Nov 152017
 
 November 15, 2017  Posted by at 8:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Arkady Shaikhet Express 1939

 

Richest 1% Own 50% Of Global Wealth, Poorest 50% Own 1% (BI)
US Auto-Loan Subprime Blows Up Lehman-Moment-Like (WS)
Household Debt Rises By $116 Billion As Credit-Card Delinquencies Pile Up (MW)
Sweden’s Housing Market Shock is Hitting Its Currency (BBG)
ECB Seeks Power To Freeze Bank Deposits (BBG)
What History Teaches About Interest Rates (DR)
Deus ex Mueller isn’t Coming (CJ)
Raqqa’s Dirty Secret (BBC)
How Western Imperial Power Set Out To Destroy Syria (Ren.)
US Directly Supports ISIS Terrorists In Syria – Russia (Tass)
Zimbabwe’s Military Seizes Power (BBG)
Airbnb Puts Automatic Rental Cap On Central Paris Offers (R.)
Airbnb Refuses To Disclose Financial Data To Greece’s Finance Ministry (KTG)

 

 

How do we do it? What an achievement!

Richest 1% Own 50% Of Global Wealth, Poorest 50% Own 1% (BI)

The world’s richest 1% of families and individuals hold over half of global wealth, according to a new report from Credit Suisse. The report suggests inequality is still worsening some eight years after the worst global recession in decades. The release of the Paradise Papers, a trove of leaked documents uncovered by investigative journalists detailing the offshore tax holdings of the world’s super wealthy, has reinforced just how rampant the problem of wealth inequality has become. “The bottom half of adults collectively own less than 1% of total wealth, the richest decile (top 10% of adults) owns 88% of global assets, and the top percentile alone accounts for half of total household wealth,” the Credit Suisse report said.

Put another way: “The top 1% own 50.1% of all household wealth in the world.” This handy pyramid chart, which shows the relative number of people at different wealth levels and how much of the world’s assets each bracket controls, speaks volumes about the level of income concentration, which by some measures has not been seen since the early 20th century:

In most countries, including the United States, a large wealth gap translates into those at the top accruing political power, which in turn can lead to policies that reinforce benefits for the wealthy. President Donald Trump’s tax cut plan, for instance, has been widely criticized for favoring corporations and the wealthy over working families. Measured overall, Credit Suisse found total global wealth rose 6.4% in the year between mid-2016 and mid-2017 to $280.3 trillion. Stock market gains helped add $8.5 trillion to US household wealth during that period, a 10.1% rise. US inequality is considerably worse than in its more developed-country peers.

Read more …

You really have to check the dates, to make sure this is not 10 year old news. The key word here is ‘surge’.

US Auto-Loan Subprime Blows Up Lehman-Moment-Like (WS)

Given Americans’ ceaseless urge to borrow and spend, household debt in the third quarter surged by $610 billion, or 5%, from the third quarter last year, to a new record of $13 trillion, according to the New York Fed. If the word “surged” appears a lot, it’s because that’s the kind of debt environment we now have: Mortgage debt surged 4.2% year-over-year, to $9.19 trillion, still shy of the all-time record of $10 trillion in 2008 before it all collapsed. Student loans surged by 6.25% year-over-year to a record of $1.36 trillion. Credit card debt surged 8% to $810 billion. “Other” surged 5.4% to $390 billion. And auto loans surged 6.1% to a record $1.21 trillion. And given how the US economy depends on consumer borrowing for life support, that’s all good.

However, there are some big ugly flies in that ointment: Delinquencies – not everywhere, but in credit cards, and particularly in subprime auto loans, where serious delinquencies have reached Lehman Moment proportions. Of the $1.2 trillion in auto loans outstanding, $282 billion (24%) were granted to borrowers with a subprime credit score (below 620). Of all auto loans outstanding, 2.4% were 90+ days (“seriously”) delinquent, up from 2.3% in the prior quarter. But delinquencies are concentrated in the subprime segment – that $282 billion – and all hell is breaking lose there. Subprime auto lending has attracted specialty lenders, such as Santander Consumer USA. They feel they can handle the risks, and they off-loaded some of the risks to investors via subprime auto-loan-backed securities. They want to cash in on the fat profits often obtained in subprime lending via extraordinarily high interest rates.

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Oh well.

Household Debt Rises By $116 Billion As Credit-Card Delinquencies Pile Up (MW)

The numbers: Household debt rose by $116 billion, or 0.9%, to $12.96 trillion in the third quarter, the New York Fed said Tuesday. Credit-card debt rose by 3.1% while home equity lines of credit, or HELOC, balances fell by 0.9%. There were small gains in mortgage, student and auto debt. Flows into credit-card and auto loans delinquencies rose, with 4.6% of credit card debt 90 days or more delinquent, up from 4.4% in the second quarter, and 2.4% of auto loan debt seriously delinquent, up from 2.3%. That’s still nowhere near the 9.6% of student loan debt that is delinquent, which itself is understated because about half of those loans are currently in deferment, grace periods or in forbearance.

What happened: U.S. households aren’t aggressively leveraging up, and the ones that are did so had better credit. The higher level of auto loan originations was mainly to prime borrowers, and the median credit score to individuals originating new mortgages ticked up to 760 from 754. [..] Auto loans have grown for 26 straight quarters. But there are some worries as subprime auto loan performance continues to deteriorate — the delinquency rate for auto finance companies have grown by more than 2 percentage points since 2014, the New York Fed said.

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World’s biggest housing bubble?

Sweden’s Housing Market Shock is Hitting Its Currency (BBG)

Can a central bank steer the housing market? Not so long ago, Sweden’s Riksbank decided: no. Now, there’s a risk that decision may backfire as the biggest property market in Scandinavia risks sinking into a correction. The evidence of price declines was so worrying on Tuesday that it contributed to a 1.5 percent slump in the krona against the euro. A weak currency puts the Riksbank’s inflation target at risk. So should it be looking at the housing market more closely? Developments in Sweden’s housing market “could spark some doubts at the Riksbank as it may affect the overall economic outlook and inflation,” Nordea analyst Andreas Wallstrom said in a note. Sweden’s Riksbank has thrown all its energy into fighting deflation and, earlier this year, finally regained credibility on its inflation mandate.

Policy makers now say they may be ready to start raising rates in the middle of next year. At the same time, the Riksbank may extend a bond purchase program due to end this year. But in the minutes of the Riksbank’s latest rate meeting, Deputy Governor Cecilia Skingsley suggested that monetary policy, “under certain circumstances, can be used to combat the effects of major household debt.” She also said the housing market “must be carefully monitored,” given the latest developments. Nordea’s Wallstrom says the central bank will probably need to see a “sharp drop” in house prices with a direct impact on the real economy before it will look into adding significant stimulus. But the bank might decided to signal rates will stay where they are for even longer.

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Which would cause panic and bank runs.

ECB Seeks Power To Freeze Bank Deposits (BBG)

The European Central Bank intensified its push for a tool that would hand authorities the power to stop deposit withdrawals when a bank is on the verge of failing. ECB executive board member Sabine Lautenschlaeger said that bank resolution cases this year showed that a so-called moratorium tool, which would temporarily freeze a bank’s liabilities to buy time for crucial decisions, is needed. Her comment comes as policy makers in Brussels debate how such measures should be designed, and just days after the ECB officially called for the moratorium to extend to deposits as well. “If we have a long list of exemptions and we have a moratorium that doesn’t work, I do not want to have a moratorium tool,” Lautenschlaeger told a conference in Frankfurt on Tuesday. “Then you will never use it.”

EU member states appear ready to heed the request, according to a Nov. 6 paper that develops their stance on a bank-failure bill proposed by the European Commission. They suggest giving authorities the power to cap deposit withdrawals as part of a stay on payments only after an institution has been declared “failing or likely to fail.” The power to install a moratorium “can in principle apply to eligible deposits,” the paper reads. “However, resolution authority should carefully assess the opportunity to extend the suspension also to covered deposits, especially covered deposits held by natural persons and micro, small and medium sized enterprises, in case application of suspension on such deposits would severely disrupt the functioning of financial markets.”

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Low interst rates = low growth economies. The chicken and the egg.

What History Teaches About Interest Rates (DR)

“At no point in the history of the world has the interest on money been so low as it is now.” Who can dispute the good Sen. Henry M. Teller of Colorado? For lo eight years, the Federal Reserve has waged a ceaseless warfare upon interest rates. Economic law, history, logic itself, stagger under the onslaughts. We suspect that economic reality will one day prevail. This fear haunts our days… and poisons our nights. But let us check the date on the senator’s declaration… Kind heaven, can it be? We are reliably informed that Sen. Teller’s comment entered the congressional minutes on Jan. 12… 1895. 1895 — some 19 years before the Federal Reserve drew its first ghastly breath! Were interest rates 122 years ago the lowest in world history? And are low interest rates the historical norm… rather than the exception?

Today we rise above the daily churn… canvass the broad sweep of history… and pursue the grail of truth. The chart below — giving 5,000 years of interest rate history — shows the justice in Teller’s argument. Please direct your attention to anno Domini 1895: Rates had never been lower in all of history. They would only sink lower on two subsequent occasions — the dark, depressed days of the early 1930s — and the present day, dark and depressed in its own right. A closer inspection of the chart reveals another capital fact… Absent one instance at the beginning of the 20th century and a roaring exception during the mid-to-late 20th century, long-term interest rates have trended lower for the better part of 500 years.

Paul Schmelzing professes economics at Harvard. He’s also a visiting scholar at the Bank of England, for whom he conducted a study of interest rates throughout history. Could the sharply steepening interest rates that began in the late 1940s be a historical one-off… an Everest set among the plains? Analyst Lance Roberts argues that periods of sharply rising interest rates like this are history’s exceptions — lovely exceptions. Why lovely? Roberts: Interest rates are a function of strong, organic, economic growth that leads to a rising demand for capital over time. In this view, rates rose steeply at the dawn of the 20th century because rapid industrialization and dizzying technological advances had entered the scenery.

Likewise, Roberts argues the massive post-World War II economic expansion resulted in the second great spike in interest rates: There have been two previous periods in history that have had the necessary ingredients to support rising interest rates. The first was during the turn of the previous century as the country became more accessible via railroads and automobiles, production ramped up for World War I and America began the shift from an agricultural to industrial economy. The second period occurred post-World War II as America became the “last man standing”… It was here that America found its strongest run of economic growth in its history as the “boys of war” returned home to start rebuilding the countries that they had just destroyed.

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“If you attribute all your problems to Trump, you’re guaranteeing more Trumps after him..”

