Marcel Bovis Lovers, Paris 1934
Antidote for the Party Congress.
In our China Beige Book, we quiz over 3,300 firms across China about the performance of their companies as well as the broader economy. Their responses reveal that much of the exuberance about China today is based on dangerous misconceptions. The first and most obvious myth is that China is actually deleveraging, as officials claim. Responses from Chinese bankers support the notion that regulators, at least for the moment, have successfully targeted certain forms of shadow financing such as wealth management products. Companies, however, don’t seem to be feeling much pressure to curb their excesses. In the second quarter, while firms reported facing moderately higher interest rates and borrowing modestly less, that only slowed the pace of leveraging instead of reversing it. And even that progress has since stalled.
Third-quarter loan applications rose, rejections fell and companies borrowed more. Interest rates at both banks and shadow financials slid. What officials are calling deleveraging – rolling back excess credit – still represents more, uneven leveraging. If the restrictions on financials do extend to companies in 2018 and deleveraging actually begins, the process could be much more traumatic for the Chinese economy than most people currently recognize. The second myth is that the Chinese economy has finally begun to rebalance away from manufacturing and investment to services and consumption. In reality, China’s stronger 2017 performance has depended almost entirely on a revival of the old economy; the improvement in both growth and jobs drew heavily upon commodities, property and, most consistently, manufacturing. Call it “de-balancing.”
[..] China hasn’t slashed overcapacity in commodities sectors. Xi has incessantly touted what he calls “supply-side reforms,” which would seem to give Chinese companies very strong incentive to report results showing such cuts. Yet for more than a year, firms have indicated the opposite. While some gross capacity has been taken offline to much fanfare, net capacity has continued to rise. From July through September, hundreds of coal, steel, aluminum and copper companies reported a sixth straight quarter of overall capacity rising, not falling.
Getting Bernie to support the same as Trump is an achievement.
Two U.S. senators on Tuesday reached a bipartisan agreement to shore up Obamacare for two years by reviving federal subsidies for health insurers that President Donald Trump planned to scrap, and the president indicated his support for the plan. The deal worked out by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray would meet some Democratic objectives, including reviving the subsidies for Obamacare and restoring $106 million in funding for a federal program that helps people enroll in insurance plans. In exchange, Republicans would get more flexibility for states to offer a wider variety of health insurance plans while maintaining the requirement that sick and healthy people be charged the same rates for coverage.
The Trump administration said last week it would stop paying billions of dollars to insurers to help lower-income Americans pay medical expenses, part of the Republican president’s effort to dismantle Obamacare, former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law. The subsidies to private insurers cost the government an estimated $7 billion this year and were forecast at $10 billion for 2018. Trump’s move to scuttle them had raised concerns about chaos in insurance markets. Trump hoped to make good on his campaign promise to dismantle the law when he took office in January, with Republicans, who pledged for seven years to scrap it, controlling Congress. But he has been frustrated with their failure to pass legislation to repeal and replace it.
Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, extended health insurance coverage to 20 million Americans. Republicans say it is ineffective and a massive government intrusion in a key sector of the economy. The Alexander-Murray plan could keep Obamacare in place at least until the 2020 presidential campaign starts heating up. “This takes care of the next two years. After that, we can have a full-fledged debate on where we go long-term on healthcare,” Alexander said of the deal.
[..] Senator Bernie Sanders threw his weight behind the effort. In an interview with Reuters, Sanders said Alexander was a “well-respected figure” known for bipartisanship and that the Tennessee senator’s reputation would help propel the legislation through the Senate. Trump, during comments at the White House, suggested he could get behind the Alexander-Murray plan as a short-term solution. In remarks later at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, Trump commended the work by Alexander and Murray, but said: “I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies.”
Nuff said: “Most modern econ theories posit that recessions arrive randomly, instead of as the result of pressures that build up over time.”
