Pablo Picasso Self portrait 1972
Consumption growth lowest since 2009.
The U.S. economy grew at its weakest pace in three years in the first quarter as consumer spending almost stalled, but a surge in business investment and wage growth suggested activity would regain momentum as the year progresses. The soft patch at the start of the year is bad news for the Trump administration’s ambitions to significantly boost growth. “It marks a rough start to the administration’s high hopes of achieving 3% or better growth; this is not the kind of news it was looking for to cap its first 100 days in office,” said Sal Guatieri, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. GDP increased at a 0.7% annual rate also as the government further cut defense spending and businesses spent less on inventories, the Commerce Department said on Friday in its advance estimate.
That was the weakest performance since the first quarter of 2014. The pedestrian first-quarter growth pace is, however, not a true picture of the economy’s health. Wage growth in the first quarter was the fastest in 10 years as the labor market nears full employment and business investment on equipment was the strongest since the third quarter of 2015. Also underscoring the economy’s underlying strength, consumer and business confidence are near multi-year highs. First-quarter GDP tends to underperform because of difficulties with the calculation of data that the government has acknowledged and is working to rectify.
[..] Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, braked to a 0.3% rate, the slowest pace since the fourth quarter of 2009. That followed the fourth quarter’s robust 3.5% growth rate. A mild winter undercut demand for heating and utilities production. Higher inflation, with the personal consumption expenditures price index averaging 2.4% – the highest since the second quarter of 2011 – was also a drag.
It's been (almost) 100 days and stocks are higher, hype is at its peak, hope remains higher-ish… there's just one problem, real economic data is collapsing…
As today's Q1 GDP proved, relying on 'hope' and 'soft' data to lift a 'real' economy is simply a false narrative…
How will that translate into Making America Great Again?
Bubble. But their power is real. And scary.
On the last day of the busiest earnings week in a decade, here is a striking statistic from Goldman Sachs, showing just how dominant a handful of large cap companies have become in terms of both overall profitability and market impact: “Year to date the top 10 contributors have combined to account for 37% of the S&P 500 index return (more than double their market cap representation of 17%). The concentration among the top five is even greater, with those firms – AAPL, FB, AMZN, GOOGL, and MSFT – accounting for 28% of the return and 12% of market cap.” Some further perspective, courtesy of the WSJ, which notes that the combined market capitalization of AMZN, MSFT, INTC and GOOG makes up about 8% of the Index’s total.
Throwing in Apple and Facebook puts about 13% of the S&P 500’s combined market cap into the hands of just six companies. This wasn’t always the case. “Ten years ago, Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Intel made up just 5% of the S&P 500’s market cap, while Facebook was four years away from becoming a public company. The newfound prominence of big tech companies now can be chalked up to a few factors. One is that most big tech companies are profit machines—unlike many of their smaller peers that are still losing money. Alphabet, Microsoft, Intel and Amazon reported a combined $16.8 billion in operating income for the March quarter on Thursday. That is about 7% of the total projected for the S&P 500. ”
“Amazon looks like an outlier with a rather thin operating margin of 2.8% for the quarter, but even that is a notable gain from its average of just 1.5% over the last five years. But the other, even bigger factor is that demand for technology products and services keeps increasing, even as some market segments like PCs have declined. That has allowed several big tech companies to pivot into new segments with the help of strong cash flows generated by their original businesses. Amazon, Microsoft and Google have built large cloud services used by businesses shifting from more traditional computing setups.”
New book, series in the Telegraph.
Greece was forced to sign up to crippling austerity policies even though the German finance minister privately admitted he would not have endorsed the deal. The extraordinary admission by Wolfgang Schauble was made to Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, whose new memoir is serialised in The Telegraph all this weekend. In a frank private exchange, Mr Varoufakis asked Mr Schauble if he personally would sign up to the EU-ordered austerity plan which saw billions cut from Greek budgets and many Greeks lose their jobs. “As a patriot, no. It’s bad for your people,” the German minister replied. The Germans are also accused in the book of blocking a Chinese rescue deal for Greece and of repeatedly going back on promises and pledges made by other senior European figures as the EU battled to hold the eurozone together.