Deus ex Mueller isn’t Coming (CJ)

We know from the Snowden leaks on the NSA, the CIA files released by WikiLeaks, and the ongoing controversies regarding FBI surveillance that the US intelligence community has the most expansive, most sophisticated and most intrusive surveillance network in the history of human civilisation. Following the presidential election last year, anonymous sources from within the intelligence community were haemorrhaging leaks to the press on a regular basis that were damaging to the incoming administration. If there was any evidence to be found that Donald Trump colluded with the Russian government to steal the 2016 election using hackers and propaganda, the US intelligence community would have found it and leaked it to the New York Times or the Washington Post last year.

Mueller isn’t going to find anything in 2017 that these vast, sprawling networks wouldn’t have found in 2016. He’s not going to find anything by “following the money” that couldn’t be found infinitely more efficaciously via Orwellian espionage. The factions within the intelligence community that were working to sabotage the incoming administration last year would have leaked proof of collusion if they’d had it. They did not have it then, and they do not have it now. Mueller will continue finding evidence of corruption throughout his investigation, since corruption is to DC insiders as water is to fish, but he will not find evidence of collusion to win the 2016 election that will lead to Trump’s impeachment. It will not happen. This sits on top of all the many, many, many reasons to be extremely suspicious of the Russiagate narrative in the first place.

[..] If you attribute all your problems to Trump, you’re guaranteeing more Trumps after him, because you’re not addressing the disease which created him, you’re just addressing the symptom. The problem is not Trump. The problem is that America is ruled by an unelected power establishment which maintains its rule by sabotaging democracy, exacerbating economic injustice and expanding the US war machine. Stop listening to the lies that they pipe into your echo chambers and turn to face your real demons.

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“IS may have been homicidal psychopaths, but they’re always correct with the money.” Says Abu Fawzi with a smile.

Raqqa’s Dirty Secret (BBC)

Lorry driver Abu Fawzi thought it was going to be just another job. He drives an 18-wheeler across some of the most dangerous territory in northern Syria. Bombed-out bridges, deep desert sand, even government forces and so-called Islamic State fighters don’t stand in the way of a delivery. But this time, his load was to be human cargo. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters opposed to IS, wanted him to lead a convoy that would take hundreds of families displaced by fighting from the town of Tabqa on the Euphrates river to a camp further north. The job would take six hours, maximum – or at least that’s what he was told. But when he and his fellow drivers assembled their convoy early on 12 October, they realised they had been lied to. Instead, it would take three days of hard driving, carrying a deadly cargo – hundreds of IS fighters, their families and tonnes of weapons and ammunition.

Abu Fawzi and dozens of other drivers were promised thousands of dollars for the task but it had to remain secret. The deal to let IS fighters escape from Raqqa – de facto capital of their self-declared caliphate – had been arranged by local officials. It came after four months of fighting that left the city obliterated and almost devoid of people. It would spare lives and bring fighting to an end. The lives of the Arab, Kurdish and other fighters opposing IS would be spared. But it also enabled many hundreds of IS fighters to escape from the city. At the time, neither the US and British-led coalition, nor the SDF, which it backs, wanted to admit their part. Has the pact, which stood as Raqqa’s dirty secret, unleashed a threat to the outside world – one that has enabled militants to spread far and wide across Syria and beyond?

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Narratives are starting to move.

How Western Imperial Power Set Out To Destroy Syria (Ren.)

Virtually unknown among large swaths the general public both in Britain and the U.S is the fact that Bashar-al Assad’s secular government won the first contested presidential election in Ba’athist Syria’s history on July 16, 2014, which was reported as having been open, fair and transparent. American Peace Council delegate, Joe Jamison, who was allowed unhindered travel throughout Syria, stated: “By contrast to the medieval Wahhabist ideology, Syria promotes a socially inclusive and pluralistic form of Islam. We [the USPC] met these people. They are humane and democratically minded…. The [Syrian] government is popular and recognised as being legitimate by the UN. It contests and wins elections which are monitored. There’s a parliament which contains opposition parties – we met them. There is a significant non-violent opposition which is trying to work constructively for its own social vision.”

Jamison added: “Our delegation came to Syria with political views and assumptions, but we were determined to be sceptics and to follow the facts wherever they led us”, he said. “I concluded that the motive of the US war is to destroy an independent, Arab, secular state. It’s the last of this kind of state standing.” The notion that the United States government and its allies and proxies, want to see the destruction of Syria’s pluralistic state under Assad destroyed, is hardly a secret. Indeed, one of Washington’s key allies in the region, Israel, has conceded as much. The claim by Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, that Assad’s removal is the empires “ultimate goal”, would appear to be consistent with the notion that the aim of the U.S government is to stymie the non-violent opposition inside Syria. Washington has been engaged in this strategy since early 2012 after having deliberately helped scupper Kofi Annan’s six point peace plan.

Members of the Syrian opposition within a newly reformed constitution who wanted to participate in democratic politics have instead been encouraged by the Western axis – as a result of bribing government forces to defect and through funding the Free Syrian Army – to overthrow the Assad government by violent means. As commentator Dan Glazebrook put it: “Within days of Annan’s peace plan gaining a positive response from both sides in late March, the imperial powers openly pledged, for the first time, millions of dollars for the Free Syrian Army; for military equipment, to provide salaries to its soldiers and to bribe government forces to defect. In other words, terrified that the civil war is starting to die down, they are setting about institutionalising it.”

Read more …

Now proven by the BBC. What’s next?

US Directly Supports ISIS Terrorists In Syria – Russia (Tass)

The Russian Defense Ministry has said it has obtained evidence the US-led coalition provides support for the terrorist group Islamic State (outlawed in Russia). “The Abu Kamal liberation operation conducted by the Syrian government army with air cover by the Russian Aerospace Force at the end of the last week revealed facts of direct cooperation and support for ISIS terrorists by the US-led ‘international coalition,’” the Russian Defense Ministry said. The ministry showed photo shoots made by Russian unmanned aircraft on November 9 which show kilometers-long convoys of IS armed groups leaving Abu Kamal towards the Wadi es-Sabha passage on the Syrian-Iraqi border to avoid strikes by the Russian aviation and the government army.

The US refused to conduct airstrikes over the leaving IS convoy. “Americans peremptorily rejected to conduct airstrikes over the ISIS terrorists on the pretext of the fact that, according to their information, militants are yielding themselves prisoners to them and now are subject to the provisions of the Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War,” the Russian Defense Ministry said. The Defense Ministry specified that “the Russian force grouping command twice addressed the command of the US-led ‘international coalition’ with a proposal to carry out joint actions to destroy the retreating ISIS convoys on the eastern bank of the Euphrates.” The Americans failed to answer the Russian side’s question on why IS militants leaving in combat vehicles heavily equipped are regrouping in the area controlled by the international coalition to conduct new strikes over the Syrian army near Abu Kamal, the Russian Defense Ministry stressed.

Read more …

Mugabe under house arrest and according to South African media ‘planning to step down’. Rumors that Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president Mugabe fired recently, will be interim president. Which in turn would confirm that the army acted because it doesn’t want Grace Mugabe in power.

Zimbabwe’s Military Seizes Power (BBG)

The armed forces seized power in Zimbabwe after a week of confrontation with President Robert Mugabe’s government and said the action was needed to stave off violent conflict in the southern African nation that he’s ruled since 1980. The Zimbabwe Defense Forces will guarantee the safety of Mugabe, 93, and his family and is only “targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” Major-General Sibusiso Moyo said in a televised address in Harare, the capital. All military leave has been canceled, he said. Denying that the action was a military coup, Moyo said “as soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect the situation to return to normalcy.” He urged the other security services to cooperate and warned that “any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.”

The action came a day after armed forces commander Constantine Chiwenga announced that the military would stop “those bent on hijacking the revolution.” As several armored vehicles appeared in the capital on Tuesday, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front described Chiwenga’s statements as “treasonable” and intended to incite insurrection. Later in the day, several explosions were heard in the city. The military intervention followed a week-long political crisis sparked by Mugabe’s decision to fire his long-time ally Emmerson Mnangagwa as vice president in a move that paved the way for his wife Grace, 52, and her supporters to gain effective control over the ruling party. Nicknamed “Gucci Grace” in Zimbabwe for her extravagant lifestyle, she said on Nov. 5 that she would be prepared to succeed her husband.

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65,000 homes in Paris alone.

Airbnb Puts Automatic Rental Cap On Central Paris Offers (R.)

Short-term rental website Airbnb, which has been challenging traditional hotel operators such as Accor and Marriott, said it would automatically cap the number of days its hosts can rent their property each year in central Paris. The decision, which goes into effect in January and mirrors initiatives already in place in London and Amsterdam, will force hosts to effectively comply with France’s official limit on short-term rentals of 120 days a year for a main residence. It comes as Airbnb, similar to its taxi-hailing peer Uber, is facing a growing crackdown from legislators worldwide – triggered in part by lobbying from the hotel industry, which sees the rental service as providing unfair competition. Airbnb and other rental platforms have also been criticized for driving up property prices and contributing to a housing shortage in some cities such as Paris or Berlin.

Airbnb, which has denied having a significant impact on housing shortages, has been trying to placate local authorities. “Paris is Airbnb number one city worldwide and we want to insure our community of hosts expands in a responsible and sustainable manner,” said Emmanuel Marill, Airbnb general manager for France. In Paris, the automatic rental cap will apply only to the city’s first four districts (“arrondissements”) unless the property owner has proper authorization. These districts include tourist hotspots such as the Marais, and landmarks such as the Louvre and the place de la Concorde square. Airbnb is implementing the cap as the Paris city council has made it mandatory from December for people renting their apartments on short-term rental websites to register their property with the town hall.

Ian Brossat, the housing advisor to the Paris Mayor, told Reuters that the cap should extend to the whole of Paris. “Under the law, websites must withdraw listings that do not comply with the law throughout Paris. One cannot accept that a website complies with the law only in the first four arrondissements of Paris,” said Brossat. With over 400,000 listings, France is Airbnb’s second-largest market after the United States. Paris, which is the most visited city in the world, is Airbnb’s biggest single market, with 65,000 homes.

Read more …

Fine them until they do?! Half the city of Athens will turn into Airbnb if they don’t.

Airbnb Refuses To Disclose Financial Data To Greece’s Finance Ministry (KTG)

Airbnb refused to provide the Greek Finance Ministry with information on property rentals thus delaying the launch of an online platform where owners should register the rental transactions and pay the necessary taxes. According to information obtained by economic news website economy365.gr, the Finance Ministry has tried for five months to get in touch with executives of the company in California as well as of other companies (Novasol etc). However, the companies showed no intention to cooperate with Greek authorities who have requested that the tax number of property owner is being registered to every property at the Airbnb platform. Owner’s tax number would facilitate the imposition of taxes on rentals via Airbnb. The tax legislation on short-term leases through digital platform like Airbnb was voted last year. The law foresees taxes of 15%-45% and a limited number of rentals per year.

