Jun 092019
 
 June 9, 2019  Posted by at 9:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Georges Seurat A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte 1884

 

Angst and Madness at the End of Empire (Orphan)
Theresa May: The Total Decay Of Political Integrity And Vision (Ind.)
Boris Johnson Threatens To Withhold $50 Billion Brexit Payment (R.)
US Auto Loans Hit Record (CNBC)
Used-Car Wholesale Prices Surge (WS)
ECB Policymakers Open To Cut Rates If Growth Weakens (R.)
China Banking Regulator Says Small Bank Risks Manageable (R.)
IMF Warns Of Giant Tech Firms’ Dominance (BBC)
Amazon Gets Booted by FedEx (WS)
The End Of The Arctic As We Know It (G.)

 

 

“..those expensive bases of aggression around the world will begin to cost more than they bring in profit.”

Angst and Madness at the End of Empire (Orphan)

[..] the angst of the American bourgeoisie is demonstrated more by what it doesn’t speak about than what it does. It is a disquiet which is at once terrified of the collapse that looms ahead and horrified at the idea of losing the status quo arrangement, even though that status quo is benefiting fewer and fewer people. It stands simultaneously aghast and paralyzed before the obvious madness of its rulers, and yet continually grasps at failed “lesser evilism” as a solution. And it largely still buys into the noxious mythology of it being the “greatest country on earth.” The corporate elite, having stripped down civic education over decades, robbed them of their political agency and resistance and replaced it with a sanitized history and demoralizing optimism, or “positive thinking,” which places all blame for their collective state and its inadequacies on the individual.

That it has been so lauded by Wall Street should cause anyone to wonder why it has been so internalized by the disenfranchised masses. To be sure, this arrangement is rapidly meeting its end. Banking and corporate corruption, never really having been dealt with in the last “Great Recession” or its notorious state funded “bailout,” has only become more blind and reckless. The membrane of the bubble created after that fiasco, born in avarice, is thinning in plain sight. It is about to burst again, and this time it will be far more catastrophic. The endless imperialistic wars that the US has engaged in for the last decades are also creating a financial strain.

Coupled with climate breakdown those expensive bases of aggression around the world will begin to cost more than they bring in profit. In the US itself biblical floods are wiping clean the soil graded for agriculture throughout the Midwest and causing tremendous economic hardship for scores of rural and commercial farmers. Droughts offer a grim alternative to this increasingly chaotic climate pattern. Food prices will undoubtedly rise in the future thanks to a capitalist system which creates artificial shortages and surpluses.

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“..our so called leaders are devoid of principle, immune to responsibility and seem only to prioritise their own interests, power and most importantly private profit above all. Theresa May is exhibit one. ”

Theresa May: The Total Decay Of Political Integrity And Vision (Ind.)

As an NHS doctor, making a diagnosis is quite an important part of my job. Central to it in fact. One has to process and put together information while providing care to your patients. Attention to detail is critical. For many of us working within the NHS therefore, it has been abundantly clear that the diagnosis for Theresa May has been terminal for some time. But where did it all go wrong? Was it always destined to end like this? What could have been done? Watching her face crumple and tears fall as she defended her claim to have “tackled Britain’s burning injustices”, as well as saying she had proudly served the country she loved, surely only the coldest of hearts could not have pity for a woman who had done her very best at the worst of times?

Well let me answer in the only way I know how: honestly, Theresa May is a mere symptom of the problem. The diagnosis is much greater and much more devastating than this one tragic figure. What we appear to be all bearing witness to is the total decay of political integrity and vision. We now live in a world where our so called leaders are devoid of principle, immune to responsibility and seem only to prioritise their own interests, power and most importantly private profit above all. Theresa May is exhibit one.

The woman who has supposedly tackled “burning injustices” has consciously implemented measures to ensure inequality has soared, overseen childhood and old-age poverty skyrocket, had life expectancy fall under her watch, ordered the Home Office to send out racist, xenophobic anti-immigration “Go Home” vans, and who oversaw a “hostile environment” policy that led to the deportation of many of the Windrush generation.

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Hollowness echoes with the people.

Boris Johnson Threatens To Withhold $50 Billion Brexit Payment (R.)

Boris Johnson, the leading candidate to succeed Theresa May as Britain’s next prime minister, said he would withhold a previously agreed 39 billion pound ($50 billion) Brexit payment until the European Union gives Britain better exit terms. The EU has repeatedly said it will not reopen discussion of the Brexit transition deal it reached with May last year, which British lawmakers have rejected three times, prompting May to announce her resignation earlier this month. May stepped down as leader of the governing Conservatives on Friday. Johnson, a former foreign secretary in May’s cabinet, is popular with ordinary Conservative Party members, who will decide between the two candidates who come top in a series of votes by Conservative lawmakers over the coming weeks.


“I always thought it was extraordinary that we should agree to write that entire cheque before having a final deal. In getting a good deal, money is a great solvent and a great lubricant,” Johnson told the Sunday Times. Britain is due to leave the EU on Oct. 31. If Parliament does not approve a deal – and the government does not ask the EU for another delay – there risks being major economic disruption from a disorderly departure. The 39 billion pounds represents outstanding British liabilities to the EU, which would be paid over a number of years according to the withdrawal agreement negotiated by May. Johnson also said border arrangements with Ireland should be settled only as part of a long-term agreement, rejecting a “backstop” which would avoid checks on Northern Ireland’s border but which Conservative lawmakers fear is a backdoor way of requiring Britain to continue to follow EU rules after Brexit.

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Record loans for clunkers.

US Auto Loans Hit Record (CNBC)

People buying a new vehicle are borrowing more and paying more each month for their auto loan. Experian, which tracks millions of auto loans each month, said the average amount borrowed to buy a new vehicle hit a record $32,187 in the first quarter. The average used-vehicle loan also hit a record, $20,137. “We have not seen a slowdown in loan demand. In fact, volume for new and used loans is up from previous years,” said Melinda Zabritski, senior director of automotive financial solutions for Experian. With sales of new vehicles moderating slightly after the four best years the industry has ever seen in the U.S., dealers and auto executives are watching whether consumers will be more resistant to the steady increase in new car prices.


That is not happening. In fact, the average amount borrowed topped $32,000 for the first time ever. As a result, the average monthly payment for a new vehicle continued to climb to a new high of $554 and to a record $391 for used vehicles, according to Experian. While new car sales and loans are still strong, people with the best credit scores are increasingly buying a used model instead of new. Experian says 61.8% of those with a prime credit rating and 44.7% of those with a super prime credit rating took out loans to buy a used vehicle in the first quarter. Those are the highest percentages Experian has ever recorded for prime and super prime used vehicle borrowing.

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There’s something very ironic hidden in here.

Used-Car Wholesale Prices Surge (WS)

Prices of used vehicle that were sold in May at wholesale auctions rose 4.0% compared to May last year, according to Manheim, the largest auto-auction house in the US, running about 8 million vehicles through its venues a year. The chart of the Manheim Used Vehicle Value Index, which is adjusted for mix, mileage, and seasonality, shows the two price surges from end of March 2017 and March 2018 that were subsequently only partially unwound. And the 2019 selling season is beginning likewise. The last time there was such an extended period of year-over-year price gains was from the trough of the Financial Crisis. After prices had collapsed in 2008, they started bouncing off sharply in January 2009.

By the time the “Cash for Clunkers” program started officially on July 1, 2009, used vehicle prices had already recovered to their prior pre-crisis levels (see chart below). But “cash for clunkers” boosted prices further. Congress had appropriated $1 billion that was supposed to last through November. But by July 30, it was gone. Congress appropriated another $2 billion, which was soon gone too. Car buyers were handed this $3 billion to trade in their “clunkers” and buy a new vehicle. Cash for clunkers was designed to boost new-vehicle sales. The engines of these trade-ins under the program were destroyed and the vehicle was then towed to the salvage yard for parts.


