Dec 212016
 
 December 21, 2016  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Laurits Andersen Ring At Breakfast 1898

Most Expensive Housing Ever: A 1% Mortgage Rate Surge Changes Everything (MH)
This Christmas Americans Will Spend An Average Of $422 Per Child (EC)
Ray Dalio Says Animal Spirits Under Donald Trump Just Getting Started (F.)
Someone Has to Tell The Fed Inflation Is Not Accelerating (CEPR)
Brace Yourself For Italy’s Bankruptcy (Gavekal)
Italy Bank Rescue Won’t Fill $54 Billion Hole in Balance Sheets (BBG)
Top French Banks Sue ECB To Reduce Capital Demands (R.)
Spanish Banks Lose EU Case on Mortgage Interest Repayments (BBG)
India’s Small Businesses Facing ‘Apocalypse’ (G.)
Let The Yuan Fall Or Not? Beijing’s Big Burning Currency Question (SCMP)
Yuan Bears Strike as Capital Outflows Override PBOC (BBG)
To Problems With China’s Financial System, Add the Bond Market (NYT)
China’s Anticorruption Drive Ensnares the Lowly and Rattles Families (WSJ)
Smog Refugees Flee Chinese Cities As ‘Airpocalypse’ Blights Half A Billion (G.)
Obama Invokes 1953 Law To Indefinitely Block Arctic, Atlantic Drilling (CNBC)

 

 

Income vs prices has never been more expensive. There’s much more in Hanson’s article.

Most Expensive Housing Ever: A 1% Mortgage Rate Surge Changes Everything (MH)

BUILDER HOUSES: The average $361k builder house requires nearly $65k in income assuming a 4.5% rate, 20% down, and A-grade credit. Problem is, 20% + A-credit are hard to come by. For buyers with less down or worse credit, far more than $65k is needed. For the past 30-YEARS income required to buy the average priced house has remained relatively consistent, as mortgage rate credit manipulation made houses cheaper. Bottom line: Reversion to the mean can occur through house price declines, credit easing, a mortgage rate plunge to the high 2%’s, or a combination of all three. However, because rates are still historically low and mortgage guidelines historically easy, the path of least resistance is lower house prices.

The following chart compares Bubble 1.0 (2004 and 2006) to Bubble 2.0 on an apples-to-apples basis using the popular loan programs of each era. Bottom line: Builder prices are up 19% from 2006 but the monthly payment is 43% greater and annual income needed to qualify for a mortgage 83% more.

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‘T is the season to be plastic.

This Christmas Americans Will Spend An Average Of $422 Per Child (EC)

For many Americans, the quality of Christmas is determined by the quality of the presents. This is especially true for our children, and some of them literally spend months anticipating their haul on Christmas morning. I know that when I was growing up Christmas was all about the presents. Yes, adults would give lip service to the other elements of Christmas, but all of the other holiday activities could have faded away and it still would have been Christmas as long as presents were under that tree on the morning of December 25th. Perhaps things are different in your family, but it is undeniable that for our society as a whole gifts are the central feature of the holiday season. And that is why so many parents feel such immense pressure to spend a tremendous amount of money on gifts for their children each year.

Of course this pressure that they feel is constantly being reinforced by television ads and big Hollywood movies that continuously hammer home what a “good Christmas” should look like. Once again in 2016, parents will spend far more money than they should because they want to make their children happy. According to a brand new survey from T. Rowe Price, parents in the United States will spend an average of 422 dollars per child this holiday season… “More than half of parents report they aim to get everything on their kids’ wish lists this year, spending an average of $422 per child, according to a new survey from T. Rowe Price.” To me, that seems like a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a single child, but this is apparently what people are doing.

But can most families really afford to be spending so wildly? Of course not. As I have detailed previously, 69% of all Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. That means that about two-thirds of the country is essentially living paycheck to paycheck. So all of this reckless spending brings with it a lot of additional financial pressure. But because we are a “buy now, pay later” society, we do it anyway. We are willing to mortgage a little bit of the future in order to have a nice Christmas now. Another new survey has found that close to half the country feels “pressure to spend more than they can afford during the holiday season”…

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Possible only -beyond short term- with Fed money. Animal spirits sounds cute, but all investors have is money based on ultra cheap rates.

Ray Dalio Says Animal Spirits Under Donald Trump Just Getting Started (F.)

During the dark days of the financial crisis Ray Dalio, head of the world’s largest hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, published papers and YouTube seminars to describe the forces that drive the economy and explain why severe cycles like the credit collapse occur. The effort was intended to guide productive responses to the implosion of Wall Street, which crippled Main Street, and avert policies that could diminish a recovery. With the Dow Jones Industrial Average nearing a record 20,000, unemployment below 5% and the U.S. economy in the seventh year of a recovery, Dalio’s tomes on ‘how the economic machine works’ aren’t as top of mind as they once were. But that’s not to say Dalio, one of Wall Street’s weightiest hedge fund investors, has lost interest in the subject.

On Tuesday morning, Dalio published a monthly update that indicates he believes the U.S. economy is poised for a sudden and dramatic shift under President-elect Donald Trump. If the economic machine is presently churning along in a steady but somewhat muted recovery from the Great Recession, Dalio believes it may kick into overdrive as Trump implements a pro-business agenda that could stimulate the animal spirits of investors and businesses across United States. “[T]he Trump administration could have a much bigger impact on the US economy than one would calculate on the basis of changes in tax and spending policies alone because it could ignite animal spirits and attract productive capital,” Dalio states in a post published to LinkedIn. He adds, “regarding igniting animal spirits, if this administration can spark a virtuous cycle in which people can make money, the move out of cash (that pays them virtually nothing) to risk-on investments could be huge.”

Dalio believes Trump has staffed his administration with business-people who will be inclined to take quick action on perceived drags on the economy, whether that involves taxation, regulation or labor laws. What’s also clear is Dalio believes there are presently major impediments to the economy that need to be lifted. “This new administration hates weak, unproductive, socialist people and policies, and it admires strong, can-do, profit makers,” says Dalio. The Trump administration “wants to, and probably will, shift the environment from one that makes profit makers villains with limited power to one that makes them heroes with significant power,” he adds [..] “A pro-business US with its rule of law, political stability, property rights protections, and (soon to be) favorable corporate taxes offers a uniquely attractive environment for those who make money and/or have money. These policies will also have shocking negative impacts on certain sectors,” Dalio says, without describing in more detail the winners and losers.

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The ongoing confusions about what inflation is. One key rule: if spending doesn’t rise, and by a lot, there will be no inflation. There may be higher prices for some things, but that’s not the same. And where could higher spending come from when 2/3 of Americans don’t even have $1000 saved for an emergency?