A presentation by Blanchard and Summers provides a useful summary of how elite thinking has changed. They basically draw three lessons from the crisis: 1) the financial industry matters, 2) government should use a wider array of policies to fight recessions, and 3) recessions can last longer than expected. [..] The real sea change is the third one – the reconsideration of what recessions really are. Most modern econ theories posit that recessions arrive randomly, instead of as the result of pressures that build up over time. And they assume that recessions are short-lived affairs that go away of their own accord. If these assumptions are wrong, then most of the theories written down in macroeconomics journals over the past several decades – and most of those being written as we speak – are of questionable usefulness.
Blanchard and Summers are hardly the first to raise this possibility – economists have known for decades that recessions might not be random, short-lived events, but the idea always remained on the fringes. One big reason was simple mathematical convenience – models where recessions are like rainstorms, arriving and departing on their own, are mathematically a lot easier to work with. A second was data availability – unlike in geology, where we can draw on Earth’s whole history, reliable macroeconomic data goes back less than a century. If economic fluctuations really do have long-lasting effects, it will be very hard to identify those patterns from just a few decades’ worth of history.
If macroeconomists heed Blanchard and Summers’ advice, they will have to do harder math, and they will find better data to test their models. But their challenges won’t end there. If the economy can linger in a good or bad state for a long time, it’s almost certainly a chaotic system. Researchers have known for decades that unstable economies are very hard to work with or predict. In the past, economists have simply ignored this unsettling possibility and chosen to focus on models with only one possible long-term outcome. But if Blanchard and Summers are any indication, the Great Recession might mean that’s no longer an option.
This morning, BoE Governor Mark Carney discussed the risks of a hard Brexit during his testimony to the UK Parliamentary Treasury Committee. There was renewed weakness in Sterling during his testimony. Ironically, given the fall in Sterling, Carney explained why Europe’s financial sector is more at risk than the UK from a “hard” or “no-deal” Brexit. We wonder whether Juncker and Barnier appreciate the threat that a “no-deal” Brexit poses for the EU’s already fragile financial system? When asked does the European Council “get it” in terms of potential shocks to financial stability, Carney diplomatically commented that “a learning process is underway.” Having sounded alarm bells about clearing in his last Mansion House speech, he noted “These costs of fragmenting clearing, particularly clearing of interest rate swaps, would be born principally by the European real economy and they are considerable.”
Calling into question the continuity of tens of thousands of derivative contracts, he stated that it was “pretty clear they will no longer be valid”, that this “could only be solved by both sides” and has been “underappreciated” by Europe. Moving on to the possibility that there might not be a transition period, Carney had a snipe at Europe for its lack of preparation “We are prepared as we should be for the possibility of a hard exit without any transition…there has been much less of that done in the European Union.” Maybe it’s Europe, not the UK, that needs the transition period most.
In Carneys view “It’s in the interest of the EU 27 to have a transition agreement. Also, in my judgement given the scale of the issues as they affect the EU 27, that there will ultimately be a transition agreement. There is a very limited amount of time between now and the end of March 2019 to transition large, complex institutions and activities…If one thinks about the implementation of Basel III, we are alone in the current members of the EU in having extensive experience of managing the transition for individual firms of various derivative and risk activities from one jurisdiction back into the UK. That tends to take 2-4 years. Depending on the agreement, we are talking about a substantial amount of activity.”
Europe borrows from the future.
The British government once hoped that the Oct. 19-20 meeting would be the moment when the Brexit negotiations could move on to discuss trade. That aspiration now seems hopeless. European leaders look set to insist on further delay until there is more progress in the first stage of talks, above all in reaching agreement on how much Britain will have to pay to settle its obligations when it leaves.
[..] If economic size and time favor the EU, the British government’s strongest card is money – one that it has played in various guises for centuries with its continental neighbors – and it is naturally reluctant to show its full hand too early. Even so May has already made an important concession. As part of the transition period of around two years that she called for in her emollient Florence speech last month, Britain would continue to pay in to the EU budget to ensure that none of the member states was out of pocket owing to the decision to leave. These net payments of around €10 billion ($11.8 billion) a year would fix the immediate problem facing the EU, the hole that would otherwise open up in its finances during the final two years of its current budgetary framework, which runs from 2014 to 2020.