As a side effect, the program destroyed a portion of the most affordable vehicles – another devastating blow to lower-income car buyers in subsequent years. Not only were the most affordable vehicles gone; but by removing this supply from the market, Cash for Clunkers caused the prices up the entire scale of used cars to surge. This included my three-year-old car. Its book value rose month after month, even as the car got older and accumulated miles, something I’d never seen before, and I’d spent many years in the car business.

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So Europeans can buy clunkers too?!

ECB Policymakers Open To Cut Rates If Growth Weakens (R.)

European Central Bank policymakers are open to cutting the ECB’s policy rate again if economic growth weakens in the remainder of the year and a strong euro hurts a bloc already bearing the brunt of a global trade war, two sources said. The ECB said on Thursday that its interest rates would stay “at their present levels” until mid-2020 but President Mario Draghi added rate setters had started a discussion about a possible cut or fresh bond purchases to stimulate inflation. The apparently mixed message failed to convince some investors, who saw it as too tenuous a commitment to more stimulus. This sent the euro rallying to a 2-1/2 month high of $1.1347 against the U.S. dollar.


But two sources familiar to the ECB’s policy discussions said a rate cut was firmly in play if the bloc’s economy was to stagnate again after expanding by 0.4% in the first quarter of the year. “If inflation and growth slow, then a rate cut is warranted,” said one of the sources, who requested anonymity because the ECB’s deliberations are confidential. The ECB’s deposit rate is already 40 basis points below zero and the bloc’s top-rated governments, such as Germany’s, can borrow at negative rates for up to a decade. In this context, countering the euro’s strength, rather than lowering already rock-bottom borrowing costs, would be the main reason for a further cut to that deposit rate, one of the sources said.

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What else are they going to say?

China Banking Regulator Says Small Bank Risks Manageable (R.)

China’s banking regulator says risks at small and mid-sized banks are manageable, a central bank publication reported on Sunday, in the latest move to soothe investors’ concerns after the government took over a troubled regional lender last month. The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) took control of Inner Mongolia’s Baoshang Bank due to “serious” credit risks on May 24, rattling Chinese markets and prompting the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) to inject cash into the banking system. While authorities said it was a standalone case, the seizure comes as Beijing is urging banks to boost lending to help cushion an economic slowdown, fuelling concerns about rising debt and more bad loans.


“At present, small and mid-sized banks are operating smoothly, liquidity is relatively ample, and overall risks are fully manageable,” the CBIRC said in a Q&A interview with the Financial News. The regulator also said big banks are willing to continue interbank business with small banks to safeguard the stability of financial markets. Some small banks rely heavily on short-term borrowing from the interbank market, leaving other banks at risk if they run into trouble. A Reuters analysis showed at least 18 smaller institutions have not published up-to-date financial reports, and in some of those cases senior regulatory officials have been appointed for bank management oversight.

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Can I add a warning about IMF dominance?

IMF Warns Of Giant Tech Firms’ Dominance (BBC)

Giant technology companies might cause significant disruption to the world’s financial system, the head of the International Monetary Fund has warned. Christine Lagarde said just a few firms with big data access and artificial intelligence could run the global payment and settlement arrangements. Her warning came as the G20 finance ministers met in Japan. The summit is also discussing the need to close tax loopholes for internet giants like Facebook and Google. One of the options being considered is to tax such companies where they make their profits – rather than where they base their headquarters.


“A significant disruption to the financial landscape is likely to come from the big tech firms,” Ms Lagarde said in Japan’s south-western city of Fukuoka. She said such firms “will use their enormous customer bases and deep pockets to offer financial products based on big data and artificial intelligence”.”This presents a unique systemic challenge to financial stability and efficiency,” she added. She cited China as a most recent example. “Over the last five years, technology growth in China has been extremely successful and allowed millions of new entrants to benefit from access to financial products and the creation of high-quality jobs,” Ms Lagarde said. “But it has also led to two firms controlling more than 90% of the mobile payments market.”

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Can Bezos buy FedEx?

Amazon Gets Booted by FedEx (WS)

Amazon is aggressively butting in on freight carriers with its own planes, trucks, and delivery infrastructure, and is at the same time aggressively pushing for faster and cheaper service from freight carriers such as FedEx, UPS, and the US Postal Service. And FedEx has had it with Amazon, announcing today that it was dumping Amazon as customer of its FedEx Express division. “FedEx has made the strategic decision to not renew the FedEx Express U.S. domestic contract with Amazon.com, Inc. as we focus on serving the broader e-commerce market,” it said in a surprise statement. The current contract ends June 30.


Its other units that do business with Amazon and its international services with Amazon are not impacted by this decision, FedEx said. FedEx is not overly dependent on Amazon – unlike some other freight companies that now have come to grief under Amazon’s boots, including New England Motor Freight, a less-than-truckload carrier that “stunned” the transportation world when it filed for bankruptcy in February. Interestingly, FedEx chose to address this point explicitly in the statement: “Amazon.com is not FedEx’s largest customer. The percentage of total FedEx revenue attributable to Amazon.com represented less than 1.3 percent of total FedEx revenue for the 12-month period ended December 31, 2018.”

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“It will go when stratification breaks down completely and the Atlantic takes over the whole region.”

The End Of The Arctic As We Know It (G.)

If the Arctic were a patient, doctors would be alarmed by its vital signs. As well as hot flushes, asthma and contamination (the researchers are following up on studies that suggest the Fram strait has one of the highest levels of microplastics in the world), the ocean has also been diagnosed with a weakening of its immune system. For centuries, the Arctic’s distinctive character has been shaped by a layer of cold, relatively fresh water just below the surface, produced by melting ice and glaciers. This has insulated the sea ice from the warmer, denser, saltier waters of the Atlantic currents that flow in the depth. But this stratification is collapsing as temperatures rise.

The oceanic shift was outlined in a landmark study published last year in Science, which found that the water density and temperature of the Fram strait and Barents Sea were increasingly like those of the Atlantic, while further east, Russia’s Laptev sea was starting to resemble what the Barents used to be. “The polar front is shifting,” the lead author, Dr Sigrid Lind, of the Institute of Marine Science and the University of Bergen, told the Guardian this year. “The Arctic as we know it is about to become history. It will go when stratification breaks down completely and the Atlantic takes over the whole region.”


This has not happened for more than 12,000 years, but the shift is well under way. First to succumb, according to Lind, will be the Barents Sea, which will have no fresh water by 2040, then the Kara sea. The consequences will be far-reaching. The food chain is already affected. Atlantic species of cod, herring and mackerel are moving northwards. For the next 20 to 30 years this could boost fishing catches, but forecasts by Norway suggest boom will turn to bust later as the waters grow too warm for fish larvae.


Photograph: Denis Sinyakov/Greenpeace

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Sep 122016
 
 September 12, 2016  Posted by at 8:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Harris&Ewing WSS (War Savings Stamps) poster, Washington DC 1917

Clinton Health Another Landmine for Suddenly Vulnerable Markets (BBG)
Asia Stocks, Bonds Sell-Off In Central Bank Anxiety Attack (R.)
Global Stocks Sink With Bonds, Commodities as Fed Angst Builds (BBG)
A ‘Perfect Storm’ In Stocks Is Coming, And Nothing Can Stop It (CNBC)
Goldman: We’ve Reached ‘Maximum’ Bullishness; Bad News for US Stocks (BBG)
Governments May Boost Fiscal Stimulus As Central Banks Step Back (CNBC)
Oil Prices Fall As US Drillers Add New Rigs, Long Positions Are Cut (R.)
Woes at Italy’s Biggest Bank Reverberate in Europe (WSJ)
Where Have The Jobs Gone? Australians Grapple With Less Work, Low Pay (R.)
EU/IMF Rift On Greek Debt Is Hurting Country, Says Tsipras (R.)
It’ll Take More Than Hanjin’s Crisis To Fix Shipping’s Overcapacity (CNBC)
Low-Income US Teens Often Forced To Trade Sex For Food (G.)

 

 

Markets are in for a huge US election shock. An apt question Mish asked: what was she doing running around in public with a potentially highly contagious disease? More on this later.

