Sep 072017
 
 September 7, 2017  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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St. Maarten seen through the eye of Irma

 

Irma Devastates The Caribbean (AlJ)
Trump Sides With Democrats On Debt Limit In Rare Bipartisan Deal (R.)
Fed’s Fischer Resigns, Leaving Trump Earlier Chance To Shape Central Bank (R.)
Deutsche Bank Boss Calls On ECB To Halt Cheap Money (R.)
New Leak Of Brexit Papers Reveals Fissures Between Britain And EU (G.)
Consumption Exhaustion (Lebowitz)
China Realizes It Needs Foreign Companies (Balding)
Apple Needs iPhone 8 To Solve A Giant Financial Headache (BI)
Catalonia Launches Its Independence Challenge Against Spain (AFP)
Emmanuel Macron To Outline Vision For Europe’s Future In Athens Speech (G.)
Crisis-Ridden Greek Households Cut Even On Milk And Bread (KTG)

 

 

Too early to say much of anything. Barbuda is gone. So is much of St. Martin. Close to uninhabitable.

If Irma hits Puerto Rico anywhere near full force, that would be exceedingly dramatic. Ditto for Haiti, Miami. This has just started.

NOAA Hurricane Hunters flight director Richard Henning on CNN: “Irma “is actually getting stronger. … You can’t overhype this storm”.

Irma Devastates The Caribbean (AlJ)

Nearly every building on the island of Barbuda has been damaged and almost 900,000 people have been left without power in Puerto Rico as the Category 5 Hurricane Irma continues its journey towards mainland US. About 60 percent of Barbuda’s roughly 1,400 people were left homeless, Gaston Browne, Antigua and Barbuda prime minister, told the Associated Press news agency, when the eye of the storm passed almost directly overhead early on Wednesday. “Either they were totally demolished or they would have lost their roof,” Browne said after returning to Antigua from a plane trip to the neighbouring island. “It is just really a horrendous situation.” Browne said roads and telecommunications systems were destroyed and recovery will take months. A two-year-old was killed as a family tried to escape a damaged home during the storm, he said.

Puerto Rico was buffeted by powerful winds and heavy rain as authorities struggled to get aid to small Caribbean islands already devastated by the storm. The US National Weather Service said Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma’s magnitude since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, which killed a total of 2,748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida. But as the storm moved west, it devastated the small islands in its path. Significant effects were reported on St Martin, an island split between French and Dutch control. Photos and video circulating on social media showed major damage to the airport in Philipsburg and the coastal village of Marigot heavily flooded. The US National Hurricane Center said Irma’s winds would fluctuate, but the storm would probably remain at Category 4 or 5 for the next day or two as it moves past just to the north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday, nears the Turks & Caicos and parts of the Bahamas by Thursday night and touches Cuba on Friday night.

Read more …

“Less than an hour before the meeting, Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan had called the Democratic proposal that Trump later embraced a “ridiculous and disgraceful” idea..”

Trump Sides With Democrats On Debt Limit In Rare Bipartisan Deal (R.)

President Donald Trump forged a surprising deal with Democrats in Congress on Wednesday to extend the U.S. debt limit and provide government funding until Dec. 15, embracing his political adversaries and blindsiding fellow Republicans in a rare bipartisan accord. Trump, living up to his reputation for unpredictability, met at the White House with congressional leaders from both parties and overruled Republicans and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who wanted a longer-term debt-limit extension rather than the three-month Democratic proposal the president embraced. “We could have done a one-year deal today,” Mnuchin told reporters aboard Air Force One later in the day en route back to Washington from an event in North Dakota where Trump spoke about taxes.

Mnuchin said Trump chose a short-term deal to keep his options open on possibly raising military funding later this year, suggesting a longer-term government funding deal might have blocked that. Trump is very focused on military spending, “particularly with what’s going on in North Korea and other parts of the world today,” Mnuchin said. “The president wasn’t willing to give up his need for additional military spending.” If passed by the Republican-led Congress, the three-month agreement would avert an unprecedented default on U.S. government debt, keep the government funded at the outset of the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 and provide aid to victims of Hurricane Harvey. “It was a really good moment of some bipartisanship and getting things done,” top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said. Less than an hour before the meeting, Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan had called the Democratic proposal that Trump later embraced a “ridiculous and disgraceful” idea that would “play politics with the debt ceiling.”

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Curious timing. Note that Reuters has fully entered the anti-Trump echo chamber.

Fed’s Fischer Resigns, Leaving Trump Earlier Chance To Shape Central Bank (R.)

U.S. Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer, a veteran central banker who helped set the course for modern monetary policy, said on Wednesday he will step down from his position in mid-October, potentially accelerating President Donald Trump’s opportunity to reshape the direction of the central bank. In a letter to Trump, Fischer, 73, said he was resigning for personal reasons effective on or around Oct. 13, eight months before his term as vice chair expires in June. In the letter, Fischer said jobs growth had returned to the United States and that “steps to make the financial system stronger and more resilient” had been taken – actions that may now be weakened by the Trump administration.

His departure leaves the seven-person board of governors with as few as three sitting members, depending on whether and when the Senate confirms Trump nominee Randal Quarles to the role of vice chair for supervision, a job distinct from Fischer’s vice chairmanship. The Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination on Thursday. The White House said it had no immediate comment on Fischer’s departure or on the timing for filling his spot or other positions at the Fed. Though the Fed often operates with fewer than its full complement of seven governors, it has never dipped as low as three. Fischer’s earlier-than-expected departure intensifies the urgency for Trump to decide how deeply he wants to overhaul U.S. monetary policy. Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s term expires in February. While Trump has spoken approvingly of her performance he has also kept the door open to naming his top economic adviser Gary Cohn, or someone else, to the job.

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He thinks he’s taken all he’s going to get.

Deutsche Bank Boss Calls On ECB To Halt Cheap Money (R.)

Deutsche Bank chief executive John Cryan has called on the European Central Bank to change course on providing cheap money, warning he sees price bubbles in stocks, bonds and property. “The era of cheap money in Europe should come to an end – despite the strong euro,” Cryan told a room full of bankers in Frankfurt on Wednesday, a day before the ECB’s governors meet to discuss policy. Low interest rates, money printing and a penalty charge for hoarding cash have been at the heart of attempts by the central bank to reinvigorate the 19-country euro zone economy in the wake of the 2008-09 financial crisis. But the policy, which has seen the ECB print more than €2 trillion ($2.4 trillion) so far, has been politically divisive, prompting fierce criticism from famously thrifty Germans.

It has also imposed a heavy cost on still fragile banks, turning deposits into a hot potato that many would rather avoid so as not to pay charges to their central bank for storing them. The head of Germany’s largest commercial bank warned of the fallout from cheap money, cautioning against using the strong euro as a justification for printing more. “We are now seeing signs of bubbles in more and more parts of the capital market,” he said. Cryan also said Frankfurt was the most natural location as a financial hub as banks move from London after Britain’s decision to leave the European Union – ahead of Paris, Dublin and Amsterdam. “There is only one European city which can fulfil these requirements and that city is Frankfurt,” he said, pointing to Frankfurt’s supervisory authorities, law firms, consultancies and airport.

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Multiple papers have been leaked in recent days. They won’t be the last.

New Leak Of Brexit Papers Reveals Fissures Between Britain And EU (G.)

The EU will risk heightening tensions with the UK on Brexit by publishing five combative position papers in the coming days, including one that places the onus on Britain to solve the problem of the Irish border, according to documents leaked to the Guardian. The Irish document shows that Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, will call on the UK to work out “solutions” that avoid the creation of a hard border and guarantee peace on the island. The leaks come a day after the Guardian obtained a draft memo showing the British government’s position on post-Brexit EU migration, which has been denounced as “completely confused”, “economically illiterate” and “a blueprint on how to strangle London’s economy”. The Ireland paper is one of five due to be published by the European commission in the coming days. Each is dated 6 September and was drawn up by Barnier’s article 50 taskforce in Brussels.

Together, the papers lay bare the complexity of disentangling Britain from the European Union. Each paper is focused on withdrawal day, 29 March 2019, delving into technical minefields not dealt with during the referendum campaign. EU proposals include:
• A demand – likely to inflame Brexiters – for the UK to legislate for the “continued protection” of special foods such as Parma ham and feta cheese, as well as French burgundy and Spanish cava. Brussels wants to ensure that more than 3,300 food and drink products are protected from British copycats after Brexit.
• Ensuring that any goods in transit on Brexit day would be subject to the jurisdiction of the European court of justice. In effect, British companies and the British government would be liable to fines from Brussels for breaking EU VAT and customs rules.
• A warning to the government that it must guarantee EU data protection standards on classified EU documents. If not, the EU wants these documents erased or destroyed.
• Asking Britain not to discriminate against EU companies which are carrying out state-funded infrastructure projects that began before Brexit day.

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How to spell deflation.

Consumption Exhaustion (Lebowitz)

Debt serves as a regulator of economic growth and is the focus of ill-advised fiscal and monetary policy. It is no coincidence that no matter what economic topic we explore, debt is usually a central theme. Illustrated in the chart below is the actual trajectory of total U.S. debt outstanding (black) through March 2017 and a calculated parabolic curve (red). The parabolic curve uses 1951 as a starting point and a quarterly 1.82% compounding factor to create the best statistical fit to the actual debt curve. If we start with the $434 billion of debt outstanding on December 1951 and grow it by 1.82% each quarter thereafter, the result is the gray line. If debt outstanding continues to follow this parabolic curve, it will exceed $60 trillion by the first quarter of 2020, or nine quarters from now.

Many economists point to the stability of debt service costs as a reason to ignore the parabolic debt chart. Despite rising debt loads, falling interest rates have served as a ballast allowing more debt accumulation at little incremental cost. While that may have worked in the past, near zero interest rates makes it nearly impossible to continue enjoying the benefits of falling interest rates going forward. Importantly, social safety net obligations, demographics, and political dynamics argue that debt growth is likely to continue accelerating as implied by the chart above. Without interest rates falling in step with rising debt burdens, debt service costs will begin to rise appreciably.

The power of compounding, extolled by Albert Einstein as the eighth wonder of the universe, is as damning in its demands as it is merciful in its generosity. Barring negative interest rates, debt service costs will be an insurmountable burden by 2020. However, if the debt trajectory slows as it did in 2008 that too will bring about painful consequences. In other words, all roads lead to trouble.

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“China maintains a quasi-pegged exchange rate, which requires balancing the inflow and outflow of capital. That means attracting foreign investment is a necessary precondition for investing abroad..”

China Realizes It Needs Foreign Companies (Balding)

China is increasingly desperate for foreign investment. Yet foreign companies are less and less interested in what it has to offer. How this problem gets resolved may be one of the most important questions facing China’s economy. After China joined the World Trade Organization, in 2001, overseas investors couldn’t wait to jump in. Foreign direct investment grew at an annualized rate of 10.8% from 2000 to 2008. Enticed by China’s market size and development capacity, companies were willing tolerate almost any kind of restriction. They turned over intellectual property; entered into joint ventures as junior partners, essentially training their eventual competitors; and accepted restricted access to wide swathes of the economy. Since the financial crisis, however, things have changed.

Wages in China have risen by an average of 11% a year, making it less attractive for outsourcing. Despite years of complaints, intellectual property theft hasn’t abated (just ask Michael Jordan, who had to wage a four-year court battle to get ownership of his own name in China). Add in an increasingly hostile business environment, and it’s not surprising that overseas companies are losing enthusiasm. Since 2008, utilized foreign direct investment has increased by an average rate of only 4% a year. According to quarterly balance-of-payment data, FDI has amounted to only $55 billion this year through June. The last time China’s mid-year inflows were that low was in 2009, the year after the financial crisis. This could have serious economic consequences.

Due to shady invoicing – which many firms use to evade capital controls – the money flowing into China through its trade surplus has shrunk. From 2010 through 2014, banks reported net settlement inflows from goods trade of nearly $1.7 trillion. Since January 2015, net settlement by banks has amounted to only $278 billion, while the official trade surplus is $1.3 trillion. For a country that relies on capital accumulation to sustain growth, this is a significant problem. Making matters worse, China maintains a quasi-pegged exchange rate, which requires balancing the inflow and outflow of capital. That means attracting foreign investment is a necessary precondition for investing abroad, which is China’s main method of advancing its foreign-policy objectives.

Read more …

All on red.

Apple Needs iPhone 8 To Solve A Giant Financial Headache (BI)

Apple will launch its next-generation iPhone (expected to be called the iPhone 8 or the iPhone Edition) on September 12, and this chart from Guggenheim Securities analyst Robert Cihra gives you a good idea of the giant headache Apple needs that new phone to solve. The graph is interesting because it shows Apple’s business in a seldom-seen way: It charts only the revenue growth of the company, broken out by product. The chart does a good job of showing how Apple’s various product lines have increasingly stalled over the years. In each of the last four years, Apple had one or more major product lines with shrinking sales. In 2016, that came to a head, and Apple’s overall revenue went into decline for the first time ever.

Note that in 2016, Apple’s worst year, the only division growing revenues was Services — apps, content, and software in iTunes. The stakes for iPhone 8 and its kindred models — iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus — couldn’t be higher. If they don’t grow revenues, then the company as a whole doesn’t grow. The task facing Apple is not trivial. As this chart from Deutsche Bank shows, the iPhone tends to grow more slowly than the smartphone market as a whole — and the smartphone market has flatlined.