In a 500-page insider’s account of nearly six months of encounters with the leading political figures of Europe, Mr Varoufakis exposes the lengths to which Germany will go to maintain the EU and single currency. The minister secretly recorded many of his conversations with senior global figures and today exposes the gulf between private conversations and public pronouncements. In an interview today, Mr ≠Varoufakis says his experience contains dark warnings for Britain’s coming Brexit negotiations with a German-dominated EU. Angela Merkel warned this week that Britain should have no illusions about the coming talks and the EU yesterday put the ( issue of Irish reunification on the Brexit negotiating table. He warns that Theresa May must prepare an alternative deal as the EU will use dubious negotiating tactics to block reasonable discussion and potential solutions.
My advice to Theresa May is to avoid negotiation at all costs. If she doesn’t do that she will fall into the trap of [Greek prime minister] Alexis Tsipras, and it will end in capitulation, he told The Daily Telegraph. The parallel with Brexit is the tactic of stalling negotiations. They will get you on the sequencing. First there is the price of divorce to sort out before they will talk about free trade in the future, he added. In his book, Mr Varoufakis recounts how Germany used its political and financial muscle to impose austerity on Greece, despite widespread acknowledgement in other EU capitals that the policy was self-defeating and unsustainable. He reveals private encounters -many recorded secretly- with leading figures including Barack Obama, George Osborne and ( Emmanuel Macron, who polls say is almost certain to become the next president of France. In one conversation at the White House Mr Obama readily agrees that ‘austerity sucks’ but can do nothing to deflect the German agenda.
This could be the first official map produced by the European Union to exclude the UK. But it is also an inaccurate one: the UK is still a member state of the EU. Brexit means Brexit: on 29 March, British Prime Minister Theresa May officially notified EU Council President Donald Tusk of Britain’s intention to leave the European Union. But Britain hasn’t left yet. By invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, May triggered a process that gives both sides two years to reach an agreement. Meaning that Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. Until that time, the United Kingdom remains a full member of the European Union.
It is no secret that hardline brexiteers would rather leave today than tomorrow, and ‘crash out’ of the EU, even if that means falling back on the most rudimentary of agreements for trade and cooperation with ‘EU27’ – shorthand for the EU minus the UK. Now it seems that sentiment is reciprocated in the highest circles of the EU bureaucracy in Brussels. The map shows the unemployment rates of the member states – and the stark differences for those rates between member states in the north and south of the Union. But the eye is immediately drawn to the land mass of the United Kingdom: coloured not in the blues or oranges that indicate unemployment rates in the EU, but the grey of the non-member states that dot the map.
Giving the news to you bite size.
Today’s young people fear that they will never see Social Security benefits. The reality is, 3% of elderly Americans already don’t. The three main groups of people who never receive Social Security benefits include infrequent workers (44.3%) who do not have sufficient earnings to qualify for the benefits, immigrants who arrived in the US at 50 or older (37.3%) and therefore haven’t worked long enough to qualify for the benefits, and non-covered workers (11.4%), such as state and local government employees. A little less than 7% of “never beneficiaries” were individuals who were expected to get Social Security benefits, but died before receiving them, according to a 2015 Social Security Administration report.
What’s worse, most Americans may not realize how much they will – or will not – receive in Social Security benefits, said Bill Meyer, chief executive of Social Security Solutions, a software provider that strategizes how to claim Social Security. Social Security benefits are based on earnings history from the past 35 years – “The onus is on the individual retiree that the Social Security Administration has the right information,” Meyer said. Social Security benefits are hotly contested, specifically how — or even whether — those benefits will be distributed in the future. Young Americans say they’re not confident they’ll ever collect Social Security benefits (81% of millennials didn’t think so, at least, according to a recent Investopedia survey) but current near retirees may also be at risk.
In December, the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee introduced a bill that would “save” Social Security by cutting benefits for above-average earners, eliminating the cost-of-living adjustment for individuals who make more than $85,000 (and $170,000 for couples), and increasing the full retirement age to 69 from 66.
Vault7 the largest ever publication?