Clinton Health Another Landmine for Suddenly Vulnerable Markets (BBG)

Investors nursing wounds after the worst selloff in three months for equity and debt markets got another stress to ponder after concerns over Hillary Clinton’s health flared anew. The 68-year-old Democratic presidential nominee, whose polling edge over Donald Trump has soothed traders who fear ruptures to U.S. policy and see virtue in political gridlock, is suffering from pneumonia and became overheated and dehydrated during a Sept. 11 commemoration Sunday, forcing her to leave abruptly, her doctor said. Clinton was prescribed antibiotics and advised to modify her schedule so she can rest.

Volatility is already resurfacing in markets that had purred along for two months inured to everything from politics to weakening global growth, with the S&P 500 Index getting jarred Friday out of its tightest trading range ever in a selloff that erased about $500 billion of share value. While investors and analysts were reluctant to speculate on Clinton’s health, they said expectations she will prevail in November have been a factor in the calm and predicted the scrutiny will intensify. “If we found out that there was something catastrophic about her health it obviously would matter, but you have to be very careful about extrapolating shorter-term news,” Jonathan Golub at RBC Capital Markets in New York, said by phone.

“What we do know is we have two candidates around 70 years old and in reality it must be brutal running around the world for two years.” Speculation central banks are losing their taste for extra stimulus on Friday tore through the blanket of tranquility that has enveloped global markets. The S&P 500, global equities and emerging-market assets tumbled at least 2 percent in the biggest drop since Britain voted to secede from the European Union. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note jumped to the highest since June and the dollar almost erased a weekly slide.

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It’s Brainard day. From Friday: “..investors recoiled over news that the central bank’s most dovish official, Governor Lael Brainard, will be delivering a previously unannounced speech Monday..”

Asia Stocks, Bonds Sell-Off In Central Bank Anxiety Attack (R.)

Asian shares suffered their sharpest setback since June on Monday as investors were rattled by rising bond yields and talk the Federal Reserve might be serious about lifting U.S. interest rates as early as next week. Reports that the Bank of Japan was considering ways to steepen the Japanese yield curve, along with worries that central banks more generally were running short of fresh stimulus options, also hit sovereign debt and risk appetite globally. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 2.4%, pulling away from a 13-month peak. It was the largest daily drop since the frenzy caused by Britain’s vote in late June to leave the European Union. On a technical basis the index had been overbought in recent sessions, leaving it vulnerable to a pullback.

Shanghai followed with a fall of 2%, while Australian stocks sank 2.2%. The Nikkei 225 lost 1.9% as the safe haven yen firmed and selling in bonds drove yields on 20-year JGBs to the highest since March. Traders were unsure how the BOJ would try to steepen the yield curve if it goes down that path at a policy review later this month, but markets are worried that tapering of its buying in long-dated bonds could be among the options. EMini futures for the S&P 500, traded in Chicago during Asian hours, swung 0.6% lower, though Treasuries were finding safe-haven demand. Some Fed members have been trying to convince markets that the September meeting would be “live” for a hike, even though futures only imply a one-in-four chance of a move.

No less than three Fed officials are expected to speak later in the day, including board member and noted dove Lael Brainard. Any hint of hawkishness would likely further pressure bonds and equities.

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Angst alright.

Global Stocks Sink With Bonds, Commodities as Fed Angst Builds (BBG)

Global selloffs in stocks and bonds resumed Monday, while commodities slumped amid concern central banks in the world’s biggest economies are questioning the benefits of loose monetary policy. Shares in Europe and Asia dropped by the most since the aftermath of Brexit, and futures foreshadowed declines in U.S. equities. Portugese debt led losses among euro-area bonds, while yields in Australia and New Zealand climbed to their highest levels of the quarter. Oil sank to about $45 a barrel as nickel tumbled the most in four weeks. The yen strengthened and South Korea’s won tumbled. Financial markets have been jolted out of a period of calm by an uptick in concern over the outlook for central bank policies.

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren spurred bets on an interest-rate hike on Friday, saying the U.S. economy could overheat should policy makers wait too long to tighten. The comments came a day after European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi surprised markets by playing down the prospect of further stimulus. The S&P 500 slumped 2.5% Friday, breaking out of a range that hadn’t seen it move more than 1% in either direction for 43 days. “Central banks are reluctant to add additional stimulus and that’s causing a lot of concern,” Niv Dagan, executive director at Peak Asset Management in Melbourne, told Bloomberg Radio. “We expect additional downside in the near term. You want to wait and see and remain cautious,” he said.

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“..I wouldn’t be surprised that we see some kind of repeat as we had towards the end of last year into January-February, which was something close to a 12% correction.”

A ‘Perfect Storm’ In Stocks Is Coming, And Nothing Can Stop It (CNBC)

A sharp stock market pullback is imminent, according to David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff. On Friday, stocks were hammered by fears the Federal Reserve might hike rates sooner than expected, sending the S&P 500 index and the Dow Jones industrial average into a tailspin. According to Rosenberg, there’s more trouble ahead. “You have a perfect storm here if you get something like a Fed rate hike into the next several months,” Rosenberg said Thursday on CNBC’s “Futures Now. “The problem is that the market is not priced for it. I wouldn’t be surprised that we see some kind of repeat as we had towards the end of last year into January-February, which was something close to a 12% correction.”

Rosenberg, who has been named to the U.S. Institutional Investor All-America All Star Team several times in his career, doesn’t think the shake-up can be avoided. His reasoning doesn’t just include a potential Fed rate hike. He also takes into account a more richly valued stock market, signs of investor complacency and a sluggish U.S. economy. “We entered into the third quarter with momentum and a lot of hope, and now we’re exiting the third quarter,” he said. “And, let’s face it: The last five or six [economic] numbers have been really soft,” he contended. “The problem now, looking at where the market is priced, you’ve got cycle high multiples, you’ve got a lot of hedge funds in the futures options market that have been chasing performance here up to the price highs, and it doesn’t take much in the way of any sort of near-term adverse news to cause the market to correct.”

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“Where to Invest Now: None of the Above.”

Goldman: We’ve Reached ‘Maximum’ Bullishness; Bad News for US Stocks (BBG)

U.S. stocks have climbed many walls of worry as they marched to fresh all-time highs in 2016. But the market calm that characterized the summer also propelled investor enthusiasm to extremely elevated levels, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which bodes ill for the near-term performance of equities. Goldman’s sentiment indicator, which tracks S&P 500 futures positioning, now stands at 100 – its maximum level. Readings above 90 or below 10 are contrarian indicators that are “significant in predicting future returns,” writes Chief U.S. Equity Strategist David Kostin in a note titled “Where to Invest Now: None of the Above.” This degree of enthusiasm “points to a 2% near-term S&P 500 fall,” he said.

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AKA: After central banks fail, governments have a go. But they are equally clueless.

Governments May Boost Fiscal Stimulus As Central Banks Step Back (CNBC)

Central banks have done bulk of the heavy lifting to boost growth since the global financial crisis, but economists now were expecting fiscal spending will get some life. Analysts and central bankers alike have talked up the benefits recently of letting the sun shine in on government spending after years of an austerity drumbeat amid an anaemic global recovery from the financial crisis. “Numerous central bankers, including Mario Draghi, have stressed that monetary policy alone cannot get the world out of its current malaise,” noted Andrew Kenningham, senior global economist at Capital Economics, in a note Wednesday.

“The U.S. Treasury Secretary, Jacob Lew, even claimed ahead of the G-20 summit in China last weekend that the U.S. had won the argument in favour of ‘growth rather than austerity’ and that this had prompted a policy shift by many G-20 governments.” That was in part due to the effects of long-running easing efforts by central banks, Kenningham noted. Many sovereigns have seen their bond yields turn negative, while smaller government budget deficits have reduced debt sustainability concerns, he said. “With global growth still lacklustre, monetary policy seemingly ineffective and government bond yields unprecedentedly low, the case for fiscal stimulus has become more compelling,” Kenningham said. “Partly as a result, we now expect advanced economies overall to benefit from a small fiscal boost in the next couple of years.”

