Feb 272018
 
 February 27, 2018  Posted by at 11:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Lewis Wickes Hine Mother and child, Ellis Island, New York 1907

Stock Market Rests Happily on Smoldering Powder Keg (WS)
China’s Bailouts Won’t End With Anbang (Balding)
US January New Home Sales Crash As Rates Spike (ZH)
US Gross National Debt Spikes $1 Trillion in Less Than 6 Months (WS)
Dark Money: The Secret Force Behind Today’s Rigged Markets (Nomi Prins)
Problem With Rising Rates: Corporate America Has Binged On Debt (CNN)
European Companies’ Alarming Leverage (BBG)
Central Banks Need To Stay Vigilant For Further Volatility – Lagarde (BBG)
US Will Overtake Russia As Top Oil Producer By 2019 (R.)
The Matrix? Alice In Wonderland? Praise For Corbyn From UK Business (Ind.)
Generational Battle Lines Harden Over Pensions (G.)
The Real Reason Behind The US Student Debt Problem (F.)
20 US States Sue Federal Government, Seeking End To Obamacare (R.)
US Supreme Court Rebuffs Trump, Won’t Hear Immigration Appeal (BBG)
And Now the Schiff Memo (Jim Kunstler)
East Ghouta: The Last Great Battle Of The Syrian War? (Duran)
Women ‘Sexually Exploited In Return For Aid’ in Syria (BBC)

 

 

The beauty of low rates.

Stock Market Rests Happily on Smoldering Powder Keg (WS)

There is nothing like a big shot of leverage to fire up the stock market. And that’s what the market got in 2017, when the S&P 500 surged 26%, and in January 2018, when the index soared another 7.5% through January 26 – until suddenly something happened. One measure of leverage in the stock market is margin debt – the amount individual and institutional investors borrow from their brokers against their portfolios – which surged $22.9 billion in January to a new record of $665.7 billion, according to FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), which regulates member brokerage firms and exchange markets, and which has taken over margin-debt reporting from the NYSE.

For the 12-month period through January, margin debt soared $112.2 billion, among the largest 12-month gains in the history of the data series, behind only the 12-month periods ending in: • December 2013 ($123 billion) • July 2007 ($160 billion) • March 2000 ($133.7 billion) • November 1997 ($132 billion). But it’s not just the recent surge; it’s the length of the surge. With only a few noticeable down periods, margin debt has soared for nine years in a row and now exceeds the prior peak of July 2007 ($416 billion) by 60%. By comparison, over the same period, nominal GDP (not adjusted for inflation) has grown 32%, and the Consumer Price Index has grown 20%.

In other words, margin debt has ballooned twice as fast from peak to peak as GDP and three times as fast as the Consumer Price Index. The chart below shows margin debt based on the FINRA data, which includes margin debt from its own member firms and from NYSE Member firms, and is therefore more complete and larger than the NYSE data was. For example, NYSE margin debt in November 2017, the last month available, was $580.9 billion while FINRA’s data for November showed margin debt of $627.4 billion. And in January, FINRA warned about the levels of margin debt – marked in green on the chart. Note the spike that started in June 2016:

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Xi’s main problem: he can’t let these companies go belly-up. And there’s lots of them, some big, some smaller.

China’s Bailouts Won’t End With Anbang (Balding)

When the China Insurance Regulatory Commission announced last week that it was seizing Anbang, the only surprise was that it took so long. Last year, the company was told to sell its overseas assets, its founder was placed behind bars, and banks were ordered to stop offering its products. So what, if anything, does this latest incident tell us about China’s economy and its attempt to crack down on debt? Anbang is often referred to as an insurance company, but this is misleading. Although the company does offer some run-of-the-mill products, such as property and casualty insurance, what really drove its growth were unusually structured life-insurance products. At the end of 2016, shortly before regulators intervened, property and casualty premiums made up a mere 4% of the group’s revenue. Life insurance made up 96%.

The growth in this business stunned even China analysts accustomed to tales of fabulous growth. From 2010 to 2016, Anbang’s annual life-insurance premium revenue increased from 1 million yuan to 114.2 billion yuan, or total growth of 11 million %. Even during a period of rapid economic expansion, annualized growth of 593% is amazing. The problem was that the life-insurance products were actually high-yielding debt instruments; investors could opt out of the insurance portion in as little as two years. With some products yielding more than 5% in the first three years, this essentially made Anbang a highly leveraged investor taking on significant risks to cover its cost of capital. Customers were basically extending loans to Anbang that it used to overpay for assets. Regulators finally stepped in to prevent a collapse that could have led to significant instability – with some 35 million customers demanding their money back.

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Econ 101 redux: “..prices will be forced to adjust lower as affordability collapses..”

US January New Home Sales Crash As Rates Spike (ZH)

Following the significant disappointment of January’s existing home sales, hopes were high for a rebound in new home sales (+3.5% expected after December’s 9.3% plunge) but those hopes were crushed as January new home sales crashed 7.8% MoM. This is the lowest level since August, even as the supply of homes at current sales rate climbed to 6.1 months from 5.5 months.

This is the biggest two-month drop in new home sales SAAR since August 2013. The Median price dropped from $336,700 to $323,000 – the lowest since October…

16% of new homes sold in January cost more than $500,000, down from 22% last month. As sales in the Northeast collapsed: • Northeast -33.3%, from 36K to 24K • Midwest +15.4%, from 65K to 75K • South -14.2%, from 351K to 301K • West +1.0%, from 191K to 193K So we are sure NAR will blame ‘inclement’ weather – as opposed to soaring rates and plunging affordability. Just as we warned previously, the following chart shows, that surge in rates will have a direct impact on home sales (or prices will be forced to adjust lower) as affordability collapses… This won’t end well.

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When trapped by crazy, go crazier.

US Gross National Debt Spikes $1 Trillion in Less Than 6 Months (WS)

As of the latest reporting by the Treasury Department, the US gross national debt rose by $41.5 billion on Thursday, February 22, to a grand total of $20.8 trillion. Here’s the thing: On September 7, 2017, five-and-a-half months ago, just before Congress suspended the debt ceiling, the gross national debt stood at $19.8 trillion. At that time, I was holding my breath waiting for the gross national debt to take a huge leap in a single day – as it always does after the debt ceiling gets lifted or suspended – and jump to the next ignominious level. It sure did the next day, when it jumped $318 billion. And it continued. Over a period of 8 weeks, the gross national debt jumped by $640 billion.

Four weeks after that, it had ballooned by $723 billion, at which point Fed Chair Yellen – whose cheap-money policies had enabled Congress to do this for years – said that she was “very worried about the sustainability of the US debt trajectory.” Then Congress served up another debt ceiling – a regular charade lawmakers undertake to extort deals from each other, beat the White House into submission, and keep the rest of the world their on their toes. It goes like this: First they pass the spending bills, directing the Administration to spend specific amounts of money on a gazillion specific things spread around specific districts. Then they block the means to pay the credit card bill. That debt ceiling was suspended on February 8, at which point the gross national debt began to surge again, adding $960.4 billion, a 5% jump in the gross national debt in just 5.5 months:

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Dark money will end up killing everything.

