Jul 112016
 
 July 11, 2016  Posted by at 8:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


G.G. Bain Auto polo, somewhere in New York 1912

Will Merkel Hand Over The Keys To The Helicopter? (Napier)
Black Hole of Negative Rates Is Dragging Down Yields Everywhere (WSJ)
70% Of German Bonds Are No Longer Eligible For ECB Purchases (ZH)
Wall Street Monkeyshines – Look Ma, No Hands! (David Stockman)
China Pension Readies $300 Billion Warchest for Stock Market (BBG)
Massive Stockpile Means Oil Rebound Is Over: Barclays (CNBC)
Japan PM Abe To ‘Accelerate Abenomics’ After Huge Election Win (BBG)
Deutsche Bank Chief Economist Calls For €150 Billion Bailout Of EU Banks (ZH)
Bank Born Out of Black Death Struggles to Survive (BBG)
Australia First-Home Buyers Hit Lowest Level In A Decade (Domain)
The Great New Zealand Housing Down-Trou (Hickey)
The Media Against Jeremy Corbyn (Jacobin)
How the Corporate Food Industry Destroys Democracy (Hartmann)
10 Years (Or Less): Orwell’s Vision Coming True (SHTF)

 

 

Either Draghi gets to fly the chopper, or the EU falls to bits. Wait, it’ll do that anyway. So why give him the keys?

Will Merkel Hand Over The Keys To The Helicopter? (Napier)

Now only one question matters for global investors – Wo ist der Hubschrauber? (Where is the helicopter?). The decline of European commercial bank share-prices before Brexit made it clear that a monetary reflation of Europe was failing. The collapse in these same share-prices post-Brexit means that even the politicians now realise that the ECB acting alone cannot stabilize the European economy. Indeed, given the evident political strains in the European Union, saving the economy from recession is now key to saving the European political union project itself. So, will Mrs Merkel abolish fiscal austerity across Europe and permit each of the states of the European political union expand their debt mountains at the same time that the ECB is buying that debt?

Are the keys to der Hubschrauber to be handed over? To save the European political union Germany must now confront its greatest fear and enfranchise the political union’s central bank to conduct outright monetary financing of all its constituent governments. Investors need to remain very cautious indeed as it is in no way clear that Mrs Merkel will hand over the keys to der Hubschruaber. Should she do so, however, major changes in investment allocation are necessary as helicopter money will be raining from the skies in Japan, the Eurozone, the UK and even in the USA if President Clinton also wins the House and the Senate.

This form of reflation will likely work and in due course work too much. Few things are binary in investment, but this huge decision to be taken in Berlin is the biggest binary event for investors this analyst has yet come across. The repercussions will reverberate throughout this century. This analyst would like to present you with a firm forecast as to the possibility of ‘helicopter money’ coming to the European political union. However, it is too close to call. Even if that assertion is correct, this is truly dire news for financial markets.

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What? “..the global yield grab is raising questions about whether rates can prove reliable economic indicators.” That’s an actual question?

Black Hole of Negative Rates Is Dragging Down Yields Everywhere (WSJ)

The free fall in yields on developed-world government debt is dragging down rates on global bonds broadly, from sovereign debt in Taiwan and Lithuania to corporate bonds in the U.S., as investors fan out further in search of income. The ever-widening rush for yield could create problems if interest rates snap back, which would cause losses on investors’ low-yielding portfolios, or if credit quality falls. And the global yield grab is raising questions about whether rates can prove reliable economic indicators. Yields in the U.S., Europe and Japan have been plummeting as investors pile into government debt in the face of tepid growth, low inflation and high uncertainty, and as central banks cut rates into negative territory in many countries.

Even Friday, despite a strong U.S. jobs report that helped send the S&P 500 to nearly a record, yields on the 10-year Treasury note ultimately declined to a record close of 1.366% as investors took advantage of a brief rise in yields on the report’s headlines to buy more bonds. Yields move in the opposite direction of price. As yields keep falling in these haven markets, investors are looking for income elsewhere, creating a black hole that is sucking down rates in ever longer maturities, emerging markets and riskier corporate debt. “What we are seeing is a mechanical yield grab taking place in global bonds,” said Jack Kelly at Standard Life Investments. “The pace of that yield grab accelerates as more bond markets move into negative yields and investors search for a smaller pool of substitutes.”

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Self-fulfilling perversity.

70% Of German Bonds Are No Longer Eligible For ECB Purchases (ZH)

Back in April of 2015, we warned that the biggest risk facing the ECB is running out of eligible securities which the central bank can monetize. Draghi’s recent launch of the CSPP, in which the ECB has been buying not only investment grade but also junk bonds, is an indirect confirmation of that. A direct one comes courtesy of a Bloomberg calculation according to which following a seventh straight week of gains in German bunds, the yields on securities of all maturities has plunged to unprecedented lows, which has left about $801 billion of debt out of the statutory reach of the ECB. As noted earlier, there is now $13 trillion of global negative-yielding debt. That compares with $11 trillion before the Brexit vote.

The surge in sovereign debt since Britain’s vote to exit the European Union last month has pushed yields on about 70% of the securities in the $1.1-trillion Bloomberg Germany Sovereign Bond Index below the ECB’s -0.4% deposit rate, making them ineligible for the institution’s quantitative-easing program. For the euro area as a whole, the total rises to almost $2 trillion. As Bloomberg adds, following a rush for safety and a scramble for capital appreciation ahead of more ECB debt purchases, the yield on German 10-year bunds to a record-low, and those on securities due in up to 15 years below zero, even though – paradoxically – the rush to buy these bonds has made them no longer eligible for direct ECB purchases as they now have a yield lower than the ECB’s deposit rate threshold.

Or rather, they are ineligible for the time being. As a result, the rally has boosted the same concerns we warned about for the first time in the summer of 2014, namely that the ECB’s Public Sector Purchase Programme could run into scarcity problems well before its completion date of March 2017, prompting speculation policy makers may tweak their plan.

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“..the economic gods created market-based price discovery for a reason. It was to insure that in the great arena of financial market supply and demand, the forces of fear and greed would contend on a level playing field..”

Wall Street Monkeyshines – Look Ma, No Hands! (David Stockman)

The boys and girls on Wall Street are now riding their bikes with no hands and eyes wide shut. That’s the only way to explain Friday’s lunatic buying spree in response to another jobs report that proves exactly nothing about an allegedly resurgent economy. When the S&P 500 first hit 2130 back in May 2015, reported LTM earnings were $99.25 per share, and that was already down 6.4% from the cyclical high of $106 per share in September 2014. Thus, stocks were being valued at a nosebleed 21.5X in the face of falling earnings. During the four quarters since then, reported LTM earnings have slumped by a further 12.3% to $87 per share. So that brings the “cap rate” to 24.5X earnings that have shrunk by 18% over the last six quarters. Wee!

You have to use the parenthetical because the casino is not capitalizing anything rational. It’s just drifting higher in daredevil fashion until something big and nasty stops it. That something would be global deflation and US recession. Both are racing down the pike at accelerating speed. Needless to say, when these lethal economic forces finally hit home, the puppy pile-up on Wall Street is going to be one bloody mess. But that’s the price you pay when you have destroyed honest price discovery entirely, and have transformed the money and capital markets into robo-machine driven venues of rank speculation. Janet Yellen and the other 100 clowns who run the world’s central banks, of course, have no clue as to the financial doomsday machine they have enabled. Indeed, they apparently think efficient pricing and allocation of capital doesn’t matter.

After all, their entire modus operandi is to peg the price of money, bonds and the yield curve sharply below market-clearing levels – so that households and business will borrow and spend more than otherwise. Likewise, they aim to goose stock prices to ever higher levels. That’s so the top 10% and the top 1%, who own the preponderant share of equities, will feel the wealth(effects) and then spend-up and invest-up a storm. But the economic gods created market-based price discovery for a reason. It was to insure that in the great arena of financial market supply and demand, the forces of fear and greed would contend on a level playing field. Short-sellers and contrarians heading south were to intercept the lemmings of greed heading north before they reached the edge of the cliff. Now there is nothing but cliff.

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The idea is that simply because pensions buy stocks, these will go up in ‘value’. Yeah, that should work.. For a week.

China Pension Readies $300 Billion Warchest for Stock Market (BBG)

China’s pension funds are about to become stock investors. The country’s local retirement savings managers, which have about 2 trillion yuan ($300 billion) for investment, are handing over some of their cash to the National Council for Social Security Fund, which will oversee their investments in securities including equities. The organization will start deploying the cash in the second half, according to China International Capital and CIMB Securities. Chinese policy makers announced the change last year in a bid to boost yields for a pension system that has long suffered low returns by limiting its investments to deposits and government bonds.

For the nation’s equity markets – which are dominated by retail investors and among the world’s worst performers this year – the state fund’s presence is even more valuable than its cash, said Hao Hong, chief China strategist at Bocom International Holdings. The NCSSF has “such a good reputation in being a value investor that if they take the lead, the signaling effect is actually quite strong,” said Hong, who had predicted the start and peak of China’s equity boom last year. “It’s almost like Warren Buffett saying he is buying a stock.” The NCSSF, which oversees 1.5 trillion yuan in reserves for China’s social security system, has returned an average 8.8% a year since 2000, the Securities Daily reported earlier this year, citing official data. The larger pension system, on the other hand, has been locally managed and made just 2.3% annually through 2014, the newspaper said.

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Is someone overestimating demand perhaps?

Massive Stockpile Means Oil Rebound Is Over: Barclays (CNBC)

A massive global stockpile of oil could mean trouble ahead for the global crude market, according to Barclays. Crude oil prices dropped to a two month low on Thursday, after the Energy Information Administration reported a smaller-than-expected decrease in oil stockpiles. That may be a canary in the coalmine, a top energy market watcher explained. “For the last 6 quarters there’s been this discrepancy between global supply and global demand,” Michael Cohen, head of energy commodities research at Barclays, said last week on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” Cohen said Barclays is bearish on oil for the next six to eight months, because the current stockpile could increase in an economic downturn, likely to drive prices lower.

In the summer months, increased travel often increases the demand for gasoline, and drags up crude oil by default. Yet once that season ends, inventory levels may continue to rise. Looking at a chart of the expected crude oil supply compared with the current amount, Cohen said the disconnect is staggering. The chart accounts for oil supply from the 38 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which includes the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Canada, among others. During the recent financial crisis, crude production overhang was 138 million barrels. Now, the overhang is twice that, at 383 million barrels among the OECD, Cohen said.

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Given what a disaster Abenomics is, one wonders: how inept can Japan’s opposition be? Abe wins a two-thirds majority?! Can also change the constitution so Japan can go back to war.

Japan PM Abe To ‘Accelerate Abenomics’ After Huge Election Win (BBG)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conservative coalition scored a convincing upper house election win, putting it on course for a two-thirds majority that would allow Abe to press ahead with plans to revise the country’s pacifist constitution. The Liberal Democratic Party secured 56 of the 121 seats in contention, public broadcaster NHK said, while junior coalition partner Komeito had 14. Alongside others who support Abe’s view on constitutional revision, plus uncontested seats, the prime minister is set for a super majority, it said. The results raise questions over whether Abe will switch his focus to altering the postwar U.S.-imposed constitution, a potentially time-consuming process that could expend his political capital and distract the government from its economic program.

Abe vowed during the campaign to focus on policies aimed at expanding the size of the economy to 600 trillion yen ($6 trillion) from 500 trillion yen. “If Prime Minister Abe’s coalition scores a hot, two-thirds majority on Sunday, it might be tempted to pass constitutional changes, draining political capital away from urgently needed economic reforms,” Frederic Neumann at HSBC in Hong Kong, wrote in an e-mailed note before the election. Tokyo shares headed for their biggest gain in almost three months after the upper house election result and as jobs data eased concerns over the U.S. economy. The Topix index added 2.8% to 1,243.93 at 9:43 a.m. in Tokyo.

“Abe said he’ll continue to put together his economic policy package, so that optimism is going to continue to support Japanese shares,” said Shoji Hirakawa, chief global strategist at Tokai Tokyo Research Center. Abe’s coalition, which previously held 136 of the 242 seats in the chamber, fended off a challenge from opposition parties that had sought to unify the anti-government vote by avoiding running candidates against one another in many districts. “I think this means I am being told to accelerate Abenomics, so I want to respond to the expectations of the people,” Abe told TBS television after early results were announced.

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But EU demands bail-ins these days?

Deutsche Bank Chief Economist Calls For €150 Billion Bailout Of EU Banks (ZH)

The cards have been tipped, and it appears Italy’s Prime Minister may have been right. In the aftermath of Brexit, much of the investing public’s attention has turned to Italian banks which are in desperate need of a bailout as a result of €360 billion in bad loans growing worse by the day (and not a bail-in, as European regulations mandate, as that would lead to an immediate bank run) to avoid a freeze and/or collapse of Italy’s banking sector. This has pushed stock prices – and default risk – on Italian banks to record levels. So far Italy’s bailout requests have mostly fallen on deaf ears, as Germany’s political leaders have resisted Renzi’s recurring pleas for a taxpayer funded rescue.

However, as we have alleged, and as the Italian Prime Minister admitted last week, the core risk for Europe is not just the Italian banking sector but the biggest bank of all in Europe: Deutsche Bank. Recall last Thursday, when Matteo Renzi said other European banks had much bigger problems than their Italian counterparts. “If this non-performing loan problem is worth one, the question of derivatives at other banks, at big banks, is worth one hundred. This is the ratio: one to one hundred,” Renzi said. He was, of course, referring to the tens of trillions of derivatives on Deutsche Bank’s books. Today, we got the most definitive confirmation yet that the noose is tightening not only around Italy, but Germany itself [..], when none other than David Folkerts-Landau, the chief economist of Deutsche Bank, has called for a multi-billion dollar bailout for European banks.

Speaking to Germany’s Welt am Sonntag, the economist said European institutions should get fresh capital for a recapitalization following a similar bailout in the US. What he didn’t say is that the US bailout took place nearly a decade ago, in the meantime Europe’s financial sector was supposed to be fixed courtesy of “prudent” fiscal and monetary policy. It wasn’t. As Landau says the US helped its banks with $475 billion dollars, and such a program is now needed in Europe, especially for Italian banks. In other words, just because the US did it, now it’s Europe’s turn to ask for more of the same.

“In Europe, the bailout does not need to be so large. A €150 billion program should be enough to help European banks recapitalize,” said David Folkerts-Landau. He adds that the decline in bank stocks is only the symptom of a much larger problem, namely a fatal combination of low growth, high debt and a “dangerous” deflation. “Europe is seriously ill and needs to address very quickly the existing problems, or face an accident,” said the chief economist.

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Good read. “It’s the inevitable consequence of medieval governance falling prey to the fangs of Wall Street..”

Bank Born Out of Black Death Struggles to Survive (BBG)

Siena, the medieval city renowned for its Palio horse races, is home to the world’s oldest bank. Within its aging walls lies a distinctly 21st-century tale of devastation wrought by local politicians and global financiers. Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Italy’s third-largest lender, is struggling to survive as it seeks to repay a second bailout or face nationalization. Its downfall proved a boon to global investment banks. They offered merger and investment advice to executives beholden to politicians that helped wipe out 93 percent of Monte Paschi’s value. Then they sold it complex derivatives that hid, even worsened the losses. Efforts to rescue the 541-year-old lender have cost Italian taxpayers €4.1 billion.

The investment banks, including Merrill Lynch, JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank, earned more than $200 million in fees from 2008 through 2011, filings and deal memos show. “These international banks come to exploit, and Italy is vulnerable,” said former Senator Elio Lannutti, who heads Adusbef, a consumer group for Italian bank customers. “On one side, there’s the local incompetence, and on the other side the bad faith of the international investment banks.” Franco Debenedetti, a former CEO of Olivetti, was even blunter. “It’s the inevitable consequence of medieval governance falling prey to the fangs of Wall Street,” said Debenedetti, now chairman of Italy’s Bruno Leoni Institute, a pro-free-market research group in Turin.

[..] ..the heritage of a bank with 2,300 branches and 28,500 employees that traces its origins to combating excessive loan rates. Siena officials founded Monte Paschi in 1472, after the Black Death wiped out more than half the city’s population. They modeled it on the pawnshops Franciscan monks had set up to counter usury. As it grew, the lender helped fuel the Renaissance in Tuscany that pulled Europe from the Middle Ages.

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Well, they did it. Congrats! Young people can’t afford to live in their own communities any more. Is there a govenment responsibility here somewhere?

Australia First-Home Buyers Hit Lowest Level In A Decade (Domain)

First-home buyers are now at their lowest levels in more than a decade, data released on Monday shows. As a proportion of all home buyers, first-home buyers dropped to 13.9% in May, according to housing finance data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Down from 14.4% in April, this latest result is the lowest since 2004. At that time, the proportion fell to a record low 12.8% as grants for first-home buyers came to an end. For first-home buyers to make a significant return prices would have to fall, BIS Shrapnel senior manager of residential Angie Zigomanis said. “A drop in prices of some sort is needed, but we’ll also need a reduction in expectations in terms of what [first-home buyers] are looking for,” Mr Zigomanis said.

“At some point they have to come back, in theory … but for now the market is tough.” And a slowdown might be on the cards. While month-to-month figures can be volatile, overall lending figures are slowing from the frenzied levels of 2015, HSBC chief economist Paul Bloxham said. “We’re seeing a pullback in [housing finance] that has been going on since late last year, which is consistent with the idea that the housing market is set to cool,” he said. “[It’s a result of] tighter prudential settings and is also a sign that the exuberance has come out of the market … there was concern that strong activity from investors was overheating the market.”

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Same in Kiwiland: “The leader of the Government is more worried about the short-term fates of leveraged-up speculators and developers than the long-term fate of Generation Rent.”

The Great New Zealand Housing Down-Trou (Hickey)

Former Reserve Bank Chairman Arthur Grimes essentially undressed our politicians in front of us this week when he challenged them to embrace a 40% fall in Auckland house prices. He exposed them as emperors without clothes. “What I do is whenever I find a politician who says they want affordable housing, I ask them a very simple question: ‘How much do you want house prices to fall by overall?’ “And not one of them has been able to answer that very simple question,” Grimes said this week. He was talking about the extraordinary response to his suggestion 150,000 houses be built in six years to push Auckland prices down. Prime Minister John Key’s response was immediate – and betrayed where he stands on the issue of using a supply shock to make housing affordable.

It was “crazy”, would leave people in the market with huge losses and put pressure on developers. So there we have it. The leader of the Government is more worried about the short-term fates of leveraged-up speculators and developers than the long-term fate of Generation Rent. Despite years of saying the only way to improve housing affordability is to increase supply, his position is any increase in supply that hurts the investors who have bought in the past couple of years is out of the question. The Prime Minister who boasts his Government is aspirational had this to say about going for a really big response to the challenge: “Where you’d get 150,000 homes from overnight, I don’t know.”

Key said he hoped house-price inflation could be slowed by the Government’s measures, with the implication affordability would somehow creep up on everyone with wage increases. The Treasury forecasts wages will rise by an average of 2.2% over the next six years. It also forecasts house prices will rise by an average of 5.7% over the same period. The Government’s own forecasts show this magical affordability catch-up is not going to happen – and is expected to get much worse. Auckland houses cost nearly 10 times household income. That’s double what it was in the early 2000s and almost double the rest of the country. The accepted model for affordability around the world is closer to three times income.

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British media are anti-journalism.

The Media Against Jeremy Corbyn (Jacobin)

The British media has never had much time for Jeremy Corbyn. Within a week of his election as Labour Party leader in September, it was engaging in a campaign the Media Reform Coalition characterized as an attempt to “systematically undermine” his position. In an avalanche of negative coverage 60% of all articles which appeared in the mainstream press about Corbyn were negative with only 13% positive. The newsroom, ostensibly the objective arm of the media, had an even worse record: 62% negative with only 9% positive. This sustained attack had itself followed a month of wildly misleading headlines about Corbyn and his policies in these same outlets. Concerns about sexual assaults on public transport were construed as campaigning for women-only trains.

Advocacy for Keynesian fiscal and monetary policies was presented as a plan to “turn Britain into Zimbabwe.” An appeal to reconsider the foreign policy approach of the last decade was presented as an association with Putin’s Russia. In the months which followed the attacks continued. Particularly egregious examples, such as the criticism of Corbyn for refusing to “bow deeply enough” while paying his respects on Remembrance Day, stick in the memory. But it is the insidious rather than the ridiculous which best characterizes the British media’s approach to Corbyn. One example of this occurred in January when it was revealed that the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg had coordinated the resignation of a member of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet so that it would occur live on television. Planned for minutes before Corbyn was due to engage in Prime Minister’s Questions, it was a transparent attempt to inflict the maximum damage possible to his leadership.

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“..political bribes aren’t free speech and corporations aren’t persons.”

How the Corporate Food Industry Destroys Democracy (Hartmann)

On July 1, Vermont implemented a law requiring disclosure labels on all food products that contain genetically engineered ingredients, also known as genetically modified organisms or GMOs. Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, hailed the law as “the first law enacted in the US that would provide clear labels identifying food made with genetically engineered ingredients. Indeed, stores across the country are already stocking food with clear on-package labels thanks to the Vermont law, because it’s much easier for a company to provide GMO labels on all of the products in its supply chain than just the ones going to one state.”

What that means is that the Vermont labeling law is changing the landscape of our grocery stores, and making it easier than ever to know which products contain GMOs. And less than a week later after that law went into effect, it is under attack. Monsanto and its bought-and-paid-for toadies in Congress are pushing legislation to override Vermont’s law. Democrats who oppose this effort call the Stabenow/Roberts legislation the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” Act, or DARK Act. This isn’t the first time that a DARK Act has been brought forward in the Senate, and one version of the bill was already shot down earlier this year. The most recent version of the bill was brought forward by Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, both recipients of substantial contributions from Big Agriculture.

Stabenow has received more than $600,000 in campaign contributions since 2011 from the Crop Production and Basic Processing Industry, and Pat Roberts has received more than $600,000 from the Agricultural Services and Products industry. When Senator Stabenow unveiled the industry-friendly legislation, she boasted that, “For the first time ever, consumers will have a national, mandatory label for food products that contain genetically modified ingredients.” Which sounds great, and it would be great, if it were true. But the fact is, the DARK Act would set up a system of voluntary labeling that would overturn Vermont’s labeling law and replace it with a law that’s riddled with so many loopholes and exemptions that it would only apply to very few products, and there’s no enforcement mechanism and no penalties or consequences of any kind for defying the bill.

[..] If our democracy actually worked, this bill never would have seen the light of day, because people overwhelmingly want to know what’s in their food and support GMO labeling. But our democracy doesn’t work, because our lawmakers are bought and paid for by special interests like Monsanto. If we want our lawmakers to pass popular laws that actually work, we need to get money out of politics, we need to overturn Citizens United and we need to amend the Constitution to make it clear that political bribes aren’t free speech and corporations aren’t persons.

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” It’s not the independence of Britain from Europe, but the independence of Europe from the USA.”

10 Years (Or Less): Orwell’s Vision Coming True (SHTF)

In the wake of all of the Brexit vote, a chilling blurb made headlines and it went largely unnoticed and uncommented upon. The line was couched within comments made by Boris Titov, an economic policy maker for Russia’s Kremlin. Actually all of the following merits attention, but one line stands out. The source for this excerpt is a Facebook post by Titov. Here it is: “…it seems it has happened — UK out!!! In my opinion, the most important long-term consequence of all this is that the exit will take Europe away from the anglo-saxons, meaning from the USA. It’s not the independence of Britain from Europe, but the independence of Europe from the USA. And it’s not long until a united Eurasia — about 10 years.”

This is a very revealing post to show how unfavorably the past 50 years of post-World War II American imperialism has been viewed. The tipping point, as mentioned in a previous article was the outright 180º that George H.W. Bush pulled on Mikhail Gorbachev: the promise of NATO membership upon reunification of the two Germany’s and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and then not fulfilling that promise.

The American corporate interests inserted themselves, as the communist government shattered, leaving in its wake oligarchs, the Russian mafia, and a “Wild West” environment within Russia proper and the ex-SSR’s, the former Soviet satellite nations. A tremendous amount of chaos occurred for a decade that was both enabled and further fostered by the United States. The perception in Russia even before the Soviet Union came into being was that Russians were in an economic war with Great Britain, and the United States was looked upon as an “extension” of Britain: a country with language, law, and cultural parallels,especially in terms of expansion.

As of the past several years, the United States has been encroaching upon Russian territory and economic interests. That encroachment has intensified into a U.S.-created “Cold War Resurrection” stance with the bolstering of NATO forces in the Baltic states. The U.S. is virtually thumbing its nose at Russia with the distribution of the “anti-ballistic missile systems” emplaced in places such as Moldova. As Putin pointed out, it takes not even a sneeze and a couple of hours to convert those platforms into use for Tomahawks with nuclear capability. The Russians did not exercise “en passant” with such an opener, and are placing missiles of their own to face the U.S. assets.

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Jun 212016
 


NPC District National Bank, Dupont branch, Washington, DC 1924

The Big Guns Are Out: Soros, Rothschild Warn Of Brexit Doom (ZH)
When Brexit Has Come And Gone, The Real Problems Will Remain (ZH)
IMF Calls On Japan To ‘Reload’ Abenomics (Nikkei)
India’s Rockstar Central Banker Defeated As Modi Revolution Stalls (AEP)
Yellen Makes ‘Uncertainty’ New Mantra (R.)
“Whatever It Takes” Wasn’t Enough (Noland)
The World’s Newest “Reserve” Currency Is Anything But (Balding)
China’s Developers Can’t Stop Overpaying for Property (WSJ)
China’s ‘Land Kings’ Return as Housing Prices Rise (WSJ)
Energy-Related Loan Losses Rising (B.)
California Power Grid Prepares For Heatwave, Power Outages (R.)
Australia Whistleblower Loses Job After Speaking Out On Refugee Camps (G.)

Vested interests at stake.

The Big Guns Are Out: Soros, Rothschild Warn Of Brexit Doom (ZH)

Just yesterday, we recounted the story of “Black Wednesday” when on September 16, 1992, the UK was forced out of the EU’s exchange-rate mechanism, or ERM, when the BOE tapped out and allowed the British pound to float freely, leading to 15% losses in the sterling. As we noted, this was George Soros’ infamous trade which “broke the Bank of England” and made the Hungarian richer by over $1.5 bilion. 24 years later Soros is back, and this time he is warning against the kind of devaluation that made him a billionaire and which he believes will be unleashed by Brexit, when in a Guardian Op-Ed he wrote that U.K. voters are “grossly underestimating” the true costs of a vote to leave the EU, saying that there would be an “immediate and dramatic impact on financial markets, investment, prices and jobs.”

[..] It is notable that Soros’ warning comes just days after that of Jacob Rothschild himself who said in another Op-Ed, this time for The Times, that leaving the EU could lead to a “damaging and disorderly situation” in the UK as he urged Britons to vote ‘remain’. Just like Soros, Lord Rothschild, suddenly exhibiting a rare strain of humanitarian concern, said readers should not “risk the wellbeing of our country”and European countries are “better off together”. He said that “at present we enjoy being a permanent member of the UN security council and we are essential to the G8 and Commonwealth. But diplomacy, defence, the environment and our values of being a liberal democracy will all be at risk” adding that “I can see no good reason why we should accept our playing a diminished role on the world stage,” especially if his own personal fortune would be jeopardized.