Someone Has to Tell The Fed Inflation Is Not Accelerating (CEPR)

The Federal Reserve Board raised interest rates last week and seem poised to do so again in the not distant future. The rationale is that the economy is now near or at full employment and that if job growth continues at its recent pace it will lead to a harmful acceleration in the inflation rate. We have numerous pieces raising serious questions about whether the labor market is really at full employment, noting for example the sharp drop in employment rates (for all groups) from pre-recession levels and the high rate of involuntary part-time employment. But the story of accelerating inflation is also not right. This is particularly important, since John Williams, the president of the San Francisco Fed, cited accelerating inflation as a reason to support last week’s rate hike, and possibly future rate hikes, in an interview in the New York Times.

Williams has been a moderate on inflation, so there are many members of the Fed’s Open Market Committee who are more anxious to raise rates than him. A close look at the data does not provide much evidence of accelerating inflation. The core PCE deflator, the Fed’s main measure of inflation, has risen 1.7% over the last year, which is still under the 2.0% target. This target is an average, which means that the Fed should be prepared to allow the inflation rate to rise somewhat above 2.0%, with the idea that inflation will drop in the next recession. Anyhow, the 1.7% rate is slightly higher than a low of 1.3% reached in the third quarter of 2015, but it is exactly the same as the rate we saw in the third quarter of 2014. In other words, there has been zero acceleration in the rate of inflation over the last two years.

Furthermore, even this modest acceleration has been entirely due to the more rapid increase in rent over the last two years. The inflation rate in the core consumer price index, stripped of its shelter component, actually has been falling slightly over the last year. It now stands at 1.1% over the last year. It is reasonable to pull shelter out of the CPI because rents do not follow the same dynamic as most goods and services. In fact, higher interest rates, by reducing construction, are likely to increase the pace of increase in rents rather than reduce them.

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Italy’s banks are about to do the country in.

Brace Yourself For Italy’s Bankruptcy (Gavekal)

Matteo Renzi has joined a long line of Italian prime ministers who failed to “reform” their country. This is another way of saying that he could not wave a magic wand and make Italy competitive with Germany. The grim reality is that no Italian leader stood a chance of changing their country once the fateful decision was made to peg its currency to Germany’s. At the time of the euro’s launch in 1999, I argued that the risk profile of Italy would change from being an economy where there was a high probability of many currency devaluations to the certain probability of eventual bankruptcy. Sadly, that moment is not so far away.

The chart below tells the story of Italy’s recent economic history in two parts, namely, (i) March 1979 to March 1999, and (ii) March 1999 to the present. Italy joined the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1979 at 443 lira per deutschemark, yet by 1990 frequent devaluations meant that rate had slid to about 750 lira. By the early 1990s, the Bundesbank was overseeing a newly unified German monetary system and in order to fight inflation it had driven real interest rates to 7%. By September 1992 the stresses on the system caused the UK, Sweden and Italy to exit the ERM, which meant another huge currency devaluation, pushing the lira as low as 1250 against the deutschemark, but delivering a huge tourist boom to boot.

Still, from 1979 to 1998 Italian industrial production outpaced that of Germany by more than 10%, while Italian equities outperformed German equivalents by 16% (this indicates that Italian firms were earning a higher return on invested capital than those in Germany). Then came the euro. By 2003 it was clear that Italy was uncompetitive and subsequently, Italian equities have underperformed German equities by -65%, reversing the previous half century’s pattern when Italian equities outperformed on a total return basis. Similarly, since 2003 Italian factory output has lagged Germany’s by 40%.

The diagnosis is simply that Italy has become woefully uncompetitive, and as a result, is not solvent. This much is clear from the perilous state of its banking system, which is always the outcome when banks lend to firms that have been rendered uncompetitive by some reckless central banker. Short of imposing Greek-style slavery on Italy, there is not much hope of solving the problem, but I rather doubt that the Italian electorate will be as patient as its neighbours across the Ionian sea.

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Let Beppe Grillo have a go at this. What does Italy have to lose?

Italy Bank Rescue Won’t Fill $54 Billion Hole in Balance Sheets (BBG)

Italian banks need at least €52 billion ($54 billion) to clean up their balance sheets, much more than the rescue package proposed Monday by the government. The shortfall is an estimate of how much lenders would have to increase loan-loss provisions to allow for the sale of bad debt. It includes the 8 billion euros of provisions UniCredit has said it will add before selling €18 billion of its worst loans and uses that ratio as a proxy for the gap at other banks. The total also includes the 5 billion euros Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena has been struggling to raise in recent months. The Italian government asked parliament this week to increase the public borrowing limit by as much as €20 billion to potentially backstop Monte Paschi and other lenders.

The rescue package needs to be closer to €30 billion to solve Italy’s bad-debt crisis, according to Paola Sabbione at Deutsche Bank. That conclusion assumes UniCredit and some other lenders can raise about €20 billion through capital markets, asset sales and profit retention – leaving the government to fill the rest of the €52 billion hole. “Some of the publicly traded banks can probably raise some of the funds needed for a cleanup, including Monte Paschi,” said Sabbione, who has covered Italian banks for the past decade. “So the government would have to plug in the rest. But still, at this level, it won’t do the full job.” UniCredit, the nation’s largest lender, plans to increase loan-loss provisions to 75% for nonperforming loans with the lowest chances of recovery and 40% for two other categories considered less dire.

The increased writedowns will help the Milan-based lender sell about a third of its bad loans to asset manager Fortress Investment. UniCredit is planning to raise €13 billion of new equity funding to cover the increased provisions as well as other restructuring costs and to improve its capital ratio. The company’s shares have jumped 15% since the Dec. 13 announcement, giving analysts confidence the bank will have little trouble tapping investors for the funds. Italian banks had €356 billion of bad loans at the end of June and €165 billion of provisions against them, according to the latest Bank of Italy data. To get the worst category to 75% provisioning and the rest to 40%, as UniCredit is doing, would take €52 billion.

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French banks in turn are heavily into Italian banks. Just like they were into Greek banks, but they dodged that one when their political clout made the EU shift their burden onto the Greek pople. Will Italy let them do the same?

Top French Banks Sue ECB To Reduce Capital Demands (R.)

France’s top lenders are suing the ECB to get an exemption from holding capital against deposits parked with a state-owned fund, the most high-profile challenge to supervision from Frankfurt to date. As well as providing euro zone banks with funding, the ECB has been their main regulator for the past two years, tasked with ending cozy relationships between the industry and national authorities that contributed to the financial crisis. The Frankfurt-based institution has been sued repeatedly over its bond-buying programs and by smaller banks seeking to escape its supervision. But this is the first case brought by major banks in the euro zone and is a rare confrontation between France’s financial elite and the ECB’s supervisory board, led by the former head of France’s own banking regulator, Daniele Nouy.