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Oil is no longer an industry, it’s a gambling den.

Oil Prices Fall As US Drillers Add New Rigs, Long Positions Are Cut (R.)

Crude prices fell over 1.5% on Monday after U.S. oil drillers added rigs to look for new production as producers adapt to cheaper crude, with speculators cutting positions betting on further price rises. Brent crude futures were trading at $47.29 per barrel at 0200 GMT (10:00 p.m. EDT), down 72 cents, or 1.5%, from their last settlement. U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures were down 80 cents, or 1.74%, at $45.08 a barrel. Traders said the price falls on Monday and Friday were a result of increasing oil drilling activity in the United States, which indicated that producers can operate profitably around current levels.

“Each dollar is being used far more efficiently and, as a result, $50 oil appears much more palatable,” Barclays bank said in a note to clients. U.S. drillers added oil rigs for a tenth week in the past 11, according to a Baker Hughes rig count report on Friday. It was the longest streak without rig cuts since 2011. Speculative oil traders also became less confident of higher oil prices, cutting their net long U.S. crude futures and options positions for a second consecutive week last week, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said on Friday. Oil’s near 5%price decline since Sept. 8 partly reverses a 10% rally early in the month, which was fueled by speculation that oil exporters could cap production.

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“Monte dei Paschi presented a plan in July to sell €28 billion of bad loans at 27% of face value. That has effectively set a new benchmark for the pricing of Italian bad loans..” But UniCredit expects to lose just 10%? Since UniCredit attributes a higher value to its bad loans, a sale of €20 billion of loans would force it to take €2 billion in write-downs…

Woes at Italy’s Biggest Bank Reverberate in Europe (WSJ)

For UniCredit, the summer of discontent for Italy’s banks looks likely to stretch well into the fall—and possibly beyond. UniCredit, Italy’s largest lender by assets, emerged as one of the weakest big banks in Europe in July’s stress tests, showcasing the failure of its attempts to respond to rock-bottom interest rates and a huge pile of bad loans. Now, as Jean-Pierre Mustier, the bank’s new CEO, readies a big-bang plan to revive UniCredit’s fortunes, he faces a series of unpalatable choices: Aggressive action to cut the bank’s €80 billion ($89.9 billion) in bad loans—the largest of any European bank—would force the Milanese bank to raise billions in fresh capital, while an asset sale could help bolster its capital position but would hurt already thin profit.

Meanwhile, the travails of Italy’s No. 3 lender, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, promise to only complicate Mr. Mustier’s job. On Thursday, Monte dei Paschi said its CEO, Fabrizio Viola, had agreed with the bank’s board to resign, in a surprise move that came as that bank works on a plan to shed €28 billion in bad loans. Troubles at UniCredit, which has a vast business in Germany and Eastern Europe, could threaten not only Italy’s ailing economy but also the continent’s already fragile financial stability. Brexit has upended Europe’s status quo, making the financial system more sensitive to shocks. Investors are watching UniCredit closely, as they expect its fate to affect both Italy and potentially other lenders on the continent.

[..] A major move to unload bad loans, perhaps as much as €20 billion, “will be key for a rerating of the stock,” said Vicenzo Longo at IG Markets. However, Monte dei Paschi presented a plan in July to sell €28 billion of bad loans at 27% of face value. That has effectively set a new benchmark for the pricing of Italian bad loans. Since UniCredit attributes a higher value to its bad loans, a sale of €20 billion of loans would force it to take €2 billion in write-downs…

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Quality vs quantity. If it can hide reality in the US, it can do so in Oz.

Where Have The Jobs Gone? Australians Grapple With Less Work, Low Pay (R.)

While the unemployment rate in Australia has been relatively stable, at 5.7% in July, there is a historically high underemployment rate – people who want to work more – of 8.5%. Combined, the measures lead to an underutilisation rate of 14.2%, much higher than during the global financial crisis and a worrying trend for the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). That spare capacity in the labor market limits the ability of workers to push for pay rises, and feeds through to muted demand and confidence. If this trend persists, the RBA could be forced to lower rates again after already easing twice this year. Indeed, wages growth is already at record lows while inflation is likely to remain below the central bank’s target band of 2-3% until 2018.

“For that to turn around you need to see a pick-up in domestic demand,” said Gareth Aird, senior economist at Commonwealth Bank. “We have cash rates down to 1.5% and we’re still not seeing a pick-up in wages or inflation. We probably need to see a pick-up in investment in order to see full-time employment materially lift.” For policymakers – unable to do much in the face of slow global demand – the low business investment is a particularly worrying phenomenon, especially as the end of the mining boom and a slowdown in major trading partner China leave corporate managers leery about spending on new projects. Indeed, latest data showed business investment tumbled in the June quarter as miners continued to cut back while spending plans slipped 9%.

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The Troika enjoys its stranglehold on an entire people.

EU/IMF Rift On Greek Debt Is Hurting Country, Says Tsipras (R.)

A rift between the IMF and the EU on how to address Greece’s debt crisis is damaging for the country, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Sunday. “I would say that what is creating conditions of delay in regaining trust of markets and investors … is the constant clash and disagreement between the IMF and European institutions,” Tsipras told a news conference in the northern city of Thessaloniki. The IMF has yet to decide whether to participate in a third international bailout Greece signed up to in mid-2015, saying it is not convinced its debt is sustainable. The country’s current debt to GDP ratio exceeds 170% of national output, the highest in the eurozone. Tsipras said disagreements between the EU and the IMF was preventing timely participation of the country in the quantitative easing program of the ECB. “A country which has made such harsh adjustment cannot wait much more… It is entitled to a fair regulation of the debt issue. The Greek problem is a European problem,” Tsipras said.

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No-one’s ever considered that trade was a bubble?!

It’ll Take More Than Hanjin’s Crisis To Fix Shipping’s Overcapacity (CNBC)

The crisis surrounding Hanjin Shipping has rocked the industry, but even more shipping lines could find themselves in trouble thanks to the huge amount of overcapacity in the industry, warns the CEO of a logistics company. Hanjin, which had around 3% of market share in shipping, filed for court receivership at the end of August, which has meant that its ships have been denied access to ports and, in some cases, have been seized. One result of Hanjin’s troubles is that shipping rates have spiked. Prices for shipments between Asia and the U.S. have risen 50% through September, according to data from Freightos, an online shipping rate marketplace. However, this is likely to prove temporary, as prices will fluctuate and currently empty container slots are brought into use, the company added.

Not only have shipping rates risen, but companies which were using Hanjin have received charges from some ports, according to Philip Damas, director for supply chain advisors at Drewry. “Some ports have imposed surcharges on exporters and importers who used Hanjin as a carrier and are waiting for their products in the destination port to cover the port costs unpaid by Hanjin. This is also increasing exporters’ costs,” he told CNBC in an email. Hanjin has been a shock to the system, but a glut in the number of ships carrying goods around the world is still an issue, warns Dr. Zvi Schreiber, CEO of Freightos, an online logistics marketplace. “There has been a significant overcapacity, which is why rates have been so low and that’s why Hanjin went bankrupt in the first place, but it’s not clear if that’s enough..”

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A curious article on a curious report. I don’t quite know what to make of it.

Low-Income US Teens Often Forced To Trade Sex For Food (G.)

Teenagers in America are resorting to sex work because they cannot afford food, according to a study that suggests widespread hunger in the world’s wealthiest country. Focus groups in all 10 communities analysed by the Urban Institute, a Washington-based thinktank, described girls “selling their body” or “sex for money” as a strategy to make ends meet. Boys desperate for food were said to go to extremes such as shoplifting and selling drugs. The findings raise questions over the legacy of Bill Clinton’s landmark welfare-reform legislation 20 years ago as well as the spending priorities of Congress and the impact of slow wage growth. Evidence of teenage girls turning to “transactional dating” with older men is likely to cause particular alarm.