Dark Money: The Secret Force Behind Today’s Rigged Markets (Nomi Prins)

Markets were up again big today and volatility was down. But we haven’t seen the last of rising volatility, nor of the central banks’ attempts to thwart it. This week, new Fed Chair Jerome Powell will be giving his first congressional testimony, and you can be sure that markets are waiting on his words with bated breath. Before his testimony, the Fed will be releasing its Monetary Policy Report, which will also give an indication to the direction of Fed policy. Because these will be his first official comments as Fed chair, Powell will want to both make a personal mark and make sure markets don’t panic over his remarks. I believe he will temper his comments to neutralize any negative market impact the report could have. Wall Street wants to hear that Powell’s not going to aggressively hike rates.

The risk is that, as an article from CNBC reports, “Powell may not clarify anything,” in which case, “traders could be stuck with the same dilemma that shook stocks and sent bond yields spiking [last] Wednesday after the release of the minutes from the Fed’s January meeting.” I think Powell will sound as dovish as he can to avoid that outcome. So even if he confirms rate hikes will be executed at the already forecast pace of three rates this year, he won’t indicate there could be more, which should keep markets calmer and bullish. In other words, I don’t believe that Powell will implement dramatically different monetary policy from his predecessors Janet Yellen or Ben Bernanke. The Fed will do whatever the markets need. Banks have grown accustomed to what I call “dark money” and don’t want Powell to rock the boat.

What is dark money? Dark money basically means money coming from central banks. In essence, central banks “print” money or electronically fabricate money by buying bonds or stocks. They use other tools like adjusting interest rate policy and currency agreements with other central banks to pump liquidity into the financial system. That dark money goes to the biggest private banks and financial institutions first. From there, it spreads out in seemingly infinite directions, affecting different financial assets in different ways. These dark money flows stretch around the world according to a pattern of power, influence and of course, wealth for select groups. Dark money is the No. 1 secret life force of today’s rigged financial markets. It drives whole markets up and down. It’s the reason for today’s financial bubbles.

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CNN wakes up.

Problem With Rising Rates: Corporate America Has Binged On Debt (CNN)

Corporate America, egged on by ridiculously-low borrowing costs, has built up more debt than any time since the end of the Great Recession. The credit binge has allowed companies to grow faster, invest in the future and reward shareholders with huge dividends and share buybacks. Yet elevated levels of debt will also make businesses vulnerable when the next recession strikes or if borrowing costs spike because of rising interest rates. Either outcome will make it harder for Corporate America to pay back the $4 trillion of debt coming due by 2022. This risk has been underlined by the recent surge in Treasury yields and rising concerns that inflation could force the Federal Reserve to consider aggressive rate hikes.

“Removing the easy money punch bowl could trigger the next default cycle,” S&P Global Ratings wrote in a recent report titled “Debt high, defaults low – something’s gotta give.” For nearly a decade, companies have taken advantage of extremely cheap money set by the Fed and foreign central banks trying to pump up sluggish growth. Excluding the highly leveraged financial sector, corporate debt relative to GDP matched an all-time high during the third quarter of 2017, according to an analysis of the most recent numbers by Informa Financial Intelligence. “It’s certainly a reason to be cautious, particularly when we are long into this growth cycle and the Fed is raising rates,” said David Ader, chief macro strategist at Informa Financial Intelligence. “Everything is fine and well – until it isn’t,” he said.

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US, China, Europe et al. Leverage is all that’s left.

European Companies’ Alarming Leverage (BBG)

Much has been written recently about whether companies are going to look overstretched as monetary policy is tightened and bond yields rise. Some excellent research on European non-financial corporates by our Bloomberg Intelligence colleagues Laurent Douillet and Tim Craighead shines more light on the subject. It’s a slightly worrying picture. First off, they looked at cumulative free cash flows over the five years between 2012 and 2016, and then compared them with shareholder payouts and M&A spending. In every sector, except telecoms, free cash flow was exceeded by combined dividends, buybacks and deal-making, as this chart shows:

Consumer companies, drugs makers and industrials have splurged the most on dividends and takeovers. When you take a first glance at leverage, this doesn’t appear to be the end of the world. When you look at the most recent period, net debt to Ebitda looks pretty undemanding, except for the utilities – which are something of a problem child in Europe generally. Even if you look at free cash flow as a proportion of total debt, utilities are probably the only real outlier. Yet if you take a stricter view of what makes up debt, and include pension deficits and operating lease obligations, things start to look less benign. Operating leases are something that Gadfly’s Chris Bryant has looked at before, as companies will have to include them as part of their assets and associated debts when the new IFRS 16 accounting rules come in next year. If you use an adjusted measure of debt by including pensions and leases, as our BI colleagues have done, you get this:

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Blah blah.

Central Banks Need To Stay Vigilant For Further Volatility – Lagarde (BBG)

Central banks need to stay vigilant as uncertainty remains over the impact of the normalization of monetary policies in advanced economies, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said. “We have known for some time that this is coming, but it remains uncertain as to how exactly it will affect companies, jobs, and incomes,” Lagarde told a conference in Jakarta on Tuesday. “Clearly, policy makers need to stay vigilant about the likely effects on financial stability, including the prospect of volatile capital flows.” Stock markets from the U.S. to Asia were in turmoil in recent weeks on concerns that the U.S. could raise interests rates at a faster pace than previously thought. Investors are awaiting Jerome Powell’s first public comments in the role of Fed chairman on Tuesday.

The global economy is on a broad-based upswing, involving about two-thirds of the world, and it offers an opportunity to reform financial markets, upgrade labor laws, and lower barriers to entry in overly protected industries, Lagarde said. The IMF forecasts global economic growth of 3.9 percent this year and in 2019. “As I have been saying recently, the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining,” Lagarde said. “Repairing the roof also means using fiscal reforms to generate higher public revenues, where needed, and improve spending. By boosting public finances, countries can increase infrastructure investment and development spending, especially on social safety nets for the most vulnerable.‘”

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Burn baby burn.

US Will Overtake Russia As Top Oil Producer By 2019 (R.)