But that extra money from aligning Britain’s effective date of departure with the end of the EU’s budgeting plan will not be enough, for two reasons. One is the way the EU in effect borrows from the future, by making spending commitments that it pays for later. In principle, the EU cannot borrow to pay for expenditure. But, through its accounting procedures, the EU can and does commit it to spending that will be paid for by future receipts from the member states. What this means is that even after 2020 there will still be payments due on commitments made under the current seven-year spending plan. That pile of unpaid bills, eloquently called the “reste à liquider” (the amount yet to be settled), is forecast to be €254 billion at the end of 2020.
Estimates of what Britain might owe towards this vary, but taking into account what might have been spent on British projects it could be around €20 billion. On top of that – and the second main reason why the EU is holding out for more – the EU has liabilities, notably arising from the unfunded retirement benefits of European staff estimated at €67 billion at the end of 2016, which it is expecting Britain to share. Even taking into account some potential offsets from its share of assets, Britain may face a bill of between €30 billion and €40 billion on top of the €20 billion paid during the transition period.
Biggest threat of all to Europe may be Italy’s weaknesses.
Bridgewater Associates is adding to its billion-dollar short against the Italian economy. The world’s largest hedge fund disclosed a $300 million bet against Eni SpA, Italy’s oil and gas giant, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Bloomberg previously reported that Ray Dalio’s firm had wagered more than $1.1 billion against shares of six Italian financial institutions and two other companies. This latest bet is the hedge fund’s second-largest against an Italian company, trailing only the $310 million against Enel SpA, the country’s largest utility. Eni’s majority holder is the Italian government via state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti SpA and the Ministry of Economy. The public involvement also is reflected in the government’s role in appointing the chief executive officer. Current CEO Claudio Descalzi has been at the helm since 2014 and was reconfirmed this year.
Airbus buys C Series for $1?!
Boeing’s diminutive Canadian rival just found itself one heck of a wingman. The world’s largest aerospace company tried to block Bombardier’s all-new C Series jet from the U.S. by complaining to the government about unfair competition. Now that move is backfiring as Boeing’s primary foe, Airbus, takes control of the Canadian aircraft – with plans to manufacture in Alabama. The deal leaves Boeing’s 737, the company’s largest source of profit, to face a strengthened opponent in the market for single-aisle jetliners, where Airbus’s A320 family already enjoys a sales lead. The European planemaker is riding to the rescue of a plane at the center of a trade dispute that soured U.S. relations with Canada and the U.K., where the aircraft’s wings are made.
“For Boeing, its decision to wage commercial war on Bombardier has arguably had some unintended negative outcomes,” Robert Stallard, an analyst at Vertical Research Partners, said in a report. “As well as damaging relations with the Canadian and U.K. governments and some major airline customers, it has now driven Bombardier into the arms of its arch competitor.” Boeing on Tuesday held firm to its stance against the C Series, saying the deal with Airbus would have “no impact or effect on the pending proceedings at all” in the trade dispute. Boeing won a preliminary victory against Bombardier last month when President Donald Trump’s administration imposed import duties of 300% on the C Series.
Self-employment as a means to hide unemployment.
Huws says the golden age for the gig economy was some time around 2013, when companies took a smaller cut and there were fewer drivers/riders/factotums to compete with. “As Deliveroo pass on all risk to the rider, there’s nothing to stop them over-recruiting in an area and flooding the city with riders, which is exactly what we saw last winter,” says Guy McClenahan, another Brighton rider (Deliveroo maintain that the hundreds of riders in the area earn on average well above the national living wage). Over time, Uber has increased the commission it takes from drivers while reducing fares. Drivers are finding themselves working much longer hours in order to make the same pay – or far less. (There are currently no time limits on how many hours Uber drivers can work a week in the UK, but the company is testing changes and says it plans to introduce limits over a 24-hour period.)