The lawsuits have been brought by BNP Paribas, Societe Generale, Credit Agricole, Credit Mutuel, Groupe BPCE and La Banque Postale over the past few weeks, filings with the European Court of Justice show. Sources with direct knowledge of the cases told Reuters the banks are protesting the ECB’s demand that they set aside capital against special deposits they have with state investment institution Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations (CDC). The legal action comes amid heightened tension between banks and the ECB, which is inundating the financial sector with excess cash to try to stimulate growth while charging banks for depositing it with the central bank overnight. “You are seeing banks more and more go to court to challenge the supervisor,” a senior legal source said. “Years ago that was unthinkable.”

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So, Italy, France and Spain too, all have severely troubled banks.

Spanish Banks Lose EU Case on Mortgage Interest Repayments (BBG)

Competition watchdogs won a partial victory at the EU’s top court over their attempt to force Spanish banks to pay back millions of euros in tax breaks for the acquisition of stakes in foreign firms, Bloomberg News reports. Lenders, including Banco Popular Espanol SA and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, may have to give back billions of euros to mortgage customers after a ruling by the court.

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Over 6 weeks later, “India’s Reserve Bank has issued around 1.7 billion new notes, with less than one-third the value of what was removed..”

India’s Small Businesses Facing ‘Apocalypse’ (G.)

India’s vast informal economy has been reeling since 8 November, the morning after India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, announced the sudden voiding of the country’s two most-used bank notes. It is the largest-scale financial experiment in Indian history: gutting 14 trillion rupees – 86% of the currency in circulation – from the most cash-dependent major economy in the world. More than a month on, India’s Reserve Bank has issued around 1.7 billion new notes, with less than one-third the value of what was removed. The sixth-largest economy in the world is running on 60% less currency than before. Lines outside banks continue to stretch, and India’s small business lobby says its members are facing an “apocalypse”. But Modi insists he isn’t done.

Initially intended to flush out the “black money” said to be hoarded by elites and criminals, the government now frames demonetisation as the first step in a “cashless” revolution to shift the billions of transactions undertaken each day in India online – and onto the radar of tax authorities. This week, labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya announced it would soon be mandatory for employers to pay their staff into bank accounts, a hugely ambitious step in a country where as many as 90% of workers are paid in cash. Already struggling, businessmen such as Sharma are dreading the prospect of more enforced digital migration. “How do you think I can pay the workers with a cheque if they don’t have a bank account?” he asks, in a tiny office thick with incense smoke. “And it takes three days to clear a cheque. What will they eat during those days?”

His reasons are not just altruistic. Apart from potentially raising his tax bill – in a country where just 1% pay income tax – paying salaries electronically would mean giving staff Delhi’s mandated minimum wage, currently 9,724 rupees (£114) per month for unskilled workers. “Right now no one pays the minimum wage that the government decides,” Sharma says. “It will only make things expensive: we will charge the customer.” Outside his workers’ earshot, he adds: “If someone is doing the work of Rs.2000, why should we pay them Rs.15,000?” But workers too are wary of the big push online. Tens of millions of Indians have been given zero-deposit bank accounts in the past two years under a government scheme to boost financial inclusion. But even after demonetisation prompted a rush of new deposits, 23% of the accounts still lie empty.

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Stuck. A large depreciation would be too costly, but keeping it high would eat up foreign reserves.

Let The Yuan Fall Or Not? Beijing’s Big Burning Currency Question (SCMP)

As the Chinese yuan keeps weakening against the dollar, a question is becoming acute for Beijing: should China let the market take its course and permit a deep currency fall or should it keep burning its foreign exchange reserves to support the currency’s value? The debate over what Beijing should do about its currency is heating up as regulators’ ambiguity over the question is becoming costly and unsustainable, particularly since the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. Against Beijing’s desire for a “controllable” depreciation, the government is losing control over capital flight, depleting foreign exchange reserve stockpile at an alarming speed, and failing to convince investors that there is “no fundamental basis for the continuous depreciation”.

Yu Yongding, a renowned Chinese economist who sat on the central bank’s monetary policy committee when the yuan was revalued in July 2005, said it was time for Beijing to reconsider the matter. “The fear of the yuan’s depreciation has become a burden for us,” Yu told a forum over the weekend. Yu, who for years has called for liberalizing the yuan’s exchange rate over years, said China should give up foreign exchange interventions and safeguard its foreign exchange reserves so that China will “have sufficient ammunition” for future rainy days. While Yu’s view is not in line with Beijing’s current policy, it is winning academic support. Xu Sitao, the China chief economist at Deloitte, an auditing firm, said “the best strategy is to let the yuan fall in full, and the worst strategy is slowly depleting foreign exchange reserves”.

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“The currency is facing a triple whammy of accelerating capital outflows, faster U.S. interest-rate increases and concerns over domestic financial markets..”

Yuan Bears Strike as Capital Outflows Override PBOC (BBG)

China’s renewed efforts to curb declines in its currency are doing little to dissuade yuan bears. Traders have turned increasingly negative amid tighter liquidity, sending bets for further losses soaring. The gap between forward contracts wagering on the offshore yuan a year from now versus its current level is heading for a record monthly jump, just as the extra cost for options to sell the currency against the dollar hit a six-month high relative to prices for contracts to buy. The currency is facing a triple whammy of accelerating capital outflows, faster U.S. interest-rate increases and concerns over domestic financial markets as liquidity tightens.

Strategists say its weakening, set to be the biggest this year in more than two decades, may accelerate as the government restores the annual quota for citizens to convert yuan holdings into foreign exchange. President-elect Donald Trump has also threatened to slap 45% tariffs on China’s imports to the U.S. “Bears are adding positions because expectations for the yuan to depreciate are getting stronger and stronger,” said Larry Hu, head of China economics at Macquarie Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong. “The pressures will likely continue and could get even worse, considering capital outflows and concerns on the reset of individuals’ conversion quota.”

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..in China, state-run banks are by far the main source of funding. Shadow banks.

To Problems With China’s Financial System, Add the Bond Market (NYT)

Chinese officials cheered on the country’s stock market when it reached heady new highs, offering hope that it could become a new source of money to fix China’s economic problems. Then, last year, the market crashed. Now another fast-growing part of China’s vast and increasingly complicated financial market is showing signs of distress: its $9 trillion bond market. Prices for government and corporate bonds have tumbled over the past week, a sell-off that continued on Tuesday. The situation has spooked investors, prompting the government to temporarily restrain some trading and to make emergency loans to struggling financial institutions. The price drops have resulted in higher borrowing costs at a time when more Chinese companies need the money to cope with slowing economic growth. Yields reached new highs again on Tuesday.

