Dec 162018
 
 December 16, 2018  Posted by at 10:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Klee Carnival in the snow 1923

 

Why The Fed Won’t Save The Stock Market (MW)
Why The US-China Trade Talks Will Work: The Personal Touch (Kuhn)
12 Months Of Bitcoin Misery (MW)
Failed By Both Major Parties, Betrayed Britain Lurches Towards The Abyss (G.)
British Minister Warns Brexit Is Stuck As No-Deal Or Referendum Loom (R.)
UN Climate Change Talks Avoid Contentious Issues In Draft Agreement (O.)
Deportations Under Trump Are On The Rise But Still Lower Than Obama’s (WaPo)
How The ‘Five Eyes’ Cooked Up The Campaign To Kill Huawei (SMH)
The Russia Investigations: A Case Still Unproven (NPR)
How Putin’s Russia Turned Humour Into A Weapon (BBC)
Late Night Swapped Laughs For Lusting After Mueller (S.us)

 

 

Where do we start? Because they killed it beyond salvation? Because to save it they would have to retreat completely? Because they have no idea what’s going on since all they know is based on false assumptions? Take your pick.

Why The Fed Won’t Save The Stock Market (MW)

Another brutal week left the stock market with its worst start to a December in 38 years, and a meeting of Federal Reserve policy makers might not offer the relief some investors are pining for when they conclude a two-day policy meeting on Wednesday, says one economist. How bad was it? Stocks ended a week of often whipsaw trading with a decided move to the downside Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped nearly 500 points, leaving it more than 10% below its early October all-time closing high, meeting a widely used definition of a market correction. It joined the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite which were already in correction mode. The S&P and Dow are negative for 2018, while the Nasdaq is clinging to a 0.1% year-to-date rise.

And it’s hardly an auspicious start to a month that’s historically a positive one for equities. Over the first nine trading days of the month, the Dow is down 5.6%, the S&P is off 5.8% and the Nasdaq is 5.7% in the red. That’s the worst start to a December for all three benchmarks since 1980, according to Dow Jones Market Data. That sounds bad, but it probably isn’t bad enough to convince the Fed to pause when it comes to interest-rate rises, said Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets, in a note. Remarks by Fed officials, including Jerome Powell, have led some investors to look for the central bank to potentially end the rate-hike cycle after delivering a December increase, but Porcelli argued that still strong economic data meant the debate should be more focused on the merits of policy makers’ expectations for three or more rises in 2019.

And while stock-market volatility has seen a significant uptick, “equities have not deteriorated enough to warrant a pause,” Porcelli said, noting that unlike, say, the emerging-market crisis of 1998 when stocks fell sharply, U.S. equities today are still basically flat year-to-date when it comes to total returns. “On that basis, it is also worth pointing out that you cannot make the case that there is a negative wealth effect at play that is feeding through to the macro backdrop,” he wrote.

Read more …

Everybody knows a solution must be found.

Why The US-China Trade Talks Will Work: The Personal Touch (Kuhn)

The dinner meeting between the two presidents, Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, lasted well longer than planned. Xi began with a well-prepared, detailed presentation that lasted 45 minutes and impressed even the US hardliners in attendance with its substance and resolve. Trump, as expected, extolled the meeting, but more meaningfully, I believe, China’s Ministry of Commerce immediately went on record to call the talks “very successful”. Other Chinese officials quickly affirmed that new measures would combat intellectual property theft. Even more significant, perhaps, rumours were afoot that major changes were in the works for “Made in China 2025,” including reductions in state subsidies for new technologies and a greater openness to participation by foreign companies.

The announcement that US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a China hawk, was placed in charge of negotiations was greeted positively by Chinese officials who have long requested clarity in a single US point person with whom to negotiate. It is a socio-political principle that nationalistic hawks can often achieve peace more easily than globalist doves because it is more difficult for domestic detractors to undercut them as being “soft”. Regarding the apparent 90-day “drop dead” date, Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, said “If there’s good, solid movement and good action, he ‘[Trump] might be willing to extend.”

The arrest of Huawei’s CFO triggered accusations and counter accusations, but neither side, tellingly, called the trade talks into question. In fact, there were parallel affirmations the talks would continue. Peter Navarro, the White House adviser considered with good reason to be the most hawkish on China, said that stock markets should be “patient and optimistic”. Navarro, he of the “death by China” screed, said what? Optimistic! Moreover, when I speak to Chinese economists, I hear the conviction that many of the US demands – IPR protection, opening up markets, reductions in state subsidies – are precisely what China needs to do anyway.

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The swings forbid any notion of it being an investment.

12 Months Of Bitcoin Misery (MW)

Monday, Dec. 17, will mark one year since the price of bitcoin — the best-known cryptocurrency — hit an all-time high just shy of $20,000. For bulls who bought the hype, it’s been a long — and painful — ride down. At the time, the digital currency was up more than 1,000% for 2017, both the CME Group and Cboe had just launched bitcoin futures contracts, and everyone seemed to be making money as talk about the previously obscure crypto market made its way into the mainstream media. In retrospect, it appeared all too easy: Bitcoin rose 11 of the 12 weeks leading up to the Dec. 17 peak and logged gains in eight of the last nine months in 2017. Day traders were millionaires, analysts were predicting further drastic price increases and investors jumped on what looked like an endless gravy train.

According to Crypto Fund Research, 85 crypto-related funds launched in the first three months of 2018, and at Jan. 1 2018, there was $5.8 billion of assets under management in the crypto hedge fund industry, compared with $675 million a year earlier. But, in the blink of an eye, the tide turned: A January correction soon turned into a collapse and then turned into what was dubbed a prolonged crypto winter — a season that has yet to end. From their peaks, most major coins lost more than 80%. Bitcoin has shed as much as 85%. Ether, the popular currency that runs on the ethereum blockchain, fell as much as 95%, losing its title of the second-largest digital currency.

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Britain’s been too slow to ditch its old parties. Same as US. All over continental Europe, the process has started already.

Failed By Both Major Parties, Betrayed Britain Lurches Towards The Abyss (G.)

The seesaw is smashed. The pendulum is stuck. The tides are frozen. All the trusty images that used to help explain British politics have been scrambled by Brexit. Back in simpler times, a bad week for one politician or party translated into a good one for a rival. Seesaws went up and down. Pendulums swung. Tides flowed in and out. It is one of the unique characteristics of the Brexit crisis that it makes winners of none and losers of all. The past seven days have demonstrated that this is a wind so ill that it blows no one any good. The most deserved losers are the Brexit ultras. They finally launched their leadership coup and failed miserably. Without a plausible plan or a credible leader, these are the men who put the ass into assassin.

After all their prating about “taking back control”, they couldn’t even organise the removal of a mortally wounded prime minister. The Brexit fanatics have always been a minority of a minority and now no one can be in any doubt about that. And this same gang claim they could negotiate a superior agreement with the EU or handle a no-deal Brexit in 100 days that are left? Oh, please. Yet there was no humility in defeat from the ultras. It was with a poisonous lack of grace that they continued to demand Mrs May’s resignation even after she had prevailed in the confidence vote that they forced upon their party. You are entitled to belly laugh the next time that anyone tries to commend Jacob Rees-Mogg as a courteous gentleman.

The mask of phoney civility slipped when this serpent in a double-breasted suit continued to hiss for Mrs May’s head after his coup had failed. Alas for her, the defeat of her tormentors did not amount to a victory for the prime minister. To keep her job for now, she had to pledge to give it up before the next election. Mrs May purchased her survival in the currency of humiliation. [..] Mrs May remains imprisoned by the parliamentary maths, her past mistakes and her lack of dexterity. After all the to and fro between Westminster and European capitals, pinging from one side of the Channel to the other like a battered shuttlecock, there is no better prospect of her deal passing the Commons than there was on Monday when she swerved the vote.

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Now the Tories want a second vote?!

British Minister Warns Brexit Is Stuck As No-Deal Or Referendum Loom (R.)

Britain’s exit from the European Union was heading for an impasse, one senior minister said on Saturday, after a week in which Prime Minister Theresa May failed to win EU assurances on her deal and pulled a vote because UK lawmakers would defeat it. With just over 100 days until Britain leaves the bloc on March 29, Brexit remains up in the air with growing calls for a no-deal exit, a potentially disorderly divorce that business fears would be highly damaging, or for a second referendum. May pulled a vote on her deal on Monday after acknowledging it would be heavily defeated over concerns about the “backstop”, an insurance policy designed to avoid any hard land border for Ireland but which critics say could bind Britain to EU rules indefinitely.

Two days later, she survived a plot to oust her from those in her own party who support a hardline Brexit, showing the level of opposition she faced. May herself has acknowledged that Britain’s parliament appears deadlocked with no clear support for any option, with the small Northern Irish party that props up her government leading the criticism of her deal. “Brexit is in danger of getting stuck – and that is something that should worry us all,” pensions minister Amber Rudd wrote in Saturday’s Daily Mail newspaper. “If MPs (lawmakers) dig in against the prime minister’s deal and then hunker down in their different corners, none with a majority, the country will face serious trouble.”

[..] Rudd – one of five ministers who, according to newspapers, are leaning toward having a second referendum – said a no-deal scenario “mustn’t be allowed to happen” and urged lawmakers from all parties come together to stop it. “We need to try something different. Something that people do in the real world all the time, but which seems so alien in our political culture – to engage with others,” she said. “We need to acknowledge the risk that parliament could spend the next precious few months debating about preferred solutions and end up with no compromise, no agreement and no deal.”

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These conferences are simply the wrong way to treat the issue. Incumbent governments and industries owe their powers to what they must now change radically. That threatens those powers, so they’ll delay where they can.

UN Climate Change Talks Avoid Contentious Issues In Draft Agreement (O.)

The UN met on Saturday in Poland to discuss a draft agreement on climate change, which sources said was likely to pass, as exhausted delegates made compromises on some key issues but left other contentious problems to be resolved next year. The result will not be the breakthrough campaigners and some countries were hoping for, but will keep discussions alive on formulating key aspects of the implementation rules for the 2015 Paris accord. Delegates have been thrashing out a text on the complex mechanisms required to put the Paris goals into effect for the past two weeks, and appeared partly successful as the talks overran their Friday deadline and looked likely to continue into late afternoon on Saturday at least.

The text will give countries clarity on key points such as accounting for their greenhouse gas emissions and recording their carbon reductions. They will also go some way to encourage the stepping up of each country’s climate change efforts. Among the issues holding up progress is the highly technical question of what should happen to the market for carbon credits, held by some countries in recognition of their emissions-cutting efforts and their carbon sinks, such as forests. These credits count toward countries’ emissions-cutting targets. Brazil introduced wording that would benefit the country for its huge rainforest cover, but critics said contained loopholes that allowed for double counting of carbon credits would severely undermine the integrity of the system.

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Not to say what happens today is not bad, but that it’s happened for many years. it’s America, not Trump.

Deportations Under Trump Are On The Rise But Still Lower Than Obama’s (WaPo)

Amid President Trump’s push for tighter immigration policies, the United States deported more than 256,000 people in 2018 — the highest number since the Obama administration, new data shows. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deputy Director Ronald D. Vitiello announced Friday that in the past fiscal year, which ended in September, ICE has detained “a record number” of people in the country illegally and that the number of those deported has risen about 13 percent since 2017. The data, which comes from a new agency report, shows that 145,262 of those deported were convicted criminals and that 22,796 had criminal charges pending against them. In addition, 5,872 were reported as known or suspected gang members, and 42 were believed to be terrorists, according to the report.

The number of families and unaccompanied children who were deported also increased. ICE said that 2,711 who were traveling in families and 5,571 unaccompanied children were removed from U.S. soil. “We’ve continued to achieve gains in all meaningful enforcement measurements,” Vitiello said, despite significant underfunding. The strain on resources is a consequence of current border crisis, he said. “With the continued surge and without congressional action to fund the agency at adequate levels, ICE may be forced to make difficult choices that could hamper our ability to fulfill our public safety or national security mission,” he added, noting that the agency does not want to release detainees as a result of budgetary constraints because it would create a public safety risk.

[..] Mary Bauer, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said it is “appalling and morally unconscionable that this is the place where we find ourselves” — deporting people “without a sense of priorities.” “It used to be that there was a sense that they were looking for people who had committed serious crimes,” she said in a phone interview with The Washington Post. In fact, U.S. deportation numbers were higher during the Obama administration, reaching 409,849 in 2012, according to ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations reports. Data shows that in 2015 and 2016, however, the number of those deported dropped to 235,413 and 240,255, respectively.

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They’re all ruled by their intelligence services.

How The ‘Five Eyes’ Cooked Up The Campaign To Kill Huawei (SMH)

The man who runs an agency that unlocks electronic secrets had a poacher’s view of the threat: “Offence informs defence and defence informs offence. Or to put it another way, to catch a thief, you will need to think like one (or perhaps, be one).” Since then he has given a TV interview and opened a Twitter account with a lively first post; “Hi internet, ASD here. Long time listener, first time caller.” Burgess has even dabbled in some light trolling of Huawei. On November 21 when a Huawei executive boasted of successfully separating the core and access parts of a 5G network in New Zealand he tagged the ASD boss on his post. To the surprise of most Burgess replied; “Thanks for sharing. In my business I’ve never seen anything “fully isolated…”.

