Jul 122016
 
 July 12, 2016  Posted by at 8:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


NPC L.E. White Coal Co. yards, Washington 1922

Asian Shares Rally As Wall Street Strikes New Record High (R.)
Abe Orders New Stimulus Package To Water ‘Seeds Of Growth’ (R.)
Japan Turns Again to Bernanke, as Fruits of Abenomics Wither (BBG)
Bernanke’s Black Helicopters Of Money (David Stockman)
The Trillions Spent By Central Banks Has Been A Dud: BofA (MW)
Ground Zero of China’s Slowdown Leaves Locals Looking for Exit (BBG)
HSBC Avoided US Money Laundering Charges Because Of ‘Market Risk’ Fears (BBC)
Brexit Seen Biting Profit for Years at US Banks (BBG)
Italy ‘Facing 20 Years Of Economic Woe’: IMF (BBC)
Dutch Bonds Just Did Something That We Haven’t Seen In 499 Years (BI)
Citibank To Close Key Venezuela Payment Account: Maduro (AFP)
European Commission Under Fire Over Barroso’s Goldman Sachs Job (EuO)
Oligarchs of the Treasure Islands (MWest)
Trump Wins -Even If He Loses- (Nomi Prins)

 

 

Everyone’s betting on the helicopter arriving soon.

Asian Shares Rally As Wall Street Strikes New Record High (R.)

Asian stocks rose to a 2-1/2-month peak on Tuesday, a day after Wall Street shares hit a record high thanks to a combination of upbeat U.S. data and expectations of more stimulus from global policymakers. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.6% to hit its highest level since late April. Japan’s Nikkei jumped 2.5% as investors bet the country’s government may inject $100 billion in fiscal spending to boost the economy, possibly financed by the central bank’s money-printing, a policy mix that is often dubbed “helicopter money”. European shares are seen opening flat to slightly lower, with spread-betters expecting Britain’s FTSE 100 and Germany’s DAX to fall 0.1% and France’s CAC 40 to be flat.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 index on Monday broke a new record high, its first in more than a year, extending its gain after Friday’s bumper job figures reduced worries about slowdown in employment. The benchmark closed at a record 2,137.16, overtaking the previous high of 2,130.82 hit on May 21, 2015. Globally low interest rates from central bank stimulus in both Japan and Europe are supporting risk assets. Bond yields in the U.S., Japan, Germany, France and the U.K all hit record lows last week as investors bet on more stimulus following the Brexit shock.

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Follow the strong leader no matter what he says or does. A culture fraught with danger.

Abe Orders New Stimulus Package To Water ‘Seeds Of Growth’ (R.)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered a new round of fiscal stimulus spending after a crushing election victory over the weekend as evidence mounted the corporate sector is floundering due to weak demand. Abe did not give details on the size of the package, but Japanese stocks jumped nearly 4 percent and the yen weakened over perceptions a landslide victory in upper house elections now gives him a free hand to draft economic policy. An unexpected decline in machinery orders shows the economy needs something to overcome consistently weak corporate investment. Economists worry, however, that Abe’s focus on public works spending will not tackle the structural issues around a declining population and workforce.

More public works also increases pressure on the Bank of Japan to keep interest rates low and the yen weak to make sure stimulus spending will gain traction. The government was ready to spend more than 10 trillion yen ($100 billion), ruling party sources told Reuters before the election. “We are going to make bold investment into seeds of future growth,” Abe told a news conference on Monday at the headquarters for his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). [..] Abe said he wanted to strengthen agriculture exports from rural areas and improve infrastructure, such as trains and ports, to welcome more tourists and cruise ships from overseas. “We have promised through this election campaign that we will sell the world the agricultural products and tourism resources each region is proud of,” he said.

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Abe has no more ideas.

Japan Turns Again to Bernanke, as Fruits of Abenomics Wither (BBG)

Less than three weeks before the Bank of Japan’s next scheduled policy meeting, Governor Haruhiko Kuroda met with former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke over lunch on Monday. The BOJ issued no statement on the substance of the talks, which come as the central bank confronts a fresh strengthening in the yen this year that risks undermining inflation and weakening the appetite for investment and wage increases. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet Bernanke at 3 p.m. local time on Tuesday, according to Abe’s office. For Bernanke, offering views on Japan’s challenges and policy options would be nothing new. He delivered a famous 2003 speech calling for greater cooperation between monetary and fiscal policy makers to defeat deflation and spur the economy.

In the room during Bernanke’s meetings with Japanese officials 13 years ago in Tokyo: Abe and Kuroda, who a decade hence unleashed an unprecedented stimulus to revive Japan. Now, that project is increasingly at risk with inflation moving away from the BOJ’s target, and GDP growth far from Abe’s goals. Bernanke’s 2003 visit, when he was a Federal Reserve Board member, and his message at the time is still discussed by BOJ officials. Japan has a tradition of seeking the advice of overseas experts, something that’s been taken to a new level under Abe, who consulted with Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz prior to his decision in June to delay a sales-tax hike. Unlike with this week’s Bernanke visit, the meetings with Krugman and Stiglitz were well-publicized.

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Stockman uses strange definitions of inflation and deflation. Nobody should use CPI.

Bernanke’s Black Helicopters Of Money (David Stockman)

Ben Bernanke is one of the most dangerous men walking the planet. In this age of central bank domination of economic life he is surely the pied piper of monetary ruin. At least since 2002 he has been talking about “helicopter money” as if a notion which is pure economic quackery actually had some legitimate basis. But strip away the pseudo scientific jargon, and it amounts to monetization of the public debt—–the very oldest form of something for nothing economics. Back then, of course, Ben’s jabbering about helicopter money was taken to be some sort of theoretical metaphor about the ultimate powers of central bankers, and especially their ability to forestall the boogey-man of “deflation”.

Indeed, Bernanke was held to be a leading economic scholar of the Great Depression and a disciple of Milton Friedman’s claim that Fed stringency during 1930-1932 had caused it. This is complete poppycock, as I demonstrated in The Great Deformation, but it did give an air of plausibility and even conservative pedigree to a truly stupid and dangerous idea. Right about then, in fact, Bernanke grandly promised during a speech at Friedman’s 90th birthday party that today’s enlightened central bankers – led by himself – would never let it happen again. Presumably Bernanke was speaking of the 25% deflation of the general price level after 1929.

The latter is always good for a big scare among modern audiences because no one seems to remember that the deflation of the 1930’s was nothing more than the partial liquidation of the 100%-300% inflation of the general price level during the Great War. In any event, Bernanke was tilting at windmills when he implied that the collapse of the US wartime and Roaring Twenties boom had anything to do with the conditions of 2002. Even the claim that Japan was suffering from severe deflation at the time was manifestly false. In fact, during the final stages of Japan great export and credit boom, the domestic price level had risen substantially, increasing by nearly 70% between 1976 and 1993. It then simply flattened-out – and appropriately so – after the great credit, real estate and stock market bubble collapse of 1990-1992.

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And this is the end result of QE et al.

The Trillions Spent By Central Banks Has Been A Dud: BofA (MW)

Toasts all around? U.S. stocks charged into record territory on Monday after Friday’s jobs report helped restore confidence in the U.S. economic recovery. But not so fast. The solid data mask a worrisome reality — despite the trillions collectively spent by central banks to breathe life into their economies since the 2008 financial crisis, authorities have been largely shooting blanks, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The S&P 500 climbed to an intraday high of 2,143 Monday, passing the previous intraday record of 2,134.72 set on May 21, 2015. Stocks gained in part because the U.S. economy added 287,000 new jobs last month, far better than the gain of 170,000 projected by economists in a MarketWatch survey.

Yet the same report revealed that the labor participation rate—a metric to measure those who are employed or actively searching for jobs—is hovering at a 38-year low of 62.7%. A weak labor participation rate is an indication that an increasing number of people are leaving the labor force either through retirement or because they’re discouraged by not finding employment. It is also a sign that job growth isn’t tracking as robustly as it should considering that the U.S. economy expanded to $18 trillion in 2015 from $2.4 trillion in 1978. What’s more, the official unemployment rate edged up to 4.9% in June from 4.7% in May as more people entered the labor force looking for jobs. This headline number, however, excludes millions of part-time workers who would really rather work full time, as well as those who have become too discouraged to look for work, period. If this broader group was accounted for, the actual jobless rate would be closer to 10%.

It all suggests that the labor market, and by extension the economy, may not be as healthy as it should be given the prolonged period of accommodative monetary policy in the U.S. and elsewhere. It’s against this backdrop that a team led by Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, demonstrated how ineffective they believe central banks’ collective quantitative easing has been. Central banks around the world have cut interest rates a combined 659 times since Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 15, 2008, resulting in negative rates in many major economies, according to Hartnett. “Incited by the belief that every single interest rate in the world is heading to zero, the mountain of cash on the sidelines has induced fresh ‘irrational upside’ in government and corporate bonds,” said the strategist, in a note.

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A picture of the real China.

Ground Zero of China’s Slowdown Leaves Locals Looking for Exit (BBG)

Tea-shop manager Zhang Yue is so desperate about her home city of Tieling’s future that she’s borrowed about five times her annual income to buy a work visa to leave for Japan – an economy that’s flat-lined for a generation. “Two years ago, everything was fine and I bought whatever I wanted,” said Zhang, 29, whose husband’s wages have since halved and her own have stalled. “Then, suddenly, the slump started. The economy went straight down. It’s in free fall.” The home to about 3 million people in the northeast rust-belt province of Liaoning is ground zero in China’s slowdown – the worst-performing city in the worst-performing province. Ads offering work visas abroad are peppered across hoardings, and billboards offer loans for people in “urgent need.”

Shuttered car-parts factories flank the highway to the high-speed train station. In the center, a closed wedding-photograph studio has a notice in the window that reads: “Owner is going overseas. Shop for sale.” Tieling is among the places hardest hit by a slowdown across the nation of 1.4 billion people triggered in recent years by a commodity-price slump, housing correction and campaign to rein in wasteful investment. The city has seen a triple whammy from the three dynamics, which left the local economy contracting 6.2% last year – compared with national growth of near 7%. Fixed-asset investment in Tieling – largely property and infrastructure investment – plummeted 39%, steel output plunged 89%, industrial output dropped 18% and coal production was down almost 8%.

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Keep this up and tar and feathers are your part.

HSBC Avoided US Money Laundering Charges Because Of ‘Market Risk’ Fears (BBC)

US officials refused to prosecute HSBC for money laundering in 2012 because of concerns within the Department of Justice that it would cause a “global financial disaster”, a report says. A US Congressional report revealed UK officials, including Chancellor George Osborne, added to pressure by warning the US it could lead to market turmoil. The report alleges the UK “hampered” the probe and “influenced” the outcome. HSBC was accused of letting drug cartels use US banks to launder funds. The bank, which has its headquarters in London, paid a $1.92bn settlement but did not face criminal charges . No top officials at HSBC faced any charges. The report says: “George Osborne, the UK’s chief financial minister, intervened in the HSBC matter by sending a letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke… to express the UK’s concerns regarding US enforcement actions against British banks.”

The letter said that prosecuting HSBC could have “very serious implications for financial and economic stability, particularly in Europe and Asia”. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said a series of factors were considered when deciding how to resolve a case, including whether there may be “adverse consequences for innocent third parties, such as employees, customers, investors, pension holders and the public”. The report also accuses former US Attorney General Eric Holder of misleading Congress about the decision. The report says Mr Holder ignored the recommendations of more junior staff to prosecute HSBC because of the bank’s “systemic importance” to the financial markets.

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Nonsensical article. If any of this were valid, US banks were so weak pre-Brexit, lower profits were cast in stone no matter what.

Brexit Seen Biting Profit for Years at US Banks (BBG)

When U.S. banks post second-quarter results in days, it’ll boil down to this: Bonus cuts are coming for just about everyone this year, says Wall Street recruiter Richard Lipstein. “If you are break-even, it’s an achievement.” That’s the picture taking shape as analysts trim estimates for the quarter and overhaul long-term projections for banks’ main businesses after the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union. Starting this week, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs probably will say they saw a quick bump in trading after the June 23 referendum, but that deals are stalling and years of pain lie ahead. Combined net income at the six biggest U.S. banks is estimated to fall 18% in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Fred Cannon, global research director at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, said many analysts are just starting to rework projections for future periods to account for Brexit’s fallout, such as the prolonging of low interest rates. “We went from lower for longer into what seems like lower forever,” he said. That will erode interest from lending. Market turmoil and economic drags linked to Brexit will hurt investment banking revenue as companies reconsider acquisitions and selling new securities. And that’s after trading units suffered their worst first quarter since 2009.

For the full year, analysts predict combined earnings at the six U.S. banks – which also include Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley – will drop 14%. It may only partially recover in 2017, the estimates show. The projections for both years tumbled after markets swung earlier this year, and then slipped further after the U.K. vote as analysts began updating research. “Up until June 24, everybody thought the second quarter was building a nice recovery, and now you have to question that,” said Chris Kotowski, a bank analyst at Oppenheimer & Co., referencing the day ballots were tallied. “I’m more cautious than I was.”

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As long as the country stays in the eurozone, yes.

Italy ‘Facing 20 Years Of Economic Woe’: IMF (BBC)

The IMF has warned that Italy faces two decades of stagnant economic growth. Its latest report on the country puts growth this year at under 1%, down from its previous 1.1% estimate, and forecasts growth in 2017 of about 1% – down from a 1.25% estimate. The IMF says Italy will not reach pre-crisis levels until 2025, by which time its neighbours will have economies 20-25% above 2008 levels. Italy is the third largest eurozone country. It has 11% unemployment and a banking sector in crisis, with government debt second only to that of Greece. The country’s banks are under pressure because the long-standing poor economic performance has depressed tax revenue and increased the chances of businesses getting into difficulty and being unable to maintain their loan payments.

Italian banks are weighed down by massive bad debts, and may need a significant injection of funds. The IMF says any recovery is likely to be prolonged and subject to risks. Among those risks are the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, which it said last week had prompted it to downgrade its forecasts for growth for the entire eurozone. Other problem areas include “the refugee surge, and headwinds from the slowdown in global trade”.

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Just in case it wasn’t clear yet just how crazy our times are.

Dutch Bonds Just Did Something That We Haven’t Seen In 499 Years (BI)

Dutch 10-year government bond yields dropped below zero for the first time ever on Monday, making them the latest to join the negative yield club. The Netherlands’ 10-year dipped by 0.08 %age points to as low as -0.007%. It has fallen by about 30 basis points since the June Brexit vote. There’s roughly $13 trillion of global negative-yielding debt now, according to data from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, cited by the Wall Street Journal on Sunday. By comparison, there was about $11 trillion ahead of the UK’s vote on EU referendum.

When a bond is negative yielding, it means investors get less back when the debt is due than what they pay for it today. The Dutch bond yields are the lowest the country has ever seen. Amazingly, there’s nearly half a millennium of records to compare that against, as record keeping began in 1517. As a historical reference point, that’s the same year that Martin Luther published his 95 Theses. You can see the history of the Dutch 10-year going back to 1517 in the chart below, which was shared by Deutsche Bank’s Jim Reid in his Monday note to clients.

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America wants revenge.

Citibank To Close Key Venezuela Payment Account: Maduro (AFP)

Citibank plans to close the account Venezuela uses to make international payments, President Nicolas Maduro said Monday, accusing the US-based bank of a “financial blockade.” “Citibank, with no warning or communication, says that it is going to close the Central Bank and Bank Of Venezuela account. That is what you call a financial blockade,” the embattled president said in televised remarks. He said the move amounted to an “inquisition” by US President Barack Obama’s administration. Maduro said his South American nation, a major oil producer, uses the account to make payments “within 24 hours, to other accounts in the United States and worldwide.” Maduro’s socialist government has often claimed that US interests and local business elites were trying to blockade his state-led economy and prevent Venezuela’s access to international credit.

“Do you think they are going to stop us by putting in place a financial blockade? No, ladies and gentlemen, nobody stops Venezuela! With Citibank or without it, we are moving forward. With Kimberly or without, we are moving.” Venezuela’s government said just hours earlier that it would take over operations at facilities where US consumer goods giant Kimberly-Clark recently shut down, citing unworkable economic conditions. The American company announced on Saturday it would cease production, saying that it was impossible to get enough hard currency to buy raw materials, and that inflation was surging. “We are going to sign, at the workers’ request… to authorize immediate occupation of the workplace known as Kimberly-Clark de Venezuela… by its workers,” Labor Minister Oswaldo Vera said at the facility’s plant in the central city of Maracay.

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Look, they just don’t care. That’s what Britain has a unique oppottunity to step away from. It doesn’t mean there’s no corruption in Britain, but inside the EU it would be guaranteed. Note: it’s quite an achievement to get France’s socialists and Marine le Pen on the same page. But Barroso gets it done. AND he’ll remain eligible for his (very rich) EU benefits and pension …

European Commission Under Fire Over Barroso’s Goldman Sachs Job (EuO)

[..] “Barroso’s decision … is morally and politically deplorable”, said Gianni Pittella, leader of the Socialist and Democrats group in the European Parliament. “After 10 years of mediocre governance of the EU, now the former EU Commission president will serve those who aim to undermine our rules and values,” he added. The Brussels-based lobby watchdog, Corporate Europe Observatory’s (CEO), said the commission’s line – that Barroso acted within the rules – was “pathetic”. “Major loopholes exist in both the rules and the way in which they are implemented … there should be a mandatory cooling-off period of at least five years for former commission presidents regarding direct and indirect corporate lobbying activities,” the NGO’s Nina Holland said. She noted that nine of Barroso’s former commissioners had gone to work for big business after their terms ended in 2014.

Meanwhile, the timing of Barroso’s move could hardly have been worse for the commission. Eurosceptic movements around Europe have long accused EU officials of trampling on ordinary people’s welfare to serve the interests of elites in developments that came to a head in the Brexit vote. France’s far-right Marine Le Pen tweeted that the Barrose move was “not a surprise for people who know that the EU does not serve people but high finance”. French socialist MEPs called on Goldman Sachs to let him go. In a statement on Monday they called the appointment “outrageous and shameful”. They said that he breached the EU treaty and should be stripped of his EU benefits and pension.

They cited article 245 of the EU treaty, which says that commissioners should respect the “obligations arising therefrom and in particular their duty to behave with integrity and discretion as regards the acceptance, after they have ceased to hold office, of certain appointments or benefits.” Barroso led the commission through the tumultuous years of the euro crisis and related bailouts. Under his tenure, the EU set up financial rescue funds to help troubled countries and their banks, but at the cost of severe austerity in Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Goldman Sachs was one of the US investment banks at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis that triggered the events when lenders traded failing mortgages as parts of complex financial instruments.

Earlier this year, the Wall Street firm agreed to a civil settlement of up to $5 billion with federal prosecutors and regulators to resolve claims resulting from the marketing and selling of faulty mortgage securities to investors. Goldman Sachs also helped Greece to hide part of its deficit in the early 2000s, by using so called currency swaps. But the currency trades end up doubling the Greek deficit and leading to the edge of ruin. Barroso himself had been a student leader in an underground Maoist group during his university years. The 60 year-old served as prime minister of Portugal between 2002 and 2004 before heading the EU’s executive for 10 years.

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Accountants, unaccountable.

Oligarchs of the Treasure Islands (MWest)

The “Big Four” global accounting firms – PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young – are the masterminds of multinational tax avoidance, the architects of tax schemes which cost governments and their taxpayers more than $US1 trillion a year. Although presenting as “the guardians of commerce” they are unregulated and unaccountable; they have infiltrated governments at every level and should be broken up. This is the view of George Rozvany, Australia’s most published expert on transfer pricing, which is one of the principal ways large corporations pursue cross-border tax avoidance. Rozvany stepped down last year as head of tax in Australia for the world’s biggest insurance company, Allianz. Formerly, he was an insider at Ernst & Young, PwC and Arthur Andersen.

“The Big Four have, under a Rasputin-like cloak of illusion strayed from their original and critical role of verifying the accuracy of financial accounts for all stakeholders, to be “accountants of fortune” merely representing the accounting position for multinationals and developing aggressive international tax avoidance practices,” he told michaelwest.com.au. Rozvany is writing a series of books on corporate tax ethics. “This is not a victimless crime,” he says. “While Western governments have been cutting back their aid to the most underprivileged in society, from the homeless to orphaned children in Africa, multinational companies have been diverting ever larger profits into tax havens”.

“The global community must also recognise the links between aggressive taxation behaviour, money laundering, corruption, organised crime and terrorism, of which the Brussels bombings and 9/11 are chilling reminders. This, unquestionably, is the financial sewer of humanity where the purpose for such money, no matter how malevolent, is simply hidden until used”, Rozvany says. [..] “Their signage adorns the skyline in every major city in the world. They have meticulously manicured their public image. They are spectacularly profitable but beyond the law. They are trusted but not trustworthy. They have become too big, too big to fail, so they must be broken up. Break up is hardly radical. It has been done in many industries including banking, oil and communications”.

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He’ll get stronger in the face of adversity.

Trump Wins -Even If He Loses- (Nomi Prins)

Once upon a time not so long ago, making America great again involved a bankroll untainted by the Republican political establishment and its billionaire backers. There would, The Donald swore, be no favors to repay after he was elected, no one to tell him what to do or how to do it just because they had chipped in a few million bucks. But for a man who prides himself on executing only “the best” of deals (trust him) this election has become too expensive to leave to self-reliance. One thing is guaranteed: Donald Trump will not pony up a few hundred million dollars from his own stash. As a result, despite claims that he would never do so, he’s finally taken a Super PAC or two on board and is now pursuing more financial aid even from people who don’t like him.

Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, erstwhile influential billionaire backers of Ted Cruz, have, for instance, decided to turn their Make America Number 1 Super PAC into an anti-Hillary source of funds – this evidently at the encouragement of Ivanka Trump. In the big money context of post-Citizens United presidential politics, however, these are modest developments indeed (particularly compared to Hillary’s campaign). To grasp what Trump has failed to do when it comes to funding his presidential run, note that the Our Principles Super PAC, supported in part by Chicago Cubs owners Marlene Ricketts and her husband, billionaire T.D. Ameritrade founder J.

Joe Ricketts, has already raised more than $18.4 million for anti-Trump TV ads, meetings, and fundraising activities. (On the other hand, their son, Pete, Republican Governor of Nebraska, has given stump speeches supporting Trump.) To put this in context, that $18.4 million is more than the approximately $17 million that all of Trump’s individual supporters, the “little people,” have contributed to his campaign.

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May 302016
 
 May 30, 2016  Posted by at 7:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


Jack Delano Foggy night in New Bedford, Massachusetts 1941

The Mystery of Weak US Productivity (Luce)
China Default Chain Reaction Threatens Products Worth 35% of GDP (BBG)
China’s Veiled Loans May Prove Lethal (BBG)
How Many Bad Loans Might China Have? (BBG)
Easy Money = Overcapacity = Trade Wars = Deflation (Rubino)
Negative Rates Fail to Spur Investment for Corporate Europe (BBG)
Saudi Arabia’s Petrodollar Reserves Fall to 4-Year Low (BBG)
CEO of No. 1 Asian Commodity Trader Noble Group Resigns In Surprise Move (R.)
Japan Must Delay Sales-Tax Rise to Recover, Abe Aide Says (BBG)
The Butterfly Effect: Cheap Oil Means Fewer Nose Jobs (BBG)
The Source of Failure: We Optimize What We Measure (CH Smith)
30.4% Of Americans Were Obese In 2015 (Forbes)
Tory Turmoil Escalates With Open Call For Cameron To Quit (G.)
Half Of Central, Northern Great Barrier Reef Corals Are Dead (SMH)

“This year, for the first time in more than 30 years, US productivity growth will almost certainly turn negative..”

“Unless we become smarter at how we work, growth will start to exhaust itself too.” Er, no, that has already happened.

“For the first time the next generation of US workers will be less educated than the previous..”

The Mystery of Weak US Productivity (Luce)

Look around you. From your drone home delivery to that oncoming driverless car, change seems to be accelerating. Warren Buffett, the great investor, promises that our children’s generation will be the “luckiest crop in history”. Everywhere the world is speeding up except, that is, in the productivity numbers. This year, for the first time in more than 30 years, US productivity growth will almost certainly turn negative following a decade of sharp slowdown. Yet our Fitbits seem to be telling us otherwise. Which should we trust — the economic statistics or our own lying eyes? A lot hinges on the answer. Productivity is the ultimate test of our ability to create wealth. In the short term you can boost growth by working longer hours, for example, or importing more people.

Or you could lift the retirement age. After a while these options lose steam. Unless we become smarter at how we work, growth will start to exhaust itself too. Other measures bear out the pessimists. At just over 2%, US trend growth is barely half the level it was a generation ago. As Paul Krugman put it: “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it is almost everything.” It is possible we are simply mismeasuring things. Some economists believe the statistics fail to capture the utility of setting up a Facebook profile, for example, or downloading free information from Wikipedia. The gig economy has yet to be properly valued. Yet this argument cuts both ways. Productivity is calculated by dividing the value of what we produce by how many hours we work — data provided by employers.

But recent studies — and common sense — say our iPhones chain us to our employers even when we are at leisure. We may thus be exaggerating productivity growth by undercounting how much we work. The latter certainly fits with the experience of most of the US labour force. It is no coincidence that since 2004 a majority of Americans began to tell pollsters they expected their children to be worse off — the same year in which the internet-fuelled productivity leaps of the 1990s started to vanish. Most Americans have suffered from indifferent or declining wages in the past 15 years or so. A college graduate’s starting salary today is in real terms well below where it was in 2000. For the first time the next generation of US workers will be less educated than the previous, according to the OECD, which means worse is probably yet to come. Last week’s US productivity report bears that out.

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“All the risks are accumulating in an overcrowded financial system.”

China Default Chain Reaction Threatens Products Worth 35% of GDP (BBG)

The risk of a default chain reaction is looming over the $3.6 trillion market for wealth management products in China. WMPs, which traditionally funneled money from Chinese individuals into assets from corporate bonds to stocks and derivatives, are now increasingly investing in each other. Such holdings may have swelled to as much as 2.6 trillion yuan ($396 billion) last year, based on estimates from Autonomous Research this month. The trend has China watchers worried. For starters, it means that bad investments by one WMP could infect others, causing a loss of confidence in products that play an important role in bank funding. It also suggests WMPs are struggling to find enough good assets to meet their return targets.

In the event of widespread losses, cross-ownership will create more uncertainty over who’s vulnerable – a key source of panic in 2008 when soured U.S. mortgage securities triggered a global financial crisis. Those concerns have become more pressing this year after at least 10 Chinese companies defaulted on onshore bonds, the Shanghai Composite Index sank 20% and China’s economy showed few signs of recovery from the weakest expansion in a quarter century. “There’s abundant liquidity in the financial system, but a scarcity of high-yielding assets to invest in,” said Harrison Hu, the chief Greater China economist at RBS in Singapore. “All the risks are accumulating in an overcrowded financial system.”

Issuance of WMPs, which are sold by banks but often reside off their balance sheets, exploded over the past three years as lenders competed for funds and fees while savers sought returns above those offered on deposits. The products, which offer varying levels of explicit guarantees, are regarded by many as having the implicit backing of banks or local governments. The outstanding value of WMPs rose to 23.5 trillion yuan, or 35% of China’s gross domestic product, at the end of 2015 from 7.1 trillion yuan three years earlier, according to China Central Depository & Clearing Co. An average 3,500 WMPs were issued every week last year, with some mid-tier banks, such as China Merchants Bank and China Everbright Bank, especially dependent on the products for funding.

Interbank holdings of WMPs swelled to 3 trillion yuan as of December from 496 billion yuan a year earlier, according to figures released by the clearing agency last month. As much as 85% of those products may have been bought by other WMPs, according to Autonomous Research, which based its estimate on lenders’ public disclosures and data on interbank transactions. The firm speculates that in some cases the products are being “churned” to generate fees for banks. “We’re starting to see layers of liabilities built upon the same underlying assets, much like we did with subprime asset-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, and CDOs-squared in the U.S.,” Charlene Chu, a partner at Autonomous who rose to prominence in her former role at Fitch Ratings by warning of the risks of bad debt in China, said in an interview on May 17.

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“The unconsolidated structured entities managed by the Group consist primarily of collective investment vehicles (“WMP Vehicles”) formed to issue and distribute wealth management products (“WMPs”), which are not subject to any guarantee by the Group of the principal invested or interest to be paid.”

China’s Veiled Loans May Prove Lethal (BBG)

Credit is a risky business, but loans that dare not speak their name? They are possibly even more dangerous, as China is about to find out.As many as 15 publicly traded Chinese lenders, large and small, report roughly $500 billion of such debt between them, which they hold not as loans but as receivables from shadow banking products. While the traditional credit business of these banks is 16 times bigger, receivables have jumped sixfold in three years. Explosive growth of this type usually ends badly. It’s hard to see why it’ll be different for the People’s Republic. Before they can brace themselves – or embrace the risk, if they think the rewards are worth it – equity investors need to know where to look. Flitting from one explanatory note to another in dense annual reports isn’t everybody’s idea of a day well spent.

But the effort may be worth it. For instance, page 184 of Agricultural Bank’s 2015 annual report informs us that the bank has 557 billion yuan ($85 billion) worth of assets tied in “debt instruments classified as receivables.” On page 245, we further learn that most of this is old hat, and the only fast-growing portion is an 18.7 billion yuan chunk helpfully titled as “Others.” A footnote adds that the category primarily consists of “unconsolidated structured entities managed by the group.” Give up? Then you miss the big reveal that occurs 34 pages later: “The unconsolidated structured entities managed by the Group consist primarily of collective investment vehicles (“WMP Vehicles”) formed to issue and distribute wealth management products (“WMPs”), which are not subject to any guarantee by the Group of the principal invested or interest to be paid.” That’s broadly how Chinese lenders disclose their cryptic linkages with shadow banks.

The names keep changing, from “investment management products under trust scheme” and “investment management products managed by securities companies” to “trust beneficiary rights” and “wealth management products.” The latter have swelled to the equivalent of 35% of GDP, and account for 3 trillion yuan of interbank holdings. The common thread to these products is that they’re all exposed to corporate credit and designed to get around lenders’ minimum capital requirements and maximum loan-to-deposit norms, with scant loss provisioning in case things go wrong.There’s plenty that could. The reported nonperforming loan ratio of 1.75% is a joke. CLSA says bad loans have already snowballed to 15 to 19% of the loan book; Autonomous Research partner Charlene Chu estimates the figure will reach 22% by the end of this year. A 20% loss on a $500 billion portfolio of loans masquerading as receivables would wipe out 58% of annual profit of the 15 banks under our scanner.