“I’ve been doing research in low-income communities for a long time, and I’ve written extensively about the experiences of women in high poverty communities and the risk of sexual exploitation, but this was new,” said Susan Popkin, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and lead author of the report, Impossible Choices. “Even for me, who has been paying attention to this and has heard women tell their stories for a long time, the extent to which we were hearing about food being related to this vulnerability was new and shocking to me, and the level of desperation that it implies was really shocking to me. It’s a situation I think is just getting worse over time.”

The qualitative study, carried out in partnership with the food banks network Feeding America, created two focus groups – one male, one female – in each of 10 poor communities across the US. The locations included big cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington and rural North Carolina and eastern Oregon. A total of 193 participants aged 13 to 18 took part and were allowed to remain anonymous. Their testimony paints a picture of teenagers – often overlooked by policymakers focused on children aged zero to five – missing meals, making sacrifices and going hungry, with worrying long-term consequences. Popkin said: “We heard the same story everywhere, a really disturbing picture about hunger and food insecurity affecting the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable young people.”

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Apr 152016
 
 April 15, 2016  Posted by at 9:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Gottscho-Schleisner Plaza buildings from Central Park, NY 1933

A Year After European Stocks Hit Record, Crash Angst Hits Traders (BBG)
The One Chart That Shows ECB Money Printing Is Failing (Ind.)
Oil Demand Falls Much Faster Than Supply (Berman)
Oil Producers Head For Doha Counting $315 Billion Cost Of Slump (BBG)
Soured Corporate Loans Surge at Biggest US Banks on Oil (BBG)
China’s Economy Faces Recovery Without Legs (WSJ)
China’s Giant Bonfire Of Debt Needs One Spark To Become An Inferno (MW)
Funny Numbers Show Money Leaving China (Balding)
China Is Set to Allow Banks to Swap Bad Loans for Equity in Borrowers (WSJ)
China’s Giant Steel Industry Just Churned Out Record Supply (BBG)
What Negative Interest Rates Mean for the World (WSJ)
Negative Rates: Danish Couple Gets Paid Interest on Their Mortgage (WSJ)
Deutsche Bank Settles Silver, Gold Price-Manipulation Suits (BBG)
IMF Says Greek Debt Numbers Don’t Add Up as EU Defends Its Plan (BBG)
UK and European Allies Plan To Deal ‘Hammer Blow’ To Tax Evasion (G.)
Spanish Industry Minister Resigns After Panama Papers Revelations (AFP)
Ten European Nations Want Military Planes For Refugee Deportations (AP)

Let that graph sink in.

A Year After European Stocks Hit Record, Crash Angst Hits Traders (BBG)

A year ago today, European equities hit their highest levels ever. But the euphoria about Mario Draghi’s stimulus program didn’t last, and trader skepticism is now rampant. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index has lost 17% since its record, and investors who piled in last year are now unwinding bets at the fastest rate since 2013 as analysts predict an earnings contraction. The trading pattern looks familiar: a fast run to just over 400 on the gauge, then disaster. Optimism has turned to doubt with ECB President Draghi’s bond-buying program doing little to bolster the economy while sowing concerns about bank profitability. To Benedict Goette of Crossbow Partners, the odds of another crisis are higher than a rally to fresh records.

“The 2009-2015 rally originated from two main drivers: a massive stimulus, and credit expansion in China,” said Goette. “European earnings have not followed suit so far. Skepticism regarding central-bank operations has started to emerge.” Even with a recent rebound, the Stoxx 600 remains 6% lower for the year, and strategists are predicting the gauge will end 2016 at about the same level where it started. Analysts, who in January called for earnings growth, are now expecting declines of 2.8%. Investors have withdrawn money from funds tracking the region’s equities for nine straight weeks, the longest streak since May 2013, according to a Bank of America note dated April 7 that cited EPFR Global data.

Since last year’s peak, all industry groups in the Stoxx 600 have fallen, with lenders, miners and automakers down more than 25%. Traders have had to contend with a rebound in the euro despite additional ECB stimulus, persistently low inflation and slowing growth from China. Fewer than one in five fund managers are confident Draghi’s easing will be a major source of growth for Europe, a Bank of America survey showed April 12.

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In case that wasn’t clear yet.

The One Chart That Shows ECB Money Printing Is Failing (Ind.)

Good news: prices are no longer falling in the eurozone. But don’t break out the champagne. According to the European number crunchers Eurostat consumer prices across the 19 nation bloc were flat on a year earlier in March. The inflation rate was zero. This means the eurozone remains very much within the deflationary danger zone. The ECB has been trying to break the grip of deflation – which can be lethal for economic growth – on the bloc for more than a year now. To this end the ECB’s president Mario Draghi announced a major programme to buy up eurozone government bonds and company debt in January 2015.

The central bank has been buying €60bn of these assets a month in the hope that that flood of money entering the continent’s financial system would lift inflation into positive territory. The trouble is, as the chart below shows, is that all that money printing doesn’t seem to be working in pushing up prices. But the ECB is not giving up. In December it announced that it would continue its programme until March 2017 “or beyond”. The programme was originally supposed to end in September 2016. And in March it upped the size of the monthly bond purchases to €80bn. In other words, the ECB will continue printing money until inflation rises to the central bank’s target of (just below) 2% a year.

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“Supply increased only 20,000 barrels per day in March. Consumption, however, decreased by 250,000 barrels per day.”

Oil Demand Falls Much Faster Than Supply (Berman)

Oil prices have increased 60% since late January. Is this an oil-price recovery? Two previous price rallies ended badly because they had little basis in market-balance fundamentals. The current rally will probably fail for the same reason. Although oil prices reached the highest levels so far in 2016 during the past few days, the global over-supply of oil worsened in March. EIA data released this week shows that the net surplus (supply minus consumption) increased to 1.45 million barrels per day (Figure 1). Compared to February, the surplus increased 270,000 barrels per day. That’s a bad sign for the durable price recovery that some believe is already underway.

The production freeze that OPEC plus Russia will discuss this weekend has already arrived. Supply increased only 20,000 barrels per day in March. Consumption, however, decreased by 250,000 barrels per day. That’s not good news for the world economy although first quarter consumption is commonly lower than levels during the second half of the year. Meanwhile on Wednesday, April 12, Brent futures closed at almost $45 and WTI futures at more than $42 per barrel, the highest oil prices since early December 2015.


Figure 1. EIA world liquids market balance (supply minus consumption). Source: EIA STEO April 2016 Labyrinth Consulting Services, Inc.

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Any agreement willl exist on paper only.

Oil Producers Head For Doha Counting $315 Billion Cost Of Slump (BBG)

The world’s top oil exporters are burning through their petrodollar assets at an accelerating pace, increasing the pressure to reach a deal to freeze production to bolster prices. The 18 nations set to gather in Doha on Sunday to discuss a production freeze have spent $315 billion of their foreign-exchange reserves – about a fifth of their total – since the oil slump started in November 2014, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In the last three months of 2015, reserves fell nearly $54 billion, the largest quarterly drop since the crisis started. The petrodollar burn has consequences beyond the oil nations, affecting international fund managers like Aberdeen Asset Management and global currencies markets.

Oil nations have traditionally held their reserves in U.S. Treasuries and other liquid securities. Nonetheless, the impact in credit markets has been muted as central banks continue to buy debt. “We expect 2016 to be yet another painful year for most of the oil states,” said Abhishek Deshpande, oil analyst at Natixis in London. The gathering in Doha will comprise both OPEC and non-OPEC states, though any deal to boost prices will probably be largely cosmetic as countries are already pumping nearly at record levels. In a letter inviting countries to the Doha meeting, Qatar Energy Minister Mohammed Al Sada said oil countries need to stabilize the market in “the interest of a healthier world economy as the present low price is seen to be benefiting no one.”

Saudi Arabia accounts for nearly half of the decline in foreign-exchange reserves among oil producers, with $138 billion – or 23% of its total – followed by Russia, Algeria, Libya and Nigeria. In the final three months of last year, Saudi Arabia burned through $38.1 billion, the biggest quarterly reduction in data going back to 1962.