Read more …

Spain threatens criminal charges for people seeking self-determination.

Catalonia Launches Its Independence Challenge Against Spain (AFP)

Catalonia’s regional parliament passed a law on Wednesday (Sep 6) paving the way for an independence referendum on Oct 1 which is fiercely opposed by Madrid, setting a course for Spain’s deepest political crisis in decades. The looming showdown comes three weeks after militant attacks in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, and a seaside resort which killed 16 people and wounded more than 120. The law was adopted with 72 votes in favour and 11 abstentions after 12 hours of often stormy debate in the regional assembly. Lawmakers who oppose independence for the wealthy northeastern region of Spain quit the chamber before the vote. After the law was passed, separatist lawmakers, who have a majority in the assembly, sang the Catalan anthem, “Els Segadors”, which recalls a 1640 revolt in the region against the Spanish monarchy.

Lawmakers approved the bill despite a February ruling by Spain’s Constitutional court declaring it would be unconstitutional. Shortly after the law was passed the president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, and the rest of his cabinet signed a decree calling the referendum, presenting a show of unity in the face of threats of legal action by Madrid, which deems the plebiscite illegal. Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said before the law was passed that the government had asked the Constitutional Court to declare “void and without effect the agreements adopted” by the Catalan parliament. She also denounced the regional assembly’s agreement to quickly vote on the bill with little debate as an “act of force” characteristic of “dictatorial regimes”. At the same time, public prosecutors announced they would seek criminal charges for disobedience against the president of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, and other Catalan officials for allowing the vote on the referendum law.

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Macron can only do what Merkel allows him.

Emmanuel Macron To Outline Vision For Europe’s Future In Athens Speech (G.)

Emmanuel Macron will make Greece the launchpad for a major policy speech on the future of Europe as he starts his first official trip to the country on Thursday. From the dramatic setting of the ancient Pnyx in Athens, the French president is expected to outline his vision for the continent in what is being called his most important overseas address since taking office in May. Amid the rocky hills of the Pnyx beneath the Acropolis, the speech will focus on the virtues of democracy as the European Union – and Greece – finally show signs of economic revival. “It will be a message of confidence in Greece but also a European symbolic message, given that in many ways Greece has been a symbol of Europe’s crisis,” said an Élysée Palace source. “The restart of Greece is the restart of the eurozone.”

It is a measure of the significance the Greek government is attaching to the visit that Macron is making the address from such an august setting. From the earliest days of Athenian democracy, the Pnyx was a meeting place for popular assemblies. In more modern times its use has been limited to the rare photo op. The young president will be the first French leader to speak from it, in what Greeks are also calling a subliminal message of hope. Macron has been criticised at home for his carefully choreographed media appearances evoking the grandeur of eras past, and has seen his approval ratings drop dramatically. But officials say the rich symbolism of Macron’s Athens speech will underscore the argument that, despite its battle to stay in the eurozone and keep bankruptcy at bay, Greece remains at the heart of Europe’s tradition and history.

“We see it is as a very important visit,” said the deputy minister of economy and development, Stergios Pitsiorlas. “We are very much hoping it will not only deepen economic cooperation but also herald a change in the political dynamic in the EU which for so long has been dominated by a single state, Germany.” France has stood by Greece, often defending it in fraught negotiations, since international creditors, led by Berlin, were forced to come to the debt-stricken country’s rescue issuing the first of three bailouts in return for tough reforms in May 2010. Macron, a former economy minister, has long advocated debt relief for Athens – echoing the view of its leftist-led government that without it the Greek economy can never fully recover.

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While politicians on all sides cheer the ‘recovery’.

Crisis-Ridden Greek Households Cut Even On Milk And Bread (KTG)

The economic crisis continues to plague Greek households struggling too make ends meet – month in, month out. A survey conducted by Nielsen shows a decline in consumption and therefore the plight of thousands of families. Greeks cut on essential goods like milk and bread. The drop in the category of milk in the organized retail market reached 8.6% in the first half of 2017. Sales of essential consumer goods continue to drop, according to a Nielsen survey of the Greek market. Sales of milk, bread and alcoholic beverages are among the goods that suffer most. In the first half of 2017 the drop in the sale of milk reached 8.6%, while sales of packaged bread shrank by 5.3%. Sales of alcoholic beverages also recorded significant losses, as whiskey sales dropped by 6.8% over the same period.

Overall, retail trade lost 1.1% in value in the first half of the year compared to the same period last year. More pronounced downward trends were recorded in personal care products at 4.4%, and household goods at 3.5%. Sales of deodorants and diapers dropped by 7.3% and 7.2% respectively. In household goods, chlorine dropped by 8.9% and kitchen paper towel by 7.7%. The only positive trend in all sectors was in fresh / bulk products where sales increased by 2.0%. An earlier Nielsen survey has shown that food sales in Greece have dropped by 18 percent since 2009, when the current economic crisis begun. In 2009, food sales reached a record high, totalling 13.15 billion euros. However, as Greece entered the first bailout program in 2010, the demand for food items started to drop. The decrease was also attributed partly to the closing down of small grocery and convenience stores..

Read more …

Mar 242017
 
 March 24, 2017  Posted by at 8:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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DPC “Broad Street and curb market, New York” 1906

 

Trump Ultimatum: Pass Health Bill Now Or Live With Obamacare (MW)
The US Has the Most Expensive Healthcare System in the World (Statista)
‘Deaths of Despair’ Surge in White US Middle Class (Vox)
The Retail Apocalypse Has Officially Descended On America (BI)
WikiLeaks Releases Vault 7 “Dark Matter”: CIA Bugs “Factory Fresh” iPhones (WL)
China’s Property Bubble Risks Youth Revolt (CNBC)
China’s Largest Dairy Operator Crashes Over 90% In Minutes (ZH)
Eurozone Whistles Past its Biggest Threat: Italy’s Multi-Headed Hydra (ZH)
Schäuble Annoyed By Foreign Minister Saying Germany Should Pay More To EU (R.)
Greek Objections Mar Preparations For EU’s 60th Birthday (R.)
Greece Says To Support Rome Declaration, Calls For EU Backing On Reforms (R.)
40% Of Greek Businesses Say Likely To Close Shop Within The Year (K.)
EU Envoy: Three Million Migrants Waiting To Cross Into Greece (K.)
Over 250 Migrants Feared Drowned On ‘Black Day’ In Mediterranean (AFP)

 

 

This will attract some media attention. Better do it after the markets close.

Trump Ultimatum: Pass Health Bill Now Or Live With Obamacare (MW)

President Donald Trump reportedly laid down an ultimatum to House Republicans on Thursday night: Pass the health-care bill, as is, on Friday, or live with Obamacare. The hard line came after more than a day of frantic negotiations to win the support of conservative Republicans who oppose the bill, and could block its passage. A vote on the bill had been scheduled for Thursday night, but was postponed earlier in the day after the GOP couldn’t win over holdout lawmakers. White House budget director Mitch Mulvaney dropped Trump’s demand in a meeting with rank-and-file House Republicans, and said the administration and House Speaker Paul Ryan were done with negotiations, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. If Friday’s bill fails, Trump is resigned to live with Obamacare and move on, he said.

CNN similarly reported that the closed-door meeting ended with an ultimatum, and Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) told the network that the vote is expected to be held Friday afternoon. The move is a gamble by the Trump administration, which has placed much political capital in its promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. “They’re going to bring it up, pass or fail,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) told the Washington Post. The GOP can’t afford more than 21 dissenting votes, but CNN counted 26 “no” votes and four more “likely” no votes. Every House Democrat is expected to oppose the bill.

Read more …

And what’s worse, no way out.

The US Has the Most Expensive Healthcare System in the World (Statista)

If the American Healthcare Act, President Trump’s first major legislative effort, is going to a vote in the House of Representatives as scheduled on Thursday, it is by no means clear that it will receive the 215 votes it needs for passage. When the Republican healthcare plan was first presented to the public on March 6, it left people from both sides of the political spectrum dissatisfied. While Democrats fear that the suggested bill, which would repeal large portions of Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, would leave millions of Americans uninsured and hurt the poor and vulnerable, many Republicans think it doesn’t go far enough in erasing all traces of Obamacare.

For many years now, the American healthcare system has been flawed. As our chart illustrates, U.S. health spending per capita (including public and private spending) is higher than it is anywhere else in the world, and yet, the country lags behind other nations in several aspects such as life expectancy and health insurance coverage. This chart shows health spending (public and private) per capita in selected countries.

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Not my original observation, but true: it looks a lot like Russia in the 1990s.

‘Deaths of Despair’ Surge in White US Middle Class (Vox)

In 2015, a blockbuster study came to a surprising conclusion: Middle-aged white Americans are dying younger for the first time in decades, despite positive life expectancy trends in other wealthy countries and other segments of the US population. The research, by Princeton University’s Anne Case and Angus Deaton, highlighted the links between economic struggles, suicides, and alcohol and drug overdoses. Since then, Case and Deaton have been working to more fully explain their findings. They’ve now come to a compelling conclusion: It’s complicated. There’s no single reason for this disturbing increase in the mortality rate, but a toxic cocktail of factors. In a new 60-page paper, “Mortality and morbidity in the 21st Century,” out in draft form in the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity Thursday, the researchers weave a narrative of “cumulative disadvantage” over a lifetime for white people ages 45 through 54, particularly those with low levels of education.

[..] The US, particularly middle-aged white Americans, is an outlier in the developed world when it comes to this mid-life mortality uptick. “Mortality rates in comparable rich countries have continued their pre-millennial fall at the rates that used to characterize the US,” Case and Deaton write. “In contrast to the US, mortality rates in Europe are falling for those with low levels of educational attainment, and are doing so more rapidly than mortality rates for those with higher levels of education.” If American wants to turn the trend around, then it has to become a little more like other countries with more generous safety nets and more accessible health care, the researchers said.

Introducing a single-payer health system, for example, or value-added or goods and services taxes that support a stronger safety net would be top of their policy wish list. (America right now is, of course, moving in the opposite direction under Trump, and shredding the safety net.) They also admit, though, that it’s taken decades to reverse the mortality progress in America, and it won’t be turned around quickly or easily. But there is one “no-brainer” change that could help, Case added. “The easy thing would be close the tap on prescription opioids for chronic pain.” Unlike health care and increasing taxes, opioids are actually a public health issue with bipartisan support. Deaton, for his part, was hopeful. Paraphrasing Milton Friedman, he said, “All policy seems impossible until it suddenly becomes inevitable.”

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“Visits declined by 50% between 2010 and 2013..” “What’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money. That’s it. This isn’t rocket science.”

The Retail Apocalypse Has Officially Descended On America (BI)

Thousands of mall-based stores are shutting down in what’s fast becoming one of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades. More than 3,500 stores are expected to close in the next couple of months. Department stores like JCPenney, Macy’s, Sears, and Kmart are among the companies shutting down stores, along with middle-of-the-mall chains like Crocs, BCBG, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Guess. Some retailers are exiting the brick-and-mortar business altogether and trying to shift to an all-online model. For example, Bebe is closing all its stores — about 170 — to focus on increasing its online sales, according to a Bloomberg report. The Limited also recently shut down all 250 of its stores, but it still sells merchandise online.

Others, such as Sears and JCPenney, are aggressively paring down their store counts to unload unprofitable locations and try to staunch losses. Sears is shutting down about 10% of its Sears and Kmart locations, or 150 stores, and JCPenney is shutting down about 14% of its locations, or 138 stores. According to many analysts, the retail apocalypse has been a long time coming in the US, where stores per capita far outnumber that of any other country. The US has 23.5 square feet of retail space per person, compared with 16.4 square feet in Canada and 11.1 square feet in Australia, the next two countries with the most retail space per capita, according to a Morningstar Credit Ratings report from October. Visits to shopping malls have been declining for years with the rise of e-commerce and titanic shifts in how shoppers spend their money. Visits declined by 50% between 2010 and 2013, according to the real-estate research firm Cushman & Wakefield.

[..] as longtime retail analyst Howard Davidowitz observed in 2014, “What’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money. That’s it. This isn’t rocket science.”

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This could be a huge blow to Apple. Who wants to buy something the CIA has already tinkered with in the factory? Expect giant lawsuits too. Apple knew.

WikiLeaks Releases Vault 7 “Dark Matter”: CIA Bugs “Factory Fresh” iPhones (WL)

Today, March 23rd 2017, WikiLeaks releases Vault 7 “Dark Matter”, which contains documentation for several CIA projects that infect Apple Mac Computer firmware (meaning the infection persists even if the operating system is re-installed) developed by the CIA’s Embedded Development Branch (EDB). These documents explain the techniques used by CIA to gain ‘persistence’ on Apple Mac devices, including Macs and iPhones and demonstrate their use of EFI/UEFI and firmware malware. Among others, these documents reveal the “Sonic Screwdriver” project which, as explained by the CIA, is a “mechanism for executing code on peripheral devices while a Mac laptop or desktop is booting” allowing an attacker to boot its attack software for example from a USB stick “even when a firmware password is enabled”. The CIA’s “Sonic Screwdriver” infector is stored on the modified firmware of an Apple Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter.