The United States will overtake Russia as the world’s biggest oil producer by 2019 at the latest, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Tuesday, as the country’s shale oil boom continues to upend global markets. IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said at an event in Tokyo the United States would overtake Russia as the biggest crude oil producer “definitely next year”, if not this year. “U.S. shale growth is very strong, the pace is very strong … The United States will become the No.1 oil producer sometime very soon,” he told Reuters separately. U.S. crude oil output rose above 10 million barrels per day (bpd) late last year for the first time since the 1970s, overtaking top oil exporter Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said early this month that U.S. output would exceed 11 million bpd by late 2018. That would take it past top producer Russia, which pumps just below that mark. Birol said he did not see U.S. oil production peaking before 2020, and that he did not expect a decline in the next four to five years. The soaring U.S. production is upending global oil markets, coming at a time when other major producers — including Russia and members of the Middle East-dominated OPEC — have been withholding output to prop up prices. U.S. oil is also increasingly being exported, including to the world’s biggest and fastest growing markets in Asia, eating away at OPEC and Russian market share.

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Briatin’s much further down the rabbit hole than it wants to see.

The Matrix? Alice In Wonderland? Praise For Corbyn From UK Business (Ind.)

A Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn as the party of business? JC as the last, best hope for the business community? It’s the sort of thing that would make even one of those nutty internet conspiracy theorists who believe that contactless payments are a satanic plot scoff. Now? Now we’re in Terri May’s Brexit wonderland and the Cheshire Cat is pissing himself. Madness is part of everyday life and nothing seems strange anymore, not even the CBI’s director general Carlyn Fairbairn saying this: “The Labour leader’s commitment to a customs union will put jobs and living standards first by remaining in a close economic relationship with the EU. It will help grow trade without accepting freedom of movement or payments to the EU.”

Or Stephen Martin, the director general of the Institute of Directors, saying this: “Labour has widened the debate today on the UK’s relationship with the EU post-Brexit, and many businesses, particularly manufacturers, will be pleased to hear the Opposition’s proposal to keep a customs union on the table.” You remember the scene from the Wachowskis’ Matrix where Morpheus references Lewis Carroll’s most famous work? “You take the blue pill, you stay in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” With the Tory party having taken leave of its senses in favour of plunging us into a nightmare beyond anything either Carroll or the the brothers could have conceived, the red pill suddenly doesn’t seem quite as scary as it once did, not now the Tories’ mad ideologues are making merry. The Corbyn rabbit hole might actually be the better option.

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Prediction: no-one’s even going to try to control this, because it would mean having to admit that pensions are Ponzis.

Generational Battle Lines Harden Over Pensions (G.)

A report by the Intergenerational Foundation, a charity that funds research into issues that divide the generations, has found that far from losing out to younger people, baby boomers have proved themselves adept at ensuring they are the winners across many areas of public policy. Governments, say the authors, have been “tempted by short-term pressures to set rates that clearly disadvantage the young and favour the older generations” – compare university fees charged at an interest rate of 6.1% with the 2% the elderly are charged on loans to pay for residential care costs. Another example can be found in the rates of interest offered on state-sponsored savings bonds. The pensioner bond, which was launched by George Osborne and proved so popular it was credited with helping the Tories secure a majority in the 2015 general election, paid a 4% rate of interest.

National Savings bonds for everyone else pay a maximum 2.2%. Worst of all is the huge bill in store for younger people in 30 or 40 years’ time by virtue of the current calculations of future liabilities. Pension liabilities are top of the list, with public sector pensions in particular carrying a heavy cost. The foundation’s concern is that the government overestimates the state’s capacity to pay for future liabilities by exaggerating how fast the UK’s income will grow over time. If GDP growth is forecast at an absurdly high rate then the income will supposedly be in place to pay generous pension payments in 30 years. If that growth fails to materialise, those who are in their 20s and 30s today will need to find large sums of cash to fill the hole when they are in their 50s and 60s.

The debate centres on the discount rate, which is the calculation of a fund’s long-term growth, which is used to reflect how much money should be set aside today to pay for tomorrow. Downgrade the discount rate by 0.5% and the government will need to set aside additional pension contributions worth 3% of salaries, it says. “From this you can see very starkly why representatives of older workers have been lobbying strongly for higher discount rates. If they succeed in keeping discount rates 1% above what they should be, they have essentially transferred 6% of the total pension bill for each of these years from the old to the young, so the young will have to pay this bill,” the authors say.

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Failed education systems.

The Real Reason Behind The US Student Debt Problem (F.)

The New York Fed publishes the always-interesting Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit. The Q4 2017 version came out recently. In total, Americans carried $13.15 trillion in debt as of year-end 2017. Most of it is mortgage debt—about 71% of the total, if you include home equity loans. Much to our surprise, the next-largest category isn’t auto loans or credit cards. It’s student loans, which are now 10% of total debt. Their share has been growing steadily. This might be okay if the debt enhanced the student’s financial security, but for millions of Americans, that’s not what has happened. Borrowers don’t achieve the desired results but remain stuck with the debt anyway. While delinquency rates for other forms of debt fell after the recession, student loans didn’t. As of year-end 2017, about 11% of nearly $1.4 trillion in student debt was at least 90 days delinquent.

It’s actually worse than that. Roughly half of student debt is held by borrowers who aren’t required to make payments yet. That’s because they are still in school, unemployed, or otherwise excused. Much of that debt would likely be delinquent too. Also important: The delinquent loans tend to be small (less than $10,000) and held by borrowers who never earned degrees. These borrowers probably thought they were doing the right thing. They wanted decent jobs and saw that having a college degree was necessary to get one. So why is college the key to gainful employment? It hasn’t always been so. It’s because employers require a degree as a job qualification… and that’s partly the fault of IQ tests.

[..] College degrees are convenient, legal substitutes for the kind of testing employers haven’t been able to use since the 1970s. So apart from whatever you learn in college, merely having the credential became necessary to career success. As a result, everyone in the equation made certain choices. • Employers: demand a college degree even for jobs that don’t require college-level skills. • Workers: get a college degree even if you must take on debt. Colleges: Raise prices since so many students are begging for degrees.
This made college more expensive, forcing students to borrow more and more money.

Politicians jumped in to promote and guarantee those loans. And here we are.

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Thw two parties will have to come together to solve this. Just blaming the other won’t do it.

20 US States Sue Federal Government, Seeking End To Obamacare (R.)

A coalition of 20 U.S. states sued the federal government on Monday over Obamacare, claiming the law was no longer constitutional after the repeal last year of its requirement that people have health insurance or pay a fine. Led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, the lawsuit said that without the individual mandate, which was eliminated as part of the Republican tax law signed by President Donald Trump in December, Obamacare was unlawful. “The U.S. Supreme Court already admitted that an individual mandate without a tax penalty is unconstitutional,” Paxton said in a statement.

“With no remaining legitimate basis for the law, it is time that Americans are finally free from the stranglehold of Obamacare, once and for all,” he said. The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the Trump administration would defend the law in court. The individual mandate in Obamacare was meant to ensure a viable health insurance market by forcing younger and healthier Americans to buy coverage. Republicans have opposed the 2010 law formally known as the Affordable Care Act, the signature domestic policy achievement of Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, since its inception.

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The Supreme Court is wise enough to keep its distance from executive and legislative branches.