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” In the basic resources sector, 46% of loans are with firms without enough income to cover interest payments. ”

How Many Bad Loans Might China Have? (BBG)

How many of China’s loans could turn bad? The official data show a non-performing loan ratio of 1.75%, but that’s widely believed to reflect optimistic accounting. Bloomberg Intelligence Economics has estimated the %age of “at risk” loans – those where the borrower doesn’t have sufficient earnings to cover interest payments. The results show 14% of corporate borrowing at risk of default, up from a low of 5% in 2010. By sector, the basic resources, retail and industrial sectors are among the highest risk. In the basic resources sector, 46% of loans are with firms without enough income to cover interest payments.

Telecommunications, utilities, and travel and leisure sectors look more secure, reflecting stronger earnings and lower debt. The methodology is based on an approach used by the IMF. For a universe of 2,865 Chinese listed firms (excluding financial companies), we screened for firms with interest costs higher than their EBITDA. We then calculated total debt of those firms as a %age of total debt of all listed firms. We assume that the ratio of “at risk” loans for the corporate sector as a whole is the same as for listed companies.

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“..over-investment produces slow growth and falling prices while ever-more-aggressive monetary policy distorts markets beyond recognition and encourages new over-investment in different sectors, which then proceed to follow oil and steel into the deflationary abyss.”

Easy Money = Overcapacity = Trade Wars = Deflation (Rubino)

So what happens to all that Chinese steel that was on its way to the US and EU before slamming into those prohibitively high tariffs? One of three things: Either it’s sold elsewhere, probably at even steeper discounts, thus pricing US and EU steel exports out of those markets. Or it’s stockpiled in China for future use, thus lowering future demand for new steel production and, other things being equal, depressing tomorrow’s prices. Or many of China’s newly-built steel mills will close, and China will eat the losses related to this malinvestment. Each scenario results in lower prices and financial losses somewhere. Put another way, as far as steel is concerned, the world’s fiat currencies are rising in value, which is the common definition of deflation.

And since steel is just one of many basic industries burdened with massive overcapacity, it’s safe to assume that the process which began with oil and recently spread to steel will continue to metastasize throughout the developed and developing worlds. Next up: real estate. “Modern” monetary policy, designed to achieve exactly the opposite outcome (that is, rising prices for real things), will in response be ratcheted up to ever-more-extreme levels — which in this analytical framework is like trying to douse a fire with gasoline. The result is a world in which past over-investment produces slow growth and falling prices while ever-more-aggressive monetary policy distorts markets beyond recognition and encourages new over-investment in different sectors, which then proceed to follow oil and steel into the deflationary abyss. And so on, until the system collapses under the weight of its own absurdity.

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Because they are deflationary.

Negative Rates Fail to Spur Investment for Corporate Europe (BBG)

A prolonged period of negative interest rates is failing to revive investment at Europe’s companies, with the vast majority of businesses in the region saying the stimulus measures have had no affect at all on their growth plans. Some 84% of the 9,440 companies surveyed by Swedish debt collector Intrum Justitia AB for its European Payment Report 2016 say low interest rates haven’t affected their willingness to invest. And perhaps more alarmingly, the number is up from 73% last year. “Creating economic growth requires stability and optimism,” Intrum Justitia Chief Executive Officer Mikael Ericson said in the report. “Evidently, the strategy of keeping interest rates record low for more than a year has not created the much sought-after stability.”

Signs of stalling investment mark a blow to central banks hoping to revive growth across Europe through negative rates and quantitative easing. Europe needs its businesses to invest more if it’s to create the jobs needed to spur growth. In the euro area, where interest rates have been negative since mid-2014, gross domestic product will slow to 1.6% this year, compared with 2.3% in the U.S., the European Commission estimates. “A calculation of an investment includes assumptions of the future,” Intrum said. “To get the calculation to go together those assumptions need to include a belief in stability and prosperity in that future. Perhaps the negative interest rates do not signal that stability at all – rather that we are still in an extraordinary situation?”

The survey also identified another threat to growth, namely late payments. Some 33% of survey participants said they regard not being paid on time as a threat to overall survival while 25% said they are likely to cut jobs if clients pay late or not at all. That problem is more pronounced among Europe’s 20 million small and medium-sized companies, with many reporting that bigger firms are forcing them to accept late payments. “It is a market failure that costs job opportunities for millions of Europeans that big corporations deliberately force SMEs to finance their cash flow,” Ericson said. “As much as two out of five SMEs say late payments prohibit growth of the company. That large corporations use their much smaller sub-suppliers to act as financier of their own cash-management processes is not only wrong, it also creates an imbalance in society.”

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Might as well devalue now.

Saudi Arabia’s Petrodollar Reserves Fall to 4-Year Low (BBG)

Saudi Arabia’s net foreign assets fell for a 15th month in April, as the kingdom announced its “vision” for a post-oil future. The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency said on Sunday net foreign assets declined 1.1% to $572 billion, the lowest level in four years. The slump in crude prices has forced the government to sell bonds and draw on its currency reserves, still among the world’s largest. Net foreign assets fell by $115 billion last year, when the kingdom ran a budget deficit of nearly $100 billion.

The fiscal crunch has pushed Saudi Arabia’s rulers to look beyond oil, consider new taxes, and plan an initial public offering of state giant Saudi Arabian Oil Co. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sketched out the planned changes dubbed Saudi Vision 2030 on April 25. The strain on reserves has also fueled speculation that the kingdom will adjust its decades-old riyal peg to the dollar. New central bank Governor Ahmed Alkholifey told Al-Arabiya on Thursday that Saudi Arabia doesn’t plan to change its exchange rate policy.

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Firesale. Given what’s happened in commodities the past year, not surprising.

CEO of No. 1 Asian Commodity Trader Noble Group Resigns In Surprise Move (R.)

Embattled commodity trader Noble Group announced the surprise resignation of CEO Yusuf Alireza on Monday and said it planned to sell a U.S. unit to bolster its balance sheet as it seeks to regain investor confidence. Alireza, a former Goldman Sachs banker had steered Asia’s biggest commodity trader to sell assets, cut business lines and take big writedowns as it battled weak commodity markets and the fallout from an accounting dispute. “With this transformation process now largely complete, Mr. Alireza considered that the time was right for him to move on,” Noble said in a statement. It appointed senior executives William Randall and Jeff Frase as co-chief executive officers and said it would begin a sale process for Noble Americas Energy Solutions, “expected to generate both significant cash proceeds and profits to substantially enhance the balance sheet.”

Noble came under the spotlight in February last year when it was accused by Iceberg Research of overstating its assets by billions of dollars, claims which Noble rejected. Its shares have since plunged by about 75% and its debt costs have risen as the company has been hit hard by credit rating downgrades and weak investor confidence. “The first task is to stabilize the situation and convey stability and continuity,” said Nirgunan Tiruchelvam at Religare Capital Markets. “That would be the immediate task of somebody in this business which has volatility,” he said. Noble won the backing of banks earlier this month to refinance its debt. In February, Noble reported its first annual loss since 1998, battered by a $1.2 billion writedown for weak coal prices. The company’s shares slumped 65% last year, knocking it out of the benchmark Straits Times index.

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So a delay in the tax hike would trigger elections. And Abe counts on the Japanese to be blind enough to re-elect him.

Japan Must Delay Sales-Tax Rise to Recover, Abe Aide Says (BBG)

Japan needs to delay increasing its sales tax until late 2019 to sustain its economic recovery, an aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday. There is a possibility that such a move could trigger a general election. The government will probably hold off raising the tax because it needs to give priority to economic growth, Abe aide Hakubun Shimomura said on Fuji television. Japan’s lower house of parliament would need to be dissolved for a general election if the planned increase is delayed again, Finance Minister Taro Aso was cited by Kyodo News as saying on Sunday at a meeting of the ruling party’s members. Abe has said he’ll make a decision before an upper-house election this summer on whether to go ahead with a planned increase in the levy next April to 10%, from 8% at present.

He had previously said the matter would be decided at an appropriate time and that it would be postponed only if there was a shock on the scale of a major earthquake or a corporate collapse like that of Lehman Brothers. An increase in the levy in 2014 pushed Japan into a recession. “We have no other options but to postpone the sales-tax increase,” Shimomura said. “If the increase means a decline in tax revenue for the government, that would threaten the achievement of the goals under Abenomics.” The prime minister told Finance Minister Taro Aso and LDP’s Secretary General Sadakazu Tanigaki on Saturday to delay the sales-tax increase to October 2019, NHK reported.

Aso advised the prime minister to be cautious about the idea, NHK said. “If the tax increase is delayed, a general election is needed to put the plan to the public,” Aso was quoted by Kyodo News as saying on Sunday. Kyodo reported later that Abe doesn’t plan to call snap elections on the same day as the Upper House vote. If Abe fails to go ahead with his plan of raising the tax in April, it means his economic policies have failed and he and his cabinet members should resign to take responsibility, Tetsuro Fukuyama, vice secretary general of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said in a program aired by public broadcaster NHK on Sunday.

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Unexpected advantages.

The Butterfly Effect: Cheap Oil Means Fewer Nose Jobs (BBG)

Oil slumps. Middle Eastern patients cancel treatments abroad. Thai hospital stocks slide. It’s the butterfly effect in action. Weak growth outlooks in the Gulf states are prompting greater competition from local clinics, stemming the flow of visitors to the world’s top medical tourism destination. That’s clouding the outlook for Thailand’s health-care shares, which surged more than 800% over the past seven years, as valuations start to look stretched amid the falling demand. Bangkok’s Bumrungrad Hospital, known as the grandaddy of international clinics, has slumped 16% since early March after patient volumes from the United Arab Emirates, its second-biggest source of overseas visitors, fell 20% in the first quarter.

Thailand attracted as many as 1.8 million international patients in 2015, many of whom stayed on afterward for a beach holiday. More than one in three foreigners treated at Bumrungrad are from the Gulf states and Kasikorn Securities says declining growth in the region and a rise in competition from clinics in the U.A.E., where the government is encouraging its citizens to stay home for medical care, are curbing demand. “In the short term, the economic slowdown in the the Middle East will weaken some investors’ confidence on earnings growth for domestic hospital operators,” said Jintana Mekintharanggur at Manulife Asset Management. “We are still bullish on the sector” in the long term as it will benefit from growth in countries like Myanmar and Vietnam that have less-developed health systems, she said.

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Hey, look, we are born as liars. And we will lie to ourselves about that, too.

The Source of Failure: We Optimize What We Measure (CH Smith)

The problems we face cannot be fixed with policy tweaks and minor reforms. Yet policy tweaks and minor reforms are all we can manage when the pie is shrinking and every vested interest is fighting to maintain their share of the pie. Our failure stems from a much deeper problem: we optimize what we measure. If we measure the wrong things, and focus on measuring process rather than outcome, we end up with precisely what we have now: a set of perverse incentives that encourage self-destructive behaviors and policies. The process of selecting which data is measured and recorded carries implicit assumptions with far-reaching consequences. If we measure “growth” in terms of GDP but not well-being, we lock in perverse incentives to boost ‘growth” even at the cost of what really matters, i.e. well-being.

If we reward management with stock options, management has a perverse incentive to borrow money for stock buy-backs that push the share price higher, even if doing so is detrimental to the long-term health of the company. Humans naturally optimize what is being measured and identified as important. If students’ grades are based on attendance, attendance will be high. If doctors are told cholesterol levels are critical and the threshold of increased risk is 200, they will strive to lower their patients’ cholesterol level below 200. If we accept that growth as measured by GDP is the measure of prosperity, politicians will pursue the goal of GDP expansion.

If rising consumption is the key component of GDP, we will be encouraged to go buy a new truck when the economy weakens, whether we need a new truck or not. If profits are identified as the key driver of managers’ bonuses, managers will endeavor to increase net profits by whatever means are available. The problem with choosing what to measure is that the selection can generate counterproductive or even destructive incentives. This is the result of humanity’s highly refined skill in assessing risk and return. All creatures have been selected over the eons to recognize the potential for a windfall that doesn’t require much work to reap.

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Can’t leave out the ones that are diabetic without knowing it. Oh, and: “..these obesity rates are calculated from self-reported heights and weights.”

30.4% Of Americans Were Obese In 2015 (Forbes)

If recent headlines are to be believed, we are rapidly approaching the future depicted in Wall-E, with a morbidly obese population that can get from place to place only with the help of a hover-scooter. “Americans are fatter than ever, CDC finds,” trumpets CNN. “This Many Americans Need To Go On A Diet ASAP, According To New CDC Report,” content farm Elite Daily smugly proclaims. But is it really that cut-and-dried? The report both articles refer to is succinctly titled “Early Release of Selected Estimates Based on Data from the National Health Interview Survey, 2015.” It was released on Tuesday, and it provides an early look at annual data from the titular survey on 15 different points, from health insurance and flu shots to smoking rates and, yes, obesity.

The publication says 30.4% of Americans were obese in 2015, with a 95% confidence interval (so somewhere between 29.62% and 31.27%). That’s compared to 19.4% in 1997. Obesity rates were higher among middle-aged people (ages 40 to 59), with the rate for that group hitting 34.6%. Ages 20 to 39, perhaps predictably, were the least obese, with 26.5% of that population having a BMI of 30 or more. Obesity was highest for black women (45%), followed by black men (35.1%), Latina women (32.6%), Latino men (32%), white men (30.2%) and white women (27.2%). The data in the release didn’t provide any information on other ethnic or racial groups, nor did it break obesity rates down by household income.

In concert with rising obesity rates, Americans are getting more diabetic. In 1997, 5.1% of U.S. adults had been diagnosed with diabetes. By 2015, that number had nearly doubled, to 9.5%. Although, again, the data here don’t break everything down to my satisfaction–there are no numbers for each specific type of diabetes, for instance–it’s safe to say that these correlations are the consequence of rising obesity, as 95% of people diagnosed with diabetes have type 2.

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Managed to monopolize the entire Brexit debate, but they can’t leave well enough alone…

Tory Turmoil Escalates With Open Call For Cameron To Quit (G.)

David Cameron’s hopes of being able to avoid terminal damage to Conservative party unity after the EU referendum campaign were dented on Sunday when two rebel MPs openly called for a new leader and a general election before Christmas. The attacks came from Andrew Bridgen and Nadine Dorries – both Brexiters, and longstanding, publicity-hungry opponents of the prime minister – and their claim that even winning the EU referendum won’t stop Cameron facing a leadership challenge in the summer was dismissed by fellow Tories. But their comments coincided with the ministers in charge of the leave campaign launching some of their strongest personal attacks yet on Cameron, prompting Labour’s Alan Johnson to say that the Tory infighting was getting “very ugly indeed”.

Bridgen told the BBC’s 5 Live that Cameron had been making “outrageous” claims in his bid to persuade voters to back remain and that, as a consequence, he had effectively lost his parliamentary majority. “The party is fairly fractured, straight down the middle and I don’t know which character could possibly pull it back together going forward for an effective government. I honestly think we probably need to go for a general election before Christmas and get a new mandate from the people,” he said. Bridgen said at least 50 Tory MPs – the number needed to call a confidence vote – felt the same way about Cameron and that a vote on the prime minister’s future was “probably highly likely” after the referendum.

Dorries told ITV’s Peston on Sunday she had already submitted her letter to the chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 committee expressing no confidence in the prime minister. “[Cameron] has lied profoundly, and I think that is actually really at the heart of why Conservative MPs have been so angered. To say that Turkey is not going to join the European Union as far as 30 years is a lie.”

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Australia will keep debating this while the last bits die off.

Half Of Central, Northern Great Barrier Reef Corals Are Dead (SMH)

More than one-third of the coral reefs of the central and northern regions of the Great Barrier Reef have died in the huge bleaching event earlier this year, Queensland researchers said. Corals to the north of Cairns – covering about two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef – were found to have an average mortality rate of 35%, rising to more than half in areas around Cooktown. The study, of 84 reefs along the reef, found corals south of Cairns had escaped the worst of the bleaching and were now largely recovering any colour that had been lost. Professor Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, said he was “gobsmacked” by the scale of the coral bleaching which far exceeded the two previous events in 1998 and 2002.

“It is fair to say we were all caught by surprise,” Professor Hughes said. “It’s a huge wake up call because we all thought that coral bleaching was something that happened in the Pacific or the Caribbean which are closer to the epicentre of El Nino events.” The El Nino of 2015-16 was among the three strongest on record but the starting point was about 0.5 degrees warmer than the previous monster of 1997-98 as rising greenhouse gas emissions lifted background temperatures. Reefs in many regions, such as Fiji and the Maldives, have also been hit hard. Bleaching occurs when abnormal conditions, such as warm seas, cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, called zooxanthellae. Corals turn white without these algae and may die if the zooxanthellae do not recolonise them.

The northern end of the Great Barrier Reef was home to many 50- to 100-year-old corals that had died and may struggle to rebuild before future El Ninos push tolerance beyond thresholds. “How likely is it that they will fully recover before we get a fourth or a fifth bleaching event?” Professor Hughes said. The health of the reef has been a contentious political issue, with Environment Minister Greg Hunt pledging more funds in the May budget to improve water quality – one aspect affecting coral health. But Mr Hunt has also had to explain why his department instructed the UN to cut out a section on Australia from a report that dealt with the threat of climate change to World Heritage sites including the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu.

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May 032016
 
 May 3, 2016  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


DPC French Market, New Orleans 1910

The EU Exists Only To Become A Superstate (Lawson)
US Dollar Falls To 1-Year Low (BBG)
Yen Under Pressure to Extend World-Beating Rally Against Dollar (BBG)
Kuroda Kollapse Kontinues As USDJPY Nears 105 Handle (ZH)
BOJ Chief Kuroda Warns Current Yen Strength Risks Harming Recovery (BBG)
China Factory Activity Contracts for 14th Straight Month In April (CNBC)
Fed’s Williams Sees Big Drop In Asset Prices As Systemic Risk (R.)
Apple’s Losing Streak Is Nearing Historic Levels (BBG)
No Alternative To Low Rates For Now, Draghi Says (R.)
ECB Report Says Investors May Be Profiting From Leaked US Data (FT)
Six Counterpoints About Australian Public Debt (Stanford)
‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ Behind 25% Of British Mortgages (G.)
Dominoes: Vanishing Arctic Ice Shifts Jet Stream, Which Melts Glaciers (WaPo)
Germany Wants To Extend Border Controls For Another 6 Months (AP)
Denmark Extends Controls On German Border (EN)
EU States Face Charge For Refusing Refugees (FT)
90,000 Unaccompanied Minors Sought Asylum In EU In 2015 (R.)

I don’t think I have much in common with Nigel Lawson -aka Lord Lawson of Blaby-, but it’s important that this ‘little fact’ be known and exposed. Even a superstate needs values if it is to survive. The EU ain’t got any left. Who wants to belong to that?

The EU Exists Only To Become A Superstate (Lawson)

For Britain, the issue in the coming European referendum is not Europe, with its great history, incomparable culture, and diverse peoples, but the European Union. To confuse the two is both geographically and historically obtuse. European civilisation existed long before the coming of the EU, and will continue long after this episode in Europe’s history is, hopefully, over. On the European mainland it has always been well understood that the whole purpose of European integration was political, and that economic integration was simply a means to a political end. In Britain, and perhaps also in the US, that has been much less well understood, particularly within the business community, who sometimes find it hard to grasp that politics can trump economics. The fact that the objective has always been political does not mean that it is in any way disreputable.

Indeed, the most compelling original objective was highly commendable. It was, bluntly, to eliminate the threat to Europe and the wider world from a recrudescence of German militarism, by placing the German tiger in a European cage. Whether or not membership of the EU has had much to do with it, that objective has been achieved: there is no longer a threat from German militarism. But in the background there has always been another political objective behind European economic integration, one which is now firmly in the foreground. That is the creation of a federal European superstate, a United States of Europe. Despite the resonance of the phrase, not one of the conditions that contributed to making a success of the United States of America exists in the case of the EU. But that is what the EU is all about. That is its sole raison d’être. And, unlike the first objective, it is profoundly misguided.

For the United Kingdom to remain in the EU would be particularly perverse, since not even our political elites wish to see this country absorbed into a United States of Europe. To be part of a political project whose objective we emphatically do not share cannot possibly make sense. It is true that our present Prime Minister argues that he has secured a British “opt-out” from the political union, but this is completely meaningless. “But,” comes the inevitable question, “what is your alternative to membership of the EU?” A more absurd question it would be hard to envisage. The alternative to being in the EU is not being in the EU. And it may come as a shock to the little Europeans that most of the world is not in the EU – and that most of these countries are doing better economically than most of the EU.

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Why don’t I see nobody accuse the US of currency manipulation?! That still the Shanghi Accord legacy?

US Dollar Falls To 1-Year Low (BBG)

The dollar fell to an 18-month low against the yen and touched its weakest since August versus the euro amid speculation that the U.S. won’t raise interest rates any time soon. The U.S. currency has lost ground versus most major peers over the past month as traders lowered expectations for a rate increase by the Federal Reserve in June to 12%. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index headed for the lowest close in almost a year, after a report showed manufacturing in the U.S. expanded less than forecast. Persistent weakness dragged the dollar down against the euro for a third straight month in April – its longest losing streak since 2013 – amid signs U.S. policy makers aren’t convinced the global and domestic economies can withstand higher borrowing costs.

It fell on Tuesday against Australia’s currency as Chinese equities climbed by the most in nearly three weeks. The U.S. has posted disappointing growth data as nascent signs of recovery emerge in Europe and China’s growth momentum accelerates. “The Fed is completely out of the picture now for the next few weeks – even with the June meeting, there’s got to be a lot of doubt about whether the Fed can raise rates,” said Shaun Osborne at Bank of Nova Scotia in Toronto. “The dollar has just not done particularly well over the past few weeks as the Fed has moved toward delaying rate hikes, and that’s a situation that definitely will continue, certainly for the near term.”

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Abe must be going nuts.

Yen Under Pressure to Extend World-Beating Rally Against Dollar (BBG)

The yen’s world-beating rally against the dollar looks to be gathering momentum, as central bank inaction on both sides of the Pacific Ocean leaves inflation expectations to drive the exchange rate. Japan’s currency extended its climb to an 18-month high Monday after Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda refrained from adding to stimulus on Thursday. That took its gain this year to 13%, the most among developed-market peers. The BOJ’s decision came just hours after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen frustrated dollar bulls by reiterating she’s in no rush to cool the economy by raising interest rates. JPMorgan sees further yen gains after the U.S. put Japan on a new currency watch list.

With consumer price pressures building in the U.S. and dissipating in Japan, that narrows the gap in so-called real yields – the returns an investor can expect after accounting for inflation – supporting yen strength. If both central banks stay on the sidelines, Credit Suisse projects Japan’s currency could rapidly appreciate toward 90 per dollar. “So long as the Fed signals that they are being cautious in raising rates, real yields in the U.S. will decline, leading the dollar weaker,” said Hiromichi Shirakawa, the Swiss lender’s chief Japan economist and a former BOJ official. “The currency market is in a rather dangerous zone.” The BOJ’s benchmark for measuring progress toward its 2% target showed prices retreated at an annual 0.3% pace in March, the biggest decline since April 2013, the month that Kuroda initiated his stimulus program.

It had previously hovered near zero for more than a year. By contrast, the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, based on the prices of goods and services consumers buy, rose 0.8% in the year through March. The so-called core measure, which strips out food and energy prices, climbed 1.6%. That’s seen a Treasury market gauge of inflation expectations over the coming decade – called the break-even rate – jump to 1.7% from as low as 1.2% in February. The equivalent measure in Japan is languishing at 0.3%. Benchmark 10-year Treasury Inflation Protected Securities yield around 0.1%, compared with about minus 0.5% for equivalent Japanese notes.

Japan met two of three criteria used to judge unfair practices in the U.S. report: a trade surplus with the U.S. above $20 billion, and a current-account surplus amounting to more than 3% of gross-domestic product. The third would be a repeated depreciation of the currency by buying foreign assets equivalent to 2% of gross domestic over a year. Meeting all three would trigger action by the U.S. president to enter discussions with the country and seek potential penalties. China, Germany, South Korea and Taiwan also made the watch list.

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“..Perhaps Jack Lew’s “currency manipulation” report was enough to stall the Japanese currency war for now?..”

Kuroda Kollapse Kontinues As USDJPY Nears 105 Handle (ZH)

Either The BoJ steps in soon and intervenes (even by just “checking levels”) or Kuroda-san is truly terrified of The G-20. USDJPY has now crashed 7 handles since last Thursday’s shock BoJ disappointment crashing to within 5 pips of a 105 handle tonight for the first time in 18 months…

 

 

Erasing the entire devaluation post-Fed, post QQE2…

 

Perhaps Jack Lew’s “currency manipulation” report was enough to stall the Japanese currency war for now? Or is China greatly rotating its Yuan devaluation pressure against another member of its basket…?

 

Charts: Bloomberg

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1) What recovery? 2) Abe and Kuroda are powerless prisoners to America’s dollar manipulation

BOJ Chief Kuroda Warns Current Yen Strength Risks Harming Recovery (BBG)

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda warned that the yen’s biggest rally since Abenomics began risks harming the nation’s economic recovery. Speaking to reporters in Frankfurt Monday, Kuroda also reiterated that BOJ policy makers won’t hesitate to expand monetary stimulus in order to achieve their 2% inflation target. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the same day in Paris that rapid movements in exchange rates are undesirable, according to national broadcaster NHK. “There is a risk that the yen’s current appreciation brings an unwelcome impact on the economy,” Kuroda said on the sidelines of an annual gathering of finance chiefs from members of the Asian Development Bank, which he used to lead.

“We will be closely monitoring the impact of financial markets on the real economy and prices.” A weaker currency has been a linchpin of Abe’s program to stoke growth and exit deflation. Japan’s economy is at risk of sliding into its second recession in two years after contracting in the final three months of 2015, while inflation remains far from the BOJ’s target. One gauge showed consumer prices retreated at an annual 0.3% pace in March, the biggest decline since April 2013, the month that Kuroda initiated his stimulus program. The yen has climbed 13% against the dollar this year, the best performance among its developed-market peers. That has chipped away at the 36% decline over the previous four years, which was triggered by Abe’s pledge of unlimited monetary easy to correct yen strength.

Kuroda and his board left policy settings unchanged at a meeting Thursday, spurring a nearly 5%, two-day surge in the yen against the dollar. It reached an 18-month high of 106.05 per greenback on Tuesday, before trading at 106.19 as of 9:54 a.m. in Singapore. Japanese markets are closed for holidays Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week.

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Beyond salvation.

China Factory Activity Contracts for 14th Straight Month In April (CNBC)

Activity in China’s manufacturing sector unexpectedly declined further in April, a private survey showed Tuesday, reviving doubts over the health of the world’s second-largest economy. The Caixin Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to 49.4 in April from 49.7 in March, according to Markit, which compiles the index. A reading above 50 indicates expansion; one below indicates contraction. The Caixin PMI, which focuses on smaller and medium-sized enterprises, was last in expansionary territory in February 2015. The official PMI, which targets larger companies, printed at 50.2 in April, the second successive month of expansion, figures released over the weekend showed. The survey findings follow recent economic data that appeared to suggest that China’s economy was slowly regaining its poise after a torrid 12 months.

China’s exports rose at their fastest clip in a year in March, while industrial profits also picked up in the first quarter. A flurry of rate cuts and easing of reserve requirement have helped bolster sentiment, while the capital outflows that had unnerved sentiment at the start of the year have slowed. The Caixin survey, however, cast a more somber picture. Respondents reported stagnant new orders, while new export work fell for a fifth month running. Companies shed staff as client demand was muted. “The fluctuations indicate the economy lacks a solid foundation for recovery and is still in the process of bottoming out. The government needs to keep a close watch on the risk of a further economic downturn,” said He Fan at Caixin Insight Group.

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What blows up must blow down.

Fed’s Williams Sees Big Drop In Asset Prices As Systemic Risk (R.)

San Francisco Fed President John Williams reiterated Monday his view that the U.S. economy is ready for higher interest rates, but flagged the risk of broad-based declines in asset prices as a result. “It makes sense for us to be moving interest rates gradually back to more a normal level over the next couple years,” Williams said. “I actually think that’s a sign of strength for the global economy.” Speaking at a panel on systemic risk at the Milken Institute Global Conference, Williams said the biggest systemic financial risk currently is the possibility that “broad sets of assets are going to see big movements downward” as interest rates rise. “That’s an area that I think is a potential risk.” Williams did not suggest he sees another crisis brewing, adding that U.S. regulators have made “amazing” progress in shoring up banks against potential future failure.

“What I worry a lot more about is when people forget about the financial crisis, when they forget about the terrible things that happened,” he said, suggesting that may not happen for another five or ten years. The Fed raised interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade last December, but has held off raising them any further amid global stock volatility and worries over a decline in global growth. Even after the Fed resumes raising rates, Williams said, it will not be able to lift them as high as it has in the past. Most Fed officials currently think that the rate at which the economy can sustain healthy employment and steady prices has probably fallen to about 3.25% in the long run, a full %age point lower than was the case before the crisis. But there are significant downside risks to that estimate, Williams said.

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No. 1 US stock for years.

Apple’s Losing Streak Is Nearing Historic Levels (BBG)

So far in 2016, Apple is the dog of the Dow. After an underwhelming earnings report led to the shares’ worst week since January 2013, Apple stock extended its losses to kick off May, closing down 0.18% on Monday. The benchmark index’s laggard has declined by nearly 11% so far this year heading into today’s session: Bespoke Investment Group notes that Monday’s negative close marks eight straight sessions in the red for Apple—something that last happened in July 1998, and has now happened only four times in the company’s history. More than $79 billion in Apple’s market capitalization has been erased over the past eight sessions.

The company’s heavy weighting in major sector and benchmark indexes, coupled with the stock’s terrible two-week stretch, has made $4 billion in assets of exchange-traded funds evaporate over this stretch. “Smart beta” ETFs are poised to trounce their more popular peers, Bloomberg’s Eric Balchunas observes, in the event that this span of underperformance continues. There’s a possible silver lining for Apple bulls, and investors who own those market-cap-weighted ETFs: The stock tends to bounce back in earnest following these rare stretches of rotten performance. “Two of the three eight-day streaks saw the stock fall on day nine as well, but the stock has never experienced a losing streak longer than nine trading days,” Bespoke writes. “While the next day and next week returns following eight-day losing streaks lean negative, the stock has been higher over the next month all three times for a median gain of 8.01%.”

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Well, there is, but Draghi’s masters don’t want it.

No Alternative To Low Rates For Now, Draghi Says (R.)

