Jan 082018
 
 January 8, 2018  Posted by at 10:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


James Karales Selma to Montgomery March Alabama 1965

 

Beijing’s Yuan Ambitions Look Dashed (BBG)
Two Major Apple Shareholders Push for Study of iPhone Addiction in Children (BBG)
New Jersey Poised To Bar Drunken Droning (R.)
South Korea Inspects Six Banks Over Crypto Currency Services To Clients (R.)
Bitcoin Futures Traders Are Quietly Building A Big Short Position (ZH)
Australia Forecasts 20% Iron Ore Price Drop In 2018 (R.)
Australia Government Can’t Supply Its Way To Housing Affordability (SMH)
Rising Volatility Begets Rising Volatility (Peters)
The Artificial Liquidity Bubble (Henrich)
Wikileaks Publishes Michael Wolff’s Entire Sold Out Trump Book As A PDF (ZH)
US Freezes While Sydney Sizzles: World’s Temperature Extremes Span 85ºC (BBG)

 

 

It’s not as if a strong yuan is all that good for China. A stable one might be. But the bottom line remains: nobody wants it.

Beijing’s Yuan Ambitions Look Dashed (BBG)

As 2018 gets underway, China seems to be on top again. The yuan has strengthened 6.8% against the dollar over the past 12 months and foreign-exchange reserves are growing. Not so fast.Remember November 2015, when the IMF- with some fanfare – agreed to add the yuan to its prestigious special drawing rights currency basket. Talk then was of the yuan one day becoming one of the world’s reserve currencies, perhaps even rivaling the dollar.Two years on and central banks aren’t buying the notion. Although China’s currency has a weight of more than 10% in the SDR basket, which gives equal importance to a country’s trade status and balance-sheet metrics, just 1.1% of the world’s forex reserves were held in yuan versus 63% in dollars as of the third quarter.

It’s understandable that central banks have been shying away from the euro. German two-year bunds have been offering a negative yield since mid-2014. But why the yuan? China’s short-dated government notes offer among the best interest rates: Part of the explanation is liquidity. According to the Bank of International Settlements, in 2016, the yuan constituted only 4% of the world’s currency trades. The dollar, through pairs with the euro and the yen, accounted for 88% of transactions.

Then there’s the question of time. It could be decades before any currency, yuan or bitcoin, replaces the greenback.But China itself is also to blame. It seems to have abandoned its great yuan ambitions.What happened to the dim sum bond market? The Chinese government, along with policy banks, sold fewer than $3 billion of offshore yuan notes last year, a sharp pullback from 2016 and 2015. And oddly, last October, China sold its first sovereign dollar debenture since 2004 – a move that was widely interpreted as Beijing wishing to develop a vibrant international bond market for its state-owned enterprises. The panda bond market, where foreign companies raise yuan onshore, is also going nowhere. Hungary had a small, 1 billion yuan ($154 million) issue in July, while the Philippines keeps delaying its plans. China has also hit the pause button on the idea of trading oil in yuan.

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Curious new problems.

Two Major Apple Shareholders Push for Study of iPhone Addiction in Children (BBG)

Two big shareholders of Apple are concerned that the entrancing qualities of the iPhone have fostered a public health crisis that could hurt children – and the company as well. In a letter to the smartphone maker dated Jan. 6, activist investor Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System urged Apple to create ways for parents to restrict children’s access to their mobile phones. They also want the company to study the effects of heavy usage on mental health. “There is a growing body of evidence that, for at least some of the most frequent young users, this may be having unintentional negative consequences,” according to the letter from the investors, who combined own about $2 billion in Apple shares. The “growing societal unease” is “at some point is likely to impact even Apple.”

“Addressing this issue now will enhance long-term value for all shareholders,” the letter said. It’s a problem most companies would kill to have: Young people liking a product too much. But as smartphones become ubiquitous, government leaders and Silicon Valley alike have wrestled for ways to limit their inherent intrusiveness. France, for instance, has moved to ban the use of smartphones in its primary and middle schools. Meanwhile, Android co-founder Andy Rubin is seeking to apply artificial intelligence to phones so that they perform relatively routine tasks without needing to be physically handled. Apple already offers some parental controls, such as the Ask to Buy feature, which requires parental approval to buy goods and services. Restrictions can also be placed on access to some apps, content and data usage.

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I must admit, another new problem, and one that hadn’t occurred to me yet.

New Jersey Poised To Bar Drunken Droning (R.)

U.S. drone sales in 2017 topped $1 billion for the first time ever, but don’t raise a glass too quickly if you are in New Jersey, where lawmakers are poised to outlaw drunken droning next week. It is one of a wave of U.S. states moving to bring the unmanned aircrafts’ high-flying fun back to earth. New Jersey’s Assembly is slated to vote on a bill approved by the state Senate to ban inebriated or drugged droning, as well as to outlaw flying unmanned aircraft systems over prisons and in pursuit of wildlife. The vote was set for Thursday but postponed until Monday because of a severe snowstorm that triggered a state of emergency in New Jersey. “It’s basically like flying a blender,” said John Sullivan, 41, of New York, a drone buff and aerial cinematographer.

He said he opposed drunk droning but also fretted about regulatory overreach. “If I had like one drink, I’d be hesitant to even fly it.” A 2015 drone crash on the White House lawn fueled debate in the U.S. Congress over the need for drone regulations. It was a drunken, off-duty employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency who flew the 2-foot-by-2-foot (60 cm by 60 cm) “quadcopter” from a friend’s apartment balcony and lost control of it over the grounds surrounding the White House, the New York Times reported. [..] “Like any technology, drones have the ability to be used for good, but they also provide new opportunities for bad actors,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano of Elizabeth, New Jersey. She backed the bill, which would impose a punishment of up to six months prison and a $1,000 fine for drunk droning.

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A big gap: “..bitcoin’s global price average was trading at $16,294 while in South Korean markets, it stood at 25 million won, or $23,467.35..?

South Korea Inspects Six Banks Over Crypto Currency Services To Clients (R.)

South Korean financial authorities on Monday said they are inspecting six local banks that offer virtual currency accounts to institutions, amid concerns the increasing use of such assets could lead to a surge in crime. The joint inspection by the Financial Services Commission (FSC) and Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) will check if banks are adhering to anti-money laundering rules and using real names for accounts, FSC Chairman Choi Jong-ku told a press conference. [..] Choi said the inspections are intended to provide guidance to banks and are not the result of any suspected wrongdoing. “Virtual currency is currently unable to function as a means of payment and it is being used for illegal purposes like money laundering, scams and fraudulent investor operations,” said Choi. “The side effects have been severe, leading to hacking problems at the institutions that handle cryptocurrency and an unreasonable spike in speculation.”

A Woori Bank spokesperson told Reuters the bank was filling out a checklist for the inspection. The spokesperson said Woori had stopped providing virtual account services last month as the costs of using a real-name transaction system were too prohibitive. [..] Choi said authorities are also looking at ways to reduce risks associated with cryptocurrency trading in the country, which could include shutting down institutions that use such currencies. Last month, the government said it would impose additional measures to regulate speculation in cryptocurrency trading within the country, including a ban on anonymous cryptocurrency accounts and new legislation to allows regulators to close virtual coin exchanges if needed.

Bitcoin and other virtual coins have been extremely popular in South Korea, drawing wide investments from housewives and students. Government officials have expressed concern over frenzied speculation, with South Korea’s central bank chief warning of “irrational exuberance” in trading of virtual currency last month. A South Korean cryptocurrency exchange, Youbit, shut down and filed for bankruptcy in December after it was hacked twice last year, highlighting security and regulatory concerns. South Korea’s virtual currency exchanges have been more vulnerable to hackers as bitcoin trades at higher rates on local exchanges than they do elsewhere. As of 0710 GMT, bitcoin’s global price average was trading at $16,294 while in South Korean markets, it stood at 25 million won, or $23,467.35, according to Coinhills.com.

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Bitcoin and Ripple are falling, ether rises.

Bitcoin Futures Traders Are Quietly Building A Big Short Position (ZH)

In retrospect, the launch of bitcoin futures one month ago has proven to be a modestly disappointing event: while it helped send the price of bitcoin soaring as traders braced for the institutionalization of bitcoin, the world’s most popular cryptocurrency has stagnated since the beginning of December when first the Cboe then CME started trading bitcoin futures, trading in a range between $12,000 and $17,000. And while bitcoin futures markets volumes have been lower than most had expected, the past 4 weeks have provided enough data to observe how volumes and open interest have evolved.

We discussed previously that Bitcoin futures were off to a slow start in the first week of trading, with volumes of CBOE Bitcoin futures averaging just around $40MM per day, despite intense media hype helping fuel heavy trading when both contracts launched, at least in the first hours of trading. Since then, volumes spike briefly in the following week coinciding with the launch of the CME futures, with volumes of on both exchanges at relatively similar levels. Then, as JPM’s Nikolaos Panagirtzoglou shows, after a spike in volumes to around $200mn on 22 December, which saw sharp swings in underlying Bitcoin prices, volumes have averaged around $50mn and $60mn per day on the CBOE and CME futures, respectively.

One month after their launch, futures trading volumes remain very modest compared to average Bitcoin trading volumes of around $15bn per day since futures contracts were launched according to coinmarketcap.com data. While open interest in both the CBOE and CME contracts has risen steadily, it too remains rather modest at around $60mn and $70mn, respectively. Putting futures volumes in context, on Friday, the combined size of the bitcoin-futures markets at the two exchanges was roughly $150 million, measured in terms of the value of outstanding contracts, while the total value of all bitcoins in existence was around $290 billion.

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That’s a big drop.

Australia Forecasts 20% Iron Ore Price Drop In 2018 (R.)

Australia on Monday said it expects iron ore prices to average $51.50 a tonne this year, down 20% from 2017, because of rising global supply and moderating demand from top importer China as its steel sector shrinks. The world’s top three mining companies, BHP and Vale rely heavily on iron ore sales for the bulk of their revenue despite efforts to diversify more into other industrial raw materials, such as copper, aluminium and coal. Brazil-based Vale is planning to lift iron ore exports 7% in 2018 to 390 million tonnes. In Australia, Rio Tinto and BHP, along with Fortescue Metals Group aim to add about 170 million tonnes of new capacity over the next several years.

The forecast price decline — from an average of $64.30 a tonne in 2017 — continues into 2019, when the steelmaking raw material will average only $49 a tonne, according to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. “The iron ore price is expected to experience some ongoing volatility in early 2018, as the market responds to uncertainty regarding the impact of winter production restrictions on iron ore demand,” the department warned in its latest commodities outlook paper. Iron ore currently sells for about $75 a tonne.

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All it needs to do is let prices crash. Does wonders for affordability.

Australia Government Can’t Supply Its Way To Housing Affordability (SMH)

Sydney and Melbourne are entering a housing downturn. While the government has hoped record high levels of property development would have an impact, research shows supply is not behind the price falls. Housing economists say the market slowdown is not due to additional home building but a drop in demand, in part thanks to the banking regulator making it more difficult for some to get a loan. In fact, the effect of new supply on property prices has been very limited despite state governments largely pinning hopes on a surging home building industry to rein in affordability. In a recent Australian National University paper Regional housing supply and demand in Australia academics Ben Phillips and Cukkoo Joseph found supply levels from 2001 to 2017 were larger than necessary to cover demand requirements, with thousands of excess homes in Sydney, but prices boomed over the time period.

This flies in the face of conventional economic wisdom, with the law of supply and demand dictating that the more of something you make, the cheaper it should be. There are many reasons why housing doesn’t respond to increases in supply in the way the market for coal, apples or t-shirts might be expected to react. When economists are making models they usually assume they are calculating the impacts on a “normal” good. One of the assumptions often made when modelling supply and demand for these goods is that what is produced is all homogenous, that is they are more or less the same. Typically, someone will pay the same amount for one item as they will for another that is identical.

Housing is not in this category. Even in the most sterile of apartment blocks, there will be many different design features, flaws, views and aspects that differ in each unit. The impact of new supply on the property market is limited by whether the type of property being built caters to existing demand. For instance, new apartments on the outskirts of greater Sydney or Melbourne may not appeal to the same market bidding up the price of mansions with water views.

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It’s just like Minsky: stability begets instability.

Rising Volatility Begets Rising Volatility (Peters)

To sell implied volatility at current 50yr lows, investors must imagine tomorrow will be virtually identical to today. They must imagine that bond yields won’t rise despite every major central bank eager to hike interest rates and exit QE. They must imagine that economies at or near full employment will not create inflation; that GDP will neither accelerate nor decelerate; that governments will tolerate historic levels of income inequality despite citizens voting for the opposite; that strongly rising global debts will be supported by structurally decelerating global growth. And volatility sellers must imagine that nine years into a bull market, amplified by a proliferation of complex volatility-selling strategies and passive ETFs with liquidity mismatches, that we will dodge a destabilizing shock to market infrastructure.

I can imagine a few of those things happening, but neither sustainably nor simultaneously. It is much easier to imagine a tomorrow that looks different from today. Also consider that investment banks and asset managers have always devised creative strategies to make money once asset valuations exceed reasonable levels. These perpetual prosperity machines typically combine leverage and alchemy, transforming real risk into perceived safety. Examples abound. But in this cycle, a proliferation of cleverly disguised volatility-selling strategies has dominated. Zero interest rates and quantitative easing left yield-starved investors with few ways to achieve their target returns. Wall Street’s engineers developed many wonderful solutions to this problem. Their magnificence is matched only by the amount of negative convexity now lurking in investment portfolios.

As volatility has declined, investors have had to sell even more of it to sustain sufficient profits. This selling reinforces the trend lower, which produces an illusion that legacy volatility shorts are less risky today than yesterday. Lower volatility thus begets lower volatility. And this also ensures that quantitative models reduce overall portfolio risk estimates, which allows (and in many cases forces) investors to buy more assets at prevailing prices. This in turn reduces volatility, reflexively. Naturally, the reverse is also true. Rising volatility begets rising volatility. And given the unprecedented volatility-selling in this cycle, this market is exposed to a historic reversal somewhere along the path to policy normalization. Which has now begun.

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aka the everything bubble.

The Artificial Liquidity Bubble (Henrich)

8 years after the financial crisis we remain in an environment that is entirely dependent on artificial liquidity, be it via central bank liquidity driven low rates and/or QE or now US fiscal stimulus in the form of tax cuts. And while a reduction in central bank stimulus is anticipated for 2018 the $1.5 trillion US tax cut is the next active artificial boost to hit markets. You can view it perhaps this way: When the US ended QE3 Europe and Japan took over the stimulus baton, and now that Europe is reducing stimulus the US again is taking the lead, this time with fiscal stimulus. It is a bizarre dance that excels in one aspect in particular: It never ends. Consider: German unemployment is at all time lows, and European PMIs are at their highest in over 7 years.

Is the ECB raising rates from record lows? Nope. Has QE ended? Nope. QE continues to run at $30B Euro a month and rates remain in full panic mode. Not what one would’ve expected 8 years ago following a return to full employment. Stimulus programs & interventions used to be methods of crisis management now they have become permanent fixtures in global economies. Why? Because this is what it takes. And they will continue. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has just instructed central bank chief Kuroda to keep printing as he decides whether to keep him in his job. Wink wink. Normalizing rates? Reducing balance sheets back to pre-crisis levels? Letting markets run on their own without intervention? Call it the big central banking lie. It will never happen. It can’t. Global debt is now exceeding $233 Trillion.

[..] the math of higher rates doesn’t work and will eventual break the camel’s back. Low rates are an absolute must requirement to keep the construct afloat. It is no accident that Morgan Stanley wealth management has decided to pull out of junk bonds. They are warning of US tax cuts accelerating market excesses bringing about a coming recession. And make no mistake, a recession will come as we are very late in the cycle.