“DarkSeaSkies” is “an implant that persists in the EFI firmware of an Apple MacBook Air computer” and consists of “DarkMatter”, “SeaPea” and “NightSkies”, respectively EFI, kernel-space and user-space implants. Documents on the “Triton” MacOSX malware, its infector “Dark Mallet” and its EFI-persistent version “DerStake” are also included in this release. While the DerStake1.4 manual released today dates to 2013, other Vault 7 documents show that as of 2016 the CIA continues to rely on and update these systems and is working on the production of DerStarke2.0.

Also included in this release is the manual for the CIA’s “NightSkies 1.2” a “beacon/loader/implant tool” for the Apple iPhone. Noteworthy is that NightSkies had reached 1.2 by 2008, and is expressly designed to be physically installed onto factory fresh iPhones. i.e the CIA has been infecting the iPhone supply chain of its targets since at least 2008. While CIA assets are sometimes used to physically infect systems in the custody of a target it is likely that many CIA physical access attacks have infected the targeted organization’s supply chain including by interdicting mail orders and other shipments (opening, infecting, and resending) leaving the United States or otherwise.

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A lot of cities around the world share that risk.

China’s Property Bubble Risks Youth Revolt (CNBC)

China faces the risk of youth disenchantment as property prices rise beyond their reach, a renowned Chinese economist said Friday. “In a regular country, wealth should be concentrated in the financial markets, not fixed assets,” said Renmin University of China Vice President Wu Xiaoqiu at a media interview at the Boao Forum in the province of Hainan. He highlighted the risks from the current property bubble in China, such as negative asset values if prices tank. More importantly, the social risks that come from the property bubble in the form of youth disenchantment with not being to afford a home will be damaging, he said. “If young people lose hope, the economy will suffer, as housing is a necessity,” he said.

Wu said he was hopeful the authorities would find a solution to constrain the froth in Chinese real estate, but admitted that repeated measures to curb speculation have so far only met with short-term success. Wu’s comments follow a People’s Bank of China survey published on Tuesday, which found that 52.2% of urban households perceived housing prices to be “unacceptably high” in the first quarter of the year, Reuters reported. In February, gains in Chinese home prices picked up pace after they slowed in the previous four months despite government efforts to curb speculation, Reuters reported on Sunday. Prices in the big cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen rose 22.1%, 21.1% and 13.5%, respectively, from a year ago.

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Wow.

China’s Largest Dairy Operator Crashes Over 90% In Minutes (ZH)

In December 2016, Muddy Waters’ Carson Block said China’s largest dairy farm operator, Hong-Kong listed China Huishan Dairy, is “worth close to zero” and questioned its profitability in a report. Today, with no catalyst, it suddenly almost is. The stock collapsed over 90% in minutes to a record low. The sudden crash wiped out about $4.2 billion in market value in the stock, which is a member of the MSCI China Index.

In December, Muddy Waters alleged that Huishan had been overstating its spending on its cow farms by as much as 1.6 billion yuan to “support the company’s income statement.” The report also alleged that the company made an unannounced transfer of a subsidiary that owned at least four cow farms to an undisclosed related party and Muddy Waters concluded that Chairman Yang Kai controls the subsidiary and farms. Those findings came from several months of research including visits to 35 farms and five production facilities, drone flyovers of Huishan sites and interviews with alfalfa suppliers, according to the report. Muddy Waters said it has shorted Huishan’s stock.

“It will be even harder for Huishan to get funded in the capital market after the report, amid a couple of earlier allegations that have raised some red flags to investors,” said Robin Yuen at RHB OSK Securities Hong Kong. Still, Huishan’s shares and operations are unlikely to “collapse” due to its high share concentration and sufficient cash flow generated by its dairy business, he said by telephone. About 73% of Huishan’s shares are held by Champ Harvest Ltd., a company that’s in turn 90% owned by Yang. A buying spree by Yang had supported the shares last year, making it a painful trade for short sellers. A one-year rally of about 80% through a peak in June had made the shares expensive.

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“If roughly half of all Italians are against the single currency today, imagine what it will be like when austerity begins really biting.”

Eurozone Whistles Past its Biggest Threat: Italy’s Multi-Headed Hydra (ZH)

For the last three years, the political establishment in Italy and beyond have had a field day attacking, ridiculing, and vilifying Beppe Grillo’s 5-star movement. Europe’s media have tarred him with the brush of populism. In 2013 The Economist labelled him a clown on its front cover. Yet his party still leads the polls. And that lead is growing. A new Ipsos poll in Corriere della Sera newspaper has put Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star Movement on 32.3% – its highest ever reading. It placed 5.5 points ahead of the governing PD, on 26.8%, after the PD dropped more than three%age points in a month, as former prime minister Matteo Renzi battles to reassert his authority following a walkout by a left-wing faction. Internal political battles are nothing new in Italy. The country enjoys a hard-earned reputation for political instability and paralysis, having seen 63 governments come and go since 1945.

The problem this time around is that internal weakness and strife in Italy’s traditional center-left and center-right parties could end up gifting the next election to a party that refuses to play by the book. If it wins the next elections, which could be brought forward to as early as June this year, 5-Star Movement has pledged to hold a referendum of its own – albeit a non-binding one – on Italy’s membership of the euro. As polls have shown, there is much broader public apathy toward the single currency than in just about any other euro zone nation. Grillo’s plan could also receive the backing of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi who is determined to pull off a political comeback and is talking of restoring the Italian Lira.

As Reuters reports, such a scenario could spook financial markets “wary of both the 5-Star’s euroskepticism and the threat of prolonged political instability in Italy,” which boasts a public debt burden of over €2 trillion (133% of GDP). In any normal situation that would be a problem. But Italy is not in a normal situation; it is on the cusp of a potentially very large financial crisis that, if mishandled, could bring down Europe’s entire financial system. Unlike many other Eurozone economies like Spain, Ireland Portugal, Italy did not experience a real estate or stock market bubble in the 2000s; nor were its banks heavily exposed to the financial derivatives that helped spread the fallout from the U.S. subprime crisis all around the world. As such, Italy has not had cause to bail out its financial system — until now.

[..] Italy’s current predicament is a multi-headed hydra: a banking crisis, an economic crisis, a debt crisis, and a political crisis all rolled into one, and all coming to a head at the same time. It’s the reason why economists including Deutsche Bank’s Marco Stringa are calling Italy, not France or Greece, the “main risk” to euro-area stability. From a Eurozone-stability point of view, and from a bondholder point of view, the best-case scenario would be the rescue of Italy’s banks, with taxpayers bearing most of the brunt. That should help steady investor nerves and put an end to the gathering exodus of funds out of Italian assets. But even then, the social, political and economic price to be paid in a country already with public debt of over €2 trillion, youth unemployment of almost 40%, and an economy that is 12% smaller than it was 10 years ago, will almost certainly be way too high. If roughly half of all Italians are against the single currency today, imagine what it will be like when austerity begins really biting.

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He’s blowing up the EU without noticing a thing.

Schäuble Annoyed By Foreign Minister Saying Germany Should Pay More To EU (R.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Friday criticised Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel for saying Germany should provide more money for Greece and the European Union overall. Schaueble told Deutschlandfunk radio he was annoyed by Gabriel’s suggestion because it “goes in the wrong direction completely” and sent the wrong message. He added that Europe’s problem was not primarily money but that its money needed to be used in the right way. On whether Greece can stay in the euro zone, Schaeuble said: “Greece can only do that if it has a competitive economy.” He said the country needed to carry out reforms and that would take time, adding: “But if the time is not used to carry out reforms because that’s uncomfortable, then that’s the wrong path.”

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Feels like a funeral party.

Greek Objections Mar Preparations For EU’s 60th Birthday (R.)

Greece has stuck to its objections to a declaration to mark the European Union’s 60th anniversary, officials in Brussels and Athens said on Thursday, a potentially embarrassing setback for the bloc as it seeks to rebuild unity ahead of Brexit. The leaders of the EU’s 27 remaining states will mark the anniversary on Saturday at a gathering in Rome overshadowed by Britain’s unprecedented decision to leave. London is due to formally trigger the divorce negotiations next week. Athens has threatened not to sign the Rome declaration charting the future of the post-Brexit EU, making a link between agreeing to the text and separate talks on reforms that lenders are seeking from Greece in exchange for new loans. “The negotiations on the draft Rome Declaration have ended as the text was finalized by the EU27,” an EU source said. “Only Greece has a general reservation on the text.”

Greece has said it wants the Rome text to spell out more clearly the protection of labor rights. Greece’s separate debt talks with international lenders are now stuck over this specific issue. One diplomat in Brussels said the issue may now only be resolved at the highest level with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Another EU diplomat said any attempt by Athens to win leverage on the international debt talks by holding off in Rome should not succeed: “We won’t be blackmailed by one member state which is linking one EU issue with a totally different one.” As well as Greece, Poland indicated on Thursday it might also refuse to endorse the declaration, though diplomats played down the threat. Warsaw is particularly opposed to a ‘multi-speed Europe,’ an idea promoted by Germany, France and Brussels, among others, to help improve decision-making in the post-Brexit EU.

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“Whether, in other words, the European acquis is valid for all member states without exception, or for all except Greece.”

Greece Says To Support Rome Declaration, Calls For EU Backing On Reforms (R.)

Greece will support a declaration marking the EU’s 60th birthday but needs the bloc’s backing against IMF demands on labour reforms, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said ahead of a Summit in Rome on Friday. In a letter addressed to EU Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, Tsipras called for a clear statement on whether the declaration would apply to Greece, as talks over a key bailout review hit a snag again. “We intend to support the Rome Declaration, a document which moves in a positive direction,” Tsipras said. “Nevertheless, in order to be able to celebrate these achievements, it has to be made clear, on an official level, whether they apply also to Greece. Whether, in other words, the European acquis is valid for all member states without exception, or for all except Greece.”

Earlier this week, Greece threatened not to sign the Rome declaration, demanding a clearer commitment protecting workers’ rights – an issue on which it is at odds with its international lenders who demand more reforms in return for new loans. The disagreements among Athens, the EU and the IMF – which has yet to decide whether it will participate in the country’s current bailout – have delayed a crucial bailout review. As leaders prepared for the summit, Greek ministers were negotiating with lenders’ representatives in Brussels pension cuts and labour reforms, including freeing up mass layoffs and on collective bargaining. The latest round of talks ended inconclusively late on Thursday, according to Greek officials. [..] Greece has cut pensions 12 times since it signed up to its first bailout in 2010. It has also reduced wages and implemented labour reforms to make its market more flexible and competitive.

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Just imagine that. And then talk about recovery. No, all you need to do is reform!

40% Of Greek Businesses Say Likely To Close Shop Within The Year (K.)

Four in 10 Greek businesses (40.3%) consider it likely that they will have to close shop within the year, according to a survey by the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants (GSEVEE), presented by the ANA-MPA news agency on Thursday. According to the survey, around 18,700 businesses will close in the first six months of the year, forcing thousands to join growing unemployment lines in the crisis-hit country. The majority of shutdowns, according to GSEVEE, will be in and around the capital and will concern the manufacturing sector, while some 34,000 jobs will be lost by the closure of companies that are currently considered high risk. 7 in 10 businesses have reported increasing liquidity problems and a shortage of capital from the market, with the number of firms indebted to the state and their suppliers growing by 10% compared to last year.

Over four in five small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) admit to being exposed to credit risks, seeing a slump in economic activity and operating with the prospect of shrinking rather than expanding in the near future. In terms of employment, the forecasts for the first half of the year do not bode well, as for every two businesses (8.1% of the total) that plan to hire new staff, another three will be letting people go. GSEVEE estimates that 2,000 salaried jobs will be lost by June, without accounting for the impact on employment of the projected shutdowns. Moreover, 40% of those businesses that do plan to hire staff in the first half of 2017 said they won’t be offering payroll positions, but part-time or outsourced work.

Sentiment is also bleak, with 58.8% of respondents expecting conditions to deteriorate and just 11% seeing a possible improvement through June. As such, just 3.6% of businesses plan to make new investments and 6.4% have applied to investment funding programs for that period. “There needs to be a national plan for the country irrespective of who is in power, and politicians need to learn how to make decisions and give orders,” GSEVEE President Giorgos Kavvathas was quoted by the ANA-MPA news agency as saying. “Moreover, the uncertainty of the situation concerning the outcome of the negotiation [with foreign creditors] exacerbates fears and risks, which in turn make small businesses and the self-employed more vulnerable.”

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Could be another scary spring and summer.

EU Envoy: Three Million Migrants Waiting To Cross Into Greece (K.)

European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos on Thursday underlined the need to safeguard a deal between Brussels and Ankara to curb human smuggling in the Aegean, noting that some 3 million refugees were in Turkey waiting to cross into Greece in a bid to reach Western and Northern Europe. In comments during a visit to Athens, Avramopoulos said the deal signed last year between Turkey and the EU had reduced an influx of migrants toward Europe and curbed deaths at sea. Reception centers on the islands of the eastern Aegean, the first point of arrival for most migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey, are already overcrowded. A woman and a child were injured in clashes between Afghan and Algerian migrants on Chios on Wednesday night.

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We’re on track for multiple records.