Low interest rates are not harmless but they are only the symptom, not the cause of an underlying problem across major economies, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Monday, arguing that there was no alternative for now. “Thus the second part of the answer to raising rates of return is clear: continued expansionary policies until excess slack in the economy has been reduced and inflation dynamics are sustainably consistent again with price stability,” Draghi told a conference. “There is simply no alternative to this today.” “The only potential margin for maneuver is in the composition of the policy mix, that is, the balance of monetary and fiscal policy,” he added.

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Corruption is not a deficiency, it’s the MO.

ECB Report Says Investors May Be Profiting From Leaked US Data (FT)

US investors may be profiting from leaked economic data releases that allow them to front-run market-moving news, according to a research paper published by the ECB. Macroeconomic news announcements can move markets, as traders watch for indications about how the economy is performing. The data are released to everyone at the same time to ensure fairness but ECB researchers said they had found evidence of “informed trading” ahead of US data releases. Of the 21 market-moving announcements analysed, seven “show evidence of substantial informed trading before the official release time”, according to the paper, including two releases from the US government. The pre-release “price drift” accounts for about half of the overall price impact from the announcement.

The researchers looked at the impact on futures tracking the S&P 500 stock index and the 10-year Treasury bond for the 30 minutes preceding the announcement. The researchers also note that the price impact has become worse since 2008, and estimate that since 2008 profits in the S&P “e-mini” futures market alone amount to about $20m per year. “These results imply that some traders have private information about macroeconomic fundamentals,” said the report. “The evidence suggests that the pre-announcement drift likely comes from a combination of information leakage and superior forecasting based on proprietary data collection and reprocessing of public information.”

The paper raises questions about the safeguards used to ensure data are protected up until scheduled release time. Important economic indicators in the US are subject to the “Principle Federal Economic Indicator” guidelines, but the report notes that many distributors of the data are not subject to the same rules. “To ensure fairness, no market participant should have access to this information until the official release time,” the report added. “Yet, in this paper we find strong evidence of informed trading before several key macroeconomic news announcements.”

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Household debt is a much bigger factor is some countries than others. In Australia, it’s far bigger than government debt. But the latter is what all political talk is about. “Pumping up fear of government debt is always an essential step in preparing the public to accept cutbacks in essential public services.”

Six Counterpoints About Australian Public Debt (Stanford)

In the lead-up to today’s pre-election Commonwealth budget, much has been written about the need to quickly eliminate the government’s deficit, and reduce its accumulated debt. The standard shibboleths are invoked liberally: government must face hard truths and learn to live within its means; government must balance its budget (just like households do); debt-raters will punish us for our profligacy; and more. Pumping up fear of government debt is always an essential step in preparing the public to accept cutbacks in essential public services. And with Australians heading to the polls, the tough-love imagery serves another function: instilling fear that a change in government, at such a fragile time, would threaten the “stability” of Australia’s economy.

However, this well-worn line of rhetoric will fit uncomfortably for the Coalition government, given its indecisive and contradictory approach to fiscal policy while in office. The deficit has gotten bigger, not smaller, on their watch, despite the destructive and unnecessary cutbacks in public services imposed in their first budget. Their response to Australia’s fiscal and economic problems has consisted mostly of floating one half-formed trial balloon after another (from raising the GST to transferring income tax powers to the states to cutting corporate taxes), with no systematic analysis or framework. And their ideological desire to invoke a phony debt “crisis” as an excuse for ratcheting down spending will conflict with another, more immediate priority: throwing around new money (or at least announcements of new money), especially in marginal electorates, in hopes of buying their way back into office.

In short, the politics of debt and deficits will be both intense and complicated in the coming weeks. To help innoculate Australians against this hysteria, here are six important facts about public debt, what it is – and what it isn’t.

1. Australia’s public debt is relatively small

3. Other sectors of society borrow much more than government

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Somone should explain to these people what’s going on. Mum and Dad will lose their shirts AND their skirts. Ironically, some insist more homes must be build. Ironoc, because that would mean even steeper losses for those buying into today’s craze.

‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ Behind 25% Of British Mortgages (G.)

The “Bank of Mum and Dad” will help finance 25% of UK mortgage transactions this year, according to research. Parents are set to lend their children £5bn to help them on to the property ladder. If the lending power was of all these parents was combined, it would be a top 10 mortgage provider. Nigel Wilson, chief executive of Legal & General, which carried out the research, said the data showed a number of issues, including house prices being “out of sync with wages”. The research estimated that the Bank of Mum and Dad will provide deposits for more than 300,000 mortgages. The homes purchased will be worth £77bn and the average contribution is £17,500 or 7% of the average purchase price.

But relying on parental support might soon be unsustainable as parents could be giving away more than they can afford. Wilson said that in London the funding method was reaching “tipping point” already as parental contributions made up more than 50% of the wealth (excluding property) of the average household in the capital. He said: “The Bank of Mum and Dad plays a vital role in helping young people to take their early steps on to the housing ladder.” Not all young people have parents who can afford to help them and some who do still do not have enough to buy a place of their own, he said. He added: “We need to fix the housing market by revolutionising the supply side – if we build more houses, demand can be met at a sensible level and prices will stabilise relative to wages.”

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Positive feedback.

Dominoes: Vanishing Arctic Ice Shifts Jet Stream, Which Melts Glaciers (WaPo)

Investigating the factors affecting ice melt in Greenland — one of the most rapidly changing places on Earth — is a major priority for climate scientists. And new research is revealing that there are a more complex set of variables affecting the ice sheet than experts had imagined. A recent set of scientific papers have proposed a critical connection between sharp declines in Arctic sea ice and changes in the atmosphere, which they say are not only affecting ice melt in Greenland, but also weather patterns all over the North Atlantic. The new studies center on an atmospheric phenomenon known as “blocking” — this is when high pressure systems remain stationary in one place for long periods of time (days or even weeks), causing weather conditions to stay relatively stable for as long as the block remains in place.

They can occur when there’s a change or disturbance in the jet stream, causing the flow of air in the atmosphere to form a kind of eddy, said Jennifer Francis, a research professor and climate expert at Rutgers University. Blocking events over Greenland are particularly interesting to climate scientists because of their potential to drive temperatures up and increase melting on the ice sheet. “When they do happen, and they kind of set up in just the right spot, they bring a lot of warm, moist air from the North Atlantic up over Greenland, and that helps contribute to increased cloudiness and warming of the surface,” Francis said. “When that happens, especially in the summer, we tend to see these melt events occur.” Now, two new studies have suggested that there’s been a recent increase in the frequency of melt-triggering blocking events over Greenland — and that it’s likely been fueled by climate change-driven losses of Arctic sea ice.

A paper set to be published Monday in the International Journal of Climatology reveals an uptick in the frequency of these blocking events over Greenland since the 1980s. A team of researchers led by the University of Sheffield’s Edward Hanna used a global meteorological dataset relying on historical records to measure the frequency and strength of high pressure systems over Greenland all the way back to the year 1851. Previous analyses had only extended the record back to 1948, so the new study is able to place recent blocking events in a much larger historical context. When the researchers analyzed the data, they found that the increase in blocking frequency over the past 30 years is particularly pronounced in the summer, the time of year when blocking events are likely to have the biggest impact on ice melt.

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Clueless, rudderless, valueless.

Germany Wants To Extend Border Controls For Another 6 Months (AP)

Germany and some other EU countries are planning to ask the European Commission for an extension of border controls within the Schengen passport-free travel zone for another six months because they fear a new wave of migrants. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizere’s spokesman says a letter is being sent Monday asking for an extension of the controls on the German-Austrian border, which were implemented last year when thousands of migrants crossed into Germany daily. De Maizere has expressed concern before that an increasing number of migrants will try to reach Europe this summer by crossing the Mediterranean Sea from lawless Libya to Italy, then travel north to Austria and Germany. Germany registered nearly 1.1 million new arrivals last year and is keen to bring the numbers down in 2016.

Germany’s defense minister, meanwhile, said it was up to Italy to protect its borders but other European countries must be ready to help if needed. Ursula von der Leyen’s comments Monday touched on the potential problems Italy could have with increased arrival of migrants looking for an alternative route into the EU now that the West Balkans route is closed and Turkey has committed to taking back those arriving illegally to Greece. She said a solution must be found “together with Italy.” Austria plans to impose border controls at its main border crossing with Italy to prevent potential attempts by migrants to enter, and with Austria bordering Germany, von der Leyen’s comments indicate her country’s concern that it also may have to deal with new waves of migrants seeking entry.

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“..We have to protect ourselves against the Islamic State group..”

Denmark Extends Controls On German Border (EN)

Denmark has extended temporary controls on its border with Germany, first imposed in January to help regulate an influx of migrants. The measures have been prolonged by another month until the beginning of June. The European Commission, struggling to prevent the collapse of the Schengen agreement, has confirmed it will soon authorise more such extensions. The Danish government says it has joined several countries in writing to the Commission asking for a two-year extension. “Together with the Germans, the French, the Austrians and the Swedes I have today sent a letter to the EU commission asking for the possibility to extend the border control for the next two years,” said Inger Støjberg, Danish minister of immigration and integration.

“I have done so because we need to look out for Denmark. We have to protect ourselves against the Islamic State group, who are trying to take advantage of the situation where there are holes in borders. But also as protection against the influx of refugees coming through Europe.” The Commission could give the green light as early as Wednesday to countries within the passport-free Schengen zone wishing to extend exceptional border controls. The five countries have taken the measures because of the influx of migrants and refugees heading north via the so-called Balkans route after entering Europe via the Greek shores. Although the crisis has eased, the governments say many migrants are still camped along the route and in Greece.

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The cattle trade continues unabated. Europeans are as immoral as their leadership.

EU States Face Charge For Refusing Refugees (FT)

European countries that refuse to share the burden of high immigration will face a financial charge of about €250,000 per refugee, according to Brussels’ plans to overhaul the bloc’s asylum rules. The punitive financial pay-off clause is one of the most contentious parts of the European Commission’s proposed revision of the so-called Dublin asylum regulation, due to be revealed on Wednesday. It represents the EU’s most concerted attempt to salvage an asylum system that collapsed under the weight of a million-strong migration to Europe last year, endangering the principle of passport-free travel in the Schengen area. In recent weeks migrant flows to Greece have fallen due to tighter controls through the western Balkans and a deal with Turkey to send-back asylum seekers arriving on Greek islands.

However, the EU remains as politically divided as ever over strengthening the bloc’s asylum rules. While acknowledging these political constraints, the commission’s reforms aim to gradually shift more responsibility away from the overwhelmed frontline states, such as Greece, in future crises, primarily through an automatic system to share refugees across Europe if a country faces a sudden influx. Crucially, this is backed by a clause that allows immigration-wary countries to pay a fee — set at a deliberately high level — if they want to avoid taking relocated asylum seekers for a temporary period. According to four people familiar with the proposal, this contribution was set at €250,000 per asylum seeker in Monday’s commission draft. But those involved in the talks say it may well be adjusted in deliberations over coming days.

“The size of the contribution may change but the idea is to make it appear like a sanction,” said one official who has seen the proposal. Another diplomat said in any event the price of refusing to host a refugee would be “hundreds of thousands of euros”. Eastern European states such as Poland and Hungary would welcome alternatives to mandatory asylum quotas but will balk at the high penalties suggested. At the commission’s recommended rate, Poland would need to pay around €1.5bn to avoid its existing 6,200 quota to relocate refugees from Italy and Greece. These financial contributions are in part designed to fix incentives around migrant quotas, which have badly failed and proved almost impossible to implement even once agreed in law. The commission proposal builds on the EU’s flagship emergency scheme to relocate 160,000 refugees, which has barely redistributed 1% of its target since it was agreed last year.

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And how many did you say are unaccounted for, Europe?

90,000 Unaccompanied Minors Sought Asylum In EU In 2015 (R.)

Some 88,300 unaccompanied minors sought asylum in the EU in 2015, 13% of them children younger than 14, crossing continents without their parents to seek a place of safety, EU data showed on Monday. More than a million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa reached Europe last year. While that was roughly double the 2014 figure, the number of unaccompanied minors quadrupled, statistics agency Eurostat said. Minors made up about a third of the 1.26 million first-time asylum applications filed in the EU last year. EU states disagree on how to handle Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II and anti-immigrant sentiment has grown, even in countries that traditionally have a generous approach to helping people seeking refuge.

Four in 10 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in Sweden, where some have called for greater checks, suspicious that adults are passing themselves off as children in order to secure protection they might otherwise be denied. Eurostat’s figures refer specifically to asylum applicants “considered to be unaccompanied minors,” meaning EU states accepted the youngsters’ declared age or established it themselves through age assessment procedures. More than 90% of the minors traveling without a parent or guardian were boys and more than half of them were between 16 and 17 years old. Half were Afghans and the second largest group were Syrians, at 16% of the total. After Sweden, Germany, Hungary and Austria followed as the main destinations for unaccompanied underage asylum seekers.

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Mar 222015
 
 March 22, 2015  Posted by at 8:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Jack Delano “Untitled” 1940

We’re All Hedge Funds Now (John Rubino)
Why Has Germany Bailed Out A Tiny Bank? (Coppola)
The Perfect Storm For Oil Hits In Two Months (Zero Hedge)
The ‘Natural Interest Rate’ Is Always Positive And Cannot Be Negative (Mises)
The Federal Reserve Bank Must Be Destroyed! (Patrick Barron)
We’re Much Worse Off Than Just Before The Last Economic Crisis (Michael Snyder)
Draghi To Go To Italian Committee But Not Irish Bank Inquiry (Irish Times)
China To Curb Risks From Short-Term Local Debt (Reuters)
Why Do American Weapons End Up In Our Enemies’ Hands? (Ron Paul)
Nazi Extortion: Study Sheds New Light on Forced Greek Loans (Spiegel)
Michael Hudson: Europe Tilts East Towards China (NC/TRRN)
Abe-Kuroda Honeymoon Soured By Fiscal Friction (Reuters)
‘Abandoned’ French Working Class Ready To Punish Left, Vote Le Pen (Guardian)
The Idea of “Basic Income” Takes Root (CP)
Wild Anti-Austerity Strike in Québec (Printemps2015.org)
Moral Hazard: Ukraine New Spy Law Designed As Provocation (RT/RonPaul Inst.)
Russia Urges Germany, France To Safeguard Peace In Ukraine (Reuters)
France Decrees New Rooftops Must Be Covered In Plants Or Solar Panels (Guardian)
Africa Is Centre Of A ‘Wildlife War’ That The World Is Losing (Observer)
Australia PM Tony Abbott Unveils Plan To Save Great Barrier Reef (Guardian)
The Global Extraction Industry: Plunder, Violence And Corruption (Observer)

“Will this time around be any different? Definitely. It will be much worse because the numbers are so much bigger.”

We’re All Hedge Funds Now (John Rubino)

As negative interest rates spread from Switzerland, Japan and Germany to the rest of the developed world, people with money to invest face some life-defining choices. Retirees who need to generate 6% to avoid dipping into principal can’t get there with bank CDs. Pension funds that have promised an 8% return in order to meet obligations to future retirees can’t get anywhere near that with government bonds. Same thing for insurance companies and money market funds, whose business models require positive returns with low risk. What to do? Well, a retiree can either stop being a retiree — that is, go back to work — or invest a lot more aggressively to meet the required 6% return.

That means loading up on equities and junk bonds, either blithely because she doesn’t know what they are (only that they’ve been going up) or with trepidation because she’s aware that every five or so years these things tend to crash. For public companies, building new factories no longer pays as well as borrowing money and using the proceeds to buy back their own common stock. Pension funds, meanwhile, have more options though the end result is the same. They can, like our hypothetical retiree, load up on equities, as Japanese pension funds are reportedly doing…[..] …or they can wander even further into the “alternative” investing universe by hiring hedge funds to generate “alpha.”[..]

In the world of aggressive investing, retirees, corporations and pensions funds are all “dumb money.” They don’t do this kind of thing regularly so they have no institutional or personal experience to draw upon. The result, for pension funds and retirees, is the quintessential beginner strategy of trend following, buying what was hot last year because that’s where the biggest returns are being generated, while public companies are being even dumber, buying stocks on margin (i.e., with borrowed money) without regard for valuation. Similar things happened during the previous bubble, when individuals became real estate speculators, pension funds embraced alternative investments, and corporations ramped up their share repurchase programs. All got creamed in 2008. Will this time around be any different? Definitely. It will be much worse because the numbers are so much bigger.

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Moral hazard?!

Why Has Germany Bailed Out A Tiny Bank? (Coppola)

The first German bank has died from Austrian contagion. Duesseldorfer Hypothekenbank (“Duesselhyp”), a tiny mortgage lender, has been seized by the Bundesverband Deutsche Banken (BDB), Germany’s association of private banks. According to Reuters, The BDB had hammered out a deal over the weekend with financial market watchdog Bafin, the Bundesbank and resolution authority FMSA to provide a guarantee for DuesselHyp’s holdings of around 350 million euros ($370 million) in Heta bonds that are subject to a debt moratorium imposed by Austrian financial regulators.Duesselhyp’s core tier1 (CT1) capital of €233m was not enough to allow it to continue trading after the expected 50% haircut on its holdings of senior unsecured HAA/Heta bonds.

Under German law, Lone Star, the private equity group that owned Duesselhyp, was not obliged to contribute more capital, and the planned sale of Duesselhyp to Attestor Capital could not proceed. The BDB’s seizure of Duesselhyp is therefore understandable: the alternative was disorderly collapse.But it is not immediately clear why the BDB opted to bail out Duesselhyp rather than forcing bail-in of its creditors. After all, Germany has already adopted the European Bank Resolution & Recovery Directive (EBRRD). True, Duesselhyp is tiny: bailing it out could be done entirely from existing funding without recourse to taxpayers. But bailing out a tiny, over-leveraged and under-capitalized bank seems contrary to the spirit if not the law of the EBRRD. So why did the BDB do it?

The reason is the nature of Duesselhyp’s liabilities. Duesselhyp is an issuer of Pfandbriefe, the super-safe covered bonds that are the bedrock of the German financial system. A look at Duesselhyp’s 2014 interim balance sheet shows that Pfandbriefe backed by public sector loans are by far the largest proportion of Duesselhyp’s liabilities: it has issued a rather smaller number of mortgage Pfandbriefe too. The remainder of Duesselhyp’s liabilities are institutional deposits (it has no retail deposits), which are covered by unlimited guarantees from the German deposit fund. In short, almost all of Duesselhyp’s liabilities are covered by explicit or implicit German government guarantees.

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Storage issue once more.

The Perfect Storm For Oil Hits In Two Months (Zero Hedge)

This is what we said back in early March when the BTFDers were hoping WTI in the low $40s would never again be seen: “Come June, when all available on-land storage is exhausted, each incremental barrel will have to be dumped on the market forcing prices lower and inflicting further pain on the entire US shale complex (just as Q1 results are released which will invariably show huge writedowns as companies will no longer be able to hide behind the SEC-mandated accounting trick that made Q4 results appear respectable).”

Since then, as expected, crude tumbled to new post-Lehman lows, confirming the global deflationary wave is raging (for more details please see China), and WTI only posted a rebound on quad-witching Friday as another algo-driven stop hunt spooked all those who were short the energy complex. The problem is that despite the latest “dead oil bounce” we have since had to revise our forecast for full US oil storage, and pulled forward the date when this will happen in the aftermath of the latest API inventory data. Recall that earlier this week API reported, and EIA later confirmed, that for the 10th week in a row there was a “massive 10.5 million barrels (far bigger than the 3.1 million barrel expectation) and a 3 million barrel build at Cushing. If this holds for DOE data tomorrow (and worryingly API has tended to underestimate the build in recent weeks) it will be the biggest weekly build since 2001.”

It also means that at the current rate of record oil production, storage will be exhausted in under two months, some time in mid-May. At that point, with no more storage to buffer the record oil production, the open market dumping begins and prices of WTI will crater as every barrel will have to be sold at any clearing price, since the producers will have no other choice than to, literally, dump the oil. In other words, a perfect storm is shaping up for oil some time in late May, early June.

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Amen.

The ‘Natural Interest Rate’ Is Always Positive And Cannot Be Negative (Mises)

Some economists have been arguing that the “equilibrium real interest rate” (that is the “natural interest rate” or the “originary interest rate”) has become negative, as a “secular stagnation” has allegedly caused a “savings glut.” The idea is that savings exceed investment, and that a negative real interest rate is required for bringing savings in line with investment. From the viewpoint of the Austrian school, the notion of a “negative equilibrium real interest rate” doesn’t make sense at all. To show this, let us develop the case step by step. To start with, one should make a distinction between two types of interest rates: There is the market interest rate, and there is the originary interest rate. The market interest rate is the outcome of the supply of and demand for savings in the market place.

It can be observed, for instance, in the deposit, bond, or loan market for different maturities and credit qualities. The originary interest rate is a category of human action, saying that acting man values goods available at present more highly than goods available in the future. In other words: Future goods trade at a price discount relative to present goods. For instance, 1 US$ available today is preferred over 1 US$ available in one year’s time. If 1 US$ to be received in one year’s time is valued at, say, 0.909 US$, the originary rate of interest is 10%. (1 US$ divided by 0.909 minus 1 gives you 0.10, or 10%, for that matter.) 10% is here the originary interest rate (disregarding any other premia). The originary interest rate is expressive of a value differential, which results from so-called time-preference.

The term time-preference denotes that acting man prefers an earlier satisfaction of wants over a later satisfaction of wants. Time-preference is always and everywhere positive, and so is the originary interest rate. This is, first and foremost, what common sense would tell us. If the originary interest rate was near-zero, it means that you prefer two apples available in, say, 1,000 years over one apple available today. A truly zero originary interest rate implies that the actor’s planning horizon or “period of provision” is infinitely long, which is another way of saying that he would never act at all but would continually push the attainment of his goals into the future. The notion that time-preference and the originary interest rate could be zero, does not only sound absurd, it is also a logical impossibility: Positive time-preference and a positive originary interest rate are logically implied in the irrefutably true “axiom of human action.”

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“Note that there is nothing that a central bank could provide that could not be provided by another private bank.”

The Federal Reserve Bank Must Be Destroyed! (Patrick Barron)

The Fed was founded under false economic premises–to prevent bank runs by providing temporary liquidity to banks which found themselves unable to redeem their certificates and demand deposits for cash and/or specie. The real cause of illiquid banks–fractional reserve banking–was never seriously addressed. It was assumed that banks had the legal right to invest their customers’ demand funds in loans and that runs were caused by over indulging in this practice. But as Murray N. Rothbard explain in What Has Government Done to Our Money?, loaning demand funds instantly places the bank in an insolvent position, for it cannot redeem all of its demand accounts for cash or specie.

Through the process of lending demand funds, the banks have created fiduciary media out of thin air, reducing their reserve ratio below one hundred percent. If the banks do this on a very modest basis, the public may not be aware of the fraud. However, once the rumor starts that the bank is illiquid, there is a literal “run” to the bank to withdraw demand funds. In such a case, even a bank that only modestly lent its demand funds might find itself unable to honor all withdrawal claims and would be forced to close its doors. (NOTE: Central Banking was established to legitimize counterfeiting fraud, aka – Fractional Reserve Banking) The Federal Reserve Bank, as the lender of last resort, was supposed to prevent such occurrences by providing temporary, penalty rate loans to struggling banks.

Note that there is nothing that a central bank could provide that could not be provided by another private bank. In fact the banking panic of 1907 was stemmed by private bank interventions led by J. P. Morgan. However, Morgan realized that such private bailouts were very risky and presented a case of moral hazard; i.e., that bankers, confident of a bailout by the Morgan banking empire, might book riskier, higher yielding loans. So rather than face the real cause of banking crises and lobby to outlaw fractional reserve banking, the Morgans, Rockefellers, etc.–who did not want to forego the financial benefits of lending demand deposits–lobbied instead for government to create a lender of last resort, a central bank, which we named the Federal Reserve Bank.

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Good graphs. Pity Michael doesn’t understand inflation.

We’re Much Worse Off Than Just Before The Last Economic Crisis (Michael Snyder)

If you believe that ignorance is bliss, you might not want to read this article. I am going to dispel the notion that there has been any sort of “economic recovery”, and I am going to show that we are much worse off than we were just prior to the last economic crisis. If you go back to 2007, people were feeling really good about things. Houses were being flipped like crazy, the stock market was booming and unemployment was relatively low. But then the financial crisis of 2008 struck, and for a while it felt like the world was coming to an end. Of course it didn’t come to an end – it was just the first wave of our problems.

The waves that come next are going to be the ones that really wipe us out. Unfortunately, because we have experienced a few years of relative stability, many Americans have become convinced that Barack Obama, Janet Yellen and the rest of the folks in Washington D.C. have fixed whatever problems caused the last crisis. Even though all of the numbers are screaming otherwise, there are millions upon millions of people out there that truly believe that everything is going to be okay somehow. We never seem to learn from the past, and when this next economic downturn strikes it is going to do an astonishing amount of damage because we are already in a significantly weakened state from the last one.

For each of the charts that I am about to share with you, I want you to focus on the last shaded gray bar on each chart which represents the last recession. As you will see, our economic problems are significantly worse than they were just before the financial crisis of 2008. That means that we are far less equipped to handle a major economic crisis than we were the last time.

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Don’t insult the Irish!

Draghi To Go To Italian Committee But Not Irish Bank Inquiry (Irish Times)

The ECB is holding to its position that its president, Mario Draghi, will not go before the Oireachtas banking inquiry in spite of the fact that he will appear at certain committees of the Italian parliament on March 26th. In a statement released to The Irish Times on foot of a question as to why Mr Draghi will not attend the Irish inquiry but will address committees of the Italian parliament, a spokesman said: “The ECB as a European institution is primarily held to account by the European Parliament as the representation of all the union’s citizens. “Therefore, it does not participate in national parliamentary inquiries and will not take part in the proceedings of the inquiry committee of the Irish parliament.”

It added: “Nevertheless, in line with past practice of interaction between the ECB and national parliaments, the ECB is ready to take part in an informal exchange of views on matters within the remit of the ECB’s mandate with the relevant committees of the Irish parliament.” The spokesman reiterated that deputy president Vítor Constâncio “stands ready” to represent the ECB in “such an exchange of views”, adding he was well placed to do so by being the longest-serving member of the executive board who also attended the relevant Eurogroup/Ecofin meetings during the Irish financial crisis. The ECB president has also appeared before committees of the German, French and Spanish parliaments and the ECB spokesman said Mr Draghi would address the budget, finance and European affairs committees of the Italian parliament later this month.

Irish MEP Brian Hayes said it was “totally unsatisfactory” Mr Draghi was not willing to appear before the banking inquiry but addresses national parliaments in certain situations. Inquiry committee member John Paul Phelan wants the ECB to clarify its position: “We know Mr Draghi already attended a German parliamentary finance committee in late October 2012. It now appears he is attending a similar committee in Italy. The ECB needs to clarify its position. On the one hand it says it is not accountable to member state parliaments and so the ECB won’t attend our inquiry. “But without explanation the president of the ECB appears willing to attend Italy’s parliamentary finance committee.”

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They’re going to try and buy out the shadow system?

China To Curb Risks From Short-Term Local Debt (Reuters)

China will take steps to rein in possible risks from short-term local government bonds, including converting such bonds into long-term debt, the country’s vice finance minister, Zhu Guangyao, said on Saturday. On March 8, the ministry announced local governments would be permitted to swap 1 trillion yuan ($161.2 billion) of maturing, high-interest local debt for new official municipal or provincial bonds, to help cut interest costs. Zhu said local governments were burdened by piles of short-term debt, including that raised through trust products. “In accordance with the State Council’s plans, we will turn such short-term financing into long-term financing, and the size for 2015 is 1 trillion yuan,” Zhu told an international conference on China’s development attended by government officials, business leaders and academics. “This will help reduce the funding costs and reduce risks.”

But the authorities must prevent the problem of “moral hazard” in the process, he said, without elaborating. The government will keep economic growth stable this year while pushing forward financial and fiscal reforms, Zhu added. China has been trying to reduce excess factory capacity, local government debt and risks from a cooling property market, which are likely to drag growth to a quarter-century low of around 7% this year from 7.4% in 2014. “The pre-condition for our deleveraging is to maintain relatively stable economic growth,” Zhu said. The central bank has cut interest rates twice since November, on top of a cut in bank reserve requirements in February, amid concerns about growing deflationary risks, and more such moves are expected. In addition, the government plans to run its biggest budget deficit in 2015 since the global crisis to support spending.

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By design?

Why Do American Weapons End Up In Our Enemies’ Hands? (Ron Paul)

It happens so often you wonder whether it is due to total ineptness or a deliberate policy to undermine our efforts overseas. It’s most likely a result of corruption and unintended consequences, combined with a foreign policy that makes it impossible to determine who are our friends are and who are our enemies. One would think that so many failures in arming others to do our bidding in our effort to control an empire would awaken our leaders and the American people and prompt policy changes.

A recent headline in Mother Jones read: “US Weapons Have A Nasty Habit of Going AWOL.” The report was about $500 million worth of military equipment that is unaccounted for in Yemen. Just as in so many other places, our policy of provoking civil strife in Yemen has been a complete failure. At one time it was announced that there was a great victory in a war being won with drones assisting groups that claimed to be on our side in the Yemen Civil War. As usual, we could have expected that these weapons would end up in the hands of the militants not on the side of United States and would never be accounted for.

There are numerous examples of how our foreign intervention backfires and actually helps the enemy. Just recently a headline announced: “CIA cash sometimes refills al-Qaeda coffers.” This was a story of our government helping pay ransom to al-Qaeda for the release an Afghan diplomat. However this was a measly $5 million so it was not considered a big deal. Another headline just recently announced that, “Iraqi army downs two UK planes carrying weapons for ISIL.” The Iraqi army is supposed to be on our side, and many people believe the UK is also on our side as well. One thing for sure the American taxpayer pays for all this nonsense.

Building weapons and seeing them end up in the hands of the enemy is almost a routine event and one should expect it to continue to happen under the circumstances of the chaos in the Middle East. This represents a cost to the American taxpayer and is obviously a major contributing factor in what will be the ultimate failure of our plan to remake the Middle East. This is bad enough, and the only people who seem to benefit from it are those who are earning profits in the military-industrial complex. But there is something every bit as bad as our weapons ending up in the hands of the jihadists and being used against us. That is, the fact that our presence there, our weapons, and our bombs, are the best recruiting tool for getting individuals to join the fight against America’s presence in so many conflicts around the world.

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See Looks Like Germany May Have To Pay Up .