TaskRabbit, the online platform for handymen and odd jobs, which was recently bought by Ikea, took away a rate in which contractors would earn more money for repeat commissions – and buried that news in an email about introducing the option for clients to tip. [..] Huws points out that the gig economy has always existed: cash-in-hand or on-call work or people turning up at building sites or dockyards in the hope of a day’s work. But since the 2008 crash, jobs that provide a secure income have become harder to come by. It is true that the unemployment rate among 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK is 12%, while in parts of Europe it is 40%. But that doesn’t mean much if many of those people are in precarious “self-employment” – the McKinsey Global Institute estimates this may be up to 30% of working-age adults across Europe. Huws says the notion of a career is being eroded, with young people often working a patchwork of different occupations.
[..] Huws worries about something else, too: the wellbeing of gig-economy millennial workers. This kind of employment can be “really damaging for self-esteem”, she says. As Hughes and Diggle both say, crowd work can be lonely. “Especially if you’re working a double shift,” says Diggle. “Or sometimes you don’t feel human. You’re just handing a bag over and some people take the bag, don’t look at you and close the door. And then don’t tip. One day I’ll be on stage singing, and the next I’m delivering food on my bicycle and it does feel … deflating.”
A Greek recovery is mathematically impossible.
“..taxation on products increased 7.8%..”
Greece was in recession last year, as revised data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) showed on Tuesday that the economy shrank 0.2% compared to 2015 against a previous estimate for zero growth. Furthermore, the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) forecast that 2017 will close with growth of just 1.3%, against a government estimate of 1.8%. That the way out of the crisis is proving more arduous and uncertain than many had predicted was underscored by the two sets of data released on Tuesday, with IOBE Director General Nikos Vettas warning that the recovery may turn out to be “short-term and fragile” unless the pending crucial structural reforms are implemented.
ELSTAT’s downward revision for 2016 is mainly based on consumer spending, which declined 0.3% compared to 2015, against a previous estimate in March 2017 for an increase of 0.6%. Even in March, when ELSTAT announced zero growth for 2016, the figures created a headache for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who had previously said the economy had grown in 2016. Yesterday’s revision turned stagnation into recession for another year. It is also impressive that while the economy shrank 0.2%, taxation on products increased 7.8%, against a hike of 1.7% in 2015 and 0.8% in 2014. The revision also revealed that 2014 saw growth of 0.7%, against an estimate of 0.3% in March. That upward course was clearly interrupted by the January 2015 election.
IOBE undercut the government’s growth estimates for this year and next, with its president, Takis Athanasopoulos, saying, “Indeed, our economy is showing signs of improvement, but its rate remains below what is necessary for the country to leave the crisis behind it for good.” Next year IOBE anticipates growth of 2%, against an official forecast of 2.4%, putting the achievement of fiscal targets into question. The weak 1.3% recovery rate seen for this year, compared to the original 2.7% estimate of the budget and the bailout program, is according to IOBE due to the weak momentum of investments.
Wonder who pays the bill. Which is not as bas as it seems.
The United States has approved the possible sale of more than 120 upgrade kits from Lockheed Martin to the Greeks for their F-16 fighter jet fleet. The deal, worth $2.4bn, was announced as U.S. President Donald Trump met with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Washington, D.C. Trump, who has repeatedly criticized NATO countries for not meeting the alliance’s defense budget targets, applauded Greece for meeting the goal of each member spending two percent of their gross domestic product on their military and highlighted the F-16 upgrade plans. “They’re upgrading their fleets of airplanes – the F-16 plane, which is a terrific plane,” Trump said ahead of a bilateral meeting. “They’re doing big upgrades.”