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Count me out.

Wikileaks Publishes Michael Wolff’s Entire Sold Out Trump Book As A PDF (ZH)

Considering that Wikileaks made its name by leaking confidential and/or hard to find documents and information, and also considering the reversal in the Trump administration vis-a-vis Julian Assange, whom it first lauded only to threaten with incarceration in recent months, it is perhaps not surprising that moments ago the official Wikileaks twitter account published Michael Wolff’s controversial – and largely sold out – book, “Fire and Fury” in pdf format.

New Trump book “Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolff. Full PDF: https://t.co/sf7vj4IYAx

— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 7, 2018

Since, somewhat ironically, WikiLeaks picked a google drive to host the leaked pdf, it will unlikely remain available for an extended period, as it would mean substantial lost revenue for book published Henry Holt and Company. So for those who wish to read what all the hoople is about – for free – they are advised to do so sooner rather than later.

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View from the west only. How do you dress for a flight like that?

US Freezes While Sydney Sizzles: World’s Temperature Extremes Span 85ºC (BBG)

Temperature extremes across the globe spanned more than 85 degrees Celsius at the weekend as Sydney melted and parts of the U.S. froze. Western Sydney touched 47.3 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday afternoon local time, the city’s hottest day since 1939. Weekend temperatures at Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire plummeted to minus 36 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 38 degrees Celsius). Roads melted, firefighters battled wildfires across New South Wales state and Sydney residents retreated to air-conditioned shopping malls as temperatures surged. English cricket captain Joe Root was hospitalized with severe dehydration after battling Australia in the cauldron of the Sydney Cricket Ground. At the same time, freezing fog and snow buffeted Mount Washington, tying the observatory for the second-coldest place on Earth.

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Dec 232017
 
 December 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Ansel Adams Boulder Dam 1941

 

Bitcoin Briefly Plunges As Low As $10,400, Down 47%, In Volatile Trading (CNBC)
2017 Year In Review (David Collum)
2017 Year in Review (Jim Kunstler)
Foreign Cash Driving Top-End House Prices In Vancouver And Toronto (R.)
Canadian Housing Affordability Hits 27 Year Low (Saretsky)
Saudi Government Wants $6 Billion For al-Waleed’s Freedom (ZH)
What’s Going On With Cars? (Gaines)
Greek Pensioners May Face Further Cuts In 2018 (K.)
Make Supermarkets And Drinks Firms Pay For Plastic Recycling, Say UK MPs (G.)

 

 

Keep the faith. It’s Christmas time after all.

Bitcoin Briefly Plunges As Low As $10,400, Down 47%, In Volatile Trading (CNBC)

Bitcoin plunged Friday, taking the digital currency briefly below $11,000 and down 47% from a record high hit at the start of the week. Bitcoin had rallied to a record high above $19,800 on Sunday and was trading near $15,500 for much of Thursday New York time, according to Coinbase. But an afternoon selloff accelerated into the night, and bitcoin dropped 30.2% Friday morning to a low of $10,400 on Coinbase. It had recovered above $14,600 by Friday afternoon, off 27% from the all-time high. There were no immediately apparent explanation for the selloff and extreme volatility.

“I would say the drop in bitcoin is a result of the massive new inflows of retail investors who are relatively ‘weak hands’ and more prone to sell at the sight of falling prices than the capital that has been in the system for a while that has a longer term outlook,” Alex Sunnarborg, founding partner at cryptofund Tetras Capital, said in an email. Adding to the confusion, trading on Coinbase was disabled for more than two hours in the middle of the day. The company had more than 13 million users at the end of November. At its lows, bitcoin had fallen 47% in just five days and lost about $9,400. The digital currency erased more than $1,000 in one hour alone Friday morning.

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You’re on your own with Collum’s as always very very long review:

2017 Year In Review (David Collum)

A poem for Dave’s Year In Review

The bubble in everything grew

This nut from Cornell

Say’s we’re heading for hell

As I look at the data…#MeToo

[email protected]

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We have reviews in all sorts and sizes. But with Christmas still to come, can they be complete?!

2017 Year in Review (Jim Kunstler)

2017 was the kind of year when no amount of showers could wash off the feeling of existential yeccchhhhh that crept over you day after day like jungle rot. You needed to go through the carwash without your car… or maybe an acid bath would get the stink off. Cinematically, if 2016 was like The Eggplant That Ate Chicago, then 2017 was more like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, a gruesome glimpse into the twisted soul of America. And by that I do not mean simply our dear leader, the Golden Golem of Greatness. We’re all in this horror show together. 2017 kicked off with the report by “seventeen intelligence agencies” — did you know there were so many professional snoops and busybodies on the US payroll? — declaring that Russia, and Vladimir Putin personally, tried to influence the 2016 presidential election.

“Meddling” and “collusion” became the watch-words of the year: but what exactly did they mean? Buying $100,000 worth of Google ads in a campaign that the two parties spent billions on? No doubt the “seventeen intelligence agencies” the US pays for were not alert to these shenanigans until the damage was done. Since then it’s been Russia-Russia-Russia 24/7 on the news wires. A few pleas bargains have been made to lever-up the action. When and if the Special Prosecutor, Mr. Mueller, pounces, I expect the GGG to fire him, pardon some of the plea-bargained culprits (if that’s what they were and not just patsies), and incite a constitutional crisis. Won’t that be fun? Anyway, that set the tone for the inauguration of the Golden Golem, a ghastly adversarial spectacle.

Never in my memory, going back to JFK in 1960, was there such a bad vibe at this solemn transfer of power as with the sight of all those Deep State dignitaries gathering gloomily on the Capitol portico to witness the unthinkable. From the sour scowl on her face, I thought Hillary might leap up and attempt to garrote the GGG with a high-C piano wire right there on rostrum. The “greatest crowd ever” at an inauguration, as the new president saw it, looked pathetically sparse to other observers. The deed got done. Five days later, the Dow Jones stock index hit the 20,000 mark and began a year-long run like no other in history: 50 all-time-highs, and a surge of 5000 points by year’s end, with 12 solid “winning” months of uptick.

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That 15% foreign buyers tax didn’t help much.

Foreign Cash Driving Top-End House Prices In Vancouver And Toronto (R.)

Foreign buyers are driving up the prices of homes in Canada’s two largest housing markets, according to research which will intensify the debate around overseas property ownership in the expensive cities of Vancouver and Toronto. While people living outside Canada own less than 5% of residential properties in the two cities, those homes are worth significantly more than those held by residents, according to a Reuters analysis of data released this week by Statistics Canada. Public debate over the role of foreign investment in Canada has reached a fever pitch, with locals saying price increases of 60% in Vancouver and 40% in Toronto over the past three years are keeping them out of the market. In Toronto, the average value of a detached home built in 2016-2017 and owned by a non-resident is C$1.7m (US$1.3m), a whopping 48.7% higher than C$1.1m for residents.

Those values for Vancouver average a lofty C$2.5m for non-residents and C$1.8m for residents for a difference of 40.6%. Among all detached homes, not just new ones, those owned by non-residents were larger than residents’ houses by 13.1% in Vancouver and 2.2% in Toronto. The new data reinforces anecdotal evidence that foreign buyers tend to focus on the most affluent neighborhoods, said Jane Londerville, a real estate professor at the University of Guelph in Southern Ontario. “If the goal is to get a couple million dollars out of their country and put it in a very safe, calm economy, you might as well buy a C$2m house,” she said. “So they’re buying in Forest Hill in Toronto and Kerrisdale in Vancouver.” The Statscan data does not look at sales, or flow, but rather is a static snapshot of ownership of housing stock at the time of collection.

Foreign capital also targets new condos, with new Vancouver units owned by non-residents valued at 19.7% more than those owned by residents. In Toronto, the difference is 11.2%. “There’s been a huge spike in foreign ownership in newer buildings,” said Diana Petramala, senior researcher at Ryerson University’s urban policy centre in Toronto. [..] A 15% foreign buyers tax was imposed in Vancouver in 2016 and Toronto in 2017 amid a backlash against foreign buyers, particularly from China. This has cooled both markets at least temporarily.

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Canada doesn’t want to solve the issue anymore than any other country does.

Canadian Housing Affordability Hits 27 Year Low (Saretsky)

“Nothing says Merry Christmas like a 27 year low for Canadian housing affordability. That’s right, real estate across Canada has not been this un affordable since the year 1990 per RBC. Spoiler alert house prices tumbled shortly thereafter. RBC Bank released their updated Q3 numbers for housing affordability. To no surprise, Vancouver leads the nation in the most unaffordable market to buy a home. Followed by Toronto and then Victoria. “The deterioration in the latest two quarters, in fact, put Vancouver buyers in the worst affordability position ever recorded in Canada.“ The area experienced the sharpest affordability drop among Canada’s major markets between the second and third quarters. RBC’s aggregate measure surged by 5.3 percentage points to 87.5%. This represents a new record high for any market in Canada. We see further downside to Vancouver’s home ownership rate in the period ahead. The rate fell from 65.5% in 2011 to 63.7% in 2016.”

What RBC didn’t mention in their report is the correlation between elevated house prices that cause affordability issues and recessions. When too much household money is spent servicing mortgage payments it eventually becomes a drag on consumer spending and ultimately triggers a recession. This is not to suggest a recession is imminent. But when the percent of income the median family would have to use to service debt pushes above 50% in Toronto and Vancouver, a recession typically follows in Canada. Currently Toronto is at 71.7%, and Vancouver is at 79.87%. With the Bank of Canada expected to follow our US counter parts in 2018, a couple more interest rate increases are sure to erode affordability even further. Across Canada, Household income would need to climb by 8.5% to fully cover the increase in homeownership costs arising from a 75 basis-point hike in mortgage rates. Buckle in.

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Would you bet on MBS?

Saudi Government Wants $6 Billion For al-Waleed’s Freedom (ZH)

In case you were wondering what the going-rate was for one of the world’s richest men’s freedom… it’s $6 billion… in unencumbered cash (not Bitcoin). That is the price that Saudi authorities are demanding from Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal to free him from detention. The 62-year-old prince was one of the dozens of royals, government officials and businesspeople rounded up early last month in a wave of arrests the Saudi government billed as the first volley in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s campaign against widespread graft. According to the Mail, al-Waleed, who is (or was, until recently) one of the richest men in the world, has also been hung upside down and beaten.

The Saudi government has disclosed few details of its allegations against the accused, but as The Wall Street Journal reports, people familiar with the matter said the $6 billion Saudi officials are demanding from Prince al-Waleed, a large stakeholder in Western businesses like Twitter, is among the highest figures they have sought from those arrested. While the prince’s fortune is estimated at $18.7 billion by Forbes – which would make him the Middle East’s wealthiest individual – he has indicated that he believes raising and handing over that much cash as an admission of guilt and would require him to dismantle the financial empire he has built over 25 years. Prince al-Waleed is talking with the government about instead accepting as payment for his release a large piece of his conglomerate, Kingdom Holding Co., people familiar with the matter said.

The Riyadh-listed company’s market value is $8.7 billion, down about 14% since the prince’s arrest. Kingdom Holding said in November that it retained the support of the Saudi government and that its strategy “remains intact.” According to a senior Saudi official, Prince al-Waleed faces accusations that include money laundering, bribery and extortion. The official didn’t elaborate, but said the Saudi government is merely “having an amicable exchange to reach a settlement.” The prince has indicated to people close to him that he is determined to prove his innocence and would fight the corruption allegations in court if he had to. “He wants a proper investigation. It is expected that al-Waleed will give MBS a hard time,” said a person close to Prince al-Waleed, referring to the crown prince by his initials, as many do.

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As I said yesterday, this won’t’ be as big as subprime houseing, but it’ll be much messier: “The problem with high rebate numbers is it absolutely kills the resale value of a car.”

What’s Going On With Cars? (Gaines)

Automotive credit has become easier in the last few years, and manufacturers are still seeking whatever growth they can come up with in our market at any cost. People are buying cars they can’t afford or shouldn’t even have been able to buy. Used car depreciation is at an all time high for many cars and yet everyday more and more people are trading them in. This whole scenario has a bleak end that became evident when I went to my buddy Paris’ repo lot. He called me to check out a 2016 BMW 435i he jacked for BMW Financial Services. It was a beautiful Estoril Blue M-Sport car with just under eight thousand miles on the clock. I could only imagine the circumstances where someone let go of a year old BMW, but as we walked through I noticed all of the cars seemed to be nearly new.

Paris confirmed my fears when he told my about nine-out-of-ten vehicles he’s repossessed in the last few months were model year 2016 or newer. To make matters worse Paris only does work for prime and a few captive lenders, meaning a majority of these cars went out to consumers with good credit. On the other end, every time I look up from my desk there is a customer who is absolutely drowned in their vehicle. Six thousand dollars in negative equity is the norm, but I’ve witnessed numbers as high as twenty thousand in the last year. Customers are always astounded by how their car has lost so much of its value so quickly. What they fail to realise is their car was worthless from the beginning. Rebates and incentives are at an all time high at many manufacturers, J.D. Power quoted an average around four thousand dollars earlier this year, and I’m sure that number has risen since then. The problem with high rebate numbers is it absolutely kills the resale value of a car.

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Keep squeezing, there’s still some blood left there.

Greek Pensioners May Face Further Cuts In 2018 (K.)

Auxiliary pensions appear headed for a fresh cut in 2018, as the single auxiliary social security fund (ETEAEP) will end 2017 with a deficit, against the small surplus originally forecast. Crucially, while the ETEAEP budget for next year provides for a surplus of €176.01 million, expenditure on pensions will be reduced by 150 million euros. Based on the latest social security laws introduced by former minister Giorgos Katrougalos and current minister Effie Achtsioglou, the new auxiliary pensions – when they are finally issued – will be reduced by 22% on average, with a cut of up to 18% expected to existing pensions in 2019. The provisions of the ETEAEP budget that Kathimerini has seen suggest that existing pensions might be cut as early as next year. The single auxiliary social security fund is now projecting a deficit of €166.6 million for this year, compared to an original forecast for a €10.07 million surplus.

For next year’s surplus of 176.007 million euros to be attained, spending on auxiliary pensions will have to be reduced from €4.30 billion in 2016 and €4.17 billion this year to €4.02 billion in 2018. This means the sum of auxiliary pensions will decline by 3.59% next year. Revenues from next year’s social security contributions are estimated at €2.68 billion, against €2.566 billion this year (compared to a forecast for €2.581 billion). The ETEAEP budget also shows that the fund sold bonds worth €200 million this yea – at a considerable loss – while next year it will need to cash in bonds worth €80 million from the special fund at the Bank of Greece. In total, takings from the fund’s cash and bond handling for this year are estimated at €397.14 million, against an original projection of €200.54 million. Revenues from the utilization or sale of assets will amount to an estimated €311.65 million next year.

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How typical is this of mankind on the verge of 2018? The idea is environmental problems can be solved by putting monetary values on everything. The idea is as wrong as it is stupid. Cleaning the planet will not be done for monetary reasons.

Make Supermarkets And Drinks Firms Pay For Plastic Recycling, Say UK MPs (G.)

Supermarkets, retailers and drinks companies should be forced to pay significantly more towards the recycling of the plastic packaging they sell, an influential committee of MPs has said. Members of the environmental audit committee called for a societal change in the UK to reduce the 7.7bn plastic water bottles used each year, and embed a culture of carrying reusable containers which are refilled at public water fountains and restaurants, cafes, sports centres and fast food outlets. British consumers use 13bn plastic bottles a year, but only 7.5bn are recyled. MPs said the introduction of a plastic bottle deposit return scheme (DRS) was key to reducing plastic waste in the UK, as part of a series of measures to reduce littering and increase recycling rates.