Nazi Extortion: Study Sheds New Light on Forced Greek Loans (Spiegel)

Last week in Greek parliament, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras demanded German reparations payments, indirectly linking them to the current situation in Greece. “After the reunification of Germany in 1990, the legal and political conditions were created for this issue to be solved,” Tsipras said. “But since then, German governments chose silence, legal tricks and delay. And I wonder, because there is a lot of talk at the European level these days about moral issues: Is this stance moral?” Tspiras was essentially countering German allegations that Greece lives beyond its means with the biggest counteraccusation possible: German guilt. Leaving aside the connection drawn by Tsipras, which many consider to be inappropriate, there are many arguments to support the Greek view. SPIEGEL itself reported in February that former Chancellor Helmut Kohl used tricks in 1990 in order to avoid having to pay reparations.

A study conducted by the Greek Finance Ministry, commissioned way back in 2012 by a previous government, has now been completed and contains new facts. The 194-page document has been obtained by SPIEGEL. The central question in the report is that of forced loans the Nazi occupiers extorted from the Greek central bank beginning in 1941. Should requests for repayment of those loans be classified as reparation demands – demands that may have been forfeited with the Two-Plus-Four Treaty of 1990? Or is it a genuine loan that must be paid back? The expert commission analyzed contracts and agreements from the time of the occupation as well as receipts, remittance slips and bank statements.

They found that the forced loans do not fit into the category of classical war reparations. The commission calculated the outstanding German “debt” to the Greek central bank and came to a total sum of $12.8 billion as of December 2014, which would amount to about €11 billion. As such, at issue between Germany and Greece is no longer just the question as to whether the 115 million deutsche marks paid to the Greek government from 1961 onwards for its peoples’ suffering during the occupation sufficed as legal compensation for the massacres like those in the villages of Distomo and Kalavrita. Now the key issue is whether the successor to the German Reich, the Federal Republic of Germany, is responsible for paying back loans extorted by the Nazi occupiers. There’s some evidence to indicate that this may be the case.

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Must read/Listen. “..the funding of the World Bank has mainly been to fund infrastructure developments, vastly overpriced, to Third World countries to create money for American engineering firms; also to lend out dollars and to indebt countries to it..”

Michael Hudson: Europe Tilts East Towards China (NC/TRRN)

Real News Network: So, Michael, let’s begin with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The Chinese have established this bank with a $50 billion investment. Now, is this then a serious challenge to the World Bank?

HUDSON: Well, the idea is to make an alternative development philosophy to the World Bank. From the very beginning, the World Bank has been basically an extension of the U.S. Defense Department, from the first president, John J. McCloy, who is assistant secretary of defense, down through Robert McNamara, 1968 to ’81, and then by the neocon cold warrior Paul Wolfowitz, 2005 to ’07, and Larry Summers, the chief economist, along with Bob Zoellick. So you have the purpose of the World Bank lending essentially for plantation export crops, for export crops to make countries avoid producing anything that might compete with American exports, above all grain, although every single mission of the World Bank, country mission, has recommended that countries undertake land reform and agricultural extension to help promote family farming and countries to feed themselves. The World Bank has not made loans for this.

The World Bank, under U.S. congressional pressure, has said, look, we’re not going to finance countries becoming independent of the United States; our function is to make them export more to the United States and to buy from the United States. So the funding of the World Bank has mainly been to fund infrastructure developments, vastly overpriced, to Third World countries to create money for American engineering firms; also to lend out dollars and to indebt countries to it; and worst of all, to promote privatization. And that’s really the big difference between the Chinese Development Bank’s philosophy and the World Bank.

The World Bank is pressured everywhere for privatization of public utilities, of basic infrastructure, and then it will make loans to the governments to develop this infrastructure or the roads and the external economies, and then sell them cheap to American buyers, who essentially will create monopolies and turn infrastructure into a rent extraction to squeeze out interest, dividends, management fees that are all going to be paid to the Americans. And this has been raising the price of basic utilities–communications, transportation, water, and other things throughout the Third World.

And this has made these economies uncompetitive with the United States that has a mixed economy where the government subsidizes infrastructure. So the Chinese Development Bank is to help make other countries get independent of this sort of neocon, neoliberal, right-wing economic philosophy and work government-to-government, help governments develop infrastructure, so that they can provide basic services at a lower cost or a subsidized cost, or even freely to the populations. That’s how the European countries and American economy got rich. And the only way to help repeat this process is to make a clean break from the United States and the World Bank.

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Abenomics has been a failure from day one. Is the blame game finally taking off?

Abe-Kuroda Honeymoon Soured By Fiscal Friction (Reuters)

A rift is emerging between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his hand-picked central bank boss on how to fix Japan’s tattered finances, which could blunt the impact of the “Abenomics” stimulus policies they have worked together to prosecute. Two years into Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s tenure, the cracks are becoming hard to conceal and could affect the timing of any further monetary easing and an eventual end to the massive money-printing program he set in train. Their differences over fiscal policy needed to cut Japan’s staggering public debt, which at 230% of GDP is twice the U.S. figure and about 50 points higher than perilous Greece, have so far been masked by their shared determination to end deflation.

The perception of common purpose is critical to giving businesses, markets and consumers the confidence to change behavior and ensure that the stimulus measures and inflation targets are effective. But the mask began to slip last year when Abe decided to delay a sales tax hike, making Japan’s primary fiscal goal harder to achieve. “The honeymoon days are over,” said Izuru Kato, chief economist at Totan Research. “Kuroda must be frustrated over a lack of progress in structural reform and fiscal consolidation.” A former finance ministry bureaucrat, Kuroda feels Japan cannot afford to delay tax hikes and spending cuts given its dire fiscal state, while Abe prefers to focus more on boosting growth to raise tax revenues.

Last month a key policy panel run by Abe’s right-hand man, Economics Minister Akira Amari, began debating proposals that could water down Japan’s fiscal target of returning to a primary budget surplus, excluding debt servicing costs and income from bond sales, in fiscal 2020. Abe has not resiled from that target, but the panel is laying the ground for him to add other goals that give him more wiggle-room on spending, government officials say.

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Too late to stop this. Hollande has turned into Tony Blair.

‘Abandoned’ French Working Class Ready To Punish Left, Vote Le Pen (Guardian)

At an election meeting just days before France’s regional elections, a Japanese journalist asked Marine Le Pen a question: why was her far-right Front National party tipped to do so well? Polls suggest that the FN vote will reach unprecedented levels, with up to 30% of the vote, just ahead of the opposition Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party and leaving the ruling Socialist party trailing. “The Front National is alone against everyone. The French people have realised for some time now that the Front National’s analysis is right, and the other political parties have failed,” Le Pen responded. The FN had gone from “a party of opposition … to a movement of government” by addressing “the economy, immigration and Islamic fundamentalism”, she added. From Le Pen, a damning analysis of this type might be expected.

But from a member of the leftwing commentariat? A new “state of the nation” tome, L’Insécurité culturelle, by analyst Laurent Bouvet, has caused a storm in Paris salons by suggesting that the country’s working class is ready to vote FN in droves because it has been abandoned by the left and deceived by the country’s Socialist government. Bouvet accuses the left of sparking an identity crisis – “cultural insecurity” – among its core blue-collar electorate, by almost exclusively focusing on the problems of minority groups instead of French society as a whole. This has left the workers feeling cast adrift and alienated, he says. “The economic crisis, unemployment, social problems, globalisation make people afraid, but if it was just about economics we would see these people voting for the radical left, which they are not,” Bouvet told the Observer.

Bouvet is a political science professor and member of the leftwing thinktank the Jean Jaurès Foundation, which advises the Socialist party (PS) and aims to “promote the study of workers’ movements and international socialism and promote democratic and humanist ideas”. He says his latest, decidedly politically incorrect, message is one the left does not want to hear. Bouvet says PC blinkers have prevented the Socialists from addressing working-class anxieties about immigration and the rise of Islam – even in its moderate form – in areas where the so-called Français de souche (born-and-bred French) find themselves outnumbered by those with a different religion and cultural habits. Branded les petits blancs (white trash), and accused of racism or patronised if they express their fears, they have turned en masse to the FN, he says.

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Always a good discussion.

The Idea of “Basic Income” Takes Root (CP)

After years of having relatively few supporters, the idea of Basic Income is now spreading around the world. In Spain – probably “the place on Earth where the debate around Basic Income is most advanced” – after five years of public spending cuts, depressed demand, record unemployment, burgeoning poverty, and a growing public debt now at around 100% of GDP, and after twenty years of discussion in universities, grassroots movements and social networks, Basic Income is finally going mainstream.

Although the new game-changing left-wing political party Podemos has temporarily retreated from its initial Basic Income proposal in favour of “full employment” (more fitting, perhaps, for the welfare states of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s), many party members are Basic Income stalwarts. Other political organisations now proposing it include Equo, Pirata and Bildu (a coalition in the Basque Country) and, in Galicia, Anova, while still more small parties have projects which, while not strictly a Basic Income, come close.

A recent number of the Basic Income Earth Network newsletter gives an idea of the worldwide spread of different versions of Basic Income. In Greece the new ruling party Syriza has declared its aim to establish “a closer link between pension contribution and income… and provide targeted assistance to employees between 50 and 65, including through a Guaranteed Basic Income scheme so as to eliminate the social and political pressure of early retirement which over-burdens the pension funds”. In Finland, 65.5% of 1,642 (out of nearly 2,000) candidates for the parliamentary elections on 19 April publicly support the policy. Cyprus has passed a new law giving low income families a Guaranteed Minimum Income of €480 a month.

In 2013, a grassroots movement in Switzerland called for a Basic Income of 2,500 Swiss francs per month and received over 100,000 signatures needed to force a referendum on the proposal. 90% of the members of Hungary’s Green-Left party Párbeszéd Magyarországért (“Dialogue for Hungary”) have voted for a Basic Income to which all citizens would be entitled, €80 per month for children, €160 for adults and €240 for young mothers. The poverty line in Hungary is estimated at around €200 for a single adult. In Portugal, where Basic Income is relatively unknown and misunderstood, the political party LIVRE has included Basic Income in its draft political programme for the autumn elections this year. Now recognising that inequality and social justice are also “green” issues, the fast-growing Green Party of England and Wales has announced that a Basic Income will be included in its manifesto.

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Announcement from my old stomping grouds for the coming week. Québec has a long history of standing up for the poor, since the French were held down for centuries.

Wild Anti-Austerity Strike in Québec (Printemps2015.org)

Like wolves, humans act collectively and form groups in order to survive and defend our common interests. The idea of community is closely related to survival in the face of adversity and to the well being of society. The preservation of our habitat, of our social rights, and of our future depends on solidarity. Acting together in large numbers makes it much easier to defend our rights and our collective needs. That’s why we propose the creation of an alternative to the isolation and individualism pervasive in society by choosing collective action against the aggressive attacks of governments on our collective wellbeing. Both federal and provincial governments are engaged in attacks on the population.

They now demand that we pay more at the same as they are wantonly slashing everywhere: education and health systems, scientific research, pension funds, the environment, social and community programs, housing, arts and culture, union rights… Faced with the bewildering rate at which cuts and austerity measures are announced, action is urgently needed. The Spring 2015 committee calls for a push towards social change, starting this spring. We envision concrete resistance to austerity uniting students, workers, and society as a whole taking root in Québec. While they reach for the last pennies in our pockets, federal and provincial governments increase military spending, invest in prisons, police, and security measures, and roll out the red carpet for the extractive industries.

People with friends in high places, the rich, large companies, multinationals, banks and lobbying firms are running the show. A small minority is strangling the community. If the interests of the majority do not orient the actions and priorities of the government, it is illusory to continue to speak of this as a democracy. In a just and equitable society, wealth should not be accumulated at the expense of our environment and should be fairly redistributed amongst all. Indigenous peoples, Québecers, and Canadians are neither represented nor respected by governments who do not defend their rights. We will amplify popular discontent and launch a WILD STRIKE.

We call for the pillaging of society to be resisted with a general strike! Let’s disrupt this failed economic order which relegates the interests of society to the bottom of the list. An inclusive strike, a strike by any means: the closure of schools and offices, and cities at a standstill until each and every one of us receives what we are collectively owed. We demand that governments stop privatisation and the sabotage of the common good, end the destruction of the environment, and cease to only favour the rich! Otherwise, we’ll bite. This spring, block austerity! The Spring 2015 committees aim to facilitate the organisation of effective struggles for collective and environmental rights. Everywhere across Québec, let’s join together to massively refuse the ideological project of austerity.

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“..they feel they have the US particularly and the West in general behind them. So they feel they can engage in every moral reckless behavior because there are no consequences..”

Moral Hazard: Ukraine New Spy Law Designed As Provocation (RT/RonPaul Inst.)

If a Ukrainian draft law on intelligence comes into force, we might start seeing assassinations, bomb blasts, and psychological attacks in the Donbass region, says Daniel McAdams of the Ron Paul Institute. Ukraine’s parliament has passed a law allowing its intelligence units to carry out military operations in eastern Ukraine. If the President Petro Poroshenko signs the law, it would allow special services to infiltrate and operate in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republics.

RT: How does this current move from Kiev correlate with the current peace process in east Ukraine?
Daniel McAdams: I think it’s a provocation and it is designed to be a provocation. The goal is stated clearly from Kiev and it’s echoed in Washington, and to a degree in Berlin, as well, which is that Ukraine needs to be whole again—that is the point they are making including eastern Ukraine and even Crimea. So it is meant to be a provocation. The problem is the government in Kiev is operating with what in finance circles is called “moral hazard”—they feel they have the US particularly and the West in general behind them. So they feel they can engage in every moral reckless behavior because there are no consequences to the actions that they take. But if it does pass, I think it may give us some information, some indication as to what all of the visits from the CIA director to Kiev over the past year and a half were all about. And then we can probably start seeing things like assassinations in Donetsk and Lugansk, bombs going off, provocations, psychological operations. I think it opens the whole can of worms.

RT: The parliament in Kiev also voted on a bill branding some territories in the east as ‘occupied’ including Crimea. What is Kiev trying to achieve here?
DM: Because they can get away with it. The law on autonomy now is going to be granted only after elections take place under Kiev’s rules and laws which definitely goes against the Minsk agreements. They will be supervised by the OSCE which has hardly shown itself to be objective in this case. You’re basically having a de facto taking over of these regions all over again.

RT: What reaction are we expecting internationally, especially from France and Germany who are part of the Normandy Four?
DM: I don’t think they are going to do that much because they have not been willing to speak up and to reprimand their clients in Kiev so far. Yesterday, President Obama had a talk with Chancellor Merkel. And at least, according to the White House’s reading of the conversation, they are in complete agreement about retaining the sanctions on Russia and that the Minsk agreements needed to be fully implemented. So they are simply interpreting the Minsk agreement to suit their ultimate goal, which is the bringing of the regions of the east back under Kiev’s control.

RT: Do you think Washington and Europe are united on this objective?
DM: I wouldn’t say necessarily united but I think over the past year or so we’ve seen that Germany is ready to break. But aside from whisperers in the German intelligence community that basically half of the US generals are bonkers, there has been no real indication that Germany is ready to break. So I think reluctantly they are going along.

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“.. Lavrov said he was concerned Kiev might stage “provocations” to try to persuade the United States that it should aid Kiev by sending it lethal weapons.” He should be.

Russia Urges Germany, France To Safeguard Peace In Ukraine (Reuters)

Russia appealed to Germany and France on Saturday to ensure Kiev does not try to incite violence in east Ukraine to encourage the United States to send Ukrainian forces lethal weapons. Paris and Berlin helped mediate a peace deal in the Belarussian capital Minsk on Feb. 12 to try to end fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine but the truce remains fragile. In an interview with Russian television, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was concerned Kiev might stage “provocations” to try to persuade the United States that it should aid Kiev by sending it lethal weapons.

“Provocateurs in Kiev … could try to ‘whip something up’ in the expectation that this will influence the world public and weapons will flow into Ukraine,” he told the new program Vesti on Saturday with Sergei Brilev. “I am convinced that Berlin and Paris, as the most important players …, should prevent such a turn of events.” Lavrov also repeated Russia’s opposition to United Nations peacekeepers being sent to the east.

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Makes sense.

France Decrees New Rooftops Must Be Covered In Plants Or Solar Panels (Guardian)

Rooftops on new buildings built in commercial zones in France must either be partially covered in plants or solar panels, under a law approved on Thursday. Green roofs have an isolating effect, helping reduce the amount of energy needed to heat a building in winter and cool it in summer. They also retain rainwater, thus helping reduce problems with runoff, while favouring biodiversity and giving birds a place to nest in the urban jungle, ecologists say.

The law approved by parliament was more limited in scope than initial calls by French environmental activists to make green roofs that cover the entire surface mandatory on all new buildings. The Socialist government convinced activists to limit the scope of the law to commercial buildings.The law was also made less onerous for businesses by requiring only part of the roof to be covered with plants, and giving them the choice of installing solar panels to generate electricity instead. Green roofs are popular in Germany and Australia, and Canada’s city of Toronto adopted a by-law in 2009 mandating them in industrial and residential buildings.

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Only the death penalty for all involved will help. Hunters, traders, buyers, the whole lot. No mercy.

Africa Is Centre Of A ‘Wildlife War’ That The World Is Losing (Observer)

The northern white rhino is heading the way of the dinosaurs. With only five left on Earth – three in Kenya, one in America, and one in the Czech Republic – extinction is now inevitable. It survived for millions of years, but could not survive mankind. This is just one subspecies, but soon the planet’s remaining 28,500 rhinos could be under threat from the illegal wildlife trade. Worth up to £12bn a year, it has joined drugs, arms and human trafficking as one of the world’s biggest crime rackets. Ground zero in this “wildlife war” is Africa, and the conservationists are losing as animals are slaughtered on an industrial scale to meet demand for horn and ivory in newly affluent Asian countries.

Urgent solutions will be debated this week in Kasane, Botswana, as politicians and environmentalists gather for a follow-up to last year’s much-trumpeted London conference on the crisis. Hosted by the British government and Princes Charles, William and Harry, 46 countries signed up to a “London declaration” that promised to address corruption, adopt legislation for tougher penalties against poachers and recruit more law enforcement officers. William Hague, then the foreign secretary, announced at the time: “I believe today we have begun to turn the tide.” More than a year later, however, when the Kasane summit reviews whether these commitments have been implemented, it seems likely that some will be found wanting.

Despite a celebrity-led drive to raise awareness in China and Vietnam, where horn is coveted as an ingredient in traditional medicine or as a status symbol, a record 1,215 rhinos were killed last year in South Africa, 20% more than in 2013. At least 220 chimpanzees, 106 orang-utans, 33 bonobos and 15 gorillas have been lost from the wild over the past 14 months, according to estimates by the Great Apes Survival Partnership. Elephants also remain under siege – at least 20,000 were poached annually from 2011 to 2013, according to the UN – although countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have fought back with some measure of success over the past year. “The numbers are still going up and they don’t make us any happier,” said Dr Patrick Bergin, chief executive of the African Wildlife Foundation.

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About the last person on earth you want to handle the issue.

Australia PM Tony Abbott Unveils Plan To Save Great Barrier Reef (Guardian)

Australia has submitted its long-term plan to arrest the decline of the Great Barrier Reef, with Tony Abbott stressing to the international community that the government is “utterly committed” to the reef’s preservation. The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan has been compiled to allay concerns from Unesco over the fading health of the reef, with the organisation’s world heritage committee set to meet in June to decide whether the reef is to be listed as “in danger.” The plan sets a number of targets to reduce pollution running on to the reef, including an 80% reduction in nitrogen and a 50% cut in sediment by 2025.

The final version of the strategy has been re-written to include the policies of Queensland’s new Labor government, which has pledged to ban the dumping of dredged sediment in the reef’s world heritage area and to provide $100m over five years to improve water quality. For its part, the federal government is banning dumping in the reef’s marine park and announced a further $100m in funding for the Reef Trust, a body that will work with landowners to ensure chemicals are not flowing into the coral ecosystem. There will also be a new independent scientific panel, headed by the government’s chief scientist, Ian Chubb, which will oversee the work of the Reef Trust. Abbott said the government was helping to ensure that the reef is “handed on in the best possible condition to our children and grandchildren”.

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Our biggest crime aginst humanity: “African mining scandals, says Baldwin, “have roots in Mayfair”, while “oil deals in London have links to violence in Congo.”

The Global Extraction Industry: Plunder, Violence And Corruption (Observer)

Index on Censorship could not have awarded one of its Freedom of Expression prizes more estimably than to Angolan reporter Rafael Marques de Morais. In doing so, Index prises open Marques’s principal discourse: the prising open of the land itself by those who plunder for profit without heed. Marques’s writing in Angola on the links between diamond mining and government corruption draws attention to the growing causes for concern around the world in relation to the industry of “extraction” and how it behaves financially, politically and morally as it pursues sought-after minerals and commodities to fuel economic growth.

Across the globe, the management of extraction in poor countries rich in resources – by government and the multinationals they invite in – has become hallmarked by scandal, violence, corruption and environmental calamity. Vast international conglomerates are often faced with allegations that they abet the plundering of natural resources, usually in league with local officials and almost always to the detriment of indigenous communities. Only a fraction of the wealth accrued from extraction is left in the host country – to say nothing of the communities often “resettled” – ergo forcibly removed – from the land concerned. This nexus of politics and capitalism leads invariably to violence and death.

Ovid, who wrote around 10BC about the origins of man, accounted for the genesis of warfare in these terms: “The land, which had previously been common to all, like sunlight and breezes, was now divided up far and wide by boundaries, set by cautious surveyors. Nor was it only corn and their due nourishment that men demanded of the rich earth: they explored its very bowels, and dug out the wealth which it had hidden away, close to the Stygian shades; and this wealth was a further incitement to wickedness. By this time iron had been discovered, to the hurt of mankind, and gold, more hurtful still than iron. War made its appearance, using both metals in its conflict, clashing weapons in bloodstained hands.”

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 November 21, 2014  Posted by at 12:47 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Russell Lee Hammond Ranch general store, Chicot, Arkansas Jan 1939

Americans, With Record $3.2 Trillion Consumer Debt, Borrow More (Guardian)
How Wall Street Banks Traded Lending For Oil, Gas And Nukes (MarketWatch)
Citigroup Ejected From ECB FX Group for Rigging (Bloomberg)
China ‘Triple Bubble’ Points To Long Slide For Commodities (MarketWatch)
ECB Dips Toe Into Dead Sea Of Rebundled Debt (Reuters)
ECB’s Draghi: ‘Strong Recovery Unlikely’ (CNBC)
Draghi Says ECB Must Raise Inflation as Fast as Possible (Bloomberg)
Greece To Submit Contentious Budget For 2015 (CNBC)
Hanging Around: Why Abe’s Holding an Election in a Recession (Bloomberg)
Abe Listening to Krugman After Tokyo Limo Ride on Abenomics Fate (Bloomberg)
US Federal Reserve To Review How It Supervises Major Banks (Reuters)
Hugh Hendry: “QE ‘Worked’ By Redistributing Wealth Not Creating It” (Zero Hedge)
Britain Abandons Banker Bonus Fight After EU Court Blow (Bloomberg)
Russia Warns US Against Supplying ‘Lethal Defensive Aid’ To Ukraine (RT)
EuroMaidan Anniversary: 21 Steps From Peaceful Rally To Civil War (RT)
Dutch Government Refuses To Reveal ‘Secret Deal’ Into MH17 Crash Probe (RT)
Creativity, Companies, And The Wisdom Of Crowds (Robert Shiller)
China Starts $2 Trillion Leap Forward to Slash Pollution (Bloomberg)
The Magical Thought That’s Assumed in Climate Studies (Bloomberg)
Rhino Poaching Death Toll Reaches Record in South Africa (Bloomberg)
Growth First. Then These Other Things Can Be Dealt With (Clarke&Dawe)

This is going to end well, right?

Americans, With Record $3.2 Trillion Consumer Debt, Borrow More (Guardian)

Americans are borrowing more even as they have racked up enormous amounts of consumer debt, Federal Reserve data show. The newly released minutes of the last Federal Reserve meeting in October give a wider picture of the US economy. A weak housing market weighed on the US economy, while the fear of Ebola put some brief pressure on the stock markets, the Fed found. The interesting trend, however, is the growing indebtedness of US consumers now that banks have loosened the spigots on lending. The Federal Reserve customarily releases the minutes of its meetings, where the board of governors and staff discuss the major forces at work in the US economy, including employment, housing, borrowing and inflation. The Fed took a positive view of overall economic progress, noting a low unemployment rate, low inflation and, generally, “a continued improvement in labor market conditions”. While the minutes provide a big-picture view of the economy, there are some specific – and strange – worries that make it into the Fed’s discussions.

“Worries about a possible spread of Ebola also appeared to weigh on market sentiment somewhat at times,” the Fed said. The Fed’s meeting was shortly after the first American Ebola patients were being admitted to hospitals. Elsewhere in the economy, the Fed acknowledged that the housing market had slowed. After new home prices hit record highs in 2013, prices have been drifting downward as homeowners still struggle to get mortgages. “Housing market conditions seemed to be improving only slowly,” the central bank said, noting that new home sales were flat in September after moving up in August, and sales of existing single-family homes had not showed much progress and “moved essentially sideways” over the past several months. Banks also loosened the reins and started extending more credit to consumers, particularly through credit cards and auto loans, which some have suggested may be a bubble.

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“The three financial holding companies chose to engage in commodity-related businesses that carried potential catastrophic event risks.”

How Wall Street Banks Traded Lending For Oil, Gas And Nukes (MarketWatch)

A U.S. Senate subcommittee investigation into bank commodities trading has produced some eye-popping findings: Goldman Sachs owned a uranium business that carried the liability of a nuclear accident. J.P. Morgan operated as if it were Con Edison. It owned multiple power-generation plants, exposing it to potential accidents there. Morgan Stanley played the role of Exxon Mobil, stockpiling storage, pipelines, and other natural gas and oil infrastructure.

Together, the report found that banks not only were out of their comfort zone, but put the financial system at risk because they turbo-charged these investments with derivative contracts. They ended up with “huge commodity inventories and participating in outsized transactions,” the Senate Permanent Subcommittee for Investigations said. “The three financial holding companies chose to engage in commodity-related businesses that carried potential catastrophic event risks.” The overreaching foray into commodities underscores how bank “innovation” can take simple services for clients and create massive risk. Banks entered the commodities markets to provide hedges for providers, traders and other market participants. They ended up with huge stakes and, according to the committee, were able to corner at least parts of the market.

This is a far cry from simple brokerage services and investment banking. It is a quantum leap from deposit-taking and lending institutions that are backed by the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. And it all took place in a market supposedly regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which should have at least raised red flags, even if its powers were limited by Congress. While many banks have either left, reduced or signaled they want to exit commodities, the pattern in which simple banking and brokerage products become suddenly dangerous and enormous quagmires may be the larger problem. Regulators can’t put a cop in every division and office on Wall Street, much less every power plant across the country.

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“Citigroup is the world’s biggest foreign-exchange dealer ..”

Citigroup Ejected From ECB FX Group for Rigging (Bloomberg)

The European Central Bank ejected Citigroup from its foreign-exchange market liaison group after the U.S. bank was fined for rigging the institution’s own currency benchmark, two people with knowledge of the move said. The ECB removed Citigroup from the panel, which advises the central bank on market trends, after regulators fined the lender $1 billion for rigging currency benchmarks including the ECB’s 1:15 p.m. fix, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the decision hasn’t been made public. Citigroup was one of six banks fined $4.3 billion by U.S. and U.K. regulators last week and is the only one that also sits on the ECB Foreign Exchange Contact Group. About 20 firms with large foreign-currency operations, ranging from Airbus to Deutsche Bank sit on the committee. The panel’s agenda includes how to improve currency benchmarks.

Citigroup is the world’s biggest foreign-exchange dealer, with a 16% market share, according to a survey by London-based Euromoney Institutional Investor Plc. A spokesman for the New York-based bank declined to comment. The panel isn’t involved in how the ECB’s daily fix is calculated. Currency benchmarks such as the ECB fix and the WM/Reuters rates are used by asset managers and pension funds to value their holdings, including $3.6 trillion in index tracker funds around the world. According to documents released with the settlements, senior traders at the firms shared information about their positions with each other and coordinated trading strategies to the detriment of their clients. They’d congregate in electronic chat rooms an hour or so before benchmark rates were set to discuss their orders and how to execute them to their mutual benefit.

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China’s share for some commodities is insane. And it won’t last.

China ‘Triple Bubble’ Points To Long Slide For Commodities (MarketWatch)

The “commodity super cycle” is dead. Now, it’s time to get used to the “commodity super down cycle, and China is the biggest reason why, warn strategists at Credit Suisse in a Thursday note. Commodity demand tends to be very cyclical. Commodities, however, have been underperforming cyclical indicators of growth, including industrial production and new manufacturing orders (as measured by Institute for Supply Management survey data), they say. Much of the blame is on China, the strategists argue, noting that the country remains the “most significant source” of demand for most industrial commodities. Moreover, they see China on track for a “hard landing” at some point in the next three years. The report adds to some of the recent gloom around China, where the fate of the economy remains a topic for debate.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services on Wednesday said its negative outlook for Chinese property developers is casting a pall on the rest of the Asia-Pacific region, though it sees prospects for the sentiment to recover next year thanks to looser government policies, particularly on mortgages. The Credit Suisse strategists, meanwhile, see a “triple bubble” in credit, real estate and investment. On credit, they highlight a private-sector to GDP ratio that is 30%age points above trend. China’s investment share of GDP is 48%, much higher than Japan or Korea at similar stages of industrialization, Credit Suisse says. Real estate, meanwhile, is in a “classic bubble.” Prices have dropped six months in a row. A drop of another 20% or more will make for a “hard landing,” they write.

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The headline tells the story.

ECB Dips Toe Into Dead Sea Of Rebundled Debt (Reuters)

The European Central Bank is set to embark this week on a scheme to buy the kind of rebundled debt that sparked the global economic crash. With sparse investor interest its efforts could fall short. Asset backed securities (ABS), reparcelled debt that mixes high-risk loans with safer credit, gained notoriety when rebundled home loans in the United States unravelled to spark financial turmoil. Seven years on, seeking to pump money into a moribund euro zone economy, the ECB believes the same type of debt may make it easier to get credit to companies. It will be safe, the ECB argues, because such European debt, whether car loans or credit cards, is typically repaid and its repackaging should be simpler to understand. The programme is one plank in a strategy which ECB chief Mario Draghi hopes will increase its balance sheet by up to €1 trillion.

If it falls short and fails to boost the economy significantly, pressure to launch full quantitative easing will reach fever pitch. Regulators and investors are sceptical and even within the ECB expectations are muted, people familiar with its thinking say. To limit its risk, the ECB will buy only the most secure part of such loans in the hope that others pile in behind it to buy riskier credit. It is a strategy with little prospect of success, says Jacques de Larosiere, the former head of the International Monetary Fund who has pushed for the repackaging and sale of loans. “While I welcome the ECB’s initiative … it cannot work if it is alone in buying the senior tranches,” he told Reuters. “That is the very area where there is no problem in finding buyers. In order to have an impact, the ECB or other buyers must also be able to buy the lower-quality riskier tranches of ABS.”

