s the same as America.
In a bill aimed at encouraging asylum seekers to leave voluntarily, Austrian lawmakers are considering halting the provision of food and accommodation to migrants who are denied asylum and refuse to leave the country. Austria took in roughly 90,000 asylum seekers in 2015, more than 1 percent of its population, as it was swept up in Europe’s migration crisis when hundreds of thousands of people crossed its borders, most on their way to Germany. As Reuters notes, it has since tightened immigration restrictions and helped shut down the route through the Balkans by which almost all those people – many of them fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere – arrived. Asylum applications fell by more than half last year.
Asylum seekers in Austria get so-called basic services, including free accommodation, food, access to medical treatment and €40 pocket money a month. But now, Austria’s centrist coalition government on Tuesday agreed on a draft law which would allow authorities to stop providing accommodation and food to rejected asylum seekers who refuse to leave the country. “The first thing is basically that they don’t get anything from the Austrian state if they don’t have the right to stay here. Is that so hard to understand?” As Politico reports, Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said the law, which will need approval by parliament, was designed to encourage rejected asylum seekers to leave voluntarily.
This is getting too absurd.
Women and children crossing together illegally into the United States could be separated by US authorities under a proposal being considered by the Department of Homeland Security, according to three government officials. Part of the reason for the proposal is to deter mothers from migrating to the United States with their children, said the officials, who have been briefed on the proposal. The policy shift would allow the government to keep parents in custody while they contest deportation or wait for asylum hearings. Children would be put into protective custody with the Department of Health and Human Services, in the “least restrictive setting” until they can be taken into the care of a US relative or state-sponsored guardian.
Currently, families contesting deportation or applying for asylum are generally released from detention quickly and allowed to remain in the United States until their cases are resolved. A federal appeals court ruling bars prolonged child detention. Donald Trump has called for ending so-called “catch and release”, in which people who cross illegally are freed to live in the United States while awaiting legal proceedings. Two of the officials were briefed on the proposal at a 2 February town hall for asylum officers by US Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum chief John Lafferty. A third DHS official said the department was actively considering separating women from their children but has not made a decision. About 54,000 children and their guardians were apprehended between 1 October 2016, and 31 January 2017, more than double the number caught over the same time period a year earlier.
The sadness is deafening.
Parents who immigrated illegally to the United States and now fear deportation under the Trump administration are inundating immigration advocates with requests for help in securing care for their children in the event they are expelled from the country. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) advocacy group has been receiving about 10 requests a day from parents who want to put in place temporary guardianships for their children, said spokesman Jorge-Mario Cabrera. Last year, the group said it received about two requests a month for guardianship letters and notarization services. At the request of a nonprofit organization, the National Lawyers Guild in Washington D.C. put out a call this week for volunteer attorneys to help immigrants fill out forms granting friends or relatives the right to make legal and financial decisions in their absence.
In New Jersey, immigration attorney Helen Ramirez said she is getting about six phone calls a day from parents. Last year, she said, she had no such calls. “Their biggest fear is that their kids will end up in foster care,” Ramirez said. President Donald Trump’s administration has issued directives to agents to more aggressively enforce immigration laws and more immigrants are coming under scrutiny by the authorities. For parents of U.S. citizens who are ordered removed, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency “accommodates, to the extent practicable, the parents’ efforts to make provisions” for their children, said ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez. She said that might include access to a lawyer, consular officials and relatives for detained parents to execute powers of attorney or apply for passports and buy airline tickets if the parents decide whether or not to take the children with them.
Randy Capps of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a Washington-based non-profit that analyzes the movement of people worldwide, said that while putting contingency plans in place is a good idea, he does not think the level of fear is justified. During the previous administration of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, the likelihood of both parents being deported was slim, Capps said. He doubts there will be a huge shift under Republican Trump toward deporting both parents. “The odds are still very low but not as low as they were – and this is just the beginning of the administration,” he said.