Registration is mandatory. Authorities will provide the property owner with a certification number that has to be declared on any website and social media advert, including, of course, the Airbnb platform. Fines can reach up to 5,000 euros, if a property owner does not register on the Greek authorities registration platform and tries to evade taxes from short-term rentals. The state has estimated that revenues from Airbnb rentals could reach 48 million euros per year. According to the Finance Ministry property owners try to bypass the 3% commission to Airbnb and upcoming taxes by direct contact to customers via messenger or telephone. The payments are done cash at the arrival and not through the platform. In this way, property owners can bypass not only the commission but also registration of the rentals and future taxes. Just in case and even if one day, the Airbnb decides to hand over its Greek data to the tax authorities. For the time being it looks as the Greek goal to tax Airbnb properties has to be postponed.

Read more …

Nov 112017
 
 November 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Jean-Léon Gérôme Truth Coming Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind 1896

 

An entire library of articles about Big Tech is coming out these days, and I find that much of it is written so well, and the ideas in them so well expressed, that I have little to add. Except, I think I may have the solution to the problems many people see. But I also have a concern that I don’t see addressed, and that may well prevent that solution from being adopted. If so, we’re very far away from any solution at all. And that’s seriously bad news.

Let’s start with a general -even ‘light’- critique of social media by Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan for the Guardian:

 

How Did The News Go ‘Fake’? When The Media Went Social

Social media force us to live our lives in public, positioned centre-stage in our very own daily performances. Erving Goffman, the American sociologist, articulated the idea of “life as theatre” in his 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and while the book was published more than half a century ago, the concept is even more relevant today. It is increasingly difficult to live a private life, in terms not just of keeping our personal data away from governments or corporations, but also of keeping our movements, interests and, most worryingly, information consumption habits from the wider world.

The social networks are engineered so that we are constantly assessing others – and being assessed ourselves. In fact our “selves” are scattered across different platforms, and our decisions, which are public or semi-public performances, are driven by our desire to make a good impression on our audiences, imagined and actual. We grudgingly accept these public performances when it comes to our travels, shopping, dating, and dining. We know the deal. The online tools that we use are free in return for us giving up our data, and we understand that they need us to publicly share our lifestyle decisions to encourage people in our network to join, connect and purchase.

But, critically, the same forces have impacted the way we consume news and information. Before our media became “social”, only our closest family or friends knew what we read or watched, and if we wanted to keep our guilty pleasures secret, we could. Now, for those of us who consume news via the social networks, what we “like” and what we follow is visible to many [..] Consumption of the news has become a performance that can’t be solely about seeking information or even entertainment. What we choose to “like” or follow is part of our identity, an indication of our social class and status, and most frequently our political persuasion.

That sets the scene. People sell their lives, their souls, to join a network that then sells these lives -and souls- to the highest bidder, for a profit the people themselves get nothing of. This is not some far-fetched idea. As noted further down, in terms of scale, Facebook is a present day Christianity. And these concerns are not only coming from ‘concerned citizens’, some of the early participants are speaking out as well. Like Facebook co-founder Sean Parker:

 

Facebook: God Only Knows What It’s Doing To Our Children’s Brains

Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, gave me a candid insider’s look at how social networks purposely hook and potentially hurt our brains. Be smart: Parker’s I-was-there account provides priceless perspective in the rising debate about the power and effects of the social networks, which now have scale and reach unknown in human history. [..]

“When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, ‘I’m not on social media.’ And I would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be.’ And then they would say, ‘No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy.’ And I would say, … ‘We’ll get you eventually.'”

“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and … it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'” “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.”

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” “The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”

Early stage investor in Facebook, Roger McNamee, also has some words to add along the same lines as Parker. They make it sound like they’re Frankenstein and Facebook is their monster.

 

How Facebook and Google Threaten Public Health – and Democracy

The term “addiction” is no exaggeration. The average consumer checks his or her smartphone 150 times a day, making more than 2,000 swipes and touches. The applications they use most frequently are owned by Facebook and Alphabet, and the usage of those products is still increasing. In terms of scale, Facebook and YouTube are similar to Christianity and Islam respectively. More than 2 billion people use Facebook every month, 1.3 billion check in every day. More than 1.5 billion people use YouTube. Other services owned by these companies also have user populations of 1 billion or more.

Facebook and Alphabet are huge because users are willing to trade privacy and openness for “convenient and free.” Content creators resisted at first, but user demand forced them to surrender control and profits to Facebook and Alphabet. The sad truth is that Facebook and Alphabet have behaved irresponsibly in the pursuit of massive profits. They have consciously combined persuasive techniques developed by propagandists and the gambling industry with technology in ways that threaten public health and democracy.

The issue, however, is not social networking or search. It is advertising business models. Let me explain. From the earliest days of tabloid newspapers, publishers realized the power of exploiting human emotions. To win a battle for attention, publishers must give users “what they want,” content that appeals to emotions, rather than intellect. Substance cannot compete with sensation, which must be amplified constantly, lest consumers get distracted and move on. “If it bleeds, it leads” has guided editorial choices for more than 150 years, but has only become a threat to society in the past decade, since the introduction of smartphones.

Media delivery platforms like newspapers, television, books, and even computers are persuasive, but people only engage with them for a few hours each day and every person receives the same content. Today’s battle for attention is not a fair fight. Every competitor exploits the same techniques, but Facebook and Alphabet have prohibitive advantages: personalization and smartphones. Unlike older media, Facebook and Alphabet know essentially everything about their users, tracking them everywhere they go on the web and often beyond.

By making every experience free and easy, Facebook and Alphabet became gatekeepers on the internet, giving them levels of control and profitability previously unknown in media. They exploit data to customize each user’s experience and siphon profits from content creators. Thanks to smartphones, the battle for attention now takes place on a single platform that is available every waking moment. Competitors to Facebook and Alphabet do not have a prayer.

Facebook and Alphabet monetize content through advertising that is targeted more precisely than has ever been possible before. The platforms create “filter bubbles” around each user, confirming pre-existing beliefs and often creating the illusion that everyone shares the same views. Platforms do this because it is profitable. The downside of filter bubbles is that beliefs become more rigid and extreme. Users are less open to new ideas and even to facts.

Of the millions of pieces of content that Facebook can show each user at a given time, they choose the handful most likely to maximize profits. If it were not for the advertising business model, Facebook might choose content that informs, inspires, or enriches users. Instead, the user experience on Facebook is dominated by appeals to fear and anger. This would be bad enough, but reality is worse.

And in a Daily Mail article, McNamee’s ideas are taken a mile or so further. Goebbels, Bernays, fear, anger, personalization, civility.

 

Early Facebook Investor Compares The Social Network To Nazi Propaganda

Facebook officials have been compared to the Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels by a former investor. Roger McNamee also likened the company’s methods to those of Edward Bernays, the ‘father of public’ relations who promoted smoking for women. Mr McNamee, who made a fortune backing the social network in its infancy, has spoken out about his concern about the techniques the tech giants use to engage users and advertisers. [..] the former investor said everyone was now ‘in one degree or another addicted’ to the site while he feared the platform was causing people to swap real relationships for phoney ones.

And he likened the techniques of the company to Mr Bernays and Hitler’s public relations minister. ‘In order to maintain your attention they have taken all the techniques of Edward Bernays and Joseph Goebbels, and all of the other people from the world of persuasion, and all the big ad agencies, and they’ve mapped it onto an all day product with highly personalised information in order to addict you,’ Mr McNamee told The Telegraph. Mr McNamee said Facebook was creating a culture of ‘fear and anger’. ‘We have lowered the civil discourse, people have become less civil to each other..’

He said the tech giant had ‘weaponised’ the First Amendment to ‘essentially absolve themselves of responsibility’. He added: ‘I say this as somebody who was there at the beginning.’ Mr McNamee’s comments come as a further blow to Facebook as just last month former employee Justin Rosenstein spoke out about his concerns. Mr Rosenstein, the Facebook engineer who built a prototype of the network’s ‘like’ button, called the creation the ‘bright dings of pseudo-pleasure’. He said he was forced to limit his own use of the social network because he was worried about the impact it had on him.

As for the economic, not the societal or personal, effects of social media, Yanis Varoufakis had this to say a few weeks ago:

 

Capitalism Is Ending Because It Has Made Itself Obsolete – Varoufakis

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has claimed capitalism is coming to an end because it is making itself obsolete. The former economics professor told an audience at University College London that the rise of giant technology corporations and artificial intelligence will cause the current economic system to undermine itself. Mr Varoufakis said companies such as Google and Facebook, for the first time ever, are having their capital bought and produced by consumers.

“Firstly the technologies were funded by some government grant; secondly every time you search for something on Google, you contribute to Google’s capital,” he said. “And who gets the returns from capital? Google, not you. “So now there is no doubt capital is being socially produced, and the returns are being privatised. This with artificial intelligence is going to be the end of capitalism.”

Ergo, as people sell their lives and their souls to Facebook and Alphabet, they sell their economies along with them. That’s what that means. And you were just checking what your friends were doing. Or, that’s what you thought you were doing.

The solution to all these pains is, likely unintentionally, provided by Umair Haque’s critique of economics. It’s interesting to see how the topics ‘blend’, ‘intertwine’.

 

How Economics Failed the Economy

When, in the 1930s, the great economist Simon Kuznets created GDP, he deliberately left two industries out of this then novel, revolutionary idea of a national income : finance and advertising. [..] Kuznets logic was simple, and it was not mere opinion, but analytical fact: finance and advertising don’t create new value, they only allocate, or distribute existing value in the same way that a loan to buy a television isn’t the television, or an ad for healthcare isn’t healthcare. They are only means to goods, not goods themselves. Now we come to two tragedies of history.

What happened next is that Congress laughed, as Congresses do, ignored Kuznets, and included advertising and finance anyways for political reasons -after all, bigger, to the politicians mind, has always been better, and therefore, a bigger national income must have been better. Right? Let’s think about it. Today, something very curious has taken place.

If we do what Kuznets originally suggested, and subtract finance and advertising from GDP, what does that picture -a picture of the economy as it actually is reveal? Well, since the lion’s share of growth, more than 50% every year, comes from finance and advertising -whether via Facebook or Google or Wall St and hedge funds and so on- we would immediately see that the economic growth that the US has chased so desperately, so furiously, never actually existed at all.

Growth itself has only been an illusion, a trick of numbers, generated by including what should have been left out in the first place. If we subtracted allocative industries from GDP, we’d see that economic growth is in fact below population growth, and has been for a very long time now, probably since the 1980s and in that way, the US economy has been stagnant, which is (surprise) what everyday life feels like. Feels like.

Economic indicators do not anymore tell us a realistic, worthwhile, and accurate story about the truth of the economy, and they never did -only, for a while, the trick convinced us that reality wasn’t. Today, that trick is over, and economies grow , but people’s lives, their well-being, incomes, and wealth, do not, and that, of course, is why extremism is sweeping the globe. Perhaps now you begin to see why the two have grown divorced from one another: economics failed the economy.

Now let us go one step, then two steps, further. Finance and advertising are no longer merely allocative industries today. They are now extractive industries. That is, they internalize value from society, and shift costs onto society, all the while creating no value themselves.

The story is easiest to understand via Facebook’s example: it makes its users sadder, lonelier, and unhappier, and also corrodes democracy in spectacular and catastrophic ways. There is not a single upside of any kind that is discernible -and yet, all the above is counted as a benefit, not a cost, in national income, so the economy can thus grow, even while a society of miserable people are being manipulated by foreign actors into destroying their own democracy. Pretty neat, huh?

It was BECAUSE finance and advertising were counted as creative, productive, when they were only allocative, distributive that they soon became extractive. After all, if we had said from the beginning that these industries do not count, perhaps they would not have needed to maximize profits (or for VCs to pour money into them, and so on) endlessly to count more. But we didn’t.

And so soon, they had no choice but to become extractive: chasing more and more profits, to juice up the illusion of growth, and soon enough, these industries began to eat the economy whole, because of course, as Kuznets observed, they allocate everything else in the economy, and therefore, they control it.

Thus, the truly creative, productive, life-giving parts of the economy shrank in relative, and even in absolute terms, as they were taken apart, strip-mined, and consumed in order to feed the predatory parts of the economy, which do not expand human potential. The economy did eat itself, just as Marx had supposed – only the reason was not something inherent in it, but a choice, a mistake, a tragedy.

[..] Life is not flourishing, growing, or developing in a single way that I or even you can readily identify or name. And yet, the economy appears to be growing, because purely allocative and distributive enterprises like Uber, Facebook, credit rating agencies, endless nameless hedge funds, shady personal info brokers, and so on, which fail to contribute positively to human life in any discernible way whatsoever, are all counted as beneficial. Do you see the absurdity of it?

[..] It’s not a coincidence that the good has failed to grow, nor is it an act of the gods. It was a choice. A simple cause-effect relationship, of a society tricking itself into desperately pretending it was growing, versus truly growing. Remember not subtracting finance and advertising from GDP, to create the illusion of growth? Had America not done that, then perhaps it might have had to work hard to find ways to genuinely, authentically, meaningfully grow, instead of taken the easy way out, only to end up stagnating today, and unable to really even figure out why yet.

Industries that are not productive, but instead only extract money from society, need to be taxed so heavily they have trouble surviving. If that doesn’t happen, your economy will never thrive, or even survive. The whole service economy fata morgana must be thrown as far away as we can throw it. Economies must produce real, tangible things, or they die.

For the finance industry this means: tax the sh*t out of any transactions they engage in. Want to make money on complex derivatives? We’ll take 75+%. Upfront. And no, you can’t take your company overseas. Don’t even try.

For Uber and Airbnb it means pay taxes up the wazoo, either as a company or as individual home slash car owners. Uber and Airbnb take huge amounts of money out of local economies, societies, communities, which is nonsense, unnecessary and detrimental. Every city can set up its own local car- or home rental schemes. Their profits should stay within the community, and be invested in it.

For Google and Facebook as the world’s new major -only?!- ad agencies: Tax the heebies out of them or forbid them from running any ads at all. Why? Because they extract enormous amounts of productive capital from society. Capital they, as Varoufakis says, do not even themselves create.

YOU are creating the capital, and YOU then must pay for access to the capital created. Yeah, it feels like you can just hook up and look at what your friends are doing, but the price extracted from you, your friends, and your community is so high you would never volunteer to pay for it if you had any idea.

 

The one thing that I don’t see anyone address, and that might prevent these pretty straightforward ”tax-them-til they-bleed!” answers to the threat of New Big Tech, is that Facebook, Alphabet et al have built a very strong relationship with various intelligence communities. And then you have Goebbels and Bernays in the service of the CIA.

As Google, Facebook and the CIA are ever more entwined, these companies become so important to what ‘the spooks’ consider the interests of the nation that they will become mutually protective. And once CIA headquarters in Langley, VA, aka the aptly named “George Bush Center for Intelligence”, openly as well as secretly protects you, you’re pretty much set for life. A long life.

Next up: they’ll be taking over entire economies, societies. This is happening as we speak. I know, you were thinking it was ‘the Russians’ with a few as yet unproven bucks in Facebook ads that were threatening US and European democracies. Well, you’re really going to have to think again.

The world has never seen such technologies. It has never seen such intensity, depth of, or such dependence on, information. We are simply not prepared for any of this. But we need to learn fast, or become patsies and slaves in a full blown 1984 style piece of absurd theater. Our politicians are AWOL and MIA for all of it, they have no idea what to say or think, they don’t understand what Google or bitcoin or Uber really mean.

In the meantime, we know one thing we can do, and we can justify doing it through the concept of non-productive and extractive industries. That is, tax them till they bleed. That we would hit the finance industry with that as well is a welcome bonus. Long overdue. We need productive economies or we’re done. And Facebook and Alphabet -and Goldman Sachs- don’t produce d*ck all.

When you think about it, the only growth that’s left in the US economy is that of companies spying on American citizens. Well, that and Europeans. China has banned Facebook and Google. Why do you think they have? Because Google and Facebook ARE 1984, that’s why. And if there’s going to be a Big Brother in the Middle Kingdom, it’s not going to be Silicon Valley.

 

 

Nov 112017
 
 November 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Henri Cartier Bresson Greenfield, Indiana 1960

 

How Economics Failed the Economy (Haque)
How Did The News Go ‘Fake’? When The Media Went Social (G.)
Global Economy: Communication Breakdown? (R.)
Financial Markets Are Still Blowing Off the Fed (WS)
Is There Any Way Out Of The ECB’s Trap? (Lacalle)
How to Break Out of Our Long National Tax Nightmare (BW)
Tesla’s Junk Bonds Trading Under Water, Could Spell Trouble For Elon Musk (MW)
China Faces Historic Corruption Battle, New Graft Buster Says (R.)
Putin, Trump Agree To Fighting ISIS In Syria, Kremlin Says (R.)
Uber Loses Appeal In UK Employment Rights Case (G.)
Greece Prepares Online Platform for ‘Airbnb Tax’ (GR)
Dijsselbloem: We Saved the Greek Banks but Overlooked Taxpayers (GR)
FOIA Litigation Is Shedding Light On The Case Of Julian Assange (Maurizi)

 

 

Absolute must read.

“Economics failed the economy by telling us that everything that could be traded should be traded, since trade is always beneficial to humankind.”

“..the economic growth that the US has chased so desperately, so furiously, never actually existed at all.”

How Economics Failed the Economy (Haque)

When, in the 1930s, the great economist Simon Kuznets created GDP, he deliberately left two industries out of this then novel, revolutionary idea of a national income : finance and advertising. Don’t worry, this essay isn t going to be a jeremiad against them, that would be too easy, and too shallow, but that is where the story of how modern economics failed the economy and how to understand how to undo it should begin. Kuznets logic was simple, and it was not mere opinion, but analytical fact: finance and advertising don t create new value, they only allocate, or distribute existing value in the same way that a loan to buy a television isn’t the television, or an ad for healthcare isn’t healthcare. They are only means to goods, not goods themselves. Now we come to two tragedies of history.

What happened next is that Congress laughed, as Congresses do, ignored Kuznets, and included advertising and finance anyways for political reasons -after all, bigger, to the politicians mind, has always been better, and therefore, a bigger national income must have been better. Right? Let’s think about it. Today, something very curious has taken place. If we do what Kuznets originally suggested, and subtract finance and advertising from GDP, what does that picture -a picture of the economy as it actually is reveal? Well, since the lion’s share of growth, more than 50% every year, comes from finance and advertising -whether via Facebook or Google or Wall St and hedge funds and so on- we would immediately see that the economic growth that the US has chased so desperately, so furiously, never actually existed at all.

Growth itself has only been an illusion, a trick of numbers, generated by including what should have been left out in the first place. If we subtracted allocative industries from GDP, we’d see that economic growth is in fact below population growth, and has been for a very long time now, probably since the 1980s and in that way, the US economy has been stagnant, which is (surprise) what everyday life feels like. Feels like. Economic indicators do not anymore tell us a realistic, worthwhile, and accurate story about the truth of the economy, and they never did -only, for a while, the trick convinced us that reality wasn’t. Today, that trick is over, and economies grow , but people’s lives, their well-being, incomes, and wealth, do not, and that, of course, is why extremism is sweeping the globe. Perhaps now you begin to see why the two have grown divorced from one another: economics failed the economy.

Now let us go one step, then two steps, further. Finance and advertising are no longer merely allocative industries today. They are now extractive industries. That is, they internalize value from society, and shift costs onto society, all the while, creating no value themselves. The story is easiest to understand via Facebook’s example: it makes its users sadder, lonelier, and unhappier, and also corrodes democracy in spectacular and catastrophic ways. There is not a single upside of any kind that is discernible -and yet, all the above is counted as a benefit, not a cost, in national income, so the economy can thus grow, even while a society of miserable people are being manipulated by foreign actors into destroying their own democracy. Pretty neat, huh?

It was *because* finance and advertising were counted as creative, productive, when they were only allocative, distributive that they soon became extractive. After all, if we had said from the beginning that these industries do not count, perhaps they would not have needed to maximize profits (or for VCs to pour money into them, and so on) endlessly to count more. But we didn’t. And so soon, they had no choice but to become extractive: chasing more and more profits, to juice up the illusion of growth, and soon enough, these industries began to eat the economy whole, because of course, as Kuznets observed, they allocate everything else in the economy, and therefore, they control it.

Read more …

Discuss. Do social media make you depressed?

How Did The News Go ‘Fake’? When The Media Went Social (G.)

The Collins Dictionary word of the year for 2017 is, disappointingly, “fake news”. We say disappointingly, because the ubiquity of that phrase among journalists, academics and policymakers is partly why the debate around this issue is so simplistic. The phrase is grossly inadequate to explain the nature and scale of the problem. (Were those Russian ads displayed at the congressional hearings last week news, for example?) But what’s more troubling, and the reason that we simply cannot use the phrase any more, is that it is being used by politicians around the world as a weapon against the fourth estate and an excuse to censor free speech. Definitions matter. Take, for example, the question of why this type of content is created in the first place.

There are four distinct motivations for why people do this: political, financial, psychological (for personal satisfaction) and social (to reinforce our belonging to communities or “tribes”). If we’re serious about tackling mis- and disinformation, we need to address these motivations separately. And we think it’s time to give much more serious consideration to the social element. Social media force us to live our lives in public, positioned centre-stage in our very own daily performances. Erving Goffman, the American sociologist, articulated the idea of “life as theatre” in his 1956 book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and while the book was published more than half a century ago, the concept is even more relevant today. It is increasingly difficult to live a private life, in terms not just of keeping our personal data away from governments or corporations, but also of keeping our movements, interests and, most worryingly, information consumption habits from the wider world.

The social networks are engineered so that we are constantly assessing others – and being assessed ourselves. In fact our “selves” are scattered across different platforms, and our decisions, which are public or semi-public performances, are driven by our desire to make a good impression on our audiences, imagined and actual. We grudgingly accept these public performances when it comes to our travels, shopping, dating, and dining. We know the deal. The online tools that we use are free in return for us giving up our data, and we understand that they need us to publicly share our lifestyle decisions to encourage people in our network to join, connect and purchase.

But, critically, the same forces have impacted the way we consume news and information. Before our media became “social”, only our closest family or friends knew what we read or watched, and if we wanted to keep our guilty pleasures secret, we could. Now, for those of us who consume news via the social networks, what we “like” and what we follow is visible to many – or, in Twitter’s case, to all, unless we are in that small minority of users who protect their tweets. Consumption of the news has become a performance that can’t be solely about seeking information or even entertainment. What we choose to “like” or follow is part of our identity, an indication of our social class and status, and most frequently our political persuasion.

Read more …

The Fed is not the biggest player anymore.

Global Economy: Communication Breakdown? (R.)

A flattening of government bond yield curves that may presage an economic downturn could prompt verbal interventions in the coming week by central bankers still struggling to hit this cycle’s inflation targets. ECB chief Mario Draghi, U.S. Fed Chair Janet Yellen, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda and BOE head Mark Carney will form an all-star panel on Tuesday at an ECB-hosted conference in Frankfurt. The subject? “Challenges and opportunities of central bank communication.” Curve-flattening on both sides of the Atlantic, but more markedly in the United States, suggests investors have doubts over the future path of inflation and may be starting to price in a downturn just as the global economy picks up speed.

Since the Fed began raising rates in 2015, the difference between long- and short-term U.S. yields has shrunk to levels not seen since before the 2008 financial crisis, reaching 67 basis points – its flattest in a decade – in the past week. That partly reflects uncertainty about the passage of a Republican-sponsored bill to cut U.S. taxes, which has hauled down longer-term projections of inflation while expectations for upcoming rate increases push short-term yields higher. With curve-flattening typically signaling a muted outlook for both growth and inflation, the trend suggests investors see a risk that the Fed’s current monetary tightening cycle will start to slow the world’s biggest economy. A flatter curve, which makes lending less profitable, also poses a risk to the banking sector, nursed back to fragile health by central banks after it nearly collapsed a decade ago. But with crisis-era policies still largely in place, how would central banks cushion the impact of a downturn?

Read more …

Because of Draghi and Kuroda.

Financial Markets Are Still Blowing Off the Fed (WS)

There has been a lot of hand-wringing about junk bonds this week, that they have gotten clobbered, that losses have been taken, that this is a predictor of where stocks are headed, etc., etc., because after a steamy rally in junk-bond prices from the February 2016 low, there has now been a sell-off. When bond prices fall, bond yields rise by definition. And the average yield of BB-rated junk bonds – the upper end of the junk-bond spectrum – did this:

No one likes to lose money, and junk bonds did lose money this week, an astounding event, after all the easy money that had been made since early February 2016. But how far have yields really spiked? The chart below shows the same BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield BB Effective Yield index, but it puts that “spike” into a three-year context:

For further context, the BB yield spiked – a true spike – to over 16% during the Financial Crisis, as bond prices crashed and as credit froze up. Currently, at 4.36%, the average BB yield is off record lows, but it’s still low, and junk bond prices are still enormously inflated, given the inherent credit risks, and have a lot further to fall before any hand-wringing is appropriate. The low BB yield means that risky companies with a junk credit rating can still borrow money at near record low costs in a world awash in global liquidity that is trying to find a place to go. This shows that “financial conditions” are very easy. The market has now four Fed rate hikes under its belt and the QE unwind has commenced. Another rake hike is likely in December. Tightening is under way. By “tightening” its monetary policy, the Fed attempts to tighten financial conditions in the markets. That’s its goal.

But that hasn’t happened yet. While short-term yields have responded to the rate hikes, longer-term yields are now lower than they’d been at the time of the rate hike in December 2016. Stocks have rocketed higher. Volatility indices are near record lows. And various yield spreads have narrowed sharply – for example, the difference between the 10-year Treasury yield and the 2-year Treasury yield is currently just 0.73 percentage points. In other words, raising money is easy and cheap. And “financial stress” in the markets, as measured by the St. Louis Fed’s Financial Stress Index, has just hit a record low. In the chart below, the red line (= zero) represents “normal financial market conditions.” Values below the red line indicate below-average financial market stress. Values above the red line indicate higher than average financial stress. The latest reading of the index dropped to -1.60, by a hair below the prior record low in 2014:

In other words, financial conditions have never been easier despite the current series of rate hikes, the Fed’s “balance-sheet normalization, and the hand-wringing about junk bonds this week. The chart below shows the Financial Stress Index going back to 2014. In that time frame, all values are below zero. Financial stress in the markets was heading back to normal in late 2015 and early 2016, as a small sector of the total markets – energy junk-bonds – were getting crushed and as the S&P 500 index experienced a downdraft. But in early February 2016, everything turned around:

Read more …

Europe’s problem is huge: “..the ECB repurchase program exceeds net sovereign bond issuances in the eurozone by more than seven times. Throughout the US QE (quantitative expansion) of the Federal Reserve, it never reached 100% of net issuances.” Thing is, it’s Draghi who keeps the global economy going.

Is There Any Way Out Of The ECB’s Trap? (Lacalle)

The ECB faces the Devil’s Alternative that Frederick Forsyth mentioned in one of his books. All options are potentially risky. Mario Draghi knows that maintaining the so-called stimuli involves more risks than benefits, but also knows that eliminating them could make the eurozone deck of cards collapse. Despite the massive injection of liquidity, he knows that he can not disguise political risks such as the secessionist coup in Catalonia. The Ibex reflects this, making it clear that the European Central Bank does not print prosperity, it only puts a floor to valuations. The ECB wants a weak euro. But it is a game of juggling to pretend a weak euro and at the same time a strong economy. The EU countries export mostly to themselves. Member countries sell more than two-thirds of their goods and services to other countries in the eurozone.

Therefore, the more they export and their economies recover, the stronger the euro, and with it, the risk of losing competitiveness. The ECB has tried to break the euro strength with dovish messages, but it has not worked until political risk reappeared. With the German elections and the prospect of a weak coalition, the results of the Austrian elections and the situation in Spain, market operators have realized – at last – that the mirage of “this time is different “in the European Union was simply that, a mirage. A weak euro has not helped the EU to export more abroad. Non-EU exports from the member countries have been stagnant since the monetary stimulus program was launched, even though the euro is much weaker than its basket of currencies compared to when the stimulus program began. The Central Bank Trap. This shows that export growth is not achieved by artificial subsidies such as a devaluation, but from added value, something that the EU has stopped looking for.

Escape From The Central Bank Trap explains that the ECB has got itself in a problem that is not easy to solve. The first evidence is that it should have finished its stimuli months ago according to its own plan, but is unable to do it. The second is that, with more than a trillion euros of excessive liquidity, the ECB keeps a figure of repurchases that were clearly unnecessary and that have resulted in the figure of excess liquidity being multiplied by more than ten. The third is that perverse incentives have taken over the European economic policy. Risks are relevant. This week I had the opportunity to speak at the Federal Reserve Bank of Houston and I explained that the ECB repurchase program exceeds net sovereign bond issuances in the eurozone by more than seven times. Throughout the US QE (quantitative expansion) of the Federal Reserve, it never reached 100% of net issuances.

Now that the ECB “reduces” these repurchases to 30 billion euros per month, it will continue to be more than 100% of net issuances. What does that mean? That the US always maintained a healthy secondary market alive, which guaranteed that there would not be huge risks of collapse when tapering started, because the Federal Reserve bought less than what was issued, paying attention to the market accepting the valuations of bonds and financial assets. By extending the repurchase program, the ECB admits that it does not know if there is a secondary market that would buy European government bonds at current yields. Ask yourself a question. Would you buy bonds from a heavily indebted state that has stopped its reform impulse with a 10-year yield of less than 2%, if the ECB did not buy them back? Exactly. No.

Read more …

What’s needed is a whole overthrow of taxation as we know it. The Paradise Papers point to where the changes should be.

How to Break Out of Our Long National Tax Nightmare (BW)

President Donald Trump wanted to call it the Cut Cut Cut Act. Congressional Republicans settled on the less catchy and no more descriptive Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. What the legislation that began making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives in early November actually would do is sharply reduce taxes for business while rearranging the personal income tax with a mix of cuts and increases. House Speaker Paul Ryan called the bill “a game changer for our country.” The president said it was “the rocket fuel our economy needs to soar higher than ever before.” That’s a lot to expect from some changes in the tax code. But then, here in the U.S. we’ve come to expect big things of our income taxes. On the right, cutting them has been portrayed for decades as a near-magical growth elixir. On the left, raising or rearranging them is seen as essential to making society fairer.

And across the political spectrum, economic and social policies have come to rely on carving credits, deductions, and other exceptions out of the tax code to favor this or that behavior. It can sometimes feel, in fact, as if “we have lost sight of the fact that the fundamental purpose of our tax system is to raise revenues to fund government.” That was the lament of President George W. Bush’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform in November 2005. But this bipartisan group of worthies couldn’t agree on how to raise those revenues either, instead offering two plans with differing priorities. Both were mostly ignored by Congress at the time, though some of the recommendations—such as shrinking the tax deductions for mortgage interest and state and local taxes—have found their way into this year’s bill. Overall, though, it appears that the legislation will only make it harder to raise revenue to fund government.

The House and Senate have passed budget resolutions clearing the way for $1.5 trillion in revenue losses over the next decade from the tax changes. That’s $150 billion a year to add to a federal deficit that totaled a sinister-sounding $666 billion, 3.5% of GDP, in the just-ended fiscal year. All of which is a longer way of saying that we’ll almost certainly be back at this once again in the all-too-foreseeable future, trying to figure out a better way to fund the government. Since 1981, the year of President Ronald Reagan’s big tax cut, Congress has passed and presidents have signed 55 bills that the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center counts as “major” tax legislation. During the prior 36 years there had been just 18. [..] Ominously, most previous U.S. tax eras ended with major wars that required big increases in government revenue. Let’s hope it doesn’t take that to break us out of the cut-reform-increase-repeat loop we’re currently trapped in.

Read more …

This will make the next debt round a lot harder, and more expensive.