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Gee, we had no idea.

ECB’s Draghi: ‘Strong Recovery Unlikely’ (CNBC)

TThe euro zone economy is likely to remain stagnant in the short-to-medium term and the European Central Bank stands ready to act fast to combat low inflation, President Mario Draghi said on Friday. “A stronger recovery is unlikely in the coming months,” Draghi said in an opening speech at the Frankfurt European Banking Congress, referring to the latest flash euro area Purchasing Managers Index (PMI). The PMI, published on Thursday, showed that new orders in the euro zone fell this month for the first time since July 2013. The composite index read 51.4—below forecasts and below October’s final reading of 52.1.

The ECB has launched a slew of measures to ease credit conditions in the region in order to boost growth and combat dangerously low inflation. These include cutting interest rates to record lows and announcing plans to purchase covered bonds and asset-backed securities (ABS). The latest reading for headline inflation in the euro zone was 0.4%—well below the close to 2% level targeted by the ECB and down from 0.9% a year ago. “The inflation situation in the euro area has also become increasingly challenging,” said Draghi on Friday. “We see that it has been essential that the ECB has acted —and is continuing to act—to bring inflation back towards 2%.” Speculation has been rife as to if and when the ECB will start a U.S -style sovereign bond-buying program, as a further measures to ease monetary conditions.

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Mario must be needing tranquilizers by now.

Draghi Says ECB Must Raise Inflation as Fast as Possible (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi said the European Central Bank must drive inflation higher quickly, and will broaden its asset-purchase program if needed to achieve that. “We will do what we must to raise inflation and inflation expectations as fast as possible, as our price-stability mandate requires,” the ECB president said at a conference in Frankfurt today. Shorter-term inflation expectations “have been declining to levels that I would deem excessively low,” he said. Any new action would follow a flurry of activity since June that has included interest-rate cuts, long-term bank loans, and covered-bond purchases, with buying of asset-backed securities due to start as soon as today.

Draghi has declined to rule out large-scale government-bond buying and said after this month’s monetary policy meeting that staff are studying further measures to boost the economy if needed. “Draghi is sending a clear signal that more stimulus is coming,” said Lena Komileva, chief economist at G Plus Economics . in London. “If the ECB’s current measures prove underwhelming and inflation expectations fail to recover, the ECB will act to expand quantitative easing.”

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When will the next bond attack start?

Greece To Submit Contentious Budget For 2015 (CNBC)

Greece’s proposed budget for 2015 has put it at loggerheads again with the “Troika” of international monitors, who are worried the plan will land it with a bigger fiscal gap than forecast. The coalition government led by Antonis Samaras has promised the budget will include no further austerity measures—on which its bailout is contingent— in an effort to combat the risk of snap national elections next year. The latest polls show that the anti-austerity left-wing opposition party SYRIZA would win an election, if it was held now. Greek Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis will submit the final plan for 2015 to the President of the Parliament at 10 a.m. GMT on Friday. Negotiations in Parliament on the Greek budget for 2015 will then start December 4.

The Troika—the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank – is worried that the budget will land Greece with a much bigger fiscal gap next year than the government says. The disagreement has already delayed the country’s review by the Troika and Greece risks missing a December 8 deadline to receive the final instalment of its bailout from Europe, which is worth 144.6 billion euros. This completion of the review would also pave the way for talks on a possible financial backstop for Greece after the European part of its bailout expires at the end of this year.”Only once a staff-level agreement has been reached for the conclusion of the review can discussions on the follow-up to the program take place. The full staff mission will return to Athens as soon as the conditions are there,” Margaritis Schinas, chief spokesperson of the European Commission told CNBC.

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Power games save faces, but not countries.

Hanging Around: Why Abe’s Holding an Election in a Recession (Bloomberg)

The economy’s in recession, his support is sliding, and he has two years left in office with a big majority. Hardly surprising Japanese voters say they don’t understand why Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called an election. Abe dissolved the lower house of parliament today for the vote to be held in mid-December. His coalition isn’t likely to lose its majority as the opposition is in disarray. A solid win now would snuff out potential threats from within his own party in a leadership election set for next year. Abe is taking a page out of his family’s history. His great-uncle Eisaku Sato, the longest-serving prime minister since the war, twice called early elections during his eight years in office from 1964-1972 to consolidate his grip on power.

While Abe has already closed the revolving door of one-year prime ministers that began with his own resignation in 2007, he needs to be seen as keeping his pledges to revive the economy to be able to challenge Sato’s record. “Tradition is that as soon as a prime minister’s popularity goes down, you put in another guy,” said Steven Reed, professor of political science at Chuo University in Tokyo. Each of the last six prime ministers “lost popularity rapidly because they didn’t keep any promises,” he said. The risk is that Abe’s plan backfires and he loses enough seats to fuel a challenge from his own allies, who in Japanese politics are often a more formidable threat to a sitting prime minister than the opposition. 63% of respondents in a Kyodo News poll yesterday said they didn’t understand his reasons for calling an election.

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Say sayonara Nippon.

Abe Listening to Krugman After Tokyo Limo Ride on Abenomics Fate (Bloomberg)

When Japanese economist Etsuro Honda heard that Paul Krugman was planning a visit to Tokyo, he saw an opportunity to seize the advantage in Japan’s sales-tax debate. With a December deadline approaching, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was considering whether to go ahead with a 2015 boost to the consumption levy. Evidence was mounting that the world’s third-largest economy was struggling to shake off the blow from raising the rate in April, which had triggered Japan’s deepest quarterly contraction since the global credit crisis. Honda, 59, an academic who’s known Abe, 60, for three decades and serves as an economic adviser to the prime minister, had opposed the April move and was telling him to delay the next one. Enter Krugman, the Nobel laureate who had been writing columns on why a postponement was needed.

“That nailed Abe’s decision – Krugman was Krugman, he was so powerful,” Honda said in an interview yesterday in the prime minister’s residence, where he has an office. “I call it a historic meeting.” It was in a limousine ride from the Imperial Hotel — the property near the emperor’s palace that in a previous construction was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright — that Honda told Krugman, 61, what was at stake for the meeting. The economist, who’s now heading to the City University of New York from Princeton University, had the chance to help convince the prime minister that he had to put off the 2015 increase. Confronting Honda and fellow members of Abe’s reflationist brain-trust – such as Koichi Hamada, a former Yale University economist, and Kozo Yamamoto, a senior ruling-party lawmaker — were Ministry of Finance bureaucrats.

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Timing is everything. What year is today?

US Federal Reserve To Review How It Supervises Major Banks (Reuters)

The U.S. Federal Reserve said on Thursday it has launched a review of how it oversees major banks, calling on its inspector general to help with the probe after a series of critical reports. Separate studies to be undertaken by the Fed’s Washington-based Board of Governors and its Office of Inspector General are meant to ensure that “divergent views” about the state of large banks are adequately aired. The reviews will determine whether frontline supervisors and other officials at the regional Federal Reserve banks, as well as at the board level, “receive the information needed to ensure consistent and sound supervisory decisions,” the Fed said in a press release.

That includes being made aware of “divergent views” about a bank’s operations, a reference to criticism that supervisors at the Fed’s regional banks have sometimes suppressed the views of staff members considered too critical of the banks they examine. The issue will be the focus of a Senate Banking committee hearing on Friday that features New York Fed President William Dudley as the chief witness. Several Fed regional banks are involved in supervising the country’s 15 largest financial institutions, including Citigroup and Bank of America, that generally have more than $50 billion in assets. But the New York Fed in particular has come under fire for being lax with the banks it oversees and for not reacting forcefully enough in the run-up to the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

A recent inspector general’s report said supervision at the New York Fed was hampered by the loss of key personnel and an inadequate plan for succession into important positions. Secret recordings made by former New York Fed supervisor Carmen Segarra also portrayed the bank as cozy with major institutions like Goldman Sachs. In testimony prepared for the Senate hearing but released on Thursday afternoon, Dudley said “it is undeniable that banking supervisors could have done better in their prudential oversight of the financial system” in advance of the financial crisis.

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More Hugh. He has very original insights.

Hugh Hendry: “QE ‘Worked’ By Redistributing Wealth Not Creating It” (Zero Hedge)

Hendry: This is almost unparalleled in being the most exciting moment for global macro today. And I predicate that upon making an analogy with the Central Bank coordinated policy intervention, in the foreign exchange markets, after the Plaza Accord in, I believe, 1985. There was a profound unease at the current account and particularly the trade deficit that America was running up, especially against the Japanese, which was deemed to be contentious. The real economy is composed of slow-moving prices, wages are slow and the notion of having to wait for productivity improvements and wage price negotiations to work their course, via the U.S. corporate landscape in Japan, such as those deficits would be resolved successfully and become less politically contentious. It was just too long. Politicians just don’t have that time and so they jumped into the world of macro. Macro’s all about fast-moving prices. Foreign exchange is fast. Stock markets prices are fast.

So the notion then was that the Yen and the Deutschmark would appreciate. Now for hedge funds that was amazing. This is the period of the alchemy of finance, as George Soros has celebrated in very successful financial adventures. They just run the biggest long positions. No one stopped to say “Well, the Deutschmark’s getting expensive.” It didn’t really enter into the vernacular of trading in that market. It was macro, there was a policy impulse, a sponsorship by the world’s monetary authorities and you were trending and you had to have that position. By and large it succeeded. So what I would said to you today is that the policy response can’t be found in foreign exchange markets. It’s been muted somewhat by the “Beggar thy neighbour” way that everyone can pursue the same policy. So currencies, up until very lately, haven’t really moved that much. Instead the drama is unfolding in the stock market.

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Cameron keeps on losing against the EU.

Britain Abandons Banker Bonus Fight After EU Court Blow (Bloomberg)

Britain abandoned a bid to overturn a European Union ban on banker bonuses of more than twice fixed pay after it suffered a setback in the EU’s top court. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said he wouldn’t “spend taxpayers’ money” pursuing the legal challenge any further after Britain’s arguments were rebuffed by a senior official at the EU Court of Justice yesterday. The U.K. government will instead redirect its efforts toward countering the effects of the “badly designed rules,” which include an increase in bankers’ overall pay, Osborne said in a statement. The U.K. Treasury said it may be necessary to “develop standards that ensure that non-bonus or fixed pay is put at risk,” echoing remarks this week by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.

U.K. banks face a running battle with regulators over the EU remuneration rules, with Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland among more than 30 lenders that have tried to circumvent it by introducing so-called role-based pay. The four banks declined to comment on the court opinion. The European Banking Authority, which brings together financial watchdogs from throughout the 28-nation EU, said in October that role-based allowances violate EU rules in “most cases,” and urged regulators to ensure compliance. Osborne and Carney have criticized the EU bonus curb as counterproductive. Britain started the legal fight against the measure last year.

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“Lethal assistance “remains on the table. It’s something that we’re looking at …”

Russia Warns US Against Supplying ‘Lethal Defensive Aid’ To Ukraine (RT)

Moscow has warned Washington a potential policy shift from supplying Kiev with “non-lethal aid” to “defensive lethal weapons”, mulled as US Vice President visits Ukraine, would be a direct violation of all international agreements. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that reports of possible deliveries of American “defensive weapons” to Ukraine would be viewed by Russia as a “very serious signal.” “We heard repeated confirmations from the [US] administration, that it only supplies non-lethal aid to Ukraine. If there is a change of this policy, then we are talking about a serious destabilizing factor which could seriously affect the balance of power in the region,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich cautioned.

His remarks follow US deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken Wednesday’s statement at a hearing before the Senate Committee for Foreign Affairs, in which he said that Biden may offer the provision of “lethal defensive weapons” as he visits Ukraine. Lethal assistance “remains on the table. It’s something that we’re looking at,” Blinken said. “We paid attention not only to such statements, but also to the trip of representatives of Ukrainian volunteer battalions to Washington, who tried to muster support of the US administration,” Lukashevich said.

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Useful timeline.

EuroMaidan Anniversary: 21 Steps From Peaceful Rally To Civil War (RT)

Protesters who went out to Kiev’s Maidan Square exactly a year ago have their goal – a deal with the EU – achieved. However, they hardly expected the protest would also trigger a bloody civil war which has already claimed 4,000 lives. RT takes a look at the milestone events of the past 365 days, which brought Ukraine – and the world – to where it is now.

1) Then-President Victor Yanukovich’s unwillingness to sign an Association Agreement with the EU led to Maidan (Independence Square) in Ukraine’s capital Kiev filling with protesters on November 21, 2013. The rally participants were holding hands, waving flags and chanting slogans like “Ukraine is Europe!”

2) The brutal dispersal of a protest camp on the morning of November 30 was a turning point in the ensuing events. It’s still unclear whose idea it was to use force against demonstrators. Yanukovich laid the blame on the city’s police chief and sacked him. But that was not enough for the Maidan protesters, who switched from demands of signing the EU deal to calls for the toppling of the government.

3) Over the course of several weeks, which followed the face of Maidan started to change – peaceful protesters were more and more giving way to masked and armed rioters, often from far-right groups. A collective of radicals called the Right Sector were among the most prominent. Peaceful protests evolved into a continuous stand-off between the rallying people and riot police.

4) The deadliest day of the Maidan protests came on February 20 when over a hundred people were killed in the center of Kiev, most of them by sniper fire. The ongoing official investigation blamed a group of elite soldiers from the Berkut riot police for the killings. But there is a lingering suspicion that the massacre was committed by somebody among the anti-government forces.

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More secrets, just what the situation needed.

Dutch Government Refuses To Reveal ‘Secret Deal’ Into MH17 Crash Probe (RT)

The Dutch government has refused to reveal details of a secret pact between members of the Joint Investigation Team examining the downed Flight MH17. If the participants, including Ukraine, don’t want information to be released, it will be kept secret. The respected Dutch publication Elsevier made a request to the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice under the Freedom of Information Act to disclose the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) agreement, along with 16 other documents. The JIT consists of four countries – the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and Ukraine – who are carrying out an investigation into the MH17 disaster, but not Malaysia. Malaysian Airlines, who operated the flight, has been criticized for flying through a war zone.

Part of the agreement between the four countries and the Dutch Public Prosecution Service, ensures that all these parties have the right to secrecy. This means that if any of the countries involved believe that some of the evidence may be damaging to them, they have the right to keep this secret. “Of course [it is] an incredible situation: how can Ukraine, one of the two suspected parties, ever be offered such an agreement?” Dutch citizen Jan Fluitketel wrote in the newspaper Malaysia Today. Despite the air crash taking place on July 17 in Eastern Ukraine, very little information has been released about any potential causes. However, rather than give the public a little insight into the investigation, the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice is more worried about saving face among the members of the investigation.

“I believe that this interest [international relations] is of greater importance than making the information public, as it is a unique investigation into an extremely serious event,” the Ministry added, according to Elsevier. Other reasons given for the request being denied included protecting investigation techniques and tactics as well as naming the names of officials who are taking part in the investigation. The Ministry said it would be a breach of privacy if they were revealed. “If the information was to be released then sensitive information would be passed between states and organizations, which would perhaps mean they would be less likely to share such information in the future,” said the Ministry of Security and Justice. Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt, who is a member of the Christian Democratic Party, has made several requests for the information to be released to the public. “We just do not know if the Netherlands has compromised justice,” he said in reaction to the ministry’s decision. The MP was surprised that this agreement was even signed, never mind kept secret.

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Shiller is a blind man: “If we are to encourage dynamism, we need Keynesian stimulus and other policies that encourage creativity”.

Creativity, Companies, And The Wisdom Of Crowds (Robert Shiller)

Economic growth, as we learned long ago from the works of economists like MIT’s Robert M. Solow, is largely driven by learning and innovation, not just saving and the accumulation of capital. Ultimately, economic progress depends on creativity. That is why fear of “secular stagnation” in today’s advanced economies has many wondering how creativity can be spurred. One prominent argument lately has been that what is needed most is Keynesian economic stimulus – for example, deficit spending. After all, people are most creative when they are active, not when they are unemployed. Others see no connection between stimulus and renewed economic dynamism. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently put it, Europe needs “political courage and creativity rather than billions of euros.” In fact, we need both. If we are to encourage dynamism, we need Keynesian stimulus and other policies that encourage creativity – particularly policies that promote solid financial institutions and social innovation.

In his 2013 book Mass Flourishing, Edmund Phelps argues that we need to promote “a culture protecting and inspiring individuality, imagination, understanding, and self-expression that drives a nation’s indigenous innovation.” He believes that creativity has been stifled by a public philosophy described as corporatism, and that only through thorough reform of our private institutions, financial and others, can individuality and dynamism be restored. Phelps stresses that corporatist thinking has had a long and enduring history, going back to Saint Paul, the author of as many as 14 books of the New Testament. Paul used the human body (corpus in Latin) as a metaphor for society, suggesting that in a healthy society, as in a healthy body, every organ must be preserved and none permitted to die. As a public-policy credo, corporatism has come to mean that the government must support all members of society, whether individuals or organizations, giving support to failing businesses and protecting existing jobs alike.

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Throw a big number out there and see if it sticks.

China Starts $2 Trillion Leap Forward to Slash Pollution (Bloomberg)

China, which does nothing in small doses, is planning an environmental makeover in keeping with the political, cultural and market revolutions it has pursued over the past six decades. In his agreement last week with President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping committed to cap carbon emissions by 2030 and turn to renewable sources for 20% of the country’s energy. His pledge would require China to produce either 67 times more nuclear energy than the country is forecast to have at the end of 2014, 30 times more solar or nine times more wind power – – more non-fossil fuel energy than almost the entire U.S. generating capacity. That means building roughly 1,000 nuclear reactors, 500,000 wind turbines or 50,000 solar farms. The cost will run to almost $2 trillion, holding out the potential of vast riches for nuclear, solar and wind companies that get in on the action.

“China is in the midst of a period of transition, and that calls for a revolution in energy production and consumption, which will to a large extent depend on new energy,” Liang Zhipeng, deputy director of the new energy and renewable energy department under the National Energy Administration, said at a conference in Wuxi outside of Shanghai this month. “Our environment is facing pressure and we must develop clean energy.” By last year, China had already become the world’s largest producer of wind and solar power. Now, with an emerging middle class increasingly outspoken about living in sooty cities reminiscent of Europe’s industrial revolution, China is looking at radical changes in how its economy operates. “China knows that their model, which has done very well up until recent times, has run its course and needs to shift, and they have been talking about this at the highest levels,” said Paul Joffe, senior foreign policy counsel at the World Resources Institute.

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Interesting concept: to meet official goals, ‘We’ll have to suck the carbon out of the air’. We won’t.

The Magical Thought That’s Assumed in Climate Studies (Bloomberg)

Here’s one way to phrase the basic climate change conundrum: There’s a huge gap between the volume of pollution emitted every year and how much scientists say we can safely send aloft. This has a weird implication for potential fixes governments may need in the future. Emission levels in 2020 could end up about 23% higher than what scientists suggest is safe, according to an annual study of the so-called “emissions gap” put out by the UN Environment Program. The carbon overshoot could grow by 2030 to 40%. “Safe” means what the UN-led climate negotiators have defined it to mean: warming of less than two degrees Celsius above global average temperatures from the beginning of the record, or around 1880. But two degrees doesn’t say much to normal people when you’re talking about the temperature of a planet. That’s why scientists have been beating their heads against walls the last several years to translate “two degrees Celsius” into something incrementally more intelligible – more intelligible even than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

They’ve come up with the idea of a carbon budget, or the volume of pollution we can put into the atmosphere and still have a halfway decent chance of containing the problem. At the rate we’re going, the budget may burn up by the 2040s. Now, in finance, the notion of a budget deficit make sense. When someone overspends, he pays the money back at a later date. Ecological deficits make less sense. How do you pay the ground back in carbon minerals once they’ve been vaporized and are hanging in the atmosphere? Here’s what’s weird, what the Emissions Gap report calls out. It has to do with these “carbon deficits” that result. We’re burning through so much of the budget today that in “safe” projections of the 2070s and 2080s, greenhouse gas emissions must go negative for the climate to stay safe. Smokestacks will have to start inhaling rather than exhaling. We’ll have to suck the carbon out of the air, through reforestation or some as-yet unproven airborne-carbon removal technology.

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This is who we are. This is mankind.

Rhino Poaching Death Toll Reaches Record in South Africa (Bloomberg)

A record 1,020 rhinos have been killed by poachers for their horns in South Africa this year, more than all of 2013 and triple the number four years ago. Kruger National Park, a reserve the size of Israel, has seen 672 rhinos killed since Jan. 1. A total of 1,004 were slaughtered throughout the country in 2013, the Department of Environmental Affairs said today in a statement. The horns are more valuable than gold by weight. Prices for a kilogram of rhino horn range from $65,000 to as much as $95,000 in Asia. “The South African government recognizes that the ongoing killing of the rhino for its horns is part of a multi-billion dollar worldwide illicit wildlife trade and that addressing the scourge is not simple,” the department said. Demand for rhino horns has climbed in Asian nations including China and Vietnam because of a belief that they can cure diseases such as cancer.

South Africa has taken measures including setting up an protection zone within Kruger Park, using new technology, intelligence, and moving rhinos to safe areas within South Africa and other countries where they live. Poachers killed 333 rhinos in 2010 and 668 in 2012, Albi Modise, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Affairs, said today in a mobile-phone text message. “Government will continue to strengthen holistic and integrated interventions and explore new innovative options to ensure the long-term survival of the species,” the department said. Authorities have made a record number of arrests for poaching and related activities, according to the department. A total of 344 alleged rhino poachers, couriers and poaching syndicate members have been apprehended this year, compared with 343 in all of last year, Modise said. Most rhinos in South Africa are white rhinos, the bigger of the two types of the animal found in Africa. They can weigh more than 2 metric tons. The horns are largely made up of keratin, a substance similar to human hair.

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The world’s best economic analysts are two Australian comedians. Fitting.

Growth First. Then These Other Things Can Be Dealt With (Clarke&Dawe)

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Nov 182014
 
 November 18, 2014  Posted by at 8:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Dorothea Lange Miserable poverty, Hooverville, Elm Grove, Oklahoma County, OK Aug 1936

What is it with us? Don’t we WANT to understand? Japan announced on Monday that its economy is in hopeless trouble and back in recession (as if it was ever out). And what do we see? ‘Experts’ and reporters clamoring for more stimulus. But if Japan has shown us anything over the past years, and you’re free to pick any number between 2 and 20 years, it’s that the QE-based kind of stimulus doesn’t work. Not for the real economy, that is.

The land of the setting sun has during that time thrown so much stimulus into its financial system that Krugman-esque calls for even more of the same look even more ludicrous today than they did all along. Abenomics is a depressing failure, just as we knew it would be since it started almost two years ago. It’s not complicated, and it never was.

Japan’s stimulus has achieved the following: banks get to pretend they’re healthy and stocks rise to heights that are fundamentally disconnected from underlying real values. On the flipside of that, citizens are being increasingly squeezed and ‘decide’ not to spend (not much of a decision if you have nothing to spend). Since Japan’s ‘consumer’ spending makes up about 60% of GDP, things can only possibly get worse as time passes. If ‘consumers’ don’t spend, deflation is the inevitable result – and that has nothing to do with the much discussed sales tax, it’s been going on for decades -.

Therefore, the sole thing QE stimulus has achieved is a wealth transfer from poorer to rich. And that’s not only the case in Japan. Mario Draghi yesterday hinted – again – at all the stuff he could start buying next year, including sovereign bonds, even though that would violate EU law. And whether or not Germany will let him in the end, the fact that he keeps the option alive even if only in theory, tells us plenty about the mindset at the ECB.

That is, it’s the same as in Japan. And doing the same can only lead to the same results. A poorer population, a richer toplayer and an economy that continues to shrink, which will and must lead to the same deflationary trend. The idea that an economy can be rescued by pushing public funds into its finance system and stock markets has been forever thrown out by Japan’s experiences.

Draghi said yesterday that ‘monetary policy has done a lot’, and while that may be correct, it says nothing about WHAT it has done. From where I’m sitting, Germany’s recent drift into negative territory and the ongoing record unemployment rates around the Mediterranean certainly tell us a lot about what it has NOT done. QE, no matter how big and how crazy, doesn’t heal real economies, it makes them sicker.

If consumer spending makes up 60% of GDP, as in Japan, or even 70%, as in the US, then you need to boost that spending. And you don’t do that by handing over what financial wiggle room you have left, to banks so they can pile it on to the reserves they hold at central banks.

It is accepted as gospel that it’s a good thing to give banks free money, but it would be the devil’s work to give it to consumers. Instead, the latter must be squeezed from all sides, through austerity, the loss of services, benefits, wages and jobs, in order to prop up the financial system. How and where is it not clear what that will result in? There’s only one possible outcome.

The reason why all governments and central banks keep following the failed QE stimulus path regardless lies in the relative political powers that different parts of a society have. In today’s world, saving the banks, which equals saving the rich, is not only the priority, it’s the only deliberation.

And if you might be under the impression that what is true in Japan and Europe does not hold in the US, why not start with this graph from Doug Short, and take it from there.

If and when an economy is as deep in the doldrums as all major economies today are, you can’t rescue it by taking from the poor to save the rich. It’s fundamentally impossible. You need the bottom 90%’s spending in order to generate enough GDP to stay out of deflation. Money must move through an economy for it to stay sufficiently ‘lubricated’. And the only people who can keep that money moving are the bottom 90%. It’s Catch-22.

Any stimulus must be directed at the bottom, or it must of necessity fail. Nothing commie or socialist about it, but simply the way economies work. And it’s not just some difference of ideal or insight or something, it’s very simply that an economy cannot function without its poorer 90% of citizens spending.

Anything else is simply Grand Theft Auto. Both Japan and Europe are preparing for more of it.

Nov 172014
 
 November 17, 2014  Posted by at 12:34 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »


NPC US Naval Research Lab, Bellevue, DC 1925

Japan Falls Into Recession As Consumers ‘Stop Spending’ (BBC)
China Bad Loans Jump Most Since 2005 (Bloomberg)
China’s Shadow Banking Grinds To A Halt As Bad Debt Surges (Zero Hedge)
UK PM Cameron Warns On Second Global Crash (CNBC)
Global Markets ‘Living On Borrowed Time’: Wilbur Ross (CNBC)
G20 Final Communique Lists 800 Measures For Economic Growth (Guardian)
The G20 Small Print: Summits Promise More Than They Deliver (Guardian)
Cracks Widen At OPEC As Oil Prices Tumble (CNBC)
Companies Scouring Europe for Best Tax Deals Are Turning to France (Bloomberg)
The Explosive Ascent Of The Podemos Party In Spain (Guardian)
Ukraine Finances In Jeopardy: IMF (CNBC)
Russia Claims Satellite Image Shows Moment MH17 Shot Down By Fighter Jet (Mirror)
Putin Rebukes Ukraine for Cutting Links With East Regions (Bloomberg)
How Almonds Are Sucking California Dry (BBC)
Are We Really Interested In Saving Time? (John Gray)
The Trouble With the Genetically Modified Future (Bloomberg)
World Is Crossing Malnutrition Red Line (BBC)

And Abe will use his self wrought crisis to grab more power through an election in which he has no real competition.

Japan Falls Into Recession As Consumers ‘Stop Spending’ (BBC)

Japan’s economy unexpectedly shrank for the second consecutive quarter, marking a technical recession in the world’s third largest economy. GDP fell at annualised 1.6% from July to September, compared with forecasts of a 2.1% rise. That followed a revised 7.3% contraction in the second quarter, which was the biggest fall since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Tokyo Correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says, “ordinary people in Japan have stopped spending money”. Economists said the weak economic data could delay a sales tax rise. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is widely expected to call a snap election to seek a mandate to delay an increase in the sales tax to 10%, scheduled for 2015.

The tax increase was legislated by the previous government in 2012 to curb Japan’s huge public debt, which is the highest among developed nations. April saw the first phase of the sales tax increase, from 5% to 8%, which hit growth in the second quarter and still appears to be having an impact on the economy. The economy shrank 0.4% in the third quarter from the quarter previous. The data also showed that growth in private consumption, which accounts for about 60% of the economy, was much weaker than expected. The next tax rise had already been put in question by already weak economic indicators.

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I think these numbers are grossly lowballing the problems.

China Bad Loans Jump Most Since 2005 (Bloomberg)

China’s bad loans jumped by the most since 2005 in the third quarter, fueling concern that a cooling economy will be further weakened as banks limit lending to avoid credit risks. Nonperforming loans rose by 72.5 billion yuan ($11.8 billion) from the previous quarter to 766.9 billion yuan, the China Banking Regulatory Commission said in a statement on Nov. 15. Soured credit accounted for 1.16% of lending, up from 1.08% three months earlier. As China heads for the weakest economic expansion since 1990, Communist Party leaders have discussed lowering the nation’s growth target for 2015, according to a person with knowledge of their talks. Bankers’ low appetite for risk and their rising concerns about asset quality are leading to a “sluggish” expansion in credit, according to UBS AG.

“We are still suffering from the aftermath of the credit binge and massive stimulus measures put in place in 2008,” said Rainy Yuan, a Shanghai-based analyst at Masterlink Securities Corp. “Banks have accelerated recognition of their bad loans in the last two quarters so that they could start the clean-up process.” Still, the pace of debt souring may have reached its peak, Jim Antos, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Mizuho Securities Asia, said in a note today. He estimated that nonperforming loans at Hong Kong-listed banks will probably increase by 18% in 2015, slowing from an estimated 31% gain in 2014.

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The potential fall-out from the demise of shadow banking in China is like that of a nuclear bomb.

China’s Shadow Banking Grinds To A Halt As Bad Debt Surges (Zero Hedge)

[..] as China finally reveals little by little the true extent of its gargantuan bad debt problem (which is far worse than ever in history, although Beijing is taking its time in making the necessary revelations: and after all Chinese banks are all SOEs – if needed they can all just get a few trillions renminbi in in liquidity injections a la the “developed west”), it is also slamming the breaks on the shadow banking system that for years what the sector where marginal credit creation, and thus growth as well as bad debt formation, was rampant. And as Japan showed so clearly just 48 hours after the end of America’s own QE3, reserves, like credit and money, are infinitely fungible in the global interconnected market. And infinitely, no pun intended, in demand, because if one central bank ends the goosing of risky assets, another has to immediately step in its place.