In part, China is reacting to financial shifts across the globe. With the Federal Reserve raising short-term interest rates and many expecting the presidency of Donald J. Trump to lead to heavier government spending, investors worldwide are selling bonds. But China is struggling with its own balancing act. The Chinese bond slump also stems from Beijing’s efforts to wring excess money from its financial system and to stop potential bubbles that may lurk in shadowy, hard-to-track corners of its economy. Should it continue with those efforts, bonds could fall further. “The adjustment has not yet finished,” said Miao Zuoxing, a partner at the FXM Brothers Fund. “It will continue and normalize until money is put where the government can see it.”

[..] China has particular reason to worry. As the world’s second-largest economy, after the United States, it relies on a rickety financial system that is mired in debt and susceptible to hidden stresses. Higher overseas interest rates could also prompt more Chinese investors to move their money out of the country, either to chase higher returns elsewhere or to avoid what some see as China’s growing problems. In the mature financial system of the United States, businesses have plenty of ways to get money. They can borrow from a bank, raise money selling stocks or bonds, or seek funds directly from any number of investors.

But in China, state-run banks are by far the main source of funding. That helped power the country’s economic rise, but it also led to loans going to politically connected borrowers rather than to where the economy needed it most. That is one reason the Chinese economy is now stuck with more steel, glass, cement and auto factories than it needs. Particularly in the past two years, China has taken steps to encourage the development of robust stock and bond markets as well as private lenders, needing a way to ensure the flow of money was being directed by profit-minded investors rather than politicians and their allies at state-owned banks.

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Heavy fisted. It’s all history has taught.

China’s Anticorruption Drive Ensnares the Lowly and Rattles Families (WSJ)

When Liu Chongfu returned home to his pig farm in December 2014 after months in detention, he was haunted by what he had done. Under interrogation, he later told his family, he falsely admitted to bribing government officials. Back home, released without being charged, Mr. Liu had nightmares and splitting headaches. His conscience weighed on him, his family said. So he publicly recanted in March 2015. In a written statement sent to the court, he said interrogators had deprived him of sleep and threatened his family to extract a phony confession that helped send four other men to prison. In his statement, also posted online, he said he lied “because they forced me to where there was no other way than death. I didn’t want to die.”

President Xi Jinping has called his anticorruption campaign, one of the leader’s defining initiatives, a “life or death” matter. It is among the most popular elements of his administration, given how corruption has been endemic in China and how it threatens to undermine confidence in Communist Party control. Since the campaign began in 2013, its reach has allowed Mr. Xi to root out resistance to his rule and secure party control over a society that is more prosperous and demanding. Mr. Liu’s confession and retraction suggest a dark side to Mr. Xi’s efforts. Families around China say overzealous authorities have forced confessions, tortured suspects and made improper convictions.

The farmer tried to retract his confession before, while still in detention. “I cannot violate my conscience to do this,” he told his interrogators, according to his statement, a transcript of a video he made with his lawyer. He knew it would send innocent officials to jail, he said, and that “the real tragedy is still to follow.” The four were convicted anyway.

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“I finally saw the blue sky. It was wonderful!”

Smog Refugees Flee Chinese Cities As ‘Airpocalypse’ Blights Half A Billion (G.)

Tens of thousands of “smog refugees” have reportedly fled China’s pollution-stricken north after the country was hit by its latest “airpocalyse” forcing almost half a billion people to live under a blanket of toxic fumes. Huge swaths of north and central China have been living under a pollution “red alert” since last Friday when a dangerous cocktail of pollutants transformed the skies into a yellow and charcoal-tinted haze. Greenpeace claimed the calamity had affected a population equivalent to those of the United States, Canada and Mexico combined with some 460m people having to breathe either hazardous pollution or heavy levels of smog in recent days.

Lauri Myllyvirta, a Beijing-based Greenpeace activist who has been chronicling the red alert on Twitter, said that in an attempt to shield his lungs he was avoiding going outside and using two air purifiers and an industrial grade dust mask “that makes me look like Darth Vader”. “You just try to insulate yourself from the air as much as possible,” said Myllyvirta, a coal and air pollution expert. Others have simply opted to flee. According to reports in the Chinese media, flights to some pollution-free regions have been packed as a result of the smog. Ctrip, China’s leading online travel agent, said it expected 150,000 travellers to head abroad this month in a bid to outrun the smog. Top destinations include Australia, Indonesia, Japan and the Maldives.

Jiang Aoshuang, one of Beijing’s “smog refugees”, told the state-run Global Times she had skipped town with her husband and 10-year-old son in order to spare their lungs. Jiang’s family made for Chongli, a smog-free ski resort about three hours north-west of the capital, only to find it packed with other fugitives seeking sanctuary from the pollution. “It really felt like a refugee camp,” she was quoted as saying. Yang Xinglin, who also fled to Chongli, said she had requested time off from her job at a state-owned real estate firm so she did not have to inhale the smog. “You ask me why I left Beijing? It’s because I want to live,” Yang, 27, told the Guardian.

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But why in the last few days of an 8-year term?

Obama Invokes 1953 Law To Indefinitely Block Arctic, Atlantic Drilling (CNBC)

President Barack Obama on Tuesday moved to indefinitely block drilling in vast swaths of U.S. waters. The president had been expected to take the action by invoking a provision in a 1953 law that governs offshore leases, as CNBC previously reported. The law allows a president to withdraw any currently unleased lands in the Outer Continental Shelf from future lease sales. There is no provision in the law that allows the executive’s successor to repeal the decision, so President-elect Donald Trump would not be able to easily brush aside the action. Trump has vowed to open more federal land to oil and natural gas production in a bid to boost U.S. output. Obama on Tuesday said he would designate “the bulk of our Arctic water and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean as indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas leasing, though the prospects for drilling in the affected areas in the near future were already questionable.

The lands covered include the bulk of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in the Arctic and 31 underwater canyons in the Atlantic. The United States and Canada also announced they will identify sustainable shipping lanes through their connected Arctic waters. Canada on Tuesday also imposed a five-year ban on all oil and gas drilling licensing in the Canadian Arctic. The moratorium will be reviewed every five years. “These actions, and Canada’s parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth,” Obama said in a statement. “They reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited.”