US Supreme Court Rebuffs Trump, Won’t Hear Immigration Appeal (BBG)

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a Trump administration appeal aimed at ending deportation protections for young undocumented immigrants, steering clear for now of the debate over the fate of hundreds of thousands of people. The justices, without published dissent, turned away the administration’s appeal of a ruling that has kept the Obama-era program in place. The rejection buys time for the so-called dreamers even as Congress has been unable to agree on legislation to give them permanent protection. The Senate earlier this month blocked three proposals that would have shielded the dreamers. The administration was asking the Supreme Court to take the unusual step of bypassing an appeals court and granting fast-track review of a federal trial judge’s decision.

The court’s rebuff leaves open the possibility that the justices could consider the case later, after a San Francisco-based federal appeals court hears it. “It is assumed that the Court of Appeals will proceed expeditiously to decide this case,” the Supreme Court said in its two-sentence order. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program “is clearly unlawful,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said in a statement. “We look forward to having this case expeditiously heard by the appeals court and, if necessary, the Supreme Court, where we fully expect to prevail,” he said. DACA, begun under President Barack Obama, protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. Applicants are shielded from deportation and allowed to apply for work permits.

The first group of DACA recipients had been set to lose their protected status in March before U.S. District Judge William H. Alsup’s Jan. 9 order. The Trump administration appeal argued that the judge’s order “requires the government to sanction indefinitely an ongoing violation of federal law being committed by nearly 700,000 aliens.” The administration resumed accepting DACA renewal applications after the order. Congress is at an impasse over legislation to protect the dreamers, as President Donald Trump and many Republicans insist that it must be combined with strict new limits on legal immigration. Even though the judge’s order means the prior March deadline isn’t in force, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said this month, “we want to operate on deadlines. We clearly need to address this issue in March.”

Alsup said the Department of Homeland Security based its decision to end the program on the “flawed legal premise” that Obama lacked the authority to set it up in the first place. In issuing his temporary order, which extends the protection while the lawsuit goes forward, Alsup said the “public interest” would be served by keeping the program in place. The judge pointed to Trump tweets that suggested he actually supported DACA. A September tweet read: “Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really! . . . .” Alsup wrote: “We seem to be in the unusual position wherein the ultimate authority over the agency, the chief executive, publicly favors the very program the agency has ended.”

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” Can I be alone in wondering how these agencies can mount massive prosecutions of nobodies like George Papadopoulos and Rick Gates while ignoring the much better documented intrigues?..”

And Now the Schiff Memo (Jim Kunstler)

The excruciating quandary President Trump presents to the nation is dragging the sad remnant of the thinking class ever-deeper into a netherworld of desperation, paranoia, and mendacity that may exceed even their own official fantasies about the enemy in the White House. Everything about the lumbering, blundering occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue drives his Dem/Prog opponents — or #Resistance, if you will — plumb batshit: his previous incarnations as a shady NYC real estate schmeikler, as a TV clown, as a business deadbeat, as a self-described pussy-grabber… his vulgar casinos, his mystifying hair-do, his baggy suits and dangling neckties, his arrant, childish, needless lying about trivialities, his intemperate tweets, his unappetizing associates, his loutish behavior in foreign lands, his fractured, tortured syntax, his obvious insincerity, his sneery facial contortions… and lots lots more — and of course that doesn’t even touch the actual policy positions he struggles to articulate.

In sum, Trump represents such a monumentally grotesque embarrassment to the permanent Washington establishment that they will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the removal of this odious caitiff. And in the process abandon all reason and decency. To complicate matters, there really are policy differences that, despite Mr. Trump’s oafish profferings, must somehow be faced for the sake of the country’s future — two of the clearest, just for example, being whether we will have coherent, enforceable immigration laws and whether we will continue to allow the sale of tactical military rifles to the general public. These are matters, by the way, which people of sound mind and honorable intentions could actually resolve through open legislative debate.

[..] in creating this horror movie, the #Resistance is dangerously perverting institutions that may not recover from being written into the script. For instance, the Department of Justice, its subsidiary, the FBI, and sundry intel outfits whose highest officers have been enlisted as cast members. Can I be alone in wondering how these agencies can mount massive prosecutions of nobodies like George Papadopoulos and Rick Gates while ignoring the much better documented intrigues of officials such as Bruce Ohr, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Sally Yates, James Comey, Loretta Lynch, John Brennan, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Hillary Clinton, and possibly even the sainted Barack Obama?

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All the west has left is fabricated narratives.

East Ghouta: The Last Great Battle Of The Syrian War? (Duran)

Just as was the case with the crisis in Aleppo in 2016, the crisis in east Ghouta today is the subject of much handwringing in the Western media. There are also – just as there were in 2016 – pleas to President Putin to “show mercy”. In 2016 these pleas came mainly from British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson. This time they are coming from German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron. Meanwhile – as in 2016 – there is grandstanding against Russia at the UN Security Council by the US’s UN ambassador. In 2016 it was Samantha Power; this time it is Nikki Haley. Just as in 2016 we are now seeing overheated and hysterical demands for ‘military action’ to ‘bring the killing to a stop’, with all concerns about what that might lead to brushed aside.

To complete the truly extraordinary parallels, there has even been a US bombing raid on Syrian forces far away in eastern Syria in Deir Ezzor province, just as there was during the fighting in Aleppo in 2016. Moreover the Russian response to the US threats and to the US bombing raid appears to be the same as it was in 2016: the deployment of further powerful additional military forces to Syria and to Khmeimim air base. In 2016 it was S-300VM Antey 2500 anti aircraft missiles; today it is additional S-400 anti aircraft missiles and (reportedly) SU-57 fighters. As to what is really behind the furious campaign to stop the attack on east Ghouta, it is the same as was the case with the furious campaign to stop the attack on eastern Aleppo in 2016: to prevent a Jihadi enclave which threatens one of Syria’s two great cities – Aleppo in 2016, Damascus today – from being destroyed.

As to what would actually happen if – or rather when – that Jihadi enclave is finally destroyed, I can do no better than quote Marcus Papadopoulos “Once East Ghouta is liberated from Al-Qaeda, the world will see the same response from its inhabitants as the world saw once East Aleppo was liberated: jubilation. And, like with East Aleppo, East Ghouta will serve as another testimony about the facade that is the White Helmets.” Why all these frantic attempts to save an Al-Qaeda controlled Jihadi enclave from being destroyed near Damascus? The short answer is that just as the destruction in 2016 of the Jihadi enclave in eastern Aleppo showed to the Western ‘democracy promotion’ lobby that their regime change war in Syria could not be won, so the destruction of the Jihadi enclave in east Ghouta near Damascus today would show to the Western ‘democracy promotion’ lobby that their regime change war in Syria is irretrievably lost.

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The UN is just as guilty as Oxfam etc.