So while it has been widely documented that Japan is doing all in its power to crush the Japanese economy and in the process to send the Nikkei to all time highs, little has been said about a far greater slowdown in domestic (and indirectly global) credit creation using the “China” channel, where shadow banking has just slammed shut. Finally recall: it was the epic collapse in America’s own shadow banking liabilities in the aftermath of the Fannie and Freddie, and shortly thereafter, Lehman bankruptcy, which wiped out $8 trillion from the US shadow banking peak, that was the main reason for the Fed’s relentless intervention and attempts to reflate systemic funding since then. If the shadow banking collapse virus has finally jumped to China, there is no saying just how far Chinese GDP can drop if it is now constrained on the top side by surge in bad debt. One thing is certain: Japan’s paltry, in the grand scheme of things, expansion in its own QE will barely be felt if the record Chinese credit creation dynamo is indeed slamming shut.

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Cameron’s set-up for more policies that enrich the rich.

UK PM Cameron Warns On Second Global Crash (CNBC)

The global economy is again showing worrying signs of an imminent financial crisis, according to David Cameron, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, who has warned of a dangerous backdrop of instability and uncertainty. Writing in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper, he said that this weekend’s G-20 summit in Brisbane had further underlined the problems facing the global economy. “Six years on from the financial crash that brought the world to its knees, red warning lights are once again flashing on the dashboard of the global economy,” he said in the article, published late Sunday. Global trade talks have stalled, the eurozone is teetering on the brink of recession and emerging markets are now slowing down, he said.

The spread of Ebola, the conflict in the Middle East and Russia’s “illegal” actions in Ukraine are all adding to the global insecurity, according to Cameron. His words echo those of the Bank of England last week, which said that there were downside risks for the U.K. from weaker euro area activity which could also weigh on exports and be associated with rising market volatility. The U.K. is heavily indebted compared to most of its peers but has been praised by organizations like the IMF for being the fastest growing G-7 economy since the financial crash of 2008. The government – majority-led by the right-of-center Conservative Party – has followed a path of austerity and fiscal restraint since coming to power in 2010, although it has still missed deficit targets during that period.

Criticized at first, the austerity policies have come at the same time as a significant drop in unemployment in the U.K., with the Bank of England now looking to raise interest rates next year. Opposition policymakers argue the country has become unbalanced, with poorer citizens bearing the brunt of the cuts in spending. This thesis gained some backing on Monday with a new report that showed that the poorest groups in U.K. society lost the biggest share of their incomes on average following the benefit and direct tax changes since 2010. The research, by the London School of Economics and the University of Essex, also showed that the changes have not contributed to cutting the deficit and have instead been spent on tax breaks.

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No kidding.

Global Markets ‘Living On Borrowed Time’: Wilbur Ross (CNBC)

Global financial markets are living on borrowed time with geopolitical crises and deflationary risks still a concern, private-equity billionaire Wilbur Ross told CNBC. “I think [markets] are living on borrowed time because investors have no alternatives,” the chairman and chief executive of private equity firm WL Ross & Co told CNBC Europe’s “Squawk Box” on Monday. “Everyone’s scared to death of long-term fixed income because we know rates will be going up, short-term fixed income doesn’t give you any yield, commodities are going no place except down [so] where else can you put money unless you want to buy a $100 million [Alberto] Giacometti sculpture,” he said.

So far, it has been a calm November for global stock markets when compared to the sharp selloff and volatility seen in October on the back of global growth worries. In the last thirty days, for instance, the FTSE100 has gained 7.4% and the S&P 500 and Dow Jones almost 10% – and the Nasdaq over 11% – from the market plunge seen in mid-October. Ross told CNBC earlier in the year that his company had been selling six times as much as it had been buying on the back of attractive stock valuations in the U.S. “We have been a seller on balance, not because we think a terrible crash is coming but we need to sell opportunistically because we tend to have relatively large stakes in relatively thin securities so we have to sell when the markets are very strong.”

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” … the IMF and the OECD had calculated the commitments “if fully implemented” would deliver an additional 2.1% to the GDP of G20 economies.” How crazy does that sound to you?

G20 Final Communique Lists 800 Measures For Economic Growth (Guardian)

G20 leaders have approved a package of 800 measures estimated to increase their economic output by 2.1% by 2018 if fully implemented. At the end of the two-day summit in Brisbane, Australia, leaders representing 85% of the world’s economy also called for “strong and effective action” on climate change, with countries urged to reveal new emissions reduction targets in the first few months of next year. Australia, the host nation, had wanted to keep the summit focused on economic growth rather than climate change, but new commitments by China, the US and Japan helped build momentum for stronger global action to curb greenhouse gases. The host prime minister, Tony Abbott, said the summit had “very substantially delivered” on the goals of Australia’s presidency: boosting growth and employment, enhancing global economic resilience and strengthening global institutions. “We have signed off on a peer-reviewed growth package that, if implemented, will achieve a 2.1% increase in global growth over the next five years, on top of business as usual,” he said.

“This year the G20 has delivered real and practical outcomes. Because of the efforts the G20 has made this year, culminating in the last 48 hours, people right around the world are going to be better off … through the achievement of inclusive growth and jobs.” G20 finance ministers and central bank governors who gathered in Sydney in February agreed to develop policies “to lift our collective GDP [gross domestic product] by more than 2% above the trajectory implied by current policies over the coming five years”. The communique, issued after the leaders’ summit in Brisbane on Sunday said the IMF and the OECD had calculated the commitments “if fully implemented” would deliver an additional 2.1% to the GDP of G20 economies compared with baseline forecasts issued last year. “This will add more than US$2tn to the global economy and create millions of jobs,” the communique said. It said countries would hold one another to account for implementing the commitments spelled out in the Brisbane action plan and comprehensive growth strategies. But the IMF and OECD analysis sounded a note of caution, pointing to “the high degree of uncertainty entailed in quantifying the impact of members’ policies”. G20 members had set out “close to 1,000 individual structural policy commitments, of which more than 800 are new”.

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“What’s not clear is whether the long drama that has been the global financial crisis will end happily or with bodies littering the stage.” Excuse me, but that is painfully clear.

The G20 Small Print: Summits Promise More Than They Deliver (Guardian)

The G20 is going to boost living standards and create better jobs. It has an 800-point action plan that will increase the size of the global economy by more than 2% over the next four years. It is going to step up the fight against climate change, make banks safer, modernise infrastructure, crack down on tax evasion and win the battle against Ebola. Not bad for a weekend in Brisbane. A word of advice: read the small print. Summits invariably promise more than they deliver; commitments made in communiqués are forgotten as soon as leaders have jetted out of the country. A quick look at the document pieced together in Brisbane suggests it is the familiar wishlist of pledges, most of which will not be met. Did the G20 sign up to numerical targets for cutting carbon emissions? No it did not. Did it put extra money on the table for tackling Ebola? No.

Is it expecting the private sector to produce most of the money for infrastructure projects? Yes. Is the action against tax evasion weakened by the failure to make registers of beneficial ownership open to public scrutiny? Most definitely. Is the G20 complacent in thinking that it has fixed the banks? Almost certainly. The G20 is right when it says the global recovery is “slow, uneven and not delivering the jobs needed”. The assessment that the global economy is being held back by a lack of demand is bang also on the money. Few would dispute the conclusion that there are both financial and geopolitical risks out there. It was something of a triumph for Barack Obama to get climate change in the communiqué at all given the opposition of Tony Abbott, the summit’s host. What’s clear is that the world is at a critical juncture. What’s not clear is whether the long drama that has been the global financial crisis will end happily or with bodies littering the stage.

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They’re meeting in 10 days. And no-one is going to volunteer to produce less. At current prices, they need to pump full blast.

Cracks Widen At OPEC As Oil Prices Tumble (CNBC)

Oil prices firmly below $80 a barrel are rattling nerves within OPEC and calls are mounting for concrete action at the group’s crucial next meeting this month. Over the weekend oil-producing countries Kuwait and Iran raised concerns about oil’s worrying lows and what OPEC should be doing to help protect its members’ economies. Kuwait’s cabinet and the country’s Supreme Petroleum Council held an “extraordinary” joint meeting Sunday to consider measures to stop the slide in prices. According the official KUNA news agency, the meeting “discussed the steps that have to be taken on all levels…including having consultations with fellow OPEC member states for maintaining interests of all parties”.

This comes as a surprise considering the country’s earlier statements of confidence in a rebound of prices and that there was no reason to panic Only last week Kuwait’s oil minister stressed that he did not believe there would be a reduction in output by OPEC when its 12 members gather in November 27 in Vienna. Also Sunday Iran’s oil minister criticized countries of trying to justify keeping oil production at the current level – which were set before countries such as Iran were allowed to return to selling oil in the global marketplace. Iran is already tapping its sovereign wealth fund to mitigate the impact of the oil price slump.

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Holland, Luxembourg, Ireland, now France. We add one per day.

Companies Scouring Europe for Best Tax Deals Are Turning to France (Bloomberg)

Move over, Ireland. Companies from Microsoft to China’s Huawei scouring Europe for fiscally attractive shores are turning to an unlikely country: France. As a base for research and development teams, that is. Tax breaks for R&D, €5.6 billion ($7 billion) this year alone, combined with world-class scientists are making France a honey pot for technology companies. As the French parliament debates how to shrink the country’s budget deficit this month some lawmakers are demanding reining in the R&D credits, saying some companies are abusing them. President Francois Hollande has pledged it’s a budget line he won’t touch. “The research tax breaks are decisive — they make France economically more attractive,” said Olivier Piou, who heads Gemalto, an Amsterdam-based developer of security products for bank cards, mobile phones and passports.

The fiscal breaks offset a significant part of Gemalto’s R&D budget, making it more compelling to keep 30% of its 2,000 researchers worldwide in France, Piou said. Ireland’s corporate tax of 12.5%, less than half France’s 33.3%, ensures companies from Google to Apple keep their European headquarters in the Celtic nation. Still, for R&D, global companies are increasingly beefing up their teams in France, transforming the country into a European technology hub, mirroring the U.K.’s dominance in the financial industry and Germany’s manufacturing prowess. Hollande boasted about the “edge” the measure gives France during his nationally televised interview on Nov. 6. “Often we have our handicaps, but here we have an advantage,” he said.

The jobs being created and the technological ecosystem the tax breaks are spawning is just what Hollande needs as he struggles to rekindle growth and reverse record-high joblessness. The measure, introduced in the 1980s, was expanded by former President Nicolas Sarkozy. It is among the few of his predecessor’s policies retained by Hollande. More than 17,000 companies, ranging from biotechnology and energy to software and gaming, are cashing in on the tax advantages and subsidies for innovation this year in France, with an average break of about €323,500. The R&D tax break is France’s second-biggest behind a payroll credit, a measure to spur competitiveness, according to the Budget Ministry. The move, meant to keep the brightest minds and high-value jobs at home, is also prompting foreign companies to set-up laboratories or hire French algorithm whizzes.

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This is what Europe needs: fresh blood in politics, new parties, different visions. And truly sovereign countries.

The Explosive Ascent Of The Podemos Party In Spain (Guardian)

Spain is in a mess, with unemployment at almost 25%, and over half its young people without work, a plight that can damage an individual for life. And in comparison with Britain it has been transformed by immigration at lightning speed: in the early 90s fewer than one in every hundred Spaniards were immigrants; in the noughties, the number surged sixfold, from 924,000 immigrants officially registered in 2000 to 5.6 million in 2009. Yet, despite rampant joblessness, poverty and insecurity, parties that have prioritised clampdowns on immigrants have failed to thrive. Instead, disaffection has found a different expression: a party whose premise is that ordinary Spaniards should not have to pay for a crisis they had nothing to do with.

Podemos is founded on the politics of hope: its English translation is “we can”. It was founded only this year but won 1.2m votes and five seats in May’s European elections. And now it has topped opinion polls, eclipsing the governing rightwing People’s party and the ostensibly centre-left PSOE – the Spanish Socialist Workers’ party. There are few precedents for such an explosive political ascent in modern western Europe; in Spain, a discredited political elite appears to be tottering. Not that Podemos simply materialised out of nowhere. In the buildup to Spain’s 2011 general election, hundreds of thousands of indignados took to the streets in protest at the political elite. Yet without political leadership and direction, such movements – although they can mobilise the disengaged – invariably fizzle out.

As Iñigo Errejón, the Podemos election supremo, has written, before May’s European elections, “social mobilisation had been in retreat. Among large sections of the left the most pessimistic assumptions prevailed.” But Podemos was the child of the indignados movement, a party that emphasises bottom-up democratic participation: where the indignados had neighbourhood assemblies, Podemos has “circles” that take similar forms. There are even circles among Britain’s Spanish diaspora in London and Manchester. The funding for its European campaign was largely crowdsourced, and its policies and priorities are decided partly through online voting.

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That winter may yet be awfully hard.

Ukraine Finances In Jeopardy: IMF (CNBC)

A $17 billion loan may not be enough for Ukraine to manage its finances if the conflict with Russia continues, the International Monetary Fund warned over the weekend. All parties involved in the Crimean crisis must work together, “because it’s very hard to imagine how the finances of Ukraine can be kept under control [otherwise],” the group’s deputy managing director David Lipton told CNBC at the G-20 summit in Brisbane. In April, the group agreed to a $17 billion two-year rescue package for Kiev with the aim of restoring macroeconomic stability. Yet that goal remains far off with the country in the midst of a currency crisis and facing an 8% contraction in GDP this year. The hryvnia plunged to record lows against the U.S. dollar in recent days, slumping nearly 90% in value year-to-date. Meanwhile, the World Bank estimates that economic growth may only return in 2016.

“We are working with Ukraine to try and stabilize their economy, which has become destabilized by what’s happened, including this conflict. This program stabilization really is now under threat from the flaring up of conflict,” said Lipton. “We’ve been presuming that Ukraine and the separatists would make some progress after the ceasefire, [and] that Russia would co-operate with that.” However, signs of co-operation remain to be seen. A ceasefire deal between pro-Russian rebels and government forces in September has been repeatedly violated as both groups accuse each other of launching fresh offensives in eastern Ukraine. At the G-20 summit, Russian president Vladimir Putin said “there was a good chance of resolution” in the eight-month old conflict even as Reuters reported fresh rounds of artillery file in Donetsk over the weekend.

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Report immediately ridiculed.

Russia Claims Satellite Image Shows Moment MH17 Shot Down By Fighter Jet (Mirror)

These sensational new pictures allegedly show Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 being shot down by a fighter jet. The photographs were broadcast tonight by Russian state media as evidence the passenger plane was shot down in July by a Ukrainian warplane and not a ground to air missile as previously believed. It was claimed that the images were produced by a British or US satellite. The “leaked” pictures show a missile streaking towards the MH17 flight which was downed, killing all 298 people on board, it was claimed.  TV presenter Mikhail Leontiev claimed the mysterious source who provided the images concluded they showed “how a Mig-29 fighter plane destroys the Boeing passenger plane”.

The West has repeatedly suggested the plane was shot down by pro-Moscow rebels using a Russian-made BUK missile system. Russia has argued an unidentified plane was in vicinity at the time of the crash, and that Ukraine and the West have hushed up this fact.  The Kremlin-owned channel’s presenter said: “Today we have all grounds to suppose that a State crime was committed by those who deliberately destroyed the plane. And by those who are cynically hiding it, having the full information.” The extraordinary broadcast came ahead of Western leaders including David Cameron confronting Vladimir Putin over the crash at a summit in Australia. Channel One claimed: “We have at our disposal a sensational shot, supposedly made by foreign satellite spy during the final seconds of MH17 above Ukraine.” The reported disputed a BUK missile as the cause of the tragedy. “To cut it short, it looks like there was no BUK and no launch from the ground. There were dozens professional and thousands of amateur witnesses, and no-one registered it,” claimed Leontiev.

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They even threw out a human rights treaty.

Putin Rebukes Ukraine for Cutting Links With East Regions (Bloomberg)

Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to his isolation at a global summit over his role in fomenting fighting in Ukraine by chastising authorities in Kiev. Putin said his counterpart in Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, made a “big mistake” by moving to sever banking services and pull out state companies from two breakaway regions. He spoke after Group of 20 leaders berated Russia over the conflict at a summit in Brisbane, Australia. “Why are the authorities in Kiev now cutting off these regions with their own hands?” Putin told reporters. “I do not understand this. Or rather, I understand that they want to save money, but this is not the right occasion and the right time to do this.” Putin, who was told by fellow leaders to stop arming pro-Russian rebels, said he was leaving the G-20 gathering early to get some sleep on the flight home before tomorrow’s meetings. Russia has rejected accusations that it’s supplying manpower and weapons to support the insurgents who have carved out separatist republics in eastern Ukraine.

The government in Kiev is moving to revoke the special status and cut off links with rebel-held areas of the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk after they held elections two weeks ago that Ukraine considers illegitimate. Under a presidential decree issued yesterday, state companies and institutions were ordered to suspend work and evacuate employees with their consent. The central bank must stop Ukrainian lenders from servicing accounts used by individuals and companies in the breakaway areas, according to the document on Poroshenko’s website. “This is a big mistake because in this way they are cutting off these regions with their own hands,” Putin said, adding that he wants to discuss the decision with Poroshenko. “I do not think this a fatal blow though. I hope that life and practice in reality will yet make their adjustments to these plans.”

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” .. what this place is witnessing is a dust bowl of truly Steinbeckian proportions .. comedians joke that it’s so dry in California these days that the longest lines at Disneyland are for the water fountains – or ponder replacing the bear on the California state flag with a camel.”

How Almonds Are Sucking California Dry (BBC)

California’s worst drought for more than a century is causing huge problems for farmers, who need a trillion gallons of water per year for their almond orchards alone. But it also leaves homeowners facing difficult choices about what to do with their lawn I have a neighbour, Deborah, and ever since I’ve lived here, her front lawn has been luxuriant and green. But wandering by the other day I did a double take. Mounds of earth were piled up where the grass had once been, and an army of workmen had set about installing succulent plants and ground cover, and the kind of prickly cactus you normally see in children’s cartoons. By the time Deborah had finished explaining why she was doing it, I could hardly believe I hadn’t done the same thing myself. Aside from the satisfaction of knowing you are planting something that is actually meant to grow in these desert-like conditions – as opposed to grass, which sucks up water with the zeal of an inebriate who has stumbled upon the keys to the drinks cabinet – she also stands to save a fortune on her water bill.

She even avoids having to confront a sorry, burned-out apology-for-a-front-lawn every time she leaves the house. Added to which, the city of Los Angeles actually paid her to do it – generously too, by all accounts. And if paying people to rip up their lawns and replace them with drought-tolerant plants strikes you as an odd use of government resources, then all I can say to you is that desperate times call for desperate measures – and these are desperate times. California is now in its third year of drought. The reservoirs are running dry and so too are the ground water supplies. While comedians joke that it’s so dry in California these days that the longest lines at Disneyland are for the water fountains – or ponder replacing the bear on the California state flag with a camel – what this place is witnessing is a dust bowl of truly Steinbeckian proportions. It’s so dry, in fact, that officials were reportedly thinking of adding a fifth level to the current four-tiered drought scale, which currently rates 99% of the state as “abnormally dry”.

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Intriguing piece by brilliant philosopher John Gray.

Are We Really Interested In Saving Time? (John Gray)

A new food substitute has been advertised as time-saving. But when we say we want to save time, is this a lie we tell ourselves to mask other desires, asks John Gray. It might seem an extreme step to give up eating meals in order to save time, but this is how a new food substitute is being promoted. Soylent is a drink made by adding oil and water to a specially prepared powder that the manufacturers claim contains all the nutrients the human body needs. It’s described as creamy and faintly sweet-tasting, and enthusiasts who have given up regular meals to live on the fluid say it’s quite satisfying. With a month’s supply costing around £40, it’s cheaper than ordinary food and if it becomes widely popular will be even cheaper in future. The suggestion is that you can give your body the nourishment it needs without thought or bother, just by knocking back a drink of the fluid two or three times a day. Invented by a 24-year old American software engineer, Soylent is being promoted as a solution to what many people like to think is the bane of their lives – a perpetual shortage of time.

The name of the new food has a curious history. In Soylent Green, an unsettling film that appeared in 1973, the Soylent in question was a green wafer supposedly made from plankton algae. Taking its theme from a novel Make Room! Make Room!, published by the American science fiction writer Harry Harrison in 1966, the film is set in a heavily overpopulated world in which much of humankind lives by consuming the wafer. The action takes place in New York City, by then an overcrowded megalopolis containing 40 million people. The film’s story line tells how a New York City Police Department detective investigating a suspicious death eventually discovers that the wafer on which the world’s population lives is in fact made from human remains. The film ends with the detective, by now a broken-down figure, exclaiming, “Soylent Green is people!”

Human numbers have greatly increased over the past 40 years – from just under four billion when the film was made to well over seven billion now. At the same time concern about overpopulation, which was widespread when the film was made, has become distinctly unfashionable. Nowadays many would view as heresy the idea that there could be too many human beings on the planet, and I’ve not come across any mention of overpopulation in the publicity surrounding the Soylent that’s being marketed today. The new meal replacement isn’t being presented as a remedy for world hunger or an overcrowded planet. It’s an affliction of the well-fed that the liquid food is meant to cure.

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Losing the precautionary principle is never a good idea. But we definitely lost it. And it’s very hard to get it back, that probably requires a disaster to happen.

The Trouble With the Genetically Modified Future (Bloomberg)

Like many people, I’ve long wondered about the safety of genetically modified organisms. They’ve become so ubiquitous that they account for about 80% of the corn grown in the U.S., yet we know almost nothing about what damage might ensue if the transplanted genes spread through global ecosystems. How can so many smart people, including many scientists, be so sure that there’s nothing to worry about? Judging from a new paper by several researchers from New York University, including “The Black Swan” author Nassim Taleb, they can’t and shouldn’t. The researchers focus on the risk of extremely unlikely but potentially devastating events. They argue that there’s no easy way to decide whether such risks are worth taking – it all depends on the nature of the worst-case scenario.

Their approach helps explain why some technologies, such as nuclear energy, should give no cause for alarm, while innovations such as GMOs merit extreme caution. The researchers fully recognize that fear of bad outcomes can lead to paralysis. Any human action, including inaction, entails risk. That said, the downside risks of some actions may be so hard to predict – and so potentially bad – that it is better to be safe than sorry. The benefits, no matter how great, do not merit even a tiny chance of an irreversible, catastrophic outcome. For most actions, there are identifiable limits on what can go wrong. Planning can reduce such risks to acceptable levels. When introducing a new medicine, for example, we can monitor the unintended effects and react if too many people fall ill or die.

Taleb and his colleagues argue that nuclear power is a similar case: Awful as the sudden meltdown of a large reactor might be, physics strongly suggests that it is exceedingly unlikely to have global and catastrophic consequences. Not all risks are so easily defined. In some cases, as Taleb explained in “The Black Swan,” experience and ordinary risk analysis are inadequate to understand the probability or scale of a devastating outcome. GMOs are an excellent example. Despite all precautions, genes from modified organisms inevitably invade natural populations, and from there have the potential to spread uncontrollably through the genetic ecosystem. There is no obvious mechanism to localize the damage.

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Overeating is malnutrition too.

World Is Crossing Malnutrition Red Line (BBC)

Most countries in the world are facing a serious public health problem as a result of malnutrition, a report warns.The Global Nutrition Report said every nation except China had crossed a “malnutrition red line”, suffering from too much or too little nutrition. Globally, malnutrition led to “11% of GDP being squandered as a result of lives lost, less learning, less earning and days lost to illness,” it added. The findings follow on from last year’s Nutrition from Growth summit in London. At the 2013 gathering, 96 signatories made “significant and public commitments to nutrition-related actions” and this report was an assessment of the work that still needed to be done and the progress made. “Malnutrition is an invisible thing, unless it is very extreme,” explained Lawrence Haddad, co-chairman of the independent expert group that compiled the report. “This invisibility stops action happening but it does not stop bad things happening to the children, ” he told BBC News. “It does not stop preventing the children’s brains from developing; it does not stop their immune systems from not developing. “It is a silent crisis and we are trying to raise the awareness of the extent of malnutrition and the damage it does.”

The UN World Food Programme estimates that poor nutrition causes nearly half of deaths in children aged under five – 3.1 million children each year. Dr Haddad, a senior research fellow for the International Food Policy Research Institute, highlighted three areas that the report focused on. “The first thing we did was to say that we were not just going to focus on undernutrition, which is closely related to hunger, but also overnutrition and obesity,” he explained. “Malnutrition just means bad nutrition.” The second thing we did was focus on not just the outcomes, we also focused on the drivers. We looked at underlying factors, such as sanitation, water quality, food security, spending on nutrition and women’s status etc. “The third thing we did was to look at a very specific set of commitments that were made in the 2013 summit that David Cameron hosted in London.”

The expert group’s assessment on global nutrition drew a number of conclusions. “First of all, it is really interesting when you put all the data together you find out that nearly every country in the world has crossed a red line on nutrition in terms of it being a serious public health issue,” Dr Haddad observed. “In fact, the only country that has not is China… [but] they are very close to crossing a red line and that data is four to five years old. He added: “Often you read that it is just a problem that happens in Asia and Africa but, actually, every country in the world is grappling with malnutrition.” “The second big headline is almost half of the countries are grappling with more than one type of malnutrition. About half of the countries in the world are not just grappling with the undernutrition problem but also the overnutrition problem as well. “Countries like the UK dealt with the undernutrition problem, then there was a bit of a respite but then had to start dealing with overnutrition.

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Nov 132014
 
 November 13, 2014  Posted by at 11:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


John Collier Trucks on highway en route to Utica, New York Oct 1941

With Regret And Sadness We Announce The Death Of Money On Nov 16 2014 (Rapier)
Spreading Deflation Across East Asia Threatens Fresh Debt Crisis (AEP)
Gold Demand in China Slumps 37% Amid Drive to Root Out Graft (Bloomberg)
Carney-Yellen Neck-and-Neck on Being First to Raise Rates (Bloomberg)
Fed’s Dudley: Expectations For Mid-2015 Rate Lift-Off Reasonable (Reuters)
Abe Poised to Gamble Political Future on Snap Election (Bloomberg)
US Companies Now Stashing $2 Trillion Overseas (CNBC)
Barclays May Face Massive New Penalty Over Currency Rigging (Guardian)
Rig A Market, Go To Jail (Bloomberg ed.)
Fines Don’t Deter Bad Banks. So Ban Them From Trading (Guardian)
G-20 Stimulus Plans May Boost Growth by Extra 2.1%, OECD Says (Bloomberg)
China Slowdown Deepens as Leaders Said to Mull Cutting Growth Target (Bloomberg)
China’s Central Bank Resists Calls For Stimulus (FT)
Stockman: Central Banks Setting Up World for Bad Time (Bloomberg)
Cash-Burning Bets on Oil Rebound Surge in U.S. ETF Market (Bloomberg)
Saudi Oil Minister: There Is No ‘Price War’ (CNBC)
Oil Tankers Stream Toward China as Price Drop Sparks Boom (Bloomberg)
Russia-China Gas Accord to Pressure LNG in Canada, Australia (Bloomberg)
‘What’s Happening in Britain at the Moment Is Really Ugly’ (Spiegel)
Twilight of the Oligarchs (Dmitry Orlov)

Do take note.

With Regret And Sadness We Announce The Death Of Money On Nov 16 2014 (Rapier)

It is with regret and sadness we announce the death of money on November 16th 2014 in Brisbane, Australia.

In the musical Cabaret, Sally Bowles and the Emcee sing about money from the perspective of those witnessing its collapse in value in real terms in the great German hyperinflation of 1923. Less than a decade later, and a continent away, a young lawyer from Youngstown, Ohio noted on July 25th 1932 how money’s value could also fall in nominal terms:

“A considerable traffic has grown up in Youngstown in purchase and sale at a discount of Pass-Books on the Dollar Bank, City Trust and Home Savings Banks. Prices vary from 60% to 70% cash. All of these banks are now open but are not paying out funds.”
– The Great Depression – A Diary: Benjamin Roth (1932, first published 2009)

In Youngstown the bank deposit, an asset previously referred to as “money”, had fallen by up to 40% relative to the value of cash. The G20 announcement in Brisbane on November 16th will formalize a “bail in” for large-scale depositors raising the spectre that their deposits are, as many were in 1932, worth less than banknotes. It will be very clear that the value of bank deposits can fall in nominal terms. On Sunday in Brisbane the G20 will announce that bank deposits are just part of commercial banks’ capital structure, and also that they are far from the most senior portion of that structure. With deposits then subjected to a decline in nominal value following a bank failure, it is self-evident that a bank deposit is no longer money in the way a banknote is. If a banknote cannot be subjected to a decline in nominal value, we need to ask whether banknotes can act as a superior store of value than bank deposits? If that is the case, will some investors prefer banknotes to bank deposits as a form of savings? Such a change in preference is known as a “bank run.”

[UK] deposits larger than £85,000 will rank ahead of the bond holders of banks, but they will rank above little else. Importantly, both borrowings of the banks of less than 7 days maturity from other financial institutions and sums owed by banks in their role as counterparties to OTC derivatives will rank above large deposits. Large deposits at banks are no longer money, as this legislation will formally push them down through the capital structure to a position of material capital risk in any “failing” institution. In our last financial crisis, deposits were de facto guaranteed by the state, but from November 16th holders of large-scale deposits will be, both de facto and de jure, just another creditor squabbling over their share of the assets of a failed bank.

If we have another Lehman Brothers collapse, large-scale depositors could find themselves in the courts for years before final adjudication on the scale of their losses could be established. During this period would this illiquid asset, formerly called a deposit and now subject to an unknown capital loss, be considered money? Clearly it would not, as its illiquidity and likely decline in nominal value would make it unacceptable as a medium of exchange. From November 16th 2014 the large-scale deposit at a commercial bank is, at best, a lesser form of money, and to many it will cease to be money at all as its nominal value can fall and it could cease to be accepted as a medium of exchange.

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“Some 82pc of the items in the producer price basket are deflating in China. The figure is 90pc in Thailand, and 97pc in Singapore. These include machinery, telecommunications, and electrical equipment, as well as commodities.”

Spreading Deflation Across East Asia Threatens Fresh Debt Crisis (AEP)

Deflation is becoming lodged in all the economic strongholds of East Asia. It is happening faster and going deeper than almost anybody expected just months ago, and is likely to find its way to Europe through currency warfare in short order. Factory gate prices are falling in China, Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan and Singapore. Some 82pc of the items in the producer price basket are deflating in China. The figure is 90pc in Thailand, and 97pc in Singapore. These include machinery, telecommunications, and electrical equipment, as well as commodities. Chetan Ahya from Morgan Stanley says deflationary forces are “getting entrenched” across much of Asia. This risks a “rapid worsening of the debt dynamic” for a string of countries that allowed their debt ratios to reach record highs during the era of Fed largesse. Debt levels for the region as a whole (ex-Japan) have jumped from 147pc to 207pc of GDP in six years.