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“Soured loans to companies jumped 67% at the three biggest U.S. banks in the first quarter..”

Soured Corporate Loans Surge at Biggest US Banks on Oil (BBG)

Soured loans to companies jumped 67% at the three biggest U.S. banks in the first quarter, the latest sign that corporate credit quality is eroding after energy prices plunged. At Bank of America, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo, bad loans to companies reached their highest levels since at least 2013. For now, weakness is mainly confined to oil and gas and related industries, executives said. U.S. crude has tumbled more than 60% since June 2014, although they have rallied since February. Troubled loans have broadly been declining at big banks for years, and at JPMorgan and Bank of America, are less than 1% of total assets.

But there are signs that default risk is rising in sectors outside of energy, including health care, James Elder, a director in corporate and financial institutions at Standard & Poor’s, said in a presentation this week. Charles Peabody, a banking analyst at Portales Partners, downgraded JPMorgan to “underperform” from “market perform” in February in part because of concerns about the potential for mounting credit losses. “We’re at the very early stages of an inflection point in corporate credit quality, and it’s getting worse from here,” Peabody said. Pri de Silva, an analyst at CreditSights, is among those who see current credit problems as limited to oil and gas and related industries. “At this point, I don’t see much contagion,” he said.

Banks have been getting ready for loans to deteriorate – the industry added $1.43 billion in the fourth quarter to the total money it has set aside to cover bad loans, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data compiled by Bloomberg, the first time banks in aggregate added to reserves since 2009. Banks usually classify loans to companies as “nonperforming” after the borrower is delinquent for 90 days. Loans that are unlikely to be repaid are also typically designated as “nonperforming.” Now loans are actually souring. At JPMorgan, bad loans to companies more than doubled to $2.21 billion from $1.02 billion in the fourth quarter, according to company filings. Bank of America said they rose 32% to $1.6 billion. And at Wells Fargo, they rose 64% to $3.97 billion, which includes $343 million from loans it acquired from GE Capital.

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This is such a contradiction in terms it’s crazy the WSJ prints it: “China’s economy may have stabilized for now, thanks to gobs of new debt..”

China’s Economy Faces Recovery Without Legs (WSJ)

China’s economy may have stabilized for now, thanks to gobs of new debt and a reflating property bubble. Dipping into that old bag of tricks, however, seems likely to dredge up the same old problems. Official data showed China’s GDP slowed to 6.7% in the first quarter from a year earlier. As expected, that is the slowest in years, but underlying data showed activity picked up toward the end of the quarter. Home buyers, for instance, continued to splash out for new property, with residential sales rising 54% in the first quarter from a year earlier. That has emboldened developers to start to build again, with housing starts rising 16% in the first quarter, after falling 15% last year. That augurs well for employment and demand for raw materials. But it is hard to see China’s property market—which in past years generated directly and indirectly up to a third of all economic activity—returning to its past glory.

Much of the recovery in prices and activity has been in China’s so-called tier one cities—the four largest cities—and regulators there are already clamping down to prevent things from getting out of hand. In the rest of China, the property recovery is far more subdued, and inventories of unsold apartments remain substantial. Around 95% of real estate sales occur outside of those top four cities, notes Louis Kuijs of Oxford Economics, so unless the boom spreads, the impact on the broader economy will remain muted. China’s old economy sectors also seem to have awoken somewhat from their slumber. Industrial production grew 6.8% in March, the fastest in nine months. Fixed asset investment, spending on things like factories and infrastructure, grew 11.2%, much faster than the 6.8% low it hit in December.

Driving all this activity: easy money. Real interest rates have fallen. And nominal GDP grew faster than real GDP for the first time in five quarters, which in theory makes servicing debt easier. What should trouble investors is that while China’s economic activity is ticking up, debt is piling up faster. The stock of total financing in the economy, including bond issuance as part of a local government bailout program, rose 15.8% in March from a year ago, the fastest rate since mid-2014. With nominal GDP growing 7.2%, Beijing’s plans to deleverage the economy continue to be overwhelmed by the need to support growth. China bulls will be pleased by the data, hoping that a proper recovery is at hand. Those hopes may prove short lived. The more the recovery is fueled by debt and property, the more concerned Beijing will be that it is pushing the gas too hard and will have to ease off sooner than people think.

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“In a developed economy, Ponzi lending of such an enormous scale would lead to widespread bankruptcies, unemployment and massive losses for investors and lenders. This hasn’t happened yet because Chinese debt has been expanding at an ever-faster rate.”

China’s Giant Bonfire Of Debt Needs One Spark To Become An Inferno (MW)

China’s debt bonfire has been building for decades, but recent news and data points to it growing faster than ever with a greater risk of becoming an economy-scorching inferno. There are three key components to this analogy: the wood, the accelerant and the matches. First the wood, which is an ever-growing stockpile of debt that cannot be serviced from profits. Macquarie Research found that 23% of bonds issued were by companies that don’t generate enough operating profit to cover their interest. This aligns with a Bloomberg report that the median Chinese listed company generates enough operating profit to cover their interest two times, down from a ratio of six times in 2010. Another report found that 45% of new company debt is raised to pay interest on existing debt.

In a developed economy, Ponzi lending of such an enormous scale would lead to widespread bankruptcies, unemployment and massive losses for investors and lenders. This hasn’t happened yet because Chinese debt has been expanding at an ever-faster rate. China’s total debt levels grew to about 300% of GDP last year from about 250% of GDP in 2014 and set a new record for a single month in January, growing at roughly 5% of the size of the economy. Problems have been covered over as the Chinese banking regulator is forcing banks to lend to companies that can’t pay their interest and would otherwise default. We know the bonfire is big and the wood is dry. The next step is to figure how quickly a fire could spread once it begins.

The second key component is the accelerant, which is the relatively high proportion of debt borrowed for short periods. Chinese wealth management products are typically sold by banks as an alternative to term deposits that pay much higher interest rates. Borrowers are almost always promised their money back within six months. The underlying investments are typically loans to companies that banks are unwilling to lend to. These borrowers have little prospect of repaying the debt at maturity unless someone else is willing to provide more debt. Another source of short-term funding is peer-to-peer platforms. However, 28% of these are thought to be fraudulent. In the institutional funding market, there’s commercial paper, which is composed of corporate debts of 270 days or less. Outstanding Chinese commercial paper was $1.61 trillion at the end of 2015, far larger than the U.S. equivalent at $1.05 trillion.

As shown by the financial crisis in 2008, short-term debt is an accelerant to fires in credit systems. Within a week of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, 26% of U.S. commercial paper disappeared. Investors were no longer willing to lend without asking questions and borrowers were sent scurrying for other sources of capital. A run on short-term funding sources quickly spreads the fire from one bankrupt borrower to many other borrowers.

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“Chinese customs officials reported $1.68 trillion in imports last year. Banks, on the other hand, claimed to have paid $2.2 trillion for those same imports. While the official balance-of-payments records a current account surplus of $331 billion in 2015, banks’ payments and receipts show a $122 billion deficit.”

Funny Numbers Show Money Leaving China (Balding)

News that China’s foreign-exchange reserves rose by $10 billion in March rather than declining has quieted doomsayers. Worries that the reserves could dip to dangerous levels as soon as this summer – after shrinking by an estimated $1 trillion last year – appear to have been premature. Still, questions linger over exactly how much money is leaving China and why. The true picture may not be as rosy as the headline numbers suggest. Before the March upturn, capital had been flooding out of China at a rapid clip – an average of $48 billion per month over the previous six months, according to official bank data. The reasons were several. Fearing further declines in the value of the yuan, several companies paid off their dollar loans; others pursued big acquisitions abroad. Individual investors sought out higher returns as the Fed prepared to raise rates.

The government spent billions to prop up the value of the currency. Some individuals and companies reduced their offshore yuan deposits. Still others looked to spirit money out of the country to safer havens. The question is how much money has been leaving for which reasons. Some analysts, including economists at the Bank for International Settlements, have argued that the bulk of these outflows are healthy, mostly involving companies paying down their foreign debt. However, the BIS study, which estimates that such repayments accounted for nearly a quarter of the $163 billion of non-reserve outflows in the third quarter of 2015, focuses on a very narrow slice of time. Foreign debt obligations grew rapidly in late 2014 and the first half of 2015, then shrunk dramatically in the third quarter.

