Eruption of Mount Vesuvius 1944
More on the Ponzi.
GM’s former Vice Chairman Bob Lutz dropped a whole lot of reality on some unsuspecting Tesla cheerleaders on CNBC this morning. “I am a well known Tesla skeptic. Somehow it’s levitating and I think it’s Elon Musk is the greatest salesman in the world. He paints this vision of an unlimited future, aided and abetted by some analysts. It’s like Elon Musk has been beamed down from another planet to show us mortals how to run a company.” “The fact is it’s a constant cash drain. They’re highly dependent on federal government and state incentives for money which constantly flows in. They have capital raises all the time.” “Even the high-end cars that they build now cost more to build than they’re able to sell them for.” “Mercedes, BWM, Volkswagen, GM, Audi and Porsche are all coming out with 300-mile [range] electric luxury sedans…I think they’re doomed.”
“Their upside on pricing is limited because everybody else sells electric vehicles at a loss to get the credits to be able to sell the sport utility vehicles and the pickup trucks. So that puts a ceiling on your possible pricing.” “And if he can’t make money on the high-end Model S and Model X’s which sell up to $100,000, how in the world is he going to make money on a $35,000 small car? Because I have news for you, 42 years of experience, the cost of a car doesn’t come down proportional to it’s price.” “If you have a situation where the cost of producing a car, labor and materials, is higher than your sell price, your business model is flawed. And it’s doomed and it’s going to fail.”
“The battery plant, in my estimation, is a joke. There are no cost savings from making a lithium ion plant bigger than other people lithium ion plants, because making lithium ion cells is a fully automated process anyway. So, whether you got full automative in a small building or 10x full automation in a big building, you’re not saving any money.”
Break up the banks!
Wall Street’s top executives should be pressed for substantive answers to harder-hitting questions about long-term performance. That’s a notion being trumpeted by well-known bank analyst Mike Mayo, who has never been one to shy away from criticizing the companies he covers. And boy, does he have a point. On Wednesday, Mayo published some questions he plans to ask Citigroup’s Chairman Michael O’Neill and CEO Michael Corbat at its annual general meeting later this month. They haven’t truly been held accountable for the lender’s mediocre returns, which includes its inability to meet a targeted return on tangible common equity of 10% by 2015, a goal that has since been pushed to 2019. Mayo’s solutions include another round of restructuring, or, if something is structurally wrong, perhaps the bank should break up.
Another valid question is why Citi feels the need measure its financial and share price performance against European lenders Barclays, Deutsche Bank and HSBC? (The question is somewhat rhetorical: It’s so the bank doesn’t place dead last, which it would on most metrics if compared with U.S. rivals). And oddly enough, it removes its weaker European counterparts for compensation comparison purposes. The same can’t be said for Bank of America, which in addition to reviewing its closest five U.S. competitors, evaluates the performance at worse-off European banks such as Credit Suisse and Royal Bank of Scotland as well as similarly-sized U.S.-based companies such as Coca-Cola and General Electric. This seems unnecessary and almost like an easy way to justify Chairman and CEO Brian Moynihan’s potentially outsized $20 million in annual pay.
“For Americans who work for a living however, nothing ever seems to improve.”
“The whole world wants to know about what the hell is happening with us. So let’s talk about it. I live in Washington now, and the people I live among have no idea how people live here in the Midwest, not the faintest idea… The last couple of years here in America have been a time of brisk prosperity according to official measurements, with unemployment down and the stock market up. For Americans who work for a living however, nothing ever seems to improve. Wages do not grow, median household income is still well below where it was in 2007. Economists have a way of measuring this, they call it the ‘labor share of the Gross National Product’ as opposed to the share taken by stockholders. The labor share of Gross National Product’ hit its lowest point since records were started in 2011, and then it stayed there right for the next couple of years.
In the fall of 2014, with the stock market hitting an all time high, a poll showed that nearly 3/4 of the American public believed that the economy was still in recession, because for them it was. There was time when average Americans could be counted upon to know correctly whether the country was going up or down, because in those days when America prospered, the American people prospered as well. These days things are different. Let’s look at it in a statistical sense. If you look at it from the middle of the 1930’s (the Depression) up until the year 1980, the lower 90% of the population of this country, what you might call the American people, that group took home 70% of the growth in the country’s income.
If you look at the same numbers from 1997 up until now, from the height of the great Dot Com bubble up to the present, you will find that this same group, the American people, pocketed none of this country’s income growth at all. Our share of these great good times was zero, folks. The upper 10% of the population, by which we mean our country’s financiers and managers and professionals, consumed the entire thing. To be a young person in America these days is to understand instinctively the downward slope that so many of us are on.”