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Dec 102016
 
 December 10, 2016  Posted by at 9:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Arthur Rothstein Interior of migratory fruit worker’s tent, Yakima, Washington 1936

Donald Trump Team Takes Aim At CIA (CNN)
A Rising Stock Market Does Not Signal Economic Health (FEE)
Economist Streeck Calls Time On Capitalism (G.)
Nobel Economics Prize Winner: ‘The Euro Was A Mistake’ (EA)
Beware Of Panic Buying In Bank Stocks (MW)
Trump Has Unleashed The Stock Market’s ‘Animal Spirits’ (MW)
The Bond Market Doesn’t Believe Draghi (BBG)
Why China Can’t Stop Capital Outflows (Balding)
EU Launches New Investigation Into Chinese Steel Imports (R.)
ECB Refuses To Help Italy’s Crisis-Hit Monte dei Paschi Bank (G.)
60% Of Americans Who Usually Fly Home For The Holidays, Won’t This Year (MW)
Greece Under Fire Over Christmas Bonus For Low-Income Pensioners (G.)
Greece Seamen Strike: Angry Farmers Throw Flares, Set Offices On Fire (KTG)
Broken Men in Paradise (NYT)

 

 

Tried to find a better source for this, not as one-sided as CNN, but does it really matter anymore at this point? Anyone who wants to believe more secret and anonymous ‘news’ about Russia and the US elections, can and will. Others find it hard to believe that the WaPo comes with yet another unsubstantiated ‘story’. CNN calls this ‘revelations’, but that really is not the word. And saying things like “the comments from Trump’s camp will cause concern in the Intelligence community” can probably best be seen as an attempt at comedy.

Donald Trump Team Takes Aim At CIA (CNN)

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team slammed the CIA Friday, following reports the agency has concluded that Russia intervened in the election to help him win. In a stunning response to widening claims of a Russian espionage operation targeting the presidential race, Trump’s camp risked an early feud with the Intelligence community on which he will rely for top secret assessments of the greatest threats facing the United States. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the transition said in a terse, unsigned statement. “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.'”

The sharp pushback to revelations in The Washington Post, which followed an earlier CNN report on alleged Russian interference in the election, represented a startling rebuke from an incoming White House to the CIA. The transition team’s reference to the agency’s most humiliating recent intelligence misfire – over its conclusion that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction — threatens to cast an early cloud over relations between the Trump White House and the CIA. The top leadership of the agency that presided over the Iraq failure during the Bush administration has long since been replaced. But the comments from Trump’s camp will cause concern in the Intelligence community about the incoming President’s attitude to America’s spy agencies.

CNN reported this week that Trump is getting intelligence briefings only once a week. Several previous presidents preparing for the inauguration had a more intense briefing schedule. Multiple sources with knowledge of the investigation into Russia’s hacking told CNN last week that the US intelligence community is increasingly confident that Russian meddling in the US election was intended to steer the election toward Trump, rather than simply to undermine or in other ways disrupt the political process. On Friday, the Post cited US officials as saying that intelligence agencies have identified individuals connected to the Russian government who gave Wikileaks thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

Trump has repeatedly said there is no evidence to suggest that President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, with which he has vowed to improve relations, played a nefarious role in the US election. “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump said in an interview for the latest issue of Time magazine, adding that he thought intelligence community accusations about Russian interventions in the election were politically motivated.

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“The Economy Isn’t A Thing”.

A Rising Stock Market Does Not Signal Economic Health (FEE)

The headlines tell us that the Dow Jones is up around 1,000 points since Donald Trump won the election on November 8th. The conventional wisdom is that this shows how much confidence people have in Trump’s ability to generate a healthy American economy. The argument is that if people are willing to buy stock in American firms, this indicates their belief that those firms will see improving profits over the next few years. They then draw the conclusion that more profitable firms indicate a healthier American economy. Although this argument is correct about stock prices reflecting an increasing belief in the profitability of US firms, it makes a major error in assuming that profitable firms necessarily mean a better economy. First, it’s important to understand that phrases like “a healthier economy” are themselves problematic. The “economy” is not the thing we should be concerned about. In fact, in some fundamental sense there’s no such thing as “the economy.”

As Russ Roberts and John Papola memorably put it in the music video “Fight of the Century:”
The economy’s not a car.
There’s no engine to stall.
No experts can fix it.
There’s no “it” at all.
The economy is us

Things are not “good/bad for the economy.” They are good or bad for the people who comprise the market process, specifically in our capacity as consumers. All the economy amounts to is people engaging exchanges in order to better satisfy their wants. What we should care about is whether or not people are able to better satisfy those wants. And “better satisfy” here means not just more and better goods and services, but at cheaper prices too. Lower prices mean that consumers have income left over to purchase goods they otherwise couldn’t, enabling them to better satisfy their wants by satisfying more of them. In a genuinely free market, the profitability of firms is a good reflection of their ability to better satisfy the wants of consumers. Our willingness to pay for their goods and services reflects the fact that we receive value from those products, so their profits are at least a general signal of having created that value and satisfied consumer wants.

Trump’s policies may well enrich many firms, but they will impoverish the average American. In fact, consumers get much more value out of most innovations than is reflected in the profits of firms. A famous study by economist William Nordhaus estimated that profits made up only about 2.2% of the total benefits created by innovations. If you doubt this, ask yourself how much it would take for you to give up your smartphone and its connectivity. Then multiply that by all of the smartphone users in the world. Then compare that to the profits made off smartphones. The total value to consumers will dwarf the profits of smartphone producers. However, when markets aren’t free, profits do not necessarily reflect value creation. Firms who profit through privileges, protections, and subsidies from governments demonstrate that they are able to please political actors, not that they can deliver value to consumers by better satisfying their wants.

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Can’t give the article the space it deserves here.

Economist Streeck Calls Time On Capitalism (G.)

Nothing in his work prepares you for meeting Streeck (pronounced Stray-k). Professionally, he is the political economist barking last orders for our way of life, and warning of the “dark ages” ahead. His books bear bluntly fin-de-siecle titles: two years ago was Buying Time, while the latest is called How Will Capitalism End? (spoiler: not well). Even his admirers talk of his “despair”, by which they mean sentences such as this: “Before capitalism will go to hell, it will for the foreseeable future hang in limbo, dead or about to die from an overdose of itself but still very much around, as nobody will have the power to move its decaying body out of the way.”

What does such gloom look like in the flesh? Small glasses, neat side parting and moustache, a backpack, a smart anorak and at least a decade younger than his 70 years. Alluding to Trump’s victory, he cheerily declares “What a morning!” as if discussing the likelihood of rain, then strolls into the gallery. [..] At a time when macroeconomists have failed and other academics have retreated into disciplinary solipsism, Streeck is one of the few to have risen to the moment. Many of the themes that will define this year, this decade, are in his work. The breakup of Europe, the rise of plutocrat-populists such as Trump, the failures of Mark Carney and the technocratic elite: he has anatomised all of them.