Moreover, what those official figures miss are hidden outflows, disguised primarily as payments for imports, which appear to have created a $71 billion current account deficit in the same quarter, according to bank payments data. In effect, enterprising Chinese are overpaying massively for the products they’re importing. Chinese customs officials reported $1.68 trillion in imports last year. Banks, on the other hand, claimed to have paid $2.2 trillion for those same imports. While the official balance-of-payments records a current account surplus of $331 billion in 2015, banks’ payments and receipts show a $122 billion deficit. Overpaying for imported goods and services is a clever way for Chinese companies and citizens to move money out of the country surreptitiously.

Let’s say a foreign country exports $1 million worth of goods to China. Chinese customs officials will faithfully record $1 million in imports. But when the importer goes to the bank, he’ll either use fraudulent documentation or bribe a bank official to record a $2 million payment to the foreign counterparty. Presumably, the excess $1 million ends up in a private bank account. While some discrepancies are to be expected in data like this, the size and steady increase in the gap since 2012 implies that something shadier is going on. When Chinese companies pay down debt, or make big acquisitions abroad, they do so openly. These other outflows – which topped half a trillion dollars last year – seem far more likely to be driven by individuals and companies simply seeking to get their money out of the country.

The timing is also telling. The discrepancy began to grow rapidly in 2012, just as growth peaked and concerns began to rise among affluent Chinese about the economy and a political transition. Since then, fake import payments have grown from $140 billion to $524 billion in 2015. During that period, growth in China has slowed, rates of return on investment have declined and surplus capacity has exploded. Investment opportunities have shrunk, while state-owned enterprises have crowded out private investors. Certainly the latter have good reason to seek better returns elsewhere.

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“Corporate debt now amounts to 160% of China’s GDP… That is up from 98% in 2008 and compares with a current U.S. level of 70%.”

China Is Set to Allow Banks to Swap Bad Loans for Equity in Borrowers (WSJ)

China is planning a debt-for-equity swap program that could provide large companies mired in overcapacity a way to reduce their debt burdens, the country’s top central banker said on Thursday. The deepening slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy has heightened the need for Chinese authorities to come up with ways to help the country’s heavily-indebted corporate sector deleverage. A plan in the works involves enabling banks to exchange bad loans for equity in companies they lend to. Speaking at a small-business financing event hosted by the OECD on Thursday, Zhou Xiaochuan, Gov. of the People’s Bank of China, said the planned debt-for-equity swap program would mainly help large companies plagued with excessive industrial capacity cut bank debt.

The event was held on the sidelines of a Group of 20 finance-chief meeting this week. Small Chinese companies, Mr. Zhou said, aren’t expected to benefit significantly from this program as they’re less indebted than their bigger brethren. He pointed to a persistent challenge faced by China’s policy makers: Despite a relative high leverage ratio in China’s economy, small businesses “still have difficulty in accessing bank loans.” In the past couple of years, the central bank has taken a number of steps—such as targeted credit-easing measures—to encourage banks to lend to small and private companies. But so far progress has been slow as large state banks, which dominate corporate lending in China, still prefer to lend to large state-owned corporate clients.

“We don’t have enough community banks to lend to small- and medium-sized enterprises,” Mr. Zhou said. The planned debt-for-equity swap program is a potentially controversial step that many Chinese bankers say could saddle banks with near-worthless stock and squeeze their liquidity. Analysts also say the move could risk keeping “zombie” companies afloat while making lenders even more strapped for capital. [..] Corporate debt now amounts to 160% of China’s GDP, according to Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services. That is up from 98% in 2008 and compares with a current U.S. level of 70%.

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Steel exports are Beijing’s only window to avert widespread job losses and hence unrest.

China’s Giant Steel Industry Just Churned Out Record Supply (BBG)

The world’s biggest steel producer pushed output to a record in March as mills in China fired up plants to take advantage of a price surge since the start of the year that’s rescued profit margins. Output rose 2.9% to 70.65 million metric tons from a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Friday. That’s the highest ever, according to data from state-owned researcher Beijing Antaike Information. Still, for the first quarter, supply fell 3.2% to 192 million tons. The country’s steelmakers are ramping up output after cuts at the end of 2015 fueled a major price surge that has rippled out to world markets. The mills’ busiest-ever month came as figures showed that China’s economy stabilized, aided by a rebound in the property market.

Last year, the country’s steel output shrank for the first time since 1981 as demand contracted and mills battled surging losses and too much capacity, and forecasters including Australia’s government expect a further decline in 2016. “It’s normal to see higher output in March but this is a significant increase,” said Kevin Bai, a Beijing-based researcher at consultancy CRU Group. “Right now, the mills are making money. The market is still relatively tight and this has encouraged some producers to return.”

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They mean price discovery is dead for the moment. But it will be back. And what will central banks do then?

What Negative Interest Rates Mean for the World (WSJ)

Central bankers around the world are pushing deeper into the once-unthinkable world of negative interest rates — essentially charging customers to hold their cash. Denmark set negative interest rates as early as 2012, followed by the ECB in 2014. Since then, they’ve been joined by Switzerland and Sweden. In Asia, the Bank of Japan announced a negative interest rate policy in January this year. Hungary became the first emerging market to experiment with negative rates, taking the plunge in March. With more of the world’s central banks joining in, and rates pushing further below zero, The Wall Street Journal this week explores how negative rates appear to be working in various settings and what they mean for policymakers and markets.

In Denmark: Some mortgage holders are the envy of home owners around the world. With negative interest rates, they’re actually receiving interest payments from the banks they initially borrowed from.

In Switzerland: Few banks are dealing with negative interest rates by passing them on to their customers, but Alternative Bank Schweiz in Switzerland is bucking the trend, and charging clients to hold their deposits.

In Germany: Life insurance companies with long term liabilities are feeling the squeeze of negative interest rates. Some groups require an annual yield of more than 5% to sustain their businesses, driving a typically low risk industry into increasingly risky assets.

In Japan: The announcement of negative interest rates spurred a massive rise in prices on the government’s 40 year bond, gains only usually seen on bonds in emerging markets like Venezuela. But even in Japanese government bonds, investors are taking on a new risk: duration. Money market trading is also withering in Japan, as the new interest rates set into place. The trading confirmation system used by domestic banks wasn’t fully updated until a month after the Bank of Japan’s rate cut.

In the U.S: policymakers are weighing up whether the policy could work for them. The U.S. economy is preparing for higher rather than lower rates, but even the Federal Reserve is investigating whether going negative might work in the event of another downturn.

And for monetary policy: What comes after negative rates? Helicopter money is one answer, according to James Mackintosh, as perverse effects of negative rate policies begin to crop up. Around the world, it looks like negative interest rates are here to stay. And like it or not, so are their effects.

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“The ECB and the Bank of Japan, grappling with stagnant economies, are using subzero rates to stimulate growth.” Which clearly doesn’t work.

Negative Rates: Danish Couple Gets Paid Interest on Their Mortgage (WSJ)

Hans Peter Christensen got some unusual news when he opened his most recent mortgage statement. His quarterly interest payment was negative 249 Danish kroner. Instead of paying interest on the loan he got a decade ago to buy a house in [Aalborg] , his bank paid him the equivalent of $38 in interest for the quarter. As of Dec. 31, his mortgage rate, excluding fees, stood at negative 0.0562%. It has been nearly four years since Denmark entered the world of negative monetary policy, and borrowers and lenders alike are still trying to make sense of the upside-down world it has brought. “My parents said I should frame it, to prove to coming generations that this ever happened,” said Mr. Christensen, a 35-year-old financial consultant, about his bank statement.