Seven days later New Zealand banned Huawei from supplying 5G equipment to mobile phone company Spark. Then on December 6, the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, David Vigneault, who had hosted the annual Five Eyes gathering, used his first ever public speech to warn of an emerging threat. “CSIS has seen a trend of state-sponsored espionage in fields that are crucial to Canada’s ability to build and sustain a prosperous, knowledge-based economy,” he said. “I’m talking about areas such as AI [artificial intelligence], quantum technology, 5G, biopharma and clean tech. In other words, the foundation of Canada’s future growth.”

No one was in any doubt he was talking about China. A formal ban on Huawei and ZTE from Ottawa is expected within weeks. A day after the Canadian spy boss spoke, the head of MI6 was on his feet at his old Scottish university, St Andrews. In a speech described as “rare” he warned that “much of the evolving state threat is about our opponents’ increasingly innovative exploitation of modern technology”.

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Weakish piece, but the point must be made.

The Russia Investigations: A Case Still Unproven (NPR)

Editor’s Note: This story has been edited to make it clear that it is analysis and that the allegations of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians remain unproven.

Political and legal danger for President Trump may be sharpening by the day, but the case that his campaign might have conspired with the Russian attack on the 2016 election is still unproven despite two years of investigations, court filings and even numerous convictions and guilty pleas. Trump has been implicated in ordering a scheme to silence two women ahead of Election Day in 2016 about the alleged sexual relationships they had with him years before. That is a serious matter, or it might have been in other times, but this scheme is decidedly not a global conspiracy with a foreign power to steal the election.

More broadly, the president and his supporters say, the payments to the women in 2016 are penny ante stuff: Breaking campaign finance law, if that did take place, isn’t like committing murder, said one lawyer for the president. The “biased” Justice Department is just grasping at straws to use something against Trump because it hasn’t been able to locate a “smocking gun,” as Trump wrote this week, that would tie his campaign in with Russia’s active measures in 2016.

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What does the BBC want? For Russia to stop laughing? Look through your own coverage and see where Russia was accused of god knows what without proper evidence. If that happened to you, you’d be laughing too. There’s nothing else left. it’s not as if Russia is allowed to defend itself.

How Putin’s Russia Turned Humour Into A Weapon (BBC)

In the dying days of the Soviet Union, Russians used humour to escape the bleak reality of economic stagnation, food shortages and long queues. Political satire flourished on TV in the form of latex puppets during the 1990s, but it was quickly slapped down when Vladimir Putin came to power. In today’s Russia, where the media is largely controlled by the Kremlin and its allies, there is little room for genuine political humour unless it is used to deflect the blame from the government. Humour and ridicule were a key part of Moscow’s response when the UK said it was “highly likely” that Russia was behind the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury.

Russian officials and media figures have since tried to turn the English phrase “highly likely” into a mocking catchphrase that implies Russia is being blamed for everything with the flimsiest of evidence. They have enlisted a range of popular figures from English literature, such as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, to ridicule British allegations of Russian involvement in the poisoning which they denounce as unfounded. [..] One spoof job advert joked that the GRU was “looking for employees for its cyber-attack department, chemical weapons department and election-meddling unit. There is no need to apply – we will find you ourselves”. Ben Nimmo, an Atlantic Council researcher on Russian disinformation, told the BBC that attempts to create funny memes were part of the strategy as “disinformation for the information age”.

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Late night talk shows are dead. Smothered in the echo chamber.

Late Night Swapped Laughs For Lusting After Mueller (S.us)

If the late night ‘comedy’ of the Trump era has something resembling a ‘message,’ it’s that large segments of the nation’s liberal TV viewership are nervously tracking every Russia development with a passion that cannot be conducive to mental health – or for that matter, political efficacy. One feature of the Mueller saga is the enormous amount of energy that has been expended on venerating and defending him; energies which, at least theoretically, could have been directed toward doing something useful. The trend seems to reflect the total political enervation of this class of people – elite liberal culture-producers and consumers – who are still whipsawing between two-bit schemes to topple Trump, while in the process glossing over (or ignoring, or ridiculing) the structural forces which gave rise to Trump in the first place.

Their expressions of comedic angst actually render them more and more politically impotent. Democrats’ success in the midterms may have given the false assurance that a critical mass of the country actually respects this drivel. To understand how late night comedy got so uniquely tedious, it’s instructive to consider Colbert in particular. He first emerged as a protegée of Jon Stewart, whose Daily Show received such adulation in the early-and-mid 2000s because Stewart appeared to be doing something different and, yes, subversive – castigating the media for its illogical deference to power, a sorely needed antidote in the years of George W. Bush. (Whether this schtick was truly subversive is another question, but it did at least seem that way for a time.)

The popular TV comedians of today, conversely, are the polar opposite of subversive. Nothing about their daily pillorying of Trump challenges conventional wisdom, because unrestrained personal animus for Trump is the defining characteristic of conventional wisdom. When Bush was waging the Iraq War, he did so bolstered by a media consensus that cast him and his cause in an honorable light, and depicted his critics as screeching anti-war freaks. Even before he was inaugurated, Trump has been heaped with a level of scorn so ferocious that it would have made Dick Cheney blush.

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May 072017
 
 May 7, 2017  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Rembrandt Old Man Sitting 1631

 

The Great Productivity Slowdown (WSJ)
Take Away Finance, and Britain’s Foreign Investment Figures Collapse (Econ.)
Round 2 Of French Presidential Elections Held Amid State Of Emergency (RT)
Charles Gave Expects “Total Mayhem” In France Even If Macron Is Elected (ZH)
Angry Merkel Slaps Down Juncker For Inflaming Brexit Talks (DM)
Far-Right ‘Terror Plot’ Rocks The German Army (AFP)
World Bank Warns Of China Debt Risk From Backdoor Local Borrowing (AFR)
Spain’s Government Presses Property-Bubble Rewind Button (DQ)
We Are On The Edge Of The Abyss But We Ignore It (G.)
The End of Wild Elephants: Africa To Become One Giant Food Farm (G.)
IMF Wants Greek Opposition To Promise Not To Reverse Agreed Measures (K.)
Greece Can Never Pay Its Debts. So Why Not Admit It? (Worstall)
EU’s Moscovici: Macron Will Be Greece’s Ally (Ana)
Bangladesh Now Single Biggest Country of Origin for EU-Bound Migrants (Ind.)

 

 

One thing nobody seems to be able to figure out. And one more thing that everyone thinks should keep on growing.

The Great Productivity Slowdown (WSJ)

Equity markets have hit multiyear highs and consumer sentiment is buoyant. Yet economic productivity remains lackluster. The Labor Department announced Thursday that worker productivity fell 0.6% since January, a much bigger drop than expected. This is neither a statistical illusion nor a hangover from the Great Recession. The productivity slowdown began long before the financial crisis, and it has worsened markedly in the past six years. The drop-off extends to wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing, construction, utilities and a host of private and public services. Industries that consume and produce information technology and communications are not immune to the slowdown. From 1950 to 1970, U.S. productivity grew on average by 2.6% annually. From 1970 to 1990 it fell to 1.5%.

The information technology boom of the ’90s interrupted the slide, but since 2010 U.S. productivity growth has been in free fall. It is now roughly 0.6% a year. No wonder Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen recently called low productivity a “significant problem.” Various estimates suggest that had U.S. productivity growth not slowed, GDP would be about $3 trillion higher than it is today. How is this happening during a technological revolution? Some think the data are wrong. Economist Joel Mokyr explained in 2014 that metrics devised for a “steel-and-wheat economy” fail to capture adequately transformative advances in information technology, communications and the biosciences. Technology has reduced the cost of information, expanded consumer choice, and provided customization and better price comparison.

This progress has been mostly missed in current statistics. GDP also does not fully capture metrics like time saved from shopping online. Nor does it include the value of leisure and the well-being that technology provides its users. Many economists contend that properly counting free digital services from companies like Google and Facebook would substantially boost productivity and GDP growth. One of the highest estimates, calculated by economists Austan Goolsbee and Peter Klenow, stands at $800 billion. That’s a big number, but not big enough to fill a $3 trillion hole.

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Talking about reasons productivity is not growing…

Take Away Finance, and Britain’s Foreign Investment Figures Collapse (Econ.)

Here is a riddle. Britain, for now at least, is loved by foreign investors. The stock of inward foreign direct investment (FDI) in Britain’s assets and shares is larger than anywhere except America and Hong Kong. In the past decade overseas investors have splurged some £600bn ($772bn), equivalent to a third of British GDP, to acquire over 2,000 British firms. The textbooks say that foreign investments make a country more productive. The new arrivals should bring with them cutting-edge capital assets and best-practice management. So why over the past decade has Britain’s productivity barely improved? The question matters for all Britons. If productivity growth is low, then wage growth will be too. Many factors determine Britain’s weak productivity growth, including creaky infrastructure. But new official data suggest that foreign investors are doing a lot less to improve the economy than commonly assumed.

The figures classify FDI flows into around 100 industries. In 2015 financial services accounted for an astonishing 95% of net inflows. This could include, for instance, foreign funding for Britain’s burgeoning financial-technology sector. Finance was unusually dominant in 2015, though even in 2012-14 the industry made up around 60% of the net figure. Remove financial services, and overall in 2015 a tiny amount of net foreign investment flowed into Britain—a few billion pounds at best. Many industries saw “negative inflows”, suggesting that foreigners were actually disinvesting, selling assets they had acquired back to British firms, for instance. In 2015 they pulled around £20bn from the oil-and-gas sector. Perhaps £1.5bn drained from manufacturing. Finance aside, investors seem to see few profitable opportunities in Britain.

What foreign investment does flow into the “real” economy may make surprisingly little difference. Much of it seems to be about one big company horizontally acquiring another, perhaps with the aim of eliminating overlapping marketing costs (such as in the Kraft-Cadbury deal of 2010) or of acquiring a trophy asset (such as the Tata-Corus steelmaker deal of 2007). A chunk of investment in Britain, meanwhile, is a statistical by-product of big firms moving headquarters for tax purposes rather than anything meaningful. As Britain begins the process of leaving the EU, interest from foreign investors is only likely to shrink. If so, the prospects for the kind of foreign investment that lifts productivity will start to look even gloomier.

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Democracy and emergency. Odd pair.

Round 2 Of French Presidential Elections Held Amid State Of Emergency (RT)

French voters are heading to the polls to choose France’s next president. The presidential runoff between centrist Emmanuel Macron and right-wing Marine le Pen is the first to take place amid an ongoing state of emergency, introduced in the country after 2015 terrorist attacks. French authorities have introduced extra security measures for the poll. This time “more than 50,000 policemen, gendarmes will be deployed [across the country] on Sunday”, French interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told AFP on Thursday.Soldiers from Operation Sentinel will also “ensure security around polling stations and [will be able] to intervene immediately in case of any incident,” he added. Operation Sentinel was launched by the French Army in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack in January of 2015 and the subsequent Paris strikes.

Paris police promised that at least 12,000 soldiers and police were to be drafted to Paris and its surrounding suburbs on Sunday, with 5,000 of securing polling stations and guaranteeing public order, as cited by AFP. People on social media have been calling for protests on May 7, regardless of the election result. The hashtags #nimacronnilepen (neither Macron, nor Le Pen) and #SansMoiLe7Mai (May 7 without me) was launched after the first round of the elections on April 23. Macron won the first round by securing 24.01 percent of the votes to le Pen’s 21.3 percent. Demonstrations have rocked France following the 1st round vote with people rallying against both candidates. “Neither fatherland, nor the boss, neither le Pen nor Macron,” banners held by protesters read. The rallies have often resulted in violence with protesters throwing stones and smoke grenades and police and officers responding with tear gas.

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“..since they knew they were going to lose the election, they created a guy in a hologram that would run for them and prevent them from losing power.”

Charles Gave Expects “Total Mayhem” In France Even If Macron Is Elected (ZH)

Venerable French investor Charles Gave has been managing money and researching markets for over 40 years; as such France’s elder statesman of asset allocation perhaps best captures the mood ahead of the most crucial Presidential election in a generation. In conversation with Dr. Pippa Malmgren, Charles breaks down national politics to understand why voters have rejected the establishment and the market impact of both outcomes, and what to expect from tomorrow’s election. First, Gave, who says “I’m not so sure that Macron will win”, is asked by Malmgren to walk RealVision viewers through what Macron’s agenda would look like in case of a victory. Gave is unable to do so for several simple reasons:

“Well, first, nobody knows. Because during the whole campaign, all these talks were on one hand, on the other. I’m in favor of apple pie, and motherhood, you see. Basically he has, to my knowledge, very little program. So he’s running. That is what Hollande said. That he was going to make some fundamental changes without hurting people. And so Macron is a big, empty suit. That’s what he is. You did the right curriculum vitae, he went to the right schools. And you have the feeling that the guy never had an original idea in his life. He was always a good student.