These countries face a Sisyphean Task. They are trying to deleverage, but the slowdown in nominal GDP caused by falling inflation is always one step ahead of them. “Debt to GDP has risen despite these efforts,” he said. If this sounds familiar, it should be. It is exactly what is happening in Italy, France, the Netherlands, and much of the eurozone. Data from Nomura show that the composite PPI index for the whole of emerging Asia – including India – turned negative in September. This was before the Bank of Japan sent a further deflationary impulse through the region by driving down the yen, and before the latest downward lurch in Brent crude prices. The Japanese know what it is like to be on the receiving end. A recent study by Naohisa Hirakata and Yuto Iwasaki from the Bank of Japan suggests that China’s weak-yuan policy – a polite way of saying currency manipulation to gain export share – was the chief cause of Japan’s deflation crisis over its two Lost Decades.

The tables are now turned. China itself is now one shock away from a deflation trap. Chinese PPI has been negative for 32 months as the economy grapples with overcapacity in everything from steel, cement, glass, chemicals, and shipbuilding, to solar panels. It dropped to minus 2.2pc in October. The sheer scale of over-investment is epic. The country funnelled $5 trillion into new plant and fixed capital last year – as much as Europe and the US combined – even after the Communist Party vowed to clear away excess capacity in its Third Plenum reforms. Old habits die hard. Consumer prices are starting to track factory prices with a long delay. Headline inflation dropped to 1.6pc in October. This is so far below the 3.5pc target of the People’s Bank of China that it looks increasingly like a policy mistake. Core inflation is down to 1.4pc.

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So how does deflation link with gold? Ugly numbers, and certainly not all manipulation.

Gold Demand in China Slumps 37% Amid Drive to Root Out Graft (Bloomberg)

Gold demand in China shrank for a third quarter as slumping prices failed to boost the purchases of bars, coins and jewelry in the world’s biggest user and officials pressed on with a nationwide anti-graft campaign. Buying by Asia’s largest economy tumbled 37% to 182.7 metric tons in the three months to September from the same period in 2013 as last year’s price-driven surge in demand wasn’t repeated, the World Gold Council said in a report today. India was the only Asian economy tracked by the producer-funded group that bought more bullion than China as usage across the biggest consuming region contracted 15% to 473.4 tons. An anti-graft drive in China this year hurt demand for luxury goods including bullion, while volatility that sank to a four-year low damped interest in the metal as an alternative investment.

Banks including Goldman Sachs expect prices to extend losses, in part as the buying frenzy that accompanied gold’s drop into a bear market in April 2013 hasn’t been sustained. China surpassed India as the world’s largest gold user last year as prices retreated 28%. “The scale of 2013’s exceptional buying continued to overshadow the market,” the London-based council said in the quarterly report that surveys global demand patterns. “The quiet environment provided China’s notoriously price-savvy investors with a further reason to stay out of the market.” Jewelry consumption in China fell 39% to 147.1 tons in the quarter, while demand for bars and coins slid 30% to 35.6 tons, the council said. Usage in the nine months to September was 638.4 tons, according to Bloomberg calculations based on figures in quarterly WGC reports in May, August and today. Last year, mainland demand was a record 1,275.1 tons, according to the council at a briefing in Shanghai today.

“China’s jewelry market continued to normalize following last year’s rapid expansion,” the council said. “Chinese investment demand this year has paused to catch its breath. Fourth-quarter bar and coin demand is shaping up to be much the same – steady, but unremarkable.” Buying in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, plunged 45% in the period as the Presidential election in July created a degree of political instability, according to the council. Japan’s bullion purchases fell 45% as a new sales tax damped demand, while consumption in Thailand fell 42% amid the unstable political climate, it said.

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A lot of these ‘experts’ are going to get duped, and their clients hammered.

Carney-Yellen Neck-and-Neck on Being First to Raise Rates (Bloomberg)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen may just beat Bank of England Governor Mark Carney to the first interest-rate increase since the financial crisis. Investors extended bets yesterday on how long the BOE will keep its benchmark at a record-low 0.5% after officials cut their growth and inflation forecasts. Markets are now pricing in a quarter-point increase by November next year, Sonia forwards show. As recently as August, wagers were for around February. In the U.S., the Fed is seen acting by September. “This is almost going to be like a horse race to the finish line on who’s going to go first now, whereas only three or four months ago that wouldn’t have even been close,” said Andrew Goldberg, a global market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management in London. “The key in both countries is going to be to see what happens in wages and because of that the U.S. is now in the lead.”

Presenting the BOE’s quarterly Inflation Report, Carney cited the “specter of economic stagnation” in the euro area, the biggest market for British exports, and said U.K. inflation could slow to below 1% within months. [..] “Whereas in the middle of the year the BOE was happy to go ahead of the Fed, now we’re in a world where the BOE will likely follow the Fed,” said Mike Amey, a fund manager at Pimco in London. Investors are betting the first rate increase from the Fed will come in 10 months, Morgan Stanley index data show. Policy makers have kept their benchmark target for overnight lending between banks in a range of zero to 0.25% since December 2008. “We are behind the Fed in terms of timing,” said Ian Winship, head of sterling bond portfolios at BlackRock the world’s biggest money manager with more than $4 trillion of assets. In the UK, “we’re looking at September or October for a full hike,” he said. “The impact of the disappointment we’ve had globally is having an impact on U.K. monetary policy.”

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Better do it when nobody expects it.

Fed’s Dudley: Expectations For Mid-2015 Rate Lift-Off Reasonable (Reuters)

Market expectations that U.S. interest rates will start to lift off sometime in mid-2015 are reasonable, New York Federal Reserve President William Dudley said on Thursday. Dudley, answering questions at a luncheon hosted by the United Arab Emirates central bank in Abu Dhabi, also said recent U.S. non-farm payrolls data had been very consistent with previous releases, and had not changed his policy outlook in any meaningful way. “What I can tell you is that we are making progress toward our objectives but there is considerable further progress still to go,” he said. “I think the market expectations that expect us to lift off sometime around the middle or somewhat later next year are reasonable expectations.”

Dudley said, however, that he could not give the likely timing for when the Fed would start raising interest rates, as it would depend on how the U.S. economy was evolving and how financial markets were reacting. “No, I cannot give you more specifics and the long answer is: because I do not know. It really depends on how the economy evolves and how we progress toward our objectives of maximum sustainable employment in the context of price stability.”

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I wouldn’t discount the option that Abe WANTS to lose an election, and save at least some face while the Japanese economy plummets further. If he’s not PM when the whip really comes down, he can claim innocence. Only, the opposition in Japan is so weakened it seems unlikely he can lose even if he tried. Either way, Japan is not a good place to be for the foreseeable future. A deepening deflationary recession, nationalist rhetoric and gun-slingering, the restart of nuclear plants in a shaky quaky setting, it doesn’t add up to a nice living environment.

Abe Poised to Gamble Political Future on Snap Election (Bloomberg)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is poised to gamble his political future on a plan to call a snap election next month, halfway into his current term. “It’s always risky to dissolve the house when you’re the prime minister,” said Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo. “Unless you win a crushing victory, you have nowhere to go but down.” Abe is likely to go to the people on Dec. 14 after postponing an unpopular sales-tax increase slated for October 2015, according to people with knowledge of his plan, who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak. Abe is less than two years into his four-year term and elections aren’t due until 2016.

For Abe, postponing the tax would buy him goodwill with voters, increasing his chances of winning a broader mandate to push through unpopular security legislation next year. The risk is that Abe’s strategy backfires and rather than increasing his majority in the lower house, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party loses seats. That would leave him vulnerable to a leadership challenge from within his own ranks. “It’s far from certain,” he will pick up support, said Koichi Nakano, professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. “His government may end up with fewer seats, and he may even face calls to step down as prime minister as a result.” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga yesterday denied reports that Abe told party leaders he planned to dissolve the Diet and delay the tax increase.

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” .. during the 2004 tax holiday “most of that cash was used to fund dividend payouts and share buybacks rather than to boost investment.” A Democratic congressional report indicated that the biggest companies receiving the benefits of $360 billion in repatriated funds actually cut a net 20,000 jobs”.

US Companies Now Stashing $2 Trillion Overseas (CNBC)

U.S. companies are for the first time holding more than $2 trillion overseas, according to an analysis that paints a bleak picture of whether that money will make its way home and the limited economic impact it would have even if it does. Corporate cash has hit $2.1 trillion, a sixfold increase over the past 12 years, Capital Economics said, citing its own database as well as that of Audit Analytics and other sources. There is no official total, but the firm also used regulatory filings that included “indefinitely reinvested foreign earnings” to glean the total sitting outside U.S. borders. “The latest signs suggest that, as business confidence improves in light of the continued economic recovery, U.S. firms are starting to hold less cash domestically,” Capital economists Paul Dales and Andrew Hunter said in a report for clients. “However, the foreign cash piles of the largest firms have almost certainly continued to grow.”

That total, while daunting in its own right, is now greater than the amount held on U.S. shores, which totals just under $1.9 trillion, according to the latest Federal Reserve flow of funds tally. Such numbers are bound to get attention in Washington, which for years has been debating so-called repatriation measures that would allow companies to bring their cash back home at drastically reduced tax rates. The new Republican-controlled Congress is expected to take up the issue quickly when it convenes in January. But the Capital analysis provides little optimism in that regard. Dales and Hunter pointed out that during the 2004 tax holiday “most of that cash was used to fund dividend payouts and share buybacks rather than to boost investment.” A Democratic congressional report indicated that the biggest companies receiving the benefits of $360 billion in repatriated funds actually cut a net 20,000 jobs, and that the holiday cost Treasury coffers $3.3 billion.

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“I don’t know if corruption is a strong enough word for it”.

Barclays May Face Massive New Penalty Over Currency Rigging (Guardian)

Barclays could face a huge new penalty for rigging currency markets after pulling out at the 11th hour from the settlement talks that led to £2.6bn of fines being slapped on six other big players in the currency markets. Barclays will not be eligible for the 30% discount on the fines handed to its rivals in exchange for settling early after its surprise move not to participate in the settlement with US and UK regulators. The bank, which was the first to be fined for rigging Libor in 2012, is reported not to have agreed to the settlement with the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority and the US commodity futures trading commission because of continuing talks with another US regulator. It was the only one of the banks involved in talks over the ground-breaking settlement that is also regulated by the New York State department of financial services (DFS), run by Benjamin Lawsky, the American attorney who has in the past taken a tough stance over wrongdoing at banks.

Barclays said it had considered a settlement with the FCA and the CFTC on terms similar to the other banks – Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, UBS, JP Morgan and Citigroup. “However, after discussions with other regulators and authorities, we have concluded that it is in the interests of the company to seek a more general coordinated settlement,” the bank said. [..] In Britain, UBS was handed the biggest fine, at £233m, followed by £225m for Citibank, JP Morgan at £222m, RBS at £217m and £216m for HSBC. In the US, the regulator fined Citibank and JP Morgan $310m (£196m) each, $290m (£184m) each for RBS and UBS, and $275m (£174m) for HSBC. The Swiss regulator – which also found issues with UBS’s metal trading – also punished the Swiss bank for having failed to investigate warnings of currency market manipulation. Another US regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, also imposed fines on JP Morgan, Citi and Bank of America, taking the day’s tally to £2.6bn.

The banks face further fines from regulators whose investigations are continuing. The FCA and the CFTC published hundreds of pages of documents alongside their findings against five banks. Chatroom talk between traders showed them discussing information about their clients’ orders with names such as “3 musketeers” and the “A-team”. The City minister, Andrea Leadsom, said those who had done wrong “will not be back in a dealing room on a big salary”. She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s completely disgusting. I think taxpayers will be horrified … I don’t know if corruption is a strong enough word for it.”

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Well, there’s a plan.

Rig A Market, Go To Jail (Bloomberg ed.)

Regulators in the U.K., the U.S. and Switzerland have moved with impressive speed to extract about $4.3 billion from some of the world’s largest banks for their role in rigging global currency markets. Now comes the hard part: identifying and punishing the people who actually did the manipulating. The settlements with six banks – UBS, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC – paint a picture that has become depressingly familiar from previous market-manipulation scandals, ranging from commodities to interest rates. Foreign-exchange traders profited at their clients’ expense by abusing information about orders, and they conspired to influence London-based financial benchmarks that affected trillions of dollars in transactions and investments worldwide. The relevant transgressions went on from 2008 through late 2013, persisting even as some of the same banks were reaching settlements over the rigging of the London interbank offered rate, or Libor.

At least one more bank, Barclays, is still working on a deal with authorities. Details presented by regulators illustrate just how commonplace the manipulation of global benchmarks had become. Traders formed groups – with names such as “the players,” “the 3 musketeers” and “the A-team” – that focused on specific currencies. Using private chat rooms, they routinely shared information about their clients’ orders with the aim of pushing the WM/Reuters benchmark exchange rates, set at 4 p.m. London time, in the desired direction. “Hooray nice team work,” one trader wrote after an apparently successful attempt to “whack” the British pound. Misbehavior on such a scale could not have happened without the participation – or at least the willful blindness – of numerous actual people, most likely including senior managers. So it’s encouraging that the U.K. Serious Fraud Office and the U.S. Department of Justice are conducting criminal investigations, which the latter expects to result in charges sometime next year.

Unfortunately, the prosecutors won’t be able to build cases as strong as they could have been. They came late to the game, starting their investigations only after Bloomberg News published its first reports on the manipulation in 2013. Beyond that, London’s foreign-exchange markets have existed in a legal gray area, where no laws expressly prohibit manipulation.

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Ban them from trading and break them up. What are we waiting for?

Fines Don’t Deter Bad Banks. So Ban Them From Trading (Guardian)

The rigging of foreign exchange markets is a bigger scandal than Libor. It lacks the element of surprise since it is no longer news that some traders will lie and cheat when inadequately supervised. But that’s what makes it bigger. Forex-rigging continued to happen after the Libor scandal broke. Note the end-date of the investigations overseen by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the US’s commodities futures and trading commission: 15 October 2013. The deterrent impact of Libor seems to have been zero. What were these banks’ managements doing to honour their worthy words about cleansing the rotten culture in trading rooms? As FCA chief executive Martin Wheatley noted wearily, monitoring employees’ chat rooms “is not a complex thing to do”. Quite. The existence of potential conflicts of interest between a bank and its clients is obvious in currency markets. So too is the scope for collusion.

You do not have to be Sherlock Holmes to suspect that chat-room exchanges such as these might indicate dodgy practices: “how can I make free money with no fcking heads up”; “just about to slam some stops”; “lets double team em”. Yet this garbage was bandied about for years. Did managements really not know, or even suspect, something was wrong? Did they just turn a blind eye? Or did they take comfort in the false notion that the forex market is so big and so liquid that it would be impossible to rig? All possible explanations are alarming. In a rational world, the customers would move their business to firms with higher standards. That is not going to happen because investment banking is almost a closed shop. The five firms involved in today’s settlement plus Barclays, which is yet to settle, are six of the biggest banks in the world. But if fines (paid by shareholders anyway) don’t improve behaviour, and if bank managements can’t, or won’t, police their trading floors competently, what’s left?

Criminal convictions for fraudulent behaviour are one great hope – rightly so because the threat of time in jail is the surest way to concentrate minds on trading floors. We wait to see what the Serious Fraud Office delivers. But regulators must also look beyond endless fines. The FCA, we are told, considered imposing suspensions on the banks from trading forex on behalf of clients but decided against. Some of the offending acts were considered too ancient and there was a fear of disrupting a critical financial market. OK, but a three-month temporary ban on trading forex would improve behaviour faster than any fine. Managements would fear being sacked. Shareholders might wake up and demand proof of root-and-branch reform. Or big banks might break themselves up into easier-to-manage units. Heavy-handed? You bet, but six years after the financial crash, some of the world’s biggest banks are still out of control. In other fields, firms with shoddy practices fear the loss of their licence to operate. Big banks don’t, but should.

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The prediction nonsense takes on grotesque forms.

G-20 Stimulus Plans May Boost Growth by Extra 2.1%, OECD Says (Bloomberg)

Group of 20 economies will surpass their 2% additional growth target if stimulus plans are fully implemented, according to the OECD. Global GDP could expand by an additional 2.1% by 2018, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria said today in Brisbane, where the G-20 summit takes place this weekend. “The big ‘if’ is full implementation, and that’s not always something that one can assume,” he said in an interview. G-20 members have submitted plans to achieve the target of lifting the group’s collective GDP by an additional 2%, or more, over five years. Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey said at a meeting of finance ministers in September that measures proposed at that time by member economies had brought the G-20 about 90% of the way to achieving the target. “There is a heavy burden on the shoulders of leaders and finance ministers to deliver on the plan to grow economic growth right across the world, and therefore create jobs for millions and millions of people,” Hockey told reporters in Brisbane today.

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Beijing feeds its people the misery one bite at a time.

China Slowdown Deepens as Leaders Said to Mull Cutting Growth Target (Bloomberg)

China’s slowdown deepened in October as policy makers refrained from economy-wide stimulus, with industrial output and investment trailing estimates. Factory production rose 7.7% from a year earlier, the second weakest pace since 2009, a government report showed today. Investment in fixed assets such as machinery expanded the least since 2001 from January through October, and retail sales gains also missed economists’ forecasts last month. The government has kept to targeted steps to shore up the economy this year, rather than a broader response such as nationwide interest-rate cuts, to avert a repeat of a buildup in debt from the record 2008-2009 credit surge. With the focus instead on structural changes, leaders have discussed lowering their economic growth target for 2015.

“The data highlights downward pressure,” said Dariusz Kowalczyk, senior economist at Credit Agricole SA in Hong Kong. “It will encourage further monetary easing.” After the figures, reports spread of a fresh initiative by the central bank to target liquidity injections. The People’s Bank of China is gauging city commercial banks’ demand for funds to support lending to small enterprises, according to an official with knowledge of the matter. The PBOC didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Financial institutions in some provinces, including Jiangsu and Zhejiang, are submitting applications for collateralized central bank loans, according to the official. The PBOC will later decide the total size of the injections, which could run into tens of billions of yuan, the official said.

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After all, what good would it do?

China’s Central Bank Resists Calls For Stimulus (FT)

Even as Japan and the EU embark on fresh rounds of quantitative easing to ward off deflation, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) is holding the line against major stimulus. China’s central bank is resisting a rising chorus appealing for more aggressive easing to arrest a slowdown in the economy. Instead it is taking a gritted-teeth approach that accepts short-term pain as the price of structural reform that will support sustainable long-term growth. At first glance calls for easing in China appear justified. Consumer price inflation remained mired near a five-year low in October, while the government’s purchasing managers’ index hit a five-month low. That followed growth in economic output in the third quarter that was the slowest since the financial crisis.

Yet a year after the Communist party revealed a landmark economic reform blueprint, the PBoC wants to avoid steps that would be viewed as undermining the effort to reduce the economy’s reliance on debt and investment to fuel growth. “The central bank has become wary of using its traditional monetary tools like cuts in the required reserve ratio and benchmark interest rates. They’ve basically shelved them,” says Wang Yingfeng, investment director at Shanghai Yaozhi Asset Management, which runs a bond fund. The shifting approach is in part a matter of style over substance. Even as it held off on a reserve ratio cut, in September and October the PBoC injected Rmb770 billion ($125 billion) into the banking system via a new monetary policy tool called the Medium-term Lending Facility.

That is more money than would have entered the system through a 0.5 percentage-point RRR cut, traditionally the central bank’s main tool for managing the money supply. But the low-key nature of these fund injections – which went unannounced at the time – allows the central bank to avoid sending a strong easing signal. “The PBoC can lower actual market rates by injecting liquidity without cutting bank benchmark rates,” Lu Ting, chief China economist at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, wrote in a note last week. “Cutting rates is perceived as anti-reform and kind of politically incorrect.”

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” .. what does Bill Dudley and the rest of the Fed have wrong? They have wrong the idea that 2% inflation is going to accomplish anything. There is no historical or scholastic basis.”

Stockman: Central Banks Setting Up World for Bad Time (Bloomberg)

It has gotten worse. Much worse. The Bank Of Japan trumps all with massive accommodation. They try to reverse deflation and spur growth. That brings us to my chart of the year. This is from the team’s strategic. This is back to the Draghi speech of 2012. All you need to know is one of the banks, it is not like the others. The austerity of the ECB and everybody else has a punch bowl seal – filled to the brim. This is the method. None of this is in the textbook. This is monetary madness off the deep end. They started with 50%. They will be adding 80 trillion to the balance sheet. What is the purpose? To trash the yen. They have a process started that is going to up end – what does Bill Dudley and the rest of the Fed have wrong? They have wrong the idea that 2% inflation is going to accomplish anything. There is no historical or scholastic basis.

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All the world is no longer a stage as it was in Shakespeare’s day, it’s a casino.

Cash-Burning Bets on Oil Rebound Surge in U.S. ETF Market (Bloomberg)

While calling a bottom in oil is proving a tricky, and costly, exercise for contrarian investors, they are undeterred. After pouring the most money into funds that track oil prices in two years last month, investors are ramping up the bet even further this month, moving cash in at twice the October pace. The four biggest U.S. exchange-traded products tied to oil had 70.5 million shares outstanding yesterday, the most since May 2013, according to exchange data compiled by Bloomberg. More than 1 million shares in the ETFs are being created on average each day this month, the result of soaring demand.

The trade has gone terribly since investors first started adding to oil ETF positions at the start of October. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, has tumbled 15% over that time, swelling its selloff since a June peak to 28% as soaring U.S. output and a slowdown in global demand growth created a supply glut. “Price momentum is still negative, and yet someone is buying,” said Stoyan Bojinov, a Chicago-based analyst at ETF Database. “Either they are wrong and they are hoping for the reversal, or they are establishing a position while everybody else is still selling.” The inflows have almost been non-stop since Oct. 1, with more shares being added to the four biggest oil ETFs than redeemed on all but four days.

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It’s just business.

Saudi Oil Minister: There Is No ‘Price War’ (CNBC)

Saudi Arabia’s oil minister publicly knocked talk of an OPEC “price war” but did little in the way of clarifying what the cartel will do about falling prices.Ali al-Naimi, speaking in Mexico, said Saudi oil policy is not changing and has been stable for decades. He said the market, not Saudi Arabia, sets prices, and that the kingdom is doing what it can with other producers to ensure stability, according to Reuters.The oil market has become laser focused on the Nov. 27 OPEC meeting, and there is speculation its much-divided members will have to agree to cut production if they want to see the roughly 30% decline in prices start to reverse.Oil prices continued to grind lower Wednesday, with Brent crude futures falling further after Naimi spoke, breaking $80 per barrel for the first time since September, 2010. Brent ended the day at $80.38, down 1.6%, and U.S. West Texas Intermediate was also lower, falling more than 1% to $77.18 per barrel.

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Given its slowing economy, one should wonder if China now does with oil what it did with copper. With that economy set to keep slowing, that would mean much less Chinese demand for oil going forward, further pressuring prices..

Oil Tankers Stream Toward China as Price Drop Sparks Boom (Bloomberg)

Add oil shippers to the list of winners from this year’s collapse in crude. The price plunge has spurred China, the world’s second-biggest importer after the U.S., to accelerate bookings of oil cargoes. It will also shave almost $20 billion a year in fuel costs across the maritime industry if prices that dropped 18 percent since last November hold around current levels, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. While the oil slide is hurting nations from Saudi Arabia to Iran that depend on energy for revenues, companies including airlines and cement makers are benefiting as their fuel costs decline. Ship owners serving the industry’s benchmark Middle East-to-Asia trade routes are reaping the best returns from charters in years as the slump drives down the industry’s single biggest expense.

“We’ve seen the Chinese buying a lot from the Middle East and that’s really let rates cook,” Erik Stavseth, an analyst at Arctic Securities in Oslo whose recommendations on shippers returned 15 percent in the past year, said by phone Nov. 11. “With oil prices low going into winter, that’s likely to continue.” The number of supertankers sailing toward China’s ports matched a record on Oct. 17 and is still close to that level now. The increase reflects China taking advantage of falling prices to fill its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, according to Richard Mallinson, a London-based analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd.

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LNG is not a great business to be in. Upfront investment has been huge, and look now.

Russia-China Gas Accord to Pressure LNG in Canada, Australia (Bloomberg)

Russia’s move to broaden its energy ties to China is clouding the outlook for natural gas export projects on the drawing board in the U.S., Canada and Australia. Companies looking to approve liquefied natural gas plants in the next couple of years and start shipments at the end of the decade will probably experience delays, according to energy consultants Tri-Zen International Inc. Gas-supply agreements between Russia, the world’s largest energy exporter, and China, the biggest consumer, are adding to pressure on projects that are already facing increasing competition, rising costs and the prospect of lower prices.

“It’s just bad news generally” for LNG around the world, said Peter Howard, president of the Canadian Energy Research Institute. “It’s going to get really crowded.” China and Russia signed an initial gas accord two days ago, after a $400 billion deal earlier this year. The tie-up means that only one-in-20 proposed LNG projects targeting the 2020 market will be needed, while one-in-five seeking 2025 sales will be required, according to a Macquarie Group Ltd. report. “It’s not good news for projects hoping to get to a final investment decision in the next year or two,” Tony Regan, a consultant at Singapore-based Tri-Zen, said today. “Those developers will need to think about the post 2020 market.”

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Historical fiction writer Hilary Mantel (“The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher”) doesn’t like what she sees.

‘What’s Happening in Britain at the Moment Is Really Ugly’ (Spiegel)

SPIEGEL: How is the Britain of today different from the country you grew up in?

Mantel: I was born into a working class family in a village near Manchester. My grandmother worked as a weaver in a mill when she was 12, my mother at 14. That was what you did: As soon as you left school, you had to work in the mill. By the time I was a child, the mills were closing and I was lucky to get a government grant for university. In the years after the war, both big parties, Labour and the Conservatives, were becoming ever-more centrist, drawing together on a social democratic path — a period known as the postwar consensus. Maybe it couldn’t have lasted, but we perceive Ms. Thatcher as the person who knocked it down. Going to university is a seriously expensive business now.

SPIEGEL: It seems as though Britain today wants to retreat from the world, as though it has become war-weary, disinterested in global affairs and obsessed with immigration. Where does this come from?

Mantel: It’s a retreat into insularity, into a mood of harshness. When people feel they’re being mistreated, they lash out against people who are weaker than themselves, immigrants for example. What’s happening here at the moment is really ugly. The government portrays poor and unfortunate people as being morally defective. This is a return to the thinking of the Victorians. Even in the 16th century, Thomas Cromwell was trying to tell people that a thriving economy has casualties and that something must be done by the state for people out of work. Even back then, you saw the tide turning against this idea that poverty was a moral weakness. Who could have predicted that it would come back into style? It’s myth making on a grand scale, and it’s poisonous.

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Dmitry looks at the future.

Twilight of the Oligarchs (Dmitry Orlov)

Last week I published a brave prediction: “I see the political elites and their oligarch puppet-masters becoming endangered species in the United States before too long as the populace, including their own bodyguards, turns against them.” As usual, I made no attempt to specify what I mean by “before too long” because making predictions as to timing is a fool’s game. And, as usual, I got a flurry of emails expressing a wide range of rationalizations but all adding up to the same sentiment: “not any time soon.” Some people thought that the populace, consisting as it does of zombified overfed clowns addicted to Facebook and internet porn is unlikely to stage the revolution.

Others thought that the oligarchy will manage to manipulate financial markets, destroy one country after another in order to drain all remaining wealth out of the world and consume it, and by so doing manage to placate the populace with bread and circuses, well into the future. The bodyguards are unlikely to rebel, some said, because they are so well paid. Getting back to basics, it is a fairly obvious and increasingly well-recognized fact that the American empire, the empire of military bases, the Federal Reserve, the IMF and the World Bank, is on its way out. And it is a well-known fact about empires that when they fail those who held positions of power and privilege within them are quickly recycled into punching bags and pincushions. Oddly, nobody mentioned any of the mechanisms by which this transformation tends to take place, so I thought I’d mention them briefly.

First, when empires start falling apart, this is manifested in a few ways. One is loss of control over the periphery, as a shrinking pool of resources is used to shore up the center. Another is loss of control over the use of violence, as a wide variety of violent entrepreneurs enter the scene and the center is forced to play them against each other and make deals with them. And as the unraveling progresses, the violent entrepreneurs develop agendas of their own, which, inevitably, involve having the cooperation flow the other way: instead of cooperating with those formerly in charge, they demand that those formerly in charge start cooperating with them. And it is here that the scene turns bloody.

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Nov 122014
 
 November 12, 2014  Posted by at 12:28 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Ben Shahn L.F. Kitts general store in Maynardville, Tennessee Oct 1935

What the Economy Has Done to the Family (Bloomberg)
Full-Time Employee Jobs Account For Only 1 In 40 Created Since 2008 (Guardian)
US Cities Struggle to Recover From Recession (Bloomberg)
QE Isn’t Dying, It’s Morphing (Nomi Prins)
A Few Central Bankers and Money Managers Get It, Yellen and Kuroda Don’t (Lee Adler)
It’s The 0.01% Who Are Really Getting Ahead In America (Economist)
In New Oil Order, OPEC’s Choice Is Pricing Power or Sales (Bloomberg)
Shale Boom Masks Multiple Threats to World Oil Supply (Bloomberg)
Low Oil Prices To Bite Into 2015 US Shale Growth: IEA (Reuters)
Fossil Fuels With $550 Billion in Subsidy Hurt Renewables (Bloomberg)
Record Exports of Cheap Chinese Steel May Spark Trade War (Bloomberg)
Japan Snap-Election Potential Looms, Abenomics at Risk as Growth Stalls (Bloomberg)
Junk Bond Risks Escalate With Leverage Back to ’08 Levels (Bloomberg)
Banks to Pay $3.3 Billion in FX-Manipulation Probe (Bloomberg)
Leverage Up To 50-1 Lures Mom-and-Pop FX Traders Who Mostly Lose (Bloomberg)
Environmentalists Sue To Protect Whales, Dolphins From Navy War Games (Fox)
Sinking Jakarta Starts Building Giant Wall as Sea Rises (Bloomberg)

It’s hard to see how the loss of familes can not be detrimental to human society.

What the Economy Has Done to the Family (Bloomberg)

It could be a future diorama at New York’s Museum of Natural History: A human male and female who not only got married, but stayed married. Divorce among 50-somethings has doubled since 1990. One in five adults have never married, up from one in ten 30 years ago. In all, a majority of American adults are now single, government data show, including the mothers of two out of every five newborns. These trends are often blamed on feminists or gay rights activists or hippies, who’ve somehow found a way to make Americans reject tradition. But the last several years showed a different powerful force changing families: the economy. The effects of the Great Recession on families are hard to ignore. Births and marriages have plunged, as millions of millennials skip or delay starting traditional families. The economic uncertainty of the downturn dismantled job security which, in turned, ripped up many wedding plans.