“This agreement to strengthen the Hellenic Air Force is worth up to 2.4 billion U.S. dollars and would generate thousands of American jobs,” Trump said during his joint press conference with Tsipras. Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos sought later to downplay the cost of the deal for Greece. In a message on twitter he said that the cost to Greece will be 1.1 billion euros. “The ceiling in the budget for the upgrading of the F-16 is 1.1 billion euros”, he said. “The rest will come from aid programs and offsets”, he added. According to the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) there are currently no known offsets. However, Greece typically requests offsets. Any offset agreement will be defined in negotiations between Greece and the contractor, Lockheed Martin. .
“..the type of heavy oil recovery used released 3.6 times more methane than previously believed..”
Alberta’s oil and gas industry – Canada’s largest producer of fossil fuel resources – could be emitting 25 to 50% more methane than previously believed, new research has suggested. The pioneering peer reviewed study, published in Environmental Science & Technology on Tuesday, used airplane surveys to measure methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure in two regions in Alberta. The results were then compared with industry-reported emissions and estimates of unreported sources of the powerful greenhouse gas, which warm the planet more than 20 times as much as similar volumes of carbon dioxide.
“Our first reaction was ‘Oh my goodness, this is a really big deal,” said Matthew Johnson, a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa and one of the study’s authors. “If we thought it was bad, it’s worse.” Carried out last autumn, the survey measured the airborne emissions of thousands of oil and gas wells in the regions. Researchers also tracked the amount of ethane to ensure that methane emissions from cattle would not end up in their results. In one region dominated by heavy oil wells, researchers found that the type of heavy oil recovery used released 3.6 times more methane than previously believed. The technique is used in several other sites across the province, suggesting emissions from these areas are also underestimated.
By the time he died, in 1950, Bernard Shaw, as the most widely read socialist writer in the English-speaking world, had done as much as anyone to banish the fallacy that poverty is essentially a moral failing – and conversely that great riches are proof of moral worth. His most passionate concern was with poverty and its causes. He was haunted by the notorious Dublin slums of his childhood. As his spokesman Undershaft puts it in Major Barbara: “Poverty strikes dead the very souls of all who come within sight, sound or smell of it.” The question – why are the poor poor? – has a number of possible answers in the 21st century, just as it had in the late 19th. A Eurobarometer report in 2010 examined attitudes to poverty in the European Union. The most popular explanation among Europeans (47%) for why people live in poverty was injustice in society.
[..] In the preface to Major Barbara, Shaw attacks “the stupid levity with which we tolerate poverty as if it were … a wholesome tonic for lazy people”. His great political impulse was to de-moralise poverty, and his most radical argument about poverty was that it simply doesn’t matter whether those who are poor “deserve” their condition or not – the dire social consequences are the same either way. He assails the absurdity of the notion implicit in so much rightwing thought, that poverty is somehow more tolerable if it is a punishment for moral failings: “If a man is indolent, let him be poor. If he is drunken, let him be poor. If he is not a gentleman, let him be poor. If he is addicted to the fine arts or to pure science instead of to trade and finance, let him be poor … Let nothing be done for ‘the undeserving’: let him be poor. Serve him right! Also – somewhat inconsistently – blessed are the poor!”
In an era when many on the left purported to despise money and romanticised poverty, Shaw argued that poverty is a crime and that money is a wonderful thing. He recognised that there is no relationship between poverty and a supposed lack of a work ethic: Eliza Doolittle is out selling her flowers late at night in the pouring rain but she is still dirt poor. (Conversely, when she is “idle” and being kept by Higgins, she leads a life of relative luxury.) And therefore the cure for poverty can never be found in moral judgments. The cure for poverty is an adequate income. “The crying need of the nation,” he wrote, “is not for better morals, cheaper bread, temperance, liberty, culture, redemption of fallen sisters and erring brothers, nor the grace, love and fellowship of the Trinity, but simply for enough money.
And the evil to be attacked is not sin, suffering, greed, priestcraft, kingcraft, demagogy, monopoly, ignorance, drink, war, pestilence, nor any other of the scapegoats which reformers sacrifice, but simply poverty.” The solution he proposed was what he called a “universal pension for life”, or what we now call a universal basic income.