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has called for evidence on a plastic bottle deposit scheme, and it is expected to be part of measures he announces in the new year. Major retailers have yet to support such a scheme, but Iceland and the Co-op recently announced their backing for a DRS. The report published on Friday underlines the need for government intervention to tackle plastic waste in the UK and calls for higher charges on companies to contribute to clearing up the waste they create. Mary Creagh, chair of the environmental audit committee, said: “Urgent action is needed to protect our environment from the devastating effects of marine plastic pollution, which if it continues to rise at current rates, will outweigh fish by 2050.

“Plastic bottles make up a third of all plastic pollution in the sea and are a growing litter problem on UK beaches. We need action at individual, council, regional and national levels to turn back the plastic tide.” In the report MPs called for the “polluter pays” principle to be applied to companies to increase their contribution to recycling plastic waste.

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Sep 232017
 
 September 23, 2017  Posted by at 8:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dalí Mi esposa desnuda 1945

 

Why the Stock Market’s Up and Why it Won’t Last (MO)
The Great Corporate Cash Shell Game (BBG)
Debt Has Become A Way Of Life In Canada (OweC)
Housing Affordability NEVER Worse…By a Long-Shot (Hanson)
The Demise of the Dollar: Don’t Hold Your Breath (CH Smith)
China Slashes Trade Ties With North Korea (BBC)
Russia Steps In To Prevent ‘Domino Effect’ In Its Banking Sector (CNBC)
UK’s Credit Rating Downgraded By Moody’s (BBC)
The Scandals That Brought Down Uber (Ind.)
Uber Had This Coming – It Was Never Just A ‘Tech Platform’ (Ind.)
Puerto Rico Is Back In The 18th Century (Kunstler)
It Gets Ugly in Catalonia (DQ)
The Killing of History (John Pilger)

 

 

“Once the Fed stops buying that paper, the dealers will have a lot less cash and that means a lot more selling.”

Why the Stock Market’s Up and Why it Won’t Last (MO)

The U.S. Treasury has been up against its debt ceiling since March 15 when the ceiling was re-imposed. Since then, there has been no net new issuance from the Treasury. The Treasury has run down its cash balances and borrowed internally from its own resources, which are not subject to the ceiling. This period has been very helpful to the financial markets. With the federal government not selling any net new supply of securities—just rolling the maturing stuff over—the markets have been flush with cash that would otherwise have been absorbed by the government. This hit of extra liquidity is about to disappear and then some. President Trump has made a three-month debt ceiling deal with the Democrats which means that the Treasury can resume borrowing without restrictions through December.

This increase in the debt ceiling is needed to reliquify the federal government (which is down to $38 billion in cash) and repay the internal funds the Treasury raided since the debt ceiling was imposed back in March. The Treasury needs to borrow a substantial amount of money. There hasn’t been a material increase in the Treasury’s borrowing schedule yet, but it is coming. The Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee (TBAC), a group of senior Wall Street executives, has advised the Treasury to issue $501 billion in net new supply in the fourth quarter, virtually all in November and December, and the Treasury almost always follows the TBAC script. That’s an outrageous amount of money. The cash the Treasury needs is not sitting somewhere in primary dealer bank accounts; it’s invested in the financial markets. Securities will have to be sold to accommodate this new issuance.

This is not new. A borrowing spike happens every time we have an increase in the debt ceiling as the chart demonstrates. Note that this chart reflects an estimate of net new issuance needed to return to last year’s cash on hand and was produced before TBAC had issued its recommendations. TBAC is proposing to move more slowly. Nonetheless, past funding spikes are clearly demarcated and the next one is going to be big. While Treasury supply will increase, the trend of demand for Treasuries has been going the other way. Bid coverage at auctions has been declining in recent months and the largest banks have been reducing their inventories of Treasury securities. Falling demand in the face of increasing supply is a recipe for a bear market in bonds. Bond yields will rise and that will put pressure on stocks as well.

The Federal Reserve has given the market extraordinary support over the past eight years by financing most new Treasury supply. Even after it stopped outright QE in November of 2014, the Fed continued to buy $25–$45 billion per month in maturing Mortgage Backed Securities from the primary dealers. That cashed up the dealers and helped finance their purchases of new Treasuries. But now, the Fed intends to join the Treasury as a net seller of Treasuries (and MBS) as it starts to reduce its balance sheet this fall. Once the Fed stops buying that paper, the dealers will have a lot less cash and that means a lot more selling.

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“These companies have a record amount of cash and they’re more deeply indebted than ever before.”

The Great Corporate Cash Shell Game (BBG)

There’s a mystery hidden on the balance sheets of Corporate America: These companies have a record amount of cash and they’re more deeply indebted than ever before.This seems paradoxical and kind of silly. Why raise money from bond investors when you already have the liquid assets on hand? As Bloomberg News reported Thursday, non-financial companies’ liquid assets, which include foreign deposits, currency as well as money-market and mutual fund shares, reached a record of almost $2.3 trillion in the second quarter. That’s an increase of nearly 60% since mid-2009. This cash cushion also appears sort of comforting; companies can do whatever they want. They’re rich. But in reality, it is neither silly nor overly comforting.

First of all, a disproportionate amount of the cash is held by the biggest companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet and General Electric, and it is mostly held in overseas accounts. These corporations can’t bring that cash back without incurring steep tax bills, so they’ve been keeping it offshore. When they need money, they simply raise dollars by borrowing from the bond market at record-low rates. Indeed, the amount of bonds issued by these companies has surged, rising 66% from mid-2009 to $5.24 trillion of bonds outstanding as of the end of June, Federal Reserve data show. That isn’t necessarily a recipe for default because a large chunk of this is an exercise in financial engineering aimed at avoiding onerous taxes. But it has consequences.

First, it limits the benefit to the economy if and when those tax policies are changed because much of the money has already been released through the bond market. And second, to the extent that companies have cash, they’re not using enough of it for exciting projects. There hasn’t been a tremendous wave of innovation or salary increases. Instead, companies have repurchased billions of dollars of their own shares, which is great for the stock market but doesn’t do a whole lot to bolster economic growth.

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A bit poorly written, but still: “For each $1.00 the economy grew in this 1 year period the total debt outstanding increased by $5.48.”

Debt Has Become A Way Of Life In Canada (OweC)

The borrowing and spending binge by Canadian households, businesses and governments (all levels) continues unabated. Growing the debt in the economy significantly faster than the economy itself grows seems to have developed into a way of life in Canada. At the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding in Canada was $7.51 trillion. At the end of June, 2016 it was $7.13 trillion. In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 it increased by $375 billion. This is an increase of 5.2%. The approximate beginning of the global financial crisis was June, 2007. At the end of June, 2007 the total debt outstanding in Canada was $3.99 trillion. In the last 10 years it has increased by $3.52 trillion. This is an increase of 88.3%. At the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors was $5.32 trillion.

At the end of June, 2016 the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors was $5.04 trillion. In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 it increased by $278 billion. This is an increase of 5.5%. At the end of June, 2007 the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors was $2.84 trillion. In the last 10 years it has increased by $2.47 trillion. This is an increase of 86.9%. At the end of June, 2017 the annual GDP at market prices in Canada was $2.12 trillion, and in the preceding 1 year it grew by 6.3%, – ie: the size of the economy grew by $133.9 billion. In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding in Canada increased by $375 billion. For each $1.00 the economy grew in this 1 year period (using the GDP at market prices metric) the total debt outstanding increased by $2.80.

Looking at just the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors in Canada: In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors increased by $278 billion. For each $1.00 the economy grew in this 1 year period (using the gdp at market prices metric) the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors increased by $2.08. At the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding in Canada was 3.5 times greater than our annual gdp at market prices, and looking at just the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors, that was 2.5 times greater than our annual gdp at market prices. [..] In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding in Canada increased by $375 billion. For each $1.00 the economy grew in this 1 year period the total debt outstanding increased by $5.48.

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Communities and societies don’t matter. Only money does.

Housing Affordability NEVER Worse…By a Long-Shot (Hanson)

My chart highlights how for DECADES the income required to buy a median priced house – using popular programs & rates for each era – remained mostly flat (red line) and WELL BELOW the level of household income (black line). How could house prices rise so much for decades but income required to buy (red) them remain flattish? Because of the accompanying falling rates/easing credit guideline cycle. In fact, during Bubble 1.0 house prices soared but exotic loans legitimately made them more affordable than ever, as shown.

But in ’12, as trillions in unorthodox capital, credit & liquidity began to drive massive speculation (just like Bubble 1.0) income required to buy began to surge, with prices, shooting above median HH income (boxed in yellow). Meaningful sales growth with this affordability backdrop is impossible. …This is the point in this inflationary cycle at which affordability detached from end-user fundamentals. Now, in ’17, end-user purchase power & house prices have never been more diverged from the multi-decade trend line and a mean reversion – via surging wages, new era exotic loans, plunging rates, and/or falling house prices, as speculation ebbs – is inevitable.

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Must read. Like Charles, I don’t see it either. There is nothing to replace the USD for the foreseeable future.

The Demise of the Dollar: Don’t Hold Your Breath (CH Smith)

Every form of credit/debt is denominated in a currency. A Japanese bond is denominated in yen, for example. The bond is purchased with yen, the interest is paid in yen, and the coupon paid at maturity is in yen. What gets tricky is debt denominated in some other currency. Let’s say I take out a loan denominated in quatloos. The current exchange rates between USD and quatloos is 1 to 1: parity. So far so good. I convert 100 USD to 100 quatloos every month to make the principal and interest payment of 100 quatloos. Then some sort of kerfuffle occurs in the FX markets, and suddenly it takes 2 USD to buy 1 quatloo. Oops: my loan payments just doubled. Where it once only cost 100 USD to service my loan denominated in quatloos, now it takes $200 to make my payment in quatloos. Ouch. Notice the difference between payments, reserves and debt: payments/flows are transitory, reserves and debt are not.

What happens in flows is transitory: supply and demand for currencies in this moment fluctuate, but flows are so enormous–trillions of units of currency every day–that flows don’t affect the value or any currency much. FX markets typically move in increments of 1/100 of a percentage point. So flows don’t matter much. De-dollarization of flows is pretty much a non-issue. What matters is demand for currencies that is enduring: reserves and debt.The same 100 quatloos can be used hundreds of times daily in payment flows; buyers and sellers only need the quatloos for a few seconds to complete the conversion and payment. But those needing quatloos for reserves or to pay long-term debts need quatloos to hold. The 100 quatloos held in reserve essentially disappear from the available supply of quatloos.

Another source of confusion is trade flows. If the U.S. buys more stuff from China than China buys from the U.S., goods flow from China to the U.S. and U.S. dollars flow to China. As China’s trade surplus continues, the USD just keep piling up. What to do with all these billions of USD? One option is to buy U.S. Treasury bonds (debt denominated in dollars), as that is a vast, liquid market with plenty of demand and supply. Another is to buy some other USD-denominated assets, such as apartment buildings in Seattle. This is the source of the petro-dollar trade. All the oil/gas that’s imported into the U.S. is matched by a flow of USD to the oil-exporting nations, who then have to do something with the steadily increasing pile of USD.

The USD is still the dominant reserve currency, despite decades of diversification. Global reserves (allocated and unallocated) are over $12 trillion. Note that China’s RMB doesn’t even show up in allocated reserves–it’s a non-player because it’s pegged to the USD. Why hold RMB when the peg can be changed at will? It’s lower risk to just hold USD. While total global debt denominated in USD is about $50 trillion, the majority of this is domestic, i.e. within the U.S. economy. $11 trillion has been issued to non-banks outside the U.S., including developed and emerging market debt:

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Well, not entirely.

China Slashes Trade Ties With North Korea (BBC)

China has moved to limit North Korea’s oil supply and will stop buying textiles from the politically isolated nation, it said on Saturday. China is North Korea’s most important trading partner, and one of its only sources of hard currency. The ban on textiles trade will hurt Pyongyang’s income, while China’s oil exports are the country’s main source of petroleum products. The tougher stance follows North Korea’s latest nuclear test this month. The United Nations agreed fresh sanctions – including the textiles and petroleum restrictions – in response. A statement from China’s commerce ministry said restrictions on refined petroleum products would apply from 1 October, and on liquefied natural gas immediately.

A limited amount, allowed under the UN resolution, would still be exported to North Korea. The current volume of trade between the two countries – and how much the new limits reduce it by – is not yet clear. But the ban on textiles – Pyongyang’s second-biggest export – is expected to cost the country more than $700m a year. China and Russia had initially opposed a proposal from the United States to completely ban oil exports, but later agreed to the reduced measures. North Korea has little energy production of its own, but does refine some petroleum products from crude oil it imports – which is not included in the new ban. The AFP news agency reports that petrol prices in Pyongyang have risen by about 20% in the past two months.

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Spring cleaning: “Russia’s central bank has reportedly now closed more than a third of the country’s banks – approximately 300 lenders – in the last three years..”

Russia Steps In To Prevent ‘Domino Effect’ In Its Banking Sector (CNBC)

Russia’s central bank has been forced to rescue two major lenders in less than a month, intensifying concerns among global investors that a systemic banking crisis could be in the offing. The Russian government’s latest rescue of a major bank was confirmed on Thursday, when the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) said it had nationalized the country’s 12th largest lender in terms of assets, B&N Bank. Last month, the CBR stepped in to launch one of the largest bank rescues in Russia’s history when Otkritie Bank required a bailout to help plug a $7 billion hole in its balance sheet. Russia’s central bank moved to dismiss intensifying concerns that a brewing systemic crisis could be forthcoming on Thursday, as it said its second major bank nationalization in three weeks had prevented a “domino effect” in the country’s ailing banking sector.

“We realized that it’s better to isolate a bit more so that the domino effect does not arise, and according to the results of this work the domino effect is excluded, there is no risk of this,” Vasily Pozdyshev, deputy governor at the CBR, told a press conference as reported by state media. B&N Bank requires an estimated capitalization of around $4.3 billion to $6 billion, according to Pozdyshev, an amount approximately equivalent to 25% of the lender’s balance sheet. The failure of two major lenders in relatively quick succession has fueled anxiety over the health of Russia’s banking sector, which has been hampered by an economic slowdown and Western sanctions in recent years.

In 2014, Russian regulators were jolted into action after a dramatic slump in oil prices as well as tough international sanctions for its annexation of Crimea and Russia’s perceived role in destabilizing eastern Ukraine. The CBR has been attempting to clean up the banking sector since 2013, shutting down scores of banks that it believed represented a risk to the system. Russia’s central bank has reportedly now closed more than a third of the country’s banks – approximately 300 lenders – in the last three years as it sought to eradicate undercapitalized institutions.

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Brexit becomes expensive.

UK’s Credit Rating Downgraded By Moody’s (BBC)

The UK’s credit rating has been cut over concerns about the UK’s public finances and fears Brexit could damage the country’s economic growth. Moody’s, one of the major ratings agencies, downgraded the UK to an Aa2 rating from Aa1. It said leaving the European Union was creating economic uncertainty at a time when the UK’s debt reduction plans were already off course. Downing Street said the firm’s Brexit assessments were “outdated”. The other major agencies, Fitch and S&P, changed their ratings in 2016, with S&P cutting it two notches from AAA to AA, and Fitch lowering it from AA+ to AA.

Moody’s said the government had “yielded to pressure and raised spending in several areas” including health and social care. It says revenues were unlikely to compensate for the higher spending. The agency said because the government had not secured a majority in the snap election it “further obscures the future direction of economic policy”. It also said Brexit would dominate legislative priorities, so there could be limited capacity to address “substantial” challenges. It added “any free trade agreement will likely take years to negotiate, prolonging the current uncertainty for business”. Moody’s has also changed the UK’s long-term issuer and debt ratings to “stable” from “negative”.