Families that have made unconventional arrangements are the most financially fragile. An Allianz survey of 4,500 Americans included an extra sample of families outside the historical norm, including single parents, same-sex couples and blended families. These “modern families” were less financially secure than traditional families, the study found. They were 50% more likely to have unexpectedly lost their main form of income – and twice as likely to have declared bankruptcy. Rocky times rearrange plans and priorities. When women in their early 20’s face an economy with high unemployment, for example, they tend to have fewer children. The spike in unemployment starting in 2008 should result in 9.2 million young women giving birth to 430,000 fewer babies over their lifetimes, according to a 2014 National Academy of Science study.

Why would more unemployment mean fewer babies? When asked what they’d like in a potential spouse, single men’s top answer is “similar ideas about having and raising children,” a Pew Research survey found in September. But when women were asked, 78% said they wanted a spouse with “a steady job.”A man with a steady job is harder to find. Since the 1970s, men have been holding jobs for shorter and shorter periods of time. Women’s average job tenure hasn’t fallen, but that’s only because so many more joined the workforce in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Both sexes are working more temporary or contract gigs, have stagnant wages and enjoy fewer company benefits. The number of big companies offering pensions has dropped 57% in 10 years.

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Wow. 1 in 40. Many western countries hide significant protions of unemployment behind ‘self-employment’. Peel off that fake layer, and you uncover a bitter reality.

Full-Time Employee Jobs Account For Only 1 In 40 Created Since 2008 (Guardian)

Only one in every 40 new jobs created since the recession has been for a full-time employee, according to the Trades Union Congress. The share of full-time employee jobs – excluding self-employment – fell during the recession and has failed to recover since, falling from 64% in 2008 to 62% in 2014, the TUC said. That is equivalent to a shortfall of 669,000 full-time employees. Unemployment never reached the levels feared at the onset of the crisis, but the figures highlight that job creation between 2008 and 2014 has been dominated by rising self-employment and part-time work, not full-time employee jobs. Employment increased by 1.08m between January to March 2008 and June to August 2014, but only 26,000 were full-time employee roles. Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “While more people are in work there are still far too few full-time employee jobs for everyone who wants one. It means many working families are on substantially lower incomes as they can only find reduced hours jobs or low-paid self-employment.”

While one in 40 of the net jobs added to the economy between 2008 and 2014 has been a full-time employee job, 24 in every 40 have been self-employed and 26 in every 40 have been part-time. The TUC said that although part-time work was an important option for many people, the number of part-time employees who say they want to work full-time is still almost double the number before the recession at 1.3m. The TUC also said that at least part of the increase in self-employment was driven by people unable to find employee jobs or those forced into false self-employment by companies seeking to evade taxes and avoid paying out entitlements such as holiday pay, sick pay and pensions. O’Grady said: “The chancellor has said he wants full employment, but that should mean full-time jobs for everyone who wants them. At the moment the economy is still not creating enough full-time employee jobs to meet demand.”

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They’ll never come back. Detroit was merely a guinea pig.

US Cities Struggle to Recover From Recession (Bloomberg)

Most big U.S. cities have struggled to restore revenue to pre-recession peaks amid lagging property-tax receipts and cuts in state and federal funds, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew analyzed financial statements for the central cities of the 30 most-populous metropolitan areas and found that as of 2012 a majority still hadn’t recovered from the recession that ended in June 2009. Revenue of 18 municipalities declined in 2012 after adjusting for inflation, with eight logging the lowest collections since the economic slump started in 2007, a report released yesterday showed. Even with fiscal gains since 2012 from a growing national economy and rallying stocks, the governments are straining to balance costs for services such as police and fire protection with the expense of obligations to retirees. In Houston, the biggest increase in the proposed 2015 budget is a 21% boost in pension contributions, eclipsing spending on libraries, parks, trash and courts combined, Pew said.

“Cities are not out of the woods yet,” Mary Murphy, a Pew officer and one of the report’s authors, said in a conference call with reporters. “In spite of an ongoing national recovery, serious financial concerns remain for local leaders in many of the nation’s cities.” For Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and San Antonio, revenue declines in 2012 from 2011 were the largest since the recession began, Pew said. “The recovery hasn’t been evenly felt across the country, and these pockets of distress remain,” Murphy said in an interview from Washington. Researchers blamed a drop in property-tax collections, generally a city’s largest source of financing, and reduced funding by states and the federal government, for most of the revenue declines. Both categories fell by an average of 4% in 2012, the report said. While the national housing market has begun to rebound, municipal real-estate levy collections trail increases to assessments by at least a year, Pew said. Twenty-four cities reported declines in receipts from 2011.

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The taper was never meant to hurt back profits. That should be very obvious by now.

QE Isn’t Dying, It’s Morphing (Nomi Prins)

The Fed is already the largest hedge fund in the world, with a book of $4.5 trillion of assets. These will plummet in value if rates rise. Cue the banks that are gearing up their own (still small in comparison, but give them time) role in this big bamboozle. By doing so, they too are amassing additional risk with respect to interest rates rising, on top of all their other risk that counts on leveraging cheap money. Only the naïve could possibly believe that the Fed and its key banks haven’t been in regular communication about this US Treasury security shell game. Yet, aside from a few politicians, such as Ron Paul, Sherrod Brown, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the notion that Fed policy has helped bankers, rather than other people, remains largely divorced from bi-partisan political discussion. Adding more fuel to the central-private bank collusion fire, is the fact that the Fed is a paying client of the JPM Chase. The banking behemoth is bagging fees for holding and executing transactions on the $1.7 trillion New York Fed’s QE mortgage portfolio.

Wouldn’t it be convenient if JPM Chase was also trading this massive mortgage book for its own profits? Or rather – why wouldn’t they be? Who’s going to stop them – the Fed? Besides, they hold more trading assets than any other US bank, so why not trade the Fed’s securities ostensibly purchased to help the public – recover? According to call report data compiled by the extremely thorough website www.BankRegData.com, nearly 97% of all bank trading assets (including US Treasuries) are held by just 10 banks, led by JPM Chase with 43.80% and followed by Citigroup at 24.51% of all bank trading assets. Last quarter, US Treasuries were the fastest growing form of security bought by banks, increasing by 26.3% or $72 billion over the prior quarter. As the Fed tapered, banks stepped in to do their part in the coordinated Fed-private bank QE game. In the past year, banks have added $185.8 billion of US Treasuries to their books, more than doubling their share of government debt.

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Sounds reasonable, except for the praise of Fisher and Plosser.

A Few Central Bankers and Money Managers Get It, Yellen and Kuroda Don’t (Lee Adler)

It may be more than a few, but increasingly some central bankers like the courageous Richard Fisher of the Dallas Fed and Chuck Plosser of the Philly Fed are speaking up, joined by a few well known money managers. They’re echoing the complaints that I and others have made for years about the insane (and immoral) policies of ZIRP and QE that the world’s major central banks have been promulgating since 2008. At a meeting of central bankers held by the Banque du France in Paris last week, a few of those people spoke out.

Among the gripes: Central-bank stimulus has relieved pressure on governments to revamp their economies, punished savers, inflated asset bubbles and left financial markets overly reliant on liquidity [emphasis mine] and prone to volatility when it reverses.
– via Central Bankers Join Investors Warning on Easy Money – Bloomberg.

That says it all in a nutshell. Finally a few people in the mainstream are expounding on those themes that I have hammered on in futility for years. In time, the longer that QE and ZIRP continue to fail in increasingly obvious ways, the more the groundswell against them will grow. Meanwhile, hidebound jackasses like Yellen and Kuroda remain in denial. Hey Janet! Hey Haruhiko! Riddle me this. If QE and ZIRP are so essential to stimulating growth, why with the BoJ’s balance sheet tripling in size and rates held at zero for years, is Japan’s GDP now no more than it was in 2006? Could it be that QE and ZIRP actually don’t stimulate growth? Could it be that the financial engineering, speculative excess, and labor suppression that results from QE and ZIRP are actually detrimental to real growth? Maybe, just maybe, higher interest rates would promote thrift, and rational, real investment that benefits everybody, not just the bankers, speculators, and corporate executives engaged in the constant easy money wealth transfer schemes that you promote and enable?

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So when are we going to do something about it? I’ve seen zero attempts at that.

It’s The 0.01% Who Are Really Getting Ahead In America (Economist)

Among the most controversial of Thomas Piketty’s arguments in his bestselling analysis of inequality, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”, is that wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the very rich. Rising wealth inequality could presage the return of an 18th century inheritance society, in which marrying an heir is a surer route to riches than starting a company. Critics question the premise: Chris Giles, the economics editor of the Financial Times, argued earlier this year that Mr Piketty’s data were both thin and faulty. Yet a new paper suggests that, in America at least, inequality in wealth is approaching record levels. Earlier studies of American wealth have tended to show only small increases in inequality in recent decades. A 2004 study of estate-tax data by Wojciech Kopczuk of Columbia University and Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley, found an almost imperceptible rise in the share of wealth held by the top 1% of families, from about 19% in 1976 to 21% in 2000.

A more recent investigation of the Federal Reserve’s data on consumer finances, by Edward Wolff of New York University showed a continued but gentle increase in inequality into the 2000s. Mr Piketty’s book, which drew on this previous work, showed similarly modest rises in wealth inequality in America. A new paper by Mr Saez and Gabriel Zucman of the London School of Economics reckons past estimates badly underestimated the share of wealth belonging to the very rich. It uses a richer variety of sources than prior studies, including detailed data on personal income taxes (which the authors mine for figures on capital income) and property tax, which they check against Fed data on aggregate wealth. The authors note that not every potential source of error can be accounted for; tax avoidance strategies, for instance, could cause either an overestimation of the wealth share of the rich (if they classify labour income as capital income in order to take advantage of lower rates) or an underestimation (if they intentionally seek out lower yielding investments for their tax advantages).

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Look, teh Saudis would never have enacted their latest policies without extensive delibeartions with the relevant Americans (which may well not include the President). Their 90-year old King is acutely aware of his family’s decades-long and still nigh-complete dependence on the US for its safety and its hold on power. Any discussion about today’s oil prices must always consider that.

In New Oil Order, OPEC’s Choice Is Pricing Power or Sales (Bloomberg)

The decision OPEC faces at this month’s meeting isn’t just over whether to cut oil production. It’s a choice of whether the group is willing to fight to maintain the sway it has had over crude markets for decades. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, buffeted by plunging prices, could reassert control by cutting output, said Societe Generale SA, ceding more market share to U.S. shale oil producers. The alternative – waiting to see if lower prices choke off the North American shale boom – would usher in a “new oil order” where pricing power is handed to drillers in Texas and North Dakota, according to Goldman Sachs. “We’ve not seen a turning point like this in decades,” Mike Wittner, Societe Generale’s head of oil market research in New York, said by phone yesterday. “Is OPEC going to abdicate its role in the market? If the Saudis do exactly what they’re signaling, and just let the market take care of the overproduction, then it could certainly become irrelevant.”

Oil plunged into a bear market last month, the result of a surge in shale drilling that has lifted U.S. production to a three-decade high as well as slowing growth in global demand. The drop has caused financial pain for some OPEC members, prompting Ecuador, Venezuela and Libya to call for action to halt the slide. Nigeria’s currency slumped to an all-time low last week and Venezuela’s benchmark bond fell yesterday to 56.63 cents on the dollar, the lowest level since March 2009. The group’s data show shale output has trimmed a %age point from its market share and will take it to the lowest in more than 25 years during this decade. Reducing output is a tougher decision to make when there are more competitors ready to supply clients cut off by OPEC.

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Duh!

Shale Boom Masks Multiple Threats to World Oil Supply (Bloomberg)

The U.S. shale boom masks threats to global oil supply including Middle East turmoil, conflict in Ukraine and the difficulty of unconventional oil production beyond North America, the International Energy Agency said. “The global energy system is in danger of falling short of the hopes and expectations placed upon it,” the IEA said in its annual World Energy Outlook today. “The short-term picture of a well-supplied oil market should not disguise the challenges that lie ahead as reliance grows on a relatively small number of producers.” Global oil consumption will rise to 104 million barrels a day in 2040 from 90 million barrels a day in 2013, driven by demand for transport fuel and petrochemicals in developing countries, the report said. To meet that growth and replace exhausted fields will require about $900 billion a year in investment by the 2030s as oil companies develop fields from Canada’s oil sands to the deep waters off Brazil, the IEA said.

Oil prices slumped to a four-year low this month on concern that supply from U.S. unconventional fields is rising faster than global demand. The recent price slowdown is threatening investment in the industry as companies try to insulate profits from the price fall. While the near-term picture is secure, the development of capital-intensive areas outside North America is at risk, the IEA said. In the Canadian oil sands, among the most expensive oil deposits in the world to exploit, a slowdown is already evident and the IEA estimates about a quarter of projects are at risk as prices fall. Likewise, the complexity and capital intensity of developing Brazil’s deepwater fields could also contribute to a shortfall in investment. Replicating the U.S. shale oil boom outside of North America will also be a challenge, the report said. A lack of existing oil and gas infrastructure, environmental opposition to fracking, and uncertain geology are among the reasons unconventional drilling hasn’t spread.

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And a lot. Please note that Fatih Birol is an absolute douche. And the IEA only pushes industry agendas, it has no use for objective research.

Low Oil Prices To Bite Into 2015 US Shale Growth: IEA (Reuters)

Falling oil prices may cut investment in U.S. shale oil by 10% next year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said, slowing growth in a sector that has turned the United States to a major global producer. The recent drop in oil prices “should not blind us to the problems that may be around the corner,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist, told Reuters ahead of the launch of the agency’s 2014 World Energy Outlook. Benchmark oil prices have dropped by about 30% over the past four months to around $82 a barrel due mostly to increased supplies from the Middle East and North America, squeezing budgets of oil producing nations and oil companies.

“If prices remain at these lows, this may result in a decline in U.S. upstream capital expenditures by 10% in 2015, which will have implication for future production growth,” Birol said. U.S. oil production has risen by 1 million barrels per day (bpd) per year over the past year as strong oil prices led to a boom in shale oil production through fracking, a technique that uses high pressure to capture gas and oil trapped in deep rock. Production is set to grow by an additional 963,000 bpd in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

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That’s more than the $88 billion discussed yesterday, but then, that was only for exploration. Other reports talk about $5 trillion per year, see: Energy Costs – Necessity, Not Folly .

Fossil Fuels With $550 Billion in Subsidy Hurt Renewables (Bloomberg)

Fossil fuels are reaping $550 billion a year in subsidies and holding back investment in cleaner forms of energy, the International Energy Agency said. Oil, coal and gas received more than four times the $120 billion paid out in subsidy for renewables including wind, solar and biofuels, the Paris-based institution said today in its annual World Energy Outlook. The findings highlight the policy shift needed to limit global warming, which the IEA said is on track to increase the world’s temperature by 3.6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. That level would increase the risks of damaging storms, droughts and rising sea levels. “In Saudi Arabia, the additional upfront cost of a car twice as fuel efficient as the current average would at present take 16 years to recover through lower spending on fuel,” the IEA said. “This payback period would shrink to three years if gasoline were not subsidized.”

Renewable use in electricity generation is on the rise and will account for almost half the global increase in generation by 2040, according to the report. It said about 7,200 gigawatts of generating capacity needs to be built in that period to keep pace with rising demand and replace aging power stations. The share of renewables in power generation will rise to 37% in countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to the IEA. It said that globally, wind power will take more than a third of the growth in clean power; hydropower accounts for about 30%, and solar 18%. Wind may produce 20% of European electricity by 2040, and solar power could take 37% of summer peak demand in Japan, it said. The IEA singled out the Middle East as a region where fossil fuel subsidies are hampering renewables. It said 2 million barrels per day of oil are burned to generate power that could otherwise come from renewables, which would be competitive with unsubsidized oil.

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It’s a dog eat dog world.

Record Exports of Cheap Chinese Steel May Spark Trade War (Bloomberg)

Record steel exports from China are undercutting foreign rivals on price, triggering complaints from Seoul to South Africa that may signal the start of a trade conflict. China produces about half the world’s steel and exports are on pace to exceed 80 million tons this year, the most ever, according to the China Iron & Steel Association. That’s exacerbating trade tensions in the region as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Barack Obama meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week in Beijing. With China’s economy slowing to levels not seen for more than two decades, producers are boosting shipments to other markets. “It’s certain the trend to export will continue next year,” said Luo Yongdong, head of imports and exports at the Panzhihua Iron & Steel Group, a unit of Anshan Iron & Steel Group, one of China’s largest steelmakers. “As a result, trade disputes will intensify.” Hebei Iron & Steel Group’s Tangshan unit said this week it will make its first shipments of auto sheet to Latin America, while its Xuancheng unit shipped hard steel wire to Japan on Nov. 7 for the first time.

In Japan, Tokyo Steel Manufacturing Managing Director Kiyoshi Imamura said the sheer scale of China’s exports puts it on pace to reach 100 million tons a year. That’s about equal to the entire output of Japan, the world’s second-largest producer. Japan’s Kobe Steel and South Korea’s Posco said they have complained to counterparts in China about the flood of metal that’s eating into their sales. Chinese steel is also piling up in ports in India and Africa, where local producers have asked governments to do something to stop it. The exports are reaching as far as the U.S., where imports of the metal rose more than 50% in September. Exports to Taiwan and India rose more than four-fold. In the Southeast Asia markets, China’s lower costs allow it to sell some types of steel at about $40 to $50 a ton less than South Korea and $100 lower than Japan, said Wei Zengmin, an analyst from Mysteel.com, the nation’s largest industry research company.

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Abe will only do it if he knows he’ll win. Besides, who else wants to take over his bankrupt estate?

Japan Snap-Election Potential Looms, Abenomics at Risk as Growth Stalls (Bloomberg)

A potential snap election in Japan next month clouds the outlook for the Abe administration’s economic program as the nation struggles to shake off the impact of this year’s sales-tax increase. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is likely to call a general election on Dec. 14, according to two people with knowledge of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s strategy. His government favors delaying the next bump in the sales levy until April 2017, according to LDP lawmakers who asked not to be named. With steps such as opening Japan to casinos, scaling back labor regulations and reforming social security still to be taken, a parliamentary election in December risks putting off structural changes deeper into 2015. Any reduced majority for the ruling coalition could also open Abe’s reflation program to increased criticism. “It would be asking the voters to give an endorsement of Abenomics,” said Izumi Devalier, an economist at HSBC in Hong Kong. An election would also help Abe silence “fiscal hawks” in the party who want the tax hike, she said.

The Nikkei 225 Stock Average gained 0.4% today after jumping 2.1% yesterday amid speculation of a delay in the tax and a December election. The world’s third biggest economy contracted 7.1% in the second quarter, the most in more than five years, after the government increased the tax by 3 %age points to 8%. Abe adviser Etsuro Honda said today that the tax hike is out of the question if the economy grows less than 3.8% in the third quarter. Gross domestic product data will be released on Nov. 17, with the median of projections by economists for a rise of 2.8%. No decision has been made to postpone the tax rise, Finance Minister Taro Aso said today in parliament, adding that it would be very hard to fund Japan’s social welfare without increasing the tax to 10%, as planned.

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Chasing yield shielded by the Fed. Or so they think.

Junk Bond Risks Escalate With Leverage Back to ’08 Levels (Bloomberg)

The riskiest corporate debtors in the U.S. aren’t growing fast enough to pay down their borrowings, increasing the risk for bond investors at a time when valuations are already at about record highs. That’s the conclusion of Deutsche Bank, which estimates that the biggest jump in earnings in almost three years may be coming too late for speculative-grade borrowers as the amount of debt on balance sheets climbs back to levels seen in early 2008 before the financial crisis. To make matters worse, their ability to make interest payments is about where it was in 2007, even as the Federal Reserve has held its benchmark rate close to zero.

“We expect the next restructuring cycle will be dominated by companies with good operations but not able to grow into their balance sheets or refinance maturing debt,” Kenneth Buckfire, president of restructuring firm Miller Buckfire said. Investors have piled into junk bonds for their relatively high yields amid the suppressed rates. That has allowed the least creditworthy borrowers to raise $1.64 trillion in the bond market since the end of 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That led to average annual returns of 18.6% from 2009 through 2013, compared with 17.7% for stocks as measured by gains in the Bank of America Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Index and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Debt exceeds earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization by about four times at speculative-grade companies, near 2008 levels, Deutsche Bank strategists Oleg Melentyev and Daniel Sorid wrote in a Nov. 7 report. Leverage rose even as cash flow grew 12% at those companies that had reported third-quarter results, according to the New York-based analysts. The Fed has held its benchmark rate between zero and 0.25% since the end of 2008 to spur economic growth. Yields on junk-rated debt, which is rated below BBB- by S&P and less than Baa3 by Moody’s Investors Service, have fallen to 6.36%, from a peak of more than 22% at the end of 2008, according to Bank of America index data. Yields touched a record low 5.7% on June 23.

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Not even 10 times that would be enough.

Banks to Pay $3.3 Billion in FX-Manipulation Probe (Bloomberg)

Regulators in the U.S., Britain and Switzerland ordered five banks to pay about $3.3 billion to settle a probe into the manipulation of benchmark foreign-exchange rates. Switzerland’s UBS was ordered to pay the most at $800 million, according to statements from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority and Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority. Citigroup was ordered to pay $668 million, followed by JPMorgan at $662 million, the filings show. HSBC paid $618 million and Royal Bank of Scotland $534 million. “Countless individuals and companies around the world rely on these rates to settle financial contracts, and this reliance is premised on faith in the fundamental integrity of these benchmarks,” Aitan Goelman, the CFTC’s director of enforcement said in the statement. “The market only works if people have confidence that the process of setting these benchmarks is fair, not corrupted by manipulation by some of the biggest banks in the world.”

The settlements are the first since authorities around the world began investigating allegations last year that dealers at the biggest banks colluded with counterparts at other firms to rig benchmarks used by fund managers to determine what they pay for foreign currency. Probes have expanded to include whether traders used confidential information to take bets on unauthorized personal accounts, and whether sales desks charged clients excessive commissions in the $5.3 trillion-a-day foreign-exchange market. The FCA said it would “progress” its probe of Britain’s Barclays, which wasn’t fined today, to cover its wider foreign exchange trading business. “We will continue to engage with these authorities, including the FCA and CFTC, with the objective of bringing this to resolution in due course,” Barclays said in a statement.

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FX trading eats people.

Leverage Up To 50-1 Lures Mom-and-Pop FX Traders Who Mostly Lose (Bloomberg)

It’s a Saturday afternoon in March, and more than 500 people have tuned in for a two-hour webinar that tells them they can become rich trading foreign currencies. “Success in trading is not a fantasy; it’s a formula,” Jared Martinez, founder of Market Traders Institute, the oldest and largest such school in the U.S., tells his audience. “We have that formula.” The Lake Mary, Florida, company that Martinez founded in 1994 says it has educated 30,000 amateur foreign-exchange investors. “How many people would like to learn a skill where, within two days, they could make a thousand dollars?” Martinez asks that afternoon. “I’m here to tell you I can teach you how to trade consistently.” He introduces Jose Tormos, his son-in-law, who echoes Martinez’s advice, Bloomberg Markets will report in its December issue. “It is the easiest, most predictable and safest way to invest,” Tormos says. “Many of you are missing out on opportunities to build a retirement nest egg.” One person familiar with the webinar pitch is Dan Gratton, a 71-year-old retiree who lives on Social Security in Kingman, Arizona.

He says he’s been a student of the institute for two years and had hoped that taking its home-study classes and watching webinars would help him succeed with forex trading. That hasn’t happened. “Probably the most consistent thing is losing,” Gratton says. He’s right. Most retail currency investors lose money most of the time, according to the industry’s own data. Reports to clients by the two biggest publicly traded over-the-counter forex companies – FXCM and Gain Capital – show that, on average, 68% of investors had a net loss from trading in each of the past four quarters. These kinds of losses make for investor churn. The average OTC forex investor drops out of the market after just four months, according to the National Futures Association, an industry self-regulatory group. Retail forex investors, many of whom are well educated in fields other than finance, enter into a market that is lightly regulated, opaque and rife with conflicts of interest. They are enticed by pitches from coaches like Martinez, saying people can finance their retirements trading forex.

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How did we get there from here?

Environmentalists Sue To Protect Whales, Dolphins From Navy War Games (Fox)

Worried about collateral damage to whales, dolphins and other marine life, environmentalists are fighting the U.S. Navy in court in a bid to protect the creatures of the sea from war games in the Pacific Ocean. “The worst harm comes from the explosives going off,” said David Henkin, an attorney for EarthJustice. U.S. Navy testing and war games are underway in American waters off the coasts of California and Hawaii. The drills amount to critical practice for the military and last through 2018, but environmental groups like EarthJustice say hundreds of marine mammals will die or get injured by the time the Navy is through. They said they don’t want to stop the Navy from training – but change how they do it. The testing areas are home to nearly 40 marine mammal and five sea turtle species. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Navy will conduct 500,000 hours of sonar testing between 2013 and 2018. During that time, 260,000 bombs, missiles and other explosives will be tested.

According to an analysis of the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of the Department of Commerce charged with protecting mammals, the estimated damage to the marine life includes the deaths of 155 whales, dolphins and seals; 2,000 permanent injuries to marine mammals; and 9.6 million incidents of temporary hearing loss and behavior changes in areas like migration, nursing and feeding. But the Navy says fears are overblown and that war-gaming, which dates back to 1886, is a consistently reliable way to train for combat. “Despite decades of the Navy conducting very similar activities in these same areas, there is no evidence of these types of impacts,” Kenneth Hess, Navy spokesman, told FoxNews.com. “Bear in mind that the permits the Navy requires to conduct at-sea training and testing can only be issued if our activities will have no more than a negligible impact on marine mammal populations.”

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Behold your children’s world.

Sinking Jakarta Starts Building Giant Wall as Sea Rises (Bloomberg)

If you worry that rising sea levels may one day flood your city, spare a thought for Michelle Darmawan. Her house in Jakarta is inundated several times a year — and it’s 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) from the coast. Whenever there’s a particularly high tide or heavy rain, the Ciliwung River and its network of canals overflow, swamping thousands of homes in Indonesia’s capital. In January, a muddy deluge washed over Darmawan’s raised porch, contaminating her fresh-water tank and cutting off electricity for three days. “We were sitting on the second floor, looking down at the floods, calling out to neighbors to make sure they’re OK,” said Darmawan, 27, a marketing executive whose family had to store drinking water in buckets.

Jakarta, a former Dutch trading port, is one of the world’s megacities most at risk from rising sea levels. That’s because parts of the metropolis of almost 30 million people are sinking by as much as 6 inches a year, more than 10 times faster than the sea is rising. The Indonesian capital ranks eighth among the 30 biggest cities in the 2015 Climate Change Vulnerability Index compiled by Bath, England-based risk-assessment company Maplecroft. The index is led by Dhaka, Lahore in Pakistan, and Delhi. The government’s solution: a $40 billion land-reclamation project unveiled last month. It includes a 32-kilometer (20-mile) sea wall, a chain of artificial islands, a lagoon about the size of Manhattan – and a giant offshore barrier island in the shape of the national symbol, the mythical bird Garuda.

The first pile for the initial stage of the program – a barrier to strengthen existing sea defenses along 32 kilometers – was sunk at the Oct. 9 opening ceremony. “The whole city is sinking like Atlantis,” said Christophe Girot, principal investigator of the Jakarta Study at the Future Cities Laboratory research group in Singapore. “You see the absolute most miserable and poorest population living right by the river, and they know they’re going to get flooded and may be killed three or four more times a year.” The central and municipal governments will split the 3.2 trillion rupiah ($263 million) cost for the first 8 kilometers of the wall. Developers would put up the remaining 24 kilometers by 2030 in exchange for the right to build on reclaimed land. [..] .. the metropolis is home to almost 30 million people, making it the second-most-populous urban area in the world, after Tokyo-Yokohama,

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 October 31, 2014  Posted by at 10:56 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Marion Post Wolcott Works Progress Administration worker’s children, South Charleston, West Virginia Sep 1938

You can jot down Halloween 2014 in your calendar, and it’s unfortunately too tragic to make proper use of the irony involved, as the day Japan committed suicide. The sun is no longer rising. Not that the vital signs weren’t bad before, indeed it might not have survived regardless, but this lethal blow announced today is still quite the statement.

That financial markets interpret it as a reason to cheer and party and make lots of dough is yet one more proof of how shallow and single-minded the people operating in these markets are, lacking all insight in historical context, longer term consequences, wars and politics, and the human mind.

Because the ‘QE as morphine’ concept introduced today by the megalomaniac Shinzo Abe and his central bank raving mad puppets will change the world in ways that make financial gain less than even an afterthought, except perhaps for those of us who cannot see beyond today, or beyond the one single lonely dimension money is of any use in.

If and when a country resorts to having it central bank buy up – the equivalent of – all sovereign bonds it issues, the snake truly eats its tail, and not in a metaphorical sense. Japan eats it children, most of them as yet unborn, to keep its rapidly ageing population contented and in relative wealth, because the alternative would cost Tokyo’s financial-political power cabal their jobs and heads.

Japan’s problem is, and has been for many years, twofold: first, the Japanese people lost the spending power to keep the domestic real economy growing some 20 years ago and never got it back, and second, a whole slew of successive governments refused to restructure the debts in the financial sector, and instead put those debts on the public tally.

The negative growth announced today in US consumer spending should be a warning sign, as should similar numbers that have come from across Europe for a while now, a sign that we need to think about how to run our societies and economies without everlasting growth, and without the ever more failing and ever more costly policies aimed at constructing and maintaining that growth.

However, the worse the policies are for the real economy and the people who depend on it for survival, the more money the financial markets, and the banks, make. It truly is QE as morphine, and Japan has shown us today that morphine can alleviate pain, but it is also in the end the ultimate killer.

It may already be too late, but we can still make the effort to not fall into the same trap Japan has fallen in. Which in essence is simply trying to recreate a past world that is long gone, by applying measures that ‘wise men’ say are sure to bring back the past, and then more.

We must look at ourselves and wonder why we want more. And realize that if we don’t take that look, and we continue on our present path, we will all end up like Japan, guaranteeing that our quest for more will leave us with less, much less. We cannot build our world with credit, we need to work in order to build it. And we cannot borrow our way into growth, nor do we need to grow.

Halloween 2014. A day we could have learned something.