Over 250 Migrants Feared Drowned On ‘Black Day’ In Mediterranean (AFP)

More than 250 African migrants were feared drowned in the Mediterranean Thursday after a charity’s rescue boat found five corpses close to two sinking rubber dinghies off Libya. The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said it was “deeply alarmed” after the Golfo Azzuro, a boat operated by Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, reported the recovery of the bodies close to the drifting, partially-submerged dinghies, 15 miles off the Libyan coast. “We don’t think there can be any other explanation than that these dinghies would have been full of people,” Proactiva spokeswoman Laura Lanuza told AFP. “It seems clear that they sunk.” She added that the inflatables, of a kind usually used by people traffickers, would typically have been carrying 120-140 migrants each.

“In over a year we have never seen any of these dinghies that were anything other than packed.” Lanuza said the bodies recovered were African men with estimated ages of between 16 and 25. They had drowned in the 24 hours prior to them being discovered shortly after dawn on Thursday in waters directly north of the Libyan port of Sabrata, according to the rescue boat’s medical staff. Vincent Cochetel, director of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR)’s Europe bureau, said NGO boats patrolling the area had been called to the aid of a third stricken boat on Thursday afternoon, raising fears others may have perished on what Proactiva called “a black day in the Mediterranean.”

Despite rough winter seas, migrant departures from Libya on boats chartered by people traffickers have accelerated in recent months from already-record levels. Nearly 6,000 people have been picked up by Italian-coordinated rescue boats since the end of last week, bringing the number brought to Italy since the start of 2017 to nearly 22,000, a significant rise on the same period in previous years. Aid groups say the accelerating exodus is being driven by worsening living conditions for migrants in Libya and by fears the sea route to Europe could soon be closed to traffickers. Prior to the latest fatal incident, the UN had estimated that at least 440 migrants had died trying to make the crossing from Libya to Italy since the start of 2017. Its refugee agency estimates total deaths crossing the Mediterranean at nearly 600.

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Dec 192016
 
 December 19, 2016  Posted by at 9:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Oil wells in Venice, California, bringing oil up from beach area 1952

Amid The Bombs of Aleppo, All You Can Hear Are The Lies (Peter Hitchens)
Coup Or No Coup: The Electoral College Votes On Monday (ZH)
A Spy Coup in America? (Robert Parry)
Trump Wants To Hear Hacking Evidence Direct From FBI (WSJ)
The $12 Trillion Credit Risk Juggle (BBG)
Gone in 60 Seconds: Chinese Snap Up Dollars as Yuan Tanks (BBG)
As Yuan Weakens, Chinese Rush To Open Foreign Currency Accounts (R.)
China Central Bank Presses Banks To Help After Interbank Lending Freezes (R.)
China To Strictly Limit Property Speculation In 2017 (R.)
Italy Banking Crisis is Also a Huge Crime Scene (DQ)
Ireland Appeals EU Order To Collect €13 Billion In Back Taxes From Apple (AP)
Apple To Appeal EU Tax Ruling, Says It Was A ‘Convenient Target’ (R.)
India Has Less And Less Reason To Exist In Its Current Form (Bhandari)
Greek Migration Minister Eyes ‘Closed’ Facilities On Islands (Kath.)
The Seven Deadly Things We’re Doing To Trash The Planet (John Vidal)

 

 

Hitchens is a veteran. And western propaganda on Aleppo has gotten way out of hand.

Amid The Bombs of Aleppo, All You Can Hear Are The Lies (Peter Hitchens)

[..] the old cliche ‘the first casualty of war is truth’ is absolutely right, and should be displayed in letters of fire over every TV and newspaper report of conflict, for ever. Almost nothing can be checked. You become totally reliant on the people you are with, and you identify with them. If you can find a working phone, you will feel justified in shouting whatever you have got into the mouthpiece – as simple and unqualified as possible. And your office will feel justified in putting it on the front page (if you are lucky). And that is when you are actually there, which is a sort of excuse for bending the rules.

In the past few days we have been bombarded with colourful reports of events in eastern Aleppo, written or transmitted by people in Beirut (180 miles away and in another country), or even London (2,105 miles away and in another world). There have, we are told, been massacres of women and children, people have been burned alive. The sources for these reports are so-called ‘activists’. Who are they? As far as I know, there was not one single staff reporter for any Western news organisation in eastern Aleppo last week. Not one. This is for the very good reason that they would have been kidnapped and probably murdered. The zone was ruled without mercy by heavily armed Osama Bin Laden sympathisers, who were bombarding the west of the city with powerful artillery (they frequently killed innocent civilians and struck hospitals, since you ask).

That is why you never see pictures of armed males in eastern Aleppo, just beautifully composed photographs of handsome young unarmed men lifting wounded children from the rubble, with the light just right. The women are all but invisible, segregated and shrouded in black, just as in the IS areas, as we saw when they let them out. For reasons that I find it increasingly hard to understand or excuse, much of the British media refer to these Al Qaeda types coyly as ‘rebels’ (David Cameron used to call them ‘moderates’). But if they were in any other place in the world, including Birmingham or Belmarsh, they would call them extremists, jihadis, terrorists and fanatics. One of them, Abu Sakkar, famously cut out and sank his teeth into the heart of a fallen enemy, while his comrades cheered. This is a checked and verified fact, by the way.

Sakkar later confirmed it to the BBC, when Western journalists still had contact with these people, and there is film of it if you care to watch. There is also film of a Syrian ‘rebel’ group, Nour al-din al Zenki, beheading a 12-year-old boy called Abdullah Issa. They smirk a lot. It is on the behalf of these ‘moderates’ that MPs staged a wholly one-sided debate last week, and on their behalf that so many people have been emoting equally one-sidedly over alleged massacres and supposed war crimes by Syrian and Russian troops – for which I have yet to see a single piece of independent, checkable evidence.

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A real American Christmas comedy.

Coup Or No Coup: The Electoral College Votes On Monday (ZH)

With even Harvard’s Larry Lessig admitting that his efforts to flip the Electoral College against Trump have failed miserably, it’s a near certainty that Trump will, in fact, be elected President when the Electoral College casts their votes tomorrow. That said, there could always be surprises and, as such, The Hill has published a list of five things you should keep an eye on as electors get set to cast their ballots. First, here is how the 538 electors should cast their ballots if they all strictly follow the will of the voters in their respective states.

That said, we know that at least one Texas elector, Chris Suprun, has vowed to go rogue tomorrow and anxious eyes will be waiting to see if anyone decides to join him. As The Hill points out, there hasn’t been an election since 1836 in which more than 1 elector changed his vote, so even 2 defectors would make history.

There’s no evidence of a widespread number of Republican defections—just one Republican elector from Texas has gone public with plans to break from Trump. But there hasn’t been an election in which more than one elector jumped ship for reasons other than the death of a candidate since 1836, according to the nonprofit FairVote. So a defection by even one more Republican elector would make history.

The next thing to watch is whether any Democrat electors will cast protest votes. A small group of Democratic electors had vowed to join Larry Lessig’s coup attempt by throwing their support behind an alternative Republican candidate. While this now seems like a remote possibility, it is something to watch for.

Democratic electors are the ones beating the drums for the revolt, yet they’re largely powerless to change the outcome. A handful of electors are already planning on uniting around a Republican alternative as a protest, but it’s still unclear how many are willing to join the protest. In theory, a unified front of the 232 Democrats could join with 38 Republicans to elect an alternative president. But in practice, the anti-Trump electors will be lucky if more than a dozen Democrats break.

With 29 states and the District of Columbia binding their electors by law, it will also be interesting to see if anyone in those states choose to defect, and if so, what penalties will be levied upon them.

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Lots of info from Parry, but basically just confirms what we already knew.

A Spy Coup in America? (Robert Parry)

As Official Washington’s latest “group think” solidifies into certainty – that Russia used hacked Democratic emails to help elect Donald Trump – something entirely different may be afoot: a months-long effort by elements of the U.S. intelligence community to determine who becomes the next president. I was told by a well-placed intelligence source some months ago that senior leaders of the Obama administration’s intelligence agencies – from the CIA to the FBI – were deeply concerned about either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump ascending to the presidency. And, it’s true that intelligence officials often come to see themselves as the stewards of America’s fundamental interests, sometimes needing to protect the country from dangerous passions of the public or from inept or corrupt political leaders.

It was, after all, a senior FBI official, Mark Felt, who – as “Deep Throat” – guided The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their Watergate investigation into the criminality of President Richard Nixon. And, I was told by former U.S. intelligence officers that they wanted to block President Jimmy Carter’s reelection in 1980 because they viewed him as ineffectual and thus not protecting American global interests. It’s also true that intelligence community sources frequently plant stories in major mainstream publications that serve propaganda or political goals, including stories that can be misleading or entirely false. So, what to make of what we have seen over the past several months when there have been a series of leaks and investigations that have damaged both Clinton and Trump — with some major disclosures coming, overtly and covertly, from the U.S. intelligence community led by CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey?

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The WSJ headline is: “Donald Trump’s Team Tones Down Skepticism on Russia Hacking Evidence”. But all he does is say: “show us the proof, show me and the American people.” So let’s have it.

Trump Wants To Hear Hacking Evidence Direct From FBI (WSJ)

Fresh signs emerged Sunday that President-elect Donald Trump could embrace the intelligence community’s view that the Russians were behind a computer-hacking operation aimed at influencing the November election. A senior Trump aide said Mr. Trump could accept Russia’s involvement if there is a unified presentation of evidence from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies. This followed weeks of skepticism from the president-elect and his supporters that there is sufficient evidence that Russia was responsible for cyberattacks against the Democratic National Committee or leak of stolen emails.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Mr. Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said the president-elect “would accept the conclusion if these intelligence professionals would get together, put out a report, show the American people that they are actually on the same page.” His statement follows an intensifying bipartisan push on Capitol Hill to launch a separate investigation into the matter. Mr. Trump has called for opening up new lines of cooperation with Russia, and some of his critics in both parties have said his refusal so far to say Russia tried to interfere in the election was a sign that he doesn’t believe that Moscow is a U.S. adversary.

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That’s quite the shift.

The $12 Trillion Credit Risk Juggle (BBG)

After the financial crisis, regulators were worried about too much risk being concentrated in too few hands.They are still concerned, but the hands have changed. The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Financial Research is devoted to worrying about everything and anything that could spur another financial crisis, and near the top of the list is the post-crisis explosion in corporate credit. This pile of debt is “a top threat to stability,” according to this Treasury unit’s latest report, as Bloomberg’s Claire Boston wrote on Tuesday. In particular, these researchers are wary of the changing composition of who owns these bonds. Big banks and hedge funds own a much smaller proportion, while insurers and mutual funds own much more of it.


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More specifically, banks and household and nonprofits, a category that includes hedge funds, have reduced their holdings of U.S. corporate credit by $1.6 trillion since 2008, while insurers, mutual funds and the rest of the world have increased it by $3.6 trillion, according to data compiled by Goldman Sachs that includes foreign sovereign debt and asset-backed securities. This is a salient matter. The Federal Reserve just raised rates for a second time in two years and predicts three rate increases next year, possibly marking the end of this era of financial repression that’s spurred a record pace of corporate-debt sales.

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With Goldman predicting the biggest fall for the yuan in 20 years, Beijing is in a bind.

Gone in 60 Seconds: Chinese Snap Up Dollars as Yuan Tanks (BBG)

Chinese savers, eager to convert their yuan before the currency keeps depreciating, are snapping up U.S. dollar investment products that offer options for keeping money at home instead of sending it overseas. The latest wealth management products from China Merchants Bank last week, paying 2.37% annual interest on U.S. dollars, sold out in 60 seconds flat. “You won’t be able to get it online because it’s gone in less than a minute,” said a branch manager, who would only give the surname Xu, and encourages customers to book a day in advance next time. A growing number of offerings of such U.S. dollar funds and how quickly they’re being purchased show the surging demand for foreign currency amid outflows that are estimated to have totaled more than $1.5 trillion since the beginning of 2015.

By shifting into dollars – U.S., Australian and Hong Kong are among the favorites – deposit holders are shielded from the yuan’s losses without having to take their money out of the country to seek returns. “It seems an attractive choice to convert the yuan into the dollar sooner rather than later,” Harrison Hu at NatWest Markets, a unit of RBS, wrote in a note. He estimates that household purchases of foreign exchange could double to $15 billion a month in the coming quarter, absent new controls. A more hawkish than expected outlook from the U.S. Federal Reserve after it lifted interest rates last week has helped accelerate a dollar rally, with analysts predicting further gains. As the yuan has declined, China’s authorities have tried to vigorously enforce strict rules on moving cash over the border, where it is often invested in purchases such as real estate.

In recent weeks, policy makers in Beijing have put the brakes on everything from companies buying assets overseas to offshore purchases of life insurance to stem the tide of cash outflows. The fresh measures include checks by the currency regulator on any capital account transactions involving foreign exchange of $5 million or more. That followed steps earlier this year to ban the sharing of foreign-exchange quotas. In November, banks sold 49% more foreign-currency denominated wealth management products, most of them in U.S. dollars, than in October, according to PY Standard. November’s foreign currency deposits increased 11.4% from a year earlier, more than double the 4.8% rise in October, according to the People’s Bank of China.

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If you’re really a market economy, what do you do?

As Yuan Weakens, Chinese Rush To Open Foreign Currency Accounts (R.)