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Uber was allowed to grow massively, elbowing any competition out of the way. It’s just dumb.

The Scandals That Brought Down Uber (Ind.)

Transport for London has announced it will not renew ride-sharing app Uber’s licence, because it had identified a “lack of corporate responsibility” in the company. The statement highlighted four major areas of concern: the company’s approach to reporting criminal offences, the obtaining of medical certificates, its compliance with Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks on employees, and its use of controversial Greyball software to “block regulatory… access to the app”. The company has recently been dogged by a number of corporate scandals in the UK and its international operations, which ultimately led to the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick in June. Uber has repeatedly come under fire for its handling of allegations of sexual assault by its drivers against passengers.

Freedom of Information data obtained by The Sun last year showed that the Metropolitan Police investigated 32 drivers for rape or sexual assault of a passenger between May 2015 and May 2016. In August, Metropolitan Police Inspector Neil Billany wrote to TfL about his concern that the company was failing to properly investigate allegations against its drivers. He revealed the company had continued to employ a driver after he was accused of sexual assault. According to Inspector Billany, the same driver went on to assault another female passenger before he was removed. The letter said: “By not reporting to police promptly, Uber are allowing situations to develop that clearly affect the safety and security of the public.”

The statement by London’s transport body also expresses concern about “its approach to explaining the use of Greyball in London”. In March it emerged that Uber had been secretly using a tool called Greyball to deceive law enforcement officials in a number of US cities where the company flouted state regulations. Greyball used personal data of individuals it believed were connected to local government and ensured that its drivers would not pick them up if they requested a ride on the app. It was used in Portland, Oregon, Philadelphia, Boston, and Las Vegas, as well as France, Australia, China, South Korea and Italy. Uber denies ever using the software in the UK.

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Politicians are too scared to call for regulation of things they don’t understand.

Uber Had This Coming – It Was Never Just A ‘Tech Platform’ (Ind.)

Uber isn’t the only sharing economy app that has become part of daily life in the capital. Since 2008, over four million people have stayed in an Airbnb in London. The company, which links guests up with empty rooms or homes in the capital, recently came under fire in the US for not properly screening a host who attempted to sexually assault a woman (a spokesman for Airbnb later told The Independent that a background check had been done on the host and that there had been no prior convictions). The legal ruling over Uber could now bring the responsibilities of other companies such as Airbnb into the limelight. The rapid proliferation of these types of “gig economy” companies over the past few years has meant that many of them have forgotten their basic responsibilities toward their customers.

As The Independent’s Josie Cox has written, they forgot that the sharing economy business model was based on trust – we had to have confidence that the strangers we were sharing cars with were safe, and they couldn’t provide that. For too long, Uber tried to evade its role as anything more than a provider of tech. But we were never just sharing software; we were sharing our lives. Uber tried to get away with pretending it was a neutral software platform for far too long – all it did was link people together, and its responsibilities went as far as fixing glitches. But it was always a private taxi hire firm. It was a company with employees, who it should have been paying properly from that start, and customers, who it should have been protecting.

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“We’re only two days past the Hurricane Maria’s direct hit on Puerto Rico and there is no phone communication across the island, so we barely know what has happened. We’re weeks past Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, and news of the consequences from those two events has strangely fallen out of the news media. Where have the people gone who lost everything? The news blackout is as complete and strange as the darkness that has descended on Puerto Rico.”

Puerto Rico Is Back In The 18th Century (Kunstler)

Ricardo Ramos, the director of the beleaguered, government-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, told CNN Thursday that the island’s power infrastructure had been basically “destroyed” and will take months to come back “Basically destroyed.” That’s about as basic as it gets civilization-wise. Residents, Mr. Ramos said, would need to change the way they cook and cool off. For entertainment, old-school would be the best approach, he said. “It’s a good time for dads to buy a ball and a glove and change the way you entertain your children.” Meaning, I guess, no more playing Resident Evil 7: Biohazard on-screen because you’ll be living it — though one wonders where will the money come from to buy the ball and glove? Few Puerto Ricans will be going to work with the power off.

And the island’s public finances were in disarray sufficient to drive it into federal court last May to set in motion a legal receivership that amounted to bankruptcy in all but name. The commonwealth, a US territory, was in default for $74 billion in bonded debt, plus another $49 billion in unfunded pension obligations. So, Puerto Rico already faced a crisis pre-Hurricane Maria, with its dodgy electric grid and crumbling infrastructure: roads, bridges, water and sewage systems. Bankruptcy put it in a poor position to issue new bonds for public works which are generally paid for with public borrowing. Who, exactly, would buy the new bonds? I hear readers whispering, “the Federal Reserve.” Which is a pretty good clue to understanding the circle-jerk that American finance has become.

Some sort of bailout is unavoidable, though President Trump tweeted “No Bailout for Puerto Rico” after the May bankruptcy proceeding. Things have changed and the shelf-life of Trumpian tweets is famously brief. But the crisis may actually strain the ability of the federal government to pretend it can cover the cost of every calamity that strikes the nation — at least not without casting doubt on the soundness of the dollar. And not a few bonafide states are also whirling around the bankruptcy drain: Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, Kentucky. Constitutionally states are not permitted to declare bankruptcy, though counties and municipalities can. Congress would have to change the law to allow it. But states can default on their bonds and other obligations. Surely there would be some kind of fiscal and political hell to pay if they go that route.

Nobody really knows what might happen in a state as big and complex as Illinois, which has been paying its way for decades by borrowing from the future. Suddenly, the future is here and nobody has a plan for it. The case for the federal government is not so different. It, too, only manages to pay its bondholders via bookkeeping hocuspocus, and its colossal unfunded obligations for social security and Medicare make Illinois’ predicament look like a skipped car payment. In the meantime — and it looks like it’s going to be a long meantime – Puerto Rico is back in the 18th Century, minus the practical skills and simpler furnishings for living that way of life, and with a population many times beyond the carrying capacity of the island in that era.

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Still 8 days to go. How can this remian peaceful? Will Rajoy try to provoke violence (if he isn’t already) and blame it on the Catalans?

It Gets Ugly in Catalonia (DQ)

Madrid’s crackdown on Catalonia is already having one major consequence, presumably unintended: many Catalans who were until recently staunchly opposed to the idea of national independence are now reconsidering their options. A case in point: At last night’s demonstration, spread across multiple locations in Barcelona, were two friends of mine, one who is fanatically apolitical and the other who is a strong Catalan nationalist but who believes that independence would be a political and financial disaster for the region. It was their first ever political demonstration. If there is a vote on Oct-1, they will probably vote to secede. The middle ground they and hundreds of thousands of others once occupied was obliterated yesterday when a judge in Barcelona ordered Spain’s militarized police force, the Civil Guard, to round up over a dozen Catalan officials in dawn raids.

Many of them now face crushing daily fines of up to €12,000. The Civil Guard also staged raids on key administrative buildings in Barcelona. The sight of balaclava-clad officers of the Civil Guard, one of the most potent symbols of the not-yet forgotten Franco dictatorship, crossing the threshold of the seats of Catalonia’s (very limited) power and arresting local officials, was too much for the local population to bear. Within minutes almost all of the buildings were surrounded by crowds of flag-draped pro-independence protesters. The focal point of the day’s demonstrations was the Economic Council of Catalonia, whose second-in-command and technical coordinator of the referendum, Josep Maria Jové, was among those detained. He has now been charged with sedition and could face between 10-15 years in prison. Before that, he faces fines of €12,000 a day.

[..] yesterday’s police operation significantly — perhaps even irreversibly — weakens Catalonia’s plans to hold a referendum on October 1, as even the region’s vice-president Oriol Junqueras concedes. But that doesn’t mean Spain has won. As the editor of El Diario, Ignacio Escolar, presciently notes, yesterday’s raids may have been a resounding success for law enforcement, but they were an unmitigated political disaster that has merely intensified the divisions between Spain and Catalonia and between Catalans themselves. Each time Prime Minister Rajoy or one of his ministers speak of the importance of defending democracy while the Civil Guard seizes posters and banners related to the October 1 vote and judges rule public debates on the Catalan question illegal and then fine their participants, a fresh clutch of Catalan separatists is born.

In the days to come they will be swarming the streets, waving their flags, clutching their red carnations and singing their songs. For the moment, the mood is still one of hopeful, resolute indignation. But the mood of masses is prone to change quickly, and it’s not going to take much to ignite the anger.

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Pilger was a Vietnam correspondent. He knows what he’s talking about.

The Killing of History (John Pilger)

One of the most hyped “events” of American television, The Vietnam War, has started on the PBS network. The directors are Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Acclaimed for his documentaries on the Civil War, the Great Depression and the history of jazz, Burns says of his Vietnam films, “They will inspire our country to begin to talk and think about the Vietnam war in an entirely new way”. In a society often bereft of historical memory and in thrall to the propaganda of its “exceptionalism”, Burns’ “entirely new” Vietnam war is presented as “epic, historic work”. Its lavish advertising campaign promotes its biggest backer, Bank of America, which in 1971 was burned down by students in Santa Barbara, California, as a symbol of the hated war in Vietnam. Burns says he is grateful to “the entire Bank of America family” which “has long supported our country’s veterans”.

Bank of America was a corporate prop to an invasion that killed perhaps as many as four million Vietnamese and ravaged and poisoned a once bountiful land. More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed, and around the same number are estimated to have taken their own lives. I watched the first episode in New York. It leaves you in no doubt of its intentions right from the start. The narrator says the war “was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War misunderstandings”. The dishonesty of this statement is not surprising. The cynical fabrication of “false flags” that led to the invasion of Vietnam is a matter of record – the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” in 1964, which Burns promotes as true, was just one. The lies litter a multitude of official documents, notably the Pentagon Papers, which the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg released in 1971.

There was no good faith. The faith was rotten and cancerous. For me – as it must be for many Americans – it is difficult to watch the film’s jumble of “red peril” maps, unexplained interviewees, ineptly cut archive and maudlin American battlefield sequences. In the series’ press release in Britain – the BBC will show it – there is no mention of Vietnamese dead, only Americans. “We are all searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy,” Novick is quoted as saying. How very post-modern. All this will be familiar to those who have observed how the American media and popular culture behemoth has revised and served up the great crime of the second half of the twentieth century: from The Green Berets and The Deer Hunter to Rambo and, in so doing, has legitimised subsequent wars of aggression. The revisionism never stops and the blood never dries. The invader is pitied and purged of guilt, while “searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy”. Cue Bob Dylan: “Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?”

I thought about the “decency” and “good faith” when recalling my own first experiences as a young reporter in Vietnam: watching hypnotically as the skin fell off Napalmed peasant children like old parchment, and the ladders of bombs that left trees petrified and festooned with human flesh. General William Westmoreland, the American commander, referred to people as “termites”. In the early 1970s, I went to Quang Ngai province, where in the village of My Lai, between 347 and 500 men, women and infants were murdered by American troops (Burns prefers “killings”). At the time, this was presented as an aberration: an “American tragedy” (Newsweek ). In this one province, it was estimated that 50,000 people had been slaughtered during the era of American “free fire zones”. Mass homicide. This was not news.

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Jul 262017
 
 July 26, 2017  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Jackson Pollock Greyed Rainbow 1953

 

The Rise And Fall Of The Property-Owning Democracy (FCFT)
Case-Shiller Home Prices Disappoint But Hit New Record High (ZH)
Australian Housing Affordability the Worst in 130 Years (Soos/David)
There Are More ‘Zombie’ Companies In Europe Now Than Pre-Lehman (CNBC)
Netherlands and UK Are Biggest Channels For Corporate Tax Avoidance (G.)
US Sanctions Have Taken A Big Bite Out Of Russia’s Economy (CNBC)
The Value of Everything (Jim Kunstler)
Bolivia’s President Declares ‘Total Independence’ from World Bank and IMF (AHT)
Germany Fails To Honour Its Part Of The Greek Bailout Deal (Bilbo)
Insolvent Greece Goes To Market 2.0 (Varoufakis)
Nine Out Of 10 People Call For ‘Plastic-Free Aisle’ In Supermarkets (Ind.)
Sperm Counts In The West Plunge By 60% In 40 Years (Ind.)

 

 

The article is somewhat confusing to me, bear of little brain and unpopular in China. But it’s good to make the point that bubbles spark poverty.

The Rise And Fall Of The Property-Owning Democracy (FCFT)

Sometime in the late 1980s, a friend who was on the libertarian right of the Conservative Party explained the idea of the property-owning democracy to me. The point, he said, was to detach the respectable working class from their poorer neighbours, encourage them to identify with the middle-class and thereby turn them into Tories. It worked for a while. Middle earners had been doing relatively well since the 1970s and home ownership was within the reach of many once mortgages became more readily available. Helped along by cheap council house sales, home ownership rose. In recent years, though, things have started shifting back the other way. The property-owning democracy is now looking like a one-off event rather than the ongoing process it was meant to be. Property analyst Neal Hudson pointed out that, as a proportion of all tenure, home ownership peaked in 2003 but mortgage ownership peaked in 1996. As older property owners paid off their housing debts, they were not being replaced at the same rate by new mortgagors.

[..] As the Resolution Foundation comments: The typical mortgagor AHC income is now twice that of the typical social renter, and over the past decade this income has grown by 17% compared to just 4% growth for the typical private renter. Even more than was the case before the financial crisis, the living standards split between those who own their own home and those who do not has become a key divide. While the proportion of households owning their own homes has fallen generally, that decline has been sharper among those on low to middle incomes. (Defined by the Resolution Foundation as working-age households with someone in work but with less than the median household income.) In the mid 1990s, over half of those on low to middle incomes were mortgagors. Now that has fallen to a third. Over the same period, private renting among this group rose.

Last week’s report on poverty and inequality by the Institute for Fiscal Studies notes that most of those in poverty (defined as income less than 60% of the median) are now from households where someone is in work. “[R]elative poverty among children and working-age adults has increased and, over the past 20 years or so, has increasingly become an in-work phenomenon due to declines in worklessness, low earnings growth and widening earnings inequality.”

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What bubble?

Case-Shiller Home Prices Disappoint But Hit New Record High (ZH)

Great news ‘Murica – your house has never been worth more than it was in May (according to Case-Shiller’s national home price index). On the slightly less silver-lining side of the equation, April’s 0.28% gain in price was revised to 0.18% MoM drop and May’s proint disappointed at just 0.1% rise MoM. The 20-city property values index increased 5.7% y/y (est. 5.8%). All cities in the index showed year-over-year gains, led by a 13.3% advance in Seattle, an 8.9% increase in Portland and a 7.9% gain in Denver.

After seasonal adjustment, Seattle had the biggest month-over-month increase, at 0.9%, while New York posted a 0.6% decline. “Home prices continue to climb and outpace both inflation and wages,” David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee, said in a statement. “The small supply of homes for sale, at only about four months’ worth, is one cause of rising prices. New home construction, higher than during the recession but still low, is another factor in rising prices.”

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Just keep paying the piper.

Australian Housing Affordability the Worst in 130 Years (Soos/David)

The astronomical bubble in Australian housing prices has generated plenty of commentary regarding the current lack of affordability. This state of affairs clearly concerns aspiring home buyers everywhere, and Sydney and Melbourne in particular. First home buyers (FHBs) face almost insurmountable odds: the highest price to income and deposit to income ratios, the lowest savings rates, runaway dwelling prices, weak wage growth, including a political and economic establishment hell-bent on ensuring land prices keep on inflating no matter the wider cost to the economy. The legion of vested interests – basically 99% of commentators – choose to contend housing is actually more affordable today than back in the days of high mortgage interest rates, especially when rates peaked at 17% in 1989.

This is demonstrated by the standard mortgage payment to household income formula shown above, assuming 80% loan to value ratio (LVR). Their contention is bogus, however, because the metric is a static one, displaying mortgage payments to income at a particular point in time. The peak in 1989, for instance, is very high if, and only if, prices, interest rates and incomes remain constant over the life of the mortgage. Yet, these variables change by the next period. So, a more dynamic approach is required to assess housing affordability. The correct method was advocated by Glenn Stevens in 1997, Guy Debelle in 2004 and other economists like Dean Baker, who identified the US housing bubble and predicted the Global Financial Crisis in 2002. The important factor to consider is the effect wage inflation has upon mortgage payments.

While high mortgage interest rates result in large mortgage payments relative to income, this only occurs in the early years of the mortgage as high wage growth inflates away the burden. In contrast, borrowers facing high housing prices with low interest rates and poor wage growth face a greater burden across the life of the mortgage due to greater payments to income. This housing affordability analysis is applied to long-term annual data between 1880 and 2016, anchored to the median house price at an LVR of 80% at the start of each decade thereon. While data on mortgage interest rates and wage growth for the years after 2016 cannot be known, they are assumed to hold still at the present rates: 5.4% for the mortgage interest rate and 1.4% for wages. The following chart illustrates the outcome of applying this method, demonstrating the proportion of aggregate mortgage payments to household income over the 25 years of the mortgage. The results are overpowering.

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Well, that’s what Draghi’s QE guarantees.

There Are More ‘Zombie’ Companies In Europe Now Than Pre-Lehman (CNBC)

The ECB needs to beware of raising interest rates too quickly as there are a significant number of “zombie firms” in Europe that have become too dependent on cheap credit, according to analysis by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Barnaby Martin, head of European Credit Strategy at BofA Merrill Lynch, said businesses in Europe which have benefited from the ECB’s corporate bond purchase program would struggle once the bank raises interest rates, expected sometime in 2018. “The worst kept secret in the market is Mario Draghi is going to be tapering monetary policy next year and yet last week he was super, super dovish so I think that we’ve forgotten that monetary policy in Europe is on its way out,” he told CNBC on Tuesday, adding “there’s clearly political pressure for him to move away from this extraordinary era.”

“So the question becomes ‘can we handle a rapid rise in interest rates?’,” he said. ECB stimulus measures as part of its quantitative easing program designed to boost the European economy currently amount to €60 billion ($69.9 billion) a month. Some of this money goes into purchasing corporate bonds. While these purchases have enabled companies to continue to operate and invest, aiding a recovery in the European economy, the bank’s purchases have been credited for keeping ailing companies alive, hence the name “zombies.” The ECB started purchasing corporate bonds in June 2016 as part of its “corporate sector purchase program” (CSPP) and, as of June 7, 2017, its CSPP holdings stood at €92 billion, the bank said.

In a note examining “The rise of the Zombies” BofA Merrill Lynch’s credit strategists Martin, Ionnis Angelakis and Souhair Asba noted that 9% of non-financial companies in Europe (by market cap of Stoxx 600) are zombies, with “very weak interest coverage metrics.” “Note that this is still quite a high number: It was around 6% pre-Lehman, and fell to 5% in late 2013 after the peripheral crisis had faded,” they said. “The plethora of monetary support in Europe over the last 5 years has allowed companies with weak profitability to continue to refinance their debt and stave off defaults.” The analyst team also noted that bond issuance had been concentrated in “the hands of a few.” “Year-to-date, the top 20 bonds issuers have accounted for 40% of supply. In 2015 and 2016, the number was closer to 25%. The result has been that “superfirms” have been quietly building across the credit market,” they noted.

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“The Netherlands says they won’t let the UK be an offshore tax haven. That’s because they don’t want them taking their business.”

Netherlands and UK Are Biggest Channels For Corporate Tax Avoidance (G.)

Almost 40% of corporate investments channelled away from authorities and into tax havens travel through the UK or the Netherlands, according to a study of the ownership structures of 98m firms. The two EU states are way ahead of the rest of the world in terms of being a preferred option for corporations who want to exploit tax havens to protect their investments. The Netherlands was a conduit for 23% of corporate investments that ended in a tax haven, a team of researchers at the University of Amsterdam concluded. The UK accounted for 14%, ahead of Switzerland (6%), Singapore (2%) and Ireland (1%). Every year multinationals avoid paying £38bn-£158bn in taxes in the EU using tax havens. In the US, tax evasion by multinational corporations via offshore jurisdictions is estimated to be at least $130bn (£99bn) a year.

The researchers reported that there were 24 so-called “sink” offshore financial centres where foreign capital was ultimately stored, safe from the tax authorities. Of those, 18 are said to have a current or past dependence to the UK, such as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and Jersey. The tax havens used correlated heavily to which conduit country was chosen by the multinational’s accountants. The UK is a major conduit for investments going to European countries and former members of the British Empire, such as Hong Kong, Jersey, Guernsey or Bermuda, reflecting the historical links and tax treaties enjoyed by firms setting up in Britain. The Netherlands is a principal conduit for investment ending in Cyprus and Bermuda, among others. Switzerland is used as a conduit to Jersey. Ireland is the route for Japanese and American companies to Luxembourg.

[..] Dr Eelke Heemskerk, who led the research, said that the work showed the importance of developed countries cleaning up their financial sectors. He said: “In the context of Brexit, where you have the UK threatening, unless they get a deal, to change their model to be attractive to companies who want to protect themselves from taxes, well, they are already doing it. “The Netherlands says they won’t let the UK be an offshore tax haven. That’s because they don’t want them taking their business.”

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Russia’s getting an invaluable lesson in self-suffciency. There’s nothing like it.

US Sanctions Have Taken A Big Bite Out Of Russia’s Economy (CNBC)

Congress moved Tuesday to step up sanctions on a shrinking Russian economy that is already struggling under the weight of low oil prices, high inflation and a battered currency that has sent capital fleeing. In response to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the House voted overwhelmingly to tighten existing economic sanctions imposed in 2014 following the Russian invasion of Crimea. Among other things, the measures freeze assets and prohibit transactions with specific Russian companies and individuals, restrict financial transactions with Russian firms, and ban certain exports that are used in oil and gas exploration or have possible military uses.

Those 2014 U.S. sanctions were paired with related measures imposed by the European Union, which placed restrictions on business with Russia’s financial, defense and energy sectors. Today, Russia’s economy is still feeling the harsh impact of those measures, which coincided with a crash in global oil prices that cut deeply into revenues from the country’s main export. The loss of oil revenues – a drop of as much as 60%, according to a 2017 Congressional Research Service report — helped spark a collapse in Russia’s currency, the ruble, sending the prices of Russian consumer goods soaring. The Russian economy has also been hurt by a wave of capital flight out of the country, as individual Russians sought to move money offshore and convert their shrinking rubles to dollars and euros to protect their wealth. That money flow slowed in 2014 as U.S. and European sanctions took hold.

Though U.S. sanctions have put pressure on the Russian economy, the impact on American business has been limited because Russia makes up less than 1% of U.S. exports. Only six U.S states count Russia as a significant market for goods and services. Washington, the most reliant, sells roughly 1% of its total exports to Russia, consisting mostly of machinery and farm products. That’s half the level before the 2014 sanctions took effect. European nations, which export greater volumes to Russia than the U.S., imposed their own set of sanctions response to the Crimean annexation.

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“The floundering non-elite masses have not learned the harsh lesson of our time that the virtual is not an adequate substitute for the authentic..”

The Value of Everything (Jim Kunstler)

We are looking more and more like France on the eve of its revolution in 1789. Our classes are distributed differently, but the inequity is just as sharp. America’s “aristocracy,” once based strictly on bank accounts, acts increasingly hereditary as the vapid offspring and relations of “stars” (in politics, showbiz, business, and the arts) assert their prerogatives to fame, power, and riches — think the voters didn’t grok the sinister import of Hillary’s “it’s my turn” message? What’s especially striking in similarity to the court of the Bourbons is the utter cluelessness of America’s entitled power elite to the agony of the moiling masses below them and mainly away from the coastal cities. Just about everything meaningful has been taken away from them, even though many of the material trappings of existence remain: a roof, stuff that resembles food, cars, and screens of various sizes.

But the places they are supposed to call home are either wrecked — the original small towns and cities of America — or replaced by new “developments” so devoid of artistry, history, thought, care, and charm that they don’t add up to communities, and are so obviously unworthy of affection, that the very idea of “home” becomes a cruel joke. These places were bad enough in the 1960s and 70s, when the people who lived in them at least were able to report to paying jobs assembling products and managing their distribution. Now those people don’t have that to give a little meaning to their existence, or cover the costs of it. Public space was never designed into the automobile suburbs, and the sad remnants of it were replaced by ersatz substitutes, like the now-dying malls. Everything else of a public and human associational nature has been shoved into some kind of computerized box with a screen on it.

The floundering non-elite masses have not learned the harsh lesson of our time that the virtual is not an adequate substitute for the authentic, while the elites who create all this vicious crap spend millions to consort face-to-face in the Hamptons and Martha’s Vineyard telling each other how wonderful they are for providing all the artificial social programming and glitzy hardware for their paying customers. The effect of this dynamic relationship so far has been powerfully soporific. You can deprive people of a true home for a while, and give them virtual friends on TV to project their emotions onto, and arrange to give them cars via some financing scam or other to keep them moving mindlessly around an utterly desecrated landscape under the false impression that they’re going somewhere — but we’re now at the point where ordinary people can’t even carry the costs of keeping themselves hostage to these degrading conditions.

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The kind of independence that tends to be bad for a man’s health.

Bolivia’s President Declares ‘Total Independence’ from World Bank and IMF (AHT)

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has been highlighting his government’s independence from international money lending organizations and their detrimental impact the nation, the Telesur TV reported. “A day like today in 1944 ended Bretton Woods Economic Conference (USA), in which the IMF and WB were established,” Morales tweeted. “These organizations dictated the economic fate of Bolivia and the world. Today we can say that we have total independence of them.” Morales has said Bolivia’s past dependence on the agencies was so great that the IMF had an office in government headquarters and even participated in their meetings. Bolivia is now in the process of becoming a member of the Southern Common Market, Mercosur and Morales attended the group’s summit in Argentina last week.

Bolivia’s popular uprising known as the The Cochabamba Water War in 2000 against United States-based Bechtel Corporation over water privatization and the associated World Bank policies shed light on some of the debt issues facing the region. Some of Bolivia’s largest resistance struggles in the last 60 years have targeted the economic policies carried out by the IMF and the World Bank. Most of the protests focused on opposing privatization policies and austerity measures, including cuts to public services, privatization decrees, wage reductions, as well the weakening of labor rights. Since 2006, a year after Morales came to power, social spending on health, education, and poverty programs has increased by over 45%.

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A tour de force by Bill Mitchell. Germany’s profiting so much off of Greece’s despair that it can hide its own economic pitholes with it.

Germany Fails To Honour Its Part Of The Greek Bailout Deal (Bilbo)

Effectively the “German Federal Government – through KfW” is providing funds to Greece as part of the bailout. On May 20, 2014, the KfW issued a further press statement – Institution for Growth in Greece (IfG) – which further details the way in which German government bailout support is channeled through the KfW. For example, in relation to the “three planned IfG sub-funds … The Hellenic Republic and KfW — on behalf of the German Federal Government — will each contribute EUR 100 million in funding debt to this sub-fund.” Clear enough. The Süddeutsche Zeitung article says that since 2010, these loans granted to Greece through the KfW have generated 393 million euros of interest income net of refinancing costs [..] A handy sum. And what is more – the profits generated have not been transferred to the Greek government.

Further gains were made on the Greek bailouts via the ECB’s Securities Market Program (SMP), which has generated German gains of around $€952 million, through ECB distributions of the profits to the Member State central banks. A similar story appeared in the English-version of the Handelsbatt next day (July 12, 2017) – Germany Profits From Greek Debt Crisis. It essentially sourced the Süddeutsche Zeitung and made the story more accessible (repeating it in English). It says that: “The German government has long been accused by critics of profiting from Greece’s debt crisis. Now there are some new numbers to back it up: Loans and bonds purchased in support of Greece over nearly a decade have resulted in profits of €1.34 billion for Germany’s finance ministry.”

The issue became public because the Greens parliamentary representatives have challenged the morality of the German government’s decision not to redistribute the profits and the role played by the KfW. The Greens representative was reported as saying that: “The profits from collecting interest must be paid out to Greece … Wolfgang Schäuble cannot use the Greek profits to clean up Germany’s federal budget …” It has long been claimed that “Greece’s crisis has helped” Schäuble keep the German fiscal balance in surplus. The KfW have been part of that. We knew back in 2015 that the KfW was helping the Finance Ministry generate fiscal surpluses.

On March 5, 2015, the German daily newspaper Rheinische Post published a report – So geht es den Griechen wirklich – presented a summary of a 40-page document that the German Finance Ministry had provided in response to a demand for information from the Linksfraktion (German Left Party Die Linke). The Finance Ministry document conceded that: “Between 2010 to 2014, the KfW has paid out around 360 million euro in revenues to the German government and in the coming years the federal government is expecting around 20 million euro per year on interest revenues.”

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The Greek economy is worse than ever, but now people trust it?

Insolvent Greece Goes To Market 2.0 (Varoufakis)

Why do I refuse to be impressed by the news of Greece’s return to the markets? “It is because the Greek state and the Greek banks remain deeply insolvent. And, their return to the money markets is a harbinger of the next terrible phase of Greece’s crisis, rather than a cause for celebration”. The above was my answer in a BBC interview on 9th April… 2014! It is also the only answer that fits today’s announcement of Greece’s new bond issue. Indeed, why script a new article, when that old post offers a most helpful response to the question: “What should the world think of Greece’s new bond issue?”

The only thing I need to add to these circa 2014 posts is this: The Tsipras government today is simply rolling over precisely the same bond that the Samaras-Venizelos-Stournaras government issued in 2014 – the subject matter of my criticism above. This is a remarkable U-turn by Mr Tsipras and his ministers. In 2014 they had sided entirely with my criticism of the then government’s argument that Greece’s return to the markets, with the issue of that one bond, was a sign the country was achieving escape velocity from the gravitational pull of its debt-deflationary crisis. Now, they are not only parroting the same arguments as Samaras-Venizelos-Stournaras but they are, lo and behold, rolling over the same bond! I rest my case.

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It’s not that hard.

Nine Out Of 10 People Call For ‘Plastic-Free Aisle’ In Supermarkets (Ind.)

Nine out of 10 people want supermarkets to introduce a “plastic-free aisle”, according to a new poll amid rising concern about pollution. The survey – of 2,000 British adults by Populus – was commissioned by campaign group A Plastic Planet, which said it was clear that the public wanted an alternative to “goods laden with plastic packaging”. Evidence of the synthetic substance’s harmful effects on the natural world is growing. Since 1950, humans have produced 8.3 billion tons of the stuff, with 6.3 billion tons being sent to landfill sites or simply being dumped in what scientists described as an “uncontrolled experiment” on the planet. Plastic, which acts like a magnet for toxic chemicals in the environment, breaks down into tiny pieces that are capable of passing through animals’ gut walls and into their body tissue.

The UN warned in a report last year that “the presence of microplastic in foodstuffs could potentially increase direct exposure of plastic-associated chemicals to humans and may present an attributable risk to human health”. A third of seabirds in the North Sea were also found to be suffering “widespread breeding failure”, largely because of plastic waste. The new poll found 91% of people supported aisles free from plastic packaging and 81% said they were concerned “about the amount of plastic packaging that is thrown away in the UK”. Sian Sutherland, a co-founder of A Plastic Planet, said: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Great British public wants a fresh alternative to goods laden with plastic packaging. Too much of our plastic waste ends up in oceans and landfill.