Finally, completing the doom loop, was none other than Chancellor George Osborne who, according to the Telegraph, “refused to rule out suspending trading on the London stock market if Britons vote to leave the EU on Friday morning… The threat from the Chancellor, made in an LBC radio interview on Monday evening, after the market had closed could force shares down in London as early as Tuesday morning.”

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Everyone’s broke.

When Brexit Has Come And Gone, The Real Problems Will Remain (ZH)

In a few days, Brexit will come and go, and just a few days later it will be forgotten, as either outcome will be far less dramatic than has been widely predicted by the same fearmongering economist pundits who have been wrong about everything else for the past 8 years. Ironically, the better outcome for the market is precisely a Brexit as the panic selloff will prompt central banks around the globe to boost enough monetary stimulus to send risk assets to new all time highs. What will remain, however, are the real problems. Here is SocGen with a useful reminder of just what those are, and why the market may have already forgotten that just one week ago the Fed threw in the towel when addressing precisely these problems. From SocGen’s Andrew Lapthone:

“Global equity markets continued to struggle last week, with the MSCI World index off 1.8% pushing the index back into red for the year. Big losses were seen in Japan with the Topix 500 down 6% and the volatile Mothers index crashing 18.5% over the week as the yen continued to strengthen. According to the BOE measure, the trade-weighted yen is now up more than 20% over the past year and back to where it stood three years ago. In the battle for the weakest currency, Japan looks to have thrown in the towel.

Whatever the outcome of the Brexit vote this week investors will still be facing the prospect of negative rates and negative yields on a huge range of bonds, massive corporate leverage with worryingly rising delinquencies and of course expensive equity markets and falling profits. To that extent these political events are a distraction from the main event, weak global economic growth and perverse asset markets. So whilst the market preference for the status quo might be celebrated in the short-term, actually when the fog clears all of the problems will still be there.”

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Forcing companies to raise wages?!

IMF Calls On Japan To ‘Reload’ Abenomics (Nikkei)

Japan needs bolder income policies such as penalizing profitable companies that do not increase wages, the IMF said on Monday after concluding its annual economic assessment of the country. Despite initial success, progress under Abenomics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trademark economic policies, has stalled in recent months. The inflation rate has dropped to negative territory again, while economic growth has remained anemic.The IMF now expects Japan’s economy to grow by about 0.5% in 2016, before slowing to 0.3% in 2017, with potential growth sliding to close to zero by 2030, due to the declining demographic. “Abenomics needs to be reloaded,” the IMF said in its report and argued that income policies combined with labor market reforms should “move to the forefront” of the country’s fight against lagging growth.

“The government can introduce a ‘comply or explain’ mechanism for profitable companies to ensure that they raise base wages by at least 3% and back this up by stronger tax incentives or – as a last resort – penalties,” the IMF wrote. Promoting intermediate contracts that balance job security and wage increases will “reinforce income policies,” it added. “Our perception is that much of the stasis of inflation [in Japan] comes from the legacy, the history of having negative inflation,” said David Lipton, first deputy managing director at the IMF, in a press conference in Tokyo. “Certainly firms have at this point the cash flow and resource at hand to provide some wage increases. There are wage increases evident in a wide range of companies across this economy, so our thought is to suggest that this be a broader practice and that it be more uniform.”

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“..Mr Rajan has been an acerbic critic of zero rates and quantitative easing by the western central banks…”

India’s Rockstar Central Banker Defeated As Modi Revolution Stalls (AEP)

India’s bid to become the ‘economic super-tiger’ of Asia is in serious doubt after an assault on the independence of the central bank and failure to deliver on promised reforms. The country has been the darling of the emerging market universe since the Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi swept into power in May 2014 promising a blitz of Thatcherite reform and a bonfire of the diktats, but key changes have been blocked in the legislature. The government has turned increasingly populist. Matters have come to a head with the de facto ouster of Raghuram Rajan, the superstar governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), rebuked for keeping monetary policy too tight. It is part of a pattern of attacks on central banks by politicians across the world, and the latest sign that the glory days of the monetary overlords are waning.

Mr Rajan has been battling criticism for months but threw in the towel over the weekend, sending tremors through the Indian financial markets and provoking a flurry of warnings from global investors. “He has decided not to wait until he is refused a second term,” said Lord Desai from the London School of Economics. “This is ‘Rexit’ – India’s equivalent of ‘Brexit. It looks very bad for India and will not go down well in financial markets. He was defeated by the crony capitalists up against him,” he said. The government has dampened the impact with by relaxing barriers to foreign investment in the country, but it may have underestimated the totemic status of Mr Rajan outside India. He is seen by funds as the guarantor of good practice and market integrity. Mr Rajan is a former chief economist for the IMF, famed for warning that the US subprime debt bubble was out of control long before the Lehman crisis blew up in 2008.

[..] Mr Rajan has been an acerbic critic of zero rates and quantitative easing by the western central banks. He blames them for flooding the international system with excess liquidity that emerging markets could not easily control. This fueled dangerous boom-bust asset cycles. While QE might have ‘worked’ for the US, UK, and Europe – the jury is out even for them – Mr Rajan argues that the policy is a “Pareto sub-optimal” for the world as a whole, and ultimately increases the danger of a deflation-trap in the future. The Fed and the leading central banks of the West have never really answered his critique.

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I was going to say the Empress has no clothes, but I don’t want that image lingering on my retina.

Yellen Makes ‘Uncertainty’ New Mantra (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve’s dwindling confidence in its own outlook and resulting confusion among investors are creating a policy problem that may require chief Janet Yellen to lay out her own views more forcefully. The Fed chair’s next communications test comes on Tuesday and Wednesday during her semi-annual testimony to U.S. lawmakers, less than a week after the central bank kept interest rates unchanged near record lows and lowered its projections for hikes in 2017 and 2018. A self-described consensus builder, Yellen sees her job as reflecting the whole committee’s views rather than setting an agenda for others to follow.

“I think that’s a very laudable intent, but sometimes that produces a lack of clarity,” said former Fed staffer and current partner at Cornerstone Macro LLC Roberto Perli. “Sometimes there is a consensus for one reason and then next time there is a consensus for a different reason so the story shifts and people get confused.” In fact, Fed policymakers’ deepening uncertainty about their own projections has resulted in the central bank sending mixed messages – repeatedly ratcheting up rate hike expectations only to tone them down later.

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Important point: “Whatever it takes” was orchestrated specifically to expel any market doubt with regard to the viability and sustainability of European monetary integration.

“Whatever It Takes” Wasn’t Enough (Noland)

Back in 2012, Mario Draghi recognized how even the notion that a country might exit the euro could unleash market dynamics that would rather quickly place Europe’s markets and banking system in peril. “Whatever it takes” was orchestrated specifically to expel any market doubt with regard to the viability and sustainability of European monetary integration. On the back of a wall of liquidity and inflating securities markets, Draghi’s gambit held things together for a few years. That said, the ECB bet the ranch – and was compelled to ante up in response to market instability early this year. The outcome of the game is very much in doubt. While Britain is not even a member of the euro, Brexit provides a test of ECB policymaking. Is Europe robust or fragile?

Has relative financial stability been nothing more than a brittle ECB-fabricated façade? Are the forces mounted against integration and cooperation too powerful to disregard? Is European integration – along with the euro currency – viable long-term? It’s an untimely test, with confidence in Europe’s banks already waning. It’s furthermore an untimely test because of faltering confidence in the ECB and contemporary global central banking more generally. Global market instability has again resurfaced and there will be no resolution next week. The FOMC has confounded Fed watchers with its abrupt pivot back to ultra-dovishness. There shouldn’t be much confusion. Global market fragility has reemerged, and the Fed’s rapid retreat has confirmed the seriousness of what’s unfolding.

Central banks have thrown everything at the problem, yet markets remain as vulnerable as ever. At least the world was not facing the downside of China’s historic Credit Bubble back in 2012. The Fed has never admitted that global concerns have been dictating U.S. monetary policy since 2012. It has now become clear, throwing the analysis of policymaking into disarray. The harsh reality is also increasingly apparent: global monetary management is dysfunctional and central bankers have become perplexed – without a backup plan. Such an uncertain backdrop is pro-currency market instability and pro-de-risking/deleveraging.

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Nobody has a reason to use the yuan.

The World’s Newest “Reserve” Currency Is Anything But (Balding)

Last week’s decision by MSCI not to include Chinese shares in its primary emerging-markets stock index has been viewed – widely and rightly – as a blow to China’s hopes of internationalizing its financial sector. There’s worse news, though: Even the progress China’s made thus far is in danger of going into reverse. MSCI’s choice is a sharp contrast to the one made by the IMF last December, when it promised to begin including the Chinese yuan in its basket of “special drawing rights.” The move essentially conferred global reserve status on the currency, despite the fact that China arguably didn’t meet the conditions for inclusion: It was debatable whether the yuan could be considered “freely usable,” and in any case, it was hardly used. At its peak in August 2015, the yuan accounted for 2.79% of global payments, compared to 44.8% for the U.S. dollar.

The idea was that compromising now would encourage leaders in China to fulfill their pledges to liberalize the yuan fully by 2020. In fact, since the IMF’s decision, the yuan has if anything grown less international, not more. Since March 2015, yuan deposits in the three largest offshore centers – Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore – have fallen 16%, to a total of 1.24 trillion yuan or about $188 billion. The currency is being used in even fewer international transactions than before: Its share of global payments stood at 1.82% in April 2016. The fact that only a quarter of those international payments included a partner other than China or Hong Kong means that only about 0.5% of all yuan transactions are truly international in scope. This places the currency somewhere between those of Scandinavian powerhouses Norway and Denmark.

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Absolutely completely madness. The casino keeps adding new slot machines and crap tables.

China’s Developers Can’t Stop Overpaying for Property (WSJ)

If the cost of flour is higher than the price of bread, what should a baker do? Chinese property developers are choosing to buy more flour. Prices for land, the main ingredient of the property world, have hit record highs in auctions this year in many Chinese cities. The average land price per square meter for the top 100 cities in the first five months of this year jumped nearly 50% from the same period last year, according to Wind Information. Some land prices are even higher than housing prices nearby.

State-owned developer Poly Real Estate, for instance, bought a piece of land in a Shanghai suburb for 5.5 billion yuan ($835.5 million) last month. This translates to roughly 44,000 yuan per square meter of buildable space. Houses in the region meanwhile go for around 40,000 yuan per square meter. After taking into account construction costs, taxes and other expenses, property prices would have to nearly double for the developer to make money. Prime land in the biggest cities always costs a lot, but increasingly the voracious buyers are showing up in less prime locations and smaller cities. In Suzhou, a city near Shanghai, with a population of 1.1 million, land sales in the first five months of this year have already exceeded the total of last year. And average prices have doubled.

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It’s the same they do with raw materials: “..After winning an auction, financial firms with access to cheap funding can apply for a loan with the land as collateral..”

China’s ‘Land Kings’ Return as Housing Prices Rise (WSJ)

The “land kings” are back. That had been a nickname for Chinese developers paying sky-high prices for land parcels during China’s property boom earlier this decade, which left so-called ghost cities of unsold housing across China. Now, with housing prices in China’s larger cities again rising rapidly, frothy bids for land parcels are back. On June 8, Logan Property Holdings agreed to pay 14.1 billion yuan ($2.14 billion) for a piece of land in Shenzhen’s Guangming district, the largest-ever price tag in the southern Chinese city. Logan says it didn’t overpay, calling the price “relatively favorable” in a hot market. Earlier in June, a joint venture between two firms, one of which is backed by state-owned Power Construction Corp. of China, outbid 17 rivals with an 8.3 billion yuan offer for a plot in Shenzhen’s Longhua district.

The soaring land prices show the challenges facing the government as it tries to prevent property bubbles. Moves to stimulate China’s slowing economy and to trim excess housing in smaller cities across the country—such as interest-rate cuts and eased mortgage rules—have fed into speculative demand for homes in top-tier cities that are now scrambling to cool prices. Average housing prices in 70 Chinese cities were about 5% higher in May than a year earlier, the fifth straight month of increases. In top-tier cities, prices were up 19% to 53%. But land prices are shooting up not just in Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing, but also in lower-profile cities such as Hangzhou, Hefei and Zhengzhou. Officials face a dilemma in trying to tame land prices: Land is commonly used as debt collateral; a sharp drop in valuation could trigger defaults and produce a wave of bad loans, hurting the economy. On the other hand, runaway land prices make it harder for ordinary Chinese to afford apartments.

[..] There is also concern that financial firms with little experience as builders are viewing land as an opportunity for arbitrage. After winning an auction, financial firms with access to cheap funding can apply for a loan with the land as collateral, and use that to extend a construction loan at a higher rate to a partner, which is typically a property developer.

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“Like an oil lease, you’re easily disposable..”

Energy-Related Loan Losses Rising (B.)

“Like an oil lease, you’re easily disposable,” the villainous J.R. Ewing quipped to his beauty queen wife in the 1970s television series Dallas. Readers of the latest edition of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’s quarterly southwest economy publication might want to keep that quote in mind. News from the oil patch — the 11th Fed district that encompasses the shale heartland — is not encouraging, as it reveals a sharper rise in souring energy-related loans. “The persistence of relatively low oil prices has begun taking a toll on district bank customers,” the Dallas Fed said in its report.

“Oil-price hedges become less effective the longer prices stay low, and the cushion built by energy firms during the good times gets thinner. Cash flow becomes stretched and collateral loses its value, further pressuring borrowers.” That forces them closer to default unless banks are able to keep their lending spigots open. Many of these loans fall under the umbrella of commercial and industrial (C&I) lending — a category which has been surging in conjunction with commercial real estate (CRE) lending in recent years. While regulators have kept a somewhat lazy eye on rising CRE loans since even before the 2008 financial crisis (and certainly after it), the boom in C&I lending has been met with far less scrutiny — resulting in charts which look like this:

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“..millions of electric customers in Southern California were warned they could suffer power outages of up to 14 days this summer..”

California Power Grid Prepares For Heatwave, Power Outages (R.)

California will have its first test of plans to keep the lights on this summer following the shutdown of the key Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility as temperatures in the Los Angeles area are forecast to hit triple digits this week. With record-setting heat and air conditioning demand expected in Southern California, the state’s power grid operator issued a so-called “flex alert,” urging consumers to conserve energy to help prevent rotating power outages – which could occur regardless. Electricity demand is expected to rise during the unseasonable heatwave on Monday and Tuesday, with forecast system-wide use expected to top 45,000 megawatts, said the California Independent System Operator (ISO), which manages electricity flow through the state.

That compares with a peak demand of 47,358 MW last year and the all-time high of 50,270 MW set in July 2006. That could put stress on the power grid, particularly with the shut-in of Aliso Canyon, following a massive leak at the underground storage facility in October. The facility, in the San Fernando Valley, is the second largest storage field in the western United States, according to federal data, and therefore crucial for power generation. All customers, including homes, hospitals, oil refineries and airports are at risk of losing power at some point this summer because a majority of electric generating stations in California use gas as their primary fuel. In April, millions of electric customers in Southern California were warned they could suffer power outages of up to 14 days this summer due to the closure.

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“The Border Force Act gives the Australian government the power to jail, for up to two years, anybody employed by the department..”

Australia Whistleblower Loses Job After Speaking Out On Refugee Camps (G.)

The trauma specialist who condemned the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia’s offshore detention regime as the worst “atrocity” he has seen has had his contract to work on Nauru terminated. Psychologist Paul Stevenson, whom the Australian government awarded an Order of Australia for his work counselling victims of the Bali bombings, had undertaken 14 deployments to Nauru and to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. He was due to return to Nauru on Thursday. But after he spoke publicly to the Guardian about his experiences working within Australia’s offshore detention regime – describing conditions in the camps as “demoralising … and desperate” – he was told his contract had been summarily cancelled.

PsyCare, the company through which he was employed to provide counselling to guards working in offshore detention, informed him by email his employment had been terminated. Stevenson said the news was not unexpected. “But the public needs to hear about the consequences people face for speaking out, and to understand the level they go to in minimising access.” [..] The Border Force Act gives the Australian government the power to jail, for up to two years, anybody employed by the department or its contractors who speaks publicly about conditions inside the offshore detention regime, including doctors advocating for better healthcare, or other workers exposing sexual and physical abuse of detainees.

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Jun 202016
 
 June 20, 2016  Posted by at 9:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Harris&Ewing Car exterior. Washington & Old Dominion R.R. 1930

IMF Calls For Overhaul Of Abenomics (R.)
The Economy Is Not What It Seems (Roberts)
Asking Prices For Homes In England And Wales Rise To Record High (G.)
City of London Fears Brexit Will End Golden Age (BBG)
Brexit Is The Best Outcome (Gambles)
Brexit – The End of the Universe (Rose)
The Progressive Argument For Leaving The EU Is Not Being Heard (G.)
Economic Gauges Raise Specter of Recession (WSJ)
Italy PM Renzi Suffers Setback As 5-Star Makes Breakthrough (R.)
China’s Housing Market in Flux as Price Recovery Tapering Off (BBG)
Chinese Bare All for Credit (BBG)
World Refugee Day: 65.3 Million People Displaced (R.)
Turkish Border Guards Shoot and Kill 8 Syrian Refugees, 3 Children (G.)

The amount of nonsense that can be held in just a few words is breathtaking. Nobody knows what deflation is. The IMF and Shinzo Abe: the deaf and the blind.

IMF Calls For Overhaul Of Abenomics (R.)

The IMF on Monday urged Japan’s government to overhaul its stimulus policies by moving income policies and labor market reform to the forefront, supported by more monetary and fiscal stimulus. “Under current policies, the high nominal growth goal, the inflation target, and the primary budget surplus objective all remain out of reach within the timeframe set by the authorities,” the IMF said in a statement after “Article 4” annual consultations on economic policy with Japan.

The global lender called for a more flexible monetary policy framework with the Bank of Japan abandoning a specific calendar date for achieving its 2% inflation target. It added that Japan would need to raise the sales tax to at least 15% to strike the right balance between growth and fiscal sustainability. “Without bolder structural reforms and credible fiscal consolidation, domestic demand could remain sluggish, and any further monetary easing could lead to overreliance on depreciation of the yen,” the IMF said.

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Strong graphs.

The Economy Is Not What It Seems (Roberts)

Economic cycles are only sustainable for as long as excesses are being built. The natural law of reversions, while they can be suspended by artificial interventions, can not be repealed. More importantly, while there is currently “no sign of recession,” what is going on with the main driver of economic growth – the consumer? The chart below shows the real problem. Since the financial crisis, the average American has not seen much of a recovery. Wages have remained stagnant, real employment has been subdued and the actual cost of living (when accounting for insurance, college, and taxes) has risen rather sharply. The net effect has been a struggle to maintain the current standard of living which can be seen by the surge in credit as a percentage of the economy.

To put this into perspective, we can look back throughout history and see that substantial increases in consumer debt to GDP have occurred coincident with recessionary drags in the economy.

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A nation built on debt.

Asking Prices For Homes In England And Wales Rise To Record High (G.)

Asking prices for homes in England and Wales have risen to a new record high, and sales are being agreed quicker than at any point since 2010, according to latest figures from the property website Rightmove. The site, which measured asking prices for just under 150,000 properties listed over the past month, said they had risen by 0.8% in June, to an average of £310,471 – 5.5% higher than in June 2015. Asking prices have risen every month so far in 2016, and Rightmove said the rush for properties ahead of April’s stamp duty increase for second homes and the availability of cheap mortgages had supported the market. As a result of increased buyer demand, the average time taken to sell a property dropped to 57 days, compared with 60 in May and 65 in June 2015.

The headline figures do not suggest that the looming EU referendum is having an impact on buyers’ decisions, but Rightmove said there were signs that sellers were sitting tight until the outcome is known. “Fewer new sellers are coming to market, with this month’s numbers being 5.3% below the monthly average for this time of year since 2010,” the monthly report said. “The most reluctant are owners of larger homes, those with four or more bedrooms, with 6.6% fewer sellers over the same time period. Given the well-documented structural shortages of housing supply any longer-term reluctance of owners to come to market would be a worrying trend.”

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Far too big.

City of London Fears Brexit Will End Golden Age (BBG)

Gooses don’t come much more golden than the City of London. The narrow lanes of the Square Mile, lined with handsome neoclassical stone and gleaming modern glass, are at the heart of a British financial sector that paid 66 billion pounds ($94 billion) in tax last year and employs more than 2 million people nationwide. It is oft-resented, has helped push the capital’s house prices out of reach for many, and required a bailout of more than 100 billion pounds from taxpayers less than a decade ago. It is also without a doubt the country’s most lucrative industry. Yet ahead of a June 23 referendum on European Union membership, many of the City’s leading lights are deeply worried about its future.

Since almost exactly 30 years ago, when Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher liberalized finance through a package of reforms so dramatic they were dubbed the “Big Bang,” London has become the undisputed financial capital of a united Europe – a status that now hangs in the balance. “Just because the City is strong at the moment doesn’t mean that it has a perpetual right to remain so,” said Marcus Agius, 69, the chairman of Barclays during the 2008 global financial crisis. “Brexit would be an act of supreme folly. In the future we would look back and wonder: ‘Why the hell did we do that? What were we thinking?’”

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“..remaining in a collapsing tower of bad debt will guarantee a far worse economic outcome and catastrophic confrontations between Europe’s ever narrowing core and ever widening periphery..”

Brexit Is The Best Outcome (Gambles)

Imagine this week that the exit vote prevails, the U.K. government stands down and in a ripple effect not seen in Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the immediate dissolution of the EU is announced and there is a return to national currencies. Equities would plunge and trading in the euro currency would be suspended. European bourses would go into free-fall, continuing even after the U.K., the U.S. and others initially appear to stabilize. Each country’s no longer fungible euro would be converted into national currencies and chaos would reign until many EU national governments bail out banks. The uncertainty caused would puncture China’s debt bubble, hitting emerging and developed markets.

After a few years of global pain, by 2018 to 2020 peripheral Europe, the U.K., the U.S. and ‘healthier” emerging economies might begin to recover. Recovery in Germany and China, however, may take far longer. Until now Germany has successfully re-imposed the costs of the reckless euro borrowing spree on debtor banks, individuals, corporations and even governments. A break-up of either the euro or the EU would expose German banks’ vulnerable underbellies, having effectively underwritten the euro project in exchange for German control over sovereign budgets. Sounds scary? In my view, this would be the best long term outcome.

However, it’s extremely unlikely to happen. Either U.K. voters will decide to remain or, if the leave campaign wins, the U.K. government and Eurocrats will desperately cling on to power. This may delay the collapse but would leave a far more painful journey with a much more severe conclusion ahead. [..] The EU has already facilitated the destruction of private and sovereign balance sheets with reckless levels of record debt that can never be repaid. This is why leaving now will precipitate a global economic drama. It’s also why remaining in a collapsing tower of bad debt will guarantee a far worse economic outcome and catastrophic confrontations between Europe’s ever narrowing core and ever widening periphery.

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“The EU elite feel too secure and have too much to lose.”

Brexit – The End of the Universe (Rose)

[..] The EU spends millions every year maintaining the illusion that it is one of the great European achievements. The problem is that it has not been the case for a long time. It has become the enforcer of a now-liberal agenda, converting the particular interests of big business into European law. So we have an anti-democratic EU under German hegemony furthering the interests of large corporations – I doubt this is what the people of Europe want or deserve. The words of the British playwright Dennis Potter apply to the current situation in the EU: “They are not interested in our development or emancipation. That is the quality of an occupying force.” This is a conclusion the Greeks reached years ago.

It has been interesting to follow the stages of the Brexit campaign. Initially it seemed to be a referendum concerning David Cameron’s government. Then the role of immigration took centre stage. Now the question of national sovereignty and the lack of democracy in the EU has become an important debating point. There is even a nascent debate among the British left if the EU can be re-democratised, which is rather odd, seeing that it never was a democratic organisation. There seems to be little hope of the EU being reformed. The EU elite feel too secure and have too much to lose. A democratic EU is completely useless for them, especially for the Germans.

Schäuble has recently joined those calling for a stop to further EU integration. Germany no longer needs integration, which implies compromise, when it is already calling the shots. As I was recently in Brussels a member of an NGO explained that Germany is very content with the current EU situation. They dictate policy. There may be resistance here and there, but these cases are never existential for Germany and its clients. Brexit however offers Britain a unique opportunity. Once out of the EU, who are the Tories going to blame when it becomes clear that it is mainly they who are ruining Britain, not the EU or the immigrants?

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The closer they try to make the union, the more violent the reactions will be.

The Progressive Argument For Leaving The EU Is Not Being Heard (G.)

The British economy has become increasingly dominated by the fortunes of the financial sector, with the bankers responsible for the worst slump since the 1930s escaping pretty much scot free. London and the rest of the UK have become two countries, which explains why hostility to the EU increases with distance from the capital. Nor is this phenomenon confined to the UK. It has become commonplace to bracket growing support for leave in poorer parts of Britain with Donald Trump’s emergence as the Republican candidate in this year’s US presidential election, but populist and anti EU sentiment is on the rise across Europe.

The US research company Pew conducted a survey earlier this year to test sentiment towards the EU. In Britain, 48% said they had an unfavourable view of the EU and 44% said they had a favourable view. In France, the anti-EU sentiment was much more pronounced at 61% and 38% in favour, while in Germany there had been an eight-point drop in support for the EU in the past year, leaving those in favour only narrowly ahead at 50% against 48% . The impact of the great recession in Europe has been exacerbated by monetary union, a policy blunder of catastrophic proportions. The euro has been responsible for the slow growth and high unemployment that has angered the French, and the high debts and that have alarmed the Germans.

Stir in the unexpectedly large flows of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, and you have a toxic mix. Last summer, when the Greek debt crisis was at its most intense, Europe’s leaders came up with a plan. The “five presidents’ report” laid down a step-by-step approach to a United States of Europe, with banking union followed by a common budget and finally political union. Getting even the least controversial part of this agenda – banking union – past sceptical European electorates has proved impossible. Yet the alternative approach, breaking up the euro and giving countries more control over their own economic destiny, is seen as not just potentially dangerous but also a betrayal of the idea of ever-closer union.

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Useless talk about how hard forecasting is.

Economic Gauges Raise Specter of Recession (WSJ)

Gut-wrenching gyrations in financial markets early in the year helped summon the specter of a new recession. Now, warning signs are coming mostly from the U.S. economy itself. Hiring is slowing, auto sales are slipping and business investment is dropping. America’s factories remain weak and corporate profits are under pressure. All are classic signs of an economic downturn, and forecasters have certainly noticed. In a Wall Street Journal survey this month, economists pegged the probability of a recession starting within the next year at 21%, up from just 10% a year earlier. Some economists think the risk is even higher. Whether this proves to be the precursor to a recession or yet another false alarm could take years to sort out.

Uneven economic growth throughout the seven-year expansion has delivered several such scares that passed. But plenty of gauges are pointing to a decent chance of a recession starting within the next 18 months. “Like everybody, I can see clouds on the horizon,” said Stanford University economist Robert Hall, chairman of the National Bureau of Economic Research committee that will—eventually—identify the start date of the next recession. But, he said, “Nobody’s very good at predicting. I don’t even try.” Financial-market convulsions at the start of the year stoked worries about a possible recession. But continued strength in the labor market reassured most economists about the resilience of the expansion, and markets largely calmed.