Zhang Yuting lives and works in Shanghai, has only visited the United States once, and rarely needs to use foreign currency. But that hasn’t stopped the 29-year-old accountant from putting a slice of her bank savings into the greenback. She is not alone. In the first 11 months of 2016, official figures show that foreign currency bank deposits owned by Chinese households rose by almost 32%, propelled by the yuan’s recent fall to eight-year lows against the dollar. The rapid rise – almost four times the growth rate for total deposits in the yuan and other currencies as recorded in central bank data – comes at a time when the yuan is under intense pressure from capital outflows. The outflows are partially a result of concerns that the yuan is going to weaken further as U.S. interest rates rise, and because of lingering concerns about the health of the Chinese economy.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s threats to declare China a currency manipulator and to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese imports into the U.S., as well as tensions over Taiwan and the South China Sea, have only added to the fears. “Expectations of capital flight are clear,” said Zhang, who used her yuan savings to buy $10,000 this year. “I might exchange more yuan early next year, as long as I’ve got money.” Household foreign currency deposits in China are not huge compared to the money that companies, banks and wealthy individuals have been directing into foreign currency accounts and other assets offshore. All up, households had $118.72 billion of foreign money in their bank accounts at the end of November, while total foreign currency deposits were $702.56 billion. But the high growth rate in the household forex holdings are symbolic of a growing headache for the government as it struggles to counter the yuan’s weakness

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Liquidity is one of the things central banks do not control. Not in the way China sees control.

China Central Bank Presses Banks To Help After Interbank Lending Freezes (R.)

China’s central bank stepped in to urge major commercial banks to lend to non-bank financial institutions on Thursday afternoon after many suspended interbank operations amid tight liquidity conditions, Caixin reported. The People’s Bank of China intervened to help institutions such as securities firms and fund managers after banks, including the big four state-owned banks, became reluctant to make loans, the financial magazine said, citing traders and institutional sources. Caixin said that traders pointed to worsening sentiment among banks about market conditions and growing caution over interbank lending, especially after the U.S. Fed triggered a sell-off in the bond futures market on Thursday by signaling more rate hikes in 2017. Liquidity has become a major factor affecting the market after the central bank increased the cost of capital through open market operations in the past month, the magazine added.

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Don’t believe a word of it.

China To Strictly Limit Property Speculation In 2017 (R.)

China will strictly limit credit flowing into speculative buying in the property market in 2017, top leaders said at an economic conference on Friday, as reported by the official Xinhua news agency. “Houses are for people to live in, not for people to speculate,” Xinhua said, citing a statement issued by the leaders after the Central Economic Work Conference concluded. “We must control credits in the macro sense,” they said in the statement. China will also boost the supply of land for cities where housing prices face stiff upward pressure, they said. China must quickly establish a long-term mechanism to restrain property bubbles and prevent price volatility in 2017, Xinhua said. Top leaders began the conference on Wednesday to map out economic and reform plans. The annual event is keenly watched by investors for clues to policy priorities and economic targets in the year ahead.

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That’s what the country always used to be good at after all.

Italy Banking Crisis is Also a Huge Crime Scene (DQ)

The Bank of Italy’s Target 2 liabilities towards other Eurozone central banks — one of the most important indicators of banking stress — has risen by €129 billion in the last 12 months through November to €358.6 billion. That’s well above the €289 billion peak reached in August 2012 at the height of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. Foreign and local investors are dumping Italian government bonds and withdrawing their funding to Italian banks. The bank at the heart of Italy’s financial crisis, Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS), has bled €6 billion of “commercial direct deposits” between September 30 and December 13, €2 billion of which since December 4, the date of Italy’s constitutional referendum.

Italy’s new Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who took over from Matteo Renzi after his defeat in the referendum,said his government — a virtual carbon copy of the last one — is prepared to do whatever it takes to stop MPS from collapsing and thereby engulfing other European banks. His options would include directly supporting Italy’s ailing banks, in contravention of the EU’s bail-in rules passed into law at the beginning of this year. Though now, that push comes to shove, the EU seems happy to look the other way. While attention is focused on the rescue of MPS, news regarding another Italian bank, Banca Etruria, has quietly slipped by the wayside. On Friday it was announced that the first part of an investigation concerning fraudulent bankruptcy charges, in which 21 board members are implicated, had been closed.

This strand of the investigation concerns €180 million of loans offered by the bank which were never paid back, leading to the regional lender’s bankruptcy and eventual bail-in/out last November that left bondholders holding virtually worthless bonds. The Banca Etruria scandal is a reminder — and certainly not a welcome one right now for Italian authorities — that a large part of the €360 billion of toxic loans putrefying on the balance sheets of Italy’s banks should never have been created at all and were a result of the widespread culture of corruption, political kickbacks, and other forms of fraud and abuse infecting Italy’s banking sector. Etruria is also under investigation for fraudulently selling high-risk bonds to retail investors — a common practice among banks in Italy (and Spain) during the liquidity-starved years of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.

Put simply, “misselling” subordinated debt to unsuspecting depositors was “the way they recapitalized the banking system,” as Jim Millstein, the U.S. Treasury official who led the restructuring of U.S. banks after the financial crisis, told Bloomberg earlier this year.

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Yeah, it’s unfair!!

Ireland Appeals EU Order To Collect €13 Billion In Back Taxes From Apple (AP)

Ireland will appeal the European Union’s order to force it to collect a record €13bn in taxes from Apple, the Irish government has said. The Irish finance department’s announcement on Monday comes nearly four months after EU competition authorities hit Apple with the back-tax bill based on its longtime reporting of European-wide profits through Ireland. The country charges the American company only for sales on its own territory at Europe-low rates that in turn have been greatly reduced by the controversial use of shell companies at home and abroad. In its formal legal submission, the Dublin says its low taxes are the whole point of its sales pitch to foreign investors — and said it is perfectly legal to levy far less tax on profits than imposed by competitors.

It accuses EU competition authorities of unfairness, exceeding their competence and authority, and seeking to breach Ireland’s sovereignty in national tax affairs. The ruling unveiled 30 August by the European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager called on Apple to pay Ireland the €13bn for gross underpayment of tax on profits across the bloc from 2003 to 2014. Her report concluded that Apple used two shell companies incorporated in Ireland to permit Apple to report its Europe-wide profits at effective rates well under 1%. The scope of the order could have been even greater because EU time limits meant the judgment could include potential tax infringements dating only from 2003, not all the way back to Apple’s original 1991 tax deal with Ireland. But Irish specialists in corporate tax estimate that the EU’s order, if enforced, actually would total €19bn because of compounding interest from delayed payment.

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Everybody appeals.

Apple To Appeal EU Tax Ruling, Says It Was A ‘Convenient Target’ (R.)

Apple will launch a legal challenge this week to a record $14 billion EU tax demand, arguing that EU regulators ignored tax experts and corporate law and deliberately picked a method to maximize the penalty, senior executives said. Apple’s combative stand underlines its anger with the European Commission, which said on Aug. 30 the company’s Irish tax deal was illegal state aid and ordered it to repay up to €13 billion to Ireland, where Apple has its European headquarters. European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, a former Danish economy minister, said Apple’s Irish tax bill implied a tax rate of 0.005% in 2014. Apple intends to lodge an appeal against the Commission’s ruling at Europe’s second highest court this week, its General Counsel Bruce Sewell and CFO Luca Maestri told Reuters.

The iPhone and iPad maker was singled out because of its success, Sewell said. “Apple is not an outlier in any sense that matters to the law. Apple is a convenient target because it generates lots of headlines. It allows the commissioner to become Dane of the year for 2016,” he said, referring to the title accorded by Danish newspaper Berlingske last month. Apple will tell judges the Commission was not diligent in its investigation because it disregarded tax experts brought in by Irish authorities. “Now the Irish have put in an expert opinion from an incredibly well-respected Irish tax lawyer. The Commission not only didn’t attack that – didn’t argue with it, as far as we know – they probably didn’t even read it. Because there is no reference (in the EU decision) whatsoever,” Sewell said.

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A police state that bans gold and creates a huge underground market in it.

India Has Less And Less Reason To Exist In Its Current Form (Bhandari)

Assaults on people’s private property and the integrity of their homes through tax-raids continue. In a recent notification, government has made it clear that any ownership of jewelry above 500 grams of gold per married woman will be put under the microscopic scrutiny of tax authorities. Steep taxes and penalties will be imposed on those who cannot prove the source of their gold. In India’s Orwellian new-speak this means that because bullion has not been explicitly mentioned, its ownership will be deemed to be illegal. Courts will do what Modi wants. Huge bribes will have to be paid. Sane people are of course cleaning up their bank lockers. The secondary consequence of this will be a steep increase in unreported crimes, for people will be afraid of going to the police after a theft, fearing that the tax authorities will then ask questions.

At the same time, the gold market has mostly gone underground, and apparently the volume of gold buying has gone up. The salaried middle class is the consumption class, often heavily indebted. Poor people have limited amounts of gold. The government is merely doing what pleases the majority and their sense of envy, to the detriment of small businesses and savers. Now, the middle class is starting to face problems as well. This will worsen once the the impact of the destruction of small businesses becomes obvious. India has always had a negative-yielding economy. It has suddenly become even more negative-yielding. Business risk has gone through the roof. Savers will be victimized. It is because of negative yields that Indian savers buy gold. They will buy more going forward.

Sane Indians should stay a step ahead of their rapacious government and the evolving totalitarian society, which are less and less inhibited by any institutions or values in support of liberty. India will become a police state, likely with the full support of most Indians. Nationalism will be the thread that weaves them together. But it is a fake thread, devoid of any value. Eventually, there will be far too many stresses in the system, whose institutions are already in an advance stage of decay. India as it exists today is a British creation. With the British now gone for 69 years, it is an entity has less and less reason to exist in its current form.

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Yeah, let’s all get crazy when Brussels says so.

Greek Migration Minister Eyes ‘Closed’ Facilities On Islands (Kath.)

Despite widespread opposition in the ranks of SYRIZA to such a prospect, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas has called for the creation of “closed” reception centers for migrants on Aegean islands, saying they will help minimize tensions amid local communities. A key reason for building tensions at existing centers on the islands is the slow pace at which migrants’ asylum applications are being processed. German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a pointed reference to the slow pace of migrant returns from Greece to Turkey last week. However, official figures show that an agreement signed in March between the European Union and Ankara significantly curbed arrivals in Greece. Of the 172,699 migrants that arrived in Greece from Turkey this year, only 20,457 have landed on the islands since the beginning of April, when the EU-Turkey deal went into effect.

Asylum officials on the Aegean islands have received a total of 21,314 applications, while 2,110 have appealed against initial rejections. The government hopes to create new facilities to accommodate migrants who have displayed delinquent behavior in a bid to curb the outbreak of rioting at larger centers and to stop thefts and other petty crimes that have been testing tolerance in local communities. “We propose small facilities for 150-200 people,” Mouzalas told Kathimerini, adding that authorities were not seeking the tolerance but the “solidarity” of islanders to help “normalize the situation.” As for the prospect of transferring some migrants from island centers to facilities on the mainland, Athens has asked EU officials about it but has failed to receive a response amid fears that such a move would constitute a violation of the EU-Turkey pact, Mouzalas said.

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There’s far more than seven, but hey, it’s John Vidal. Who spent half his life doing this.

The Seven Deadly Things We’re Doing To Trash The Planet (John Vidal)

A baby ibex on a precipitous cliff edge. The hyenas of Harar eating from a human hand. Leopards in Mumbai, whales breaching and baby turtles heading blindly away from the sea. We are amazed by images of wildlife seen in ever more beautifully filmed natural history documentaries. They raise awareness, entertain, inform and amuse. We weep when we hear there are fewer birds in the sky, or that thousands of species are critically endangered. But there are some metaphorical megafauna that the BBC and we in the media really do not want everyone to see. After half a lifetime writing for the Guardian about the decline of the natural world, I have to report that there is a herd of enormous elephants in the forest that are trashing the place. We avert our eyes and pretend they are not there. We hope they will go away, but they appear to be breeding. But it is now clear that they are doing so much damage that unless confronted, there is little chance that the rest of the animals, including us, will survive very long.

Hyper-consumerism is the dominant matriarch of this destructive herd and the dysfunctional economic model that supports it, generating waste and ecological damage on a massive scale. The average US supermarket offers nearly 50,000 products; in the UK we throw away millions of tonnes of food a year; mobile phones have an average lifespan of just over a year; computers and cars just a few years more. The free market economy that has been built around it celebrates speed, obsolescence and quantity over longevity and efficiency. But we know that hyper-consumerism leads directly to deforestation, over-extraction of minerals, the waste of natural resources and pollution. We simply have too much stuff that no one possibly needs. To avoid ecological disaster, it must be culled.

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Sep 022016
 
 September 2, 2016  Posted by at 8:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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John Collier Grandfather Romero, 99 years old. Trampas, New Mexico 1943

August US Auto Sales Fall 4.2%; Carmakers Say Industry Has Peaked (R.)
Bill Gross Says Negative Interest Rates Are Nothing But Liabilities (MW)
Goldman: The Fed Might Have a New, Big Idea (BBG)
BOJ Must ‘Do Something Meaningful,’ Former Official Says (BBG)
Is the ECB Buying Bonds From Itself? (WSJ)
Bond Buyers Leave Europe to the ECB, Head to US (WSJ)
The Fed Poses a Big Risk to the Emerging Market Inflow Party (BBG)
Hanjin Shipping Bankruptcy Causes Turmoil In Global Sea Freight (G.)
Don’t Criticize Europeans For Standing Up To Apple – Thank Them (Robert Reich)
Apple Boss Tim Cook Should Stop Whinging And Pay Up (Ind.)
US Imposes Sanctions On ‘Putin’s Bridge’ To Crimea (R.)
Putin Says DNC Hack Was a Public Service, Russia Didn’t Do It (BBG)
The Italian Referendum Could Result In The Death Of The Euro (Andrews/Capacci)
France Vows To Dismantle ‘Jungle’ Refugee Camp In Calais (G.)
Greece On Edge, As Turkish Coup Prompts Surge In New Arrivals (Omaira Gill)
The Death Of Aylan Kurdi: One Year On, Compassion Towards Refugees Fades (G.)

 

 

It’s funny to see how fast the subprime car loan schemes are falling apart.

August US Auto Sales Fall 4.2%; Carmakers Say Industry Has Peaked (R.)

U.S. auto sales fell 4.2% in August as some major automakers said a long-expected decline due to softer consumer demand had begun, possibly sparking a shift to juicer customer incentives and slower production. The top three sellers, General Motors, Ford and Toyota on Thursday reported declines of at least 5%. Of the seven top manufacturers by sales, only Fiat Chrysler reported a gain versus a year ago, when sales were restated to about 11,000 fewer than originally reported. Monthly spending on new cars and trucks is closely watched as the U.S. auto industry accounts for about one-fifth of U.S. retail sales. August sales, said Autodata, totaled 1.51 million vehicles, or 16.98 million vehicles at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate, versus a surprisingly strong 17.88 million vehicles in July.

Ford Chief Economist Bryan Bezold said sales had hit a plateau after steadily rising following the 2008-2009 recession. The auto industry outperformed the overall U.S. economy in those years largely due to pent-up demand that has now played out, he said. Wall Street has pressured automaker shares all year amid expectations of falling sales at some point. [..] Ford, whose sales tumbled 8.4%, said its U.S. inventory was at 81 days of supply versus 61 days a year earlier, suggesting Ford may have to cut production, increase profit-eroding incentives, or boost fleet sales.

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“This watch is ticking because of high global debt and out-of-date monetary/fiscal policies that hurt rather than heal real economies.”

Bill Gross Says Negative Interest Rates Are Nothing But Liabilities (MW)

Call bond-market veteran Bill Gross a “broken watch.” He doesn’t care. His gripe about negative interest rates and a flood of debt, which he considers a risk, not a fix, for a global economy that’s still limping out of the financial crisis, is challenged daily by resilient demand for the bonds he’s bearish on. But even if being “right” eventually is a hard sell right now, he’s not backing down, Gross said in his latest monthly commentary. “The problem with Cassandras, such as Gross and Jim Grant and Stanley Druckenmiller, among a host of others, is that we/they can be compared to a broken watch that is right twice a day but wrong for the other 1,438 minutes,” Gross wrote. “But believe me: This watch is ticking because of high global debt and out-of-date monetary/fiscal policies that hurt rather than heal real economies.”

Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain and Japan are among countries that have negative yields on government-issued debt. Their hope is that cheap, even free, borrowing raises inflation and revives asset prices that can filter through economies; they argue extreme policies have been needed. Gross and others have argued that rates, including those at the Federal Reserve, at near zero or below won’t create sustainable economic growth and actually undermine capitalism. The U.S. has not tipped rates quite as low as other central banks and the Federal Reserve weaned markets off its quantitative-easing program well ahead of its big-economy brethren. Still, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen said last week at the Fed’s Jackson Hole retreat that she wants her policy kit to include all tools, including further asset purchases if necessary.

Divergence with the rest of the world only complicates the debate over when and how aggressively the Fed should dial back accommodative policy. Was that enough to scare off most bond investors? Apparently not. Treasury yields logged their largest daily drop in nearly two months to kick off this week, taking back their Fed-spooked gain from hawkish comments at Jackson Hole. Yields, of course, fall when prices rise, and vice versa. At that mountain gathering, Fed second-in-command Stanley Fischer opened the door to more than one rate increase this year, depending on economic data. And Fischer himself said Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s stance appears in line with that mind-set.

But Gross questions the long-term effects of the world’s unprecedented yield conditions and central banker reluctance to let them go. “Capitalism, almost commonsensically, cannot function well at the zero bound or with a minus sign as a yield,” wrote Gross, who manages the Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, up just over 4% year to date. “$11 trillion of negative yielding bonds are not assets — they are liabilities. Factor that, Ms. Yellen, into your asset price objective.”

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Well, that makes us feel much better…

Goldman: The Fed Might Have a New, Big Idea (BBG)

The Death Star is a fictional space station popularized by the Star Wars franchise. The r-star (r*) is the natural rate of interest that sometimes crops up in economics texts. It also might be the Federal Reserve’s newest, biggest idea, according to strategists at Goldman Sachs. The notion that the natural or neutral rate of interest has been stuck at ultra-low levels might help the U.S. central bank square a dilemma between hiking interest rates and strengthening the U.S. dollar, they said.

“For the FOMC, this is a genuine conundrum, because it means that too hawkish a message could send the Dollar sky-rocketing, a deflationary shock that would also weigh on growth, thereby – in a way – undermining the very rationale for shifting hawkish in the first place,” write Goldman strategists led by Robin Brooks. “To deal with this conundrum, the framework that many at the Fed seem to be converging around is that ‘r-star’ is low, so that the degree of monetary policy accommodation is only moderate, despite policy rates being so low.” Such a stance could allow the central bank to justify keeping benchmark interest rates lower for longer. While the strategists don’t judge the notion on its merits, they do compare it to some previous big ideas that have been discussed at the central bank in recent years.

Among these is the concept that the effects of the U.S. housing crisis would not be material – a theme that dominated in the two years before the 2008 financial crisis (and shown in the pink line below). That idea soon gave rise to concerns that the bursting of the housing bubble would have a negative impact on the U.S. economy (shown in blue). Subsequently, policymakers’ collective imaginations were captured by the notion that quantitative easing would prove positive for economic growth (in red), while the notion that forward guidance (in yellow) is a useful policy tool soon gained in popularity.

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Yeah, dismantle itself.

BOJ Must ‘Do Something Meaningful,’ Former Official Says (BBG)

The Bank of Japan should abandon the monetary base target that’s driving its unsustainable bond purchases while pursuing a negative-rate loan program to help companies and consumers, said a former BOJ executive director. “The BOJ can’t get out of this struggle as long it has this cursed monetary base target,” Hideo Hayakawa, who retired from the central bank in 2013, said in an interview on Thursday. “Once they drop it, they can take a variety of other easing measures.” Hayakawa, 61, contends that there is no evidence that the monetary base target championed by Governor Haruhiko Kuroda is effective in spurring inflation. It should be dropped, and bond purchases scaled back and managed via a range rather than aiming for a specific number, he said.

“As long as they make it very clear that their goal is to keep a lid on bond yields, and the yields stay low, they can gradually lower the range of bond purchases,” said Hayakawa, who also served as the central bank’s chief economist. At the same time, he said Kuroda ought to avoid taking a deeper dive on the existing negative interest rate charged on some funds commercial banks park at the BOJ. It should simultaneously take rates on its lending facilities from zero into negative territory, which would effectively pay some borrowers who take out loans. People familiar with talks at the BOJ said in April that the central bank may consider minus rates on the Stimulating Bank Lending Facility.

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Can it still get crazier than this?

Is the ECB Buying Bonds From Itself? (WSJ)

The European Central Bank may be buying bonds from itself as it runs out of debt to sate its massive quantitative easing program. That’s according to economists at Jefferies. The ECB’s bond-buying program has been running for nearly 18 months, and investors and analysts have often asked whether the central bank is running out of debt to buy. Now, the ECB may be indirectly buying bonds from itself, according to Marchel Alexandrovich and David Owen at Jefferies, in a research note published Thursday. But here’s how Jefferies thinks it may work. The ECB’s QE program is implemented through several national central banks, like Germany’s Bundesbank and Spain’s Banco de Espana. National central banks buy bonds according to rules set by the ECB.

The problem is that these constraints narrow the stock of debt the banks can buy from. These rules prevent the purchase of too much debt from any one country and stop central banks from buying debt with steeply negative yields. Portuguese and Irish debt, for instance, is now becoming scarce. But the national central banks also sell sovereign bonds. They sometimes reduce their holdings as a part of their reserve management activities, which aim to ensure that banks, state institutions and other organizations “manage their euro-denominated reserve assets comprehensively, efficiently, and in a safe, confidential and reliable environment,” according to the ECB’s website. That means, for example, that while the German Bundesbank bought €209 billion in sovereign bonds between March and July, they also sold off €43 billion of such debt, according to Jefferies.

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Because why would they invest in liabilities?

Bond Buyers Leave Europe to the ECB, Head to US (WSJ)

The ECB recently started buying corporate bonds to boost the eurozone economy. One of the big beneficiaries so far: U.S. credit markets. Faced with dwindling returns in Europe, a growing number of investors are selling their corporate bonds to the ECB and heading across the Atlantic where yields are higher and they aren’t so vulnerable to changes in expectations around central bank buying habits. The extra yield investors demand to hold corporate bonds over safe government debt—or credit spread—has declined more rapidly in Europe than the U.S. since the ECB announced its buying plans in March. But that trend has reversed in recent weeks, with U.S. credit markets outperforming the eurozone in August, according to Bloomberg Barclays bond indexes.

That comes as investors have sold European corporate bonds and shifted funds into the U.S. as they fan out in search of returns. Net inflows into U.S. corporate bond funds have outpaced inflows to similar European funds by almost $2 billion since the start of the ECB’s program in early June, according to the latest available data from EPFR Global. As a result, borrowing costs for large U.S. companies have remained near record lows even as expectations have mounted that the Federal Reserve will soon resume raising interest rates. Mark Kiesel at PIMCO said he had been buying euro and sterling corporate bonds in anticipation of the ECB and, more recently, the Bank of England entering these markets. Now, he’s selling and moving more into U.S. credit markets.

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Modern colonialism.

The Fed Poses a Big Risk to the Emerging Market Inflow Party (BBG)

Battle-hardened emerging-market investors have seen this movie before: A U.S. Federal Reserve interest-rate hike triggers a jump in nominal local rates in emerging markets, especially those with fixed or semi-fixed exchange rate regimes. Hot money flows out of developing nations, across FX, equity and fixed-income markets. Local currencies weaken against the dollar. And the ensuing jump in the cost of dollar liquidity, and declining portfolio flows, spark fears over the debt-servicing capacity of emerging-market borrowers. In short, the boom-and-bust capital-flow cycles in emerging markets over the past three-decades have roughly followed this script.

Fast-forward to September 2016: markets are raising their bets that the Fed will hike rates this year – raising fears the post-Brexit-vote inflow party in emerging markets might ease, while international financial conditions, more generally, might tighten. Now, analysts say that the outlook for EM asset classes hinges on how the U.S. yield curve reprices in the coming months. In short, the shape of the Treasury yield curve and the level of long-term U.S. real rates, in particular – rather than the absolute level of U.S. short-end rates – will be crucial in driving capital flows into emerging markets, analysts say. Sebastian Raedler, equity strategist at Deutsche Bank, is one analyst who urges caution, citing EMs’ dependence on U.S. monetary policy.

EM portfolio flows tend to follow developments in the U.S. yield curve with a two-year lag, he says, suggesting financial conditions could tighten significantly in emerging markets if the Fed becomes notably more hawkish. “It’s very clearly the case that low U.S. rates are historically a push factor for foreign capital flows into emerging markets,” Raedler says. “The best scenario to support continued inflows into emerging markets is that financial conditions remain benign. But, thinking about the 30-year history, investors tend to love EM the most when the party in U.S. monetary policy — low rates — is in full swing.”

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I’m waiting for the next domino to fall. Only then will people recognize what’s going on.

Hanjin Shipping Bankruptcy Causes Turmoil In Global Sea Freight (G.)

[..] Hanjin’s banks decided to end financial support for the shipper this week and many of its vessels were denied entry to ports or left unable to dock as container lashing providers worried they would not be paid. This included the port of Busan, South Korea’s largest. The Korea International Trade Association said on Thursday that about 10 Hanjin vessels in China have been either seized or were expected to seized by charterers, port authorities or other parties. That adds to one other ship seized in Singapore by a creditor earlier in the week. The collapse comes at a time of high seasonal demand for the shipping industry ahead of the year-end holidays. In the US, at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s busiest port complex, three Hanjin container ships, ranging from about 700 feet to 1,100 feet long, were either sitting offshore or anchored away from terminals on Thursday.

A fourth vessel that was supposed to leave Long Beach on Thursday morning remained anchored inside the breakwater. The National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, wrote to the US secretary of commerce, Penny Pritzker, and the Federal Maritime Commission chairman, Mario Cordero, on Thursday, urging them to work with the South Korean government, ports and others to prevent disruption. Hanjin represents nearly 8% of the trans-Pacific trade volume for the US market and the bankruptcy was having “a ripple effect throughout the global supply chain” that could cause significant harm to both consumers and the US economy, the association wrote.