Women ‘Sexually Exploited In Return For Aid’ By Charities In Syria (BBC)

Women in Syria have been sexually exploited by men delivering aid on behalf of the UN and international charities, the BBC has learned. Aid workers said the men would trade food and lifts for sexual favours. Despite warnings about the abuse three years ago, a new report shows it is continuing in the south of the country. UN agencies and charities said they had zero tolerance of exploitation and were not aware of any cases of abuse by partner organisations in the region. Aid workers told the BBC that the exploitation is so widespread that some Syrian women are refusing to go to distribution centres because people would assume they had offered their bodies for the aid they brought home. One worker claimed that some humanitarian agencies were turning a blind eye to the exploitation because using third parties and local officials was the only way of getting aid into dangerous parts of Syria that international staff could not access.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) conducted an assessment of gender based violence in the region last year and concluded that humanitarian assistance was being exchanged for sex in various governorates in Syria. The report, entitled “Voices from Syria 2018”, said: “Examples were given of women or girls marrying officials for a short period of time for ‘sexual services’ in order to receive meals; distributors asking for telephone numbers of women and girls; giving them lifts to their houses ‘to take something in return’ or obtaining distributions ‘in exchange for a visit to her home’ or ‘in exchange for services, such as spending a night with them’.” It added: “Women and girls ‘without male protectors’, such as widows and divorcees as well as female IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), were regarded as particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation.” Yet this exploitation was first reported three years ago.

Danielle Spencer, a humanitarian adviser working for a charity, heard about the allegations from a group of Syrian women in a refugee camp in Jordan in March 2015. [..] “I remember one woman crying in the room and she was very upset about what she had experienced. Women and girls need to be protected when they are trying to receive food and soap and basic items to live. The last thing you need is a man who you’re supposed to trust and supposed to be receiving aid from, then asking you to have sex with him and withholding aid from you.” She continued: “It was so endemic that they couldn’t actually go without being stigmatised. It was assumed that if you go to these distributions, that you will have performed some kind of sexual act in return for aid.”

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Feb 232018
 
 February 23, 2018  Posted by at 10:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Rooster 1938

 

Art Cashin: Once the 10-Year Yield Hits 3% ‘All Hell’ Could Break Loose (CNBC)
China Regulators Take Control Of Insurance Giant Anbang (AFP)
Xi’s Debt Crackdown Goes Into Hyperdrive (BBG)
BIS Suggests Beijing Is Behind China Shadow Banking Sector (F.)
China Is Letting The Yuan Crush The Dollar To Appease Trump (CNBC)
Bond Villain in the World Economy: Latvia’s Offshore Banking Sector (CP)
Reserve Bank Of Australia Accused Of Causing Ponzi Mortgage Market (AFR)
US Shale Investors Still Waiting On Payoff From Oil Boom (R.)
EU Leaders Go to Battle Over Post-Brexit Budget Gap (BBG)
Irish President Criticises EU Treatment Of Greece (IT)
Greek MPs Vote To Investigate Top Politicians In Novartis Bribery Claims (G.)
Greece Is The European Champion In Corporate Taxes (K.)
The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America (French)
50,000 Die In UK ‘Cold Homes Public Health Crisis’ (Ind.)

 

 

The cavalry.

Art Cashin: Once the 10-Year Yield Hits 3% ‘All Hell’ Could Break Loose (CNBC)

It could be a bad day for the markets once the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury hits 3%, closely followed trader Art Cashin told CNBC on Thursday. “That 3% level is both a target and a kind of resistance. Everybody knows it’s like touching the third rail,” said Cashin, UBS director of floor operations at the New York Stock Exchange. “The assumption is once they do it, all hell will break loose. So we’ll wait and see.” As of early Thursday, the 10-year yield was slightly lower, around 2.91%, down from Wednesday’s four-year high of 2.95%. Wall Street fears returned Wednesday afternoon after minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest meeting sent bond yields rising and stocks into a tailspin. The last time the 10-year yield traded above 3% was in January 2014.

“Initially, yields moved down, stocks rallied like crazy,” Cashin recalled about Wednesday, moments after the Fed minutes were released. “Then about eight minutes into that move, stocks looked back and noticed bonds had changed their mind.” The sharp moves seen Wednesday were probably due to “our friends, the long-lost ‘bond vigilantes,'” Cashin told “Squawk on the Street.” The term “bond vigilantes” was coined by market historian Ed Yardeni during the 1980s, referring to traders who sell their holdings in an effort to enforce what they consider fiscal discipline. Selling bonds sends yields higher due to the inverse relationship between bond prices and bond yields. “We’re going to need a couple weeks to see if the bond vigilantes really are back or not,” Cashin said. “Or whether it was simply a fluke. But remembering what bond vigilantes look like, it certainly had fingerprints on them.”

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Before it burns down the entire financial sector.

China Regulators Take Control Of Insurance Giant Anbang (AFP)

China took over Anbang Insurance for a year on Friday and said its former chairman faces prosecution for “economic crimes”, in the government’s most drastic move yet to rein in politically connected companies whose splashy overseas investments have fuelled fears of a financial collapse. The highly unusual commandeering of Anbang signalled deep official concern over the Beijing-based company’s financial situation and comes as the government looks to address spiralling debt in the world’s second-largest economy. The China Insurance Regulatory Commission said Anbang, which has made a series of high-profile foreign acquisitions in recent years, had violated insurance regulations and operated in a way that may “severely” affect its solvency. The announcement also clarified the fate of Anbang’s chairman Wu Xiaohui, who was reported by Chinese media to have been detained last June.

The insurance regulator confirmed Wu was being “prosecuted for economic crimes”, a startling fall from grace for a man who reportedly married a granddaughter of late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. A statement by government prosecutors in Shanghai said Wu was suspected of fraudulent fundraising and “infringement of duties”. Acquisitive private companies such as Anbang, HNA, Fosun and Wanda have increasingly loomed in the government’s cross-hairs as it conducts a sweeping crackdown on potential financial risks. The four firms were in the vanguard of an officially-encouraged surge in multi-billion-dollar overseas deals by Chinese firms to snatch up everything from European football clubs to hotel chains and movie studios, and were until recently considered untouchable because of their political connections.

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China needs to keep its reserves at home.

Xi’s Debt Crackdown Goes Into Hyperdrive (BBG)

If you needed confirmation about China’s determination to rein in surging corporate debt, the dramatic government takeover of Anbang Insurance is pretty much it. The unprecedented seizure of a private insurer underscores President Xi Jinping’s policy drive to cut back on the debt-fueled excesses that have accompanied China’s growth miracle. It’s a direct hit to corporate binge spending that authorities want to stem; it energizes a long running anti-corruption campaign; and it demonstrates that short-term economic pain will be tolerated for the longer-term goal of a more sustainable expansion. For the rest of the world, the intervention offers up a useful reminder: When you do business with China, you do business with the Communist Party.