Tesla’s Junk Bonds Trading Under Water, Could Spell Trouble For Elon Musk (MW)

Tesla’s first-ever pure corporate bonds are trading under water, boding ill for the Silicon Valley car maker’s next attempt to tap capital markets. Tesla sold $1.8 billion in the senior notes in August at a yield of 5.300%, at the height of excitement about the Model 3 and expectations the sedan’s production ramp would run as smoothly as Chief Executive Elon Musk had predicted. That same month, Tesla shares rose 10% to mark their last monthly gain this year so far. The stock lost 4.2% in September and 2.8% in October. The stock is down 9% so far in November, on the heels of a quarterly miss earlier in the month and news that the company has further pushed out its Model 3 production targets. “Third-quarter results put some pressure on the cash flow needs,” said Efraim Levy, an analyst with CFRA Research.

The wider-than-expected quarterly loss and production delays “makes it harder for them to get a sweeter deal than they had in the past,” on capital raising, be it when selling bonds or equity, he said. The 5.300% notes, which mature in 2025, were trading at 94 cents on the dollar on Friday to yield 6.287%, according to trading platform MarketAxess. On a spread basis, they were trading at 393 basis points above comparable Treasurys. The bonds fell under par within a week of issuance, but were holding above 97 cents for much of October. Wall Street has long seemed to accept that Tesla’s high capital expenses and negative free cash flow will be the reality for the company at least in the short term.

But the weak performance of the bonds may be a sign that bond investors, at least, are starting to disbelieve Tesla’s growth story and will be looking for higher premiums to take on higher risk, said Trip Miller, a managing partner at hedge fund, Gullane Capital LLC. That higher cost of borrowing will have its own negative implications, he said. “Maybe the dam is starting to break for Tesla,” Miller said. Gullane does not have a position in Tesla because “their balance sheet is very, very troublesome for us,” he said.

Read more …

Everyone’s fighting corruption these days. Time for us to start doing the same?

China Faces Historic Corruption Battle, New Graft Buster Says (R.)

China must win its battle against corruption or face being erased by history, its new top graft buster said in an editorial on Saturday, underscoring the ruling Communist party’s focus on eliminating corrupt behaviour. Zhao Leji, appointed to the new seven-member politburo standing committee last month and tasked to lead president Xi Jinping’s signature war on corruption, wrote in the state-run People’s Daily that failure would lead to the party’s downfall. “If our control of the party is not strong and party governance is not strict, then the party won’t be able to avoid being erased by history and the historic task the party carries will not be able to be fulfilled,” Zhao wrote. Xi, like others before him, has warned corruption is so serious it could lead to the end of the party’s grip on power.

The president’s corruption fight has ensnared more than 1.3 million officials. At last month’s five-yearly party congress he said it would continue to target both “tigers” and “flies“, a reference to elite officials and ordinary bureaucrats. Zhao, formerly a low-profile official, replaced Wang Qishan, whose sweeping anti-graft campaign had made him China’s second most-powerful politician. “The facts tell us and warn us that the party’s position as the top political leader and power is the foundation of our political stability, economic development, national unity and social stability,” Zhao wrote. Zhao leads the central commission for discipline inspection, having previously been in charge of the party’s powerful organisation department, which is in charge of personnel decisions. He added that there would be no tolerance of people who “just do what they want to do” and ignore orders or carry on with banned behaviours such as trying to get around policy decisions.

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It’s crazy these people are kept from talking.

Putin, Trump Agree To Fighting ISIS In Syria, Kremlin Says (R.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed a joint statement on Syria on Saturday that said they would continue joint efforts in fighting Islamic State until it is defeated, the Kremlin said. The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the Kremlin announcement or the conversation the Kremlin said took place on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the Vietnamese resort of Danang. The Kremlin said the statement on Syria was coordinated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson especially for the meeting in Danang. Putin and Trump confirmed their commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and called on all parties to the Syrian conflict to take an active part in the Geneva political process, it said.

Moscow and Washington agree there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict, according to the text of the joint statement published on the Kremlin’s website. Television pictures from Danang showed Putin and Trump chatting – apparently amicably – as they walked to the position where the traditional APEC summit photo was being taken at a viewpoint looking over the South China Sea. Earlier pictures from the meeting show Trump walking up to Putin as he sits at the summit table and patting him on the back. The two lean in to speak to each other and clasp each other briefly as they exchange a few words. Although the White House had said no official meeting was planned, the two also shook hands at a dinner on Friday evening. Trump has shown little appetite for holding talks with Putin unless there is some sense that progress could be made on festering issues such as Syria, Ukraine and North Korea.

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“Companies are hiding behind technology, bogusly classifying people as self-employed so they can get away from paying minimum wage.”

Uber Loses Appeal In UK Employment Rights Case (G.)

The ride-hailing firm Uber has lost its appeal against a ruling that its drivers should be classed as workers with minimum-wage rights, in a case that could have major ramifications for labour rights in the growing gig economy. The US company, which claims that drivers are self-employed, said it would launch a further appeal against the Employment Appeal Tribunal decision, meaning the case could end up in thesupreme court next year. Drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam won an employment tribunal case last year after arguing they should be classified as workers, citing Uber’s control over their working conditions. Uber challenged the ruling at the tribunal in central London, warning that it could deprive riders of the “personal flexibility they value”. It claims that the majority of its drivers prefer their existing employment status.

The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which backed the appeal, said drivers will still be able to enjoy the freedoms of self-employment – such as flexibility in choosing shifts – even if they have worker status. The union said the decision showed companies in the gig economy – which involves people on flexible working patterns with irregular shifts and minimal employment rights – have been choosing to “deprive workers of their rights”. Farrar said: “It is time for the mayor of London, Transport for London and the transport secretary to step up and use their leverage to defend worker rights rather than turn a blind eye to sweatshop conditions.” “If Uber are successful in having this business model, obliterating industrial relations as we know them in the UK, then I can guarantee you on every high street, in retail, fast food, any industry you like, the same thing will go on.”

Farrar said he was willing to fight the case all the way to the supreme court if necessary but called on Uber’s new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, to intervene instead. “We’ve asked to meet him when he came to London and Uber declined to do that, which tells you everything.” Aslam said: “Today is a good day for workers, we made history. The judge confirmed that Uber is unlawfully denying our rights.” “It’s about making sure workers across the UK are protected. Companies are hiding behind technology, bogusly classifying people as self-employed so they can get away from paying minimum wage. That can’t be allowed to happen.”

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Good.

Greece Prepares Online Platform for ‘Airbnb Tax’ (GR)

Greece is cracking down on undeclared income of owners leasing residential lodgings on a short-term basis. Tax authorities are creating an online platform where Airbnb lodged properties should be declared, or face a hefty fine. According to a report in Naftemporiki, registration will be mandatory and it will provide property owners with a certification number, which should be declared on any digital platform, website and social media where it is advertised – including the Airbnb website. The platform will demand the declaration of the property, the names of the renters and the duration of the lease, or otherwise face a fine of up to €5,000. Naftemporiki says that income from short-term residential leasing will be taxed based on income.

Specifically, for a taxpayer with a yearly income of up to 12,000 euros, the tax rate for income derived from short-term residential leasing will reach 15%; 35% for a taxpayer with between 12,000 to 35,000 euros in annual income. Above an annual income of 45,000 euros, a taxpayer’s income from short-term residential leasing will reach the astronomical rate of 45%, i.e. nearly one in two euros goes to the state. Tax authorities aim to collect revenue from people who put their property for lease on Airbnb, as many crisis-hit Greeks try to make ends meet by renting their homes to foreign visitors. It is estimated that three million tourists will be hosted in Greek homes in 2017.

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He’s lying. They didn’t act to save the Greek banks, but the German and French ones. And he knows it.

Dijsselbloem: We Saved the Greek Banks but Overlooked Taxpayers (GR)

Outgoing Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem acknowledged on Thursday that Greece’s creditors put too much emphasis on saving the banks at the expense of ordinary taxpayers. In an exchange of views on Greece in the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee, Dijsselbloem was asked if he agrees with the view that Greece’s first bailout programme was designed to support the banks. Dijsselbloem noted that “banks were the biggest problem in all countries,” at the start of the crisis. “We had a banking crisis, a fiscal crisis and we spent a lot of the tax-payers’ money – in the wrong way, in my opinion – to save the banks so that the people criticizing us and saying that everything was being done for the benefit of the banks were to some extent right,” he said.

“This was the reason why we introduced the banking union and the introduction of higher standards, better supervision and a reform and rescue framework when banks have losses…Precisely so that we don’t find ourselves in that situation again,” Dijsselbloem added. Dijsselbloem also claimed that the labour market reforms adopted by Greece had brought “clear improvements” that were reflected in the latest unemployment figures in the country. Referring to the programme as a whole, the outgoing Eurogroup president said the economic situation in Greece had improved as a result of the reforms and stressed the need to conclude the third review on time.

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This story gets darker fast. The UK deleted a lot of documents relvant to the Assange accusations AND told the Swedes not to talk to him in London.

FOIA Litigation Is Shedding Light On The Case Of Julian Assange (Maurizi)

The siege by Scotland Yard agents around the red brick building in Knightsbridge has been gone for two years now. And with Sweden dropping the rape investigation last May, even the European arrest warrant hanging over Julian Assange’s head like the sword of Damocles has gone. Many expected the founder of WikiLeaks to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been confined for over five years, after spending one and a half years under house arrest. But Assange hasn’t dared leave the Embassy due to concern he would be arrested, extradited to the US and charged for publishing WikiLeaks’ secret documents.

Julian Assange’s situation is unique. Like him and his work or not, he is the only western publisher confined to a tiny embassy, without access to even the one hour a day outdoors maximum security prisoners usually receive. He is being arbitrarily detained, according to a decision by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions in February 2016, a decision which has completely faded into oblivion. December 7th will mark seven years since he lost his freedom, yet as far as we know, in the course of these last 7 years no media has tried to access the full file on Julian Assange.

That is why next Monday, La Repubblica will appear before a London Tribunal to defend the press’ right to access the documents regarding his case, after spending the last two years attempting Freedom of Information requests (FOI) without success. It is entirely possible, however, that we will never be able to access many of these documents, as last week London authorities informed us that “all the data associated with Paul Close’s account was deleted when he retired and cannot be recovered”. A questionable choice indeed: Close is the lawyer who supported the Swedish prosecutors in the Swedish investigation on Julian Assange from the beginning. What was the rationale for deleting historical records pertaining to a controversial and still ongoing case?