Denmark isn’t the only place where central bankers are experimenting with negative rates. The ECB and the Bank of Japan, grappling with stagnant economies, are using subzero rates to stimulate growth. Switzerland and Sweden, like Denmark, are trying negative rates to keep their currencies in line with the struggling euro. Denmark, where the central bank’s benchmark rate stands at minus 0.65%, has lived in negative territory longer than any other country. Neighboring Sweden has been below zero for 14 months, and its central bank has said it would go lower than the current benchmark of negative 0.5% if it needs to. In Norway, the central bank still has positive rates, but it is considering resorting to negative ones to prop up an economy hit hard by the prolonged spell of low oil prices.

Scandinavia’s experience has given economists a chance to study what happens when rates drop below zero—long considered an inviolable floor on rates. Already, there are concerns about undesirable side effects. Consumer savings accounts pay no interest, and there is pressure on bank profitability. A boom in real-estate borrowing has kindled fears that problems will arise if rates bounce back up. “If you had said this would happen a few years ago, you would have been considered out of your mind,” said Torben Andersen, a professor at Denmark’s Aarhus University who serves on the government’s economic-advisory council.

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Watch derivatives.

Deutsche Bank Settles Silver, Gold Price-Manipulation Suits (BBG)

Deutsche Bank has reached settlements in lawsuits over allegations it manipulated gold and silver prices, lawyers for traders of the commodities said in court filings. Attorneys for futures contract traders in two private lawsuits said in letters filed Wednesday and Thursday in Manhattan federal court that the bank has executed term sheets and is negotiating final details for the accords. The German financial firm also agreed to help the plaintiffs pursue similar claims against other banks as part of the settlements, according to the letters. Vincent Briganti and Robert Eisler, attorneys for traders in the silver-fixing lawsuit, said Deutsche Bank will turn over instant messages and other communications to help further their case. Financial terms of the settlements weren’t disclosed.

“In addition to valuable monetary consideration to be paid into a settlement fund, the term sheet also provides for other valuable consideration such as provisions requiring Deutsche Bank’s cooperation in pursuing claims against the remaining defendants,” attorneys Daniel Brockett and Merrill Davidoff said in their letter Thursday in the gold-fixing lawsuit. Silver and gold futures traders sued groups of banks in 2014 alleging they rigged prices for the precious metals and their derivatives. Silver traders brought claims against Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Bank of Nova Scotia and UBS. Gold traders additionally sued Barclays and Societe Generale.

The traders alleged the banks abused their positions of controlling daily silver and gold fixes to reap illegitimate profits from trading and hurting other investors in those markets who use the benchmark in billions of dollars of transactions, according to versions of the complaints filed in 2015. Of those banks, only Deutsche Bank has reached a settlement.

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This discussion is sinking to Forrest Gump levels.

IMF Says Greek Debt Numbers Don’t Add Up as EU Defends Its Plan (BBG)

The IMF raised doubts about Greece’s ability to keep up repayments under a plan being negotiated with its European creditors, who insisted they’ve already provided plenty of debt relief. “Currently, as envisaged, the debt is not sustainable and what is required is a debt operation,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said Thursday in Washington, where finance ministers and central bankers are attending the fund’s spring meetings. Lagarde said she’s skeptical about Greece’s ability to meet the budget surplus target set under an €86 billion bailout by euro-area governments, who are reviewing whether to release the loan’s second installment. Under the EU program, Greece is committed to posting a fiscal surplus before interest payments of 3.5% of gross domestic product within two years.

The IMF has said it might be willing to pitch in a new loan itself, but Lagarde said the fund wants the country’s recovery plan to be based on “realism and sustainability.” “We cannot have far-fetched fantasy hypotheticals concerning the future of the Greek economy,” said the IMF chief, who was reappointed in February for a second five-year term. She said debt relief by euro-area countries doesn’t necessarily have to involve a “haircut” on principal, and could take the form of maturity extensions, interest reductions or a “debt holiday.” The more Greece cuts spending through reforms, the less debt restructuring will be required, Lagarde said. “Bottom line, it needs to all add up,” she said. The EU line has been that the numbers already add up.

On Thursday, a spokesman for euro-area finance ministers rejected the notion that Greece’s debt is unsustainable. “We did already a lot to make it more sustainable – lowering the interest rates, lengthening the maturities,” said Jeroen Dijsselbloem of the Netherlands, president of the Eurogroup, made up of the currency zone’s finance ministers. “So for the coming five to 10 years, I don’t think there is a big debt-service issue. I think the Greeks can pay on an annual basis.”

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What you find in the dictionary under both ‘Useless’ and ‘Lip service’. Nothing happened for years and years, and one leak later they’re all knights of justice?!

UK and European Allies Plan To Deal ‘Hammer Blow’ To Tax Evasion (G.)

Britain and its European allies have announced new “hammer blow” rules against tax evasion in direct response to the Panama Papers leak that exposed how the world’s richest and most powerful people hide their wealth from the taxman. George Osborne announced on Thursday, in partnership with his counterparts from France, Germany, Spain and Italy, new rules that will lead to the automatic sharing of information about the true owners of complex shell companies and overseas trusts. The chancellor said the new rules, agreed this week in direct response to the Panama Papers leak, were “a hammer blow against those that would illegally evade taxes and hide their wealth in the dark corners of the financial system.

“Britain will work with our major European partners to find out who really owns the secretive shell companies and trusts that have been used as conduits for evading tax, laundering money and benefiting from corruption. “Strong words of condemnation are not enough, populist outrage doesn’t by itself collect a single extra pound or dollar in tax or put a single criminal in jail,” Osborne said at the spring meetings of the IMF in Washington. “What we need is international action now, and that’s precisely what we are doing today with real concrete action in the war against tax evasion.” He said the transparency rules on beneficial ownership showed that Britain and other governments are working to shine a spotlight on “those hiding spaces, those dark corners of the global financial system”.

He said he hoped the rules, which will come into effect in January 2017, would be followed up by other countries. Ángel Gurría, the secretary general of the OECD, said the release of the Panama Papers showed that there was no room for complacency in the international effort to crack down on tax evasion. He said it was no surprise that the rich and the powerful were using Panama to evade tax as “it is one of the few jurisdictions that has pushed against” international measures to improve tax and ownership transparency. “We have to crack down on the professional enablers – lawyers, accountants, financial institutions – that play a key role in maintaining the veil of secrecy,” he said.

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Whackamole.

Spanish Industry Minister Resigns After Panama Papers Revelations (AFP)

Spain’s industry minister resigned Friday after he was named in the Panama Papers and other media revelations that claimed he had links to offshore firms, the latest political victim from the global scandal. Jose Manuel Soria said in a statement that he had tendered his resignation “in light of the succession of mistakes committed along the past few days, relating to my explanations over my business activities… and considering the obvious harm that this situation is doing to the Spanish government.” Soria’s troubles began on Monday when Spanish online daily El Confidencial, which has had access to the Panama Papers – files leaked from law firm Mossack Fonseca – said he had was an administrator of an offshore firm for two months in 1992.

Soria called a news conference to deny any link to any Panamanian company, but as the week went by, more allegations emerged from other media outlets, revealing further alleged connections to offshore havens. It is unclear as yet whether any of his alleged actions were illegal. Soria is the latest political victim of the Panama Papers, which resulted from what the law firm blamed on a computer hack launched from abroad, and revealed how the world’s wealthy stashed assets in offshore companies. Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson was also forced to resign over the leaks.

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We keep thinking it’s not possible, but Europe keeps finding ways to sink deeper in its moral morass. It’s almost an achievement.

Ten European Nations Want Military Planes For Refugee Deportations (AP)

Austria and nine East European and Balkan states are calling for an EU declaration endorsing the use of military aircraft for the deportation of migrants who have no chance for asylum, or whose request for that status have been rejected. The Austria Press Agency says the request is being made in a letter to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, signed by Austrian Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil on behalf of Austria and the other countries. APA on Thursday quoted the letter as saying the use of military aircraft should be “seen as an integral and decisive element of a full repatriation program.” The agency said the letter asked for the issue to be on the agenda of the next EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg on April 19.

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