And gets away with it.
Blink, and you missed Trump’s blistering, seamless transformation into a mainstream politician. In the span of just a few hours, President Trump flipped to new positions on several core policy issues, backing off on no less than five repeated campaign promises. In a WSJ interview and a subsequent press conference, Trump either shifted or completely reversed positions on a number of foreign and economic policy decisions, including the fate of the US Dollar, how to handle China and the future of the chair of the Federal Reserve.
Goodbye strong dollar and high interest rates In an announcement that rocked currency markets, Trump told the WSJ that the U.S. dollar “is getting too strong” and he would prefer the Federal Reserve keep interest rates low. “I do like a low-interest rate policy, I must be honest with you,” Mr. Trump said. “I think our dollar is getting too strong, and partially that’s my fault because people have confidence in me. But that’s hurting—that will hurt ultimately,” he added. “Look, there’s some very good things about a strong dollar, but usually speaking the best thing about it is that it sounds good.”
Labeling China a currency manipulator Trump also told the Wall Street Journal that China is not artificially deflating the value of its currency, a big change after he repeatedly pledged during his campaign to label the country a currency manipulator. “They’re not currency manipulators,” the president said, adding that China hasn’t been manipulating its currency for months, and that he feared derailing U.S.-China talks to crack down on North Korea. Trump routinely criticized President Obama for not labeling China a currency manipulator, and promised during the campaign to do so on day one of his administration.
Yellen’s future Trump also told the Journal he’d consider re-nominating Yellen to chair the Fed’s board of governors, after attacking her during his campaign.” I like her. I respect her,” Trump said, “It’s very early.” Trump called Yellen “obviously political” in September and accused her of keeping interest rates low to boost the stock market and make Obama look good. “As soon as [rates] go up, your stock market is going to go way down, most likely,” Trump said. “Or possibly.”
Export-Import Bank Trump also voiced support behind the Export-Import Bank, which helps subsidize some U.S. exports, after opposing it during the campaign. “It turns out that, first of all, lots of small companies are really helped, the vendor companies,” Trump told the Journal. “Instinctively, you would say, ‘Isn’t that a ridiculous thing,’ but actually, it’s a very good thing. And it actually makes money, it could make a lot of money.” Trump’s support will anger conservative opponents of the bank, who say it enables crony capitalism.
NATO Finally, Trump said NATO is “no longer obsolete” during a Wednesday press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, backtracking on his past criticism of the alliance. During the campaign, he frequently called the organization “obsolete,” saying did little to crack down on terrorism and that its other members don’t pay their “fair share.” “I said it was obsolete. It is no longer obsolete,” the president said Wednesday. Trump has gradually become more supportive of NATO after it ramped up efforts to increase U.S. and European intelligence sharing regarding terrorism.
There could be some advantages to a clean-up, but guaranteed they’re going to screw this up by cutting at the wrong places.
President Donald Trump is issuing a presidential memorandum that will call for a rethinking of the entire structure of the federal government, a move that could eventually lead to a downsizing of the overall workforce and changes to the basic functions and responsibilities of many agencies. The order, which will go into effect Thursday, also will lift a blanket federal hiring freeze that has been in place since Trump’s first day in office almost three months ago and replace it with hiring targets in line with the spending priorities the administration laid out in March, said Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget. The move is a part of Trump’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” and get rid of what the administration views as inefficiencies in the federal government, Mulvaney said.
It comes as the White House also is trying to curb the size of many government agencies through a proposed budget that calls for historically deep spending cuts to everything from medical research to clean-energy programs. The push to reshape the government as well as the budget cuts are almost certain to draw opposition from Congress. “We think at the end of the day this leads to a government that is dramatically more accountable, dramatically more efficient, and dramatically more effective, following through on the very promises the president made during the campaign and that he put into place on day one,” Mulvaney said. He said the administration is starting with a “blank sheet of paper” as to how the government should operate and has set up a website to solicit ideas.
One solution may be to organize it by function, like putting all areas that deal with trade under one department, or to break up large departments into a number of smaller agencies. As an example, Mulvaney said there are 43 different workforce-training programs across at least 13 agencies – without a single point person in charge of them – that could be brought under one roof. “We’re now transitioning into the smarter, more surgical plans of running the government,” Mulvaney said in an interview on MSNBC Wednesday morning.
Useful background. “..the US also claimed the right to remain fully informed about the financial comings and goings of every single member state, thenceforth and permanently.”
At the historic New Hampshire-based Bretton Woods Conference of 1944, delegates from 44 nations across the globe came together to create the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The former was officially founded on 27 December 1945 with 29 member countries; financial operations commenced on 1 March 1947. From that first meeting in New Hampshire, it was established that the thrust of the IMF’s mission would be to promote greater economic cooperation within the international arena. Though today the IMF maintains its mandate has remained as such, over the years the organisation has evolved alongside a changing global landscape, becoming an extraordinarily powerful organisation as a result.
[..] .. the US played an undeniably dominant role in establishing the IMF and dictating how it would operate. A crucial factor in its make up, and in the US’ ongoing influence within the organisation, was the distribution of voting power among member states. Rather than allocating votes in accordance with the size of a member’s population – which would be the most democratic approach to take – the US instead pushed for voting power to correspond with the volume of contributions made. Unsurprisingly, those contributions made by the US, the world’s biggest economy, were far greater than those of any other member state.
By contributing $2.9bn – double the amount made by the UK, the second biggest contributor at the time – the US was guaranteed twice the number of voting rights, together with veto privileges and a blocking minority. The manoeuvre enabled the superpower to secure near-absolute control of the IMF’s activities. In order to further consolidate its dominant role, the US also claimed the right to remain fully informed about the financial comings and goings of every single member state, thenceforth and permanently.
“The longer the voices of the desperate go unheard, as just so many silently falling trees in the forest, the more piercing their cries will be in the end.”
It was not until the June 1883 publication of the magazine The Chautauquan that the question was put as such: “If a tree were to fall on an island where there were no human beings would there be any sound?” Rather than pause to ponder, the answer followed that, “No. Sound is the sensation excited in the ear when the air or other medium is set in motion.” A vexatious debate has ensued ever since, one that eventually stumped the great Albert Einstein who finally declared “God does not play dice.” In recognizing this, Einstein also resolved himself to the quantum physics conclusion, that there is no way to precisely predict where individual electrons can be found – unless, that is, you’re Divine.
Odds are high that the establishment, which looks to ride away with upcoming European elections, is emboldened by quantum physics. The entrenched parties appear set to retain their power holds, in some cases by the thinnest of margins. What is it the French say about la plus ca change? Is it truly the case that the more things change the more they stay the same? Is this state of stasis sustainable, you might be asking? Clearly the cushy assumption is that the voices of those whose votes will not result in change will be as good as uncast, unheard and unremarkable. Except…and this is a big ‘except’ – time is on the side of the castigated and for one simple reason – they are young.
[..] And then there is the matter of the refugee crisis, the cost of which few in the United States fully appreciate. Faced with impossible living conditions and no access to work in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, hundreds of thousands have opted to risk the journey to Europe. In 2015, 1.3 million asylum seekers landed in Europe, half of whom traced their origins to Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. That number plunged in 2016 to 364,000 owing mainly to a deal between the EU and Turkey which blocks the flow of migrants to Europe. The cost, not surprisingly, is enormous. Europeans spend at least $30,000 for every refugee who lands on her shores. By some estimates, the cost would have been one-tenth that, as in $3,000 per refugee, had the journey to Europe NOT been made in the first place.
[..] At some point demographics will start to matter. The situation in France is no doubt grave, with youth unemployment at nearly 24%. But that pales in comparison to Italy where 39% of its young workers don’t have jobs to go to, day in and day out. Older voters determined to keep the establishment intact will begin to die off. In their wake will be a growing majority of voters who are increasingly disenfranchised, disaffected and despondent. If there’s one lesson Europeans can glean from their allies across the Atlantic, it’s that bullets can be dodged, but not indefinitely. As we are learning the hard way, necessary reforms are challenging to enact. Avoidance, though, will only succeed in feeding anger and despair. The longer the voices of the desperate go unheard, as just so many silently falling trees in the forest, the more piercing their cries will be in the end.
There’s a lot of that going on. Stanley Fisher does it too.
Back in 2011, I caught William Dudley, the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, having meetings he wasn’t supposed to have with some of Wall Street’s top players. And nobody cared. Nobody cared despite the fact that Dudley could have easily passed along all sorts of confidential information to these people, who would have immediately known how to profit enormously from what they were being told. I am mentioning this because the head of the Richmond, Va., Fed, Jeffrey Lacker, abruptly resigned last week for doing far less bad than Dudley might have done. Lacker says he took an October 2012 phone call from an analyst at an investment advisory firm and had a conversation about something the Fed was considering — the purchase of $40 billion worth of mortgage bonds — to try to help the economy.