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Am I a bad person for thinking that maybe this isn’t such a bad thing? Who wants more of us?

I like the term “semen parameters”. Name for a band. Double billing with Pussy Riot.

Sperm Counts In The West Plunge By 60% In 40 Years (Ind.)

Sperm counts have plunged by nearly 60% in just 40 years among men living in the West, according to a major review of scientific studies that suggests the modern world is causing serious damage to men’s health. Pesticides, hormone-disrupting chemicals, diet, stress, smoking and obesity have all been “plausibly associated” with the problem, which is associated with a range of other illnesses such as testicular cancer and a generally increased mortality rate. The researchers who carried out the review said the rate of decline had showed no sign of “levelling off” in recent years. The same trend was not seen in other parts of the world such as South America, Africa and Asia, although the scientists said fewer studies had been carried out there.

One expert commenting on the study said it was the “most comprehensive to date”, and described the figures as “shocking” and a “wake-up call” for urgent research into the reasons driving the fall. Writing in the journal Human Reproduction Update, the researchers – from Israel, the US, Denmark, Brazil and Spain – said total sperm count had fallen by 59.3% between 1971 and 2011 in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Sperm concentration fell by 52.4%. “Sperm count and other semen parameters have been plausibly associated with multiple environmental influences, including endocrine disrupting chemicals, pesticides, heat and lifestyle factors, including diet, stress, smoking and body-mass index,” the paper said. “Therefore, sperm count may sensitively reflect the impacts of the modern environment on male health throughout the life course.”

Read more …

Feb 202017
 
 February 20, 2017  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Cartier Bresson Moscow Metro 1954

 

Seven Years of Demanding The Impossible in Greece (MP)
Cost Of Greece, Troika Impasse Over Numbers Is Adding Up (K.)
Pre-Departure Migrant Camps Planned For Greek Islands (K.)
Democrats Suggest Invoking The 25th Amendment Unless Trump “Gets A Grip” (ZH)
Greenspan Blames Productivity Decline For Political, Economic Crises (BI)
S&P 500 Earnings Stuck at 2011 Levels, Stocks up 87% Since (WS)
The Nasty Little Secret About Housing Affordability (ABC.au)
The Unthinkable Just Happened in Spain (DQ)
Kim Dotcom Loses New Zealand Extradition Case But Claims Major Victory (NZH)
UK Vegetable Shortage A Sign Of Things To Come (G.)
Fukushima Aborts Latest Robot Mission Radiation At “Unimaginable” Levels (ZH)
Tulsi Gabbard vs. ‘Regime Change’ Wars (Wright)
UN Envoy Questions US Engagement On Syria (AFP)
Kaziranga: The Park That Shoots People To Protect Rhinos (BBC)

 

 

A glimpse of the madness bestowed upon Greece. You might think this settles it, that the IMF is going to back off. You would be wrong.

Seven Years of Demanding The Impossible in Greece (MP)

In a recent presentation of his book, Laid Low, which examines the IMF’s role in the eurozone crisis, author and journalist Paul Blustein disclosed a memo dated May 4, 2010, from the IMF’s then head of research Olivier Blanchard, to Poul Thomsen, who headed the Greek mission at the time. In his missive, Blanchard warned that the cumulative fiscal adjustment of 16 %age points being demanded of Greece in such a short period of time and with such a high level of frontloading had never been achieved before. According to Blanchard, not only was the task unprecedented, but Greece was being asked to achieve the impossible in unfavourable external circumstances, when everyone was barely recovering from the 2008 global financial crisis and without any other policy levers (low interest rates or exchange rate adjustment).

Blanchard foresaw what became a reality only about a year later: Even with “perfect policy implementation” the programme will be thrown off track rather quickly and the recession will be deeper and longer than expected, he warned. Blanchard’s scepticism and warnings were ignored. Instead, political limitations took hold of the decision-making process and domestic-focussed calculations pushed Greece into trying to achieve the impossible. This week, the former IMF chief economist admitted on Twitter that although he was not the one that leaked the memo he was not unhappy that the truth has been revealed because “it is seven years and still there is no clear/realistic plan” for Greece.

Athens is currently under pressure to adopt another 2% of GDP in new fiscal measures, which relate to the tax-free threshold and pension spending. Since 2010, Greece has adopted revenue-raising measures and spending cuts that are equivalent to more than a third of its economy and more than double what Blanchard had described as unprecedented almost seven years ago.

The Greek economy has been burdened with €35.6 billion in all sorts of taxes on income, consumption, duties, stamps, corporate taxation and increases in social security contributions. When totting all this up, it is remarkable that the economy still manages to function. During the same period, the state has also found savings of €37.4 billion from cutting salaries, pensions, benefits and operational expenses. Discretionary spending is now so lean that even the IMF argues that in certain areas it needs to increase if Greece is to meet the minimum requirements in the provision of public services. When this misery started, Greece had to correct a primary deficit of €24 billion. But the painful fiscal adjustment Greeks have had to endure had turned out to be three times as much. The IMF’s Thomsen, now the director of its European Department, recently argued that Greece doesn’t need any more austerity but brave policy implementation. Somehow, though, the discussion has ended up being about finding another €3.5 billion in taxes and cuts to pension spending. Bravery is nowhere to be seen.

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The cuts have hit Greek consumer spending so severely that a recovery is no longer possible. And without a recovery, the Troika demands will get more severe, rinse and repeat.

Cost Of Greece, Troika Impasse Over Numbers Is Adding Up (K.)

Another week of back-and-forth between Greece and its lenders seems to have brought us no closer to an agreement between all the parties involved in the country’s bailout. Monday’s Eurogroup meeting may produce some progress, but the complexity of the situation facing Athens, the eurozone and the IMF means it is likely that any forward movement will involve inching, rather than hurtling, towards an agreement. One of the key areas of disagreement is Greece’s fiscal performance. The government insists that the primary surplus for 2016 provides all the evidence needed that there should be no concerns about Greece meeting its fiscal targets in the coming years. Finance Ministry estimates put the primary surplus for 2016 at 2% of gross domestic product, against a target of 0.5%.

In an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper last week, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos suggested that last year’s primary surplus is actually 1.7 %age points above the target, ie 2.2% of GDP in total. On Friday, reports indicated that government officials believe the final figure, which is not due to be announced until April, will be around 3% of GDP. There is skepticism on the creditors’ side. Even before we get to debating how large last year’s primary surplus was, some of those who are lending Greece money are not convinced that enough of the overperformance is structural and that much of it may be driven by one-off occurrences. It will require further scrutiny of the final data to come up with a definitive answer to this question. The director of the IMF’s European Department, Poul Thomsen, told another German newspaper, Handelsblatt, last week that the Fund may revise its fiscal forecasts for Greece once it has last year’s statistics at its disposal.

This is crucial because the volume of measures being demanded of Greece by the institutions has been set at 3.6 billion euros largely due to the fact that the IMF believes Greece will fall short of the 3.5% of GDP primary surplus target it has been set for an, as yet, unspecified period after 2018. Athens hopes that if the IMF rethinks its figures, this may lead to a lower volume of measures being demanded and the first step in the grand bargain between the government and the institutions being taken. However, there are several added layers of complexity that have to be addressed. For example, the IMF does not only have doubts about the structural nature of Greece’s primary surplus, it also has lingering reservations about the reliability of the fiscal data coming out of Athens.

“Lack of fiscal transparency was clearly one of the factors that led to Greece finding itself in a difficult spot in 2010,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in response to a question when she spoke at the Atlantic Council on February 8. “A lot has been improved but I’m not sure that the job is entirely completed. We are still seeing frequent revisions of some of those numbers. Everybody revises, let’s face it… but it’s a fact that Greece revises quite often and with significant variations.”

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People or cattle?

Pre-Departure Migrant Camps Planned For Greek Islands (K.)

Greek authorities are planning the creation of pre-departure detention facilities on the eastern Aegean islands, where thousands of migrants and refugees remain stranded, so as to accelerate returns to Turkey. According to officials from the Citizens’ Protection Ministry, the biggest%age of new arrivals over the past few months are from countries without a refugee profile: Pakistan, Morocco, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Significant numbers also arrived from Egypt, the Dominican Republic, Tunisia, Nigeria and Libya. Officials say that the creation of closed-structure facilities, each with a capacity of 150-200 people, is key to taking some of the pressure off the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros, which have borne the brunt of the influx.

The mayors of these five islands are expected to travel to Brussels in early March to meet with Europe’s Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos to voice their concerns. During a tour of these islands last week, the EU’s special envoy on migration, Maarten Verwey, said that the aim was to cut current numbers by half by the end of April. According to official figures, some 14,600 migrants and refugees are currently accommodated at official facilities on the islands. In comments made during the visit, Verwey, who is also the coordinator for the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement to stem migrant flows, repeated that these detention facilities would be “temporary.”

Sources suggest that authorities have almost finalized plans for facilities on Samos, Lesvos and Kos, while looking for spaces on Leros and Chios. The plans have met with resistance from locals. Since the beginning of 2017, authorities have reportedly deported 160 individuals from Pakistan, 150 from Iraq, 70 from Algeria, 30 from Afghanistan, 25 from Morocco and 20 from Bangladesh. Police said 60 Syrians had left Greece voluntarily.

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Regime change. Who’s crazy now?

Democrats Suggest Invoking The 25th Amendment Unless Trump “Gets A Grip” (ZH)

After questioning President Trump’s sanity earlier in the week, it appears Democrats have found another narrative to cling to – invoke the 25th Amendment unless Trump “gets a grip.” With a growing number of Democrats openly questioning President Trump’s mental health. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) in a floor speech this week called for a review of the Constitution’s procedures for removing a president. He warned the 25th Amendment of the Constitution falls short when it comes to mental or emotional fitness for office. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) during a weekend interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” said that “a few” Republican colleagues have expressed concern to him about Trump’s mental health. And Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) plans to introduce legislation that would require the presence of a psychiatrist or psychologist in the White House.

[..] So, what’s Article 4 to the 25th Amendment? In the abstract, the amendment itself is about presidential succession, and includes language about the power of the office when a president is incapacitated. But Digby recently highlighted the specific text of growing relevance: “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

What does that mean exactly? Well, it means Congress isn’t the only institution that can remove a president from office between elections. Under the 25th Amendment, a sitting vice president and a majority of the executive branch’s cabinet could, on their own, agree to transfer power out of the hands of a sitting president. At that point, those officials would notify Congress, and the vice president would assume the office as the acting president. And what if the challenged president wasn’t on board with the plan to remove him/her from the office? According to a recent explainer, “If the president wants to dispute this move, he can, but then it would be up to Congress to settle the matter with a vote. A two-thirds majority in both houses would be necessary to keep the vice president in charge. If that threshold isn’t reached, the president would regain his powers.”

All of this comes up in fiction from time to time, and in all likelihood, Americans will probably never see this political crisis play out in real life. And that’s probably a good thing: by all appearances, the intended purpose of the constitutional provision was to address a president with a serious ailment – say, a stroke, for example – in which he or she is alive, but unable to fulfill the duties of the office. In other words, for the first time, the concept of a “soft palace coup” has been officially brought up on public media; we expect such speculation will only get louder. The ball is now in Trump’s court.

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“Populism is not a philosophy or a concept, like socialism or capitalism, for example. Rather it is a cry of pain, where people are saying: Do something. Help!”

Greenspan Blames Productivity Decline For Political, Economic Crises (BI)

Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve whose low-interest policies (some say) helped inflate the dot-com and mortgage bubbles of 2000 and 2008, did a fascinating interview with Gold Investor recently. In it, Greenspan produced an incredibly cogent explanation of the role that reduced long-term productivity has had in fuelling populism, Brexit and Trump. Before we deliver Greenspan’s quote, some background: “Productivity” is one of the least-sexy areas of macroeconomics, even though right now it is one of the biggest issues bedevilling it. Here’s a chart from the Resolution Foundation showing the phenomena:

The “productivity puzzle” is this: The amount investors get in return, in aggregate, for investing in new workers is in long-term decline. Productivity growth is in decline globally and heading toward zero. This is counterintuitive because new technology ought to make workers more productive and more efficient. A single employee with a laptop can do more today than a roomful of secretaries, mathematicians, and writers could in the 1960s. We ought to be getting more bang for our bucks. Fix productivity, and you fix everything, economists believe – including GDP growth, workers’ pay, investment returns, and so on. But instead we’ve got stagnating incomes, low growth, and low productivity for money invested. The productivity decline isn’t a complete mystery, of course. We know it is a mixture of deflationary forces, an aging population, excessive debt, and increased inequality. But putting that all together in a simple, elegant way is tough. That’s why this answer from Greenspan is so good. He was asked whether he was concerned about Stagflation.

“We have been through a protracted period of stagnant productivity growth, particularly in the developed world, driven largely by the aging of the ‘baby boom’ generation. Social benefits (entitlements in the US) are crowding out gross domestic savings, the primary source for funding investment, dollar for dollar. The decline in gross domestic savings as a share of GDP has suppressed gross non-residential capital investment. It is the lessened investment that has suppressed the growth in output per hour globally. Output per hour has been growing at approximately 0.5% annually in the US and other developed countries over the past five years, compared with an earlier growth rate closer to 2%.

That is a huge difference, which is reflected proportionately in GDP and in people’s standard of living. As productivity growth slows down, the whole economic system slows down. That has provoked despair and a consequent rise in economic populism from Brexit to Trump. Populism is not a philosophy or a concept, like socialism or capitalism, for example. Rather it is a cry of pain, where people are saying: Do something. Help!”

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Seek shelter.

S&P 500 Earnings Stuck at 2011 Levels, Stocks up 87% Since (WS)

The S&P 500 stock index edged up to an all-time high of 2,351 on Friday. Total market capitalization of the companies in the index exceeds $20 trillion. That’s 106% of US GDP, for just 500 companies! At the end of 2011, the S&P 500 index was at 1,257. Over the five-plus years since then, it has ballooned by 87%! These are superlative numbers, and you’d expect superlative earnings performance from these companies. Turns out, reality is not that cooperative. Instead, net income of the S&P 500 companies is now back where it first had been at the end of 2011. Hype, financial engineering, and central banks hell-bent on inflating asset prices make a powerful fuel for stock prices. And there has been plenty of all of it, including financial engineering.

Share buybacks, often funded with borrowed money, have soared in recent years. But even that is now on the decline. Share buybacks by the S&P 500 companies plunged 28% year-over-year to $115.6 billion in the three-month period from August through October, according to the Buyback Quarterly that FactSet just released. It was the second three-month period in a row of sharp year-over-year declines. And it was the smallest buyback total since Q1 2013. Apple with $7.2 billion in buybacks in the quarter, GE with $4.3 billion, and Microsoft with $3.6 billion topped the list again. Still, despite the plunge in buybacks, 119 companies spent more on buybacks than they’d earned in the quarter. On a trailing 12-month basis, 66% of net income was blown on buybacks.

Alas, net income has been a problem. By now, with 82% of the S&P 500 companies having reported their results for Q4 2016, earnings rose 4.6% year-over-year, according to FactSet. It’s the second quarter in a row of year-over-year earnings growth, after six quarters in a row of earnings declines. For the entire year 2016, earnings edged up 0.4% from 2015. And revenue inched up 2.4% – in a year when inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, rose 2.8%.

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“..Australians are in hock to the tune of more than $1.4 trillion on housing. That’s a hell of a lot of debt just to keep the wind and rain out.”