Wikileaks Founder and Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange joins the Liberty Report to discuss the latest push by the Trump Administration to bring charges against him and his organization for publishing US Government documents. How will they get around the First Amendment and the Espionage Act? The US government and the mainstream media – some of which gladly publish Wikileaks documents – are pushing to demonize Assange in the court of public opinion.
Tyler Durden: Having blasted the Trump administration for their hyprocritical flip-flop from “loving WikiLeaks” to “arrest Assange,” Ron Paul made his feelings very clear on what this signals: “If we allow this president to declare war on those who tell the truth, we have only ourselves to blame.” Today he sits down with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for a live interview…
“The CIA has been deeply humiliated as a result of our ongoing publications so this is a preemptive move by the CIA to try and discredit our publications and create a new category for Wikileaks and other national security reporters to strip them of First Amendment protections,” Assange said in a preview clip from the interview below…:
— Ron Paul (@RonPaul) April 28, 2017
Full interview below…
US intelligence has gone bonkers, and it may well be too late to rein it in.
The U.S. National Security Agency said on Friday it had stopped a form of surveillance that allowed it to collect without a warrant the digital communications of Americans who mentioned a foreign intelligence target in their messages, marking an unexpected triumph for privacy advocates long critical of the practice. The decision to stop the once-secret activity, which involved messages sent to or received from people believed to be living overseas, came despite the insistence of U.S. officials in recent years that it was both lawful and vital to national security. The halt is among the most substantial changes to U.S. surveillance policy in years and comes as digital privacy remains a contentious issue across the globe following the 2013 disclosures of broad NSA spying activity by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
“NSA will no longer collect certain internet communications that merely mention a foreign intelligence target,” the agency said in a statement. “Instead, NSA will limit such collection to internet communications that are sent directly to or from a foreign target.” NSA also said it would delete the “vast majority” of internet data collected under the surveillance program “to further protect the privacy of U.S. person communications.” The decision is an effort to remedy privacy compliance issues raised in 2011 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret tribunal that rules on the legality of intelligence operations. [..] The NSA is not permitted to conduct surveillance within the United States. The so-called “about” collection went after messages that mentioned a surveillance target, even if the message was neither to nor from that person. That type of collection sometimes resulted in surveillance of emails, texts and other communications that were wholly domestic.
Maintaining the sanctions imposed by Western states will not negatively affect Russia’s economy, which has adapted to these restrictive measures, UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures Idriss Jazairy said Thursday. Jazairy stressed that the economy is adaptive to sanctions and the policies of its main trade partners, and thus the introduction of sanctions mostly harms the effectiveness of international trade, but not the country itself for which the sanctions were aimed against. Jazairy expressed his view on the anti-Russian sanctions during a meeting with the Russian upper house Council of the Federation Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State-Building chairman Andrei Klishas in Moscow.
Since 2014, relations between Russia and the European Union and the United States, deteriorated amid the crisis in Ukraine. Brussels, Washington and their allies introduced several rounds of sanctions against Russia on the pretext of its alleged involvement in the Ukrainian conflict, which Moscow has repeatedly denied. In response to the restrictive measures, Russia has imposed a food embargo on some products originating in countries that have targeted it with sanctions. On April 18, the IMF said in its World Economic Outlook report that Russian economic growth is expected to pick up in 2017 – 2018 and will reach 1.4% for both years.
There are too many cars. That’s the only real problem. But no-one dares touch it.
California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law on Friday a bill to raise gasoline taxes and other transportation-related fees for the first time in decades in an ambitious $52 billion plan to repair the state’s long-neglected roads and bridges. The measure, increasing excise taxes on gasoline by 12 cents per gallon, from the current rate of $0.28 a gallon, and on diesel fuel by 20 cents per gallon over the next 10 years, goes into effect in November. It cleared the state legislature three weeks ago, on the strength of a two-thirds super-majority the Democrats wield in both houses that allows them to pass new taxes with little or no Republican support. Republicans condemned the increases, saying the state’s transportation taxes and fees are already among the highest in the nation. They call the newly enacted measure the largest gasoline tax in California’s history.