[..] Other shipping lines were moving to take over some of the Hanjin traffic but at a price, with vessels already are operating at high capacity because of the season. The price of shipping a 40ft container from China to the US jumped by up to 50% in a single day, said Nerijus Poskus, director of pricing and procurement for Flexport, a licensed freight forwarder and customs broker based in San Francisco, who predicted the higher prices would last a month or two. The price from China to west coast ports rose from $1,100 per container to as much as $1,700 on Thursday, while the cost from China to the East Coast jumped from $1,700 to $2,400, he said.

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There is no one answer here. Applying tax laws retroactively is thin ice. But so is allowing companies to pay 0.005% in taxes

Don’t Criticize Europeans For Standing Up To Apple – Thank Them (Robert Reich)

For years, Washington lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have attacked big corporations for avoiding taxes by parking their profits overseas. Last week the European Union did something about it. The EU’s executive commission ordered Ireland to collect $14.5 billion in back taxes from Apple. But rather than congratulate Europe for standing up to Apple, official Washington is outraged. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan calls it an “awful” decision. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, who’s likely to become Senate majority leader next year, says it’s “a cheap money grab by the European Commission.” Republican Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, accuses Europe of “targeting” American businesses. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden says it “undermines our tax treaties and paints a target on American firms in the eyes of foreign governments.”

P-l-e-a-s-e. These are taxes America should have required Apple to pay to the U.S. Treasury. But we didn’t – because Ryan, Schumer, Hatch, Wyden and other inhabitants of Capitol Hill haven’t been able to agree on how to close the loophole that has allowed Apple, and many other global American corporations, to avoid paying the corporate income taxes they owe. Let’s be clear. The products Apple sells abroad are designed and developed in the United States. So the foreign royalties Apple collects on them logically should be treated as corporate income to Apple here in America. But Apple and other Big Tech corporations like Google and Amazon – along with much of Big Pharma, and even Starbucks – have avoided paying hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes on their worldwide earnings because they don’t really sell things like cars or refrigerators or television sets that they make here and ship abroad.

[..] over the last decade alone Apple has amassed a stunning $231.5 billion cash pile abroad, subjected to little or no taxes. This hasn’t stopped Apple from richly rewarding its American shareholders with fat dividends and stock buybacks that raise share prices. But rather than use its overseas cash to fund these, Apple has taken on billions of dollars of additional debt. It’s a scam, at the expense of American taxpayers. Add in the worldwide sales of America’s Big Tech, Big Pharma and Big Franchise operations, and the scam is sizable. Over €2 trillion of U.S. corporate profits are now parked abroad – all of it escaping the U.S. corporate income tax. To make up the difference, you and I and millions of other Americans have to pay more in income taxes and payroll taxes to finance the U.S. government.

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Meanwhile, the opinions are fun to read.

Apple Boss Tim Cook Should Stop Whinging And Pay Up (Ind.)

Having been handed a €13bn bill for back taxes – it is not a fine as some would have you believe – Apple boss Tim Cook has gone on the offensive. The under fire tech giant’s chief executive chose Ireland’s state broadcaster RTE as the venue for a broadside against the European Commission in the wake of its ruling that the tax deal arranged between Apple and Ireland amounted to illegal state aid. What he said was, well, hard for me to read without inflicting damage on my, erm, Apple Mac. So read on at your own computer’s risk: “When you’re accused of doing something that is so foreign to your values, it brings out an outrage in you, and that’s how we feel. Apple has always been about doing the right thing.”

Oh Mr Cook. It’s not you who should be feeling outraged. It’s us. Even if you think that what the EC did was pushing it, this is is still a company that has cynically gamed the international tax system with the aim of depriving nation states from whose citizens Apple makes its living, the tax they are due. Taking advantage of loopholes, employing accountants to manipulate the rules; Apple’s defenders might call that pragmatic. But it’s hard to see how anyone not in the business of creating propaganda for Apple could describe its behaviour as “doing the right thing”. Mr Cook, it appears, has no shame. “Total political crap,” he ranted. “Maddening.”

What’s maddening is the way multinational companies like Apple utilise their resources to avoid paying their share at a time of austerity. What’s maddening is the way tax authorities bring the hammer down on individual citizens for making honest mistakes while shrugging their shoulders when it comes to policing wealthy corporations. As for “political crap”? This is a man who has hosted fundraisers for Hilary Clinton. If that’s not political crap, I’d really like to know what is.

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Victoria Nuland is still around. In fact, under a potential Hillary presidency, she’s set to acquire a whole lot more power (Secretary of State?). That’s very scary.

US Imposes Sanctions On ‘Putin’s Bridge’ To Crimea (R.)

Companies building a multi-billion dollar bridge to link the Russian mainland with annexed Crimea, a project close to the heart President Vladimir Putin, were targeted by the United States in an updated sanctions blacklist on Thursday. The U.S. Department of the Treasury added dozens of people and companies to the list, first introduced after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and expanded over its support for separatist rebels in the east of the country. As well as multiple subsidiaries of Russian gas giant Gazprom and 11 Crimean officials, the Treasury named seven companies directly involved in the construction of the 19 km (11.8 miles) road-and-rail connection across the Kerch Strait, dubbed “Putin’s bridge” by some Russians.

Chief among those were SGM-Most, a subsidiary of lead contractor Stroygazmontazh which is already under U.S. sanctions, and sub-contractor Mostotrest, one of Russia’s biggest bridge builders. “Treasury stands with our partners in condemning Russia’s violation of international law, and we will continue to sanction those who threaten Ukraine’s peace, security and sovereignty,” said John Smith, acting director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which levies sanctions.

The Russian Foreign Ministry was not immediately available for comment, but Moscow has previously said sanctions levied over its actions in Ukraine undermine efforts to resolve the conflict. Set to be the longest dual-purpose span in Europe when completed, the Kremlin sees its 212-billion rouble ($3.2 billion) bridge as vital to integrating Crimea into Russia, both symbolically and as an economic lifeline for the region. Putin has called the undertaking an historic mission.

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Note: all of the Hillary campaign’s allegations about Russia hacking the DNC remain wholly unsubstantiated. That’s some flimsy ground to stand on, if that’s all you got. Innuendo can’t carry you all the way.

Putin Says DNC Hack Was a Public Service, Russia Didn’t Do It (BBG)

Vladimir Putin said the hacking of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails and documents was a service to the public, but denied U.S. accusations that Russia’s government had anything to do with it. “Listen, does it even matter who hacked this data?’’ Putin said in an interview at the Pacific port city of Vladivostok on Thursday. “The important thing is the content that was given to the public.’’ U.S. officials blame hackers working for the Russian government for the attacks on DNC servers earlier this year that resulted in WikiLeaks publishing about 20,000 private emails just before Hillary Clinton’s nominating convention in July.

The documents showed attempts by party officials to undermine her chief Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders, and led to the resignation of the head of the DNC, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. Putin, in power since 2000 and facing re-election in 18 months, and Clinton have had an acrimonious relationship since her failed attempt to “reset” relations as secretary of state in 2009. Putin in 2011 blamed her personally for stoking the biggest protests of his rule by sending an activation “signal” to “some actors” inside Russia. Clinton has compared his annexation of Crimea in 2014 to actions taken by Adolf Hitler before World War II.

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No doubt about it. The euro makes no more sense for Italy than it does for Greece.

The Italian Referendum Could Result In The Death Of The Euro (Andrews/Capacci)

Prime ministers come and go in Italy—four since the financial crisis—but precious little seems to change. The latest incumbent, Matteo Renzi, has pursued structural reform more energetically than his predecessors. But for all the progress he has made, he might as well have been wading through molasses. Now, in a bid to secure a popular mandate for his restructuring program, Renzi has bet his premiership on a referendum over badly-needed constitutional reforms. It is a high stakes gamble. If Renzi wins the vote, which is due in either October or November, his proposed measures will streamline Italy’s legislative process, breaking the parliamentary gridlock which has crippled successive governments, and opening the way to far-reaching economic reforms.

If he loses, Renzi has promised to step down—a pledge that has turned the referendum into a popular vote of confidence in the unelected prime minister, his Europhile policies, and—by extension—Italy’s membership of the eurozone itself. As a result, a “no” vote in October will not just precipitate the fall of Renzi’s government; it could throw Italy’s long-term membership of the eurozone into doubt, plunging the single currency area once again into crisis. Italy’s fundamental problem is that it’s stuck in a policy no man’s land. Its old economic model, in place for much of the last three decades of the 20th century, relied on a combination of currency devaluation to maintain international competitiveness together with fiscal spending to support the poorer regions of the country’s south.

Signing up to the euro put an end to all that, preventing devaluations and prohibiting budget deficits at 10% of gross domestic product. However, the design of Italy’s bicameral parliamentary system, in which the upper and lower house—the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies—wield equal legislative power, made it almost impossible for any government to push through the structural reforms necessary for Italy to compete and prosper within the eurozone. The result has not just been depressed growth and relative impoverishment, but an outright decline in living standards as Italy’s real GDP per capita has slumped to a 20-year low.

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Problem is, the refugees don’t want to say in France.

France Vows To Dismantle ‘Jungle’ Refugee Camp In Calais (G.)

France is to gradually dismantle the “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais, the interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, has vowed. Cazeneuve told regional newspaper the Nord Littoral he would press ahead with the closure of the camp “with the greatest determination”, dismantling the site in stages, clearing the former wasteland where record numbers of refugees and migrants are sleeping rough in dire sanitary conditions as many hope to reach Britain. He said France would create accommodation for thousands elsewhere in the country “to unblock Calais”.

French authorities have made repeated efforts to shut down the camp, which the state was responsible for creating in April 2015 when authorities evicted migrants and refugees from squats and outdoor camps across the Calais area and concentrated them into one patch of wasteland without shelter. Less than six months ago, the authorities demolished a large area of the southern part of the camp, saying the aim was to radically reduce numbers. But this month the number of people in the camp reached an all-time high of almost 10,000 people, aid organisations estimate. The French authorities put the official number of people in the camp at almost 7,000. Authorities have said over the past year more than 5,000 asylum seekers have left the northern French town for 161 special centres set up around France.

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Beware the numbers. The relocation scheme has been one big EU failure, one among far too many.

Greece On Edge, As Turkish Coup Prompts Surge In New Arrivals (Omaira Gill)

After dropping for several months, the numbers of refugees pouring through Greece have started to increase again in recent weeks. When an EU-Turkey deal was hacked out in March 2016, it was hailed by EU governments as a success. The massive numbers that had transited through Greece in 2015 and early 2016 quickly whittled down to almost nothing. But people have not stopped coming, and the failed coup in Turkey on 15 July seems to have had consequences. The EU-Turkey deal came into effect on 20 March 2016. In February, UNHCR data showed 55,222 arrivals in Greece. This had fallen to 26,623 in March and 3,419 in April. The numbers for May and June were more or less steady at 1,465 and 1,489, respectively. But in July, the pattern began to change.

There were 1,855 arrivals recorded for the month of July. This could be written off as part of the settling down period for the deal, until the numbers are broken down and matched with events which took place that month. On 15 July, an attempted putsch took place in Turkey. The number of arrivals from 1 July to 14 July came to 560. But that number jumped to 1,295 for the period 15 July to 31 July – an increase of 131%. Taking a step further back, between 15 June and 14 July, 1,438 arrivals were registered in Greece. But from 15 July to 14 August, the number was 2,675, representing an 86% increase in arrivals. In the face of this data, it is hard to ignore Turkey’s current instability as a driving factor behind refugee flows. Between 1 and 28 August, the latest available date for arrivals by the UNHCR, 2,810 refugees and migrants arrived on Greek shores.

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We will be judged on this.

The Death Of Alan Kurdi: One Year On, Compassion Towards Refugees Fades (G.)

Sitting in a refugee camp in northern Greece, Mohammad Mohammad, a Syrian taxi driver, holds up a picture of three-year-old Alan Kurdi. It is nearly a year since the same photograph of the dead toddler sparked a wave of outrage across Europe, and heightened calls for the west to do more for refugees. Twelve months later, Mohammad uses it to highlight how little has changed. Alan may have died at sea, he says, “but really there is no difference between him and the thousands of children now dying [metaphorically] here in Greece”. Tens of thousands have been stranded in squalid conditions in Greece since March, when Balkan leaders shut their borders. “It is,” says Mohammad, “a human disaster.” A year ago, Alan’s tragic death seemed to have shifted the political discourse on refugees.

European leaders appeared to have been shocked into forming more compassionate policies, while previously hostile media outlets took a more conciliatory tone. Two days after Alan’s death, Germany agreed to admit thousands of refugees who had been stranded in Hungary. The move encouraged the leaders of central and eastern Europe to create a humanitarian corridor from northern Greece to southern Bavaria, while Canada promised to resettle 25,000 Syrians. In the UK David Cameron agreed to accept 4,000 refugees a year until 2020. It was less than the number landing each day on the Greek islands at that point, but far more than Cameron had previously dared to offer. He was cheered on by the Sun, whose opinion pages had previously described migrants as cockroaches, but now mounted a front-page campaign in Kurdi’s name: “For Aylan [sic]”.