This summer, Britons mutinied against their government, their experts and the EU – and consigned themselves to a poorer, angrier future. Such frenzies of collective self-harm were explained by Streeck in the 2012 lectures later collected in Buying Time: “Professionalised political science tends to underestimate the impact of moral outrage. With its penchant for studied indifference … [it] has nothing but elitist contempt for what it calls “populism”, sharing this with the power elites to which it would like to be close … [But] citizens too can “panic” and react “irrationally”, just like financial investors … even though they have no banknotes as arguments but only words and (who knows?) paving stones.”

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The structure of the EU makes it impossible for it to survive. That’s what these people miss.

Nobel Economics Prize Winner: ‘The Euro Was A Mistake’ (EA)

The European Union should embark on a process of decentralisation and return certain areas of decision making to the member states if it wants to survive and thrive, according to Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences winner Oliver Hart. Today (9 December), Hart and his colleague, Bengt Holmström, will receive the top prize for their work on contract theory, which covers everything from how CEOs are paid to privatisation. Hart told EFE that he believes the keyword in EU politics is now “decentralisation” and that Brussels has “gone too far in centralising power”. The British-born economist said that “if it abandons this trend, the EU could survive and flourish, otherwise, it could fail”.

The Harvard University professor insisted that the EU member states are not “sufficiently homogeneous” to be considered one single entity, adding that trying to make the EU-28 into one was an “error”. Hart said that the concerns felt by the member states about decision making and centralisation of power in Brussels should be addressed by returning competences to the EU capitals. The Nobel winner conceded that the EU should retain control of “some important areas”, like free trade and free movement of workers, the latter of which he admitted is “ultimately, an idea that I personally like, although I understand that there are political worries”.

His prize-winning colleague, Holmström, also told EFE that the EU needs to “redefine its priorities, limiting its activities and its regulatory arm, in order to focus on what can be done on the essential things”. The Finnish economist, who also teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said that Brussels needs to rejig its system of governance and its basic rules in order to make them “clearer and simpler”. Hart argued that “the euro was an mistake” and said that it’s an opinion that he has maintained ever since the monetary union was first introduced. The economist added that it “wouldn’t be a sad thing at all” if in the future Europe abandoned the single currency and that the British were “very clever” to stay out of it.

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Wait till January.

Beware Of Panic Buying In Bank Stocks (MW)

Buying of banking stocks has reached panic proportions, suggesting a trend reversal over the next couple of weeks may be likely. The SPDR Financial Select Sector exchange-traded fund rose 0.2% Friday, closing at the highest level since Feb. 1, 2008. Financials have been the best performer of the S&P 500’s 11 key sectors since Donald Trump was elected president, with the sector tracking stock (XLF) soaring 18.8% since Nov. 8, compared with a 5.6% gain in the S&P 500 index. The XLF produced this week its best rolling one-month (22 sessions) %age gains since August 2009, as the financial crisis was ending. Investors appear to be banking that President-elect Donald Trump will provide a Goldilocks scenario for financials, as his promises of lower regulations, lower corporate taxes and a revived economy that results in higher longer-term interest rates are just right for the sector.

A number of technical warnings signs have flashed, however, suggesting the postelection buying frenzy is petering out. On Thursday, 73% of the S&P 500 financial sector hit 52-week highs, the most since Feb. 13, 1997, and the second highest%age since 1990, according to Jason Goepfert, president of Sundial Capital. His research suggests that the previous five-largest surges in 52-week highs in financials produced a median loss of 1.9% over the next week, and a decline of 2.5% over the next two weeks. In comparison, his data showed the average for all days was a gain of 0.2% in a week and a 0.4% rise in two weeks. “There is no doubt that momentum is impressive in the sector—the problem is that it seems to have entered panic mode and that rarely lasts,” Goepfert wrote in a note to clients.

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Question is, how long for?

Trump Has Unleashed The Stock Market’s ‘Animal Spirits’ (MW)

You don’t have to call it a Trump rally. But some market specialists appear to be struggling to pin a name to the recent moves across global markets, which has pushed the S&P 500, DJIA, the Nasdaq – and most recently the Dow Jones Transportation Average – into record territory since President-elect Donald Trump’s Nov. 8 victory over rival Hillary Clinton. The Dow scored its 14th record close on Friday. Steve Barrow at Standard Bank said in a Nov. 30 research note that “whatever fears might exist in some quarters about Trump’s win, some sort of animal spirits might have been spurred.” So-called animal spirits is an oft-used term on Wall Street coined by famed economist John Maynard Keynes to describe gut instinct.

Or as Keynes explained, “a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction”. A certain verve to scoop up assets has certainly appeared to be at play since early November. Indeed, the Dow industrials as of Friday’s close have risen nearly 8% since the election outcome, the broad-stock benchmark S&P 500 index has climbed 5.6%, while the Nasdaq has picked up 4.8% over the same 30-day period. The Nasdaq scored its first record close since Nov. 29 on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the small-cap focused Russell 2000 which is most sensitive to economic prospects for the country, has jumped more than 15.2% since Nov. 8. To be sure, the U.S. has been a shining star compared with its weaker sisters abroad when it comes to economic growth. The ECB on Thursday said it planned on scaling back elements of its stimulus program but noted that it would extend it “if necessary.”

Barrow speculates that global growth has mostly stagnated in the aftermath of the 2008-09 financial crisis because the market didn’t put much faith in the tools, namely asset-repurchases and ultralow rates, that have been put in place by central bankers. By contrast, Trump has proposed a raft of fiscal-stimulus measures to upgrade the U.S.’s ailing infrastructure. The market now appears to be betting, in part, that the incoming leader of the free world will make good on those promises, which could inject a dose of spending that could create jobs and break a trend of economic stagnation. As a result infrastructure companies, commodities associated with construction and bank shares, among other asset classes, vaulted higher. Wall Street is euphoric over the possibilities.

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People like Draghi have come to rely on docile markets. Once that’s gone….

The Bond Market Doesn’t Believe Draghi (BBG)

The beatings will continue until morale improves, the saying goes. That’s one interpretation of the ECB’s somewhat convoluted rejig of its quantitative easing program this week. By insisting he’s not tapering bond buying while simultaneously reducing the monthly purchases and extending the time frame, President Mario Draghi is sending a mixed message that likely reflects disagreements among his Governing Council members. Cutting the program to €60 billion per month from €80 billion throws a bone to those who worry that it’s time to withdraw the monetary medicine; lengthening the timeline until the end of next year pacifies policy makers who fear the patient isn’t yet on the road to recovery.