The average motorist in California, a state renowned for its car culture, will see transportation costs rise by about $10 a month under the measure, according to Brown, a Democrat who has governed largely as a fiscal moderate. He has refused to back any transportation overall plans that involved borrowing money. Supporters say the measure is needed to address a mounting backlog of crumbling infrastructure projects, including more than 500 bridges statewide requiring major repair, most of them considered structurally deficient. The fuel tax increases, together with higher vehicle licensing fees and a new $100 annual fee on owners of electric-only vehicles, would raise $5.2 billion a year, all earmarked for road, highway and bridge repairs and anti-congestion projects.
Too many people are too sure Le Pen has no chance.
The left-wing populist Jean-Luc Melenchon, who was eliminated from France’s presidential election this week, declined to endorse centrist front-runner Emmanuel Macron as he looked to keep hold of his 7.1 million voters ahead of a parliamentary ballot in June. Melenchon, who came fourth in Sunday’s first-round vote, said he won’t vote for the anti-euro nationalist Marine Le Pen in the runoff on the May 7 in a 32-minute video posted on his official YouTube channel late Friday. But he also aimed criticism at the centrist Macron who has won endorsements from most of his mainstream rivals, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “We can’t really call this a choice,” Melenchon said. “The nature of the two candidates makes it impossible to come out of this with stability.”
“One because he’s the extreme of finance, the other because she’s the extreme right,” he added, saying his party, France Unbowed, will reach the second round in 450 of the 577 constituencies up for grabs in the lower chamber of parliament in June and Macron sees him as a “threat.” Politicians and observers across the European Union have been transfixed by the French election with Le Pen promising to pull out of the euro and erect barriers to trade with the rest of the bloc while Macron has vowed to revive the Franco-German partnership to begin a new era of continental cooperation. Le Pen is fighting to win over Melenchon’s supporters as she seeks to close a gap of some 20 %age points on her rival.
Despite the personal antipathy between Melenchon and Le Pen, their protectionist, anti-European platforms had lots in common. In a speech in Arras on Wednesday, Macron praised Melenchon’s “panache” and the wave of support he created in the campaign. Le Pen said on France 2 television on Monday that they had “very similar” economic ideas and her team acclaimed his “noble” act to hold back an endorsement. Surveys show that Melenchon voters are increasingly likely to abstain rather than back Macron on May 7. An OpinionWay polled Friday showed that 45% of Melenchon supporters plan to abstain in the second round, up from 23% at the start of the week. Macron’s support among that group fell to 40% from 55%, while Le Pen’s dropped to 15% from 22%.
Looks like a positive development.
US armoured vehicles are deploying in areas in northern Syria along the tense border with Turkey, a few days after a Turkish airstrike that killed 20 US-backed Kurdish fighters, a Syrian war monitor and Kurdish activists said Friday. Footage posted by Syrian activists online showed a convoy of US armoured vehicles driving on a rural road in the village of Darbasiyah, a few hundred meters from the Turkish border. Clashes in the area were reported between Turkish and Kurdish forces Wednesday a day after the Turkish airstrike which also destroyed a Kurdish command headquarters. The Turkish airstrikes, which also wounded 18 members of the US-backed People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in Syria were criticized by both the US and Russia.
The YPG is a close US ally in the fight against Daesh, also known as ISIS and ISIL, but is seen by Ankara as a terrorist group because of its ties to Turkey’s Kurdish rebels. Further clashes between Turkish and Kurdish forces in Syria could potentially undermine the US-led war on Daesh. A senior Kurdish official, Ilham Ahmad told AP that American forces began carrying out patrols along the border Thursday along with reconnaissance flights in the area. She said the deployment was in principle temporary, but may become more permanent. A Kurdish activist in the area, Mustafa Bali, said the deployment began Friday afternoon and is ongoing. He said deployment stretches from the Iraqi border to areas past Darbasiyah in the largely Kurdish part of eastern Syria.
“The US role has now become more like a buffer force between us and the Turks on all front lines,” he said. He said US forces will also deploy as a separation force in areas where the Turkish-backed Syrian fighting forces and the Kurdish forces meet. It is a message of reassurance for the Kurds and almost a “warning message” to the Turks, he said. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, did not dispute that U.S. troops are operating with elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) along the Turkish border, but he would not get into specifics. The SDF is a Kurdish-dominated alliance fighting Daesh that includes Arab fighters. “We have U.S. forces that are there throughout the entirety of northern Syria that operate with our Syrian Democratic Force partners,” Davis said. “The border is among the areas where they operate.”