The Nasty Little Secret About Housing Affordability (ABC.au)

There’s a nasty little secret about housing affordability. For all the furrowed brows, the sombre looks and the public handwringing from policy makers, no-one is actually serious about fixing the problem because they all fear the potential fallout. The Government is running in circles on the issue while the Reserve Bank is praying the mess will slowly evaporate over time. It’s become a regular event; a politician conjures up an outlandish idea to again make housing affordable to the masses. If it’s not a cash splash to first home buyers, it’s a harebrained scheme to allow younger Australians to dip into their superannuation. Last week, it was a plan to force banks to lower lending standards. In each case, the net effect would be to lift demand and raise the cost of housing. Unfortunately, at this point in the economic cycle, there are only two mechanisms that could solve the social and political issue of our time.

The first is for housing prices to experience a dramatic fall. And the second is for wages to rise substantially. The first comes with a nasty side-effect: it would create economic chaos and send many of our banks to the wall. Achieving, or at least promising, the second might get you elected but ultimately would prove disastrous with spiralling inflation and, you guessed it, a probable spike in housing prices. Both are unthinkable. A crash could be catastrophic because our banks essentially have morphed into glorified building societies, with the bulk of their earnings geared towards residential mortgages. The two biggest lenders, Commonwealth and Westpac, have around 60% of their loan books devoted to housing.

Real estate is baked into the Australian psyche. We talk about it ad nauseam, owners obsess over upgrades and renovations and those outside the owners’ club fret about how to enter. All up, Australians are in hock to the tune of more than $1.4 trillion on housing. That’s a hell of a lot of debt just to keep the wind and rain out. Of that, more than half a trillion is on loan to property investors.

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Bankers going to court.

The Unthinkable Just Happened in Spain (DQ)

Untouchable. Inviolable. Immunity. Impunity. These are the sort of words and expressions that are often associated with senior central bankers, who are, by law, able to operate more or less above the law of the jurisdictions in which they operate. Rarely heard in association with senior central bankers are words or expressions like “accused”, “charged” or “under investigation.” But in Spain this week a court broke with that tradition, in emphatic style. As part of the epic, multi-year criminal investigation into the doomed IPO of Spain’s frankenbank Bankia – which had been assembled from the festering corpses of seven already defunct saving banks – Spain’s national court called to testify six current and former directors of the Bank of Spain, including its former governor, Miguel Ángel Fernández Ordóñez, and its former deputy governor (and current head of the Bank of International Settlements’ Financial Stability Institute), Fernando Restoy.

It also summoned for questioning Julio Segura, the former president of Spain’s financial markets regulator, the CNMV (the Spanish equivalent of the SEC in the US). The six central bankers and one financial regulator stand accused of authorizing the public launch of Bankia in 2011 despite repeated warnings from the Bank of Spain’s own team of inspectors that the banking group was “unviable.” Though they have so far only been called to testify, the evidence against the seven former public “servants” looks pretty conclusive. Testifying against them are two of Banco de España’s own inspectors who have spent the last two years investigating Bankia’s collapse on behalf of the trial’s presiding judge, Fernando Andreu.

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“We have won. We have won the major legal argument. This is the last five years of my life and it’s an embarrassment for New Zealand.”

Kim Dotcom Loses New Zealand Extradition Case But Claims Major Victory (NZH)

The evidence of the case has not been argued in New Zealand courts with the legal debate here being one of trying to match the crimes Dotcom and others are charged with to the crimes listed in the Extradition Act. In an interview with the Herald, Dotcom said the ruling was a “major victory” because it ruled that there was no New Zealand equivalent to the US criminal charges of copyright violation. “The major part of this litigation has been won by this judgment – that copyright is not extraditable. “They destroyed my family, destroyed my business, spied on me and raided my home and they did all of this on a civil copyright case. “We have won. We have won the major legal argument. This is the last five years of my life and it’s an embarrassment for New Zealand.”

He said it was effectively a statement from the court that neither he, his co-accused or Megaupload had broken any New Zealand laws. “Now they’re trying through the back door to say this was a fraud case. I’m confident going with this judgment to the Court of Appeal. The ruling today has created an unusual bureaucratic contradiction – the warrant which was served on Dotcom when he was arrested on January 20, 2012, stated he was being charged with “copyright” offences. Likewise, the charges Dotcom will face in the US are founded in an alleged act of criminal copyright violation. Dotcom said there were plans to take a separate court action over the arrest warrant, given it showed he had been arrested for a crime which effectively did not exist in New Zealand. “My arrest warrant, the document that kicked everything off in New Zealand, is not for fraud. In my arrest warrant, there is nothing about fraud.”

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Recognize this? “The shelves looked wonderful, perfect, almost clinical, as though invented in a lab in my absence; but there was no smell.”

UK Vegetable Shortage A Sign Of Things To Come (G.)

The UK’s clock has been set to Permanent Global Summer Time once more after a temporary blip. Courgettes, spinach and iceberg lettuce are back on the shelves, and the panic over the lack of imported fruit and vegetables has been contained. “As you were, everyone,” appears to be the message. But why would supermarkets – which are said to have lost sales worth as much as £8m in January thanks to record-breaking, crop-wrecking snow and rainfall in the usually mild winter regions of Spain and Italy – be so keen to fly in substitutes from the US at exorbitant cost? Why would they sell at a loss rather than let us go without, or put up prices to reflect the changing market? Why indeed would anyone air-freight watery lettuce across the whole of the American continent and the Atlantic when it takes 127 calories of fuel energy to fly just 1 food calorie of that lettuce to the UK from California?

The answer is that, in the past 40 years, a whole supermarket system has been built on the seductive illusion of this Permanent Global Summer Time. As a result, a cornucopia of perpetual harvest is one of the key selling points that big stores have over rival retailers. If the enticing fresh produce section placed near the front of each store to draw you in starts looking a bit empty, we might not bother to shop there at all. But when you take into account climate change, the shortages of early 2017 look more like a taste of things to come than just a blip, and that is almost impossible for supermarkets to admit. Add the impact of this winter’s weather on Mediterranean production, the inflationary pressures from a post-Brexit fall in the value of sterling against the euro, and the threat of tariffs as we exit the single market, and suddenly the model begins to look extraordinarily vulnerable.

I can remember the precise moment I first understood that we had been taken into this fantastical, nature-defying system without most of us really noticing. It was 1990 and I had been living and working with Afghan refugees in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier province for a long period. The bazaars where we bought our food were seasonal, and stocked from the immediate region. Back home on leave in the UK, I had that sense of dislocation that enables you to see your own culture as if from the outside. It was winter, but the supermarkets were full of fresh fruits and vegetables from around the world. The shelves looked wonderful, perfect, almost clinical, as though invented in a lab in my absence; but there was no smell. It was vaguely troubling in a way I couldn’t identify at the time.

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Excellent overview of the very scary latest on Fukushima from multiple sources at Zero Hedge.

Fukushima Aborts Latest Robot Mission Radiation At “Unimaginable” Levels (ZH)

Two years after sacrificing one robot, TEPCO officials have aborted their latest robot mission inside the Fukushima reactor after the ‘scorpion’ became unresponsive as it investigated the previously discovered hole where the core is believed to have melted. A “scorpion” robot sent into a Japanese nuclear reactor to learn about the damage suffered in a tsunami-induced meltdown had its mission aborted after the probe ran into trouble, Tokyo Electric Power company said Thursday. As Phys.org reports, TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant, sent the remote-controlled device into the No. 2 reactor where radiation levels have recently hit record highs.

The “scorpion” robot, so-called because it can lift up its camera-mounted tail to achieve better viewing angles, is also designed to crawl over rubble inside the damaged facility. But it could not reach its target destination beneath a pressure vessel through which nuclear fuel is believed to have melted because the robot had difficulty moving, a company spokeswoman said. “It’s not immediately clear if that’s because of radiation or obstacles,” she said, adding that TEPCO is checking what data the robot was able to obtain, including images.

[..] The robot, 60 centimetres (24 inches) long, is made by Toshiba and equipped with two cameras and sensors to gauge radiation levels and temperatures. Scorpion’s mission is to take images of the situation and collect data inside the containment vessel,” TEPCO spokesman Shinichi Nakakuki said earlier. “Challenges include enduring high levels of radiation and moving on the rough surface,” he said. Radiation levels inside the reactor were estimated last week at 650 sieverts per hour at one spot, which can effectively shut down robots in hours.

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Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a colonel. She also was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the war in Iraq. She has lived in Honolulu since 2003.

Tulsi Gabbard vs. ‘Regime Change’ Wars (Wright)

I support Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, going to Syria and meeting with President Bashar al-Assad because the congresswoman is a brave person willing to take criticism for challenging U.S. policies that she believes are wrong. It is important that we have representatives in our government who will go to countries where the United States is either killing citizens directly by U.S. intervention or indirectly by support of militia groups or by sanctions. We need representatives to sift through what the U.S. government says and what the media reports to find out for themselves the truth, the shades of truth and the untruths. We need representatives willing to take the heat from both their fellow members of Congress and from the media pundits who will not go to those areas and talk with those directly affected by U.S. actions.

We need representatives who will be our eyes and ears to go to places where most citizens cannot go. Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran who has seen first-hand the chaos that can come from misguided “regime change” projects, is not the first international observer to come back with an assessment about the tragic effects of U.S. support for lethal “regime change” in Syria. Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire began traveling to Syria three years ago and now having made three trips to Syria. She has come back hearing many of the same comments from Syrians that Rep. Gabbard heard — that U.S. support for “regime change” against the secular government of Syria is contributing to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and – if the “regime change” succeeded – might result in the takeover by armed religious-driven fanatics who would slaughter many more Syrians and cause a mass migration of millions fleeing the carnage.

[..] During the Obama administration, Rep. Gabbard spoke critically of the U.S. propensity to attempt “regime change” in countries and thus provoking chaos and loss of civilian life. On Dec. 8, 2016, she introduced a bill entitled the “Stop Arming Terrorists Act” which would prohibit the U.S. government from using U.S. funds to provide funding, weapons, training, and intelligence support to extremists groups, such as the ones fighting in Syria – or to countries that are providing direct or indirect support to those groups. In the first days of the Trump administration, Rep. Gabbard traveled to Syria to see the effects of the attempted “regime change” and to offer a solution to reduce the deaths of civilians and the end of the war in Syria. A national organization Veterans For Peace, to which I belong, has endorsed her trip as a step toward resolution to the Syrian conflict.

Not surprisingly, back in Washington, Rep. Gabbard came under attack for the trip and for her meeting with President Assad, similar to criticism that I have faced because of visits that I have made to countries where the U.S. government did not want me to go — to Cuba, Iran, Gaza, Yemen, Pakistan, North Korea, Russia and back to Afghanistan, where I was assigned as a U.S. diplomat.

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“How you square this circle, that I understand is what they are discussing in Washington..”

UN Envoy Questions US Engagement On Syria (AFP)

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura on Sunday questioned US President Donald Trump’s engagement in solving the Syrian war, just days ahead of a new round of peace talks in Geneva. “Where is the US in all this? I can’t tell you because I don’t know,” he said, adding that the new administration was still trying to work out its priorities on the conflict. The top three US priorities include fighting Islamic State jihadists, “how to limit the influence of some major regional players and how to not to damage one of their major allies in the region,” de Mistura told the Munich Security Conference. “How you square this circle, that I understand is what they are discussing in Washington,” he said. He did not say who the regional player or major ally were but the first reference appeared to be to Iran, with the second likely to be either Turkey or Saudi Arabia.

Mistura stressed that what was ultimately key was an inclusive political solution to end the six-year conflict. “Even a ceasefire with two guarantors can’t hold too long if there is no political horizon,” he said, referring to a fragile truce brokered by Russia and Turkey in December. Any political solution has to be inclusive to be credible, he said, stressing that peace talks in Astana last week organised by Russia, Turkey and Iran, and the ceasefire deal provided an opening that should be explored. The US envoy for the anti-IS coalition, Brett McGurk, acknowledged that Trump’s administration is “re-looking at everything, which is a very healthy process from top to bottom.” “We will be very selfish about protecting and advancing our interests,” he told the same forum.

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This will always remain controversial. But it’s the only way.

Kaziranga: The Park That Shoots People To Protect Rhinos (BBC)

Kaziranga National Park is an incredible story of conservation success. There were just a handful of Indian one-horned rhinoceros left when the park was set up a century ago in Assam, in India’s far east. Now there are more than 2,400 – two-thirds of the entire world population. This is where David Attenborough’s team came to film for Planet Earth II. William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, came here last year. But the way the park protects the animals is controversial. Its rangers have been given the kind of powers to shoot and kill normally only conferred on armed forces policing civil unrest. At one stage the park rangers were killing an average of two people every month – more than 20 people a year. Indeed, in 2015 more people were shot dead by park guards than rhinos were killed by poachers. Innocent villagers, mostly tribal people, have been caught up in the conflict.

Rhinos need protection. Rhino horn can fetch very high prices in Vietnam and China where it is sold as a miracle cure for everything from cancer to erectile dysfunction. Street vendors charge as much as $6,000 for 100g – making it considerably more expensive than gold. Indian rhinos have smaller horns than those of African rhinos, but reportedly they are marketed as being far more potent. But how far should we go to protect these endangered animals? I ask two guards what they were told to do if they encountered poachers in the park. “The instruction is whenever you see the poachers or hunters, we should start our guns and hunt them,” Avdesh explains without hesitation. “You shoot them?” I ask. “Yah, yah. Fully ordered to shoot them. Whenever you see the poachers or any people during night-time we are ordered to shoot them.” Avdesh says he has shot at people twice in the four years he has been a guard, but has never killed anybody. He knows, however, there are unlikely to be any consequences for him if he did.

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Jun 182016
 
 June 18, 2016  Posted by at 8:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle June 18 2016


Harris&Ewing F Street N.W., Washington, DC 1918

Stocks Slump Most In 4 Months As Global Financial Stress Nears 5-Year Highs (ZH)
The Fed And Other Central Banks Have Lost Their Magic Powers (Das)
ECB Closes Ranks With Bank Of England To Avert Brexit Crunch (AEP)
Canada’s Housing ‘Affordability Crisis’ Fueled By Overseas Money: Trudeau (G.)
Rio State Declares ‘Public Calamity’ Over Finances Weeks Before Olympics (BBC)
Japan: A Future of Stagnation (CH Smith)
EU Is Too Big and ‘Sinking’, UK Should Leave (CNBC)
Money and Banking, Keen and Krugman (Legge)
All You Need To Know About Blockchain, Explained Simply (WEF)
Digital Currency Ethereum Is Cratering Because Of A $50 Million Hack (BI)
German Minister Criticises ‘Warmongering’ NATO (BBC)
Greece Sidelines Officials Who Blocked Expulsion Of Refugees To Turkey (G.)
MSF Rejects EU Funds Over ‘Shameful’ Migrant Policy (AFP)

Oh what fun it is to play….

Stocks Slump Most In 4 Months As Global Financial Stress Nears 5-Year Highs (ZH)

Global Financial Stress Index spikes up most since Aug 2011…

 

As Brexit polls surge towards "Leave"…

 

As USDollar Scarcity (panic demand) rears its ugly head again…

 

And GDP-weighted European Sovereign risk surged to 2 year highs…

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They were always only illusionary.

The Fed And Other Central Banks Have Lost Their Magic Powers (Das)

During the financial crisis of 2008-09, politicians facing difficult and electorally unpopular decisions cleverly passed the responsibility for the economy to central bankers. These policymakers accepted the task to nurse the global economy to health. But there are increasing doubts about central banks’ powers and their ability to deliver a recovery. Policymakers have engineered an artificial stability. Budget deficits, low-, zero-, and now negative interest rates , and quantitative easing (QE) have not restored global growth or increased inflation to levels necessary to bring high-debt under control. Instead, low rates and the suppression of volatility have encouraged asset-price booms in many world markets.