But in financial markets, bond yields are effectively tightening monetary conditions on the central bank’s behalf, suggesting investors are beginning to anticipate an improved economic outlook. That could play out in two ways: Either bonds are correct, and the ECB will find itself tapering properly next year, or bonds are wrong, in which case Draghi will have to make good on his pledge to do more if needed. The 10-year German bond yield has climbed to about 0.4% from a low of almost -0.2% in July. That’s still a ridiculously low level; the average in the past two decades is about 3.4%, and for most of the 1990s the range was between 5% and 9%. Nevertheless, it amounts to a significant tightening in monetary conditions in just three months as the yield curve has steepened:

Also, don’t forget that the euro zone remains a fractured economic landscape. Germany, with an unemployment rate of 6%, will find it easier to withstand rising borrowing costs than Italy, where the jobless rate is almost twice as high. And the Italian yield curve has replicated the move seen in Germany, at higher levels that have doubled 10-year yields to 2% since August:

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“China is caught between trying to prop up a currency facing long-term decline and letting capital leave at will, risking a bank crisis…”

Why China Can’t Stop Capital Outflows (Balding)

How China manages its currency is likely to be the global economic story of 2017. Despite the government’s best efforts, capital continues to leave the country at a brisk pace, with a balance-of-payments deficit through the third quarter of $469 billion. Attempts to arrest this flow probably won’t work. But they may well create new risks. Capital outflows began gathering steam in 2012, when the government liberalized current-account payment transactions in goods and services. Enterprising Chinese figured out that while they couldn’t officially move money abroad to buy a house via the capital account – individuals are barred from moving more than $50,000 out of the country each year – they could create false trade invoices that would allow them to deposit money where they needed it.

The result was a huge discrepancy between payments recorded for imports and the declared value of goods passing through customs, amounting to $526 billion in hidden outflows last year. The problem has only worsened in 2016. French investment bank Natixis estimates that outflows will total more than $900 billion this year, despite new restrictions on yuan movements, including prohibitions on using credit and debit cards to pay for insurance products in Hong Kong. Last week, the government added yet another restriction. It announced that all international capital-account transactions of more than $5 million will need to be approved by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange. This has businesses deeply concerned, given that the administration likely doesn’t have the manpower for the sheer number of transactions it will need to review.

And if such restrictions can be placed on the capital account, it seems only a matter of time until they’re imposed on goods and services transactions. All of which raises a simple question: Why is Beijing working so hard to prop up the yuan and crack down on outward capital flows? The common answer is that it fears the trade consequences of a declining yuan. But that’s not it. Since the government devalued the yuan on Aug. 11, the combined value of imports and exports has fallen by only 8%, even as the value of the yuan has fallen 8% against the U.S. dollar. Any coming decline in the currency won’t make much difference, given the weak global economy and the product mix China is buying and selling.

The real reason is that the government is concerned about the implications of further liberalizing. China’s rickety banks, with delinquency rates of 30%, are receiving regular liquidity injections from the PBOC. Money market rates have been rising, from under 2% this summer to above 2.3% in Shanghai today. Allowing international capital mobility could easily trigger larger withdrawals – and hence liquidity crunches for banks already feeling the pinch of bad loans. In other words, China is caught between trying to prop up a currency facing long-term decline and letting capital leave at will, risking a bank crisis.

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This is far from over.

EU Launches New Investigation Into Chinese Steel Imports (R.)

The EU has launched an investigation into whether Chinese producers of certain corrosion-resistant steels are selling into Europe at unfairly low prices, in its latest action against cheap Chinese steel imports. The European Commission has determined that a complaint brought by EU steelmakers association Eurofer merits an investigation, the EU’s official journal said on Friday. The EU has imposed duties on a wide range of steel grades after investigations over the past few years to counter what EU steel producers say is a flood of steel sold at a loss due to Chinese overcapacity.

Some 5,000 jobs have been axed in the British steel industry in the last year, as it struggles to compete with cheap Chinese imports and high energy costs. G20 governments recorecognized in September that steel overcapacity was a serious problem. China, the source of 50% of the world’s steel and the largest steel consumer, has said the problem is a global one. In October, the European Commission set provisional import tariffs of up to 73.7% for heavy plate steel and up to 22.6% for hot-rolled steel coming from China. Those investigations are set to conclude in April.

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Feels political. They could have announced this just as easily a week ago, before the referendum. Now a crisis threatens that may help make the case for interim technocrats to step in, and keep Grillo out.

ECB Refuses To Help Italy’s Crisis-Hit Monte dei Paschi Bank (G.)

Fears that the Italian government will have to prop up Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) are mounting after the European Central Bank refused to give the world’s oldest bank more time to find major investors to back a €5bn (£4.2bn) cash injection. Trading in the troubled bank’s shares was repeatedly halted on the Italian stock exchange on Friday. The MPS share price closed 10% lower as the bank’s board held a meeting that had already been scheduled before the reports that the ECB had rejected its calls for an extension to the deadline to bolster its financial position. The ECB [..] decision may have closed the door to a private sector solution, under which major investors including the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar would pump billions into the bank.

But MPS said on Friday night that its board would next meet on Sunday night and that it was pressing on with its private sector solutions Even so there were concerns that the Italian government would still have to embark on a “precautionary recapitalisation” of the bank and potentially impose losses on retail investors who hold €2.1bn of the bank’s bonds. Under new EU rules, taxpayer money cannot be used unless bondholders take losses first. A precautionary recapitalisation takes place before a bank becomes insolvent. ECB officials had told Reuters they hoped the refusal to extend the deadline would pave the way for similar support for other Italian banks which are struggling with €360bn of bad loans.

It appeared to leave the Italian government with little option but to embark on a “precautionary recapitalisation” of the bank and potentially impose losses on retail investors who hold €2.1bn of the bank’s bonds. Under new EU rules, taxpayer money cannot be used unless bondholders take losses first. A precautionary recapitalisation takes place before a bank becomes insolvent. The bank has capital above regulatory minimums.

[..] The eurosceptic Five Star Movement, the second most popular party in Italy, said the government needed to step into the fray. “MPS can only be saved by state aid in order to avoid bail-in rules [that hurt] small savers, as happened a year ago,” the party’s MEPs said in a statement on founder Beppe Grillo’s blog. “This is not the time to fear the EU and a possible infraction procedure. The consequences of a disordered bail-in would be disastrous to say the least, almost apocalyptic if one considers the size of MPS.” They added that it was time to “slam our fists at the table in Brussels … while not giving a damn about the deficit”.

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Not as bad as numbers suggest perhaps, but not exactly encouraging wither.

60% Of Americans Who Usually Fly Home For The Holidays, Won’t This Year (MW)

Rising travel costs, airport delays, and other stressors mean fewer people will be flying home for the holidays this December. Almost 60% of people who normally fly home for the holidays will not this year, a survey of more than 1,000 visitors to travel deals website Airfarewatchdog found; 36% of whom say because it is too expensive and 21% would prefer to drive than deal with delays and long lines. An additional 13% said “the skies are too crowded” to fly home this year. It’s also not cheap: 70% of people who fly home for the holidays spend between $500 and $1,000 and 20% spend more than $1,000, according to a study of more than 1,000 users from travel assistant app Mezi.