And moreover, there is a strong suspicion that he’s a kind of golem created by Hollande and all these guys. So since they knew they were going to lose the election, they created a guy in a hologram that would run for them and prevent them from losing power. So to a certain extent, the French political system has been captured by what you can call the Technocratic class. And whether from the left or the right, it didn’t make any difference. And this Technocratic class is presenting Macron as a brand new fellow. He is nothing brand new. These guys have been in power for 50 years for God’s sakes. So this is basically nothing.

If Le Pen wins, it’s pretty simple. The bond market in France, Italy, Spain cannot open on Monday morning. And I suppose the euro is dead in the following week. And then you have to buy Europe like crazy. Southern Europe. Why Southern Europe? Because it is Germany’s markets that would bear the brunt of the selloff, as the dissolution of the euro and European Union would effectively bring about the end of Germany’s economic hegemony (while at the same time benefitting France). The Germans have made a colossal mistake, which is that they have all the production in Germany. So they’re extremely efficient, well-organized, and they have developed massive current account surpluses. Half of that surplus is in cars. The margin on cars is around 4%. Imagine that the euro breaks down.

The deutschmark comes back. The deutschmark goes up 15, 20%. And the whole German industry, all the production base in Germany, becomes bankrupt in no time at all. Compare that to France. France we have magnificent big companies that have been intelligent enough to produce everywhere in the world, to operate from everywhere in the world, and be totally independent from what’s happening in France. What they have in France is their headquarters. And that’s about it. So if Europe breaks, you should be long France on the stock market, and short Germany. Big time.”

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Good cop bad cop. Or should I say: here’s how you can tell who’s the boss in Europe?!

Angry Merkel Slaps Down Juncker For Inflaming Brexit Talks (DM)

A rift emerged between Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker last night after she reportedly accused him of ‘inflaming’ Brexit talks by leaking details of his row with Theresa May. The German Chancellor’s relations with the EU Commission president are said to have ‘soured’ after Mr Juncker described Mrs May as living in ‘another galaxy’ following a recent dinner. According to German newspaper Der Spiegel, which has close links with Merkel’s government, she believes the leaking of private conversations – blamed on Juncker – ‘is not helpful in heating up the mood in this way’. The Der Spiegel article, headlined ‘Merkel angered by Juncker at Brexit dinner’, said it had made her mood ‘sour’ towards him. Juncker’s ‘another galaxy’ comment was made in a telephone call with Mrs Merkel after he clashed with Mrs May over dinner in Downing Street 11 days ago.

Juncker reportedly told Mrs Merkel: ‘It went very badly. She is in a different galaxy.’ The leak was blamed on Mr Juncker or his formidable German chief of staff, Martin Selmayr. In remarks clearly aimed at Mr Juncker, a furious Mrs May responded to the leaks last week by accusing ‘the bureaucrats of Brussels’ of trying to influence the General Election. But a defiant Mr Juncker took another swipe at Britain on Friday by claiming at a European Union summit in Italy that the English language was already ‘losing its importance in Europe’. The Der Spiegel article echoed public comments made by Mrs Merkel on Friday in which she struck a markedly more conciliatory tone towards Mrs May than outspoken Mr Juncker. She stressed that she would approach Brexit negotiations ‘fairly and constructively’. Mrs Merkel denied she aimed to cause trouble in the Brexit talks and said she wanted ‘clarity and security as quickly as possible’ for EU residents in Britain, including about 100,000 Germans.

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Germany’s much less serene than it seems.

Far-Right ‘Terror Plot’ Rocks The German Army (AFP)

The bizarre case of a racist soldier allegedly plotting an attack while posing as a Syrian refugee and several abuse scandals have sparked a war of words between Germany’s defence minister and the military. It is a dangerous political battle for Ursula von der Leyen, the first woman in charge of the armed forces, who is often mentioned as a potential successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel. The mother-of-seven has sternly criticised military “attitude and leadership problems”, highlighted by the case of the soldier and by recent sexual abuse and hazing scandals. This in turn has made her a target of chastened rank-and-file soldiers who charge she is tarring them all while dodging personal responsibility after more than three years on the job.

The escalating conflict started with the arrest a week ago of 28-year-old army lieutenant Franco Albrecht, who was stationed at a Franco-German base near Strasbourg. He came to the notice of the authorities after Austrian police caught him with a loaded handgun at the Vienna airport in February. The subsequent investigation found that, amid Germany’s 2015 mass influx of refugees, he had created a fake identity as a Damascus fruit seller called “David Benjamin”. Incredibly, the German who speaks no Arabic managed to gain political asylum, a spot in a refugee shelter and monthly state benefits for his fictitious alter ego. Prosecutors charge that Albrecht harboured far-right views and, with at least one co-conspirator, plotted an attack with the apparent aim of discrediting foreigners.

Media reports say he kept “death lists” with the names of top politicians, including former president Joachim Gauck, some cabinet ministers and left-leaning, anti-fascist MPs. It has since emerged that the lieutenant had expressed rightwing extremist views in a master’s thesis he submitted in 2014, in which he theorised about the end of Western civilisation through immigration. In the paper seen by AFP, he argued that immigration was causing a “genocide” in western Europe, adding that “this is a mathematical certainty”. However, the paper was buried, without disciplinary action – something the minister attributed to a “misunderstood esprit de corps” and superior officers who “looked the other way”.

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I’ve mentioned the power of Chinese shadow banking a thousand times. That power is still growing.

World Bank Warns Of China Debt Risk From Backdoor Local Borrowing (AFR)

The World Bank has warned that Chinese local governments remain addicted to off-budget borrowing, despite Beijing’s efforts to impose fiscal discipline on localities and curb ballooning debt. Runaway growth of local government debt is widely seen as a huge risk for China’s economy and financial system. Provinces, cities and counties borrowed heavily to spend on infrastructure to keep economic growth humming after the 2008 financial crisis. But the practice has continued and economists warn that returns on new investment are falling and white elephants are common. Many projects do not produce enough cash flow to service their debt. In 2014 China moved to eliminate borrowing through special-purpose vehicles, which local officials had used to circumvent a legal ban on direct borrowing.

Under the moniker of “close the back door, open the front door”, China’s parliament ended the legal ban, enabling localities to borrow within clear limits set by Beijing. Meanwhile, local government finance vehicles were ordered to cease disguised fiscal borrowing. To deal with legacy debt, Rmb8tn ($US1.2tn) in outstanding local government funding vehicle (LGFV) borrowing was converted into on-budget provincial debt through a bond swap. But growth of LGFV debt has actually accelerated since 2015, the World Bank warned in a confidential March presentation obtained by the Financial Times. Despite the swap programme, “LGFVs continued to borrow and increase their liabilities at a very rapid pace” in 2015-16, the bank’s lead China economist John Litwack and analyst Luan Zhao said.

Local governments and their LGFVs account for “the vast majority of public expenditures and public investment”, they noted, adding that “government and LGFV finances [are] intertwined in complicated ways, making separation difficult in practice”. Growth of LGFV liabilities accelerated from 22% in 2014 to 25% in 2015 and stayed high at 22% in the first half of 2016, the authors found. The presentation noted that Beijing’s effort to stop the use of LGFVs as quasi-fiscal entities may have unintentionally encouraged them to increase borrowing. Local fiscal authorities are now forbidden from officially monitoring LGFV finances, since to do so would imply that the government stands behind their debt. “Instructions to no longer even monitor finances of LGFVs can give a dangerous impression of ‘free money’,” the presentation warned.

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Especially in euro countries, governments need mortgage loans for money/credit creation. Their governments and central banks lost that ability.

Spain’s Government Presses Property-Bubble Rewind Button (DQ)

After spending the last few years groggily getting back onto its feet following the collapse of one of the most spectacular — and destructive — real estate bubbles of this century, Spain’s economy is once again being primed for another property boom. In the last quarter prices registered a year-on-year rise of 4.5%. Rents are also surging, though the country is still home to over half a million vacant properties. The cost of renting in Madrid and Barcelona, which between them account for 16% of those vacant properties, has reached historic highs, according to a new study by the online real estate market place Idealista. In Madrid, rents have risen on average by 27% since 2013; in Barcelona they’ve surged over 50%.

This trend is being driven by two main factors: the recent explosion in tourist rentals, as well as a general shift in consumer behavior as more and more people choose (or have little choice but) to rent rather than buy property. While rents soar, Spain’s mortgage market, the biggest source of profits for the nation’s banks, is also showing signs of life. In 2016 the number of mortgages issued rose by just over 10% to 281,328. But that’s merely a fraction of the 1,324,522 mortgages signed in 2006, just before the bubble burst. The banks would like nothing better than to issue more and bigger mortgages, but even with interest rates at their lowest point in history, most people either can’t afford the current prices or don’t want to take on more debt. Spain’s fragile coalition government is determined to change that.

In its latest budget announcement it revealed plans to set aside billions of euros in 2018 for publicly funded mortgage subsidies. Young people under the age of 35 who are earning gross incomes of less than €1,600 per month will be eligible for payments of up to €10,800 to help them buy their first home. There will also be rental subsidies for people under the age of 35, for up to half the price of the rent. [..] In Spain today there are roughly two million fewer people under the age of 40 in full-time employment than there were in 2006, due to a variety of factors: demographics (i.e. there are now fewer people under the age of 40), rampant job destruction, and the mass exodus of young Spaniards to greener pastures. Even for many of those that chose to stay behind and actually found work, the reality is still alarmingly bleak.

According to the Spanish daily ABC, of the 1.7 million job contracts signed in December last year, over 92% were for temporary jobs. Since the Financial Crisis, precarity has become the ubiquitous reality for most young Spaniards. Many end up earning so little in jobs that offer scant, if any, financial security that they have little choice but to stay at home with their parents, sometimes well into their thirties. According to data released this week by Eurostat, the average Spaniard does not move out of the family residence until they are 29 years old. If Spain’s new, dwindling generation of “workers” cannot afford to leave home, who will buy or rent the properties sitting idle on the balance sheets of the banks, “bad bank” Sareb, and the global private equity firms that piled into the market a few years ago?

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We are designed to ignore distant danger, so we can better prepare for what’s near.

We Are On The Edge Of The Abyss But We Ignore It (G.)

[..] the evidence tells us that so powerful have humans become that we have entered this new and dangerous geological epoch, which is defined by the fact that the human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system. This bizarre situation, in which we have become potent enough to change the course of the Earth yet seem unable to regulate ourselves, contradicts every modern belief about the kind of creature the human being is. So for some it is absurd to suggest that humankind could break out of the boundaries of history and inscribe itself as a geological force in deep time. Humans are too puny to change the climate, they insist, so it is outlandish to suggest we could change the geological time scale.

Others assign the Earth and its evolution to the divine realm, so that it is not merely impertinence to suggest that humans can overrule the almighty, but blasphemy. Many intellectuals in the social sciences and humanities do not concede that Earth scientists have anything to say that could impinge on their understanding of the world, because the “world” consists only of humans engaging with humans, with nature no more than a passive backdrop to draw on as we please. The “humans-only” orientation of the social sciences and humanities is reinforced by our total absorption in representations of reality derived from media, encouraging us to view the ecological crisis as a spectacle that takes place outside the bubble of our existence.

It is true that grasping the scale of what is happening requires not only breaking the bubble but also making the cognitive leap to “Earth system thinking” – that is, conceiving of the Earth as a single, complex, dynamic system. It is one thing to accept that human influence has spread across the landscape, the oceans and the atmosphere, but quite another to make the jump to understanding that human activities are disrupting the functioning of the Earth as a complex, dynamic, ever-evolving totality comprised of myriad interlocking processes.

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China is a major factor in this, as much as growing population is.

The End of Wild Elephants: Africa To Become One Giant Food Farm (G.)

Elephants are in big trouble. Even if we beat poaching and illegal trade, their potential doom has been sealed in projections for population growth, and has already been priced into the commonly accepted solutions to how we humans plan to feed ourselves well into the century – by looking to Africa to be our next big breadbasket. Africa is home to 1.2 billion people, but by 2050 that number is likely to double, and may well double again by the end of the century to reach well over 4 billion. Globally, we may exceed 11 billion souls. This is of course a cause for celebration and a testament to the huge strides we’ve made in public health. We’ve all but beaten polio and yellow fever, mother and child mortality has plummeted, and we’re making headway in the fight against malaria.

Another cause for celebration is the confidence, energy and entrepreneurship in many parts of the African continent – a spirit that is unmatched anywhere in the world. It’s easy to see we’re on the cusp of enormous positive change. The obvious flipside is the environmental disaster waiting to happen. This has been compounded by number crunchers who are leaving the future of our planet’s fragile ecosystems out of the equation as they try to come up with answers about how to fill billions of bellies. Several scenarios for cropland expansion – many of them focusing on Africa’s so-called “spare land” – have already effectively written off its elephants from having a future in the wild. These projections have earmarked a huge swathe of land spanning from Nigeria to South Sudan for farming, or parts of west Africa for conversion to palm oil plantations.

Economies are already being structured for the future, and are locking us into an unsustainable path to the tune of Feed the World – but with Africa providing the food. Some models suggest that 29% of the existing elephant range is affected by infrastructure development, human population growth and rapid urban and agricultural expansion; that may rise to 63% by 2050. If we continue like this, elephants will see more of their migration routes become narrow corridors before being eventually severed. Inevitably, as competitors for space, elephants will fight it out with us. But being the dominant species on this planet, we will win. And Africa will become a giant farm.

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ROund 2 of democracy and emergency.

IMF Wants Greek Opposition To Promise Not To Reverse Agreed Measures (K.)

The European Commission will bring down its 2017 growth estimate for Greece next week, a eurozone official said on Friday, adding that the IMF wants main opposition New Democracy to make a commitment not to reverse the reforms that the government has agreed to in the context of the bailout review should it come to power. “This is important for them,” the official said of the IMF’s demand, while adding that the eurozone has not asked for such a commitment, although it agrees it is always better to have consensus on the reforms applied. The same official said that the Commission will reduce its estimate for the Greek economic recovery this year from 2.7% “to around 2%” on May 11.

Sources say that a downward revision by the Commission of its forecast to 1.9% would not lead to a shift in its general estimate regarding Greece’s fiscal course, so it does not entail the risk of any new measures. The latest IMF forecast regarding the Greek economy was for a 2.2% expansion. If all goes well, the disbursement of the next bailout tranche will take place just before the July repayment deadline, when Greece must pay €7.4 billion to its creditors. As the European official said, if there is a final agreement at the May 22 Eurogroup, which is the optimum scenario, it will take four to five weeks for the tranche payment to clear the parliaments of eurozone member-states where necessary.

If one also takes into account the time needed for the approval by the IMF council, it will take up to six weeks, which means early July. The amount of the tranche will come to about 7 billion euros, plus the funds needed for the state to pay off its expired debts to suppliers and taxpayers until the next review comes up. The disbursement will be paid in a lump sum, but only after all prior actions have been ratified by Greece. The second review had no fewer than 140 prior actions required, of which 40 have been satisfied. Of the remainder there are about 80 that either require new legislation or presidential decrees.

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“..what should have happened was the standard IMF programme: a haircut on the debt, devalue the currency and a bit of a loan to tide things over until growth returned.”

Greece Can Never Pay Its Debts. So Why Not Admit It? (Worstall)

Peace, sweetness and light break out in the Balkans as we’re told that the EU, the eurogroup, the IMF, Greece, the ECB and Uncle Tom Cobley agree over a Greek debt deal. Except, of course, that agreement hasn’t been reached, because the major point at issue is still being glossed over. That major point being that Greece simply isn’t going to repay all of that debt. So we still need to work out who is going to lose money, and when. Debts which cannot be repaid will not be repaid. That’s why we have bankruptcy in the first place. Or, when it comes to sovereign nations, we have debt rescheduling and IMF programmes instead of bankruptcy. When the Greek crisis first blew up, what should have happened was the standard IMF programme: a haircut on the debt, devalue the currency and a bit of a loan to tide things over until growth returned.

This is similar to the approach taken by Iceland – which has already recovered while Greece languishes – and is what the IMF has been doing for decades in other places. The one thing standing between Greece and this approach was the euro. In order to protect the integrity of the single currency, debts to the private sector banks were refinanced by public money from varying combinations of the EU itself, the ECB, the eurogroup (the group of eurozone finance ministers), the IMF and so on. This is the crucial point. There are no private sector capitalists left. If there were, we could simply say “you lost your money, better luck next time”. Instead there are only official creditors, run by politicians, who have their voters wondering what has happened or will happen to their money. For it is still true that Greece cannot repay those debts, and therefore Greece will not repay them.

All that can change is who will lose money and when. Unsurprisingly, politicians are keen to delay the inevitable until they have retired and are collecting their pensions. That the Greeks have to see theirs cut in the interim is just bad luck. This may sound terribly cynical but allow me explain the thinking. There are the true federalists happy to sacrifice a country on the altar of the euro and ever closer union, as long as the losses – losses of their own voters’ money – come to light later.

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But Merkel will not, and that’s what counts.

EU’s Moscovici: Macron Will Be Greece’s Ally (Ana)

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron will support Greece and be Athens’ ally if he is elected, European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Pierre Moscovici told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency in an exclusive statement, one day before the second round of the elections in France. “I have no doubt that with Emmanuel Macron as President, yes, Greece will continue to have a friend in France, a president friend and a government friend, and this is why these elections are also important for the Greeks,” Moscovici said, adding he has worked with Macron in the past for the Greek program.

“I know Emmanuel Macron very well. We worked together when I was finance minister, when he was deputy secretary-general next to Francois Hollande, to find positive positions concerning Greece, for Greece. France is a country who’s a friend of Greece. It will remain [a friend]” he continued. Moscovici said that being friend of Greece means, on the one hand, to encourage and follow the efforts for reforms until the end but it also means solidarity from its partners.

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Europe must find an actual response to this, or face a lot of struggle. There are too many people living in all these countries.

Bangladesh Now Single Biggest Country of Origin for EU-Bound Migrants (Ind.)

As the refugee crisis enters its fourth year, the demographics of the men, women and children arriving on Europe’s shores are undergoing an unprecedented shift. Syrians have so far made up the largest group of migrants attempting treacherous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea, followed by Afghans, Iraqis, Eritreans and sub-Saharan Africans. But as smugglers in Libya continue to expand their ruthless human trade, their counterparts in Asia are seeing an opportunity. In the first three months of last year just one Bangladeshi arrived in Italy, but the number for 2017 stands at more than 2,800, making the country the largest single origin of migrants currently arriving on European shores.

Those rescued in the Mediterranean Sea have told aid workers they paid more than $10,000 each to be taken from Dhaka to Dubai or Turkey and onwards to Libya, where the violence and chaos engulfing the fractured country is fuelling powerful smuggling networks. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said the emerging route had dramatically changed the demographics of asylum seekers arriving in Italy, who until now have largely hailed from sub-Saharan Africa. “The thing that’s really changing is the main nationality of the migrants, and the number coming from Bangladesh,” IOM’s Flavio di Giacomo told The Independent.

“By the end of March last year only one Bangladeshi had arrived in Italy – and this year the number is more than 2,831 for the same period.” Some migrants taken ashore in Sicily and Apulia said their trip to Libya was organised by an “agency” that provided them with a working visa for between $3,000 and $4,000. “From Bangladesh, they first travelled to Dubai and Turkey, and finally reached Libya by plane,” an IOM spokesperson said. “At the airport, an ‘employer’ met them and took their documents.”

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Feb 232017
 
 February 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Colored drivers entrance, U.S. 1, NY Avenue, Washington, DC 1940

 

The Absolute Dominance Of The US Economy, In One Chart (MW)
Trump Scorns the IMF’s Globalism, and Now He Gets to Vote on It
The Problem with Gold-Backed Currencies (CHS)
What’s So Great About Europe? (BBG)
Italy Warned by EU Over High Public Debt With Spillover Risk (BBG)
‘Spain Is Ruined For 50 Years’ (Exp.)
Why Greece’s Crisis Has Broken All Previous Records (K.)
Millions In UK Are Just One Unpaid Bill Away From The Abyss (G.)
Oz Reserve Bank Interest Rate Moves Limited By High Debt, House Prices (AbcAu)
Exxon Wiped A Whopping 19.3% Of Its Oil Reserves Off Its Books In 2016 (Q.)
Turkish Provocations Test Greek Resolve (K.)
Greece Okays Asylum Requests Of 10,000 Refugees (K.)

 

 

Not sure that’s what I get from the graph.

The Absolute Dominance Of The US Economy, In One Chart (MW)

Despite the bleak picture painted by President Donald Trump of the U.S. as a country in disarray, America’s status as an economic superpower is still very much intact, even as China steadily closes the gap. The U.S. economy, as measured by GDP, is by far the largest in the world at $18.04 trillion. China, the closest thing the U.S. has for a competitor, is No. 2 with a GDP of $11 trillion, while Japan is a distant third with $4.38 trillion. As the chart by HowMuch.net illustrates, the U.S. accounts for about a quarter of the global economy, nearly 10 percentage points more than China’s 14.84%. Put another way, the U.S. economy is roughly equivalent to the combined GDPs of the eight next-biggest countries after China — Japan, Germany, the U.K., France, India, Italy, Brazil and Canada.

However, the narrative shifts when countries are grouped by geography, with Asia clearly in the lead. The region, denoted in yellow in the chart, contributed 33.84% to the global GDP. “Asia’s economic center of gravity is in the east, with China, Japan and South Korea together generating almost as much GDP as the U.S.,” said Raul Amoros at HowMuch.net. North America follows Asia at 27.95%, and Europe trails at 21.37%. The three blocs combined represent about 83% of the world’s economic activity. The chart also highlights the chasm between wealthy and poor countries. South America’s four largest economies — Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia — only add up to 4% of the global GDP, while Africa’s three biggest — South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria — account for around 1.5%.

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I picked the last bit of the article.

Trump Scorns the IMF’s Globalism, and Now He Gets to Vote on It

The IMF has already survived one major mission-change. It’s known today as the lender of last resort to countries facing balance-of-payments crises. But in its first three decades, the Fund managed the world’s currency order. That was the role assigned at Bretton Woods in 1944, when the IMF and World Bank were set up. Forty-five nations attended the summit, but two men dominated it: John Maynard Keynes and America’s Harry Dexter White. From the back of her car in Uganda, Lagarde calls them the “founding fathers.” Their goal was to avoid a repeat of the 1930s, when competitive devaluations and tariff wars led to the collapse of world trade. Keynes wanted the IMF to act as a central bank of central banks, denominating their accounts in a new global currency. It would let members devalue or borrow with relative ease. Both creditors and debtors would pay interest on their holdings, discouraging large trade surpluses as well as deficits.

White’s plan was more creditor-friendly, reflecting the U.S. position as world lender. There would be no new currency: IMF members would tie their money to the dollar. They couldn’t devalue without consulting the Fund, and were only supposed to borrow short-term to close balance-of-payments gaps. “The British wanted an automatic source of credit, the Americans a financial policeman,” wrote Keynes’s biographer Robert Skidelsky. The English economist was one of the 20th century’s sharpest thinkers, but it was the U.S. Treasury official who got his way. The system turned out to have a flaw: It depended on the supply of U.S. dollars backed by gold. That link came under pressure as America, financing social programs at home and war in Vietnam, slipped into persistent deficit. In 1971, President Richard Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard, ending phase one at the IMF.

Today there’s a patchwork of floating rates, pegs and currency unions like the euro. It’s not working to everyone’s satisfaction – notably Trump’s. His team has called out several countries, from China to Germany, for gaming the system. Money courses around that system on a scale that would have been unimaginable at Bretton Woods. Massive trade imbalances built up. The dollar remains central. The risks were laid bare in 2008, when a collapsed U.S. housing bubble led to world recession. Since then, some financial leaders – among them the governor of the People’s Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan, and his U.K. counterpart Mark Carney – have gently hinted that something more like Keynes’s plan might be in order, to reduce the world’s dollar dependency.

Lagarde doesn’t see that happening on her watch. “It didn’t happen in 1944, when the world had destroyed itself,” she said. “I’m not a dreamer.” She argues instead that what the IMF is doing today will remain useful tomorrow. Countries will always be getting in a financial mess. Someone has to clean it up. Ukraine needed money in 2015: without the IMF, “where would the $17.5 billion come from? Whose pocket would it be?”

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The curse of the reserve currency. And if you look a bit deeper, any gold-backed currency.

The Problem with Gold-Backed Currencies (CHS)

There is something intuitively appealing about the idea of a gold-backed currency –money backed by the tangible value of gold, i.e. “the gold standard.” Instead of intrinsically worthless paper money (fiat currency), gold-backed money would have real, enduring value–it would be “hard currency”, i.e. sound money, because it would be convertible to gold itself. Many proponents of sound money identify President Nixon’s ending of the U.S. dollar’s gold standard in 1971 as the cause of the nation’s financial decline. If our currency was still convertible to gold, the thinking goes, the system would never have allowed the vast pile of debt to accumulate. The problem with this line of thinking is that it is disconnected from the real-world mechanisms of capital flows and the way money is created in our financial system.

This article explains why Nixon took the USD off the gold standard: since the U.S. was running trade deficits, all of America’s gold would have been transferred to the exporting nations. America’s gold reserves would have disappeared, leaving nothing to back the dollar. The U.S. Empire Would Have Collapsed Decades Ago If It Didn’t Abandon The Gold Standard. The problem to sound-money proponents is trade deficits: if the U.S. only had trade surpluses, then the gold would not drain away. But Triffin’s Paradox explains why this doesn’t work for a reserve currency: a reserve currency has two distinct sets of users: domestic users and global users. Each has different needs, so there is a built-in conflict between the two sets of users.

Global users of the USD need enormous quantities of dollars to use as reserves, to pay debts denominated in USD and to facilitate international trade. The only way the issuing nation can provide enough currency to meet this global demand is to run large, permanent trade deficits–in effect, “exporting” dollars in exchange for goods and services. This is the paradox: to maintain the “exorbitant privilege” of a reserve currency, a nation must “export” its currency in size; a nation that runs trade surpluses cannot supply the world with enough of its currency to act as a reserve currency.

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That is one damning set of numbers.

What’s So Great About Europe? (BBG)

A woman said that maybe the problem with the European Union – or at least the common currency, the euro – was that it was too advantageous to Germany. “Because we have a common currency, we get an edge in exports,” she said. “I profit from this. Thanks!” “Do you think this is harming our neighbor countries?” Armbruster asked. “Yes, definitely,” she responded. “Germany was always a problem in Europe,” interjected Andre Wilkens, a Berlin-based policy wonk who was one of the evening’s featured speakers but mostly sat and listened. “The EU was formed to solve that problem.” Others got up to say that Europe needed more solidarity, with Germans leading the way. It needed more of a sense of community. More attention needed to be paid to the millions of jobless young people in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Then things shifted to straight-out Euroenthusiasm. “To be totally honest, I think Europe is super,” said a woman sitting in the front row. Added a man a few rows back: “There are problems that we Germans alone can’t solve.” By working together with the rest of Europe, he went on, Germany had a better shot at fighting climate change and preventing war. It isn’t exactly news that a bunch of people gathered in a theater in downtown Stuttgart support the idea of Europe and even, for the most part, the reality of the European Union. The home of Daimler, Porsche and Robert Bosch is one of the continent’s great economic success stories – and its residents’ political views aren’t necessarily shared by other Germans. On the whole, Germans see the EU in a more positive light than the citizens of most other European countries (I’ve included the 10 most populous EU member countries in the chart below), but they’re still pretty negative about it.

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All Italy can do is pretend. And Brussels likes it that way.

Italy Warned by EU Over High Public Debt With Spillover Risk (BBG)

The European Commission warned that Italy faces excessive economic imbalances as the country’s shaky center-left government struggles to control public debt, boost sluggish growth and mend ailing banks. Troubles including soured bank loans risk spilling into other euro-area countries, the commission said on Wednesday. Italy’s public debt is projected to rise to 133.3% of gross domestic product this year from an estimated 132.8% in 2016. “High government debt and protracted weak productivity dynamics imply risks with cross-border relevance looking forward, in a context of high non-performing loans and unemployment,” the European Union’s executive arm in Brussels said in a set of annual policy recommendations to EU governments. Italy is struggling to maintain government stability amid infighting in the ruling Democratic Party, where some members are pushing for early elections.

The country also faces sluggish GDP growth of 0.9% this year and lingering issues at domestic banks, which are weighed down by €360 billion of bad loans that have eroded profitability, undermined investor confidence and curtailed new lending. “The stock of non-performing loans has only started to stabilize and still weighs on banks’ profits and lending policies, while capitalization needs may emerge in a context of difficult access to equity markets,” the commission said. In May it plans to recommend whether Italy should be subject to a stricter oversight regime – one with fines as a last resort – for failing to keep public debt on a trajectory toward the EU limit of 60% of GDP. The assessment will take into account final economic data for 2016 and Italian government pledges to adopt by the end of April budget-austerity measures worth 0.2% of GDP.

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“We have a third world production model of speculators and waiters, with a labour market where the majority of jobs created are temporary and with remunerations of €600, the largest wage decline in living memory..”

‘Spain Is Ruined For 50 Years’ (Exp.)

A leading Spanish economist has hit out at the ECB saying “crazy” loans will ruin the lives of the population for the next 50 years.And it is only a matter of time before the Government is forced to default as a debt bubble and low wages effectively forge the worst declines in “living memory”. Leading economist Roberto Centeno, who was an advisor to US president Donald Trump’s election team on hispanic issues, says the country has borrowed €603 billion that it cannot conceivably pay back. And he says Spanish politicians including Minister of Economy Luis de Guindos are “insulting their intelligence” after doing back door deals with the ECB. In a blog post Mr Centeno says there needs to be audits so the country can understand the magnitude of its debt mountain.

He said Spain was “moving steadily towards the suspension of payments which is the result of out of control public waste, financed with the largest debt bubble in our history, supported by the ECB with its crazy policy of zero interest rate expansion and without any supervision.” The expert added the doomed situation will “lead to the ruin of several generations of Spaniards over the next 50 years”. And that current Prime Minister Rajoy has employed 2500 special advisors in his central government as opposed to other leaders. He said: ”Our economic future requires drastic decisions to cut public waste, such as eliminating thousands of useless public companies, thousands of useless advisers, [Prime Minister Mariano] Rajoy has 2,500 in Moncloa, compared to Obama’s 600, Merkel’s 400 or the 250 working for Theresa May.

“There’s disastrous management of Health and Education, the cost of which has skyrocketed 60 per cent since they were transferred to the Autonomous Communities while the quality plummeted.” Mr Centento also said the Government and the European Union’s estimations of GDP are completely wrong and has presented them with figures he claims are accurate. He said the country is currently suffering from a “third world production model”. He added: “We have a third world production model of speculators and waiters, with a labour market where the majority of jobs created are temporary and with remunerations of €600, the largest wage decline in living memory, “And all this was completed with a broken pension system and an insolvent financial system.”

Forecasting an unprecedented shock to the European financial model, Mr Centento is calling for an immediate audit despite a recent revelation that the ECB is failing in its supervisory role over Europe’s banks. He also claimed the Spanish government and European Union leaders have been manipulating figures since 2008. Mr Centento said: “We will require the European Commission and Eurostat to audit and audit the Spanish accounting system for serious accounting discrepancies that may jeopardise stability. “The gigantic debt bubble accumulated by irresponsible governments, and that never ceases to grow, will be the ruin of several generations of Spaniards. “The Bank of Spain’s debt to the Eurosystem is the largest in Europe. “The day that the ECB minimally closes the tap of this type of financing or markets increase their risk aversion, the situation will be unsustainable.”

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A feature not a bug.

Why Greece’s Crisis Has Broken All Previous Records (K.)

How unique is the Greek crisis? Two charts tell the tragic tale. The first – from the International Monetary Fund’s recent Article IV report on Greece – compares four major economic crises that took place in the developed world in the last 100 years: the Great Depression in the United States, the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, the eurozone recession and Greece’s long collapse. Greece’s performance is by far the worse. The East Asian countries caught in the hurricane of 1997-8 returned to pre-crisis real GDP within three years. The eurozone needed six years, and today its real GDP is only 2% higher than the pre-crisis high point. The output of the US economy had shrunk by a quarter three years after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, but by 1936 it had recovered to pre-crisis levels. The Greek economy contracted by 26% in real terms between 2007 and 2013, and at the end of 2016 – nine years after the start of its own Great Depression – it remained stuck at the bottom.

The second chart, from the analysis service Macropolis, compares the performance of eight countries that have sought assistance from the IMF since 1997 seven years after the start of their programs. The Fund’s best student was Turkey, which doubled its GDP in real terms between 2000 and 2007. Russia was a close second, largely thanks to growth fueled by climbing oil and gas prices. South Korea comes next, with growth well above 50% from its baseline year, while Indonesia, Brazil and Thailand are hovering around 25%. The only countries which remained below their pre-crisis GDP levels seven years after seeking the Fund’s assistance are Argentina (in the aftermath of the 1998-2002 crisis) and Greece. At its low point, three years into its crisis, Argentina’s dollar-denominated GDP – largely because of the devaluation of the peso after the abolition of convertibility – had fallen by two-thirds compared to pre-crisis highs. At the seven-year mark, Argentina, unlike Greece, was experiencing a robust recovery.

Focusing on the comparison with the Great Depression in the United States, US unemployment peaked in May 1933 at 26%, to be cut by more than half by the end of 1936. In Greece it reached 28% in July 2013, and has since fallen to 23%. The Dow Jones Industrial index lost 85% of its value between August 1929 and May 1932, but it rose fourfold in the three-and-a-half years to the end of 1936 (another 23 years would pass, however, before it got back to pre-crisis levels).

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No, it’s not just the EU, or the euro.

“..an economic climate that is normalising low-income families having to live hand to mouth..”

Millions In UK Are Just One Unpaid Bill Away From The Abyss (G.)

As the cocktail of long-term austerity, rising living costs and a slumping post-Brexit economy hits, what’s really frightening is the crisis that is brewing but is barely being noticed. Look at this week’s finding that one in four families now have less than £95 in savings. That’s staggering, not simply because it gives an insight into how large swaths of families in Britain are clinging on financially in a climate of low wages, cut benefits and high rents, but also because it offers us a warning of how little it will take to push them over the edge. There are now 19 million people in this country living below the minimum income standard (an income required for what the wider public view as “socially acceptable” living standards), according to figures released by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) this month.

Around 8 million of them could be classed as Theresa May’s “just about managing” families: those who can, say, afford to put food on the table and clothe their children but are plagued by financial insecurity. The other 11 million live far below the minimum income standard and are, the JRF warns, “at high risk of falling into severe poverty”. We are entering a period not simply of growing hardship in this country but of what I would call precarious poverty: the sort that isn’t characterised by the traditional image of lifelong, deep-seated deprivation, but which can hit in a matter of days: a broken washing machine, a late child tax credit payment, an injury that leads to time off work. In an economic climate that is normalising low-income families having to live hand to mouth, increasingly, for a whole economic class, one small unexpected cost can trigger a spiral into debt.

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And now they’re stuck. This is where it gets risky.

Oz Reserve Bank Interest Rate Moves Limited By High Debt, House Prices (AbcAu)

Fears of inflating housing bubbles in Sydney and Melbourne are stopping the Reserve Bank from cutting interest rates to boost the economy, the central bank governor conceded today. The stark admission by Reserve Bank governor Phillip Lowe about the RBA’s dilemma comes as soaring house prices in the eastern states have Australians carrying “more debt than they ever have before”. Dr Lowe delivered the reality check at the Australia Canada Economic Leadership Forum, where he said low interest rates made it attractive for borrowers in both countries to invest in real estate, making further rate cuts an undesirable option. “We are trying to balance multiple objectives at the moment,” he said in response to questions after the speech.

“We’d like the economy to grow a bit more quickly and we’d like the unemployment rate to come down a bit more quickly than is currently forecast. “But if we were to try and achieve that through monetary policy it would encourage people to borrow more money and it probably would put more upward pressure on housing prices and, at the moment, I don’t think either of those two things are really in the national interest.” For the moment, it looks like the Reserve Bank feels content — or locked in — to leaving official interest rates on hold at a record low 1.5%. However, Dr Lowe expressed optimism that this level of rates was low enough to spark business investment and stronger economic growth, and therefore there would be no need to lower rates further.

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That’s a lot of (not) oil.

Exxon Wiped A Whopping 19.3% Of Its Oil Reserves Off Its Books In 2016 (Q.)

ExxonMobil has taken a big hit to one of the pillars underlying its decades of braggadocio: its oil reserves. In an announcement today, Exxon said it had written down its proven oil reserves by a massive 19.3%, a stinging reduction to what is a primary measure of any oil company’s value. As of the end of 2016, Exxon had 20 billion barrels in proven reserves, compared with 24.8 billion a year earlier. This includes the erasure of all 3.5 billion barrels of Exxon’s proven oil sands reserves at Canada’s Kearl field. Last year’s low oil prices made it uneconomical to drill at Kearl, which had been at the core of Exxon’s growth strategy. In addition, for the second straight year, Exxon failed to replace all the reserves it pumped—in 2016, it replaced just 65% of its produced reserves. In 2015, it replaced just 67%.

Prior to these years, Exxon had replaced at least 100% of its production every year since 1993. As bad as that was, it was expected: Exxon had signaled that it would write down reserves in 2016, and analysts had expected the company not to replace what it pumped. What wasn’t anticipated was the impact on Exxon’s vaunted longer-term performance. Almost every year, when Exxon announces its earnings, dividend payouts, reserve replacement results—and nearly any other important annual result—it throws in its 10-year record in the respective category to demonstrate its steady, reliable hand on the tiller. This time, bringing up the 10-year record backfired: The replacement failures of the last two years and the 2016 writedown punched a hole in Exxon’s vaunted 10-year reserves replacement average—it plunged to 82% in 2016, from 115% a year earlier.

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Simmering conflict.

Turkish Provocations Test Greek Resolve (K.)

The recent spike in Turkish provocations in the Aegean and incendiary comments emanating from Ankara are aimed at testing Greece’s resolve, according to Greek analysts. In what was seen as its latest transgression, Turkey dispatched its Cesme research vessel to conduct surveys on Wednesday in international waters between the islands of Thasos, Samothrace and Limnos, but within the area of responsibility of the Hellenic Search and Rescue Coordination Center. The night before, Turkish coast guard vessels conducted patrols in the region around the Imia islets. At the same time, the Cyprus talks are being undermined over what Greeks believe is a minor detail – the decision by the Cyprus Parliament for schools to commemorate a 1950 referendum calling for union with Greece.

Greeks say it is an attempt to shift attention from the fundamental issues of the peace talks, namely post-settlement security and guarantees. In response, Athens has pursued the principle of proportionality by countering the presence of Turkish military and coast guard vessels with an equivalent number of Greek ones, while embarking on a diplomatic campaign at international organizations and in major capitals. Analysts also attribute the spike in tension to the Supreme Court’s refusal to extradite the Turkish servicemen that Ankara says were involved in the July coup attempt. But they also note that it serves as a convenient pretext for Turkey to up the nationalistic rhetoric ahead of the April 16 referendum called by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a bid to expand his powers.

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Think maybe rich Europe has slipped Tsipras a few bucks?

Greece Okays Asylum Requests Of 10,000 Refugees (K.)

At least 10,000 refugees, including around 2,000 minors, are expected to remain in Greece over the coming three years as their asylum applications have been approved. The approved asylum claims account for about a sixth of more than 60,000 migrants who are currently stranded in Greece following the decision last year by a series of Balkan states to close their borders amid a massive influx of refugees from Syria and other war-torn states. The arrival of migrants in Greece has slowed significantly following an agreement between the European Union and Turkey in March last year to crack down on human smuggling across the Aegean.

However, boatloads of migrants continue to arrive on Greek shores from neighboring Turkey. On Wednesday, another 145 migrants arrived on the eastern Aegean island of Chios alone. Authorities attribute the sudden spike in arrivals to the unseasonably good weather. According to the Greek Asylum Service, a total of 1,912 migrants lodged asylum applications in January of this year. Last year, when hundreds of thousands of migrants flooded through Greece toward other parts of Europe, a total of 51,091 people applied for asylum in Greece, compared to 13,195 in 2015, 9,432 in 2014 and 4,814 in 2013.

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Mar 292016
 
 March 29, 2016  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Provision store. Caracas, Venezuela 1905

US Consumer Spending, Trade Data Signal Sluggish Growth (Reuters)
Still The Land Of Opportunity? (BBG)
It’s Official: The Oil Surge Was Driven By The Biggest Short-Squeeze Ever (ZH)
Barclays Warns Commodities May Slump in ‘Rush for the Exits’ (BBG)
Oil Firms Slow Exploration to Weather Low-Price Era (WSJ)
Saudi Economy Shows Deepening Signs of Strain (BBG)
Can Anything Rescue Japan From The Abyss? (Tel.)
ECB’s Gloomy Price Outlook to Be Confirmed Just as QE Expands (BBG)
Europe’s Emerging Bubbles Need Structural Reform (Sinn)
Investors Are in Denial About China Troubles (Balding)
State-Owned Steelmaker Latest Chinese Company to Miss Bond Payment (BBG)
The Credit Card Loophole That Gets Around China’s Capital Curbs (BBG)
How Con Man Used China To Launder Millions (AP)
Central Melbourne Apartment Values Fall 30% (AFR)
The Great Nausea (Jim Kunstler)
Worst Bleaching On Record For Great Barrier Reef (AFP)
Germany Wants Refugees To Integrate Or Lose Residency Rights (Reuters)
Rich Countries Resettle Barely 1% of Syrian Refugees (AFP)
Nearly 1,500 Migrants Rescued Off Libya In Past 2 Days (AFP)

Wait a minute, just a few days ago we read that consumers keep the US economy going?!

US Consumer Spending, Trade Data Signal Sluggish Growth (Reuters)

U.S. consumer spending barely rose in February and inflation retreated, suggesting the Federal Reserve could remain cautious about raising interest rates this year even as the labor market rapidly tightens. Monday’s report from the Commerce Department also showed consumer spending in January was not as strong as previously reported. That, together with other data showing a widening in the goods trade deficit in February, indicated economic growth remained sluggish in the first quarter. “It speaks to the weakening in domestic economic momentum at the start of this year, further reinforcing the Fed’s cautious monetary policy bias,” said Millan Mulraine at TD Securities in New York.

Consumer spending edged up 0.1% as households cut back on goods purchases after a downwardly revised 0.1% gain in January. Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, was previously reported to have increased 0.5% in January. When adjusted for inflation, consumer spending rose 0.2%. Inflation-adjusted consumer spending for January was revised down to show it unchanged rather than the 0.4% rise that was previously reported. Given labor market strength and cheap gasoline, economists speculated that consumption had been hampered by a massive stock market sell-off at the start of the year which eroded consumer confidence. In a separate report, the Commerce Department said the advance goods trade deficit widened to $62.9 billion in February from $62.2 billion, rising for a fourth straight month as an increase in exports was offset by a gain in imports.

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You can’t run a functioning democracy in a class system.

Still The Land Of Opportunity? (BBG)

As the presidential primary season continues, much has been made of the appeal that candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders hold for the angry, disaffected working class. Everyone seems to agree that this group is in trouble, and needs serious help. But which Americans exactly are part of the working class? There is no set definition. You can define class by wealth, but a young worker starting out on Wall Street and earning relatively little is hardly lower-class. You can define it by income, although that will be distorted by local differences in the cost of living, and by age (retirees have little income but usually more wealth). You also can define it by educational status. But perhaps the most important definition is in people’s minds. Gallup periodically asks people to place themselves in one of five classes – upper, upper-middle, middle, working and lower. Here are the results for the five categories:

The percentages of Americans who consider themselves working class has stayed relatively stable. But the self-identified middle class has plunged by about 10 percentage points, matched by an even larger increase in the percentage of Americans who label themselves lower class. The self-identified lower class should probably be included in the working class that gets discussed in articles about Trump and Sanders. Why do fewer Americans identify as middle class? One obvious possibility is that the middle class has been spreading out, separating into a well-to-do upper-middle and an expanding working class. The evidence shows that something like this has been happening for decades now. Here is the U.S. Gini coefficient, a broad measure of income inequality:

Income inequality has been steadily increasing since 1970, with especially big jumps in the early 1980s and early 1990s. That certainly seems likely to reduce the share of people who feel like they’re in the middle. But we don’t see a divergence – what we really see is a downward drift. Why? Perhaps slow growth has made everyone in the U.S. more pessimistic. Or perhaps inequality itself lowers everyone’s perception of their own class. People making $25,000 might compare themselves to people making $50,000, but people making $400,000 might compare themselves to people making $2 million. One development is that the difference between the working and upper-middle class incomes has widened, but the gap between the upper middle and the rich has absolutely exploded. That could be making everyone more pessimistic about where they stand in the hierarchy.

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The plunge in demand takes a long time to seep into people’s minds.

It’s Official: The Oil Surge Was Driven By The Biggest Short-Squeeze Ever (ZH)

Two months ago, just before crude dropped to 13 year lows, we warned oil traders that there is “a constant short squeeze threat” because “oil shorts are at all-time highs”, adding that “we have seen extreme short positioning building up in the oil futures market. The quantity of short positions opened is at an all-time high for Brent, and still high for WTI futures.” We also warned that “a positive surprise could happen quite sharply, as short positions are likely to be squeezed by a profit-taking move. On WTI, the in-the-money short positions are really dominating at the front end of the curve while out-of-the-money long positions are dominating at the long end of the curve: the front end of oil curve could thus be more exposed to some profit-taking.”

It was, and just a few days later, the algos took this warning to heart and, courtesy of the most recurring headline (that of a “farcical” oil production freeze) as a recurring catalyst, unleashed an historic short squeeze. Actually make that a record short squeeze. Wait, that’s impossible: surely it was more than just shorts covering and oil rose because actual longs were piling in, one could say. One would be wrong, and it is now official: as crude soared 50% since Feb. 11, Bloomberg writes, the number of bets on increased prices has barely budged. “Instead, the upward pressure on prices appears to have come from traders cashing out of bearish wagers at an unprecedented pace. The liquidation of short positions during the last seven weeks covered by data from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission was the largest on record.”

“The rally has come from shorts getting scared out of their positions, and you’re not seeing a lot of money coming in on the long side,” said John Kilduff at Again Capital, a New York hedge fund focused on energy. “It really calls into question the fortitude and staying power of the rally.” The details: “short positions on West Texas Intermediate crude, or bets that prices will fall, have dropped by 131,617 contracts since Feb. 2, the biggest liquidation in CFTC data going back a decade. To close out a bearish position, traders buy back futures and options, putting upward pressure on prices. In the same period, bullish wagers fell by 971. In the past 10 years, there have been only two other seven-week short-covering streaks, CFTC data show. The first started in September 2009 and the second in December 2012. Both were much smaller than the recent one and were accompanied by oil rallies.”

It gets better: as we showed previously, the irony is that as oil futures shorts were squeezed out, ETF longs actually declined instead of growing as absolutely nobody – except those who have to buy-in – believes this quote-unquote rally. Bloomberg notes that the rebound faltered a day after WTI prices touched a four-month high of $41.45 a barrel on March 22, tumbling 4% in New York after government data showed U.S. crude supplies surged the prior week to the highest level since 1930. Perhaps there are no more shorts left to squeeze, in which case watch out to the downside: “When energy markets get loaded to one side of the boat like that, you can have vicious reversals,” said Kilduff. And vice versa.

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The short-term consequences of highly leveraged long-term investments.

Barclays Warns Commodities May Slump in ‘Rush for the Exits’ (BBG)

Commodities including oil and copper are at risk of steep declines as recent advances aren’t fully grounded in improved fundamentals, according to Barclays, which warned that prices may tumble as investors rush for the exits. Copper may slump to the low $4,000s a metric ton, from $4,945 in London last week, while oil could fall back to the low $30s a barrel, analyst Kevin Norrish said in a note. The risk for raw materials is that investors seek to liquidate bets on gains quickly and in unison, with potentially highly negative consequences, Norrish wrote in the note entitled “Buffalo Jump,” a term that describes a cliff where Native Americans herded bison to their death. “Investors have been attracted to commodities as one of the best performing assets so far in 2016,” he said in the March 28 report.

“However, in the absence of any concerted fundamental improvements, those returns are unlikely to be repeated in the second quarter, making commodities vulnerable to a wave of investor liquidation.” Commodities are headed for a quarterly advance amid speculation that prices may now be bottoming after they slumped 11% in the final three months of 2015 and 14% in the third quarter. Oil and copper have recovered from multi-year lows seen in the January and February, and Barclays estimated net flows into commodity products totaled more than $20 billion in the two-month period in the strongest start to a year since 2011. “Given that recent price appreciation does not seem to be very well founded in improving fundamentals, and that upward trends may prove difficult to sustain, the risk is growing that any setback will result in a rush for the exits that could again lead commodity prices to overshoot to the downside,” he said.

Investors were increasingly taking short-term bets on raw materials, not the long-term buy-and-hold strategy for diversification and inflation protection that underpinned inflows in the previous decade, he said. In addition, as commodities are among the few assets that have risen in the first quarter, that may make investors keener than usual to close out bets on gains, he said. “Key commodities markets such as oil and copper already face overhangs of excess production capacity and inventories, but also now face another obstacle in the recovery process, that of positioning, which is now approaching bullish extremes,” Norrish said.

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The backdrop is overproduction.

Oil Firms Slow Exploration to Weather Low-Price Era (WSJ)

The world’s biggest oil companies are draining their petroleum reserves faster than they are replacing them—a symptom of how a deep oil-price decline is reshaping the energy industry’s priorities. In 2015, the seven biggest publicly traded Western energy companies, including Exxon Mobil and Shell, replaced just 75% of the oil and natural gas they pumped, on average, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of company data. It was the biggest combined drop in inventory that companies have reported in at least a decade. For Exxon, 2015 marked the first time in more than two decades it didn’t fully replace production with new reserves, according to the company. It reported replacing 67% of its 2015 output.

In the past, shrinking reserves could send investors and executives into a panic over a company’s future prospects. These days, with ultralow oil prices, “it becomes less important” to replenish stockpiles, said Luca Bertelli, chief exploration officer at Italian oil producer Eni SpA. Eni has shifted spending away from high-risk, high-reward projects in favor of squeezing more out of fields that are already producing, he said. That shift shows how producers are responding to low prices by pulling back on new exploration in favor of maximizing profits. The risk is that cutting back on new projects now, when prices are low, could lead to shortages and price spikes in the future.

Historically, energy companies spent heavily in the present to find resources for the future—new wells that would replace the barrels they pump every day. When they decide they can extract the oil and gas economically, firms book those resources as proved reserves, untapped inventories to be exploited at a profit down the road. The current oil glut has forced companies to cut spending wherever they can. So they have pulled back on exploratory drilling and spending on new projects. Across the oil sector last year, companies approved just six new developments, according to Morgan Stanley researchers.

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Caught in a vicious circle.

Saudi Economy Shows Deepening Signs of Strain (BBG)

The Saudi economy is showing deepening signs of strain under the weight of cheap oil. Saudi consumers withdrew and spent less money in February, according to central bank data released on Monday. M3, one of the broadest measures of money supply, shrank for the first time since at least 2000, when Bloomberg started tracking the data. While the kingdom still has one of the world’s largest foreign-currency reserves, cuts in government spending to shore up public finances are taking a toll on the economy. Growth may slow to 1.5% this year, according to the median estimate of a Bloomberg survey, the slowest pace since at least 2009. Saudi officials have repeatedly said that the nation can weather the slump in oil prices. Cash withdrawals through ATMs fell 8% after expanding for at least the previous five months, central bank data show. Point-of-sale transactions, an indicator of consumer confidence in the economy, dropped to 15.2 billion riyals ($4.1 billion).

And while bank credit to private businesses expanded about 10%, the growth likely reflects short-term borrowing, according to Monica Malik, the chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. “The rise in credit doesn’t indicate business expansion,” she said. “Actually, project activity has fallen substantially. All in all, lower government spending is taking a deepening toll on economic growth, and we can see it in the data.” The government is seeking to plug a budget deficit that reached about 15% of GDP in 2015. Authorities have also raised energy prices. Malik said the contraction of money supply likely reflects the government’s withdrawal of domestic deposits and the drop in net foreign assets, which declined 38 billion riyals. The pace of the drop was the slowest since October as Brent crude prices rebounded during the month. Oil exports make up about 70% of the government’s revenue.

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What Abenomics ia all about: Leading a horse to water.

Can Anything Rescue Japan From The Abyss? (Tel.)

“Shunto” season has failed to grip Japan. The country’s annual Spring assault on wages seems to have passed with little more than a whimper this year despite being billed as one of the most anticipated economic events in Japan’s recent history. Translating as “spring wage offensive”, Shunto marks the annual Japanese ritual of wage bargaining between business groups and labour unions. This year’s negotiations have been preceded by months of feverish lobbying from prime minister Shinzo Abe who has urged the country’s business groups to raise wages and help smash Japan’s deflationary mindset once and for all. The issue has become the latest lightning rod in the country’s two decade struggle to ensure long-term economic prosperity. Higher salaries encourage consumption and are vital in raising inflation.

This in turn would help erode some part of Japan’s record 250pc of GDP debt pile. Abe’s calls have been echoed by some of the world’s most renowned economists. Olivier Blanchard, the former chief economist at the IMF and Adam Posen, a former BOE policymaker, have called for an unprecedented 10pc increase in nominal wages in 2016. In the last two years, average wages have risen by just 1pc. “What is needed is a jump-start to a wage-price spiral of the sort feared from the 1970s”, say Posen and Blanchard, who call for a “virtuous cycle” of wage growth, inflation, and lower debt to release Japan from economic stagnancy. But like so many of Tokyo’s radical attempts to extricate itself out of low growth and low inflation, the early signs show that Shunto has already fallen flat.

Car-making giant Toyota is reported to have agreed on a wage settlement which will boost its employees’ basic wages by just ¥1500 ($13) a month, despite recording bumper profits of ¥2.17 trillion ($19bn) last year. Overall, the fruits of 2016’s Shunto are set to be more meagre than those of last year. The March round of talks indicate wages hike demands from unions to be around 3.27pc this year, lower than the 3.74pc of 2015, according to analysts at UBS. This indicates the average eventual wage hike will be around 0.3pc in 2016 for the country’s 63.5m workers, down from 0.69pc agreed in 2015, calculate economists at JP Morgan. This reticence to raise wages puzzles economists. Nearly four years on from the start of the government’s Abenomics programme, Japanese companies are sitting on a record cash piles equivalent to nearly 50pc of the country’s entire GDP.

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The ignorance of the ‘experts’ is stunning.

ECB’s Gloomy Price Outlook to Be Confirmed Just as QE Expands (BBG)

As Mario Draghi prepares to ramp up debt purchases starting Friday in his biggest assault against euro-area deflation risks, he’s about to get another sense of the magnitude of the challenge. Consumer prices in the currency zone probably fell for a second month in March and the unemployment rate remained in double digits in February, economists forecast in Bloomberg surveys before data this week. Another report is expected to say economic confidence was unchanged in the 19-nation region in March. Policy makers led by the European Central Bank president are expanding monthly asset buying to €80 billion from €60 billion and introducing new measures to lift inflation that hasn’t touched their near-2% goal since 2013.

While the economy is growing, it’s not gaining momentum, and a slow decline in unemployment has failed to spur enough demand to counter falling oil costs and ignite price gains. “The data will confirm that the ECB was right to act, and also may even need to do more in the future,” said Nick Kounis at ABN Amro in Amsterdam. “Underlying inflationary pressures are extremely weak and going in the wrong direction.” Draghi said this month that negative inflation rates may be “unavoidable” in the coming months and it’s “crucial to avoid second-round effects.” That concern prompted the ECB Governing Council to cut its deposit rate on March 10 and add a new series of long-term loans to banks, which will begin in June. The expansion of quantitative easing will start April 1.

“The window of action was now, we had a weak start to the year, and we’re seeing that feeding through to the numbers,” said Anatoli Annenkov at SocGen in London. He doesn’t expect any additional major ECB action this year, as policy makers wait to see how their new actions feed through to the economy. “The key to the ECB for getting inflation back on target is that we do need to see growth really pick up, and the recovery to take it to the next level,” said James Nixon, an economist at Oxford Economics in London. “It’s really the corporate sector that’s just sitting around with its hands in its pockets.”

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Europe needs normal interest rates, not crazy experiments.

Europe’s Emerging Bubbles Need Structural Reform (Sinn)

The ECB’s latest policy moves have shocked many observers; while their goal – to prevent deflation and spur growth – is clear, the policies themselves are setting the stage for severe instability. The policies in question include setting the interest rate on the ECB’s main refinancing operations to zero; raising monthly asset purchases by €20bn to €80bn; and pushing the interest rate on money that banks deposit with the ECB further into negative territory, to -0.4%. Moreover, the ECB has launched a series of four targeted longer-term refinancing operations, which also carry negative interest rates. Banks receive up to 0.4% interest on ECB credit that they take themselves, provided they lend it out to private businesses.

These policies are, in essence, the latest in a string of attempts by the ECB to address the fallout of the collapse of the massive bubble that formed in southern Europe in the early years of the euro. This began with the announcement of the euro’s introduction at the 1995 EU Summit in Madrid, which caused interest rates to tumble. The inflationary credit bubble spurred in southern European countries by the persistence of lower interest rates undermined their competitiveness and drove asset and property prices to unsustainably high levels. When the bubble burst, the ECB tried to prevent the excessive prices from returning to equilibrium by using its printing press and promising unlimited coverage to investors. The latest ECB measures are more of the same.

Of course, when the financial crisis erupted in full force in 2008, following the collapse of the US investment bank Lehman Brothers, the ECB’s interventions were justified. But after the global economy started to recover during the latter part of the following year, the ECB’s moves became increasingly problematic, because they enabled countries to evade structural reform and hindered the necessary disinflation in the southern eurozone countries – or even halted it altogether, as in Portugal and Italy. Southern Europe had succumbed to the drug of cheap credit. But when private credit stalled and the symptoms of withdrawal began to appear, the ECB provided replacement drugs. Instead of treating the addiction, it created junkie economies that were unable to function without a fix.

[..] the worst effects of the ECB policy may be yet to come, if the eurozone’s still-sound economies also become credit junkies. There are already some worrying signs of this. Property markets in Austria, Germany, and Luxembourg have practically exploded throughout the crisis, as a result of banks chasing borrowers with offers of loans at near-zero interest rates, regardless of their creditworthiness. In Austria, property prices have risen by nearly half since the Lehman collapse; in Luxembourg, they have risen by almost one-third. Even Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has been experiencing a massive property boom since 2010, with average urban property prices having risen by more than one-third – and by nearly half in large cities. The country is undergoing a construction boom not seen since reunification. Real estate agents have only leftovers on offer.

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The entire world is affected.

Investors Are in Denial About China’s Troubles (Balding)

Back in 2009, as China unleashed a massive fiscal stimulus and investment spree in response to the global financial crisis, the rest of the world was all too willing to believe the impossible. Aided by consultant research predicting decades of explosive growth, companies placed huge bets on China and expected to ride the never-ending boom to riches. Amid the gold rush, they bulked up to sell China t-shirts or tons of iron ore. They urged their governments to sign free-trade deals with Beijing. Commodity producers heedlessly expanded capacity, believing that 10% growth would continue indefinitely. Consumer brands rushed to set up flagships in third-tier Chinese cities. Shipping companies scrambled to build new fleets to meet an expected explosion in global trade.

However, as with so many previous bouts of irrational exuberance, this time wasn’t really different. The ruthless rules of supply and demand still applied. And now, the longer that painful decisions are delayed, the harder they’ll become. Commodities firms, in particular, are learning that lesson the hard way. As prices rose with Chinese demand, they made large upfront investments financed by borrowing – often on a 20-year timeline, in the expectation that growth would last and last. Now, with China’s economy slowing and the prices of everything from oil to metals plummeting, the bills are coming due. Major iron ore firms, which had predicted that Chinese steel demand would keep rising until about 2030, are now looking at substantial overinvestment and deteriorating credit. Dairy farmers, who increased their herds with future Chinese consumer demand in mind, are feeling the pinch as milk prices plunge.

After years of ramping up production to fuel China’s expected growth, oil-producing countries from Saudi Arabia to Norway are facing grim decisions about their public finances. Russia is rapidly draining its sovereign wealth fund. Venezuela is pleading with China for loans – on top of the nearly $60 billion already doled out – to stave off collapse. Pundits are warning that the large debt load of U.S. shale-gas and oil producers could pose greater risks than sub-prime lending did a decade ago. No less so than China, the rest of the world needs to face up to some new realities. First, the golden age of Chinese construction is over. There’s now enormous surplus capacity in virtually every industry that requires fixed-asset investment. Companies can no longer rely on the “Beijing put” of new government stimulus to boost growth.

Iron ore producers and copper miners all need to begin a painful process of downsizing and deleveraging – just as China’s bloated state-owned enterprises do. Producers around the world haven’t faced up to the new normal. Second, companies of all stripes have to put in the effort to understand China better. Expectations of double-digit growth, regardless of how poor the performance, have vanished. Luxury brands that once hoped their Beijing flagships would smooth the balance sheets at European headquarters need to recognize that different markets require different strategies, and that shops in China won’t run on autopilot. They need to compete. Third, companies and countries alike need to face up to their own irrational exuberance. Whether it’s failing to diversify, spending recklessly on the back of high prices, or taking on too much debt, fundamental mistakes can’t be blamed on China. Doing so only delays the inevitable.

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“Dongbei Special Steel’s missed payment comes just four days after the company disclosed that its former chairman, Yang Hua, was found dead by hanging at his home..”

State-Owned Steelmaker Latest Chinese Company to Miss Bond Payment (BBG)

A state-owned Chinese steelmaker failed to make a 852 million yuan ($131 million) bond payment and expressed uncertainty about meeting a larger bill next week as the slowing economy weighs on debt-laden producers. Dongbei Special Steel, based in the northeastern city of Dalian, said it failed to repay the sum of interest and principal due Monday, according to a statement posted on the Chinamoney website. The company said in a separate statement that it also might not be able to repay 1 billion yuan due April 3 on a 90-day bill because of tight liquidity. The company sold 800 million yuan in one-year bonds last year with a coupon of 6.5%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Chinese firms are struggling with surging debt burdens as Premier Li Keqiang seeks to weed out zombie corporations amid the country’s worst economic slowdown in a quarter century.

At least a dozen companies have defaulted on bonds over the past two years even as the central bank loosened monetary policy. Nanjing Yurun Foods, a sausage maker, and Zibo Hongda Mining, an iron ore miner, both said they defaulted on notes this month. Dongbei Special Steel’s missed payment comes just four days after the company disclosed that its former chairman, Yang Hua, was found dead by hanging at his home. The company said the death was under investigation by the relevant authority. Other Chinese steelmakers are also facing rising debt pressures. The northern city of Tianjin plans to set up a committee of creditors to help Bohai Steel “get out of trouble,” Caixin reported March 18. Minister of Human Resources Yin Weimin said Feb. 29 that about 1.8 million steel-and-coal workers would be laid off as the country cuts industrial overcapacity and reforms bloated state-owned enterprises.

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Overpaying for insurance. Now there’s a business model.

The Credit Card Loophole That Gets Around China’s Capital Curbs (BBG)

More than 800. That’s how many times Hong Kong insurance agent Raymond Ng swiped the credit cards of a mainland Chinese client buying HK$28 million ($3.6 million) worth of insurance policies in the city earlier this month. Dozens, maybe more. That’s how many other agents are using similar tactics as a way around new restrictions on insurance policy purchases by mainlanders that are often used to evade capital controls and get their money out of China, according to interviews with five Hong Kong agents working for Prudential, AIA Group and two smaller insurance companies. “There are always ways around new restrictions,” said Ng, 30, who started selling insurance and investment products to mainland Chinese four years ago, declining to allow his company’s name to be used.

“Chinese customers are accelerating the pace of moving assets outside China, especially through insurance products.” Multiple credit-card swiping to buy insurance products, even hundreds of times, isn’t illegal in Hong Kong, but it allows individuals to exceed limits on insurance purchases by mainlanders meant to control capital outflows from China. The widespread practice shows just how eager Chinese remain to move money abroad amid a weakening economy and expectations of further declines in the yuan, potentially putting pressure on authorities to impose stricter curbs. Since February, Chinese regulators have moved to control the booming business of citizens buying insurance in Hong Kong, first by putting a $5,000 limit on each transaction and later by limiting electronic transfers for such purchases.

Previously there had been no limit on the use of the country’s China UnionPay credit and debit cards for buying the policies, giving individuals wanting to move money abroad a convenient way around the country’s foreign-exchange controls. Multiple card swipes mean the new curbs lose some of their effectiveness. When it imposed the $5,000 limit, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange said it would “closely monitor” cardholders and insurers for cases where cards have been swiped multiple times, though the regulator stopped short of banning multiple card use to purchase individual policies.

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A great 21st century Great Con story. Which features, what a surprise, China’s shadow banking system.

How Con Man Used China To Launder Millions (AP)

Gilbert Chikli was rolling in money, stolen from some of the world’s biggest corporations. His targets: Accenture. Disney. American Express. In less than two years, he made off with at least 6.1 million euros from France alone. But he had a problem. He couldn’t spend the money. A tangle of banking rules designed to stop con men like him stood between Chikli and his cash. He needed to find a weak link in the global financial system, a place to make his stolen money appear legitimate. He found it in China. “China has become a universal, international gateway for all manner of scams,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Because China today is a world power, because it doesn’t care about neighboring countries, and because, overall, China is flipping off other countries in a big way.”

A visionary con man, Chikli realized early on — around 2000, the year before China joined the WTO – the potential that lay in the shadows of China’s rise, its entrenched corruption and informal banking channels that date back over 1,000 years. The French-Israeli man told the AP he laundered 90% of his money through China and Hong Kong, slipping it into the region’s great tides of legitimate trade and finance. Today, he is in good company. Criminals around the world have discovered that a good way to liberate their dirty money is to send it to China, which is emerging as an international hub for money laundering, AP has found. Gangs from Israel and Spain, North African cannabis dealers and cartels from Mexico and Colombia are among those using China as a haven where they can safely hide money, clean it, and pump it back into the global financial system, according to police officials, European and U.S. court records and intelligence documents reviewed by AP.

In a regular briefing with reporters Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the government “places great emphasis” on fighting crimes such as money laundering and is working to expand international cooperation. “China is not, has not been, nor will be in the future a center of global money laundering,” he said. Chikli is widely credited in France with inventing a con that has inspired a generation of copycats. Chikli’s scam, called the fake president or fake CEO scam, has cost companies around the world $1.8 billion in just over two years, according to the FBI. And the damages are rising fast.

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Getting nervous.

Central Melbourne Apartment Values Fall 30% (AFR)

Apartments in central Melbourne are being resold at discounts of up to 30% from their original off-plan purchase price, sales data shows. Not all units have fallen in value – some have risen – but analysis of a handful of transactions shows many apartments have failed to hold their value between original purchase and resale, typically a few years later. One property where prices have fallen is 27 Little Collins Street, which includes 171 apartments in a 32-storey tower above a Sheraton-branded hotel, completed by developer Golden Age in July last year. A three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment occupying 140 square metres and with two car parks sold for $1,565,000 in August, a 28.7% discount on its November 2010 purchase price of $2,195,000.

A two-bedroom unit in the same building fell almost 23% in less than a year, when it was bought for $1,075,000 last April, having previously been purchased for $1,320,000 in June 2014. A number of smaller apartments without car parks suffered falls ranging from almost 4% to 8% between 2010 and their resale last year. Melbourne’s surge in new apartments led to predictions more than a year ago than an oversupply was likely to push prices down. While greater supply would limit rental income growth, as long as interest rates remained low there was unlikely to be a big correction in prices because buyers could still fund the gap between rental income and their mortgage payments, said BIS Shrapnel analyst Angie Zigomanis.

“Anyone who’s bought an apartment off-plan and then looks to onsell within a couple of years will probably be looking at a 10% decline, but [up to a] 40% decline – there might be the odd example – it’s definitely not going to be the norm,” Mr Zigomanis said. “At the broader level those price falls will be mitigated by lower interest rates and the fact that people aren’t necessarily going to be obliged to put their property on the market.”

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“When the grifters can’t cash their checks — or move their pixels into the accounts receivable column — they will be immobilized. Of course, if that happens, so will everything else, including your ability to buy any more frozen pizzas.”

The Great Nausea (Jim Kunstler)

[..] the latest meme spreading across the web wires is how deeply the voters divide by sex: men flocking around Trump (or Machine Gun Ted Cruz), and the ladies standing at each mighty column of Hillary’s azure pant-suit. Yes, a national war of the sexes. Just what we need with all our shit falling apart. This sorry diversion results not from the triumph of feminism, as widely believed, but actually from the failure of American manhood. Proof of that, of course, is the ascendance of Trump, this punch-line of a political leader with all the gravitas of a hood ornament. History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce – thank you, Karl Marx, O peevish mischief-maker squirming upon your fabled boils!

Finally, what will take the Deep State down is not some lance-wielding armored savior on a white horse but the awful undertow of financial implosion that awaits as the seasons of 2016 turn. When faith in our money and the instruments represented in it goes, look out below. There are so many rifts in the international banking system that the vista begins to look like the spring ice break-up on the Lake of Nations. When the grifters can’t cash their checks — or move their pixels into the accounts receivable column — they will be immobilized. Of course, if that happens, so will everything else, including your ability to buy any more frozen pizzas. Trump, Cruz, Hillary, and Bernie are signs that this poor paralyzed country needs to go through a convulsion to flush out all the toxic idiocy of this historical moment.

Trigger warning: it may be the messiest revolution in history when it finally comes, there is so much dross to clear out of the system. Trump and Hillary are like two giant fistulas obstructing the national bowel. Of course, a lot of sentient Americans do not want their nation dying on the toilet like Elvis. The indignity of it! In the name of the founding fathers, please, someone, fetch the enema bag. Events still lie hidden like bear traps on the path to “Decision 2016” as they like to say on the cable networks. Somewhere in London, Singapore, Shanghai, or New York, a 25-year-old coked-out Forex trader is going to tap the untoward keystroke that brings down a derivatives avalanche… or two brothers of Allah in some Berlin row-house will go forth one bright morning in vests of Semtex… and finally enough will be enough.

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The most vulnerable go first.

Worst Bleaching On Record For Great Barrier Reef (AFP)

Aerial surveys of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have revealed the worst bleaching on record in the icon’s pristine north, scientists said Tuesday, with few corals escaping damage. Researchers said the view was devastating after surveying some 520 reefs via plane and helicopter between Cairns and the Torres Strait in the north of Queensland state. “This will change the Great Barrier Reef forever,” Terry Hughes, an expert on coral reefs from James Cook University, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “We’re seeing huge levels of bleaching in the northern thousand kilometre stretch of the Great Barrier Reef.” Just over a week ago, the Australian government revealed bleaching at the World Heritage-listed site was “severe” but noted that the southern area had escaped the worst.

Bleaching occurs when abnormal environmental conditions, such as warmer sea temperatures, cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, draining them of their colour. Hughes, convener of Australia’s National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, agreed in a statement that the southern reef had “dodged a bullet due to cloudy weather that cooled the water temperatures down”. But he said in the far north – the most remote and pristine areas – almost without exception, every reef showed consistently high levels of bleaching. “We flew for 4,000 kilometres in the most pristine parts of the Great Barrier Reef and saw only four reefs that had no bleaching,” he said. “The severity is much greater than in earlier bleaching events in 2002 or 1998.” Fellow James Cook University expert James Kerry said more surveys were to follow, but the damage seen from the air in the north was severe, often falling into the highest category of level four, meaning 60% of the coral was bleached.

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Not unreasonable. But. But they would have to be accepted in full as Germans, both by officials and by the people. Canada’s model is exemplary in this.

Germany Wants Refugees To Integrate Or Lose Residency Rights (Reuters)

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said he is planning a new law that will require refugees to learn German and integrate into society, or else lose their permanent right of residence. The initiative comes after voters punished Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in regional elections earlier this month, giving a thumbs-down to her open-door refugee policy and turning in droves to the anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD). Around 1 million migrants arrived in Germany last year – many fleeing conflict and economic hardship in the Middle East and Africa – and de Maiziere said around 100,000 more had arrived so far this year. Germany expected that in return for language lessons, social benefits and housing, the new arrivals made an effort to integrate, he told ARD television.

“For those who refuse to learn German, for those who refuse to allow their relatives to integrate – for instance women or girls – for those who reject job offers: for them, there cannot be an unlimited settlement permit after three years,” he said. De Maiziere, who belongs to Merkel’s conservatives party, added that he wanted “a link between successful integration and the permission for how long one is allowed to stay in Germany.” Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel welcomed the draft law, which is planned for May. “We must not only support integration but demand it,” Gabriel told mass-selling daily Bild. Gabriel’s Social Democrats, the junior partner in Germany’s ruling coalition with Merkel’s conservatives, also suffered losses in this month’s elections in three German states.

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“The United States [..] has meanwhile pledged just 7% of the nearly 171,000 considered to be its fair share, it showed. The Netherlands also stood at 7%, Denmark at 15 and Britain at 22, Oxfam said.

Rich Countries Resettle Barely 1% of Syrian Refugees (AFP)

Wealthy countries have resettled only a fraction of the nearly five million refugees who have fled Syria, Oxfam said on Tuesday, urging them to step up and do their share. The British charity called on wealthy countries to resettle at least 10% of the 4.8 million Syrian refugees registered in the region surrounding the war-ravaged nation by the end of the year. So far, rich countries have pledged fewer than 130,000 resettlement spots, and only around 67,100 people – a mere 1.39% of the refugees – have made it to their final destinations since 2013, Oxfam said. The charity issued its report ahead of an unprecedented UN-hosted conference in Geneva on Wednesday, where countries will be asked to pledge resettlement spots for Syrian refugees. As the brutal conflict enters its sixth year, most of the people who have fled are located in Syria’s immediate neighbours such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

But as the war has dragged on and conditions have worsened in the surrounding states, Syrians have increasingly set their sights on Europe, accounting for most of the more than one million migrants who risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean last year. They are also believed to be heavily represented among the more than 7,500 people, including many children, who have died trying to make the crossing since 2014. Wednesday’s conference, which will be opened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, will aim to ensure “global responsibility sharing” for the crisis sparked by Syria’s brutal conflict, which has claimed more than 270,000 lives. “To date the response to calls of increased resettlement of vulnerable refugees has been disappointing, and the conference is an opportunity for states to mark a change of course,” the Oxfam report said.

The charity said its analysis showed only three of the world’s wealthy countries – Canada, Germany and Norway – had pledged more resettlement spots than what was considered their “fair share” according to the size of their economies. Five other countries, Australia, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and New Zealand had meanwhile pledged more than half of their fair share, while the remaining 20 nations included in the analysis fell far short, Oxfam said. Thus, France had only so far pledged to take in 1,000 Syrian refugees, or only four% of the nearly 26,000 considered to be its fair share, the report said. The United States, which has resettled 1,812 Syrian refugees and said it will take in 10,000 more, has meanwhile pledged just 7% of the nearly 171,000 considered to be its fair share, it showed. The Netherlands also stood at 7%, Denmark at 15 and Britain at 22, Oxfam said.

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The old new route is going strong. After a few days of – weather related- declining arrivals on Lesbos, numbers are rising there again as well.

Nearly 1,500 Migrants Rescued Off Libya In Past 2 Days (AFP)

Nearly 1,500 migrants, including many women and children, have been rescued in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya over the past two days, the Italian coastguard said Monday. A total of 1,482 people were picked up in about a dozen rescue operations at sea on Sunday and Monday, according to the Italian coastguard which coordinated the search and rescue efforts. They did not release the nationalities of the migrants and refugees.

They said 730 people were rescued on Sunday and 752 on Monday. They did not provide a breakdown of the number of children and women on board. The UN refugee agency said last week that nearly 14,500 migrants had arrived in Italy via Libya since the start of the year, up 42.5% on the same period a year earlier. Libya has long been a stepping stone for migrants seeking a better life in Europe, with Italy some 300 kilometres across the sea. European leaders fear that a recent deal with Ankara to stem the flow of migrants arriving in Greece via Turkey will increase crossings attempts from Libya.

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