[..]Lacker is a pipsqueak compared with Dudley, who has a permanent position on the Fed’s policymaking Open Market Committee — and whose bank controls the trading operations for the whole Fed. I looked it up, and Lacker’s conversation with the analyst didn’t occur during the Fed’s so-called blackout period, which starts a week before its policy meetings. As I wrote back in 2011, several of Dudley’s meetings did. During these blackout periods, Fed officials are supposed to clam up — and make no public pronouncements, which I assume would cover Dudley’s informal dinners. As I wrote back in January 2011, I have no way of knowing what Dudley discussed at his blackout-period meetings. But unless he and his guests sat mute and expressionless during their meetings, there’s a good likelihood that something could be gleaned from the New York Fed president’s remarks.
Just so those investigators in the “separate” investigation don’t have to go to any trouble, I’m going to repeat here some of what I wrote back then. At one of the questionable Dudley meetings, in March 2009, the Fed’s blackout period ran from March 10 to 18. On March 11, Dudley met with Jan Hatzius, chief economist of Goldman Sachs. Dudley had once worked at Goldman, so he and Hatzius were friends. Dudley’s calendar says it was an “informal meeting” that took place from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Pound and Pence restaurant near the New York Fed. That was on Dudley’s calendar, as was the notation “PRE-FOMC BLACKOUT PERIOD,” written in bold, all caps. So his assistant was clearly trying to warn him about restrictions. Let’s hope the separate investigation that Lacker mentioned is of the New York Fed. And, if they don’t already, investigators now know where to look.
WikiLeaks wants the same thing as the WaPo? Are we sure?
The media has a long history of speaking truth to power with purloined or leaked material — Jack Anderson’s reporting on the CIA’s enlistment of the Mafia to kill Fidel Castro; the Providence Journal-Bulletin’s release of President Richard Nixon’s stolen tax returns; the New York Times’ publication of the stolen “Pentagon Papers”; and The Post’s tenacious reporting of Watergate leaks, to name a few. I hope historians place WikiLeaks’ publications in this pantheon. Yet there are widespread calls to prosecute me. President Thomas Jefferson had a modest proposal to improve the press: “Perhaps an editor might begin a reformation in some such way as this. Divide his paper into 4 chapters, heading the 1st, ‘Truths.’ 2nd, ‘Probabilities.’ 3rd, ‘Possibilities.’ 4th, ‘Lies.’
The first chapter would be very short, as it would contain little more than authentic papers, and information.” Jefferson’s concept of publishing “truths” using “authentic papers” presaged WikiLeaks. People who don’t like the tune often blame the piano player. Large public segments are agitated by the result of the U.S. presidential election, by public dissemination of the CIA’s dangerous incompetence or by evidence of dirty tricks undertaken by senior officials in a political party. But as Jefferson foresaw, “the agitation [a free press] produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.” Vested interests deflect from the facts that WikiLeaks publishes by demonizing its brave staff and me. We are mischaracterized as America-hating servants to hostile foreign powers.
But in fact I harbor an overwhelming admiration for both America and the idea of America. WikiLeaks’ sole interest is expressing constitutionally protected truths, which I remain convinced is the cornerstone of the United States’ remarkable liberty, success and greatness. I have given up years of my own liberty for the risks we have taken at WikiLeaks to bring truth to the public. I take some solace in this: Joseph Pulitzer, namesake of journalism’s award for excellence, was indicted in 1909 for publishing allegedly libelous information about President Theodore Roosevelt and the financier J.P. Morgan in the Panama Canal corruption scandal. It was the truth that set him free.
The Labor Ministry’s main plan to save 1% of GDP from 2019 pension expenditure provides for reductions even to very low pensions if the recalculation process shows a difference from the original calculation according to the previous method, the so-called “personal difference.” The ministry is trying to avoid having to impose very big cuts – the personal difference is estimated to range up to 40% – and sources say it is hoping to cap the reductions at 20 or 25%. The final decisions will be made when the creditors’ representatives return to Athens later this month.
Lagarde wants Greece on its knees. She keeps insisting on more pension cuts, without any regard for the effects on Greek people. That will make the economy worse, not better. And she knows it.
IMF chief Christine Lagarde on Wednesday said Greece was heading in the right direction on reforms but talks on its bailout and the IMF’s potential role in it were “only halfway through.” Greece and its international lenders are negotiating reforms the country needs to carry out to maintain a sustainable growth path in the years following the end of its bailout program, which ends in mid-2018. “What I have seen in the last couple of weeks is heading in the right direction. We are only halfway through in the discussions,” Lagarde told a conference in Brussels. Last week, eurozone finance ministers agreed the “overarching elements” of reforms needed in Greece in exchange for a new loan under its 86-billion-euro program, the third since 2010.