While the economy is still adding jobs, the recent hiring slowdown has spooked some forecasters. May’s growth in payrolls—just 38,000 jobs—was the weakest month of hiring since U.S. employers stopped shedding jobs in 2010. Barclays economist Michael Gapen noted that since 1960, persistently slower hiring compared with the recovery average, as seen in recent months, “more often than not” was followed by a recession in the next nine to 18 months.

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M5S won’t be happy about not getting Milan.

Italy PM Renzi Suffers Setback As 5-Star Makes Breakthrough (R.)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was trounced by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement in local elections in Rome and Turin on Sunday, clouding his chances of winning a do-or-die referendum in October. The result represented a major breakthrough for 5-Star, which feeds off popular anger over widespread corruption, with the party’s Virginia Raggi, a 37-year-old lawyer, making history by becoming the first woman mayor in the Italian capital. “A new era is beginning with us,” said Raggi, who won 67% of the vote in the run-off ballot. “We’ll work to bring back legality and transparency to the city’s institutions.”

As a consolation for Renzi, his center-left Democratic Party (PD) held on to power in Italy’s financial capital Milan and in the northern city of Bologna, beating more traditional, center-right candidates in both places. Renzi has said he would not step down whatever the results on Sunday. Instead, he has pinned his future on the referendum on his constitutional reform that, he says, will bring stability to Italy and end its tradition of revolving-door governments. But the losses in Rome and Turin suggest he might struggle to rally the nation behind him, with opposition parties lined up to reject his reform and even his own PD divided over the issue.

[..] The PD’s defeat in Rome had been expected after widespread criticism of its management of the city over the past three years, with its mayor forced to resign in 2015 in a scandal over his expenses. But the loss in Turin, a center-left stronghold and home of carmaker Fiat, was a major shock. The incumbent, Piero Fassino, a veteran party heavyweight, was swept aside by 5-Star candidate Chiara Appendino, 31, who overturned an 11-point gap after the first round to win 55% of the vote. “It will be difficult (for the PD) to downplay what happened,” wrote Massimo Franco, leading political commentator for the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

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How to make even Bizarro jealous: ..the recovery is almost hitting the ceiling.. That mortgages graph is frightening by the way.

China’s Housing Market in Flux as Price Recovery Tapering Off (BBG)

The recovery in China’s housing market that helped underpin the economy in the first half is showing signs of tapering off. New-home prices excluding government-subsidized housing climbed in 60 cities in May, down from 65 in April, among the 70 tracked, the National Bureau of Statistics said Saturday. With less of a boost from a recovering property market likely in the second half, the government will need to find other drivers such as infrastructure investment to meet its growth goal of at least 6.5% this year, according to Shen Jianguang at Mizuho. “The housing market is in flux,” Shen said. “The government is likely to step up policies to encourage home-buying in places where demand is weak and inventories of unsold housing are still high as the destocking policy didn’t yield the expected results.

” Faced with a massive pile of unsold homes in smaller cities, the government and central bank since late 2014 had unleashed a range of measures aimed at improving demand for homes to clear the overhang. While inventory levels may not have budged much, mortgage demand has, rising to a record last month, according to the latest data from the central bank. Still, the recovery in home prices last month abated as local governments put curbs in top economic centers like Shanghai and Shenzhen where prices have been surging, while they deployed home-buying stimulus in smaller cities to clear the glut of unsold residences. “This market rebound since last May has been fueled by credit and easing measures, making it unsustainable in some regions,” said Xia Dan at Bank of Communications. “Now the recovery is almost hitting the ceiling.”

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Some send nude selfies to get a better loan.

Chinese Bare All for Credit (BBG)

Talkative people pay back loans. The very talkative default. Too taciturn is no good either. Also, don’t take out a loan at 4 a.m. Those are lessons from online lenders in China that are tracking people’s behavior – via apps on their mobile phones – and taking it into account when deciding what their credit ratings should be. Chinese consumers don’t mind handing over personal details that would spark outrage in the West, in exchange for lower interest rates. The Chinese willingness to share is key to China’s plan to create the largest repository of online data on its citizens and their habits in the world. More than 80% of what’s collected is in the hands of the government, which will make it largely available for private sector use, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang recently told an audience in China that included Dell CEO Michael Dell.

WeLab Ltd., a Hong Kong-based online lender that makes loans in China, looks at what apps people have downloaded, where they go using the phone’s GPS tracker, their social networks and their school records. It offers discounted interest rates for each extra piece of personal information that helps profile customers for credit ratings. In Hong Kong, for example, giving WeLab access to a Facebook account gets a 5% discount on the cost of a loan, and access to LinkedIn gets you 10% off, on loans with interest rates that otherwise reach as high as 20%. “Chinese people have no issue handing over their personal data, giving you their credit card number, giving you their bank account,” said GGV Capital’s Jenny Lee, whose firm has invested in data-hungry tech giants such as Alibaba. “Look at the whole internet finance sector, people are giving you their bank statement so you can do profiling.”

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Another record. We’re number 1!

World Refugee Day: 65.3 Million People Displaced (R.)

A record 65.3 million people were uprooted worldwide last year, many of them fleeing wars only to face walls, tougher laws and xenophobia as they reach borders, the United Nations refugee agency said on Monday. The figure, which jumped from 59.5 million in 2014 and by 50% in five years, means that 1 in every 113 people on the planet is now a refugee, asylum-seeker or internally displaced in a home country. Fighting in Syria, Afghanistan, Burundi and South Sudan has driven the latest exodus, bringing the total number of refugees to 21.3 million, half of them children, the UNHCR said in its “Global Trends” report marking World Refugee Day.

“The refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean and arriving on the shores of Europe, the message that they have carried is that if you don’t solve problems, problems will come to you,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told a news briefing. “It’s painful that it has taken so long for people in the rich countries to understand that,” he said. “We need action, political action to stop conflicts, that would be the most important prevention of refugee flows.” A record 2 million new asylum claims were lodged in industrialized countries in 2015, the report said. Nearly 100,000 were children unaccompanied or separated from their families, a three-fold rise on 2014 and a historic high.

Germany, where one in three applicants was Syrian, led with 441,900 claims, followed by the United States with 172,700, many of them fleeing gang and drug-related violence in Mexico and Central America. Developing regions still host 86% of the world’s refugees, led by Turkey with 2.5 million Syrians, followed by Pakistan and Lebanon, the report said.

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Our friend Erdogan.

Turkish Border Guards Shoot and Kill 8 Syrian Refugees, 3 Children (G.)

Eight Syrian refugees have been shot dead by Turkish border guards as they tried to escape war-torn northern Syria, a human rights watchdog has claimed. Three children, four women and one man were killed on Saturday night, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It said a total of 60 Syrian refugees had been shot at the border since the start of the year. Six of this weekend’s casualties were from the same family, said the observatory’s founder, Rami Abdelrahman. “I sent our activists to hospital there, we have video [of the corpses], but we haven’t published it because there are children [involved],” he said.

The Local Coordination Committees, a network of activists inside Syria, supported the claim, reporting that one of the children was as young as six. Syrian refugees have been making illegal crossings of the Turkish border as Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon have made it virtually impossible for them to leave Syria legally. There have been reports of shootings on the border since at least 2013, and rights groups fear that the number of incidents has increased since European countries, including Britain, began pressing Turkey to curb migration flows towards Europe late last year.

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Jun 012016
 


Arthur Rothstein Steam shovels on flatcars, Cherokee County, Kansas 1936

China’s Debt Bubble Bigger Than Subprime Bubble (MW)
Yuan Tumbles As China PMI Miraculously Hugs Flatline (ZH)
Double Blow for China Banks as Fed Worry Meets June Cash Crunch (BBG)
Hong Kong April Retail Sales Fall 7.5%, 14th Straight Month (R.)
Abenomics “Death Cross” Strikes As Japan PMI Plunges To 40-Month Lows (ZH)
Pension Funds Pile on Risk Just to Get a Reasonable Return (WSJ)
Germany: Draghi v the Banks (FT)
The Most Powerful Man in Banking (WSJ)
Central Banks As Pawnbrokers Of Last Resort (M. Wolf)
Germany Considers Easing of Russia Sanctions (Spiegel)
Elephants In Tanzania Reserve Could Be Wiped Out By 2022 (AFP)
Mediterranean Death Toll Soars In First 5 Months Of 2016 (UNHCR)
Frontex Denies, Prevents Help To Refugees: Witnesses (MEE)

“The problem is that the banking sector in China has been pushing out new lending aggressively, but with slowing economic growth many loans have not gone to create more factories and jobs but to financial assets that have been leveraged to boost returns..”

China’s Debt Bubble Bigger Than Subprime Bubble (MW)

Unproductive debt in China—that is, debt that’s used to drive up asset prices—swelled in 2015, eclipsing the level seen in the U.S. in the run-up to the Great Financial Crisis, said Torsten Slok, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank, in a note to clients published Tuesday. Slok’s findings are illustrated in the chart below, where he compares the level of credit growth required in the U.S. and China to generate 1percentage point of GDP growth. (He notes that the red bar for 2015 also grew, suggesting more credit growth is now required in the U.S. to produce onepercentage point of GDP growth).

Chinese officials are partly responsible for the expansion of credit last year, analysts say, as the People’s Bank of China lessened requirements regarding the collateral lenders put up to borrow funds from the central bank, among other stimulus measures. The move was meant to spur economic growth, the pace of which slowed last year, stoking fears that it could precipitate a sharp global downturn. The world’s second-largest economy saw growth slow to 6.8% in 2015—missing the government’s target for 7% growth by a hair. In the first quarter of 2016, the country’s economy grew at an annual rate of 6.7%, its slowest pace since 2009.

It’s important to note, however, that many economists believe Chinese data overstates the strength of its economy. Over the past year, Chinese stocks, and more recently commodities like iron ore and steel rebar traded in China, have seen a series of dizzying rallies and frightening crashes as investors, emboldened by easy credit engage in speculation. “The problem is that the banking sector in China has been pushing out new lending aggressively, but with slowing economic growth many loans have not gone to create more factories and jobs but to financial assets that have been leveraged to boost returns,” Slok said.

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Everyone, US, Japan and EU too, needs that services PMI to flourish, but…

Yuan Tumbles As China PMI Miraculously Hugs Flatline (ZH)

Since May 2012, China Manufacturing PMI has miraculously stayed within a 1 point range of the knife-edge 50 level between contraction and expansion. May 2015 just printed 50.1, the same as April with New Orders weaker and business activity expectations (hope) tumbling to 4 month lows. The Steel Industry PMI collapsed from 57.3 to 50.9 with New Steel Orders collapsing from 65.6 to 52.7 – the biggest monthly drop in record. And while non-manufacturing PMI remained in ‘expansion territory at 53.1, it fell back from a brief bounce in April with employment and business expectations both weaker. For now, equity markets are unreactive but offshore Yuan is tumbling on the news, not helped by a sizable devaluation in the official fix. The magic of manufacturing data… as non-manufacturing slowly catches down…

Disappointment triggering more offshore Yuan selling… Not helped by yet another devaluation by PBOC…
*CHINA SETS YUAN FIXING AT 6.5889 VS 6.5790 DAY EARLIER
*PBOC CUTS YUAN FIXING TO LOWEST LEVEL SINCE 2011 FOR THIRD DAY

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Refinancing is becoming a major problem.

Double Blow for China Banks as Fed Worry Meets June Cash Crunch (BBG)

Shanghai’s money market is braced for higher borrowing costs as a credit-fueled economic recovery coincides with the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates in June, a month that has historically seen funding crunches in China. The overnight interbank lending rate averaged 1.99% in May, up from 1.18% a year ago, as Federal Reserve tightening weakened the yuan, spurring capital outflow pressures. That borrowing cost has climbed every June since 2011, as lenders hoard deposits ahead of quarter-end regulatory checks. The cost of fixing rates in the swap market is surging as data showed property leading a rebound in investment in the world’s second-biggest economy.

“The internal and external factors combined will certainly add pressure to the money market in June, driving interest rates higher,” said Liu Dongliang at China Merchants Bank, the nation’s sixth-largest lender. “We’re not optimistic about the bond market in the short term.” Any cash crunch would aggravate a rout in bonds that led to 190.6 billion yuan ($28.9 billion) in canceled sales this quarter, making it harder for issuers to refinance a record amount of maturing debt. The overnight money rate has been moving in tandem with the weakening currency in the past year after touching a six-year low, as estimated outflows reached $1 trillion in the past year, according to a gauge compiled by Bloomberg.

The yuan declined 1.5% in May as Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said that evidence of strength in the U.S. economy means there could be an increase in borrowing costs in the coming months. The probability of Fed action in June has surged to 24% from 12% at the end of April, while the premium for China’s one-year sovereign yield over U.S. Treasuries has narrowed to a seven-week low. The People’s Bank of China has an incentive to keep monetary conditions relatively tight as it looks to control the yuan’s decline, rein in excessive lending by banks and keep a lid on inflation. The authority will create a neutral and appropriate monetary environment, it said in an article published in China Business News last week. The comments came after data showed the nation’s consumer price index maintained a 2.3% acceleration for the third month in April, a pace not seen since mid-2014.

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Mainland Chinese fail to appear.

Hong Kong April Retail Sales Fall 7.5%, 14th Straight Month (R.)

Hong Kong’s retail sales fell for the 14th successive month in April, as a drop in tourists and weak local consumption deepened the pain for retailers in the city. Retail sales in April slid 7.5% from a year earlier to HK$35.2 billion ($4.5 billion) in value terms, less than a 9.8% slump in March. In volume terms, April sales dropped 7.6%, government data showed on Tuesday. “Many types of retail outlet still recorded notable falls in sales, reflecting the continued drag from the slowdown in inbound tourism as well as the more cautious local consumer sentiment amid subpar economic conditions,” the government said in a statement.

Hong Kong is struggling with mounting economic challenges from the prospect of rising U.S. interest rates, which has stepped up capital outflows, and from China’s economic slowdown. Mainland tourists are avoiding the city amid political tensions with China and growing calls from radical activists for greater autonomy from Beijing. “The near-term outlook for retail sales will continue to depend on the performance of inbound tourism,” the government added.

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“Output tumbled at the fastest pace in 25 months and new orders are the worst since Jan 2013. This is the death cross for Abenomics..”

Abenomics “Death Cross” Strikes As Japan PMI Plunges To 40-Month Lows (ZH)

Since Abenomics was unleashed on the world (with QQE starting in April 2013), things have not worked out as the smartest men in the Japanese rooms predicted. In fact, with April’s final manufacturing PMI printing at 47.7, operating conditions in Japan worsened at the sharpest pace in 40 months… since Abe began his three arrows. Output tumbled at the fastest pace in 25 months and new orders are the worst since Jan 2013. This is the death cross for Abenomics… The weakest Japanese manufacturing PMI since the start of Abenomics…

Commenting on the Japanese Manufacturing PMI survey data, Amy Brownbill, economist at Markit, which compiles the survey, said: “The aftermaths of the earthquakes in one of Japan’s key manufacturing regions continued to weigh heavily on the manufacturing sector. Both production and new orders declined sharply midway through the second quarter of 2016. A marked fall in international demand also contributed to the drop in total new orders, as exports declined at the fastest rate since January 2013.” Flashing the “death cross” of Abenomics three arrows… As it is now clear that the massive expansion of the Bank of Japan balance sheet has done nothing… in fact worse than nothing… for the Japanese economy.

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Talk about a death cross…

Pension Funds Pile on Risk Just to Get a Reasonable Return (WSJ)

What it means to be a successful investor in 2016 can be summed up in four words: bigger gambles, lower returns. Thanks to rock-bottom interest rates in the U.S., negative rates in other parts of the world, and lackluster growth, investors are becoming increasingly creative—and embracing increasing risk—to bolster their performances. To even come close these days to what is considered a reasonably strong return of 7.5%, pension funds and other large endowments are reaching ever further into riskier investments: adding big dollops of global stocks, real estate and private-equity investments to the once-standard investment of high-grade bonds. Two decades ago, it was possible to make that kind of return just by buying and holding investment-grade bonds, according to new research.

In 1995, a portfolio made up wholly of bonds would return 7.5% a year with a likelihood that returns could vary by about 6%, according to research by Callan Associates, which advises large investors. To make a 7.5% return in 2015, Callan found, investors needed to spread money across risky assets, shrinking bonds to just 12% of the portfolio. Private equity and stocks needed to take up some three-quarters of the entire investment pool. But with the added risk, returns could vary by more than 17%. Nominal returns were used for the projections, but substituting in assumptions about real returns, adjusted for inflation, would have produced similar findings, said Jay Kloepfer, Callan’s head of capital markets research.

The amplified bets carry potential pitfalls and heftier management fees. Global stocks and private equity represent among the riskiest bets investors can make today, Mr. Kloepfer said. “Stocks are just ownership, and they can go to zero. Private equity can also go to zero,” said Mr. Kloepfer, noting bonds will almost always pay back what was borrowed, plus a coupon. “The perverse result is you need more of that to get the extra oomph.”

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How to destroy the euro from within.

Germany: Draghi v the Banks (FT)

In Dillingen an der Donau, a small town in rural Bavaria, the local Sparkasse savings bank is providing an unusual service. For customers who live a long way from a branch, it is giving out free bus tickets. And for those who cannot get to the bank at all — the old or sick, for example — it offers to send a member of staff directly to their homes to deliver small sums of cash. The Sparkasse came up with the idea to compensate for the fact that it was closing several branches as revenues dwindled due to interest rates being at a record low and customers visiting less frequently. “If your revenues are shrinking, then you have to do something about your costs,” says an official at the bank. “You have to economise.” The pressure on Germany’s army of savings banks is just one example of the increasing strains on the country’s financial system caused by the ultra-loose monetary policy of the Frankfurt-based ECB.

In a bid to jolt the eurozone’s lacklustre economy back to life , the central bank has, over the past five years, slashed interest rates to record lows and even pushed its deposit rate into negative territory. On top of this, it has launched a €1.7tn asset purchase programme, which has driven down bond yields across the continent. The measures have bought time for reform in the battered economies of southern Europe. Yet in Germany, they have met a blizzard of opposition. The country’s hawkish monetary policy establishment has always nurtured a degree of scepticism about the institution that succeeded the Bundesbank as the custodian of Germany’s monetary stability. But as savers, banks and insurers have been increasingly hurt by low interest rates — nominal yields on 10-year German bonds have fallen from about 4% in 2008 to less than 0.2% today — the criticism of the ECB has intensified.

The media has accused the central bank of fuelling a “social disaster”, while one bank has claimed that low interest rates will have deprived German households of €200bn between 2010 and the end of this year. Germany’s financial watchdog, BaFin, branded low rates a “seeping poison” for the country’s financial system. The most dramatic intervention, however, came from Wolfgang Schäuble, the hawkish finance minister, who blamed ECB president Mario Draghi for “half” the rise in support for Alternative for Germany, the rightwing, anti-immigration, anti-euro party. Mr Draghi hit back, archly noting that the ECB has a mandate “to pursue price stability for the whole of the eurozone, not only for Germany”, and argued that low borrowing costs were symptomatic of a glut in global savings for which Germany was partly to blame.

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“He’s judge and jury and everything else..”

The Most Powerful Man in Banking (WSJ)

The most important person in the banking business isn’t a banker. To most Wall Street executives, that title goes to Federal Reserve governor Daniel Tarullo, a brusque, white-haired former law professor who has come to personify Washington’s postcrisis influence over how banks do business. Mr. Tarullo heads the Fed’s Committee on Bank Supervision. On paper—and in practice for most of the previous decades—the post isn’t a hugely powerful one. But the 63-year-old took office at the Fed in 2009 at a moment of broad public support for a more aggressive tack and has pressed that advantage ever since. Financiers privately call Mr. Tarullo “the Wizard of Oz” for his behind-the-scenes sway over everything from corporate strategy to how many billions of dollars banks must maintain in capital.

Through the stress tests he championed to evaluate how banks might fare in another market shock, the Fed wields control over whether banks can raise the dividends they pay to shareholders. For a big bank in 2016, getting a stamp of approval from Mr. Tarullo is an effort consuming thousands of employees. The industry’s lawyers pore over transcripts of Mr. Tarullo’s dense speeches to grasp the meaning of every word. When Citigroup and Bank of America stumbled on the stress tests in recent years, each bank said it spent at least $100 million to correct the problems the Fed had called out. Peter Conti-Brown, a historian and author of “The Power and Independence of the Federal Reserve,” called Mr. Tarullo’s influence extraordinary. One former bank executive put a finer point on it: “He’s judge and jury and everything else,” he said.

Mr. Tarullo in an interview attributed his power to his longevity at the Fed and consensus with other regulators. And, he said, the full impact of the regulatory changes made on his watch have yet to be felt. “I think it likely that firms are going to have to change in some cases their size, in some cases their business model, and in some cases their organization,” he said. Mr. Tarullo’s influence illustrates the outsize role that government regulation now plays for banks. For most of the modern era, regulators took a more hands-off approach, monitoring the industry for abuses but stopping short of injecting themselves into bank operations. But the near collapse of the financial system in 2008 brought widespread criticism of regulators for not being more vigilant and changed the equation.

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“..governments try to make finance safer and finance exploits the support to make itself riskier.”

Central Banks As Pawnbrokers Of Last Resort (M. Wolf)

Will there be another huge financial crisis? As Hamlet said of the fall of a sparrow: “If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come – the readiness is all.” So it is with banks. They are designed to fall. So fall they surely will. A recent book explores not only this reality but also a radical and original solution. What makes attention to this suggestion even more justified is that its author was at the heart of the monetary establishment before and during the crisis. He is Lord Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England. His book is called The End of Alchemy . The title is appropriate: alchemy lies at the heart of the financial system; moreover, banking was, like alchemy, a medieval idea, but one we have not as yet discarded. We must, argues Lord King, now do so.

As Lord King remarks, the alchemy is “the belief that money kept in banks can be taken out whenever depositors ask for it”. This is a confidence trick in two senses: it works if, and only if, confidence is strong; and it is fraudulent. Financial institutions make promises that, in likely states of the world, they cannot keep. In good times, this is a lucrative business. In bad times, the authorities have to come to the rescue. It is little wonder, then, that financial institutions have become so large and pay so well. Consider any large bank. It will have a wide range of long-term and risky assets on its books, mortgages and corporate loans prominent among them. It will finance these with deposits (supposedly redeemable on demand), short-term loans and longer-term loans. Perhaps 5% will be financed by equity.

What happens if lenders decide banks might not be solvent? If they are depositors or short-term lenders, they can demand their money back immediately. Without aid from the central bank, the only institution able to create money without limit, banks will fail to meet that demand. Since a generalised collapse would be economically devastating, needed support is forthcoming. Over time, this reality has created a “Red Queen’s race”: governments try to make finance safer and finance exploits the support to make itself riskier. Broadly speaking, two radical solutions are on offer. One is to force banks to fund themselves with far more equity. The other is to make banks match liquid liabilities with liquid and safe assets. The 100% reserve requirements of the “Chicago plan”, proposed during the Great Depression, is such a scheme.

If liquid, safe liabilities finance liquid, safe assets — and risk-bearing, illiquid liabilities finance illiquid, unsafe assets — alchemy disappears. Finance would be safe. Unfortunately, the end of alchemy would also end much risk-taking in the system. Lord King offers a novel alternative. Central banks would still act as lenders of last resort. But they would no longer be forced to lend against virtually any asset, since that very possibility must create moral hazard. Instead, they would agree the terms on which they would lend against assets in a crisis, including relevant haircuts, in advance. The size of these haircuts would be a “tax on alchemy”. They would be set at tough levels and could not be altered in a crisis. The central bank would have become a “pawnbroker for all seasons”.

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The US will need to pressure a lot harder to keep the sanctions going.

Germany Considers Easing of Russia Sanctions (Spiegel)

As expected, G-7 leaders reiterated their hardline approach to Moscow in the Japan summit’s closing statement. Chancellor Angela Merkel complained last Thursday that there still isn’t a stable cease-fire in Ukraine and the law pertaining to local elections in eastern Ukraine, as called for by the Minsk Protocol, still hasn’t been passed. That, she said, is why “it is not to be expected” that the West will change its approach to Russia. What Merkel didn’t say, though, is that behind the scenes, her government has long since developed concrete plans for a step-by-step easing of the sanctions against Russia and that the process could begin as early as this year. Thus far, the message has been that the trade and travel restrictions will only be lifted once all the provisions foreseen by the Minsk Protocol have been fulfilled. 100% in return for 100%.

Now, however, Berlin is prepared to make concessions to Moscow – on the condition that progress is made on the Minsk process. “My approach has always been that sanctions are not an end in themselves. When progress is made on the implementation of the Minsk Protocol, we can also then talk about easing sanctions,” says Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The Chancellery also supports the new approach. Thus far, it was the Social Democrats that were particularly vocal about rapprochement with Russia. Led by Economics Minister Gabriel, the SPD is Merkel’s junior coalition partner. While Steinmeier, also a senior SPD member, has never explicitly demanded the easing of sanctions, he has long supported Russia’s return to the G-7. Merkel, by contrast, had always maintained a hard line. Now, though, the Chancellery also appears to be changing course.

[..] more and more EU member states have begun questioning the strict penalty regime, particularly given that it hasn’t always been the Russians who have blocked the Minsk process. Despite Tusk’s apparent optimism, indications are mounting that getting all 28 EU members to approve the extension of the sanctions at the end of June might not be quite so simple. Berlin has received calls from concerned government officials whose governments have become increasingly skeptical of the penalties against Russia but have thus far declined to take a public stance against them. Members of some governments, though, have very clearly indicated that they are not interested in extending the sanctions in their current stringent form. Austrian Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner is among the skeptics as is French Economics Minister Emmanuel Macron. So too are officials from Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal.

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Time for the death penalty?! Time to put our armies to good use?

Elephants In Tanzania Reserve Could Be Wiped Out By 2022 (AFP)

Elephants in Tanzania’s sprawling Selous Game Reserve could be wiped out within six years if poaching continues at current levels, the World Wildlife Fund warned. Tanzania’s largest nature reserve was in the 1970s home to 110,000 elephants, but today only 15,000 remain and they are threatened by “industrial-scale poaching”. The Selous “could see its elephant population decimated by 2022 if urgent measures are not taken,” the WWF said. More than 30,000 African elephants are killed by poachers every year to supply an illegal trade controlled by criminal gangs that feeds demand in the Far East. Tanzania is among the worst-affected countries with a recent census saying the country’s elephant population fell by 60% in the five years to 2014.

The Selous reserve is a tourist draw contributing an estimated $6 million (5 million euros) a year to Tanzania’s economy, according to a study commissioned by WWF and carried out by advisory firm Dalberg. It is named after Frederick Selous, a British explorer, hunter and real-life inspiration for the H. Rider Haggard character Allan Quatermain in King Solomon’s Mines. “By early 2022 we could see the last of Selous’ elephants gunned down by heavily armed and well trained criminal networks,” the report said. The 55,000-square kilometre (21,000-square mile) reserve in southern Tanzania was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982. But it was put on a watch list in 2014 as poaching spiked, with six elephants killed every day and industrial activities including oil and gas exploration, as well as mining, threatening the delicate environment.

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The sadness just intensifies.

Mediterranean Death Toll Soars In First 5 Months Of 2016 (UNHCR)

At least 880 people are believed to have drowned last week in a spate of shipwrecks and boat capsizings on the Mediterranean, the UN Refugee Agency said today. “For so many deaths to have occurred just in a matter of days and months is shocking and shows just how truly perilous these journeys are,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. UNHCR told a press briefing in Geneva that the latest figures were arrived at following new information received through interviews with survivors brought ashore in Italy.

“As well as three shipwrecks that were known to us as of Sunday, we have received information from people who landed in Augusta over the weekend that 47 people were missing after a raft carrying 125 people from Libya deflated,” UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler detailed. He added that eight others were reported separately to have been lost overboard from another boat, and four deaths were reported after fire on board another. “Thus far 2016 is proving to be particularly deadly. Some 2,510 lives have been lost so far compared to 1,855 in the same period in 2015 and 57 in the first five months of 2014,” Spindler added.

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“Everything started after the EU agreement,” he said. “These people are no longer refugees to them [the authorities]. They are prisoners and are being detained. But they have left the humanitarian aspect out of the story.”

Frontex Denies, Prevents Help To Refugees: Witnesses (MEE)

Frontex denied aid to refugees including a baby and kept them floating in the sea off Greece for nearly two hours, according to aid workers. Eyewitnesses told MEE that Frontex officers prevented aid workers helping 50 people as they landed on the northern shore of the Greek island of Lesbos early on Monday. Their tactic was to take them directly into detention “without any aid, even the injured,” one aid worker said. Witnesses also told MEE that officers from the Maltese branch of the European border control police prevented a doctor tending to a baby that was “unresponsive”. In a written statement to MEE, Frontex said the crew on the Maltese ship had followed a Hellenic Coast Guard officer’s instructions and that none of the volunteers identified themselves as a doctor.

The reports come as the UN says that more than 2,500 people have died trying to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe so far in 2016, a sharp jump from the same period last year. In the past week alone, at least 880 people are believed to have died in a series of shipwrecks – but thousands of people have also been rescued in the last seven days, with some 90 rescue operations launched. Frontex, supported by a series of national fleets and coast guards as well as several NGOs and some private volunteers, is charged with carrying out rescue operations in the Mediterranean. However, witnesses told MEE that the boat crammed with refugees was made to float out at sea until Frontex ground units came to take the passengers away in buses, after the Greek coastguard granted permission for the landing at the fishing hamlet of Skala Skiaminias on Lesbos’s north coast.

Esther Camps, from Spanish NGO Proactiva, which provides aid and rescue operations at sea, was at the scene. She said the incident took place at around 01:00 on Monday morning – the arrivals, she said, included around 10 children, as well as women who were crying out for help. “We were told to do nothing and to ‘stay away’,” she told MEE. “As they [the refugees and migrants] were disembarking, we saw there was a baby that was not making any noise. One of the officers said the baby was ‘fine’ and kept us away. We said, ‘how do you know it is OK? You are not doctors.'” Camps, who has been working with Proactiva since December, said that babies normally cry when they are brought ashore, but that in this case the child was not making any noise. MEE understands that a doctor from the aid organisation Waha was also at the scene but was denied access.


Handout photo released as courtesy by German humanitarian NGO Sea-Watch shows a crew member holding a drowned baby as dead bodies were recovered after a wooden boat transporting migrants capsized off the Libyan coast on 27 May, 2016 (AFP)

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May 312016
 
 May 31, 2016  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Jack Delano Long stairway in mill district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1940

Mizuho Chief: Tax Delay Means Abenomics Has Failed (WSJ)
One-Minute Plunge Sends Chinese Stock Futures Down by 10% Limit (BBG)
The Big Short Is Back in Chinese Stocks (BBG)
You’re Witnessing The Death Of Neoliberalism – From Within (G.)
Australia’s Big Four Banks Are Much More Vulnerable Than They Appear (Das)
Ceta: The Trade Deal That’s Already Signed (G.)
Britain Is ‘World’s Most Corrupt Country’, Says Italian Mafia Expert (ES)
The Untold Story Behind Saudi Arabia’s 41-Year US Debt Secret (BBG)
Eric Holder Says Edward Snowden Performed A ‘Public Service’ (CNN)
Vague Promises of Debt Relief for Greece (NY Times Ed.)
Glitch In Greek Bailout Talks Fuels Fears Of Delay (Kath.)
German Unemployment Rate Falls to Record Low (BBG)
Majority Of Athens Homeless Ended Up On Street In Past 5 Years (Kath.)
More Than 45 Million Trapped In Modern Slavery (AFP)

Damned if you do, doomed if you don’t.

Mizuho Chief: Tax Delay Means Abenomics Has Failed (WSJ)

The chief of Mizuho Financial Group said Japan risks a credit-rating downgrade if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delays a scheduled sales-tax increase without explaining how the government plans to cut its deficit. Yasuhiro Sato, president of Japan’s second-largest bank by assets, said Mr. Abe’s framing of such a decision would determine whether it sparked concerns about the government’s credibility regarding its plans for fiscal consolidation. “The worst scenario is [the government] will just announce a delay in the tax increase. That could send a message that Abenomics has failed or Japan is heading for a fiscal danger zone and then it will harm Japanese government bonds’ credit ratings,” Mr. Sato said in an interview, referring to the prime minister’s growth program.

Mr. Abe acknowledged for the first time Friday that he was considering delaying an increase in the sales tax to 10% from 8% scheduled to take effect in April next year. He said he would decide before an upper house election to be held in July, but Japanese media have reported that a decision could come this week. Mr. Abe has delayed the tax increase once, after the rise to 8% in April 2014 derailed an economic recovery. Consumer spending has yet to fully rebound, and some economists say the prospect of another tax increase next year is already weighing on spending. Mr. Sato acknowledged that raising the tax again would pose a risk to Japan’s economy. “There will be a risk in either case of raising the tax or not, so as long as the government demonstrates a clear road map for fiscal reconstruction, Japanese credibility likely won’t be hurt so much,” he said.

Some bankers say Japan could damage its international credibility if it fails to raise taxes on schedule. The tax increases are part of long-standing efforts to reach a primary government surplus by 2020. A primary surplus is a balanced budget excluding interest payments on government debt. Japan’s government debt is among the largest in the world relative to the size of its economy. Moody’s Investors Service said in a March report, “Postponing the next [sales-tax] increase regardless of the reason would pose a big fiscal burden for Japan.”

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Last year, “Volumes shrank by more than 90% from their peak”. But there’s simply money in shorting China; you can’t stop that.

One-Minute Plunge Sends Chinese Stock Futures Down by 10% Limit (BBG)

Chinese stock-index futures plunged by the daily limit before snapping back in less than a minute, the second sudden swing to rattle traders this month. Contracts on the CSI 300 Index dropped as much as 10% at 10:42 a.m. local time, recovering almost all of the losses in the same minute. More than 1,500 June contracts changed hands in that period, the most all day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The China Financial Futures Exchange is investigating the tumble, said people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly. The swing follows a similarly unexplained drop in Hang Seng China Enterprises Index futures in Hong Kong on May 16, a move that heightened anxiety among investors facing slower Chinese economic growth and a weakening yuan.

Volume in China’s stock-index futures market, which was the world’s most active as recently as July, has all but dried up after authorities clamped down on what they deemed excessive speculation during the nation’s $5 trillion equity crash last summer. Tuesday’s volatility had little impact on the underlying CSI 300, which rose 3%. “Liquidity in the market is really thin at the moment,” Fang Shisheng at Orient Securities said by phone. “So the market will very likely see big swings if a big order comes in. The order looks like it’s from a hedger.” Chinese policy makers restricted activity in the futures market last summer because selling the contracts is one of the easiest ways for investors to make large wagers against stocks. Volumes shrank by more than 90% from their peak after officials raised margin requirements, tightened position limits and started a police probe into bearish wagers.

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Xi Jinping is one nervous man right now.

The Big Short Is Back in Chinese Stocks (BBG)

Chinese equities are once again in the cross hairs of short sellers. Short interest in one of the largest Hong Kong exchange-traded funds tracking domestic Chinese stocks has surged fivefold this month to its highest level in a year, according to data compiled by Markit and Bloomberg. The last time bearish bets were so elevated, such pessimism proved well-founded as China’s bull market turned into a $5 trillion rout. While trading in the Shanghai Composite has become subdued this month amid suspected state intervention, pessimists are betting that equities face renewed selling amid a slumping yuan. The Chinese currency is heading for its biggest monthly loss since last year’s devaluation as the nation’s economic outlook worsens and the Fed prepares to raise borrowing costs, driving a rally in the dollar.

“Some macro funds are seeking opportunities to short index futures to play the currency movement,” said Wenjie Lu at UBS. “A higher chance of a Fed rate hike means there’s pressure for the yuan to soften.” Short interest in the CSOP FTSE China A50 ETF climbed to 6.1% on May 25, the highest level since April 2015, two months before Chinese equities peaked, and up from 1.3% at the end of last month. Bearish bets in the U.S. traded iShares China Large-Cap ETF jumped to a two-year high of 18% of shares outstanding on the same day, up from 3% a month ago. Even as Chinese equities rallied on Tuesday, traders were rattled by a sudden plunge in index futures. Contracts on the CSI 300 Index dropped as much as 10% at around 10:42 a.m. local time, recovering almost all of the losses in the same minute. The move had little effect on the underlying stock gauge, which rose 2.6% at the break.

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I think there’s more to it than that.

You’re Witnessing The Death Of Neoliberalism – From Within (G.)

You hear it when the Bank of England’s Mark Carney sounds the alarm about “a low-growth, low-inflation, low-interest-rate equilibrium”. Or when the Bank of International Settlements, the central bank’s central bank, warns that “the global economy seems unable to return to sustainable and balanced growth”. And you saw it most clearly last Thursday from the IMF. What makes the fund’s intervention so remarkable is not what is being said – but who is saying it and just how bluntly. In the IMF’s flagship publication, three of its top economists have written an essay titled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?”. The very headline delivers a jolt. For so long mainstream economists and policymakers have denied the very existence of such a thing as neoliberalism, dismissing it as an insult invented by gap-toothed malcontents who understand neither economics nor capitalism.

Now here comes the IMF, describing how a “neoliberal agenda” has spread across the globe in the past 30 years. What they mean is that more and more states have remade their social and political institutions into pale copies of the market. Two British examples, suggests Will Davies – author of the Limits of Neoliberalism – would be the NHS and universities “where classrooms are being transformed into supermarkets”. In this way, the public sector is replaced by private companies, and democracy is supplanted by mere competition. The results, the IMF researchers concede, have been terrible. Neoliberalism hasn’t delivered economic growth – it has only made a few people a lot better off. It causes epic crashes that leave behind human wreckage and cost billions to clean up, a finding with which most residents of food bank Britain would agree.

And while George Osborne might justify austerity as “fixing the roof while the sun is shining”, the fund team defines it as “curbing the size of the state … another aspect of the neoliberal agenda”. And, they say, its costs “could be large – much larger than the benefit”. Two things need to be borne in mind here. First, this study comes from the IMF’s research division – not from those staffers who fly into bankrupt countries, haggle over loan terms with cash-strapped governments and administer the fiscal waterboarding. Since 2008, a big gap has opened up between what the IMF thinks and what it does. Second, while the researchers go much further than fund watchers might have believed, they leave in some all-important get-out clauses.

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You kidding me? They’re overloaded to their necks in overvalued property loans.

Australia’s Big Four Banks Are Much More Vulnerable Than They Appear (Das)

Today they face little competition in their home market and have benefited tremendously from Australia’s strong growth, underpinned by China’s seemingly insatiable demand for the country’s gas, coal, iron ore and other raw materials. During the 2012 European debt crisis, Australia’s banks were worth more than all of Europe’s. But Australian financial institutions have made the same fundamental mistake the rest of the country has, assuming that growth based on “houses and holes” – rising property prices and resources buried underground – can continue indefinitely. In fact, despite a recent rebound in Chinese demand, commodities prices look set to remain weak for the foreseeable future. Banks’ exposure to the slowing natural resources sector has reached nearly $70 billion in loans outstanding – worryingly large relative to their capital resources.

If anything, their exposure to the property sector is even more dangerous. Mortgages make up a much bigger proportion of bank portfolios than before – more than half, double the level in the 1990s. And they’re riskier than they used to be: many loans are interest-only, while around 80% have variable rates. With a downturn likely – everything from price-to-income to price-to-rent ratios suggests houses are massively overvalued – losses are likely to rise, especially if economy activity weakens. Australian banks are also more vulnerable to outside shocks than they may first appear. Their loan-to-deposit ratio is about 110%. Domestic deposits fund only around 60% of bank assets; the rest of their financing has to come from overseas. While that hasn’t been a problem recently, Australia’s external position is deteriorating.

The current account deficit is expected to climb to 4.75% in the year ending June 30. Weak terms of trade, a rising budget deficit, slower growth and a falling currency are likely to drive up the cost of funds. If Australia’s economy or the financial sector’s performance falters, or international markets are disrupted, banks’ access to external funds could be threatened.

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“..only 18% of Americans and 17% of Germans support TTIP..”

Ceta: The Trade Deal That’s Already Signed (G.)

The US-Europe deal TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is the best known of these so-called “new generation” trade deals and has inspired a movement. More than 3 million Europeans have signed Europe’s biggest petition to oppose TTIP, while 250,000 Germans took to the streets of Berlin last autumn to try to bring this deal down. A new opinion poll shows only 18% of Americans and 17% of Germans support TTIP, down from 53% and 55% just two years ago. But TTIP is not alone. Its smaller sister deal between the EU and Canada is called Ceta (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). Ceta is just as dangerous as TTIP; indeed it’s in the vanguard of TTIP-style deals, because it’s already been signed by the European commission and the Canadian government. It now awaits ratification over the next 12 months.

The one positive thing about Ceta is that it has already been signed and that means that we’re allowed to see it. Its 1,500 pages show us that it’s a threat to not only our food standards, but also the battle against climate change, our ability to regulate big banks to prevent another crash and our power to renationalise industries. Like the US deal, Ceta contains a new legal system, open only to foreign corporations and investors. Should the British government make a decision, say, to outlaw dangerous chemicals, improve food safety or put cigarettes in plain packaging, a Canadian company can sue the British government for “unfairness”. And by unfairness this simply means they can’t make as much profit as they expected. The “trial” would be held as a special tribunal, overseen by corporate lawyers.

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Would anyone doubt it?

Britain Is ‘World’s Most Corrupt Country’, Says Italian Mafia Expert (ES)

Britain has been described as the most corrupt country in the world, according to a journalist and expert on the Italian Mafia. Roberto Saviano, who wrote best-selling exposés Gomorrah and ZeroZeroZero, made the claim at the Hay Literary Festival. The 36-year-old has been living under police protection for 10 years since revelations were published about members of the Camorra, a Neapolitan branch of the mafia. Mr Saviano told the audience at Hay-on-Wye: “If I asked you what is the most corrupt place on Earth you might tell me well it’s Afghanistan, maybe Greece, Nigeria, the South of Italy and I will tell you it’s the UK. “It’s not the bureaucracy, it’s not the police, it’s not the politics but what is corrupt is the financial capital. 90% of the owners of capital in London have their headquarters offshore.

“Jersey and the Cayman’s are the access gates to criminal capital in Europe and the UK is the country that allows it. “That is why it is important why it is so crucial for me to be here today and to talk to you because I want to tell you, this is about you, this is about your life, this is about your government.” David Cameron came under pressure for the UK to reform offshore tax havens operating on British overseas territories at an anti-corruption summit earlier this month. Mr Saviano also weighed in on the EU referendum debate, warning a vote to leave the union would see Britain even more exposed to organised crime. He added: “Leaving the EU means allowing this to take place. It means allowing the Qatari societies, the Mexican cartels, the Russian Mafia to gain even more power and HSBC has paid £2 billion in fines to the US government, because it confessed that it had laundered money coming from the cartels and the Iranian companies. “We have proof, we have evidence.”

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How power rules.

The Untold Story Behind Saudi Arabia’s 41-Year US Debt Secret (BBG)

Failure was not an option. It was July 1974. A steady predawn drizzle had given way to overcast skies when William Simon, newly appointed U.S. Treasury secretary, and his deputy, Gerry Parsky, stepped onto an 8 a.m. flight from Andrews Air Force Base. On board, the mood was tense. That year, the oil crisis had hit home. An embargo by OPEC’s Arab nations—payback for U.S. military aid to the Israelis during the Yom Kippur War—quadrupled oil prices. Inflation soared, the stock market crashed, and the U.S. economy was in a tailspin. Officially, Simon’s two-week trip was billed as a tour of economic diplomacy across Europe and the Middle East, full of the customary meet-and-greets and evening banquets.

But the real mission, kept in strict confidence within President Richard Nixon’s inner circle, would take place during a four-day layover in the coastal city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The goal: neutralize crude oil as an economic weapon and find a way to persuade a hostile kingdom to finance America’s widening deficit with its newfound petrodollar wealth. And according to Parsky, Nixon made clear there was simply no coming back empty-handed. Failure would not only jeopardize America’s financial health but could also give the Soviet Union an opening to make further inroads into the Arab world. It “wasn’t a question of whether it could be done or it couldn’t be done,” said Parsky, 73, one of the few officials with Simon during the Saudi talks.

At first blush, Simon, who had just done a stint as Nixon’s energy czar, seemed ill-suited for such delicate diplomacy. Before being tapped by Nixon, the chain-smoking New Jersey native ran the vaunted Treasuries desk at Salomon Brothers. To career bureaucrats, the brash Wall Street bond trader—who once compared himself to Genghis Khan—had a temper and an outsize ego that was painfully out of step in Washington. Just a week before setting foot in Saudi Arabia, Simon publicly lambasted the Shah of Iran, a close regional ally at the time, calling him a “nut.” But Simon, better than anyone else, understood the appeal of U.S. government debt and how to sell the Saudis on the idea that America was the safest place to park their petrodollars.

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Inappropriate, illegal, and a public service, all at the same time.

Eric Holder Says Edward Snowden Performed A ‘Public Service’ (CNN)

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says Edward Snowden performed a “public service” by triggering a debate over surveillance techniques, but still must pay a penalty for illegally leaking a trove of classified intelligence documents. “We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made,” Holder told David Axelrod on “The Axe Files,” a podcast produced by CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. “Now I would say that doing what he did – and the way he did it – was inappropriate and illegal,” Holder added. Holder said Snowden jeopardized America’s security interests by leaking classified information while working as a contractor for the National Security Agency in 2013.

“He harmed American interests,” said Holder, who was at the helm of the Justice Department when Snowden leaked U.S. surveillance secrets. “I know there are ways in which certain of our agents were put at risk, relationships with other countries were harmed, our ability to keep the American people safe was compromised. There were all kinds of re-dos that had to be put in place as a result of what he did, and while those things were being done we were blind in certain really critical areas. So what he did was not without consequence.” Snowden, who has spent the last few years in exile in Russia, should return to the U.S. to deal with the consequences, Holder noted. “I think that he’s got to make a decision. He’s broken the law in my view. He needs to get lawyers, come on back, and decide, see what he wants to do: Go to trial, try to cut a deal. I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done.”

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Times editors’ curious timing.

Vague Promises of Debt Relief for Greece (NY Times Ed.)

European leaders congratulated themselves last week for reaching an agreement to provide more loans to Greece and eventually ease the terms of the country’s huge debt. But there is little to celebrate. Greece is bankrupt in all but name. The country has a debt of more than €300 billion, or about 180% of its GDP, a sum it cannot hope to repay in full. Most of that money is owed to Germany, France, Italy and other countries in the eurozone. After an 11-hour meeting last week, the eurozone finance ministers said that they would lend another €7.5 billion to Greece next month to help it pay off debt and grant it some relief, possibly including lower interest rates and extended payment periods, but not until mid-2018.

The reality is that Greece can’t be squeezed any harder. But the finance ministers are seeking still more spending cuts and increased taxes. They want to see a budget surplus of 3.5% of GDP before interest payments by 2018. A stable and fast-growing country might be able to hit that target, but it is preposterous to expect that from Greece. The IMF wants to see a more realistic surplus of 1.5%. Delaying meaningful debt relief until 2018 will further harm the struggling Greek economy. The Greek unemployment rate was 24.4% in January, and Greece’s economy shrunk in the first three months of the year. The I.M.F., which has also lent Greece money, recently estimated that at its current trajectory, the country’s debt would eventually grow to 250% of GDP.

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Forcing Greece into foolish measures: “..Schaeuble described the decision to raise value-added tax in Greece as “economic foolishness” but noted that Athens was obliged to take that route due to a revenue shortfall.”

Glitch In Greek Bailout Talks Fuels Fears Of Delay (Kath.)

There was fresh concern on Monday that there could be further delays in the disbursement of much-need bailout money to Greece owing to a disagreement between Athens and its creditors, who have demanded changes to prior actions passed in Parliament earlier this month. EU officials on Monday appeared to dismiss Greece’s refusal to implement some of these changes, saying that these are issues that have already been agreed with the Greek government. The country’s lenders had given the green light for the disbursement of a tranche of 10.3 billion euros last week, on the condition the government made amendments to recent legislation it passed on pension, bad loans and privatizations.

However, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos had informed the European Commission representative and the IMF in a letter last week that their demands could not be met, neither could Athens fulfill the demands enshrined in the bailout deal signed last summer to privatize ADMIE, the country’s grid operator, and to freeze the wages of essential services, like those of the coast guard and police. Greece desperately needs the new bailout money to pay state arrears as well as debt repayments to the IMF and European Central Bank in the coming weeks. There were reports on Monday that the government is planning to submit its own amendments on Wednesday to Parliament. If the disagreement between Greece and its creditors persists, then it is likely it will be discussed at the Euro Working Group on Thursday.

In comments on Monday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble described the decision to raise value-added tax in Greece as “economic foolishness” but noted that Athens was obliged to take that route due to a revenue shortfall. “This is why Greece needs an effective public administration,” Schaeuble told a conference on fiscal sustainability, observing that Greek tax collection must be improved to bring in the higher revenues that are being targeted.

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Germany has exported its unemployment to Greece and Spain.

German Unemployment Rate Falls to Record Low (BBG)

German unemployment declined more than economists estimated, pushing the jobless rate to the lowest level since reunification. The number of people out of work fell by a seasonally adjusted 11,000 to 2.695 million in May, data from the Federal Labor Agency in Nuremberg showed on Tuesday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey was for a decline of 5,000. The jobless rate dropped to 6.1 percent. The report comes two days before ECB officials convene in Vienna to set monetary policy and assess whether they’ve done enough to sustain an economic recovery in the 19-nation euro region.

The ECB is expected to keep its stimulus plan unchanged after President Mario Draghi announced an expansion of quantitative easing by a third to €80 billion in March and cut the deposit rate further below zero. Unemployment dropped by 8,000 in western Germany and declined by 3,000 in the eastern part of the country, the report showed. Growth momentum in Europe’s largest economy remains strong after gross domestic product expanded at the fastest pace in two years in the first quarter. German business sentiment rose to the highest level in five months in May and consumer prices unexpectedly halted their decline. The Bundesbank predicts the economy will retain its underlying strength, even though expansion will probably slow somewhat this quarter.

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Obviously not a surprise for me, or Automatic Earth readers. And lest we forget: Norway does a lot of good in silence. But more austerity is definitely not going to fix anything at all.

Majority Of Athens Homeless Ended Up On Street In Past 5 Years (Kath.)

71% of the Greek capital’s homeless population has ended up on the streets in the last five years and 21.7% in the last year alone, a study by the City of Athens’s Homeless Shelter (KYADA), funded by the Norwegian government and other European countries, has found. According to the study, which was conducted as part of the “Fighting Poverty and Social Exclusion” program and whose findings were presented by Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis on Monday evening, 62% of the capital’s homeless are Greeks, the overwhelming majority (85.4%) are men and most (57%) are aged between 35-55. Of the 451 respondents questioned by KYADA workers from March 2015 until the same month this year, 47% said they ended up on the street after losing their job and 29% said they do not want to move to a shelter or other organized facility.

Less than half of the respondents (41.2%) admitted to using drugs, 7.3% to alcohol and 2% to both. Kaminis also said that in the one-year period, the solidarity program helped distribute 46,156 supermarket food coupons worth around 1.85 million euros to nearly 9,000 beneficiaries in over 3,700 families. “Through its social structures and strong alliances with agencies, partners and simple citizens, the City of Athens help give support to more than 25,000 residents,” Kaminis said at the presentation, which was also attended by Norwegian Ambassador to Athens Jorn Eugene Gjelstad.

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Who we are. Not including debt slaves.

More Than 45 Million Trapped In Modern Slavery (AFP)

More than 45 million men, women and children globally are trapped in modern slavery, far more than previously thought, with two-thirds in the Asia-Pacific, a study showed Tuesday. The details were revealed in the 2016 Global Slavery Index, a research report by the Walk Free Foundation, an initiative set up by Australian billionaire mining magnate and philanthropist Andrew Forrest in 2012 to draw attention to the issue. It compiled information from 167 countries with 42,000 interviews in 53 languages to determine the prevalence of the issue and government responses. It suggested that there were 28% more slaves than estimated two years ago, a revision reached through better data collection and research methods.

The report said India had the highest number of people trapped in slavery at 18.35 million, while North Korea had the highest incidence (4.37% of the population) and the weakest government response. Modern slavery refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception. They may be held in debt bondage on fishing boats, against their will as domestic servants or trapped in brothels. Some 124 countries have criminalised human trafficking in line with the UN Trafficking Protocol and 96 have developed national action plans to coordinate the government response.

In terms of absolute numbers, Asian countries occupy the top five for people trapped in slavery. Behind India was China (3.39 million), Pakistan (2.13 million), Bangladesh (1.53 million) and Uzbekistan (1.23 million). As a %age of the population, Uzbekistan (3.97%) and Cambodia (1.65%) trailed North Korea, which the study said was the only nation in the world that has not explicitly criminalised any form of modern slavery.

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May 292016
 
 May 29, 2016  Posted by at 9:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Matt Black/Magnum Photos USA. El Paso, Texas. 2015

Iceland Puts Freeze on Foreign Investors (WSJ)
Japan’s Abe To Delay Sales Tax Hike Until 2019 (R.)
Fade The Oil Bounce (CNBC)
Trade Deals Going Nowhere (DR)
Schrödinger’s Cat Gets a Playmate (CSM)
The Geography of American Poverty (G.)
Miracle In Athens As Greek Tourism Numbers Keep Growing (Observer)
The EU Has Turned Greece Into a Prison for Refugees (Nation)
13,000 People Rescued In Mediterranean In One Week (G.)
Rescued Migrants Say Ship Sank Off Italy With Hundreds Aboard (R.)

Recovering from debt addiction: “We don’t need the money..”

Iceland Puts Freeze on Foreign Investors (WSJ)

Iceland has spent eight years locking down its financial markets to keep foreign investors in. Now some are complaining the island nation is trying to shove them out. A law passed May 22 by Iceland’s parliament offers the foreign holders of about $2.3 billion worth of krona-denominated government bonds a Hobson’s choice: Sell out in June at a below-market exchange rate, or have the money they receive when their bonds mature impounded indefinitely in low-interest bank accounts. Investors, including Boston-based mutual-fund companies Eaton Vance and Loomis Sayles, a unit of Natixis, don’t want to go. They say they will reject the government’s offer. “We would like to stay invested,” said Patrick Campbell, a global bond analyst at Eaton Vance.

The dispute is the result of a wholesale turnaround in Iceland’s relationship with foreign investors. The country became synonymous with financial alchemy after its banks ballooned by borrowing in bond markets and attracting foreign depositors with high interest rates. That system imploded in 2008 when depositors made a run on the banks just as their bonds fell due, causing the krona to sharply devalue against the euro. Yet a growing number of fund managers are now buying Icelandic government bonds, including those that were marooned on the island when it applied capital controls. The country is now one of the few offering a combination of high interest rates and strong economic growth prospects.

Eaton Vance and another holder of the legacy debt, also called “offshore” debt, hedge fund Autonomy Capital LP, have been courting the government for months to allow them to keep their cash on the island, even offering to swap their holdings into long-term bonds that they would pledge to hold on to.But the country isn’t interested. Instead, officials behind the law say they aim to keep the $16.7 billion economy of the island with a population of 327,386 from being swamped anew by the ebb and flow of offshore funds. “We don’t need the money,” said Mar Gudmundsson, governor of Iceland’s central bank. “These are remnants from the last boom and bust, and we are not going to repeat that mistake.”

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“..Japan “must reignite powerfully the engine of Abenomics”..”

Japan’s Abe To Delay Sales Tax Hike Until 2019 (R.)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to delay an increase in sales tax by two and a half years, a government official said on Sunday, as the economy sputters and Abe prepares for a national election. Abe told Finance Minister Taro Aso and the secretary general of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Sadakazu Tanigaki, on Saturday of his plan to propose delaying the tax hike for a second time, until October 2019, said the official, who was briefed on the meeting. The prime minister, who has promised to announce steps on Tuesday to spur economic growth and promote structural reform, is also expected to order an extra budget to fund stimulus measures, just two months into the fiscal year and on the heels of a supplementary budget to pay for recovery from recent earthquakes in southern Japan.

After chairing a summit of Group of Seven leaders on Friday, Abe said Japan would mobilize “all policy tools” – including the possibility of delaying the tax hike – to avoid what he called an economic crisis on the scale of the global financial crisis that followed the 2008 Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. “There is a risk of the global economy falling into crisis if appropriate policy responses are not made,” Abe told a news conference after the summit. To play its part, Japan “must reignite powerfully the engine of Abenomics,” he said, referring to his easy-money policies aimed at getting Japan out of two decades of deflation and fitful growth. Abe has long said he would proceed with a plan to raise the tax rate to 10% from 8% next April unless Japan faced a crisis on the magnitude of the Lehman shock.

He said the G7 “shares a strong sense of crisis” about the global outlook, with the most worrisome risk being a global contraction led by a slowdown in emerging economies like China. Other G7 leaders, however, appeared to differ with Abe on the risk of a global crisis, fuelling comment that Abe was using the G7 to justify delaying the painful tax hike.

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Interesting graph.

Fade The Oil Bounce (CNBC)

This week, oil broke above the key $50 level for the first time since October 2015. Yet rather than interpret the move as a sign to buy, one top technician is warning investors not to chase the rally. “I think it’s all about risk-reward and there’s probably no more important chart right now than the oil chart,” Chris Verrone, a technician at Strategas Research Partners, told CNBC’s “Fast Money” this week. According to Verrone, it’s the steepness of the move that bothers him most. In the past 72 days, oil has moved 20% above its 200-day moving average. “It looks excessive to us, we think there’s a higher likelihood you come back and retest the 200 near 39, 40 bucks,” said Verrone.

Also troubling to Verrone is the fact that while crude has surged to new highs, energy stocks and the Mexican peso — both of which are closely tied to oil — have not made new highs in a month. Energy names have fallen since peaking on April 27, whereas crude has surged 12%. Since peaking back April 29, the peso’s gains are still lagging those in oil. They are up 8% and 33%, respectively, this year. Indeed, analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch warned this week that continued strength in the dollar could trigger a series of knock-on effects that may push crude off its new highs. The bank said a “black swan event” such as Saudi Arabia removing its currency peg could lead to a collapse of Brent crude to as deep as $25 per barrel, and it expects oil prices to average $46 per barrel this year. On Friday, crude ended the session above $49 per barrel.

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Pretty soon exactly zero people outside of the elite will want these deals.

Trade Deals Going Nowhere (DR)

As the politics of this election year heat up, the chances of Congress debating — let alone passing — either of the White House’s marque trade deals continue to melt away. Oh, there’s plenty of talk about the westward-looking Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Euro-centered Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TPP and TTIP, respectively. Most of the yakking, however, flows from Obama Administration officials; nary a word trickles out of Congress. Worse than Capitol Hill silence is the vocal pounding free trade takes when any of Obama’s would-be successors talk trade.

Bernie Sanders, a Democrat by name but socialist by heart, makes it crystal clear that he would rather eat glass than back “free” trade. Hillary Clinton, who three years ago called the TPP “exciting,” “innovative” and “ambitious,” now sees it as an agreement that has “failed to provide the basic safety net support needed” for American workers. Take that as an “innovative” no. And the Donald? He’s against TPP because, as he noted in one Republican debate this spring, “It’s a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door … ” China, however, is not part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, so whatever Trump meant must have been more of a “suggestion” than a fact. Whatever.

[..] Big Ag’s big push for the pending trade deals is understandable, given the two changed realities of today’s election year politics. First, even as we lean on the EU to alter its biotech food rules, the U.S. Senate still can’t agree on how to write a biotech food labeling law here. Members know the tide has turned on labeling; 89 out of 100 Americans want it. Majority Republicans, however, don’t and they continue to search for a way to be anti-labeling without becoming anti-incumbents. Second, not one presidential contender sees free trade as a vote-winning issue. Taken together, it’s hard to see how any trade deal goes anywhere this year. After that, you have to take the word of Hillary or Bernie or Donald. Well, maybe not Donald. Or Hillary. Bernie’s solid, though.

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Entanglement is poorly understood, and poorly explained.

Schrödinger’s Cat Gets a Playmate (CSM)

Schrödinger’s cat is something many of us have heard of, but perhaps fewer actually understand. The idea was first dreamed up by an Austrian physicist, Erwin Schrödinger, who wanted to illustrate the mind-bending nature of quantum mechanics. He created a thought experiment in this world to illustrate the point, which would allow a cat to be both dead and alive in a box at the same time. Now, scientists have added another box. And another cat. And the first cat being dead and alive simultaneously in the first box, so this causes the second cat in the second box to also be dead and alive at the same time. Makes perfect quantum sense, right? “It’s understandable that people don’t understand it,” lead author Chen Wang of Yale University told The Washington Post.

“You can’t understand it using common sense. We can’t either.” But here’s the premise: A cat sits in a box. Alongside the cat, there’s poison. That poison will only be released upon the decay of a radioactive subatomic particle. According to quantum mechanics, and specifically the theory of “superposition,” these particles actually exist in all possible states at the same time – until, that is, someone takes a measurement. At that point, the particle falls into a single, known state. So, the particles could be decaying, and not decaying, simultaneously. As a consequence, the poison is being released – and not released. And so the cat is both dead and alive. Until someone opens the box, of course, and is observed. Then, the cat can’t be doing both things at once.

What Dr. Wang and his team have done is to add another dimension: the concept of “entanglement.” This proposes that two objects can be intimately linked, even if billions of light-years separate them, and any change that happens to one will happen to the other instantaneously, a relationship Einstein once described as “spooky action at a distance.” For our cat, this means, quite simply, that there’s a twin, in another box. And everything that happens to one, happens to the other. In Wang’s experiment, there were no cats, just light. He used two aluminum cavities, each with a wave of light bouncing around inside. The researchers induced such a state so that the light existed in two different wavelengths at the same time, in both boxes.

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‘Poverty Is Often Looked At In Isolation, But It Is An American Problem’

The Geography of American Poverty (G.)


USA. Allensworth, California. 2014. Fence post. Allensworth has a population of 471 and 54% live below the poverty level. Matt Black/Magnum Photos

Last summer Matt Black left the Central Valley of California, where he lives, to travel 18,000 miles across the US on a road trip that took him through 30 states and 70 of the poorest towns in America. The startling image of a hand resting on a fence post against a barren backdrop was taken in the small town of Allensworth, California, where 54% of the population of 471 people live below the poverty level. “California always seemed special and unique in terms of how it symbolised promise and progress,” says Black, 45, during a break in shooting landscapes in Idaho, where he’s working on another stage of the same series, Geography of Poverty. “So it seemed somehow symbolic to begin there and travel east, but what has surprised me is the similarities I have encountered as I travelled from one community to another.

All these diverse communities are connected, not least in their powerlessness. In the mainstream media, poverty is often looked at in isolation, but it is an American problem. It seems to me that it goes unreported because it does not fit the way America sees itself.” As if to bear this out, Black tells me that the route he took was mapped out in advance using geotagged photographs found online alongside census information to identify the poorest areas. In each instance, the communities he visited were never more than a two-hour drive apart. “I was able to drive from California to the east coast and back without ever leaving these poor areas.” Black’s striking images are on show in a group exhibition, New Blood, at the Magnum Print Room in London…


USA. El Paso, Texas. 2015. El Paso has a population of 649,121 and 21.5% live below the poverty level. Matt Black/Magnum Photos

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More tourists, more refugees.

Miracle In Athens As Greek Tourism Numbers Keep Growing (Observer)

It’s been a busy winter in downtown Athens, where scaffolding, tarpaulins and dust have been symbols of hope: a mini construction boom heralding a tourist renaissance. Nine hotels are being built or restored around the city centre. Their arrival correlates with the huge upturn in holidaymakers visiting the Greek capital since a low point in late 2008, when Athens erupted into riots after the police killing of a teenage boy. “It’s a miracle, what’s been happening in Athens,” Greece’s tourism chief, Andreas Andreadis, told the Observer. “The tourist industry in Greece grew two to three times faster than in Spain, Portugal, Italy or France last year. This year we expect around 4.5 million visitors in Athens alone.”

For an economy stuck in depression-era recession, dependent on emergency bails and seemingly locked in a perpetual fiscal vice, tourism is vital. A record 23.5 million holidaymakers visited Greece in 2015 – generating €14.2bn in direct receipts, or 24% of GDP. In 2010, at the start of the country’s debt crisis – which has seen it struggle to avert default and remain in the euro – revenues from tourism were €10bn, or 15% of GDP. The Greek Tourism Confederation, Sete, is predicting another bumper season for an industry that has long been the single biggest contributor to the economy and job market. Arrivals could reach 25 million (27.5 million including cruise ship passengers), which is more than twice the country’s population. Economic recovery will depend on the sector to a great degree.

Andreadis said: “If we get 1.5 million more visitors it will produce an additional €800m in direct receipts. Such a positive kick that would come in the third and fourth quarters.” Much of the upsurge is linked to Greece’s safety record. Tourists are staying away from resort in Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and elsewhere in the wake of high-profile attacks. Countries whose economies are also dependent on holidaymakers have suffered incalculable damage following a severe drop in arrivals. Travel advice from governments and fears of fresh violence are simply keeping tourists away. But other countries’ loss could be Greece’s gain. And it could not come at a better time: tourism provides one in five jobs in Greece, at a time when unemployment in the effectively bankrupt nation has hovered stubbornly around 25%. Youth unemployment stands at an astonishing 67%.

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And Greece has no way of dealing with it.

The EU Has Turned Greece Into a Prison for Refugees (Nation)

In the port-side café before the sun comes up, a group of men are talking. “In the beginning, when there were maybe 40 of them in the boats, all wet, we helped them. Now they’re too many. They steal chickens. They shit in the fields. They threw stones at a woman.” “Do you think it’s chance that they’re all coming here? The NGOs, the whatever they’re called, are making money off it. It’s a plan. A racket.” “Eventually they’ll set off a bomb and sink the island.” “Sink or float, what difference does it make? Are we happy, now we’re floating?” Chios, my grandfather’s island in the northeast Aegean Sea, has become an open-air prison for more than 2,000 refugees. Almost all of them arrived after the March 20 “statement” signed by the EU and Turkey, designed to stop the flow of people from Turkey to the Greek islands and then to mainland Europe.

The statement, which followed the unilateral closure by Central European countries of the western Balkans route, cut time and space like a guillotine, arbitrarily separating those who’d arrived before it from those who landed after, trapping more than 50,000 refugees and migrants in Greece. These late arrivals can’t leave the islands until their cases have been decided by the Greek asylum system, which is overloaded to the point of paralysis. The refugees are supposed to prove not only that they’re at risk in their home country but that they’d be at risk in Turkey, which the EU (but not Greece) considers a “safe third country,” if they want to have their asylum claim heard in Greece. Otherwise, they will be returned to Turkey.

Of the 8,500 women, children, and men who have landed on the islands since the agreement was signed, 400 have been returned so far, some to be detained for weeks without legal representation. About 200 have been granted asylum in Greece. The rest are rotting in overcrowded camps, “hot spots,” and locked detention centers, without information, adequate food, medical care, or security. And the boats from Turkey, though many fewer than before, continue to come in.

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Are we going to keep acting as if this will stop when we simply look away?

13,000 People Rescued In Mediterranean In One Week (G.)

A flotilla of ships saved 668 people from boats in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday, authorities in Italy said, bringing the week’s total of refugees plucked from the sea to 13,000 people. The rescues by the Italian coast guard and navy ships, aided by Irish and German vessels and humanitarian groups, are the latest by a multinational patrol south of the Italian island of Sicily. Warner spring weather has led to a surge of people attempting the perilous crossing from Africa to Europe. The Irish military said the vessel Le Roisin saved 123 people from a 12m-long (40-ft) rubber dinghy and recovered a male body. A German ship was involved in four separate rescue operations, the Italian coast guard said on Saturday evening.

Meanwhile, with shelters filling up in Sicily, the Italian navy vessel Vega headed toward Reggio Calabria, a southern Italian mainland port, bringing 135 survivors and 45 bodies from a rescue a day earlier. The Vega was due to dock on Sunday. Other survivors who arrived on Saturday in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo told authorities they had witnessed a fishing boat filled with“ hundreds” of people sink on Thursday, a Save The Children spokeswoman, Giovanna Di Benedetto, told The Associated Press by telephone from Sicily. According to survivors, two smugglers’ fishing boats and a dinghy set sail on Wednesday night from Libya’s coast. Di Benedetto said the survivors were among 500 or so aboard the one fishing boat that didn’t sink and the dinghy. “All of this must be verified, of course,” said Di Benedetto, but if the survivors’ accounts bear out, as many as 400 people could have drowned, with only a very few of those on the vessel that sank able to reach the other boats.

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Not an isolated incident.

Rescued Migrants Say Ship Sank Off Italy With Hundreds Aboard (R.)

Migrants rescued from two boats in the Mediterranean this week told humanitarian workers in Italy that they saw another vessel carrying some 400 migrants sink, Save the Children said on Saturday. Three vessels carrying migrants already are confirmed to have sunk or capsized this week. More than 60 bodies are said to have been recovered, including those of three infants, and hundreds are believed to be missing. But the possible sinking of a fourth vessel on Thursday had not been reported, said Giovanna Di Benedetto, spokeswoman for Save the Children in Italy. That ship along with another fishing boat and a rubber boat left Sabratha in Libya late Wednesday night, according to interviews on Saturday with some of the more than 600 survivors from the two other vessels in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo.

They said the rubber boat had its own motor, but the smaller fishing boat, carrying some 400 migrants, did not. It was towed by the larger fishing vessel, which held about 500 others. Eventually the smaller boat began to take on water and, when the captain of the larger boat ordered the tow line cut, sank with most of its passengers, the survivors told Save the Children. Those aboard the other two vessels were not rescued until much later. “There were many women and children on board,” the survivors said, according to Di Benedetto. “We collected testimony from several of those rescued from both (the rubber and fishing) boats. They all say they saw the same thing.”

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May 282016
 


Jack Delano Row houses, Baltimore 1940

Yellen Leans Toward Near-Term Rate Rise Without Detailing Timing (BBG)
Trump: Only ‘Dummies’ Believe Fed’s Unemployment Figure (Crudele)
Japan’s Abe Plans Up to $90.7 Billion Stimulus (BBG)
US Farm Belt Banks Tighten the Buckle (WSJ)
Companies Go on Worldwide Bond Bender With $236 Billion of Sales (BBG)
Clinton Lurks in Shadows When Sparring With Sanders on Banks (BBG)
Toronto’s Red-Hot Market Sends Property Values Soaring (Star)
UK House Prices Compared With Earnings ‘Close To Pre-Crisis Levels’ (G.)
Paris and Berlin Ready ‘Plan B’ For Life After Brexit (FT)
Neoliberalism Increases Inequality and Stunts Economic Growth: IMF (Ind.)
How the Deadly Sin of Avarice Was Rehabilitated as Self Interest (Evon.)
Silencing the United States as It Prepares for War (Pilger)
ISIS Advance Traps 165,000 Syrians at Closed Turkish Border (HRW)

“The economy is continuing to improve..” Nuff said.

Yellen Leans Toward Near-Term Rate Rise Without Detailing Timing (BBG)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen threw her support behind a growing consensus at the central bank in favor of another interest rate increase soon, while steering clear of specifying the timing of such a move. “It’s appropriate – and I’ve said this in the past – for the Fed to gradually and cautiously increase our overnight interest rate over time,” Yellen said Friday during remarks at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Probably in the coming months such a move would be appropriate.” Yellen will host her colleagues on the Federal Open Market Committee in Washington June 14-15, when they will contemplate a second interest-rate increase following seven years of near-zero borrowing costs that ended when they hiked in December.

A series of speeches by Fed officials and the release of the minutes to their April policy meeting have heightened investor expectations for another tightening move either next month or in July. “The economy is continuing to improve,” she said in a discussion with Harvard economics professor Gregory Mankiw. She added that she expects “inflation will move up over the next couple of years to our 2% objective,” provided headwinds holding down price pressures, including energy prices and a stronger dollar, stabilize alongside an improving labor market.

Several regional Fed presidents, ranging from Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren to San Francisco’s John Williams, have in recent weeks urged financial market participants to take more seriously the chances of a rate hike in the next two months, pointing to continued signs of steady if unspectacular growth in the U.S. economy and the waning of risks posed by global economic and financial conditions. Yellen suggested that a rate rise would be appropriate if economic growth picks up and the labor market continues to improve – two developments that she said she expects to happen.

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Trump sees a whole other world than Yellen does. Take your pick.

Trump: Only ‘Dummies’ Believe Fed’s Unemployment Figure (Crudele)

Donald Trump, if elected president, will investigate the veracity of US economic statistics produced by Washington — including “the way they are reported.” I caught up with Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, by phone Tuesday morning, and we had a frank talk about the economy and what is making his campaign tick. “When you look at some of these [economic] numbers they give out and then you go out and see people dying to get a job all over the country, I mean, it’s not jibing with what’s really going on,” Trump said. “The economy is not doing well,” Trump said. “You know, John, I’m getting 20,000 to 25,000 people every time I make a speech, and they are not there just because of the border,” he added, referring to his vow to build a wall between the US and Mexico.

“They are there because — and you know — if you put out a job notice, you’ll get thousands of people showing up to pick up a job,” Trump said. As I’ve mentioned before, I first met Trump decades ago and we used to talk once in a while, but haven’t for many years. Trump says he thinks the US unemployment rate is close to 20% and not the 5% reported by the Labor Department. Anyone who believes the 5% is a “dummy,” he said. The Federal Reserve, of course, always quotes the 5% figure and may raise interest rates based on that belief in the coming months. But even the Fed must not be too certain since it produces its own version of the jobless number, something I’ve already written about. Trump has said in the past that the Fed is also in his cross hairs for an audit. (I would recommend he look into how the Fed interferes with the markets.)

As I’ve been reporting for years, the official unemployment rate is conveniently reduced by a number of factors — each in place during both Democratic and Republican administrations. One of these factors, for example, is out-of-work people who have stopped looking for work for more than a year because they may have grown frustrated by the lack of jobs. They are not counted in the unemployment rate. A less popular unemployment stat, called the U-6, which measures some of these idled souls plus others who are forced to work part-time because they can’t find a 40-hour-a-week gig, stands at 9.7%. The truly frustrated aren’t counted at all.

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It’s stunning, really, that this man still gets to dig his country ever deeper in. He hasn’t delivered on f**k all.

Japan’s Abe Plans Up to $90.7 Billion Stimulus (BBG)

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to propose a fiscal stimulus package of as much as 10 trillion yen ($90.7 billion) after warning Group of Seven leaders that the global economy faces significant risk of another crisis, according to the Nikkei newspaper. Abe will seek a second supplementary budget worth 5 trillion yen to 10 trillion yen after July’s upper-house election, the Nikkei reported Saturday without attribution. Proposals will include accelerating the construction of a magnetic-levitation train line from Nagoya to Osaka, issuing vouchers to boost consumer spending, increasing pay for child-care workers and setting up a scholarship fund, the Nikkei said. “When you want to get the economy going, as long as demand in Asia is weak, you need additional public spending,” Martin Schulz at Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo, said by phone.

“Since private spending is still not picking up, the government is simply taking up the slack.” Abe is getting closer to delaying an increase in Japan’s sales tax, saying Friday he’ll make a decision before an upper-house election this summer on whether to go ahead with a planned hike in the levy next April to 10%, from 8%. A formal announcement of a two-year delay is expected Wednesday at the close of the parliamentary session, the Nikkei reported. This would be the second postponement by Abe, as the tax was initially scheduled to be raised in October 2015. An increase in the levy in 2014 pushed Japan into a recession. Abe had previously said the tax hike would be delayed only if there was a shock on the scale of a major earthquake or a corporate collapse like that of Lehman Brothers.

Since the previous tax hike, the economy has swung between contraction and growth, with consumer spending remaining weak. Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has struggled to spur inflation despite record asset purchases and negative interest rates. Consumer prices excluding fresh food fell 0.3% in April from a year earlier, after dropping by the same amount in March, data released Friday showed. Meanwhile, the yen has surged about 9% versus the dollar this year, threatening profits for exporters including Toyota and weighing on the nation’s stock market. The benchmark Topix index has fallen 13% in 2016.

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Compliments of the globalized and chemicalized food industry.

US Farm Belt Banks Tighten the Buckle (WSJ)

Banks are tightening credit for U.S. farmers amid a rise in delinquencies, forcing some growers to turn to alternative sources of loans. When U.S. agriculture was booming this decade, banks doled out ample credit to strong performers and weaker growers alike, said Michael Swanson, an agricultural economist at Wells Fargo. But with the farm slump moving into its third year, banks have become pickier, requiring some growers to cough up more collateral and denying financing outright to some customers who need it to pay for seeds, crop chemicals and rent. Farmers this year have been grappling with low commodity prices, mounting debt and weaker incomes.


Claude Sem, chief executive of Farm Credit Services of North Dakota, said he asked some farmers to put up more land or machinery to back loans this spring. Collateral requirements could increase for more farmers if crop prices remain low, he said, noting that the cash price for wheat in northern North Dakota recently was about $4.50 a bushel, roughly a dollar below what it costs many farmers to raise the crop. “Below break-even, everything tightens up,” Mr. Sem said, adding that falling land values also have spurred lenders to boost collateral requirements, with cropland prices down as much as 20% in some parts of North Dakota.

With traditional bank loans harder to come by, farmers are turning to sources like CHS Inc., a large farmer-owned cooperative in the U.S., which operates grain elevators and retail stores across the Midwest. CHS said its loans to farmers increased 48% in both number and volume in the 12 months to March and have more than doubled since 2014. It “suggests there are many farmers struggling to obtain financing,” said Randy Nelson, president of the co-op’s financing subsidiary, CHS Capital.

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Lemmings ‘R’ Us.

Companies Go on Worldwide Bond Bender With $236 Billion of Sales (BBG)

A borrowing binge by companies globally is poised to make May one of the the busiest months ever, thanks to investors who continue to devour the relatively juicy yields on corporate debt in a negative-rate world.\ Global issuance of non-financial company debt will be in excess of $236 billion by month-end, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, led by computer maker Dell, which sold $20 billion of bonds to back its takeover of EMC in the year’s second-biggest corporate offering. In Europe, companies sold €48.5 billion ($54.2 billion) making it the busiest May on record. U.S. borrowers including Johnson & Johnson and Kraft Heinz did deals of more than €1 billion.

The surge in issuance is unlikely to satisfy investors who hoped to boost their income by buying company debt when easy-money monetary policies push yields on more than $9 trillion of bonds worldwide below zero. The extra yield investors demand to hold company debt globally relative to safer government bonds remains near year-to-date lows, while concessions on newly issued notes have fallen over the course of the month. “Deals continue to be very much oversubscribed,” said Travis King, head of investment-grade credit at Voya Investment Management, which oversees $203 billion. “It is very difficult to get bonds, especially in the hotter deals.” For investors who placed more than $80 billion of orders for Dell’s bond sale, the problem may get worse next month.

Seasonal declines in issuance, combined with decisions by some companies to accelerate debt sales to May, indicate June volumes in the U.S. will be in the $75 billion to $85 billion range, about half of this month’s supply, according to Bank of America. Vincent Murray, who heads U.S. fixed-income syndicate at Mizuho in New York, said the flow of new deals kept his team kept busy all month. While bond issuance will be less than $100 billion in June, some opportunistic companies may take advantage of low rates in the weeks ahead to issue debt, he said. “The market has remarkably weathered the storm of all this supply,” Murray said. “The fact that supply hasn’t affected the spreads in the marketplace may attract some more issuers that were thinking of passing.”

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“..until the mid-1990s, the sum of runnable liabilities was steady at about 40% of U.S. GDP. That number peaked in early 2008 at 80%, but remains above historical levels, at about 60% of GDP.” And that does not include derivatives.

Clinton Lurks in Shadows When Sparring With Sanders on Banks (BBG)

There is no universal definition for “shadow bank.” At its broadest, it’s any institution that borrows money and invests in financial assets, but is neither a bank, nor regulated like one. This can include insurance companies, hedge funds, private equity firms, and government-sponsored entities such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In debates, Clinton brings up hedge funds and insurance companies. But her published plan hints at a more precise definition: if it’s runnable, it’s a shadow bank. A research note last year from economists at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington describes “runnables” – short-term funds at financial institutions that can evaporate in a panic. Bank deposits over $250,000 are uninsured, and therefore runnable.

So are shares in money-market mutual funds; they should be considered investments, but in practice are not expected to lose principal. Repurchase agreements, also on the list, allow a borrower to sell a stock or bond, along with a promise to buy it back, often in a day or two. Short-term corporate debt, called “paper,” is similarly runnable. According to the Fed economists’ research, until the mid-1990s, the sum of runnable liabilities was steady at about 40% of U.S. GDP. That number peaked in early 2008 at 80%, but remains above historical levels, at about 60% of GDP. The definitions differ slightly, but this is consistent with patterns measured by Morgan Ricks at the Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville, and by the the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a group of representatives from several regulators.

Runnables, said Ricks, are the “central unsolved problem of financial reform.” Ricks, who was a senior policy adviser at the Treasury Department in 2009 and 2010, takes a historical view of financial runs. Before the U.S. began insuring bank deposits in 1933, bank runs happened about once a decade. Since then, even during the financial crisis, they’ve been rare. But the risk moved outside the banks. Paul McCulley coined the term “shadow bank” during the Kansas City Fed’s 2007 Jackson Hole conference on economic policy. Then the chief economist of Pimco, McCulley laid out the systemic danger hidden in bank-like firms that relied on uninsured short-term funding. By the end of the next year, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch all collapsed. None of these were banks, but all had seen runs on short-term funding. “These are all species of the same genus,” said Ricks.

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The wholesale destruction of cities and communities is not done.

Toronto’s Red-Hot Market Sends Property Values Soaring (Star)

Toronto’s blistering housing market has prompted a 30% jump in residential property values over the last four years, according to the company that assesses real estate in the province. City homeowners will receive assessment notices — their first since 2012 — from the Municipal Property Assessment Corp. (MPAC) beginning next week showing a 7.5% annual increase in their property values. That’s well above the 4.5% provincial average, but lower than the double-digit increases in some 905-area communities such as Richmond Hill and Markham. The average assessed value for a single-family detached home in Toronto is $770,000, up about $200,000 on average from the last assessment in 2012. Toronto condo values increased 2.9% on average to $363,000, about $35,000 higher than four years ago.

Although assessments are linked to property taxes, homeowners should not panic about a steep rise in taxes, says MPAC. “Just because the assessment does increase doesn’t necessarily mean that this is going to have an impact on their taxes,” said Greg Martino, director of valuation and customer relations MPAC. Municipalities, not MPAC, determine property tax rates. How much an individual owner pays depends on where their assessment ranks compared to the city average. Owners whose properties are assessed above the 7.5% average will pay more. Those with below-average assessments pay less. In Toronto, virtually every property will be assessed at a higher rate than it was in 2012. If two properties were assessed at $500,000 in 2012, each would share an equal portion of the city’s tax burden. But if they are reassessed and one home remains at $500,000 but the other is now valued at $600,000, the higher valued property now carries a bigger tax responsibility.

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Force interest rates up by just 1% and you have mayhem.

UK House Prices Compared With Earnings ‘Close To Pre-Crisis Levels’ (G.)

House prices as a multiple of average earnings are “within a whisker” of record levels set before the financial crisis, a City consultancy has warned. The average UK house price is now 6.1 times average earnings, close to the peak of 6.4 it hit before the downturn, Fathom Consulting said. A rise in interest rates from their current low of 0.5% would lead to a correction, it said, although a return to “normal” rates was some way off. Prices have been pushed up by the availability of cheap home loans, and would need to fall by 40% to bring the ratio back to the pre-2000 average of 3.5 times earnings, it added. During the financial crisis, banks and building societies withdrew from lending, particularly to borrowers with small deposits.

But since then, the government’s funding for lending scheme made loans cheaper for borrowers with substantial equity, and then help to buy brought back 95% mortgages. Lenders are now cutting ratesand easing lending criteria. Fathom said this cheap borrowing had been the biggest driver for demand for homes. “Since 2013, the demand for housing has been turbocharged by chancellor [George] Osborne’s help-to-buy policy and the search for yield – which has resulted in the accumulation of housing wealth as an investment alternative for low-yielding financial assets,” it said. “As a consequence, house prices are now close to an all-time high of more than six times disposable income.”

The firm said couples buying together were increasingly taking on large loans relative to their income. Before the crisis fewer than 30% of joint mortgages were taken at more than 2.75 times income , but now that proportion has risen to more than a third. Fear of destabilising the “fragile arithmetic” that underpinned the housing market meant the Bank of England was unlikely to increase the base rate from its current record low of 0.5% until at least 2018, it said, regardless of the EU referendum result. “If it were to tighten Bank rate, it could trigger a rapid correction in the UK housing market and compound the slowdown in economic growth,” it said.

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“Making Brexit a success will be the end of the EU. It cannot happen.” Brexit, period, will be the end.

Paris and Berlin Ready ‘Plan B’ For Life After Brexit (FT)

European leaders have stepped-up secret discussions about a future union without Britain, drawing-up a “plan-B” focused on closer security and defence co-operation in the event of a UK vote to leave the EU. At several overlapping meetings in recent weeks — in Hanover, Rome and Brussels — EU leaders and their most trusted aides have discussed how to mount a common response to Brexit, which would be the bloc’s biggest setback in its 60-year history. More than a dozen politicians and officials involved at various levels have sketched out to the Financial Times the ideas for concerted action to “double down on the irreversibility of our union” — as well as the many internal divisions that stand in their way.

Rather than attempt a sudden lurch to integrate the eurozone, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President François Hollande are instead eyeing a push to deepen security and defence co-operation, a less contentious initiative that has appeal beyond the 19-member euro area. Foremost is the challenge of managing expected financial and political turmoil in the aftermath of a Brexit vote. Beyond the first statements to reassure markets, officials expect a special gathering of EU leaders — without Britain — to discuss the bloc’s response. A summit of all 28 leaders is already scheduled for June 28-29. “Everybody will say: ‘We’re sorry, this is a historical disaster but now we have to move on.’ And then they will say ‘OK, David [Cameron], goodbye, because now we have to meet as 27 leaders,’” said one senior diplomat intimately involved in the planning.

“That will be rather a decisive moment: will the 27 find the energy, the convergence of views to define a common agenda or whether it will be only the 19?” French officials are wary of Brexit contagion spreading to other member states and the lift it would provide to anti-EU insurgents like the National Front’s Marine Le Pen. They are determined to send a tough and punitive message to show divorce will be costly for Britain. “Playing down or minimising the consequences would put Europe at risk,” said one senior French official. “The principle of consequences is very important — to protect Europe.” Another leading European politician central to the Plan B process said: “Making Brexit a success will be the end of the EU. It cannot happen.”

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There are a few smart people working at the IMF. But they don’t make policy. Neoliberals do.

Neoliberalism Increases Inequality and Stunts Economic Growth: IMF (Ind.)

Key parts of neoliberal economic policy have increased inequality and risk stunting economic growth across the globe, economists at the IMF have warned. Neoliberalism – the dominant economic ideology since the 1980s – tends to advocate a free market approach to policymaking: promoting measures such as privatisation, public spending cuts, and deregulation. It is generally antipathetic to the public sector and believes the private sector should play a greater role in the economy. The ideology was initially championed by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in Britain and America, but was ultimately also adopted by centre-left parties worldwide, under “third way” figures like Tony Blair.

The approach has long been the target of criticism from the radical left and parts of the reactionary right – but has been endorsed as common sense by centrist parties across the world for decades. Now a paper published in June 2016’s issue of the IMF’s Finance and Development journal warns that, after nearly forty years of neoliberalism, the approach is jeopardising the future of the world economy. “Instead of delivering growth, some neoliberal policies have increased inequality, in turn jeopardising durable expansion,” the senior IMF economists who drew up the paper said. The authors say that while the liberalisation of trade has helped lift people out of poverty in the developed world and some privatisations have raised efficiency, other aspects of the policy platform had seriously misfired.

“There are aspects of the neoliberal agenda that have not delivered as expected,” they said, focusing specifically on austerity and the freedom of capital to move across borders. “The benefits in terms of increased growth seem fairly difficult to establish when looking at a broad group of countries. “The costs in terms of increased inequality are prominent. Such costs epitomize the trade-off between the growth and equity effects of some aspects of the neoliberal agenda. “Increased inequality in turn hurts the level and sustainability of growth. Even if growth is the sole or main purpose of the neoliberal agenda, advocates of that agenda still need to pay attention to the distributional effects.”

They go on to say that throwing open national borders to multinational corporations has had “uncertain” growth benefits but quite clear costs – due to “increased economic volatility and crisis frequency” which they say is more evident under neoliberalism. On the issue of austerity, the authors say there is strong evidence that there is no reason for countries like Britain to inflict austerity on themselves. “Austerity policies not only generate substantial welfare costs due to supply-side channels, they also hurt demand – and thus worsen employment and unemployment,” they say. “In sum, the benefits of some policies that are an important part of the neoliberal agenda appear to have been somewhat overplayed.”

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“During the Middle Ages, avarice had been considered to be among the most mortal of the seven deadly sins..”

How the Deadly Sin of Avarice Was Rehabilitated as Self Interest (Evon.)

In the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1987, the New York Times headlined an editorial “Ban Greed? No: Harness It,” It continued: “Perhaps the most important idea here is the need to distinguish between motive and consequence. Derivative securities attract the greedy the way raw meat attracts piranhas. But so what? Private greed can lead to public good. The sensible goal for securities regulation is to channel selfish behavior, not thwart it.” The Times, surely unwittingly, was channeling the 18th century philosopher David Hume: “Political writers have established it as a maxim, that in contriving any system of government . . . every man ought to be supposed to be a knave and to have no other end, in all his actions, than his private interest. By this interest we must govern him, and, by means of it, make him, notwithstanding his insatiable avarice and ambition, cooperate to public good.”

The idea that base motives could be harnessed for the public good is what I term economic alchemy. And in Hume’s time it was definitely a new way of thinking about how society could be governed. During the Middle Ages, avarice had been considered to be among the most mortal of the seven deadly sins, a view that became more widespread with the expansion of commercial activity after the twelfth century. So it is surprising that self-interest would eventually be accepted a respectable motive, and even more surprising that this change owed little to the rise of economics, at least at first. How this came about, you will see, is a remarkable story, one that is finally running its course in light of mounting evidence not only that people are not really all that knavish, but also that treating citizens as if they were knaves may lead them to act is if they really were knaves! But I am getting ahead of the story.

It all began in the sixteenth century with Niccolò Machiavelli. “Anyone who would found a republic and order its laws” he wrote in his Discourses, “must assume that all men are wicked [and] . . . never act well except through necessity . . . It is said that hunger and poverty make them industrious, laws make them good.” Hume, it seems was channeling Machiavelli! It was the shadow of war and disorder that made self-interest an acceptable basis of good government. During the seventeenth century, wars accounted for a larger share of European mortality than in any century for which we have records, including what Raymond Aron called “the century of total war,” which happily is now finished.

Writing after a decade of warfare between English parliamentarians and royalists, Hobbes (in 1651) sought to determine “the Passions that encline men to Peace” and found them in “Feare of Death; Desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a Hope by their Industry to obtain them.” Knaves might be preferable to saints or at least likely to be more harmless. The year before Adam Smith wrote in his Wealth of Nations (1776) about how the self-interest of the butcher, the brewer, and the baker would put our dinner on the table, James Boswell’s Dr. Johnson gave Homo economicus a different endorsement: “There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.”

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“[One] great myth we’re seeing play out is that of Obama as some kind of peaceful guy who’s trying to get rid of nuclear weapons. He’s the biggest nuclear warrior there is. He’s committed us to a ruinous course of spending a trillion dollars on more nuclear weapons. Somehow, people live in this fantasy that because he gives vague news conferences and speeches and feel-good photo-ops that somehow that’s attached to actual policy. It isn’t.”

Silencing the United States as It Prepares for War (Pilger)

Returning to the United States in an election year, I am struck by the silence. I have covered four presidential campaigns, starting with 1968; I was with Robert Kennedy when he was shot and I saw his assassin, preparing to kill him. It was a baptism in the American way, along with the salivating violence of the Chicago police at the Democratic Party’s rigged convention. The great counter revolution had begun. The first to be assassinated that year, Martin Luther King, had dared link the suffering of African-Americans and the people of Vietnam. When Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, she spoke perhaps unconsciously for millions of America’s victims in faraway places.

“We lost 58,000 young soldiers in Vietnam, and they died defending your freedom. Now don’t you forget it.” So said a National Parks Service guide as I filmed last week at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. He was addressing a school party of young teenagers in bright orange T-shirts. As if by rote, he inverted the truth about Vietnam into an unchallenged lie. The millions of Vietnamese who died and were maimed and poisoned and dispossessed by the American invasion have no historical place in young minds, not to mention the estimated 60,000 veterans who took their own lives. A friend of mine, a marine who became a paraplegic in Vietnam, was often asked, “Which side did you fight on?” A few years ago, I attended a popular exhibition called “The Price of Freedom” at the venerable Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

The lines of ordinary people, mostly children shuffling through a Santa’s grotto of revisionism, were dispensed a variety of lies: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved “a million lives”; Iraq was “liberated [by] air strikes of unprecedented precision”. The theme was unerringly heroic: only Americans pay the price of freedom. The 2016 election campaign is remarkable not only for the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders but also for the resilience of an enduring silence about a murderous self-bestowed divinity. A third of the members of the United Nations have felt Washington’s boot, overturning governments, subverting democracy, imposing blockades and boycotts. Most of the presidents responsible have been liberal – Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama.

The breathtaking record of perfidy is so mutated in the public mind, wrote the late Harold Pinter, that it “never happened …Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. It didn’t matter … “. Pinter expressed a mock admiration for what he called “a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

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Is Russia the only party to turn to?

ISIS Advance Traps 165,000 Syrians at Closed Turkish Border (HRW)

There are two walls on the Turkey-Syria border. One is manned by Turkish border guards enforcing Turkey’s 15 month-old border closure who, according to witnesses, have at times shot at and assaulted Syrian asylum seekers as they try to reach safety in Turkey – abuses strongly denied by the Turkish government. The other is a wall of silence by the rest of the world, including the United Nations, which has chosen to turn a blind eye to Turkey’s breach of international law which prohibits forcing people back to places, including by rejecting them at the border, where their lives or freedom would be threatened. Both walls are trapping 165,000 displaced Syrians now scattered in overcrowded informal settlements and fields just south of Turkey’s Öncupınar/Bab al-Salameh border crossing and in and around the nearby Syrian town of Azaz.

In April, 30,000 of them fled ISIS advances on about 10 informal displacement camps to the east of Azaz, which came under ISIS attack, and one of which has since been hit by an airstrike that killed at least 20 people and injured at least 37 more. Turkish border guards shot at civilians fleeing ISIS and approaching the border. Now aid agencies operating in the area say that between May 24 and 27, another 45,000 fled a new ISIS assault on the area east of Azaz and are now stuck in and around Azaz too. Aid agencies say there is no question all 165,000 would seek asylum in Turkey if the border were open to them.

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May 232016
 


Harris&Ewing Hancock’s, the Old Curiosity Shop, 1234 Pennsylvania Avenue 1914

Japan April Imports Fall 23.3%, Exports Drop 10.1% (BBG)
Japan May Factory Activity Shrinks Most In Over Three Years (R.)
Investors Check Out of Europe (WSJ)
US Dollar Will Be The Winner When The EU Volcano Erupts (CNBC)
Saudi Financial Crisis ‘Could Leave Oil At $25’ As Bills Get Paid In IOUs (AEP)
The IMF And Calling Berlin’s Bluff Over Greece (Münchau)
Athens Agrees Fiscal Measures In Exchange For Debt Relief Talks (FT)
China Steps Up War On Banks’ Bad Debt (FT)
We MUST Quit The EU, Says Cameron’s Guru (DM)
Support For EU Falls Sharply In Britain’s Corporate Boardrooms (G.)
Swiss To Vote On $2,500 a Month Basic Income (BBG)
Snowden Calls For Whistleblower Shield After Claims By New Pentagon Source (G.)
R.I.P., GOP: How Trump Is Killing the Republican Party (Taibbi)
Turks Won’t Get EU Visa Waiver Before 2017: Bild (R.)
Greek Police Poised To Evacuate Idomeni Refugee Camp (Kath.)

In praise of Abenomics…

Japan April Imports Fall 23.3%, Exports Drop 10.1% (BBG)

Japan’s exports fell for a seventh consecutive month in April as the yen strengthened, underscoring the growing challenges to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to revive economic growth. Overseas shipments declined 10.1% in April from a year earlier, the Ministry of Finance said on Monday. The median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a 9.9% drop. Imports fell 23.3%, leaving a trade surplus of 823.5 billion yen ($7.5 billion), the highest since March 2010. Even after coming off an 18-month high earlier this month, the Japanese currency has gained 9% against the dollar this year, eroding the competitiveness of the nation’s products overseas and hurting the earnings of exporters.

Concern about the impact of the yen was on show over the weekend as Finance Minister Taro Aso and his U.S. counterpart disagreed over the seriousness of recent moves in the foreign-exchange market. “Exports are getting a hit from the yen’s gains and weakness in overseas demand, especially in emerging nations,” said Yuichi Kodama at Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance in Tokyo, who added that last month’s earthquakes in Kumamoto also will likely slow exports. “There’s a high chance that Japan’s economy will return to contraction in the April-June period as domestic consumption and exports look weak.”

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Calling Peter Pan!

Japan May Factory Activity Shrinks Most In Over Three Years (R.)

Japanese manufacturing activity contracted at the fastest pace in more than three years in May as new orders slumped, a preliminary survey showed on Monday, putting fresh pressure on the government and central bank to offer additional economic stimulus. The Markit/Nikkei Flash Japan Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) fell to 47.6 in May on a seasonally adjusted basis, from a final 48.2 in April. The index remained below the 50 threshold that separates contraction from expansion for the third month and showed that activity shrank at the fastest since December 2012. The index for new orders fell to a preliminary 44.1 from 45.0 in the previous month, also suggesting the fastest decline since December 2012.

The aftermath of earthquakes in southern Japan in April may still be weighing heavily on some producers, a statement from Markit said, while foreign demand also contracted sharply. Japan escaped a technical recession in the first quarter, GDP data showed last week, but economists warned the underlying trend for consumer spending remains weak. There are also concerns that companies have already started to delay business investment due to uncertainty about overseas economies. Speculation is growing that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will delay a nationwide sales tax hike scheduled for next April to focus on measures that will strengthen domestic demand. Economists also expect the Bank of Japan will ease monetary policy even further by July as a strong yen and still-sluggish economy threaten its ability to meet its ambitious inflation target, a Reuters poll showed.

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“Banks are Europe’s worst-performing sector, having fallen nearly 19%.”

Investors Check Out of Europe (WSJ)

Investors are fleeing Europe. Fund managers are pulling cash out of European equity and debt markets in response to concerns about the continent’s fractious politics, ultralow interest rates and weak banks, and relentless economic malaise. Investors have sold exchange-traded funds tracking European shares for nearly 15 weeks—the longest stretch since 2008—according to UBS. Meanwhile, annual net outflows from eurozone bonds were running at over half a trillion euros as of the end of March, according to a Pictet Wealth Management analysis of data from the ECB. That is happening as investors are turning away from Europe’s growing pool of negative-yielding debt. The money is finding a home in places from U.S. Treasurys to emerging economies, helping to push up prices in those markets.

Just last year, Europe was a top pick by global fund managers as it recovered from the sovereign-debt crisis of 2010 to 2012. The current retreat shows that this rehabilitation has faded, and fast. “It’s a one-way flow out of Europe,” said Ankit Gheedia, equity and derivatives strategist at BNP Paribas SA. “You buy something that doesn’t give you a return, you sell.” Last year, ECB monetary stimulus and a fledgling economic recovery brought investors back to Europe after they fled during the eurozone debt crisis. The Stoxx Europe 600 gained 6.8% in 2015, while the S&P 500 lost almost 1%. Now people are leaving again. In recent weeks, investors have been selling equities around the world over concerns about the global economy. But the selling in Europe has been particularly pronounced.

Funds have sold around $22.6 billion worth of ETFs that track European equity since March, which is equivalent to roughly 9.4% of the total held of these investments, according to Mr. Gheedia. Meanwhile, global fund managers’ allocation to eurozone equities dropped to 17-month lows in May, according to a survey by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. When prospects seemed sunnier last year, a net 55% of fund managers favored the region. This is already taking a toll on European markets. The Stoxx Europe 600 is down nearly 8% this year, compared with a roughly flat S&P 500. Banks are Europe’s worst-performing sector, having fallen nearly 19%.

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And when the China Ponzi bursts.

US Dollar Will Be The Winner When The EU Volcano Erupts (CNBC)

Europe’s apparent inability to secure its monetary union leaves the world without any credible dollar alternatives. Those who were expecting that a legal tender of an economic system nearly matching the size of the American economy would offer an effective instrument of portfolio diversification have to accept a simple reality: The dollar remains an irreplaceable global transactions currency and, by far, the world’s most important reserve asset. The pious hopes of the French President François Mitterrand and the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl that a common currency would bond their countries and the rest of Europe into a peaceful and prosperous union could soon be dashed. Their political offspring has become a symbol of European discord and a cause of seemingly irreconcilable French-German economic and political divisions.

These historical divides are now aggravated by violent street demonstrations and frightening civil war rhetoric in France, where the country’s mainstream politicians are trying to fight off extreme right and left parties, commanding nearly half of the popular vote and demanding an immediate exit from the EU and the euro. Investors would be well advised to take this seriously. Even if relatively moderate French center-right forces were able to keep the anti-EU parties at bay, a long-brewing clash with Germany appears inevitable. For many French politicians of all stripes, Germany has gone too far in bossing the rest of Europe around, and in causing a huge economic, social and political damage to France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece with the imposition of its mean-spirited and misguided fiscal austerity.

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It’s a bout the dollar peg, again. Said ages ago it would be untenable.

Saudi Financial Crisis ‘Could Leave Oil At $25’ As Bills Get Paid In IOUs (AEP)

Saudi Arabia faces a vicious liquidity squeeze as capital continues to leak out the country, with a sharp contraction of the money supply and mounting stress in the banking system. Three-month interbank offered rates in Riyadh have suddenly begun to spiral upwards, reaching the highest since the Lehman crisis in 2008. Reports that the Saudi government is to pay contractors with tradable IOUs show how acute the situation is becoming. The debt-crippled bin Laden group is laying off 50,000 construction workers as austerity bites in earnest. Societe Generale’s currency team has advised clients to short the Saudi riyal, betting that the country will be forced to ditch its long-standing dollar peg, a move that could set off a cut-throat battle for global share in the oil markets.

Francisco Blanch, from Bank of America, said a rupture of the peg is this year’s number one “black swan event” and would cause oil prices to collapse to $25 a barrel. Saudi Arabia’s foreign reserves are still falling by $10bn (£6.9bn) a month, despite a switch to bond sales and syndicated loans to help plug the huge budget deficit. The country’s remaining reserves of $582bn are in theory ample – if they are really liquid – but that is not the immediate issue. The problem for the Saudi central bank (SAMA) is that reserve depletion automatically tightens monetary policy. Bank deposits are contracting. So is the M2 money supply. Domestic bond sales do not help because they crowd out Saudi Arabia’s wafer-thin capital markets and squeeze liquidity. Riyadh now plans a global bond issue.

While crude prices have rallied 80pc to almost $50 a barrel since mid-February, this has not yet been enough to ease Saudi Arabia’s financial crunch. The rebound in crude is increasingly fragile in any case as tough talk from the US Federal Reserve sends the dollar soaring, and Canada prepares to restore 1.2m barrels a day (b/d) of lost output. “We feel that markets have moved too high, too far, too soon. We still face a large inventory overhang and supply outages are reversible,” said BNP Paribas. Total chief Patrick Pouyanne told the French senate last week that prices could deflate as fast as they rose. “The market won’t come back into balance until the end of the year,” he said.

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Germany is blowing up the EU, step by step. There is no other way out of this. Berlin has become the schoolyard bully. And not everyone bends over for the bully.

The IMF And Calling Berlin’s Bluff Over Greece (Münchau)

At one level, the recurring Greek crises fit the idea from Karl Marx of history repeating itself, first as tragedy then as farce. Greece came close to a eurozone exit last summer. While it will probably come close this year, it is unlikely to leave. But prepare for some tense moments in the next few weeks and months as Greece and its creditors struggle to agree the first review of last year’s bailout. The IMF has concluded that Greek public debt, at 180% of GDP is unsustainable; as is the agreed annual primary budget surplus, before interest payments, of 3.5% of GDP. The fund insists on debt relief, but Germany resists. A year ago Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble, her finance minister, sold the Greek bailout to their party and parliament as a loan only. They argued that once you accept a debt writedown, you turn a loan into a transfer.

And once you accept the principle of a one-off transfer to Greece, you are on a slippery road to what the Germans call a transfer union, one where they pay and others receive. In private, senior German government officials agree that Athens needs debt relief. They are not blind. But they are trapped in the lie that Greece is solvent, which is what their own backbenchers were told. Without that lie, Greece would no longer be a eurozone member. But the lie cannot be sustained. IMF insistence on debt relief is what could expose this lie. Christine Lagarde, managing director, last year set debt relief talks as a condition for the fund’s participation in a bailout. Mr Schäuble reluctantly agreed yet managed to insert the words “if needed”, which give him wriggle room. But Berlin imposed another condition: the IMF must participate in the bailout, too. This is what makes the German position vulnerable.

We know IMF staff are steadfast in their opposition to being involved in a bailout without an agreement on debt relief. The trouble is that the policies are not determined by the staff but by the IMF shareholders. The Europeans and the US are the dominant shareholders so the outcome of this battle will depend to a large extent on the view taken by Washington. To get himself out of a hole, Mr Schäuble recently made a counterproposal: Germany accepts debt talks in principle but only from 2018. The date was chosen with care. It is well after the next federal elections. It is not clear whether he will still be finance minister or indeed in government. I suspect the Christian Democratic Union, his party, will lead the next government; the electoral arithmetic makes other constellations improbable. Nevertheless, he is proposing to commit any successor to this course of action. Such a commitment has no credibility.

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Why Tsipras keeps doing these things is hard to fathom.

Athens Agrees Fiscal Measures In Exchange For Debt Relief Talks (FT)

Alexis Tsipras has defended his leftwing government’s adoption of new fiscal measures in return for talks on debt relief, saying Greece was “turning a page” after an unprecedented six-year recession “Spring may be almost over but we are looking forward to an economic spring and a return to growth this year,” the prime minister told parliament, wrapping up a two-day debate on a €1.8bn package of indirect tax increases. As expected, all 153 legislators from the premier’s Syriza party and its coalition partner, the rightwing Independent Greeks, backed the bill, while 145 opposition deputies voted against. There were two abstentions. The latest measures complete a €5.4bn package of fiscal reforms aimed at ensuring a primary budget surplus, before payments of principal and interest on debt, amounting to 3.5% of national output by 2018.

But the legislation also included a provision for “contingency” measures, including wage and pension cuts, that would take effect automatically if budget targets were derailed next year. An upbeat Mr Tsipras insisted that budget projections would be outperformed, saying: “Greece has shown it keeps its promises..I’m certain [contingency] measures will not have to be put into effect.” A senior Greek official said after the vote he was confident that eurozone finance ministers would unlock up to €11bn from Greece’s €86bn third bailout at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday. The funding, to be disbursed in several tranches linked to implementing the reforms, would enable Athens to meet sovereign debt repayments for the remainder of the year and also channel funds to public services such as the healthcare system.

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This is getting weird. It’s like Beijing is reinventing finance. The government is paying off debt to the shadow banks.

China Steps Up War On Banks’ Bad Debt (FT)

Beijing has stepped up its battle against bad debt in China’s banking system, with a state-led debt-for-equity scheme surging in value by about $100bn in the past two months alone. The government-led programme, which forces banks to write off bad debt in exchange for equity in ailing companies, soared in value to hit more than $220bn by the end of April, up from about $120bn at the start of March, according to data from Wind Information. Industry watchers have fiercely debated how far Beijing will go to recapitalise the financial system, with bad loans taking up an ever higher percentage of banks’ balance sheets — as much as 19% by some estimates. The latest figures for the debt-to-equity swap, and a debt-to-bonds swap initiated last year, show a subtle bailout is already under way.

“One can argue the government-led recapitalisation is already happening in an atypical way and thus reducing the need for recapitalisation in its written sense,” said Liao Qiang at S&P Global Ratings in Beijing. Chinese media reported that up to Rmb4tn ($612bn) had been approved in 2015 for the debt-to-bonds swap, which has seen state-controlled banks trade short-term loans to companies connected to local governments in exchange for bonds with much longer maturities. That programme has been hailed a success in that it relieved the pressure on local governments that were forced to take out bank loans to proceed with public works projects in the absence of municipal bond markets.