“It’s a new example of the seriousness of Xi Jinping’s government to insert the party and the state at all levels of business,” said Fraser Howie, co-author of the book “Red Capitalism” who has two decades of experience in China’s financial markets. “They have no qualms about coming in over the top and saying ‘we are going to take this over.’” He likened the takeover to the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the Securities and Exchange Commission coming together to restructure a company. [..] The backdrop to the pincer move on Anbang and its founder Wu Xiaohui, who is to be prosecuted for alleged fraud, is a robust economy that’s giving officials the running room to crack down on debt excesses without depressing growth.

Overseas investment by Chinese companies has been strictly curtailed since last year as part of the broader ambition to shift the economy onto a more sustainable footing after years of debt-fueled expansion. Because China is self financed and credit is steered by state-owned lenders to state-controlled or linked companies, authorities have the luxury of intervening at their whim to shuffle money from one section of the economy to another. That’s one of the key reasons why regulators are able to tackle Anbang and other high profile conglomerates without lawyers, shareholder activists or opposition politicians getting in the way.

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I don’t believe this is the whole story. Shadow banking in China is so lucrative there’s no way foreigners are not heavily involved.

BIS Suggests Beijing Is Behind China Shadow Banking Sector (F.)

Concerns about the scale of shadow banking in China have now risen alongside concerns about the ever-rising debt load across the economy. The IMF, for example, has been consistently warning about this issue, along with Western credit ratings agencies. But the biggest hawk on China’s credit risks has for some time been the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), known as the central banker’s bank. The BIS produced a comprehensive assessment of the “shadow banking” sector last week. The report itself is not very surprising, but it does suggest much coverage of the issue adopts a misplaced tone. The most important insight the report generates is simply that the shadow banking sector in China is almost entirely driven by the traditional, state-dominated banks ; the SOE banks, the Joint Stock banks and the City commercial banks, all of which have significant levels of state involvement.

Indeed it was estimated in 2014 that the Chinese banking system was capitalized by only about 12% private capital, the rest linking back to the Chinese state, either centrally or regionally. In other words, although the phrase “shadow banking” is used in China, in Western economies this usually refers to activity that is quite distinct from the state, where private investors knowingly operate outside of the many regulatory safeguards offered by traditional banking. Whereas in China the state is either the key mediator or even the guarantor of the unregulated activity. In other words, the state in China is freely engaging in unregulated activity, precisely in order to avoid the burdens of their own regulations. This is perhaps why “shadow banking” in China is often–and more accurately–referred to as “banking in the shadows” as it is a substitute for traditional banking, but it takes place out of sight.

This may be well understood by banking professionals, but it is an example of the kind of difference of emphasis that leads to misunderstanding in the markets and the press. The impression that China is somehow slowly getting to grips with a poorly regulated sector, or at least announcing its intention to do so, is quite simply at variance with what is actually going on, which is that the state itself is the source of the problem. The “shadow banking” sector in China has expanded enormously, not in spite of the state but because of it. It both applies the regulations in the formal banking sector, and avoids them in the “shadow banking” sector. None of this changes the fact that the overarching problem is China’s rapidly rising overall debt pile, but we shouldn’t be under any illusions over what exactly is hiding in the shadows. More to the point, if the activities of the Chinese state are hiding in the shadows, it is worth considering what exactly they are hiding from?

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Short term gains. Halt outflows. But a strong yuan wreaks hovoc on exports.

China Is Letting The Yuan Crush The Dollar To Appease Trump (CNBC)

The Chinese yuan has appreciated 10% against the dollar since the start of 2017, quelling some criticism that the export giant has been deliberately suppressing its currency to gain economic advantage over its trading partners. This is all going according to China’s plan, experts said. Although the strength of the yuan against the dollar is in part due to the greenback’s weakness, experts said the world’s second-largest economy is also propping up its currency to appease President Donald Trump. China has “reversed the rise” of the dollar against the yuan, and there’s now “meaningful” strength against the greenback, Bilal Hafeez, global head of G-10 foreign-exchange strategy at Nomura, wrote in a recent note. “Part of this was likely a response to the election of President Trump and the need to avoid being labelled a currency manipulator,” Hafeez added.

On the 2016 campaign trail, Trump repeatedly said he would name China a currency manipulator from his first day in office. That has not happened. [..] China will probably continue to manage its currency in the background even if it keeps its value against the dollar relatively high, analysts said. Morgan Stanley analysts said in a note this week that the trade-weighted yuan should remain “largely stable” around current levels as Beijing’s capital control efforts have worked. “If [the yuan] continues to appreciate rapidly, policy-makers may seek to stem the rise in order to maintain stability in the trade-weighted [yuan], which would likely be achieved by verbal communication and a relaxation of some outbound capital restrictions,” Morgan Stanley added.

Beijing is walking a tricky tightrope as the Communist regime seeks to balance political concerns with economic reforms and the demands that come with a market-based system. In the second half of 2015, the Chinese government shocked markets by devaluing the yuan. That spurred capital flight due to concerns over the health of the world’s second-largest economy — which further depressed the Chinese currency. Beijing has been trying to reverse that damage. “I think they ultimately want a weaker currency, they just don’t know how to achieve it. They tried in 2015, it didn’t work, turned into a vicious cycle and they’re kind of stuck right now with always trying to control everything but not knowing how to get a weaker currency through a structural slowdown in a way that does not cause a lot of disturbances to domestic financial markets for instance,” said Jason Daw at Societe Generale.

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The Russians did it.

Bond Villain in the World Economy: Latvia’s Offshore Banking Sector (CP)

If the world economy were a Bond movie, Latvia’s offshore banking economy would be its Bond villain. Presently, this plucky state of 1.8 million people on Russia’s border is leading the world’s financial press with two major scandals. First, there is their long-standing Central Bank Governor, Mr. Ilmars Rimsevics. While Latvia’s population (disproportionally aged, as many of the young have left to find work abroad) only rivals that of Hamburg, but with a much smaller economy, Mr. Rimsevics nonetheless commands a salary bigger than Central Bank heads of most similar sized countries and in 2016 saw the largest%age salary increase of any EU Central bank head. Regardless of his super-sized income, Mr. Rimsevics has been accused of using his post as a sinecure to increase his pay by several multiples. His ‘victims’ being the banks in Latvia that he oversees, of which one, Norvik, the provenance of a Russian oligarch in London, protested.

[..] The other scandal, more serious, but lacking a face and bereft of central casting’s villainous imagery (e.g., oligarchs at the hunting lodge), is that of ABLV. ABLV is the largest Latvian owned bank. Latvia is a small country with lots of ‘banks.’ ABLV is largely a correspondent bank, or a bank holding deposits of foreigners along with providing them with ‘services’ that conceal the identity of their owners. Correspondent banking, euphemistically in the ‘industry’ called “wealth management” and “tax optimization.” [..] Just as Mr. Rimsevics has seemingly been caught with Russian oligarchs, ABLV has been linked to handling money for North Korea’s weapons program. This crossed the line for the United States, which in the main has vacillated between support and tolerance of offshore banking, but who since 9/11 has become wary of its ‘downsides,’ such as terrorists and ‘axis of evil’ states availing themselves of their helpful services.