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Jun 082017
 
 June 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Roy Lichtenstein Femme d’Alger 1963

 

UK Press Gang Up On Jeremy Corbyn In Election Day Coverage (G.)
US Market Risk Is Highest Since Pre-2008 Crisis – Bill Gross (BBG)
Global Financial System More Leveraged Than 2008 – Paul Singer (BBG)
UK Housing Weakens Further as Market Emits ‘Ominous’ Signals (BBG)
The Cost of Getting It Wrong (Claire Connelly)
The UAE Needs Qatar’s Gas to Keep Dubai’s Lights On (BBG)
Oil Prices Drop More Than 4% On Surge In Stockpiles (CNBC)
China’s Top Property-Bubble Prophet Says Prices Set to Soar 50% (BBG)
Banco Popular Wipeout Leaves CoCo Bonds On The Drawing Board (BV)
A Reform Beyond Macron’s Grip: The Revolving Door of French Politics (BBG)
OECD Puts Greek Growth At Just 1.1% This Year (K.)
Athens To Seek Growth Package At Eurogroup Meeting (K.)
Greece Says Colombian Gangs Plundering Hospitals Europe-Wide (AP)
Greek Room Owners Threaten To Return Permits in Airbnb Challenge (K.)
Bid For EU States To Stop Migrants, Refugees ‘Asylum Shopping’ (K.)

 

 

The Daily Mail ran 13 pages yesterday on the theme of Corbyn and Labour being terrorist apologists. No shame, no morals. In the same vein, I tried to find an objective piece on the Comey testimony, but couldn’t find one. The UK press has no faith in its voters, the US press has none in its Senate: the press draws the conclusions before anyone else can. The media cares little about credibility, it’s all echo chambers all the way down.

UK Press Gang Up On Jeremy Corbyn In Election Day Coverage (G.)

The Sun has urged its readers not to “chuck Britain in the Cor-bin” on its final front page before the country votes in the general election. The tabloid, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, published an editorial on its front page under the headline “Don’t Chuck Britain in the Cor-bin” alongside 10 bullet points that described the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a “terrorists’ friend”, “useless on Brexit”, “puppet of unions” and “Marxist extremist”. The article said readers could “rescue Britain from the catastrophe of a takeover by Labour’s hard-left extremists”. The Daily Mail front page roared, “Let’s reignite British spirit” on the back of a Theresa May speech and also promoted a feature inside called “Your tactical voting guide to boost the Tories and Brexit”.

The Daily Mirror reiterated its support for the Labour party with a front page headline of “Lies, damned lies, and Theresa May”, while the Daily Telegraph ran a story headlined “Your Country Needs You” based on an editorial by the prime minister that urged “patriotic” Labour supporters to vote Conservative. The Daily Express front page said: “Vote for May Today”. Meanwhile, the Times reported that the Conservatives had a seven-point in the final opinion poll before the election, and the Guardian covered May and Corbyn’s late attempts to win support from voters. Thursday’s front pages come after the Daily Mail devoted 13 pages to attacking Labour, Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell on Wednesday under the headline: “Apologists for terror”. The tabloid urged readers to support the Conservatives in an editorial on its first and second pages, but concentrated its fire on Labour’s leadership, compiling hostile anecdotes dating back to the 1970s.

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“Instead of buying low and selling high, you’re buying high and crossing your fingers…”

US Market Risk Is Highest Since Pre-2008 Crisis – Bill Gross (BBG)

U.S. markets are at their highest risk levels since before the 2008 financial crisis because investors are paying a high price for the chances they’re taking, according to Bill Gross, manager of the $2 billion Janus Henderson Global Unconstrained Bond Fund. “Instead of buying low and selling high, you’re buying high and crossing your fingers,” Gross, 73, said Wednesday at the Bloomberg Invest New York summit. Central bank policies for low-and negative-interest rates are artificially driving up asset prices while creating little growth in the real economy and punishing individual savers, banks and insurance companies, according to Gross. The U.S. economy is expected to grow 2.2% this year and 2.3% in 2018, according to forecasts compiled by Bloomberg. Trump administration officials have said their policies will boost annual growth to 3%.

Despite being concerned about high asset prices, Gross said he feels required to stay invested and sees value in some closed-end funds. Examples he gave are the Duff & Phelps Global Utility Income Fund and the Nuveen Preferred Income Opportunities Fund. He also said he has about 2% to 3% in exchange-traded funds to get yield and add diversification. “They’re appetizers, not entrees,” he said in an interview outside the conference. Gross’s fund has returned 3.1% in the year through June 6, outperforming 22% of its Bloomberg peers. It has posted a total return of 5.4% since Gross took over management in October 2014 after he was ousted from PIMCO. ”If there’s a common factor it’s the expansion of credit,” Gross said on Bloomberg TV Wednesday. “And the credit that’s being generated by central banks. Money is being pumped out into the system and money that is yielding less than nothing seeks a haven not only in bonds that are under-yielding but in stocks that are overpriced.”

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We know.

Global Financial System More Leveraged Than 2008 – Paul Singer (BBG)

Billionaire investor Paul Singer said “distorted” monetary and regulatory policies have increased risks for investors almost a decade after the financial crisis. “I am very concerned about where we are,” Singer said Wednesday at the Bloomberg Invest New York summit. “What we have today is a global financial system that’s just about as leveraged – and in many cases more leveraged – than before 2008, and I don’t think the financial system is more sound.” Years of low rates have eroded the effectiveness of central banks to contend with downturns, Singer said at the event in an interview with Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein. “Suppressive” fiscal, regulatory and tax policies have also exacerbated income inequality and led to the rise of populist and fringe political movements, he added. Confidence “could be lost in a very abrupt fashion causing conceivably a ruckus in bond markets, stock markets and in financial institutions,” said Singer, founder of hedge fund Elliott Management, which is known for being an activist investor.

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Volatility is back.

UK Housing Weakens Further as Market Emits ‘Ominous’ Signals (BBG)

While the general election had an impact on activity in May, damping buyer demand and new sellers coming to the market, RICS used its latest monthly report to highlight broader, and more damaging, risks. That includes the dearth of homes for sale, which has pushed up values in recent years, cutting off many potential first-time buyers. RICS Chief Economist Simon Rubinsohn said the report shows the issue of affordability may even worsen further.“Perhaps the most ominous signal is that contributors still expect house prices to increase at a faster pace than wages over the medium term despite the difficulty many first-time buyers are clearly having,” he said. On the shortage, “it’s hard to see this as anything other a major obstacle to the efficient functioning of the housing market.”

In May, RICS’s monthly price index fell to 17 – the lowest since August – from 23 in April, indicating modest price gains. A gauge for London, where prime properties have been under pressure, remained below zero for a 14th month. Nationally, the supply-demand imbalance means it’s a sellers’ market and recent reports show that any uncertainty about the election had little effect on U.K. asking prices, which according to Rightmove jumped 1.2% to a record in May. For some, it’s reminiscent of the overheating seen before the financial crisis.“Prices are too expensive,” Josh Homans at surveyors Valunation said in the RICS report. “Excessive” valuations are increasing and “we are now in a 2007 situation,” he said.

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One of those must reads. Economics is all but dead, but not entirely yet.

The Cost of Getting It Wrong (Claire Connelly)

What most of us have long believed about how the economy works is based on a set of fundamental myths, supported by a series of inappropriate and misleading metaphors, from which it is difficult to escape. The emotional investment we have made in these myths has allowed for levels of unemployment, underemployment, inequality and relative poverty which would have seemed incredible a generation ago. Somehow we have convinced ourselves of the following:
– Governments need taxpayers’ money to pay for things.
– Governments, like households, need to at least balance their budgets.
– Deficits are bad and government surpluses are good.
– Deficits paid for by printing money causes inflation.
– Surpluses set aside savings which can be spent in the future.
– Lower wages promote full employment.

Wrong, wrong, all wrong. The federal government does not need taxpayers’ money. Actually, it is the other way around. The government issues the currency. We use it. Taxes help to control inflation and stop us spending too much. (It can also be used to control behaviour, as witnessed by taxes on cigarettes and alcohol). Professor Steve Keen says the government, and the public, have the most basic fundamentals of macroeconomics backwards. “Expenditure is what causes income,” he said. “Reducing expenditure also reduces income.” “Individuals can save (without a significant effect on national income), but if you extrapolate that to the whole economy, you are going to make a huge error.” Similarly, the economist says the idea that the government can save by paying down the national debt is misleading.

“Believing that government saving will increase employment or growth is like believing the Earth sits at the centre of the universe”, he says. All it does is destroy spending which would otherwise have created private sector incomes. “If you don’t understand where income comes from, then it means you don’t understand economics, or the economy.” “Individuals can save money by spending less than they earn but if everyone decides to do that, income falls by precisely as much as you try to save. If the government does the same thing, by saving money at a national level, you cause a recession.”

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As solid as the Saudi grip on OPEC cuts: “Abu Dhabi’s Petroleum Ports Authority removed the ban on Wednesday – just one day after announcing it.”

The UAE Needs Qatar’s Gas to Keep Dubai’s Lights On (BBG)

When it comes to natural gas shipments, the United Arab Emirates needs Qatar more than Qatar needs the U.A.E. The U.A.E. joined Saudi Arabia in cutting off air, sea and land links with Qatar on Monday, accusing the gas-rich sheikhdom of supporting extremist groups. But the U.A.E., which depends on imported gas to generate half its electricity, avoided shutting down the pipeline supplying it from Qatar, which has the world’s third-largest gas deposits. Without this energy artery, Dubai’s glittering skyscrapers would go dark for lack of power unless the emirate could replace Qatari fuel with more expensive liquefied natural gas. Qatari natural gas continues to flow normally to both the U.A.E. and Oman through a pipeline, with no indication that supplies will be cut, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public.

Qatar sends about 2 billion cubic feet of gas a day through a 364-kilometer (226-mile) undersea pipeline. Dolphin Energy, the link’s operator, is a joint-venture between Mubadala Investment, which holds a 51% stake, and Occidental Petroleum and Total, each with a 24.5% share. Since 2007, the venture has been processing gas from Qatar’s North field and transporting it to the Taweelah terminal in Abu Dhabi, according to Mubadala’s website. Dolphin also distributes gas in Oman. Apart from preserving gas shipments from Qatar, the U.A.E. on Wednesday actually eased efforts to isolate its smaller neighbor. The oil-port authority in Abu Dhabi, the U.A.E. capital, lifted restrictions on international tankers that have sailed to Qatar or plan to do so. Abu Dhabi’s Petroleum Ports Authority removed the ban on Wednesday – just one day after announcing it.

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The Saudi-Qatar spat is growing and oil plunges? Huh?

Oil Prices Drop More Than 4% On Surge In Stockpiles (CNBC)

U.S. crude prices plunged toward $46 a barrel on Wednesday after weekly government data left the oil market with virtually nothing to cheer. West Texas Intermediate futures dropped more than 4% as stockpiles of oil in the US surged by 3.3 million barrels in the week ended June 2, according to the Energy Information Administration. That confounded analysts’ estimates for a 3.5 million-barrel decline. WTI prices fell as far as $45.92, a four-week low, following the report. The drop below $47 was a “big deal” said John Kilduff at energy hedge fund Again Capital. The next level to watch is the March low just below $44 a barrel, struck after oil prices fell through a number of key technical levels, culminating in a flash crash to $43.76. The bad news kept on coming below the headline figure. Gasoline stocks also jumped by 3.3 million barrels, more than five times the expected increase. Inventories of distillate fuels like diesel and heating oil rose by 4.4 million barrels, 15 times the anticipated rise.