Since prices of assets act as collateral for loans, central banks are being forced to support these inflated values because of the potential threat to financial institutions holding the debt. As the tried and tested policies lose efficacy, new unconventional initiatives have been viewed by markets with increasing suspicion and caution. Key to this debate is negative interest rate policy (NIRP), now in place in Europe and Japan, and most recently affecting German bonds. Markets do not believe that NIRP will create the borrowing-driven consumption and investment that generates economic activity. Existing high-debt levels, poor employment prospects, low rates of wage growth, and overcapacity have lowered potential growth rates, sometimes substantially.

NIRP is unlikely to create inflation for the same reasons, despite the stubborn belief among economic clergy that increasing money supply can and will ultimately always create large changes in price levels. There are toxic by-products to this policy. Low- and negative rates threaten the ability of insurance companies and pension funds to meet contracted retirement payments. Bank profitability also has been adversely affected. Potential erosion of deposits may reduce banks’ ability to lend and also reduce the stability of funding.

The capacity of NIRP to devalue currencies to secure export competitiveness is also questionable. The euro, yen and Swiss franc have not weakened significantly so far, despite additional monetary accommodation. One reason is that these countries have large current account surpluses: the eurozone (3.0% of GDP), Japan (2.9% of GDP), and Switzerland (12.5% of GDP). The increasing ineffectiveness of NIRP in managing currency values reflects the fact that the underlying problem of global imbalances remains unresolved.

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Crumbling.

ECB Closes Ranks With Bank Of England To Avert Brexit Crunch (AEP)

The European Central Bank has pledged to flood the financial system with euro liquidity if credit markets seize up after a Brexit vote. The move came as European bank stocks plummeted across the board for another day, the epicentre of stress as nerves fray over the potential fall-out from British referendum. The Euro Stoxx index of bank equities fell to a four-year low, and is nearing levels last seen in during the eurozone debt crisis in 2012. Europe’s banks have lost half their value in the last year. “We have taken the necessary precautionary measures to meet liquidity needs,” said Ewald Nowotny, Austria’s central bank governor and an ECB board member. “We have assured that there will be no liquidity bottlenecks, either among English banks or European banks, if it becomes necessary,” he said.

The soothing words put to rest any fear that the ECB might withhold full cooperation from the Bank of England in the poisonous political mood after a withdrawal vote. A spat might have sparked fears of a funding crunch for international banks in the City of London with short term debts in foreign currencies. The Bank of England cannot print euros or dollars. The world’s central banks tend to work closely together as an Olympian fraternity, knowing that their fates are bound together regardless of the political fighting around them. The US Federal Reserve and the central banks of Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, and Canada are all working as tightknit team with the Bank of England and the ECB, determined to avoid being caught off guard as they were when the payments system went into meltdown after the Lehman crisis.

[..] German banks are in surprisingly deep trouble, struggling with the corrosive effects of negative interest rates on their profit margins. But Italian lenders worry regulators most as tougher capital adequacy rules come into force, and the eurozone’s new ‘bail-in’ policy for creditors turns the sector into a lepers’ colony. The non-performing loans of Italian banks have reached 18pc of their balance sheets, the legacy of Italy’s economic Lost Decade. This is coming into focus as premier Matteo Renzi bleeds support and risks losing a make-or-break referendum in October.

Euro Intelligence reports that he faces an “insurrection” after ex-premier Massimo D’Alema – supposedly a Renzi ally – said he has switched his support to the radical Five Star movement of comedian Beppe Grillo. It is no longer implausible to imagine a Five Star government in charge of Italy within months, setting off a political earthquake. The picture is equally dramatic in Spain where the ultra-Left Podemos coalition has pulled well ahead of the establishment Socialist Party (PSOE) in the polls and has an outside chance of winning the elections on June 26, opening the way for an anti-austerity government in Madrid. The possibility of a ‘Syriza-style’ rebellion in Spain is viewed with horror in Brussels.

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No shit, Justin.

Canada’s Housing ‘Affordability Crisis’ Fueled By Overseas Money: Trudeau (G.)

An influx of capital from Asia is partly responsible for soaring housing prices in Vancouver and Toronto, Justin Trudeau has said, as a new study showed more than 90% of all detached homes in Vancouver are now worth more than C$1m($772,141). “We know that there is an awful lot of capital that left Asia in the past few years,” Canada’s prime minister told public broadcaster CBC on Friday. “Obviously overseas money coming in is playing a role” in Canada’s housing affordability crisis, he said. Trudeau provided no supporting data Friday to back up his remarks, although his government set aside funds to study the widespread perception that overseas investors and speculators are to blame for Canada’s housing bubble.

Concern over the overheated property market has focused on Vancouver, where the proportion of million-dollar homes in the city has climbed this year to 91%. The figure marks a leap from two years ago, when around 59% of houses were worth a million or more, according to the study by Andy Yan, acting director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program. “This shows how what used to be the earnest product of a lifetime of local work is perhaps quickly becoming a leveraged and luxurious global commodity,” Yan said. The median household income in Vancouver, meanwhile, rose just 8.6% between 2009 to 2013, according to the most recent data from Statistics Canada. Adjusted for inflation, it would be about C$77,000 a year in 2016.

That puts typical incomes well below the threshold needed to purchase million-dollar homes, said Yan, noting other factors must be driving the sharp increase in home values in Vancouver. “It’s global cash, meeting cheap money, meeting limited supply,” he said, adding that all three factors are working to “magnify each other” and drive further speculation.

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To quote myself: “You sure about those Olympics?”

Rio State Declares ‘Public Calamity’ Over Finances Weeks Before Olympics (BBC)

The Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro has declared a financial emergency less than 50 days before the Olympics. Interim Governor Francisco Dornelles says the “serious economic crisis” threatens to stop the state from honouring commitments for the Games. Most public funding for the Olympics has come from Rio’s city government, but the state is responsible for areas such as transport and policing. Interim President Michel Temer has promised significant financial help. The governor has blamed the crisis on a tax shortfall, especially from the oil industry, while Brazil overall has faced a deep recession.

The measure could accelerate the release of federal emergency funds. Rio state employees and pensioners are owed wages in arrears. Hospitals and police stations have been severely affected. In a decree, Mr Dornelles said the state faced “public calamity” that could lead to a “total collapse” in public services, such as security, health and education. He authorised “exceptional measures” to be taken ahead of the Games that could impact “all essential public services”, but no details were given.

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Make that the entire western world.

Japan: A Future of Stagnation (CH Smith)

One of our longtime friends in Japan just sold the family business. The writing was on the wall, and had been for the past decade: fewer customers, with less money, and no end of competition for the shrinking pool of customers and spending. Our friend is planning to move to another more vibrant economy in Asia. She didn’t want to spend the rest of her life struggling to keep the business afloat. She wanted to have a family and a business with a future. It was the right decision, not only for her but for her family: get out while there’s still some value in the business to sell. [..] The Keynesian Fantasy is that encouraging people to borrow money to replace what they no longer earn is a policy designed to fail, and fail it has.

Borrowing money incurs interest payments, which even at low rates of interest eventually crimps disposable earnings. Banks must loan this money at a profit, so interest rates paid by borrowers can’t fall to zero. If they do, banks can’t earn enough to pay their operating costs, and they will close their doors. If banks reach for higher income, that requires loaning money to poor credit risks and placing risky bets in financial markets. Once you load them up with enough debt, even businesses and wage earners who were initially good credit risks become poor credit risks. Uncreditworthy borrowers default, costing the banks not just whatever was earned on the risky loans but the banks’ capital.

The banking system is designed to fail, and fail it does. Japan has played the pretend-and-extend game for decades by extending defaulting borrowers enough new debt to make minimal interest payments, so the non-performing loan can be listed in the “performing” category. Central banks play the game by lowering interest rates so debtors can borrow more. This works like monetary cocaine for a while, boosting spending and giving the economy a false glow of health, but then the interest payments start sapping earnings, and once the borrowed money has been spent/squandered, what’s left is the interest payments stretching into the future.

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“These opportunities come along once in a generation where people actually get to vote on what they want.”

EU Is Too Big and ‘Sinking’, UK Should Leave (CNBC)

The European Union is too big and is “sinking,” and the United Kingdom should take the chance to get out while it can, economist David Malpass said Friday. British citizens vote next Thursday on whether the U.K. should exit the union. “The EU is just too big. It’s too expensive. It doesn’t work,” the president of Encima Global said in an interview with CNBC’s “Power Lunch.” “They haven’t even made progress on their mission, which was fiscal responsibility, banking reforms, defending the external borders. They’re just not doing the job.” He believes the Brits should not squander the opportunity, noting that the last referendum the country held was in 1975. “These opportunities come along once in a generation where people actually get to vote on what they want.”

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More on an old feud.

Money and Banking, Keen and Krugman (Legge)

Keen carved out a major distinction between his approach and that of Krugman, but also of that of many of the economists who agree that money is not neutral. He argues that an increase in bank lending affects the macro economy by increasing demand. It follows that measured growth should be decomposed into workforce growth, productivity growth, and debt growth. Keen’s third term is deeply disturbing, because he goes on to argue that that a major part of the observed economic growth since 1980 has been driven by rising household debt levels.

Since all household debt involves interest, there must be a point at which households have all the debt that they can carry, and don’t take on any more. At this point, argues Keen, the affected economy will become a “debt zombie”, stuck in a low or even negative growth trajectory. Keen proposes a “debt jubilee” to write off excessive household debt and allow growth to resume. On its own, this would only postpose the debt/stagnation crisis; but perhaps after one debt jubilee they could become regular events.

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101. But nothing on security threats. Hmm.

All You Need To Know About Blockchain, Explained Simply (WEF)

Many people know it as the technology behind Bitcoin, but blockchain’s potential uses extend far beyond digital currencies. Its admirers include Bill Gates and Richard Branson, and banks and insurers are falling over one another to be the first to work out how to use it. So what exactly is blockchain, and why are Wall Street and Silicon Valley so excited about it? Currently, most people use a trusted middleman such as a bank to make a transaction. But blockchain allows consumers and suppliers to connect directly, removing the need for a third party. Using cryptography to keep exchanges secure, blockchain provides a decentralized database, or “digital ledger”, of transactions that everyone on the network can see. This network is essentially a chain of computers that must all approve an exchange before it can be verified and recorded.

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What’s that about the chain and its weakest link?

Digital Currency Ethereum Is Cratering Because Of A $50 Million Hack (BI)

The value of the digital currency Ethereum has dropped dramatically amid an apparent huge attack targeting an organisation with huge holdings of the currency. The price per unit dropped to $15 from record highs of $21.50 in hours, with millions of units of the digital currency worth as much as $50 million stolen at post-theft valuations. At a pre-theft valuation, it works out as a staggering $79.6 million. Ethereum developers have proposed a fix that they hope will neutralise the attacker and prevent the stolen funds from being spent. The core Ethereum codebase does not appear to be compromised. Ethereum is a decentralised currency like bitcoin, but it is built in such a way that it also allows for decentralised organisations to be built on top of its blockchain (the public ledger of transactions) and for smart contracts that can execute themselves automatically if certain conditions are met.

One of these organisations is the DAO, the Decentralised Autonomous Organisation, which controls tens of millions of dollars’ worth of the digital currency. ( The bitcoin news site CoinDesk has a good feature explaining more about how the DAO operates.) The DAO is sitting on 7.9 million units, known as ether, of the currency worth $132.7 million. Early Friday morning, it appears to have been hit with a devastating attack, with unidentified attackers appearing to exploit a software vulnerability and draining drain millions of ether – with a theoretical value in the tens of millions of dollars. One ether wallet identified by community members as a recipient of the apparently stolen funds holds more than 3.5 million ether. At an exchange rate of about $14 a unit, that works out at $47 million. At $21.50, the value of ether before the hack, it’s significantly more – $79.6 million.

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Germany wants to be able to talk to Russia.

German Minister Criticises ‘Warmongering’ NATO (BBC)

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has criticised Nato military exercises in Eastern Europe, accusing the organisation of “warmongering”. Mr Steinmeier said that extensive Nato manoeuvres launched this month were counterproductive to regional security and could enflame tensions with Russia. He urged the Nato military alliance to replace the exercises with more dialogue and co-operation with Russia. Nato launched a simulated Russian attack on Poland on 7 June. The two-week-long drill involves about 31,000 troops, including 14,000 from the US, 12,000 from Poland and 1,000 from the UK. It will also feature dozens of fighter jets and ships, along with 3,000 vehicles.

“What we shouldn’t do now is inflame the situation further through sabre-rattling and warmongering,” Mr Steinmeier said in an interview to be published in Germany’s Bild am Sontag newspaper. “Whoever believes that a symbolic tank parade on the alliance’s eastern border will bring security, is mistaken. “We are well-advised to not create pretexts to renew an old confrontation,” he said. The exercises are intended to test Nato’s ability to respond to threats, and take place every two years. But Russia has repeatedly said that Nato troops close to its borders are a threat to its security.

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This is serious. No sovereignty, no independent legal system, and hardly a constitution left. The political system trumps all. This is the EU. And Tsipras should never sign off on it, of course. Bus boy.

Greece Sidelines Officials Who Blocked Expulsion Of Refugees To Turkey (G.)

The Greek government has sidelined members of an independent authority that had blocked the deportation of Syrian refugees, following sustained pressure from other European countries. Greek MPs voted on Thursday to change the composition of the country’s asylum appeals board, in an attempt to sideline officials who had objected on legal grounds to the expulsion of Syrians listed for deportation to Turkey. The appeals board had jeopardised the EU-Turkey migration deal, the agreement enacted in March that is meant to see all asylum seekers landing on the Greek islands detained in Greece – and then deported. While Greek police had enacted the first part of the plan,

Greek appeals committees have largely held up the planned deportations – potentially giving Syrians greater incentive to reach Greece. The appeals committees argued that Turkey does not uphold refugee law, and is therefore not a safe country for refugees. Currently the three-person appeals committees consist of one government-appointed official, and two appointed independently by the UN refugee agency and Greece’s national committee for human rights. After pressure from European politicians who feared a new surge in arrivals to Greece, Greek MPs have voted to create new committees formed of two administrative judges and one person appointed by the UN, meaning that state officials will now outnumber independent ones on the committees.

An independent appeals committee member interviewed by the Guardian in the run-up to the law change said it was a political move designed to bend an independent judicial process to the will of the executive. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the change was “a serious blow to the independence of the committee. We think like legal scientists. We have a specific view that is based on legal analysis. If we lose our [places on the committee] then the cases will be handled the way that politicians want.”

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This mirrors the long held view of our friend Kostas, who we actively support with TAE funds here in Athens: “We cannot accept funding from the EU or the Member States while at the same time treating the victims of their policies..

MSF Rejects EU Funds Over ‘Shameful’ Migrant Policy (AFP)

Aid group Doctors Without Borders said on Friday that it would no longer take funds from the EU in protest at its “shameful” policies on the migration crisis including a deal with Turkey. The charity, more widely known by its French acronym MSF, received €56 million from EU institutions and the 28 member states last year.”MSF announces today that we will no longer take funds from the EU and its Member States in protest at their shameful deterrence policies and their intensification of efforts to push people and their suffering back from European shores,” the group said in a statement. The group singled out for criticism the EU’s deal with Turkey in March to stem the biggest flow of migrants into the continent since World War II.

“For months MSF has spoken out about a shameful European response focused on deterrence rather than providing people with the assistance and protection they need,” Jerome Oberreit, international secretary general of MSF, told a press conference. “The EU-Turkey deal goes one step further and has placed the very concept of ‘refugee’ and the protection it offers in danger.” [..] Oberreit also criticised a proposal last week to make similar deals with African and Middle Eastern countries. He added: “We cannot accept funding from the EU or the Member States while at the same time treating the victims of their polices. It’s that simple.” MSF said it received €19 million from EU institutions and €37 million from member states in 2015, amounting to 8% of its funding. It added that its activities are 90% privately funded.

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