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“Yes RBA, you did inflate housing bubble…”

Reserve Bank Of Australia Accused Of Causing Ponzi Mortgage Market (AFR)

For years the Reserve Bank of Australia dismissed our warnings that excessively stimulatory interest rate cuts – which bequeathed borrowers with never-before-seen 3.4% mortgage rates that fuelled double-digit house price inflation – had blown a bubble that presented genuine financial stability risks. This manifested via record increases in speculative investor activity, interest-only loans and, more broadly, Australia’s household debt-to-income and house price-to-income ratios, which leapt into unchartered territory (notably above pre-global financial crisis peaks). The RBA narrative was very different. “Our concern was not that developments in household balance sheets posed a risk to the stability of the banking system,” governor Philip Lowe recently explained.

“Rather, it was more that…the day might come, when faced with bad economic news, households feel they have borrowed too much and respond by cutting their spending sharply, damaging the overall economy.” Nothing to see here when it comes to financial stability, if you believe the weasel words. It turns out Lowe was privately “packing his dacks” after unleashing the mother-of-all-booms powered by the cheapest credit in history. After the sudden deceleration in national house price growth – as documented here – from an 11.5% annualised rate in May 2017 to just 1.9% today, the governor revealed to parliamentarians that he’s now “much more comfortable…than I have been in recent years when I have been appearing before this committee, when I was quite worried”. That’s central speak for petrified.

Lowe conceded that “housing prices were rising very, very quickly – much faster than people’s income – and the level of debt was rising much faster than people’s income”. Yet according to the RBA’s interpretation, the 50% explosion in house prices between 2012 and 2018 was propelled not by the 11 interest rate cuts it bestowed on borrowers over the same period, but by a lack of new housing supply. You have to ignore the record building boom to believe this BS.

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Pay me Ponzi!

US Shale Investors Still Waiting On Payoff From Oil Boom (R.)

U.S. oil production has topped 10 million barrels per day, approaching a record set in 1970, but many investors in the companies driving the shale oil revolution are still waiting for their payday. Shale producers have raised and spent billions of dollars to produce more oil and gas, ending decades of declining output and redrawing the global energy trade map. But most U.S. shale producers have failed for years to turn a profit with the increased output, frustrating their financial backers. Wall Street’s patience ran out late last year as investors called for producers to shift more cash to dividends and share buybacks. “‘Give me some cash, please.’ That’s what investors have said,” said Anoop Poddar, a partner at private equity firm Energy Ventures.

And yet such calls for payouts remain a debate in the industry as oil prices have recently creeped up to four-year highs. Investors demanding immediate returns could risk forcing firms to curb expansion that could have a higher long-term payoff if oil prices continue to rise. For now, share prices of shale producers have yet to fully recover from the 2014 oil price collapse, when many investors took losses as hundreds of firms went bankrupt and those that survived struggled. The energy sector has lagged the rally that took the broader stock market to record highs. The S&P 500 Energy Index remains nearly a third off its peak in mid-2014, when oil prices topped $100 a barrel. The broader S&P 500 index is up 39% during the same period.

This year, five of the 15 largest U.S. independent shale firms have started paying or raised quarterly dividends, the documents show. But six of the firms have never offered a dividend or have not restored cuts implemented since the 2014 oil price collapse. Anadarko Petroleum earlier this month added $500 million to an existing buyback program and raised its dividend by 20%, sending its shares up 4.5% the next trading day. Buybacks reduce the number of shares outstanding, boosting the value of stock that remains.

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This could turn ugly. Very ugly.

EU Leaders Go to Battle Over Post-Brexit Budget Gap (BBG)

Hashing out the European Union’s multiannual budget is a political slugfest at the best of times. Throw in Brexit and the contest looks even more bruising. The U.K.’s scheduled withdrawal from the EU next year will leave a 10 billion-euro ($12.3 billion) annual hole in the bloc’s spending program, the main topic when leaders meet on Friday to map out Europe’s 2021-2027 budget. A Bloomberg survey of government positions reveals splits over how to cover the gap, with at least three net contributors – Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria – saying they won’t pay more. While amounting to only 1 percent of EU economic output, the European budget of 140 billion euros a year provides key funds for farmers, poorer regions and researchers in everything from energy to space technologies.

It’s also a barometer of the political mood in European capitals, signaling the risk of fissures as the EU seeks to maintain unity in the Brexit talks, confront new security challenges and curb democratic backsliding in countries such as Poland. “I expect it to be quite a fight,” said Guntram Wolff, director of the Bruegel think tank in Brussels. “The EU budget hole is quite substantial. You actually have a double challenge: you have to cut some spending and increase money for new priority areas.” [..] Britain’s absence from the next multiannual European spending program is conspicuous because the country is the No. 2 net contributor. Germany, which is the largest, and Italy, the fourth biggest, both say they are open to increasing their payments into the financial framework, the survey shows. Portugal and Estonia, both net recipients of funds, are prepared to raise their contributions, while France and Belgium are still undecided.

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So what’s he going to do about it?

Irish President Criticises EU Treatment Of Greece (IT)

Those responsible for mistaken economic policies that have had such a negative effect on the Greek people need to take responsibility for their actions, President Michael D Higgins has said, on the first day of his state visit. “It is a moral test of all actions that the person who initiates an action must take responsibility for its consequences,” Mr Higgins told his Greek counterpart, Prokopis Pavlopoulos. “It is little less than outrageous that the social consequences of decisions that are taken are not in fact understood and offered to people as choices,” Mr Higgins said, in remarks at a bilateral meeting at the presidential mansion.

Referring to the speech made by Emmanuel Macron on his recent state visit to Athens, Mr Higgins said he had to “say something much stronger” than the French president, who, he noted had acknowledged “that great mistakes, with great effect on the Greek people, have been made and that these were mistakes of the European Union”. “Cohesion, social cohesion, social Europe, must be placed on the top of the agenda that we all now share on the future of the union.” This meant that “we cannot continue adjusting out populations to economics models that not only have failed but have not submitted themselves to empirical tests in relation to their social consequences. “If parliaments and the mediating institutions continue to leach influence because they no longer have any power, because influences are coming from those who have no accountability, then we have a crisis.”

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Note: the whole thing is based on an FBI report, with probes of Novartis going back to at least 2014.

“..bribery scandal [..] the worst since the creation of the modern Greek state almost 200 years ago..”

Greek MPs Vote To Investigate Top Politicians In Novartis Bribery Claims (G.)