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Author of “China’s Guaranteed Bubble”.

China’s Top Property-Bubble Prophet Says Prices Set to Soar 50% (BBG)

China’s home prices could rise by another 50% in the nation’s biggest cities, as the latest measures to rein them in are likely to be eased by policy makers seeking to support the broader economy. So says Zhu Ning, deputy director of the National Institute of Financial Research at Tsinghua University in Beijing and author of “China’s Guaranteed Bubble: How Implicit Government Support Has Propelled China’s Economy While Creating Systemic Risk.” As measures to curb housing prices drag on growth in the second half and early next year, he says, the government will resort to its old playbook of dialing them back again to shore up expansion. “We’re living through a bubble,” Zhu said. “If we don’t engage in more meaningful reform, which we haven’t, we’re very likely to have a financial crisis or a burst of the bubble. It’s a matter of sooner or later.”

Real estate prices in major cities will surge again “by another 50% or so” after measures to rein them in are eased, said Zhu, without specifying a time. Because policy makers have previously imposed curbs only to ease them again, people see them as a bluff, he said. Last year 45% of new loans went to mortgages. Local authorities have boosted down-payment requirements, restricted purchases by non-residents, and capped the number of dwellings that a household can own. Since March, at least 26 cities have imposed resale lock-up periods, with Hebei’s Baoding city slapping a decade-long ban on some homes, according to Shanghai-based Tospur Real Estate Consulting.

Zhu said he arrived at the 50 percent estimate based on the average price appreciation after past curbs were lifted, an ever-stronger belief among buyers that housing prices will rise, China’s humongous supply of credit, and tighter controls on capital outflows. Over the past year, however, Zhu, who earned his doctorate in finance at Yale, said he’s had more doubts over whether the thinking of western-trained economists applies to a nation that’s proven naysayers wrong “with its might and its determination” for three decades. “Over the past 12 months my confidence has really been shaken,” he said, adding that a crisis remains probable. “Could China be the black swan that we’ve never seen before?”

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Where would the EU be without creative accounting?

Banco Popular Wipeout Leaves CoCo Bonds On The Drawing Board (BV)

Banco Popular’s wipeout has left CoCo bonds on the drawing board. The Spanish lender’s failure and rescue by rival Santander did not provide the expected test for bonds which convert into equity under stress: the securities were wiped out before they could be triggered. It’s still not clear whether the bonds work as intended. The collapse of Spain’s sixth-largest bank by assets marked the first big loss for investors in so-called contingent convertible bonds. The securities were created after the 2008 financial crisis to provide an extra buffer when banks are struggling. They permit lenders to preserve capital by suspending dividends, and convert into ordinary shares when capital ratios run low.

The Popular trauma has eased one fear: that investors would panic when a CoCo bond went down, creating a spiral of contagion to other lenders. Similar securities issued by other Spanish banks actually rose in value on June 7, suggesting that investors see Popular as an isolated case. Yet in another way, Popular’s bonds fell short. The securities are supposed to provide extra capital before a bank fails, allowing it to absorb losses over time without failing or requiring a government bailout. But regulators deemed Popular non-viable before any of the triggers in its bonds could blow. The CoCo bonds suffered the same fate as other, more senior bonds that only suffer losses when a bank goes bust.

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Civil servants and jobs for life. It’s like talking about dinosaurs.

A Reform Beyond Macron’s Grip: The Revolving Door of French Politics (BBG)

French President Emmanuel Macron has promised to change how politics is done in France, starting with the parliament to be elected beginning Sunday. Half of the 500-plus candidates for his young party are women. Half have never held office. They all had to apply online. But he isn’t taking the biggest step: requiring that anyone running for parliament resign from his or her government job. Unlike many other other developed countries, France allows bureaucrats to hold political office—multiple offices, in fact—without having to quit the civil service. And they have a guaranteed right to return. Should the bureaucrat-candidate lose an election, there’s a job for life waiting back at the Agriculture Ministry or the Ministry for Overseas Territories. And a pension at retirement.

Having lawmakers remain part of the civil service creates conflicts of interest, said Dominique Reynie, head of Fondapol, a political research institute. “You have lawmakers making funding decisions about institutions such as universities and hospitals where they are still officially employed,” he said. “We have a parliament that’s inbred.” Among the many beneficiaries of the system: Macron’s prime minister, Edouard Philippe, several others in the cabinet and fully 55% of the parliament that just finished its five-year term. Macron himself, though he’s never been in parliament, kept bureaucrat status through several government and private jobs until he resigned last year to start his political party.

[..] “France is one of the rare countries in Europe where a civil servant can serve an elected mandate without resigning, and with the certainty of going back to their job in case of failure,” said Luc Rouban, a professor at Sciences Po in Lille who has compiled a database of all 2,857 French members of parliament back to 1958. “The absence of professional risk encourages employees from the public sector to run for office.”

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And that will make any agreements with the Troika impossible. All growth assumptions are wrong.

OECD Puts Greek Growth At Just 1.1% This Year (K.)

The OECD has further doused hopes regarding Greek growth this year, forecasting an expansion of 1.1%, and stresses the need to implement reforms and for the national debt to be lightened. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development wrote in its annual report on the global economy published on Wednesday that “delays in reform implementation and reaching an agreement on debt relief would weigh on confidence, hampering investment,” while adjusting its Greek GDP forecast. The 1.1% growth it expects contrasts with the 2.7% growth the budget provides for, the recent European Commission estimate for 2.1% and even the 1.8% forecast included in the midterm fiscal plan the government voted for last month.

Still, the OECD says in its Global Economic Outlook that the economy will expand by 2.5%. It anticipates the primary budget surplus to slide from last year’s 3.8% of GDP, but no lower than 2.5% of GDP for the next few years. The report notes that the Greek economy is beginning to recover although uncertainty remains over the country’s growth prospects. Further progress in reforms is necessary for productivity and exports to grow, the OECD argues. It makes special reference to the reforms in the products markets and in the reduction of nonperforming loans, which could lead to more exports and investments. It also warns that “the expansion of exports depends largely on the pace of world trade growth. Geopolitical tensions among Greece’s neighbors and a renewed large influx of refugees would pose additional risks.”

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Who does any of the parties involved think they’re fooling? A serious question.

Athens To Seek Growth Package At Eurogroup Meeting (K.)

Ahead of yet another crucial Eurogroup on June 15, the government has its mind set on seeking a package of growth-inducing measures which it hopes may, finally, pry open the door that will ultimately put Greece on the road to recovery. Athens believes that securing such a package could work to bridge the difference between the country’s EUpartners, and lead to an agreement which could pave the way for Greece to access international markets. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos outlined three basic principles that should govern any proposal that comes Greece’s way at the meeting of the eurozone finance ministers. Firstly, he insisted that the proposal must specify, in the clearest possible way, what midterm debt relief measures Greece should expect.

Secondly, these measures should also allow all the institutions, including the ECB, to proceed with positive sustainability studies of the Greek debt. Finally, he said, a proposal must include specific measures that will boost growth. The government reckons that a growth-oriented agreement will prompt the IMF to positively revise its projections on the Greek economy, reduce its demands with regard to the Greek program, and open the way for an agreement. Athens believes the formula that is being promoted to get the Fund to join the Greek bailout will stipulate that it will not have to provide immediate funding. Instead, the IMF’s contribution will be placed in a fund of sorts, which will be made available at a later date, on the condition that the midterm debt relief measures are implemented.

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Why have none of the other countries involved ever said a word?

Greece Says Colombian Gangs Plundering Hospitals Europe-Wide (AP)

Greek authorities say Colombian organized crime rings were behind a string of heists targeting costly medical diagnostic equipment from hospitals in Greece and another 11 European countries. Police say three Colombian suspects have been identified in connection with last month’s four thefts in Greece. Four out of about a dozen stolen pieces of equipment, worth more than half a million euros, have been recovered in Colombia. There were similar thefts in the past four years in France, Germany, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain, Poland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Croatia and the Czech Republic, Major-General Christos Papazafeiris said. Papazafeiris, head of security police for the greater Athens region, said Wednesday the stolen equipment had been mailed to Colombia, and was seized in cooperation with local authorities.

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Airbnb is huge in Athens. Must cost the government a fortune in taxes. Why then liberalize laws even more?

Greek Room Owners Threaten To Return Permits in Airbnb Challenge (K.)

Owners of rooms for rent are threatening to return their operating licenses to the state unless the government withdraws legal clauses that fully liberalize the short-term urban lease market where accommodation is advertised through platforms such as Airbnb and Homeaway. According to a statement by the Confederation of Greek Tourism Accommodation Entrepreneurs (SETKE), if the room owners do hand in their licenses they will be able to enjoy the special privileges of the short-term rental market, which, it argues, has created unfair competition at the expense of legal accommodation. In its statement it claims this will lead to the elimination of the tourism accommodation sector’s 30,000 small entrepreneurs. “Instead of withdrawing the semi-liberal status of the short-term urban lease market under the 2016 law, the government is fully liberalizing it with a 2017 law abolishing the quantitative and qualitative limitations and permitting the rental for tourism purposes of all properties of all owners year round without any income limits,” SETKE says.

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The EU keeps thinking reality is whatever it wants it to be. The European Parliament President says: “The rules have to be the same for everybody.”. They’re not. They’re obviously different for Greece, and that’s not Greece’s doing.

Bid For EU States To Stop Migrants, Refugees ‘Asylum Shopping’ (K.)

As Greece continues to struggle to host thousands of migrants, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani on Wednesday called for a common agreement from all European Union member-states on the implementation of asylum procedures aimed at stopping migrants traveling from one country to another “shopping for asylum status.” “At the moment the rules are not properly harmonized,” Tajani told reporters. “The rules have to be the same for everybody. Otherwise we will end up with people shopping for asylum status, which undermines our credibility.” He noted that many refugees who have been accepted in European countries as part of an EU relocation program have continued their journeys to more prosperous nations such as Germany or Sweden.

Latvia welcomed 380 refugees as part of the relocation program but most of those – 313 – have already moved on to Sweden or Germany, according to Agnese Lace from Latvia’s Center for Public Policy. She said low salaries, a lack of jobs and language barriers meant asylum seekers had little incentive to remain in the country. Meanwhile Andras Kovats of the Hungarian Association for Migrants said Hungary’s failure to support integration was pushing new arrivals abroad. In a related development, Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, expressed concern at reports of collective expulsions of asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey. “I urge the Greek authorities to cease immediately the pushback operations and uphold their human rights obligation to ensure that all people reaching Greece can effectively seek and enjoy asylum,” Muiznieks said in a statement.

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