Here’s why there are US tropps in the region.
Clashes continued for the third consecutive day between Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Turkey’s military in several areas in northern Syria, military sources reported on Friday. The Turkish Army bombed several villages in the Kurdish Afrin district, including Panerak, Shankila, Midan Akbas and Rajo. “The Turkish artillery bombarded YPG security checkpoints and residential buildings in Afrin countryside, killing and wounding dozens, most of them civilians,” a spokesperson for the YPG told ARA News. The bombardment led to clashes between the Kurdish units and Turkish military forces in the sub-districts of Rajo and Shiya. “Our units responded to the Turkish offensive by hitting the positions of the Turkish troops near Susk hill in Afrin. At least three military vehicles were destroyed by YPG fire,” the Kurdish official said.
The YPG also released a video showing the destruction of a Turkish base in northwestern Aleppo. “At least 17 Turkish soldiers were killed and three others were wounded under heavy bombardment by the YPG,” a member of the YPG media office in Afrin told ARA News. The source added that the clashes between the YPG and Turkey’s military are still ongoing in the Shiya and Rajo sub-districts. Clashes broke out on Wednesday between the Syrian Kurdish forces and Turkish troops after the latter targeted the Kurdish town of Derbassiye in Syria’s northeastern Hasakah province with heavy artillery, shutting down the road between Derbassiye and Serikaniye. This coincided with similar clashes between the YPG and Turkish troops in Afrin. This comes after the Turkish jets killed over 25 Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria on Tuesday.
The US-led coalition expressed concerns over the Turkish attacks against the Kurdish fighters who are in war with ISIS in northern Syria. “We call on all forces to remain focused on the fight to defeat ISIS, which is the greatest threat to regional and worldwide peace, security,” said Air Force Col John L. Dorrian, Spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIS. “Turkish strikes were conducted without proper coordination with the Coalition or the Government of Iraq,” he said. “Our partner forces have been killed by Turkey strike, they have made many sacrifices to defeat ISIS,” the American Colonel said. “We are troubled by Turkey airstrikes on SDF and Kurdish forces,” he added.
This will not go quiet for much longer.
On a clear day the channel dividing Chios from the Turkish coast does not look like a channel at all. The nooks and crevices of Turkey’s western shores, its wind turbines and summer homes could, to the naked eye, be a promontory of the Greek island itself. For the men, women and children who almost daily make the crossing in dinghies and other smuggler craft, it is a God-given proximity, the gateway to Europe that continues to lure. Samuel Aneke crossed the sea almost a year ago on 1 June. Like those before him, and doubtless those who will follow, he saw the five-mile stretch as the last hurdle to freedom. “You could say geography brought me here,” said the Nigerian, a broad smile momentarily dousing his otherwise dour demeanour. “But it was not supposed to keep me prisoner.”
Refugee flows via Greece were meant to stop when the EU and Turkey announced what was seen as a pioneering agreement to stem the influx in March 2016. In Chios, like other Aegean isles, residents initially welcomed the accord. It was short-lived. The influx – one that saw more than 850,000 refugees arrive into the country in 2015 – was soon replaced by a steady flow, with asylum seekers arriving in groups that were sometimes small, sometimes large, but always propelled by the same ambition: to reach Europe by way of its southern shores. On Chios, more than 825 asylum seekers, the vast majority Syrians, arrived from Turkey in March. This month almost 600 have come. With at least 3,000, according to authorities, housed in two overcrowded camps – one makeshift, the other a razor-wire topped detention centre in a former factory known as Vial – it is anger that hangs in the air.
Greece’s Aegean isles have become de facto detention facilities – a dumpling ground for nearly 14,000 stranded souls, unable to move until permits are processed and fearful of what lies ahead. “Anything could happen because everything is hanging by a thread,” says Makis Mylonas, a policy adviser at the town hall. “Chios, Samos, Lesvos, Kos, Leros were sacrificed in the name of Europe’s fixation to keep immigrants out,” he claims, listing the isles that continue to bear the brunt of the flows.