The new loan is needed to pay debt due in July. Talks are continuing and no date is fixed yet for the return of negotiators to Athens. The Greek government believes negotiators could go back to Greece after the IMF Spring Meetings on April 21-23. “We are still elaborating under what terms we could possibly give some lending to the country. We are not there yet,” Lagarde said, adding any IMF loan to Greece would have to abide by strict conditions. She said debt restructuring will be needed to guarantee the sustainability of Greek finances. The scope of the restructuring “will be decided at the end of the program,” but “the modalities have to be decided upfront,” Lagarde said.
They have no interest in solving Greece’s problems.
Greece and its creditors say they’ve made progress in their endless negotiations over the country’s debts – enough to avoid a default on payments worth more than €7 billion in July. That’s good, but it was the easy part. The definitive settlement that Greece and the European Union both need still isn’t in sight. For the past seven years, the IMF and euro-zone institutions have supported Athens with loans in exchange for fiscal austerity and structural economic reform. This strategy has failed to break Greece’s vicious circle of a shrinking economy and higher debt. Europe needs to bring this spiral to an end without further delay – by putting Greece’s debts on a credibly downward path. The IMF has made it clear that it will only take part in a rescue program that includes a realistic assessment of debt sustainability.
This is a welcome break from the past: Time and again, creditors have deluded themselves that Greece can run implausibly high budget surpluses for years. Germany, especially, is keen to keep the IMF involved. With luck, Berlin might be willing to adjust the creditors’ proposals accordingly. Greece has gone through nearly a decade of punishing austerity. Its unemployment rate is still stuck near 25%. Last week’s deal includes further tax and pension reforms worth 2% of GDP. If consumers and companies are to spend and invest again, they must see an end to the tunnel. Economic necessity and political feasibility point to the same conclusion: Firm fiscal restraint is essential – but not so firm as to be self-defeating.
It shouldn’t be a last resort, it should be no resort. This is the EU trying to deflect attention away from its own deplorable failings by pointing to Hungary. Don’t fall for it.
Detention of child refugees should be “a last resort”, the European commission has said, in remarks that will be seen as a rebuke to Hungary where asylum seekers, including minors, are being held in barbed-wire fenced camps. The statement from Brussels is part of a long awaited plan to protect child refugees in Europe. About 386,300 children made an asylum claim in the EU in 2016, a six-fold increase since 2010 that has left some countries struggling to cope. The EU plan comes one day after Germany announced it was halting refugee transfers to Hungary, until Budapest stops the systematic detention of all asylum seekers.
Under the EU’s Dublin regulation, asylum seekers are to be returned to the first country they registered in. Routine detention of refugees is banned. Hungary announced last month that all asylum seekers older than 14 would be kept in converted shipping containers on the border while their claims were assessed. About 110 people were living in the camps, including four unaccompanied children, and children with their families, when the UN refugee agency assessed the camps last week. The situation for asylum seekers had worsened since the new law came into effect, the UNHCR said, as the organisation also warned of “highly disturbing reports” of police violence meted out to refugees attempting to cross the border.
[..] Hungary already risks being taken to the European court of justice for failure to take in a mandatory quota of asylum seekers, a decision imposed on Budapest in September 2015. The clock is ticking towards a deadline to disperse 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other EU member states (excluding the UK) by September 2017. The EU’s most senior official on migration warned that Hungary risked being taken to the European court of justice if it failed to meet its target. “From September the relocation scheme is ending. This does not mean it is going to die. It will continue,” said Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for home affairs, . “EU countries who do not want to be part of our policy, they will be confronted with measures we can take,” he said, in a coded reference to court action that could land governments with hefty fines.
It’s that time of year.
The gentleman arrested Thursday and tried before Pontius Pilate had a troubled background. Born (possibly out of wedlock?) in a stable, this jobless thirty-something of Middle Eastern origin had had previous run-ins with local authorities for disturbing the peace, and had become increasingly associated with the members of a fringe religious group. He spent the majority of his time in the company of sex workers and criminals. He had had prior run-ins with local authorities — most notably, an incident of vandalism in a community center when he wrecked the tables of several licensed money-lenders and bird-sellers.
He had used violent language, too, claiming that he could destroy a gathering place and rebuild it. At the time of his arrest, he had not held a fixed residence for years. Instead, he led an itinerant lifestyle, staying at the homes of friends and advocating the redistribution of wealth. He had come to the attention of the authorities more than once for his unauthorized distribution of food, disruptive public behavior, and participation in farcical aquatic ceremonies. Some say that his brutal punishment at the hands of the state was out of proportion to and unrelated to any of these incidents in his record. But after all, he was no angel.