The debt-to-equity project has received far less enthusiasm from analysts, who say that coercing banks to become stakeholders in companies that could not pay back loans will further weigh down profits this year. Instead of underpinning stability at banks, Mr Liao says the efforts undermine it. The programmes are just two fronts in Beijing’s battle against bad debt. The state-controlled asset management companies that bailed out the country’s four national commercial banks 15 years ago have become increasingly active over the past two years in buying up portfolios of bad debt. Regional asset managers run by provincial governments are doing the same business on a local level. The government is also reopening the market for securitising bad debt with two deals worth Rmb534m due this month.

The efforts have even gone online, with debt managers hawking off bad loans on China’s biggest online retail site. The average rate of non-performing loans at China’s commercial banks hit an official 1.75% at the end of March, according to the banking regulator. That marks the 11th straight quarter that the government-approved figures have risen. But the official data does not include a much larger stockpile of so-called zombie loans that some analysts say could in future require a more formal bailout for the banks. Francis Cheung, analyst at CLSA, estimates that bad debt accounted for 15-19% of banks’ loan books at the end of last year and that the government may have to add Rmb10.6tn of new capital to the banking system, or 15.6% of GDP.

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“As I say to my American friends who don’t really get what the EU is: ‘All you need to know is that it has three presidents, none of whom is elected.’”

We MUST Quit The EU, Says Cameron’s Guru (DM)

David Cameron’s closest friend in politics today breaks ranks to say Britain must leave the ‘arrogant and unaccountable’ EU. In a shattering blow to the Prime Minister, Steve Hilton claims the UK is ‘literally ungovernable’ as a democracy while it remains in a club that has been ‘corruptly captured’ by a self-serving elite. And in an attack on Project Fear, the former No 10 adviser dismisses claims by Mr Cameron, the IMF and the Bank of England that being in the EU makes us more secure. In an exclusive Daily Mail article, Mr Hilton – who persuaded Mr Cameron to stand for Tory leader – also delivers a devastating assessment of the PM’s referendum deal. He says Mr Cameron made only ‘modest’ demands of Brussels – and that even these were swatted contemptuously aside.

He also warns that Brussels will take revenge on Britain for the referendum if it votes to stay, by imposing fresh diktats. Mr Hilton concludes: ‘A decision to leave the EU is not without risk. But I believe it is the ideal and idealistic choice for our times: taking back power from arrogant, unaccountable, hubristic elites and putting it where it belongs – in people’s hands.’ His declaration for Brexit with exactly a month to go until polling day will send tremors through No 10. Along with Michael Gove, he provided the intellectual heft behind Mr Cameron’s rise to power. Both men now argue that the PM is wrong to urge voters to remain in what Mr Hilton condemns as the ‘grotesquely unaccountable’ Brussels club.

[..] Mr Hilton, who remains close to the Prime Minister, had previously declined to be drawn into what is already a bitter ‘blue on blue’ row. But today he claims the key issue for him is that Britain cannot make its own laws and control its own destiny from inside the EU. Mr Hilton says Brussels directives have crept into every corner of Whitehall and that less than a third of the Government’s workload is the result of trying to fulfil its own promises and policies. The rest is generated either by the ‘anti-market, innovation-stifling’ EU or a civil service dancing to the tune of Brussels, he says. Mr Hilton continues: ‘It’s become so complicated, so secretive, so impenetrable that it’s way beyond the ability of any British government to make it work to our advantage.

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The vote is not done yet.

Support For EU Falls Sharply In Britain’s Corporate Boardrooms (G.)

The number of FTSE 350 company boards that believe EU membership is good for their business has dropped significantly over the past six months, with just over a third now saying the EU has a positive impact. The biannual FT-ICSA boardroom bellwether survey, which canvasses the views of the FTSE 350, reported a substantial fall in the number who believe their company benefits from EU membership to 37%, down from 61% in December 2015. It found many were indifferent to a Brexit, with barely half (49%) of boards having considered the implications of the UK leaving the EU. Approximately 43% said they believe a UK exit from Europe would be potentially damaging. Respondents from the FTSE 100 regarded EU membership more favourably than the 250, with more than twice as many (55%) of FTSE 100 companies believing that EU membership has a positive impact.

This compared with 24% of the FTSE 250. John Longworth, chairman of the Vote Leave business council, said the survey findings showed that the remain camp’s economic argument was failing. “The remain camp’s concerted campaign to do down the economy has failed. In fact it has had the opposite effect as the EU supporters have failed to make a positive case for continuing to hand Brussels more control of our economy, our democracy and our borders. He added: “Business recognises it is possible for Britain to continue trading across Europe, part of the free trade zone that exists from Iceland to Turkey, without handing Brussels £350m a week and EU judges ultimate power over our laws. On 23 June the safe option is to take back control.”

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Switzerland is notoriously expensive to live in.

Swiss To Vote On $2,500 a Month Basic Income (BBG)

The Swiss are discussing paying people $2,500 a month for doing nothing. The country will vote June 5 on whether the government should introduce an unconditional basic income to replace various welfare benefits. Although the initiators of the plan haven’t stipulated how large the payout should be, they’ve suggested the sum of 2,500 francs ($2,500) for an adult and a quarter of that for a child. It sounds good, but — two things. It would barely get you over the poverty line, typically defined as 60 percent of the national median disposable income, in what’s one of the world’s most expensive countries. More importantly, it’s probably not going to happen anyway. Plebiscites are a common part of Switzerland’s direct democracy, with multiple votes every year. The basic income initiative is taking place after the proposal gathered the required 100,000 signatures, though current polls suggest it won’t get any further.

The idea of paying everyone a stipend has also piqued interest in other countries, such as Canada, the Netherlands and Finland, where an initial study began last year. The initiators say the sum they’ve mentioned would allow for a “decent existence.” Still, on an annual basis, it would provide only 30,000 francs — just above the 2014 poverty line of 29,501 francs. Nearly one in eight people in Switzerland were below the level in that year, according to the statistics office. That’s more than in France, Denmark and Norway. Among those over 65, one in five were at risk of being poor. “It’s not like you see abject poverty in Switzerland,” said Andreas Ladner, professor of political science at the University of Lausanne. “But there are a few people who don’t have enough money, and there are some people who work and don’t earn enough.”

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But it won’t materialize.

Snowden Calls For Whistleblower Shield After Claims By New Pentagon Source (G.)

Edward Snowden has called for a complete overhaul of US whistleblower protections after a new source from deep inside the Pentagon came forward with a startling account of how the system became a “trap” for those seeking to expose wrongdoing. The account of John Crane, a former senior Pentagon investigator, appears to undermine Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other major establishment figures who argue that there were established routes for Snowden other than leaking to the media. Crane, a longtime assistant inspector general at the Pentagon, has accused his old office of retaliating against a major surveillance whistleblower, Thomas Drake, in an episode that helps explain Snowden’s 2013 National Security Agency disclosures. Not only did Pentagon officials provide Drake’s name to criminal investigators, Crane told the Guardian, they destroyed documents relevant to his defence.

Snowden, responding to Crane’s revelations, said he had tried to raise his concerns with colleagues, supervisors and lawyers and been told by all of them: “You’re playing with fire.” He told the Guardian: “We need iron-clad, enforceable protections for whistleblowers, and we need a public record of success stories. Protect the people who go to members of Congress with oversight roles, and if their efforts lead to a positive change in policy – recognize them for their efforts. There are no incentives for people to stand up against an agency on the wrong side of the law today, and that’s got to change.” Snowden continued: “The sad reality of today’s policies is that going to the inspector general with evidence of truly serious wrongdoing is often a mistake. Going to the press involves serious risks, but at least you’ve got a chance.”

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Excellent Taibbi, once again.

R.I.P., GOP: How Trump Is Killing the Republican Party (Taibbi)

If this isn’t the end for the Republican Party, it’ll be a shame. They dominated American political life for 50 years and were never anything but monsters. They bred in their voters the incredible attitude that Republicans were the only people within our borders who raised children, loved their country, died in battle or paid taxes. They even sullied the word “American” by insisting they were the only real ones. They preferred Lubbock to Paris, and their idea of an intellectual was Newt Gingrich. Their leaders, from Ralph Reed to Bill Frist to Tom DeLay to Rick Santorum to Romney and Ryan, were an interminable assembly line of shrieking, witch-hunting celibates, all with the same haircut – the kind of people who thought Iran-Contra was nothing, but would grind the affairs of state to a halt over a blow job or Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube.

A century ago, the small-town American was Gary Cooper: tough, silent, upright and confident. The modern Republican Party changed that person into a haranguing neurotic who couldn’t make it through a dinner without quizzing you about your politics. They destroyed the American character. No hell is hot enough for them. And when Trump came along, they rolled over like the weaklings they’ve always been, bowing more or less instantly to his parodic show of strength. In the weeks surrounding Cruz’s cat-fart of a surrender in Indiana, party luminaries began the predictably Soviet process of coalescing around the once-despised new ruler. Trump endorsements of varying degrees of sincerity spilled in from the likes of Dick Cheney, Bob Dole, Mitch McConnell and even John McCain.

Having not recently suffered a revolution or a foreign-military occupation, Americans haven’t seen this phenomenon much, but the effortless treason of top-tier Republicans once Trump locked up the nomination was the most predictable part of this story. Politicians, particularly this group, are like crackheads: You can get them to debase themselves completely for whatever’s in your pocket, even if it’s just lint.

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Greece should brace itself for a huge new influx of refugees.

Turks Won’t Get EU Visa Waiver Before 2017: Bild (R.)

The German government does not expect Turks to get visa-free entry into the European Union before 2017 because Ankara will not fulfil the conditions for that by the end of this year, newspaper Bild cited sources in Berlin as saying on Monday. Turkey and the EU have been discussing visa liberalisation since 2013 and agreed in March to press ahead with it as part of a deal to stop the flow of illegal migrants from Turkey to the EU. EU officials and diplomats say the EU is set to miss an end-June deadline due to a dispute over Turkish anti-terrorism law. [..] Turkey’s government says it has already met the EU’s criteria for visa-free travel.

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Another thing Tsipras should simply refuse to do.

Greek Police Poised To Evacuate Idomeni Refugee Camp (Kath.)

It appears that Greek authorities are poised to put into action a plan to evacuate the refugee camp in Idomeni, on the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. According to sources, nine squads of riot police received orders on Monday to travel from Athens to Kilkis so they can take part in the operation if their contribution is needed. Authorities will attempt to move the refugees from the unofficial camp to other sites that have been made ready in various parts of northern Greece. Police sources told Kathimerini that the plan to remove people from Idomeni would be put into action in the coming days, although no decision has been as to exactly when the operation will take place. One source said that it is most likely the orders will be given on Wednesday.

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Apr 292016
 
 April 29, 2016  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Harris&Ewing Treasury Building, Fifteenth Street, Washington, DC 1918

Asia’s Two Biggest Stock Markets Have Become An $11 Trillion Headache (BBG)
Japan’s Abenomics ‘Dead In The Water’ After US Currency Warnings (AEP)
Debt Is Growing Faster Than Cash Flow By The Most On Record (ZH)
The Typical American Couple Has Only $5,000 Saved For Retirement (MW)
US Corporate Profits on Pace for Third Straight Decline (WSJ)
Dollar Drops to 11-Month Low as Asian Stocks Fall; Oil Near $46 (BBG)
Sluggish US Growth Part Of A Worrying Global Trend (G.)
Renting In London More Costly Than Living In Most European 4-Star Hotels (Ind.)
China Banks’ Profit Growth Stalls As Bad Debts Rise (R.)
China’s Central Bank Raises Yuan Fixing by Most Since July 2005 (BBG)
Puerto Rico Risks Historic Default as Congress Chooses Inaction (BBG)
El Niño Dries Up Asia As Its Stormy Sister La Niña Looms (AFP)
German Inflation Turns Negative In April (R.)
Greece’s Perfect Debt Trap (Kath.)
German Minister Proposes Law To Limit Social Benefits For EU-Foreigners (DW)
Finland Parliament, Pressured By Weak Economy, Debates Euro Exit (R.)
Italy Says Austria ‘Wasting Money’ In Migrant Border Row (AFP)
One Nation in Europe Wants Refugees But Is Failing to Get Enough (BBG)

$11 trillion is merely the start.

Asia’s Two Biggest Stock Markets Have Become An $11 Trillion Headache (BBG)

Asia’s two biggest stock markets are jostling for an ignominious prize. Japan’s Topix index and China’s Shanghai Composite Index have tumbled more than 13% in 2016 to rank along Nigerian and Mongolian shares as the world’s worst performers. In the two years through the end of December, the Asian gauges outperformed MSCI’s global measure by at least 20 percentage points. The Bank of Japan stood pat on monetary policy Thursday, sending Tokyo stocks tumbling, while the Shanghai measure fell to a one-month low. The benchmark gauges in two of the world’s largest stock markets, which have a combined value of almost $11 trillion, are declining as investors detect a reduced appetite from policy makers to boost monetary stimulus.

Thursday’s BOJ decision was the first under Governor Haruhiko Kuroda where a majority of economists expected easing that didn’t materialize, while strategists now see China’s central bank keeping its main interest rate on hold until the fourth quarter. “Neither China nor Japan have a solid plan on dealing with their slowing economies,” said Tomomi Yamashita at Shinkin Asset Management. “There is still scope for easing, and as for Japan there are fiscal policies they can carry out. There’s still hope. But today there was just too much hope on the BOJ.”

The Topix sank 3.2% on Thursday after the central bank kept bond-buying, interest rates and exchange-traded fund purchases unchanged. The stock gauge has fallen for four straight days, handing losses to foreign investors who piled the equivalent of $4.9 billion into the market last week, the most in a year. Overseas traders were net sellers of Japanese equities for the first 13 weeks of 2016. “I give up,” Ryuta Otsuka at Toyo Securities in Tokyo said. “It’s a really disappointing result and I feel like throwing in the towel. It cuts because we had so much hope.” The Topix posted four straight annual gains through 2015, while even a $5 trillion rout in Chinese shares last summer couldn’t stop the Shanghai Composite from being the world’s top-performing major market over the last two years. The declines for both gauges in 2016 compare with a 2.5% advance by the S&P 500, which is closing in on last year’s record.

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Sometimes I wonder why it takes people so long to figure things out. I’ve been saying ever since Abenomics was launched that it would fail. Because it was always pie in the sky only, not based on any understanding of what caused spending to plummet.

Japan’s Abenomics ‘Dead In The Water’ After US Currency Warnings (AEP)

The Bank of Japan has been forced to retreat from further emergency stimulus after a blizzard of criticism at home and abroad, and warnings that extreme measures may now be doing more harm than good. The climb-down by the world’s most radical central bank is the latest sign that the monetary experiments since Lehman crisis may have run their course. The authorities have not exhausted their ammunition but are hitting political and legal constraints. The yen surged 3pc against the US dollar in the biggest one-day move in eight months and equities skidded across Asia after the BOJ failed to take fresh action to stave off deepening deflation, catching markets badly off guard. Governor Haruhiko Kuroda dashed hopes for ‘helicopter money’, warning that direct monetary financing of spending would be “illegal”.

Mr Kuroda insisted that the BoJ still has plenty of firepower and can at any time push interest rates even deeper into negative territory or boost bond purchases beyond the current $74bn a month. “If additional easing is needed, we will do so promptly,” he said. The reality is that negative rates (NIRP) have backfired badly on every front. They have prompted bitter protests from banks and money market funds caught in a squeeze. The yen has appreciated by 10pc since the BoJ first embarked on the policy in January, the exact opposite of what was intended. The rising yen – ‘endaka’ – is pushing Japan deeper into a deflation trap and undercutting the whole purpose of ‘Abenomics’. Core inflation has fallen to minus 0.3pc. The Nikkei has dropped 13pc this year, with contractionary wealth effects that make the BoJ’s task even harder.

“Negative rates have completely failed,” said David Bloom from HSBC. Washington will not tolerate the use of NIRP in any case, deeming it a disguised attempt to drive down exchange rates and export problems to the rest of the world. Jacob Lew, the US Treasury Secretary, warned Japan and the eurozone at the G20 in Shanghai in February that the Obama administration is losing patience with use of beggar-thy-neighbour tactics by countries already running a current account surplus. They are in effect shifting their excess capacity abroad. Germany in particular is coming into the US cross-hairs. Richard Koo from Nomura said the US is now on the warpath against currency manipulators. Mr Lew’s threat effectively renders Abenomics “dead in the water”. The Japanese economy is contracting again, caught in a debt-deflation vice.

Growth has been negative for four of the last eight quarters. What was once a ‘Lost Decade’ is turning into a “Lost Quarter Century” with no remedy in sight. “Their options are diminishing. I can’t see any way out of the debt-trap, and it is an acid test for the western world,” said Neil Mellor from BNY Mellon. Public debt is rising fast on a shrinking economic base, pushing the public debt ratio to an estimated 250pc of GDP this year. “The debt will never be ‘repaid’ in the normal sense of the word,” said Lord (Adair) Turner from the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Olivier Blanchard, the former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, warned recently that country is nearing the end-game as the pool of domestic funding for the bond market starts to dry up and the Japanese treasury is forced to rely on much more costly capital from global investors.

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The predictable culmination of decades of a failed system is a hockeystick.

Debt Is Growing Faster Than Cash Flow By The Most On Record (ZH)

By now it is a well-known fact that corporations have no real way of generating organic growth in this economy, so they are relying on two things to boost share prices: multiple expansion (courtesy of central banks) and debt-funded buybacks (courtesy of central banks), the latter of which requires the firm to generate excess incremental cash. Incidentally, as SocGen showed last year, all the newly created debt in the 21st century has gone for just one thing: to fund stock buybacks.

 

The problem with this is that if a firm is going to continue to add debt to its balance sheet in order to fund buybacks (and dividends), then it needs to be able to generate enough operational cash flow in order to service the debt. Even if one makes the argument that debt is cheap right now, which may be true, or that central banks are backstopping it, which is certainly true in Europe as of a month ago, the fact remains that principal balances come due eventually also, and while debt can be rolled over, at some point the inability to generate cash from the operations catches up with them; furthermore even a small increase in rates means the rolling debt strategy is dies a painful death, as early 2016 showed.

In the following chart we can see net debt growth skyrocketing nearly 30% y/y, while EBITDA (cash flow) has been contracting for the past year. In fact, as SocGen shows below, the difference in the growth rate between these two most critical data series is now over 35% – the biggest negative differential in recent history.

 

Of course, every finance 101 student knows that a firm which has to borrow more cash than it is able to produce from its core operations is not a sustainable business model, and yet today’s CFOs, pundits and central bankers do not. And the next question is: what happens if the Fed does raise rates, what happens to the feasibility of these companies servicing the debt while also spending on R&D and CapEx (assuming there is any), and who can only afford the rising interest expense as a result of ever smaller interest rates? The answer is, first, massive cost cutting, i.e. layoffs, which would be a poetic way for the Fed’s disastrous policies to be reintroduced to the real economy… and then, more to the point, mass defaults. 

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Our entire societies will have to change dramatically because of this. Parents will have to move in with their children again. The children who earn much less than the parents did.

The Typical American Couple Has Only $5,000 Saved For Retirement (MW)

When American companies began switching from traditional pensions to self-directed 401(k)-like plans in the 1980s and 1990s, it was supposed to lead to a golden age of retirement security. No longer would workers be at the mercy of the company’s generosity or of Social Security’s solvency; workers themselves would be responsible for saving enough for a comfortable retirement. Some 30 years later, the results are in: The median working-age couple has saved only $5,000 for their retirement, according to an analysis of the Federal Reserve’s 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances by economist Monique Morrissey of the Economic Policy Institute. The do-it-yourself pension system is a disaster.

Even as the traditional company-funded pension has nearly disappeared and even as Social Security benefits are being slowly eroded, most workers haven’t saved enough to offset those losses to their retirement income. 70% of couples have less than $50,000 saved. Even those on the cusp of retirement — the median couple in their late 50s or early 60s — has saved only $17,000 in a retirement savings account, such as a defined-contribution 401(k), individual retirement account, Keogh or similar savings account. How long does $5,000, or even $50,000, last? Until the first big medical bill? Morrissey figures that about 43% of working-age families have no retirement savings at all. Among those who are five to 10 years away from retirement, 39% have no retirement savings of their own.

The sad fact is that most Americans are less prepared for retirement than Americans were 30 years ago. Few have enough pension wealth to make much difference in their lives once they stop working. The lack of savings in 401(k) and individual retirement accounts wouldn’t be a such big deal if retirees could rely on other sources of income, such as a traditional defined-benefit pension or Social Security. But those other income sources are declining. Fewer and fewer newly retired people are covered by a regular pension that provides a guaranteed monthly check based on salary and years of service. In addition, Social Security benefits are already being reduced as the normal retirement age is gradually increased from 65 to 67. Further reductions in Social Security benefits — by limiting the cost-of-living adjustment or by increasing the normal retirement age to 70, for example – would be disastrous for tomorrow’s retirees.


The median working-age couple had $5,000 in a retirement savings account as of the most recent data. The top 10% of savers had accumulated $274,000, according to the Economic Policy Institute analysis of Federal Reserve survey data

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Forget growth. Think survival.

US Corporate Profits on Pace for Third Straight Decline (WSJ)

U.S. corporate profits, weighed down by the energy slump and slowing global growth, are set to decline for the third straight quarter in the longest slide in earnings since the financial crisis. Weakness was felt across the board, with executives from Apple to railroad Norfolk Southern and snack giant Mondelez saying the current quarter remains tough. 3M, which makes tapes, filters and insulation for consumer electronics, forecast continued weak demand for that industry. Procter & Gamble reported sales declines in its five business categories despite price increases. “It’s a difficult environment indeed,” said PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi. “Most of the developed world outside the United States is grappling with slow growth. GDP growth in developing and emerging markets is also challenged.”

The concerns from company executives echo weak economic data released Thursday morning, which showed U.S. gross domestic product rose just 0.5% in the first quarter. Business investment and consumer spending on goods slowed, while consumer spending on services climbed. “On the one hand, consumer spending continued to be the primary economic driver in the U.S. On the other hand, industrial production has been disappointing,” United Parcel Service Inc. CEO David Abney said Thursday after the delivery company reported a 3.1% revenue increase. Based on the 55% of companies in the S&P 500 index that had already reported results Thursday morning, Thomson Reuters expects overall earnings to decline by 6.1% in the first quarter compared with a year earlier.

Even excluding energy companies, which are expected to have their worst quarter since oil prices began to plunge in 2014, profits are on pace to fall by 0.5%. Revenues are expected to fall 1.4% overall, or rise 1.7% excluding energy, according to Thomson Reuters. This would mark the S&P 500’s third consecutive quarter of declining earnings—the longest streak since the financial crisis. Revenues will have declined for five quarters in a row, outstripping even the four-quarter slide in 2008 and 2009.

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The US dollar is set to rise like a mushroom cloud and break the global camel’s back.

Dollar Drops to 11-Month Low as Asian Stocks Fall; Oil Near $46 (BBG)

The dollar dropped against all of its G-10 peers after weaker-than-expected U.S. economic growth dimmed prospects for a Federal Reserve interest-rate increase at a time when monetary easing is being put on hold elsewhere. Asian stocks fell and crude oil traded near $46 a barrel. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index sank to an 11-month low, while the yen was headed for its biggest weekly jump since 2008 after the Bank of Japan unexpectedly refrained from adding to record stimulus on Thursday. Japanese financial markets are shut for a holiday and an MSCI gauge of shares in the rest of the Asia-Pacific region slid for the third day in a row. The greenback’s decline is proving a plus for commodities, which are poised for their best monthly gain since 2010. Crude has jumped 20% since the end of March, while gold and silver are at 15-month highs.

The BOJ’s surprise decision capped a week of fence-sitting for central banks, with the Fed keeping interest rates steady for a third straight meeting and policy makers from New Zealand to Brazil also holding the line. The slowest pace of American economic expansion in two years reignited some concern over the global outlook, and pushed out bets on the potential timeline for tighter Fed policy. “Central banks look like they have run out of bullets to a degree,” said Mark Lister at Wellington’s Craigs Investment Partners. “We’re getting to that point where there are limits to the results they can get from anything more they do. This points to a fragile outlook with still a lot of risks out there.”

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Worrying only if it surprises you perhaps?!

Sluggish US Growth Part Of A Worrying Global Trend (G.)

It would be easy to dismiss the slowdown in the US economy to near-stall speed as a piece of rogue data resulting from the inability of number crunchers at the Department of Commerce in Washington to take account of the fact that large parts of the country are blanketed by snow during the winter. Easy but wrong. Back in spring 2015, the world’s biggest economy was expanding at an annual rate of 3.9%. In the third quarter the growth rate halved to 2%, before falling again to 1.4% in the final three months of the year. Describing the further easing to 0.5% in the first three months of 2016 as a temporary aberration – which was the knee-jerk response of upbeat analysts on Wall Street – is pushing it a bit.

A better explanation is that the sluggishness of US growth is part of a global trend, in which all the major economies are expanding more weakly than they were in the middle of last year. That’s the story for China, the eurozone, Japan and the UK. Each quarter, the data company Markit compiles a global Purchasing Managers’ Index for JP Morgan, with the intention of providing an up-to-date picture of economic conditions. The result for the first three months of 2016 showed activity at its lowest level in more than three years. Nor is there much hint of an improvement in the near future. In the US, firms are hacking back at investment – normally the sign of a looming recession. Consumer confidence has weakened, in part because real incomes are being squeezed.

As export-driven economies, Japan and the eurozone rely on a thriving US to buy their goods, so it is no surprise to find both struggling. The Bank of Japan will be forced to revisit its decision not to provide additional stimulus, since the upshot of its inaction has been a sharp rise in the yen, which will lead to even slower growth. Mario Draghi may again have to lock horns with the Bundesbank president, Jens Weidmann, in order to force through measures aimed at boosting activity in Europe. But the law of diminishing returns is at work. Each cut in interest rates, each fresh dollop of quantitative easing, has less of an impact than the last. The global economy is running out of steam and the conventional weapons are increasingly ineffective. This is not about blizzards shutting factories in Michigan. It goes much deeper than that.

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Britain is a sad joke.

Renting In London More Costly Than Living In Most European 4-Star Hotels (Ind.)

It is now cheaper to live in a 4-star hotel in two-thirds of European capitals than it is to rent the average London flat. Latest figures show that the average rent for a London flat is now £1,676 per month – or £55 a night – having increased by 30% in the last four years. For the same amount of money you could live year round in a hotel in Dublin, Rome, Paris or Brussels. Among the hotels that are more affordable than the average London rent include the Mercure Warszawa Grand in Warsaw that boasts a fitness centre, business facilities and two restaurants.

The Best Western Plus Hotel in Paris, the Nordic Hotel Domicil in Berlin and the Relais Castrum Boccea in Rome can also all be booked for less than £55 a night on travel websites for the 5th May this year. The figures were highlighted by Labour’s Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan. He said: “Renting a home shouldn’t be a luxury, but under the Tories Londoners could live in 4-star luxury in most of Europe for what they pay. “Rents have gone up by 30% with a Tory Mayor and it would be exactly the same under Zac Goldsmith – with rents soaring above £2,000 a month. Mr Khan said he would create a London-wide social letting agency as well as naming and shaming bad landlords and setting up a landlord licensing scheme.”

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And that’s before the bad debts are properly accounted for, and while the PBoC still issues record amounts of additional debt.

China Banks’ Profit Growth Stalls As Bad Debts Rise (R.)