The Greek parliament is to investigate 10 of the country’s top politicians over in return for patronage that resulted in huge losses for Greece. After a raucous 20-hour debate, MPs voted early on Thursday to form a parliamentary committee tasked solely with investigating two former prime ministers and eight other ministers in connection with the allegations. The governor of the Bank of Greece, Yannis Stournaras; Europe’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos and the country’s former prime minister Antonis Samaras are among those accused of giving Novartis preferential market treatment. “We will not cover up,” Samaras’s successor, Alexis Tsipras, told parliament. “The Greek people must learn who turned pain and illness into a means of enrichment.”

Officials in Tsipras’ leftist-led administration have described the alleged bribery scandal as the worst since the creation of the modern Greek state almost 200 years ago. It has raised fears of political instability at a time when many had hoped the country was finally returning to normality after years of tumult. All 10 of those implicated vehemently rebutted the charges in often angry and emotional speeches during the debate. Stournaras, a former finance minister who helped steer Greece through some of its darkest days of the debt crisis after the country’s near-economic collapse, described the allegations as “disgusting fabrications”. Panagiotis Pikrammenos, who headed a one-month caretaker administration at the height of the crisis in 2012, came close to tears as he described the allegations against him “as lies and unacceptable slander”.

The cross-party committee, made up of 21 MPs, is expected to be established imminently. It will have the power to decide whether accusations of bribery, breach of duty and money-laundering apply, under a strict statute of limitation, to each of the accused. Under Greek law, parliament must investigate politicians for alleged infractions before they can face judicial prosecution. Few question that wrongdoing was committed. A confidential report by prosecutors originally tipped off by US authorities alleged that bribes of as much as €50m (£44m) were paid to politicians between 2006 to 2015 to promote Novartis’s products. More than 4,500 doctors are accused of malpractice as well. [..] With losses of around €4 billion for the country’s health system, the scandal will have played a significant role in Greece’s financial meltdown.

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How to make sure an economy won’t recover.

Greece Is The European Champion In Corporate Taxes (K.)

Corporate taxation in Greece is burdensome and anti-competitive, the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) says in a report published on Thursday, stressing that Greek taxes also fail to draw revenues above the average rate of other European countries that as a rule have lower corporate taxation. According to SEV, the real tax load on corporations has increased considerably, with income tax reverting to the 2006 level plus the income on revenues from dividends: Today income tax comes to 29%, the tax on dividends to 15%, the solidarity levy to 10% and social security contributions for board members to 26.7%. This amounts to 81% of profit distribution, SEV said.

The federation’s analysts argue that profit taxation is above the European Union average and definitely higher than neighboring states that are Greece’s direct rivals within the bloc. If one adds board members’ social security contributions, then Greece has the highest corporate taxes by far, being the only country to have increased its tax sum since 2000, at a time when other states have been reducing the burden. SEV goes on to note that the tax rates are the just tip of the iceberg. The report focuses on the overall framework of corporate taxation that does not allow enterprises to grow and improve their competitiveness in international markets.

The federation highlights six specific problems in the corporate tax framework:
– The option of offsetting losses against future profits in Greece is for just five years, against at least 10 years in most EU states;
– Other countries have special incentives through tax exemption on expenditure, which in Greece are particularly limited;
– There is no framework for favorable regulations and incentives for mergers and acquisitions, which would encourage the streamlining and expansion of companies and reduce bad loans;
– There are no incentives such as accelerated amortization for new investments on equipment, which SEV calculates would have been fiscally neutral;
– Greek amortization rates are noncompetitive, particularly concerning investments in machinery and other equipment, forcing Greek firms to amortize their equipment slowly;
– Finally, Greece retains anachronistic levies such as stamp duty.

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Ignores the role of social media-induced echo chambers.

The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America (French)

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second Amendment. They mocked the notion that rape victims might want to arm themselves for protection. There were calls of “murderer.” Rubio was compared to a mass killer. There were wild cheers for the idea of banning every single semiautomatic rifle in America. The discourse was vicious. It was also slanderous. There were millions of Americans who watched all or part of the town hall and came away with a clear message: These people aren’t just angry at what happened in their town, to their friends and family members; they hate me.

They really believe I’m the kind of person who doesn’t care if kids die, and they want to deprive me of the ability to defend myself. The CNN town hall might in other circumstances have been easy to write off as an outlier, a result of the still-raw grief and pain left in the wake of the Parkland shooting. But it was no less vitriolic than the “discourse” online, where progressives who hadn’t lost anyone in the attack were using many of the same words as the angry crowd that confronted Rubio and Loesch. The NRA has blood on its hands, they said. It’s a terrorist organization. Gun-rights supporters — especially those who oppose an assault-weapons ban — are lunatics at best, evil at worst. This progressive rage isn’t fake. It comes from a place of fierce conviction and sincere belief. Unfortunately, so does the angry response from too many conservatives.

[..] Unlike the stupid hysterics over net neutrality, tax policy, or regulatory reform, the gun debate really is — at its heart — about life and death. It’s about different ways of life, different ways of perceiving your role in a nation and a community. Given these immense stakes, extra degrees of charity and empathy are necessary in public discussion and debate. At the moment, what we have instead are extra degrees of anger and contempt. The stakes are high. Emotions are high. Ignorance abounds. Why bother to learn anything new when you know the other side is evil?

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Major cold spell on the doorstep.

50,000 Die In UK ‘Cold Homes Public Health Crisis’ (Ind.)

Thousands of people are “needlessly” dying each year because they cannot afford to properly heat their homes, new research has revealed. The UK has the second-worst rate of excess winter deaths in Europe, a study by National Energy Action and climate-change charity E3G found. The organisations called for urgent action to end to the devastating but “entirely preventable” tragedy that they say amounts to a “cold homes public health crisis”. The death toll looks set to rise next week as the UK braces for an imminent “polar vortex” predicted to bring harsh frost, snow showers and freezing temperatures. Almost 17,000 people in the UK are estimated to have died in the last five years as a direct result of fuel poverty and a further 36,000 deaths are attributable to conditions relating to living in a cold home, the research found.

The number dying each year is similar to the amount who die from prostate cancer or breast cancer. A total of 168,000 excess winter deaths from all causes have been recorded in the UK over the latest five-year period. Of 30 countries studied, only Ireland has a higher proportion of people dying due to cold weather. The research was published to coincide with Fuel Poverty Awareness Day on Friday which aims to highlight the problems faced by those struggling to keep warm in their homes. It comes just 24 hours after Centrica, which owns British Gas, announced plans to cut 4,000 jobs after a “weak” year in which it made £1.25bn profit. The company’s chief executive, Ian Conn, said the Government’s energy price cap – designed to prevent loyal and vulnerable customers being ripped off – was partly to blame for the layoffs. Pedro Guertler, of E3G, who co-authored the research, said the winter death figures were not only a tragedy but a “national embarrassment”.

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