Most Americans have less than $1,000 in savings, making such steep spending a major yearly commitment. Still, 18% of respondents in the Airfarewatchdog study said they fly home every year and still plan to do so. Air travel makes up a small%age of holiday travel – less than 10% in 2015, according to travel and automotive services non-profit AAA. But whether driving or flying home for the holidays, the majority of Americans are stressed out – 65% of people say they have anxiety about going home for the holidays, including 72% of women and 58% of men. The top sources of dread for these respondents include being bored and having nothing to do, conflict with family members, and questions about their relationship status.

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Makes you wonder how Schäuble spends Christmas. Scrooge comes to mind, prominently.

Greece Under Fire Over Christmas Bonus For Low-Income Pensioners (G.)

A goodwill gesture to ease the plight of those hardest hit in Greece by tax increases and budget cuts has backfired spectacularly on the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, with the country’s international creditors making clear he has acted out of step. In the starkest case yet of how closely watched loan-reliant Athens is, lenders reacted with unusual alacrity on Friday after the leftist leader announced a one-off Christmas bonus for 1.6 million low-income pensioners. “The programme includes clear commitments to discuss all measures related to programme objectives with the institutions in advance,” an EU spokeswoman said. “The commission was not made aware of all the details of the announcements before they were made. We will now need to study them.”

Retirees have been among those most affected by the gruelling regime of austerity the debt-stricken country has been forced to enact in exchange for over €300bn in emergency rescue funding. Once unassailable, Tsipras’s own popularity has plummeted amid scenes of pensioners being teargassed and beaten as they took to the streets in protest. Under the scheme – announced in a televised address following a nationwide strike when anti-austerity demonstrations had swept the country – Tsipras said handouts of €617m would be given to those living on €800 or less a month. [..] State minister Alekos Flambouraris, the 42-year-old politician’s closest mentor, said creditors had not been forewarned as the money came out of the surplus Greece had managed to achieve through stringent belt-tightening.

[..] social tensions are also spiralling. “Tsipras is worried and that is why he made this move,” Grigoris Kalomoiris, chief policy maker at the union of public sector employees Adedy, told the Guardian. “Come January there will be more cuts to salaries and pensions in very real terms. We are all being pushed to breaking point. This, believe me, is the calm before the storm.” Ignoring creditor anger, Tsipras’s beleaguered administration dug in its heels late on Friday, saying the bonus did not threaten fiscal targets and would not be rescinded. “It is up to the Greek government to distribute expenditure in the way it sees most fit and socially correct, as long as agreed goals are reached,” the prime minister’s office said. “Greece is not a colony.”

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No ferries for 9 days?! In Greece, land of ferries?!

Greece Seamen Strike: Angry Farmers Throw Flares, Set Offices On Fire (KTG)

The port of Heraklion on the island of Crete turned into a battle field when hundreds of raging farmers attacked striking seamen and set the ticket offices of ANEK shipping company on fire on Friday evening. Angry about the ongoing strike of the seamen, the farmers threw flares at a ferry docked at the port. The sailors of Blue Horizon ferry answered with water drops. A farmer from Ierapetra had claimed that the ferry captain had put in operation the machines so that the ferry depart from the pier and that the lines were cut at risk of injuring farmers. The farmers were shouting “traitors” and some climbed on the lines. They kept demanding that the ferry opens its doors so that they can ship their products to the mainland.

Almost at the same time, a group of farmers moved to the ticket offices of shipping company ANEK and set it on fire. Hundreds of angry and determined farmers arrived at the port of Heraklion around 5pm and declared that they will not step back until 150 trucks loaded with vegetables get on board and leave for Piraeus. The harbormaster of Heraklion was injured and taken to the hospital with an ambulance. He was reportedly when he hit at a door during the incidents. In the 9th day of the seamen strike, the farmers are in rage as they cannot forward their products to the mainland and abroad, thus losing thousands of euros.

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I’m not at all a fan of these kinds of comparisons, but what exactly sets Australian ‘policy’ apart from German concentration camps?

Broken Men in Paradise (NYT)

MANUS, Papua New Guinea — The plane banks over the dense tropical forest of Manus Island, little touched, it seems, by human hand. South Pacific waters lap onto deserted beaches. The jungle glistens, impenetrable. At the unfenced airport, built by occupying Japanese forces during World War II, a sign “welcomes you to our very beautiful island paradise in the sun.” It could be that, a 60-mile-long slice of heaven. But for more than 900 asylum seekers from across the world banished by Australia to this remote corner of the Papua New Guinea archipelago, Manus has been hell; a three and a half year exercise in mental and physical cruelty conducted in near secrecy beneath the green canopy of the tropics.

A road, newly paved by Australia as part payment to its former colony for hosting this punitive experiment in refugee management, leads to Lorengau, a capital of romantic name and unromantic misery. Here I find Benham Satah, a Kurd who fled persecution in the western Iranian city of Kermanshah. Detained on Australia’s Christmas Island after crossing in a smuggler’s boat from Indonesia and later forced onto a Manus-bound plane, he has languished here since Aug. 27, 2013. Endless limbo undoes the mind. But going home could mean facing death: Refugees do not flee out of choice but because they have no choice. Satah’s light brown eyes are glassy. His legs tremble.

A young man with a college degree in English, he is now nameless, a mere registration number — FRT009 — to Australian officials. “Sometimes I cut myself,” he says, “so that I can see my blood and remember, ‘Oh, yes! I am alive.’ ” Reza Barati, his former roommate at what the men’s ID badges call the Offshore Processing Center (Orwell would be proud), is dead. A fellow Iranian Kurd, he was killed, aged 23, on Feb. 17, 2014. Satah witnessed the tall, quiet volleyball player being beaten to death after a local mob scaled the wall of the facility. Protests by asylum seekers had led to rising tensions with the Australian authorities and their Manus enforcers.

The murder obsesses Satah but constitutes a mere fraction of the human cost of a policy that, since July 19, 2013, has sent more than 2,000 asylum seekers and refugees to Manus and the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, far from inquiring eyes. (Unable to obtain a press visa to visit Manus, I went nonetheless.) The toll among Burmese, Sudanese, Somali, Lebanese, Pakistani, Iraqi, Afghan, Syrian, Iranian and other migrants is devastating: self-immolation, overdoses, death from septicemia as a result of medical negligence, sexual abuse and rampant despair. A recent United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report by three medical experts found that 88% of the 181 asylum seekers and refugees examined on Manus were suffering from depressive disorders, including, in some cases, psychosis.

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On a lighter note: