Vincent van Gogh Red Vineyards at Arles 1888
We’re having to find new semantics. Once sustainable bubbles become acceptable, anything goes…
• The Most Sustainable Stock Market Bubble Ever (MW)
Is this the most sustainable stock market bubble ever? It’s rare to find the words “sustainable” and “bubble” in the same sentence, but the stock market rally from November 2016 until now has been relentless enough to at least discuss the notion of a “sustainable bubble.” In February 2016, the S&P 500 recorded three consecutive daily gains of more than 1.5%. The Profit Radar Report highlighted that this happened only eight other times. A year later, the S&P 500 was up 19.16%. The February 2016 kickoff rally continued to build momentum. One way to quantify momentum was shown in the Nov. 19, 2017, Profit Radar Report: “The S&P 500 was higher 8 of the first 9 months of 2017. This has only happened 8 other times (1936, 1950, 1954, 1958, 1964, 1995, 1996, 2006). 2, 3, 6, and 12 months later, the S&P was higher every time but one (0.7% loss 2 month later in 1964).
Such strong momentum readings (and they are seen across all time frames) are extremely rare. As mentioned in December 2016 and March 2017, stocks rarely top out at peak momentum. We have to go back to 1995/1996 to find similarly strong and persistent upside momentum. The stock market infrequently finds the delicate and potent balance between being hot, but not too hot. Tempered relentlessness best describes this market. How relentless? The S&P 500 has not closed more than 1.5% below its all-time high since Aug. 21, 2017. The only other time the S&P 500 has been similarly glued to its all-time high was in 1965. The S&P 500 has not dropped more than 5% below its all-time high since June 27, 2016, and has been above its 200-day simple moving average (SMA) since June 28, 2016.
How tempered? The S&P 500 has traded above its 200-day SMA for 391 days, but, until Jan. 5, also never traded more than 10% above its 200-day SMA. This “sweet spot” range is illustrated by the chart below. For the first time ever, the S&P 500 broke such a “controlled range-bound rally” streak (there’ve been two similar rallies in the 1960s and 1990s) by surging higher instead of falling lower.
Once debt is subtracted, there’s very little wealth growth left. It’s a mirage.
• Global Debt Growing Three Times Faster than Global Wealth (Schiff)
Global wealth increased to a new record of $280 trillion in 2017, according to Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2017. That seems like pretty good news until you consider global debt is increasing nearly three times as fast. According to the Wealth Report, total global wealth rose at a rate of 6.4%, the fastest pace since 2012 and reached $280 trillion, a gain of $16.7 trillion. This reflected widespread gains in equity markets matched by similar rises in non-financial assets, which moved above the pre-crisis year 2007’s level for the first time this year. Wealth growth also outpaced population growth, so that global mean wealth per adult grew by 4.9% and reached a new record high of $56,540 per adult.”
Increasing global wealth is one of the trends the World Gold Council identifies as a positive for the gold market in the next year. That’s all well and good. But we have to also look at the other side of the equation. The Institute of International Finance recently released its latest global debt analysis. It reported that global debt rose to a record $233 trillion at the end of Q3 2017. That is split up between $63 trillion in government debt, $58 trillion in financial sector corporate debt, $68 trillion in non-financial sector corporate debt, and $44 trillion in household indebtedness. In just nine months, there was an increase of $16 trillion in worldwide debt.
You really can’t talk about wealth without talking about debt. SRSrocco took a look at both factors in the equation. Even if global wealth surged in 2017, so did world debt. According to the data, global wealth increased by $16.7 trillion in 2017 while global debt expanded $16 trillion… nearly one to one. However, this is only part of the story. If we look at the increase in total world debt and total global wealth over the past 20 years, we can see a troubling sign, indeed: Since 1997, total global debt increased from $50 trillion to $233 trillion compared to the rise in global wealth from $120 trillion to $280 trillion. When you do the math, you find global debt has increased 366% vs. 133% increase in global wealth since 1997. That means net wealth was $70 trillion in 1997 versus $47 trillion in 2017.
Shaky. A government shutdown could well be imminent.
• US House Passes Stopgap Funding Bill and Sends It to Senate (BBG)
The House passed a spending bill Thursday to avoid a U.S. government shutdown, but Senate Democrats say they have the votes to block the measure in a bid to force Republicans and President Donald Trump to include protection for young immigrants. The 230-197 vote came just over a day before current funding is set to run out at midnight Friday. The bill would keep the government open through Feb. 16 while all sides negotiate on longer-term funding for defense and domestic programs. The Senate took an initial vote to advance the bill late Thursday, but was headed toward an additional procedural step requiring 60 votes, which Democrats say they will be able to block. The Senate adjourned until Friday morning without taking further action.
Shortly before the House vote, Trump wrote on Twitter: “House of Representatives needs to pass Government Funding Bill tonight. So important for our country – our Military needs it!” In a show of strength, House Republicans had enough support within their own ranks to pass the measure without help from Democrats. Some members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus withheld their support through much of the day Thursday, but reached a last-minute agreement with Speaker Paul Ryan to hold votes later on a conservative immigration bill and a measure to boost defense spending without increasing non-defense spending.
Still, Senate Democrats said they have the votes to block the measure in their chamber. At least 10 of the 18 Democrats who voted for a temporary funding measure in December have publicly announced their opposition, and a Democratic aide said there won’t be enough party members who support the House bill. Republicans would need at least a dozen Democratic votes to get the bill, H.R. 195, through the Senate after at least three of the 51 Republicans in the chamber said they would vote against it.
The gloves are coming off.
• Conservatives Bring Russia Probe Demand to Shutdown Talks (BBG)
House conservatives negotiating with GOP leaders over how to avert a government shutdown brought a fresh demand to the last-minute talks: release classified information they say raises questions about the origins of the FBI’s probe into President Donald Trump’s possible connections to Russia. A Republican lawmaker said they tried to pressure Speaker Paul Ryan to allow a vote on making public a document they say shows Justice Department and FBI misconduct and political bias in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign and whether anyone close to Trump colluded in it. The facts contained in the memo from Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are “jaw-dropping and demand full transparency,” said Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican.
The top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff of California, criticized the move. He dismissed the committee document as “talking points” drafted by Republican staffers that he said were “profoundly misleading” and “rife” with inaccuracies. The odd juxtaposition of issues – tying the Russia inquiry to the debate over a stopgap spending bill – came as much of the government faced a threatened shutdown on Friday at midnight. Gaetz said the effort was led by Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina and caucus co-founder Jim Jordan of Ohio. Jordan confirmed that some conservatives had “highlighted” in continuing resolution talks that it was “extremely important” that the memo go public. He said it was not something they were requiring of the Republican leadership in return for votes.
“But it was something we definitely talked about – that needs to happen,” Jordan added. Meadows earlier referred to “subplots” of promises the Freedom Caucus was able to extract from the leadership before he agreed to support the continuing resolution. “Mr Meadows and Mr. Jordan and many conservatives want to include in this negotiation a requirement that the House make public intelligence documents that highlight the unfair treatment of the president” by the FBI and the Justice Department, Gaetz said. Gaetz said he couldn’t describe the contents of the entire memo put together by the House Intelligence Committee “because to do so would reveal classified information, in the absence of a vote to do so,” he said. “Just 218 votes and the American people can read this intelligence information that goes to the fundamentals of our democracy.”
So let’s see it.
• FISA Memo Set To Rock DC, “End Mueller Investigation” (ZH)
All hell is breaking loose in Washington D.C. tonight after a four-page memo detailing extensive FISA court abuse was made available to the entire House of Representatives Thursday. The contents of the memo are so explosive, says Journalist Sara Carter, that it could lead to the removal of senior officials in the FBI and the Department of Justice and the end of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation. “These sources say the report is “explosive,” stating they would not be surprised if it leads to the end of Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation into President Trump and his associates.” -Sara Carter. A source close to the matter tells Fox News that “the memo details the Intelligence Committee’s oversight work for the FBI and Justice, including the controversy over unmasking and FISA surveillance.”
An educated guess by anyone who’s been paying attention for the last year leads to the obvious conclusion that the report reveals extensive abuse of power and highly illegal collusion between the Obama administration, the FBI, the DOJ and the Clinton Campaign against Donald Trump and his team during and after the 2016 presidential election. Lawmakers who have seen the memo are calling for its immediate release, while the phrases “explosive,” “shocking,” “troubling,” and “alarming” have all been used in all sincerity. One congressman even likened the report’s details to KGB activity in Russia. “It is so alarming the American people have to see this,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan told Fox News. “It’s troubling. It is shocking,” North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows said. “Part of me wishes that I didn’t read it because I don’t want to believe that those kinds of things could be happening in this country that I call home and love so much.”
“Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., offered the motion on Thursday to make the Republican majority-authored report available to the members. “The document shows a troubling course of conduct and we need to make the document available, so the public can see it,” said a senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the document. “Once the public sees it, we can hold the people involved accountable in a number of ways.” The government official said that after reading the document “some of these people should no longer be in the government.” -Sara Carter
And there’s no guarantee this won’t continue.
• Hackers Have Walked Off With About 14% of Big Digital Currencies (BBG)
Digital currencies and the software developed to track them have become attractive targets for cybercriminals while also creating a lucrative new market for computer-security firms. In less than a decade, hackers have stolen $1.2 billion worth of Bitcoin and rival currency Ether, according to Lex Sokolin at Autonomous Research. Given the currencies’ explosive surge at the end of 2017, the cost in today’s money is much higher. “It looks like crypto hacking is a $200 million annual revenue industry,” Sokolin said. Hackers have compromised more than 14% of the Bitcoin and Ether supply, he said. All told, hacks involving cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have cost companies and governments $11.3 billion through lost potential tax revenue from coin sales and illegitimate transactions, according to Susan Eustis, CEO of WinterGreen Research.
The blockchain ecosystem – the decentralized “distributed ledgers” that track crypto transactions – is also vulnerable. Those losses could snowball as more companies and investors rush into the white-hot cryptocurrency market without weighing the dangers or taking steps to protect themselves. Blockchain records are shared, making them hard to alter, so some users see them as super-secure. But in many ways they are no safer than any other software, Matt Suiche, who runs the blockchain security company Comae Technologies, said. And since the market is immature, blockchains may even be more vulnerable than other software. There are thousands of them, each with its own bugs. Until the field is winnowed to a few favorites, as happened with web browsers, securing them all will be a challenge. “Each implementation is going to have its own problems,” Suiche said. “The more implementations, the harder it is to cover all of them.”
[..] In a Dec. 25 paper, researchers at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers outlined ways hackers can spend the same Bitcoins twice, the very thing blockchains are meant to prevent. In a Balance Attack, for instance, hackers delay network communications between subgroups of miners, whose computers verify blockchain transactions, to allow for double spending. “We have no evidence that such attacks have already been performed on Bitcoin,” the IEEE researchers said. “However, we believe that some of the important characteristics of Bitcoin make these attacks practical and potentially highly disruptive.”
Predictable. Securitizing hasn’t exactly benefitted Jill and John, has it?
• Blockchain Eyed for Mortgage Bundling That Caused 2008 Crisis (BBG)
A group of big financial institutions wants to use the blockchain to help resurrect the packaging of home mortgages into securities, a business that almost destroyed the global banking system in 2008. Credit Suisse, U.S. Bancorp, Wells and Western Asset Management. said Thursday that they successfully tested the distributed ledger technology as a way to make it easier to track securitized home loans. Before the 2008 crisis, bundling home loans together and then selling those baskets to investors was a huge profit center for banks. But this was the primary cause of the meltdown after many borrowers couldn’t repay their debt and the value of the securitized loans crashed, causing trillions of dollars in losses.
The business then shrank dramatically. There were about $823 billion of securitized private-label residential mortgage bonds outstanding in early 2017, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, down from a peak of $2.7 trillion in 2007. “Structuring securities is complex, involving many different parties, manual processes, duplicated documents and data in different formats,” David Rutter, chief executive officer of blockchain startup R3, which is organizing the consortium, said in a statement Thursday. While the group is starting with residential mortgages that aren’t backed by the U.S. government, it plans to expand to other types of asset-backed securities. The next step is delivering a commercially viable product, R3 said.
Any regulation will need to concern all crypto, not just bitcoin. Does the SEC have the knowledge to do that?
• SEC Says Bitcoin Funds Raise ‘Investor Protection Issues’ (R.)
The U.S. securities regulator on Thursday raised alarm about the safety of bitcoin-themed investments, telling the fund industry they want answers to their concerns before endorsing more than a dozen proposed products based on cryptocurrencies. A top division chief at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission detailed the agency’s concerns about the wild-trading investment in a letter to two trade groups representing fund managers who unleashed a range of proposals for funds holding bitcoin or related assets. The SEC’s division of investment management demanded answers to at least 31 detailed questions about how mutual funds or exchange-traded funds based on bitcoin would store, safeguard, and price that asset. They also asked whether investors can understand the risks and how to address concerns that bitcoin markets could be manipulated.
“There are a number of significant investor protection issues that need to be examined before sponsors begin offering these funds to investors,” said the letter signed by Dalia Blass, the SEC’s director of investment management. Bitcoin’s 1,500% surge last year stoked investor demand for any product with exposure to the red-hot asset. A host of companies are jostling to launch exchange-traded funds which would open up the cryptocurrency to a broad retail market. The SEC in March denied a request to list an ETF from investors Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, owners of the Gemini bitcoin exchange. The Winklevoss fund is seeking to invest in bitcoin directly. Other fund firms staked their hopes on recently launched U.S.-listed bitcoin futures contracts, which promised a more stable base for ETFs than the largely unregulated virtual currency spot market. Many of those proposals were withdrawn last week at the request of the SEC.
Haven’t watched it yet.
• Oliver Stone’s “Ukraine On Fire” Documentary Released In The West (Quinn)
Oliver Stone’s seminal documentary Ukraine on Fire has finally been made available to watch in the West. Investigative journalist Robert Parry reveals how US-funded political NGOs and media companies have emerged since the 1980s, replacing the CIA in promoting America’s geopolitical agenda abroad. As Russia-Insider details, Ukraine on Fire provides a historical perspective for the deep divisions in the region which led to the 2004 Orange Revolution, the 2014 uprisings, and the violent overthrow of democratically-elected Yanukovych. Covered by Western media as a ‘popular revolution’, it was in fact a coup d’état scripted and staged by ultra-nationalist groups and the US State Department.
Executive producer Oliver Stone gained unprecedented access to the inside story through his on-camera interviews with former President Viktor Yanukovych and Minister of Internal Affairs Vitaliy Zakharchenko, who explain how the US Ambassador and factions in Washington actively plotted for regime change. And, in his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Stone solicits Putin’s take on the significance of Crimea, NATO and the US’s history of interference in elections and regime change in the region. The film was originally released in 2016, but unsurprisingly, Stone came up against problems distributing the film in the US and western countries. A Russian-dubbed version was available almost immediately and was aired on TV in Russia, but people in the ‘free world’ were left without access to the full film.
Seems quite obvious. If you can train dogs to discover cancer early on, why not DNA?
• Blood Test Could Use DNA To Spot Early-Stage Cancers (G.)
Scientists have made a major advance towards developing a blood test for cancer that could identify tumours long before a person becomes aware of symptoms. The new test, which is sensitive to both mutated DNA that floats freely in the blood and cancer-related proteins, gave a positive result approximately 70% of the time across eight of the most common cancers when tested in more than 1,000 patients. In the future, such a test could be used in routine screening programmes to significantly increase the proportion of patients who get treatment early, at a time before cancer would typically show up on conventional scans. “The use of a combination of selected biomarkers for early detection has the potential to change the way we screen for cancer, and it is based on the same rationale for using combinations of drugs to treat cancers,” said Nickolas Papadopoulos, professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University and senior author on the paper.
The test could also identify the form of cancer that a patient had, a goal that previous cancer blood tests have failed to achieve. It works by detecting free-floating mutated DNA, released into the bloodstream by dying cancer cells. The test screened for the presence of errors in 16 genes that are frequently mutated in different kinds of cancer. The blood of patients was also tested for eight known protein biomarkers which are seen to differing degrees depending on where in the body a tumour is located. In blood samples from 1,005 patients, the test detected between 33% and 98% of cases of disease. Ovarian cancer was the easiest to detect, followed by liver, stomach, pancreas, oesophageal, colorectal, lung and breast cancers. For the five cancers that currently have no screening tests – ovarian, liver, stomach, pancreatic and oesophageal cancers – sensitivity ranged from 69% to 98%.
They’re all still living with mom and dad anyway.
• Adolescence Now Lasts From 10 to 24 (BBC)
Adolescence now lasts from the ages of 10 to 24, although it used to be thought to end at 19, scientists say. Young people continuing their education for longer, as well as delayed marriage and parenthood, has pushed back popular perceptions of when adulthood begins. And changing the definition is vital to ensure laws and government policy stay appropriate, they say in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal. But another expert warns doing so risks “further infantilising young people”. Puberty is considered to start when the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus starts releasing a hormone that activates the body’s pituitary and gonadal glands. This used to happen around the age of 14 but has dropped with improved health and nutrition in much of the developed world to around the age of 10.
As a consequence, in industrialised countries such as the UK the average age for a girl’s first menstruation has dropped by four years in the past 150 years. Half of all females now have their period by 12 or 13 years of age. There are also biological arguments for why the definition of adolescence should be extended, including that the body continues to develop. For example, the brain continues to mature beyond the age of 20, working faster and more efficiently. And many people’s wisdom teeth don’t come through until the age of 25. Young people are also getting married and having children later. According to the Office of National Statistics, the average age for a man to enter their first marriage in 2013 was 32.5 years and 30.6 years for women across England and Wales. This represented an increase of almost eight years since 1973.
Lead author Prof Susan Sawyer, director of the centre for adolescent health at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, writes: “Although many adult legal privileges start at age 18 years, the adoption of adult roles and responsibilities generally occurs later.” She says delayed partnering, parenting and economic independence means the “semi-dependency” that characterises adolescence has expanded.
The 3.5% surplus is the opposite of what’s good for Greece; there should be a 3.5% deficit, with all 7% of it invested in the economy.
• Varoufakis Reveals Outburst Against ‘Stupid’ Tsipras (GR)
Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has revealed he accused Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of being “totally stupid” in accepting a demand by Greece’s creditors for big primary surpluses. During an interview with Greece’s Parapolitika radio, Varoufakis said when he learned that Tsipras in 2015 accepted, without consulting him, a primary surplus target of 3.5% he confronted the premier: “I told him: ‘Are you totally stupid? What have they given you in return?’ And he replied: ‘Oh, maybe I was stupid. I will retract from the promise’.” Varoufakis said he actually used a stronger word than “stupid”.
In the same interview, the former finance minister repeated claims that Tsipras did not really want to win in the infamous July 2015 referendum on the bailout. Varoufakis said he remembered that everyone at the prime minister’s office that evening was sad. “I do not know when exactly Tsipras decided to capitulate,” he added. Referring to his successor, Euclid Tsakalotos, he said: “I can no longer recognize him.” “Euclid became a yes man on July 6  .. The case of Euclid hurts, because I was an eyewitness of his total transformation,” he added. Varoufakis also confirmed that he still has in his possession recordings of the Eurogroup meetings of the turbulent first half of 2015.
And also, the 3.5% surplus is a perfect way to make Greece a debt slave forever.
• Greece Compliance Report Due Friday Ahead of Monday’s Eurogroup (R.)
Eurozone finance ministers could decide on Monday, or soon afterward, to release the next tranche of bailout loans to Greece after the country pushed through a batch of laws to meet reform agreements with its creditors, a senior European Union official has said. Finance ministers from the 19 countries sharing the euro meet for monthly talks on Monday and a review of Greek reforms is one of the top items on the agenda. Last Monday, the Greek Parliament approved a bill for fiscal, energy and labor reforms requested by international lenders. This is likely to complete the third and penultimate review of Greek reforms, unlocking new loans. “We are extremely well on our way towards the completion of the third review,” the senior EU official said.
“There are a number of administrative measures to be taken still. As of yet we cannot say that all the preconditions [for disbursements] have been successfully completed simply because the time lines are as they are,” the official said. Lenders’ experts, who are now translating and checking the Greek laws, are to issue a report on their compliance with the bailout’s requirements on Friday. The new loans would be between 6 and 7 billion euros, disbursed to Greece in more than one tranche, the official said. Greece would use the money to redeem maturing debt, pay arrears and create a cash buffer for when it leaves its third bailout in August. “We can be confident that the disbursements will… start in February, probably in the second half,” the official said.
It’s not about people, it’s about money and politics. Welcome to the real Europe.
• UK and France Must Stop ‘Systematic Violation’ Of Calais Refugees (Ind.)
The UK and France must urgently put an end to the “systematic violation” of refugees in Calais, a group of charities has warned. In a letter shared exclusively with The Independent, eight aid organisations urged leaders Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron to uphold their commitment to human rights law, as conditions for the thousands living on the border become increasingly perilous. The group, which includes l’Auberge des Migrants, Help Refugees, Safe Passage and Utopia56, wrote to the leaders on the same day Ms May welcomed the French President to the UK-France Summit at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. “We are writing to ask that any new agreement relating to the French-British border bear in mind the human rights of displaced people currently residing in Calais,” the letter states.
“We are deeply concerned that the human rights of refugees and displaced people in northern France are being systematically violated on French territory. We moreover lament the heightened risk of sexual violence, exploitation and trafficking to which children and youth in Calais are exposed, as well as the many avoidable deaths occurring at the border.” Ahead of the visit, the Prime Minister announced the UK will take more child refugees from Calais and spend £44.5m on additional security at the French port. Ms May and Mr Macron subsequently signed a deal on migrants called the Sandhurst Treaty, designed to ease the suffering of some of the thousands of people camped near the French port who currently wait six months to have their cases settled. However, No 10 was keen to play down suggestions that Ms May had agreed to accept more refugees, insisting it would simply speed up the process of settling claims.
And Germany now blames the island mayors.
• HRW Blames Greek Authorities For Abysmal Conditions At Hotspots (K.)
In its annual review for 2018, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the failure of Greek authorities to properly identify vulnerable asylum seekers for transfer to the mainland has “impeded their access to proper care and services.” The watchdog group also said that policy formed under the deal between the European Union and Turkey to stem the flow of migrants to the continent has led to thousands being “trapped in Greece in overcrowded and abysmal conditions, while denying most access to adequate asylum procedures or refugee protection.” “The policies, conditions, uncertainty and the slow pace of decision-making contributed to deteriorating mental health for some asylum seekers and other migrants on the islands, while creating tensions that sometimes erupted into violence,” it said.
More than 50,000 refugees and migrants are stranded in Greece. Meanwhile, five eastern Aegean island mayors are calling for a meeting with the German ambassador in Athens after coming under fire from German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who said on Wednesday that they were to blame for the appalling living conditions of refugees and migrants trapped in the hotspots. De Maiziere accused the island mayors of not making use of the aid that is being offered in order to force the government to transfer them to the Greek mainland.