Four of China’s five largest state-owned banks barely posted any growth in profit in the first quarter, as widely expected, with rising bad debt and narrower margins hitting their bottom lines. The country’s banks face challenges from both defaulting borrowers, who are struggling amid a slowing economy, and successive cuts in interest rates which have eaten away at margins. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China’s biggest lender by assets, announced a 0.6% rise in net profit on Thursday. Bank of Communications posted a 0.5% rise in net profit in the first quarter and Agricultural Bank of China a slightly better 1.1% rise in profit. On Tuesday, Bank of China recorded a 1.7% rise in net profit in the fist quarter.

Non-performing loan (NPL) ratios remained flat -or rose- at all four lenders, while bad loan volumes increased, helping to sink loan-loss allowance ratios. At ICBC, the volume of non-performing loans increased 14% in the three-month period to 204.66 billion yuan ($31.60 billion), from 179.52 billion yuan at the end of 2015, sending the bank’s NPL ratio to 1.66% from 1.5%. ICBC’s loan-loss allowance ratio fell to 141.21%, from 156.34% at the end of December. ICBC also pointed to “the continuing impact of five interest rate cuts by the People’s Bank of China” since 2015 as a source of stress. The bank reported its interest margin (NIM) – the difference between its lending rate and the cost of borrowing – fell to 2.28 at the end of the first quarter, from 2.47 at end-December.

At BoC, NIM fell to 1.97 at end-March from 2.12 at end-December. BoCom did not disclose its NIM, but reported a 2.78% decline in net interest income, even as the bank’s net income rose half a% to 19.07 billion yuan for the first quarter. AgBank also did not disclose its NIM. In a bid to relieve banks of the mounting pile of bad debts, China’s central bank is preparing regulations that would allow commercial lenders to swap non-performing loans of companies for stakes in those firms, sources told Reuters in February.

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Going through the motions.

China’s Central Bank Raises Yuan Fixing by Most Since July 2005 (BBG)

China’s central bank responded to an overnight tumble in the dollar by strengthening its currency fixing the most since a peg was dismantled in July 2005. The reference rate was raised by 0.6% to 6.4589 per dollar. A gauge of the greenback’s strength sank 1% on Thursday after the Bank of Japan’s decision to unexpectedly keep monetary policy unchanged sent the yen surging. The offshore yuan was little changed at 6.4834 after gaining 0.3% in the last session. While the change in the fixing is extreme relative to the small moves of recent years, analysts said it reflects increased volatility in the dollar against other major exchange rates rather than a policy shift by the People’s Bank of China. The yuan weakened against a basket of peers even as it climbed versus the greenback on Friday.

“The offshore yuan’s reaction is muted, so it seems the market was already expecting a much stronger fixing,” said Ken Cheung, a currency strategist at Mizuho Bank in Hong Kong. “This is a reaction to the dollar weakness overnight, and there’s not much in the way of policy intention to read into.” The dollar reached the lowest level since June after the yen jumped the most in almost six years and data showed U.S. gross domestic product expanded in the first quarter at the slowest pace in two years. A Bloomberg replica of the CFETS RMB Index, which measures the yuan against 13 exchange rates, fell 0.2% to a 17-month low. The onshore yuan climbed less than 0.1%.

“The fixing is no surprise, the expectation for a stronger yuan fix was laid by the gains for the yen after the Bank of Japan announcement yesterday,” said Patrick Bennett at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Hong Kong. “The trade weighted basket continues to depreciate, albeit at a modest pace. But the key to the lower trade-weighted rate does not really lie with the PBOC, rather it is the dollar weakness against other major currencies which is the main driver.”

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May 1 is big, but still just a transfer station. July 1 is much bigger.

Puerto Rico Risks Historic Default as Congress Chooses Inaction (BBG)

Even if Puerto Rico manages to strike a last-minute deal to defer bond payments due in three days, the commonwealth’s financial collapse is about to enter an unprecedented phase. Anything short of making the $422 million payment that Puerto Rico says it can’t afford would be considered a technical default. More importantly, it opens the door to larger and more consequential defaults on debt protected by the island’s constitution, and raises the risk of putting efforts to resolve the biggest crisis ever in the $3.7 trillion municipal market into turmoil. Nearly 10 months after Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla said the commonwealth was unable to repay all its obligations, Puerto Rico has failed to reach an accord on a broad restructuring deal presented to bondholders.

During that time the administration has delayed payments to suppliers, postponed tax refunds, grabbed revenue originally used to repay other bonds and missed payments on smaller agency debt. With its options drying up, no bondholder agreement in sight and Congressional action delayed, defaulting may be the next step for Puerto Rico. “It’s a game changer because it starts an actual legal process with teeth on both sides that can finally advance settlement negotiations,” said Matt Fabian at Municipal Market Analytics. “Pre-default negotiations are really not going anywhere. Post default might have a better chance.” Puerto Rico and its agencies racked up $70 billion in debt after years of borrowing to fill budget deficits and pay bills as its economy shrunk and residents left the island for work on the U.S. mainland.

The island’s Government Development Bank, which lent to the commonwealth and its municipalities, is in talks with creditors to avoid defaulting on the $422 million that’s due May 1. The commonwealth may use a new debt moratorium law if it cannot defer that GDB payment, Jesus Manuel Ortiz, a spokesman for Garcia Padilla, said. While a GDB default would be the largest yet by Puerto Rico, a missed payment on its general obligations would signal to investors that the commonwealth is finally executing on its warnings that it cannot pay its debts. Puerto Rico and its agencies owe $2 billion on July 1, including a $805 million payment on its general-obligation bonds, which are guaranteed under the island’s constitution to be paid before anything else.

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“..60 million people worldwide requiring “urgent assistance..”..

El Niño Dries Up Asia As Its Stormy Sister La Niña Looms (AFP)

Withering drought and sizzling temperatures from El Nino have caused food and water shortages and ravaged farming across Asia, and experts warn of a double-whammy of possible flooding from its sibling, La Nina. The current El Nino which began last year has been one of the strongest ever, leaving the Mekong River at its lowest level in decades, causing food-related unrest in the Philippines, and smothering vast regions in a months-long heat wave often topping 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). Economic losses in Southeast Asia could top $10 billion, IHS Global Insight told AFP. The regional fever is expected to break by mid-year but fears are growing that an equally forceful La Nina will follow.

That could bring heavy rain to an already flood-prone region, exacerbating agricultural damage and leaving crops vulnerable to disease and pests. “The situation could become even worse if a La Nina event — which often follows an El Nino — strikes towards the end of this year,” Stephen O’Brien, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and relief, said this week. He said El Nino has already left 60 million people worldwide requiring “urgent assistance,” particularly in Africa. Wilhemina Pelegrina, a Greenpeace campaigner on agriculture, said La Nina could be “devastating” for Asia, bringing possible “flooding and landslides which can impact on food production.” El Nino is triggered by periodic oceanic warming in the eastern Pacific Ocean which can trigger drought in some regions, heavy rain in others.

Much of Asia has been punished by a bone-dry heat wave marked by record-high temperatures, threatening the livelihoods of countless millions. Vietnam, one of the world’s top rice exporters, has been particularly hard-hit by its worst drought in a century. In the economically vital Mekong Delta bread basket, the mighty river’s vastly reduced flow has left up to 50% of arable land affected by salt-water intrusion that harms crops and can damage farmland, said Le Anh Tuan, a professor of climate change at Can Tho University. More than 500,000 people are short of drinking water, while hotels, schools and hospitals are struggling to maintain clean-water supplies. Neighbouring Thailand and Cambodia also are suffering, with vast areas short of water and Thai rice output curbed.

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You would think the reason to continue executing a policy lies in its success rate. Not so, you poor innocent you. In reality, the very failure of a policy is reason to continue it: if the strongest eurozone economy with low unemployment does not show any signs of inflationary pressures, the ECB after all might have a point in continuing its ultra-loose monetary policy

German Inflation Turns Negative In April (R.)

German consumer prices unexpectedly fell in April, data showed on Thursday, illustrating the scale of the task the ECB faces in trying to propel inflation back to its target range. The eurozone has struggled with little or no inflation for the past year and the ECB expects the bloc-wide figure to turn negative again before slowly ticking up, undershooting its goal of just under 2% for years to come. The ECB unveiled a surprisingly large stimulus package in March but falling inflation expectations have fueled expectations of even more easing, possibly as early as June, when the bank’s staff present new growth and inflation forecasts. “It might be hard for some German ECB critics to digest, but if the strongest eurozone economy with low unemployment does not show any signs of inflationary pressures, the ECB after all might have a point in continuing its ultra-loose monetary policy,” ING Bank economist Carsten Brzeski said.

Separate data on Thursday showed unemployment unexpectedly fell in April, with the jobless rate remaining at its lowest in more than 25 years. German consumer prices, harmonized to compare with other European countries (HICP), fell by 0.1% on the year after a 0.1% rise in March, the Federal Statistics Office said. The Reuters consensus forecast was for a zero reading. On a non-harmonized basis, consumer prices fell 0.2% on the month and inched up 0.1% on the year. A breakdown showed energy remained the main drag while the food, services and rental costs increased at a slower pace. Analysts said the German data suggested that the April inflation rate for the whole eurozone, due out on Friday, would also turn negative again.

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It’s high time now to see how the Greek debt trap is linked to the article above about German deflation. The link continues with the article below this one: Germany monopolizes the benefits of being in the EU.

Greece’s Perfect Debt Trap (Kath.)

The longer we spend in the hole the harder it is to get out. As long as the negotiations with the troika are not finished and the economy is starved of cash, as long as businesses cannot plan for the next day and citizens remain wary of returning cash to the banks, recovery becomes even more difficult. The government promises that after a positive evaluation by creditors the economy will bounce back like a spring released. Even if we were to accept this theory – which would also demand huge investments – a positive evaluation is still the prerequisite. Despite the progress made in the talks, the economy is deteriorating. Indicative of this is a growing inability to pay taxes. Today outstanding tax debts exceed €87 billion. At the end of 2012 they were at €55.1 billion.

They have grown by 32 billion euros since then, equaling the amount raised by tax rate increases over the same period (as Kathimerini reports on Friday). In the first quarter of 2016, outstanding debts increased by €3.22 billion and, by the end of the year, may exceed last year’s total of €13.48 billion. Nonperforming bank loans, which were at 8.2% of the total at the start of 2010, were at 36.4% at the end of 2015. Unpaid dues to social security funds came to €15.78 billion at the end of the first quarter, from €13.02 billion last September. The swelling of these debts did not begin under this government. Previous governments and opposition parties, as well as creditors, all played a role in this. From the start of the crisis, citizens/taxpayers have been buffeted by uncertainty, despair and anger.

The expectation of debt relief encouraged delays in payments, while excessive taxation meant that outstanding payments multiplied. Also, the state, unable to meet its own obligations, held back on paying what it owed to taxpayers. With the worsening economy and the lack of trust, capital controls were inevitable and, of course, drove us deeper into trouble. This anxiety is set to continue. The government cannot undertake the burden of what creditors demand, and the creditors, in turn, appear disinclined to help out. As the Federation of Greek Industries noted in its weekly bulletin on Thursday: “The government’s insistence on raising taxes instead of cutting expenses, and the recessionary impact that this will have on the economy, leads to the troika’s shortsighted persistence on contingency measures which, unfortunately, increase further the recessionary wave and will be the final blow to the economy.”

We are caught in the perfect trap. As long as the negotiations drag on, the instability and lack of confidence will increase outstanding debt at all levels, prevent growth and, in turn, demand even harsher measures. The only way out is for both the government and creditors to show good will and trust each other. After the past year this seems a most unlikely leap of faith.

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Dividing and demolishing the Union brick by brick. Germany wants to be left with the benefits of that union only, and to shed the drawbacks. Not going to work out well.

German Minister Proposes Law To Limit Social Benefits For EU-Foreigners (DW)

EU foreigners living in Germany may soon have to wait five years before qualifying for social benefits, reported newspapers on Thursday, in reference to a new proposed law from German Labor Minister Andrea Nahles. “We have to stop immigration into the social security system,” Nahles said during an interview in December when she announced plans to restrict social benefits for non-German EU citizens. She added that the restrictions were a matter of “self defense” for Germany. Should the law pass, foreigners from fellow EU member states will be strictly excluded from social assistance if they do not work in Germany or have not acquired social security rights through previous work in Germany. With those same conditions, EU foreigners would also be shut out from Germany’s benefit system for the unemployed, which is known as “Hartz IV.”

EU citizens can eventually gain access to social benefits – but only if they have been living in Germany for five years without state assistance. The draft law, however, provides so-called “transition benefits” for those EU foreigners who no longer qualify for social assistance in Germany. For a maximum of four weeks, those affected will receive assistance to cover the costs of food, housing, and health care. They will also be given a loan to cover costs for a return trip to their home country, where they can then apply for social benefits. The new measures are a direct response to a decision by Germany’s Federal Social Court late last year concerning immigrants from EU countries. In December 2015, the court ruled that EU-foreigners would only acquire entitlement to social benefits after living in the country for at least six months. The decision led to backlash from local authorities, who feared the social system would be overburdened.

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This is something we’ll see a lot of. It’s over. What’s left is pretense.

Finland Parliament, Pressured By Weak Economy, Debates Euro Exit (R.)

Finnish lawmakers on Thursday held a rare debate on whether the Nordic country should quit the euro after 53,000 people signed a petition to force the issue into parliament. The petition, although very unlikely to lead to Finland’s exit of the 19-member currency bloc, highlights the growing level of frustration over the country’s economic performance amid rising unemployment, weak outlook and government austerity. The initiative demands a referendum on euro membership, but this would only go ahead if parliament backed such a vote. Although no political group has proposed a euro exit, some euro-sceptic parliamentarians cited lack of independent monetary policy as a problem and said Finland should have held a referendum before adopting the euro in 1998.

Nordic neighbors Sweden and Denmark voted against adopting the euro a few years later. “The euro is too cheap for Germany and too expensive for the rest of Europe, it does not fulfill requirements of an optimal currency union,” said Simon Elo, an MP from the co-ruling euro-sceptic Finns party. The Finnish economy grew by just 0.5% last year after three years of contraction. The stagnation stemmed from a string of problems, including high labor costs, the decline of Nokia’s former phone business and a recession in neighboring Russia. This year, Finland’s economy is expected to grow slower than in any other EU country, except Greece. Some economists say the country’s prospects would improve if it returned to the markka currency which could then devalue against the euro.

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Union? What union?! Get real.

Italy Says Austria ‘Wasting Money’ In Migrant Border Row (AFP)

Italy told Austria Thursday it would prove Vienna was “wasting money” on anti-migrant measures and closing the border between the two countries would be “an enormous mistake”. Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka, who has vigorously defended the controversial package which was driven by a surge of the far right, met his counterpart Angelino Alfano over the plans, which have infuriated Italians. Alfano said “the numbers do not support” fears of a mass movement of migrants and refugees across the famous Brenner Pass in the Alps. Sobotka said preparations would continue for the construction of a 370-metre (yard) barrier which would be up to four metres (13 foot) high in places, but Alfano said the feared-for crisis would not materialise and “we will show them it is money wasted”.

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi has warned that closing the pass would be a “flagrant breach of European rules” and is pushing the European Commission to force Austria to hold off on a move many fear could symbolise the death of the continent’s Schengen open border system. On Thursday he described the bid to close the border as being “utterly removed from reality”. A European Commission spokesman said the body had “grave concerns about anything that can compromise our ‘back to Schengen’ roadmap”. Its chairman Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to discuss the issue with Renzi at talks in Rome on May 5. The Vienna government is under intense domestic pressure to stem the volume of asylum seekers and other migrants arriving on its soil with the far-right surging in polls.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon hit out Thursday at what he called “increasingly restrictive” refugee policies in Europe, saying he was “alarmed by the growing xenophobia here” and elsewhere in Europe, in a speech to the Austrian parliament. More than 350,000 people, many of them fleeing conflict and poverty in countries like Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, have reached Italy by boat from Libya since the start of 2014, as Europe battles its biggest migration crisis since World War II. Wedged between the Italian and Balkan routes to northern Europe, Austria received 90,000 asylum requests last year, the second highest in per capita terms of any EU country. Legislation approved Wednesday by the Austrian parliament enables the government to respond to spikes in migrant arrivals by declaring a state of emergency which provides for asylum seekers to be turned away at border points.

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Portugal sees what Canada sees too. Question is how deliberate is the EU policy of being so slow in relocating refugees to countries asking for them? Portugal wants 10,000. Canada will take a multiple of that.

One Nation in Europe Wants Refugees But Is Failing to Get Enough (BBG)

Portugal has offered to host 10,000 of the refugees who’ve landed on Europe’s shores from the globe’s war-torn zones. So far, it has taken in 234. Not because it doesn’t want to. Rather, because few have come knocking at its door. “It’s difficult to quickly find refugees that can come to Portugal,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said on Friday as he met migrants in Evora, southern Portugal. As the refugee crisis stretches the struggling Greek government and rattles politics in Germany and beyond, Portugal’s willingness to share the burden isn’t getting a lot of attention. While the country blames a lack of coordination in Europe and administrative roadblocks, the contrast between its economic performance and that of Germany, which admitted more than 1 million migrants in 2015 alone, may also be playing a role.

Although the Portuguese economy recovered in 2014 and accelerated last year after shrinking for three years through 2013, joblessness remains high. Unemployment, which has eased to 12.3% after peaking at 17.5% in 2013, is still almost triple the German rate of 4.3%, and that may continue to dent Portugal’s allure. “It’s not a very appealing destination given the unemployment rate,” said Rui Serra, chief economist at Caixa Economica Montepio Geral in Lisbon. “It’s easier for an immigrant to go to the center of Europe where there is a more concentrated market than in some countries of the periphery like Portugal. In the center of Europe income per capita is higher.” Prime Minister Antonio Costa says there are structural problems in the euro zone that aggravate the disparities.

“That structural problem has to do with the asymmetry between the different economies,” he said in Athens on April 11. “It’s necessary to give a new impulse to the convergence of our economies with the more developed economies of the euro zone.” With the country’s demographics in mind, the Portuguese government has laid out the welcome mat for refugees. Portugal’s population has declined and aged every year from the end of 2011 to about 10.37 million at the end of 2014 as a weak economy has led many working-age residents to leave. Germany’s population, while also aging, still increased overall every year in the same period.

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 February 21, 2016  Posted by at 10:50 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


“6 gals for 99c”, Roosevelt and Wabash, Chicago 1939

That the world’s central bankers get a lot of things wrong, deliberately or not, and have done so for years now, is nothing new. But that they do things that result in the exact opposite of what they ostensibly aim for, and predictably so, perhaps is. And it’s something that seems to be catching on, especially in Asia.

Now, let’s be clear on one thing first: central bankers have taken on roles and hubris and ‘importance’, that they should never have been allowed to get their fat little greedy fingers on. Central bankers in their 2016 disguise have no place in a functioning economy, let alone society, playing around with trillions of dollars in taxpayer money which they throw around to allegedly save an economy.

They engage solely, since 2008 at the latest, in practices for which there are no historical precedents and for which no empirical research has been done. They literally make it up as they go along. And one might be forgiven for thinking that our societies deserve something better than what amounts to no more than basic crap-shooting by a bunch of economy bookworms. Couldn’t we at least have gotten professional gamblers?

Central bankers who moreover, as I have repeatedly quoted my friend Steve Keen as saying, even have little to no understanding at all of the field they’ve been studying all their adult lives.

They don’t understand their field, plus they have no idea what consequences their next little inventions will have, but they get to execute them anyway and put gargantuan amounts of someone else’s money at risk, money which should really be used to keep economies at least as stable as possible.

If that’s the best we can do we won’t end up sitting pretty. These people are gambling addicts who fool themselves into thinking the power they’ve been given means they are the house in the casino, while in reality they’re just two-bit gamblers, and losing ones to boot. The financial markets are the house. Compared to the markets, central bankers are just tourists in screaming Hawaiian shirts out on a slow Monday night in Vegas.

I’ve never seen it written down anywhere, but I get the distinct impression that one of the job requirements for becoming a central banker in the 21st century is that you are profoundly delusional.

Take Japan. As soon as Abenomics was launched 3 years ago, we wrote that it couldn’t possibly succeed. That didn’t take any extraordinary insights on our part, it simply looked too stupid to be true. In an economy that’s been ‘suffering’ from deflation for 20 years, even as it still had a more or less functioning global economy to export its misery to, you can’t just introduce ‘Three Arrows’ of 1) fiscal stimulus, 2) monetary easing and 3) structural reforms, and think all will be well.

Because there was a reason why Japan was in deflation to begin with, and that reason contradicts all three arrows. Japan sank into deflation because its people spent less money because they didn’t trust where their economy was going and then the economy went down further and average wages went down so people had less money to spend and they trusted their economies even less etc. Vicious cycles all the way wherever you look.

How many times have we said it? Deflation is a b*tch.

And you don’t break that cycle by making borrowing cheaper, or any such thing, you don’t break it by raising debt levels, and try for everyone to raise theirs too. Which is what Abenomics in essence was always all about. They never even got around to the third arrow of structural reforms, and for all we know that’s a good thing. In any sense, Abenomics has been the predicted dismal failure.

Now, I remember Shinzo Abe ‘himself’ at some point doing a speech in which he said that Abenomics would work ‘if only the Japanese people would believe it did’. And that sounded inane, to say that to people who cut down on spending for 2 decades, that if only they would spend again, the sun would rise in concert. That’s like calling your people stupid to their faces.

The reality is that in global tourism, the hordes of Japanese tourists have been replaced by Chinese (and we can tell you in confidence that that’s not going to last either). The Japanese economy simply dried out. It sort of functions, still, domestically, albeit it on a much lower level, but now that global trade is grasping for air, exports are plunging too, the population is aging fast and there’s a whole new set of belts to tighten.

So last June, the desperate Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda did Abe’s appeal to ‘faith’ one better, and, going headfirst into the fairy realm, said:

I trust that many of you are familiar with the story of Peter Pan, in which it says, ‘the moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it’. Yes, what we need is a positive attitude and conviction. Indeed, each time central banks have been confronted with a wide range of problems, they have overcome the problems by conceiving new solutions.

And that’s not just a strange thing to say. In fact, when you read that quote twice, you notice -or I did- that’s it’s self-defeating. Because, when paraphrasing Kuroda, we get something like this: ‘the moment the Japanese people doubt whether their government can save the economy, they cease forever to believe that it can’.

Now, I’m not Japanese, and I’m not terribly familiar with the role of fairy tales in the culture, but just the fact that Kuroda resorted to ‘our’ Peter Pan makes me think it’s not all that large. But I also think the Japanese understood what he meant, and that even the few who hadn’t yet, stopped believing in him and Abe right then and there.

Then again, Asian cultures still seem to be much more obedient and much less critical of their governments than we are, for some reason. The Japanese don’t voice their disbelief, they simply spend ever less. That’s the effect of Kuroda’s Peter Pan speech. Not what he was aiming for, but certainly what he should have expected, entirely predictable. Why hold that speech then, though? Despair, lack of intelligence?

In a similar vein, we chuckled out loud on Friday, first when president Xi demanded ‘Absolute Loyalty’ from state media when visiting them, an ‘Important Event’ broadly covered by those same media. Look, buddy, when you got to go on TV to demand it, someone somewhere’s bound to to be thinking you don’t have it…

And we chuckled also when the South China Morning Post (SCMP) broke the news that the People’s Bank of China, in its monthly “Sources and Uses of Credit Funds of Financial Institutions” report has stopped publishing the “Position for forex purchase”, which is that part of capital movements -and in China’s case today that stands for huge outflows- which goes through ‘private’ banks instead of the central bank itself.

It’s like they took a page, one-on-one-, out of the Federal Reserve’s playbook, which cut its M3 money supply reporting back in March 2006. What you don’t see can’t hurt you, or something along those lines. The truth is, though, that if you have something to hide, the last thing you want to do is let anyone see you digging a hole in the ground.

But the effect of this attempt to not let analysts get the data is simply that they’re going to get suspicious, and start digging even harder and with increased scrutiny. And they have access to the data anyway, through other channels, so the effect will be the opposite of what’s intended. And that too is predictable.

First, from Fortune, based on the SCMP piece:

Is China Trying to Hide Capital Outflows?

China’s central bank is making it harder to calculate the size of capital outflows afflicting the economy, just as investors have started paying closer attention to those mounting outflows, which in December reached almost $150 billion and in January around $120 billion. The central bank omitted data on “position for forex purchase” during its latest report, the South China Morning Post reported today.

The unannounced change comes at a time pundits are questioning whether outflows have the potential to cripple China’s currency and economy. Capital outflows lead to a weaker currency, which concerns the hordes of Chinese companies that borrowed debt in foreign currencies over the past few years and now have to pay it back with a weaker yuan.

The news of the central bank withholding data is important because capital outflow figures aren’t released as line items. They are calculated by analysts in a variety of ways, one of which includes using the omitted data. The Post quoted two analysts concluding the central bank’s intention was to hide the true amount of continuing outflows.

The impulse to hide bad news shouldn’t come as a surprise. China’s government has been evasive about economic matters from this summer’s stock bailout to its efforts propping up the value of the yuan. Analysts still have a variety of ways to estimate the flows, but the central bank is making it ever more difficult.

And then the SCMP:

Sensitive Financial Data ‘Missing’ From PBOC Report On Capital Outflows

Sensitive data is missing from a regular Chinese central bank report amid concerns about capital outflow as the economy slows and the yuan weakens. Financial analysts say the sudden lack of clear information makes it hard for markets to assess the scale of capital flows out of China as well as the central bank s foreign exchange operations in the banking system.

Figures on the “position for forex purchase” are regularly published in the People’s Bank of China’s monthly report on the “Sources and Uses of Credit Funds of Financial Institutions”. The December reading in foreign currencies was US$250 billion. But the data was missing in the central bank’s latest report. It seemed the information had been merged into the “other items” category, whose January figure was US$243.9 billion -a surge from US$20.4 billion the previous month.

[..] “Its non-transparent method has left the market unable to form a clear picture about capital flows,” said Liu Li-Gang, ANZ’s chief China economist in Hong Kong. “This will fuel more speculation that China is under great pressure from capital outflows. It will hurt the central bank’s credibility.”

[..] All forex-related data released by the central bank is closely monitored by financial analysts. They often read item by item from the dozens of tables and statistics to try to spot new trends and changes. China Merchants Securities chief economist Xie Yaxuan said the PBOC would not be able to conceal data as there were many ways to obtain and assess information on capital movements.

“We are waiting for more data releases such as the central bank’s balance sheet and commercial banks’ purchase and sales of foreign exchange released by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange for a better understanding of the capital movement and to interpret the motive of the central bank for such change,” Xie said.

It’s like they’ve landed in a game they don’t know the rules of. But then again, that’s what we think every single time we see Draghi and Yellen too, who are kept ‘alive’ only by investors’ expectations that they are going to hand out free cookies, and lots of them, every time they make a public appearance.

And what’s going on in Japan and China will happen to them, too: they will achieve the exact opposite of what they’re aiming for. They arguably already have. Or at least none of their desperate measures have achieved anything close to their stated goals.

They may have kept equity markets high, true, but their economies are still as bad as when the QE ZIRP NIRP stimulus madness took off, provided one is willing to see through the veil that media coverage and ‘official’ numbers put up between us and the real world. But they sure as h*ll haven’t turned anything around or caused a recovery of any sorts. Disputing that is Brooklyn Bridge for sale material.

Eh, what can we say? Stay tuned?! There’ll be a lot more of this lunacy as we go forward. It’s baked into the stupid cake.


Professor Steve Keen and Raúl Ilargi Meijer discuss central banking, Athens, Greece, Feb 16 2016