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 September 1, 2016  Posted by at 9:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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F.A. Loumis, Independence (Bastille?!) Day 1906

Collapse of Hanjin, World’s 7th-Biggest Shipping Line, Upsets Global Trade (R.)
Investors Miss Out On $500 Billion As Global Bond Yields Plunge (CNBC)
In Case Of Recession, The Fed Might ‘Need’ To Cut Rates To Minus 2% (CNBC)
Eurozone Core Inflation Fall Raises Prospect Of ECB Stimulus Measures (G.)
Bank of Japan Has an $84 Billion Yen Gap in Balance Sheet (BBG)
Admitting Ignorance Is Better Than Groupthink For Central Bankers (BBG)
An 809% Debt Ratio And Investors Are Serene? It Must Be China (BBG)
Austria Says Will Start ‘Conflict’ In EU About Canada Trade Deal (R.)
Apple Travesty Is A Reminder Why Britain Must Leave The Lawless EU (AEP)
UK Defined Benefit Pension Fund Deficit Grows By £100 Billion In A Month (G.)
London’s Elite ‘Pushed Out Of Exclusive Postcodes By Super Rich’ (G.)
A Third Of Africa’s Elephants Were Wiped Out In Just 7 Years (CNN)

 

 

Excellent. We’re far too independent on the idiocy of 10,000 mile shipping lines. They’re heavily polluting (in more ways than one) and entirely unnecessary.

Collapse of Hanjin, World’s 7th-Biggest Shipping Line, Upsets Global Trade (R.)

The collapse of South Korea’s Hanjin Shipping sent ripples though global trade on Thursday, as the country’s largest port turned away its ships and as some manufacturers scrambled for freight alternatives. Hanjin on Wednesday filed for court receivership after its banks decided to end financial support, and ports from China to Spain, the United States and Canada have refused entry to Hanjin vessels in what is traditionally the industry’s busiest season ahead of the year-end holidays. An official with Hanjin Shipping in Busan confirmed that its vessels were not entering the southern city’s port as container lashing providers deny service on concerns that they will not be paid. The company was also worried that the ships may be seized by creditors.

LG Electronics, the world’s No.2 maker of TVs, told Reuters it was cancelling orders with Hanjin and was seeking alternatives to ship its freight. An executive at the Korea International Freight Forwarders Association said on Wednesday he had been inundated with calls from cargo owners worried about the fate of their shipments in transit to the United States and Europe. While mobile phones and semiconductors are carried by air, other electronics like home appliances are shipped by sea. “This will have an impact on the entire industry,” the official said.

South Korea’s maritime ministry said on Wednesday that Hanjin’s woes would affect cargo exports for two or three months, with about 540,000 TEU of cargo already loaded on Hanjin vessels and facing delays. It would be difficult to find alternative ships given high seasonal demand from August to October. The ministry said it would ask local rival Hyundai Merchant Marine to supply vessels to cover some of Hanjin’s routes to the United States and Europe, while also seeking help from overseas carriers.

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How central bankers kill pensions.

Investors Miss Out On $500 Billion As Global Bond Yields Plunge (CNBC)

Investors have seen their interest income squeezed as global bond yields plunge. On the flipside, governments aren’t complaining. Relative to yields in 2011, global investors are foregoing more than $500 billion in annual income on roughly $38 trillion in sovereign debt that is outstanding, Fitch Ratings said in a report on Wednesday. “Cash flow benefits have effectively been transferred from global investors to sovereign issuers, as sovereign borrowing costs have dropped in response to central bank monetary stimulus,” Fitch said in the report. “This has posed new challenges for income-reliant investors, such as insurers and pension funds, while enabling governments to borrow at increasingly attractive rates.”

Borrowers would realize benefits only slowly, however, as bonds with higher coupon rates matured and newer bonds with lower interest rates were issued, the rating agency said. According to Fitch, investors who tended to buy assets and hold them onto maturity would have to invest new cash in bonds that paid lower interest rates, blunting the money they earned from coupon payments. Government bond yields, which move inversely to prices, have plummeted around the world as central banks in many developed economies scooped up bonds in order to provide stimulus to their economies. These purchases have sparked a scramble for government debt, enabling many countries to flog bonds while cutting the interest rates they have to pay to lure investors.

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In itself a reasonable argumant re the history of spreads, but that does not make the conclusion alright, or logical.

In Case Of Recession, The Fed Might ‘Need’ To Cut Rates To Minus 2% (CNBC)

The U.S. Federal Reserve might need to cut interest rates to as low as negative 2%, far lower than levels other global central banks have tested, a former Fed economist said. That’s what would likely be needed to engineer a recovery if the U.S. economy were to fall into a recession in the next couple of years, Marvin Goodfriend, who was an economist and policy advisor at the Federal Reserve’s Bank of Richmond from 1993-2005, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Thursday. Goodfriend, who is currently a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University, pointed to data on the eight recessions in the U.S. since 1960.

“In eight of those recessions, the Fed had to push the short rate 2.5 percentage points below the long term rate. Today, the 10-year rate in the U.S. is 1.5%,” he noted, saying that would indicate that during the next recession, the Fed would need to cut rates as low as minus 1% at a minimum. “In five of those recessions, the Fed had to push the federal funds rate 3.5 percentage points below the 10-year bond rate,” he said. “So if that happens this time around, we would have to push the federal funds rate to minus 2%.” That’s well below where any other central banks have ventured so far. Sweden’s central bank, an early adopter of negative rates, has set its benchmark at negative 0.5%.

The Bank of Japan’s rate was set at minus 0.1% earlier this year, while the ECB, which first moved its rates into negative territory in 2014, currently has a deposit rate of negative 0.4%. The Fed funds rate has remained in positive territory, with the U.S. central bank last increasing interest rates in December of 2015, its first hike since 2006. That raised the Fed’s target rate to a range of 0.25 to 0.5%. To be sure, Goodfriend didn’t expect the Fed would be headed there anytime soon, noting that he believed the central bank should actually raise rates before the end of the year.

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More more more.

Eurozone Core Inflation Fall Raises Prospect Of ECB Stimulus Measures (G.)

Speculation is growing that the European Central Bank could take action to stimulate the eurozone economy after official figures showed an easing in underlying inflation last month. Pressure on the ECB increased when the European commission’s statistical agency, Eurostat, published figures that showed core inflation in July was lower than in same month last year, despite aggressive action by the Frankfurt-based bank over the past 18 months. With concerns that the eurozone recovery was losing momentum, Eurostat said the headline rate of inflation remained unchanged at 0.2% in August. Core, or underlying inflation, which excludes energy, goods, alcohol and tobacco, fell from 0.9% in July to 0.8%.

Separate Eurostat data showed that eurozone unemployment was unchanged at 10.1% in July, the latest month for which figures are available for all 19 countries that use the euro. The jobless rate in the eurozone has fallen from 10.8% over the past year, but financial markets had been expecting the reduction to continue to 10% last month. The ECB has been using negative interest rates and quantitative easing in an attempt to increase activity and push inflation back towards its target of just below 2%. Analysts said the inflation and unemployment figures would be discussed when the ECB meets to discuss policy options next week.

Stephen Brown of consultancy Capital Economics said: “The unchanged headline inflation rate in August highlights the fact that price pressures in the eurozone remain weak and boosts the case for more monetary easing from the ECB. “With [the] survey data also pointing to a marked slowdown in growth ahead, there is a strong case for the ECB to announce further policy easing. This could come as soon as the bank’s meeting next week.”

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Abe and Kuroda won’t even take it serious.

Bank of Japan Has an $84 Billion Yen Gap in Balance Sheet (BBG)

There’s an 8.7 trillion yen ($84 billion) gap between the value of government bond holdings on the Bank of Japan’s balance sheet and their face value. While not an immediate problem because the BOJ’s income can cover the losses, the widening gap raises questions about the sustainability of the central bank’s bond purchases, which Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has said could be expanded. The costs of the central bank’s record stimulus are mounting, while its chief goal – spurring inflation to 2% – appears as far away as it was when Kuroda took the helm in 2013. The BOJ is in the midst of reviewing its policy before a board meeting later this month, but the governor has said there will be no scaling back of his monetary program.

“These numbers show the distortions of the BOJ’s current policies,” said Sayuri Kawamura, a senior economist at the Japan Research Institute in Tokyo. “The annual amortization losses are going to increase and consume the BOJ’s profits, and the risk is increasing that the bank’s financial stability will be shaken.” The bonds the BOJ owns are worth almost 326.7 trillion yen when taken at face value, but were marked at almost 335.4 trillion yen on the balance sheet in August. That gap is 42% bigger than before the introduction of negative rates in January, according to an analysis of the balance sheet and list of the bonds the central bank owns. Tadaaki Kumagai, a spokesman for the central bank, said “the BOJ releases half-yearly and yearly accounts,” while declining to comment further.

The gap exists because, unlike the Federal Reserve, the BOJ counts its bond holdings at the purchase price, minus amortization costs. This number is diverging more from the face value because the central bank’s purchases and negative rate policy are pushing up prices. The face value is what the BOJ will receive when the bonds mature. At the end of the 2015 fiscal year on March 31, the gap between the two valuations was 6.4 trillion yen and the BOJ wrote down 874 billion yen, according to documents seen by Bloomberg. That was covered by the 1.29 trillion yen in coupon income the bank received that year, a situation that may not continue indefinitely.

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Groupthink is all they have.

Admitting Ignorance Is Better Than Groupthink For Central Bankers (BBG)

If the Fed’s objective last week was to put its September meeting back into play as the potential venue for a rate increase, it can claim a partial success. Prices in the futures market show traders now see about a 34% chance of a hike on Sept. 21, up from 22% two weeks ago. But you still have to go out to December before the likelihood rises above 50%. There’s a very good reason for that market skepticism. Raising rates at a time when inflation is dormant and miles away from the central bank’s 2% target seems somewhat perverse, especially when the forecast is for prices to remain subdued for many months to come:

The Jackson Hole Symposium (and let us note in passing what a great word symposium is, adding gravitas to what would otherwise be a mere conference) was an opportunity, as the event title said, to consider “Designing Resilient Monetary Policy Frameworks for the Future.” Instead, Fischer’s comment suggests it’s business as usual at the Federal Open Market Committee, with no room at present for such innovations as changing the inflation goal or targeting nominal GDP. That’s a shame. There’s a consensus that monetary policy is becoming impotent, and that governments need to step in with fiscal stimulus. But until central banks admit that their firepower is waning, politicians can continue to evade responsibility. “You can’t expect us to do the whole job,”

Christopher Sims, a Nobel Prize-winning economist from Princeton University, said at Jackson Hole last week. “Fiscal expansion can replace ineffective monetary policy at the zero lower bound. So long as the legislature has no clue of its role in these problems, nothing is going to get done. Of course, convincing them that they have a role and there is something they should be doing, especially in the U.S., may be a major task.” Finance – particularly in an era of fractional reserve banking – is essentially a confidence trick. Depositors have to be confident their money will be there when they try to withdraw it. Businesses have to be confident that the economy is on a sound footing otherwise they won’t invest and hire. Central bankers aren’t just economists and policy makers; they’re also salespeople, selling a story.

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China is a giant debt bubble.

An 809% Debt Ratio And Investors Are Serene? It Must Be China (BBG)

Prudence dictates that a compulsive shopper who runs up a hazardous amount of debt should think about cutting the credit card in half and staying home for a while. Try telling that to China’s acquisition-hungry companies.Two prime examples were on show this week when China Evergrande Group, one of the nation’s biggest developers, and Fosun International, an expanding Shanghai-based conglomerate, reported first-half earnings. The results show just how hard it is to kick the buying habit in an environment where compliant lenders stand ready to advance seemingly unlimited sums. Total borrowings at junk-rated Evergrande jumped by 28% from the end of December to 381 billion yuan ($57 billion).

That pushed the Guangzhou-based company’s ratio of net debt to shareholders’ equity to 142%, above the average 108% for China’s overleveraged property developers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Count Evergrande’s perpetual bonds as debt rather than equity and even that ratio starts to look benign. The total debt to common equity ratio rose to 809% at the end of June, from 582% six months earlier. The developer added about 40 billion yuan more perpetual notes during the period. So, time to rein things in somewhat?

Not a bit of it. Evergrande wants to acquire brokerage and trust companies as well as smaller rivals, Chief Executive Officer Xia Haijun told reporters in Hong Kong Tuesday. That would be on top of more than $5 billion of purchases so far this year, including building a stake in larger developer China Vanke and acquiring a chunk of Shenyang-based Shengjing Bank. First-half profit, meanwhile, fell 23% excluding property revaluations and foreign-exchange losses.The debt buildup wouldn’t be so striking if Evergrande were acquiring cash-generating assets that can help pay down borrowings. If anything, things seem to be moving in the opposite direction.

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Good. Kill that too.

Austria Says Will Start ‘Conflict’ In EU About Canada Trade Deal (R.)

Austria is ready to confront other European Union members states over its opposition to a free trade deal with Canada, Chancellor Christian Kern said, because it sees it containing many of the same problems as one being negotiated with the United States. “This will be difficult, this will be the next conflict in the EU that Austria will trigger… We must focus on making sure… we don’t shift the power balance in favor of global enterprises,” Kern told broadcaster ORF late on Wednesday. Austria opposes a proposed free trade deal with the United States, and Kern said the deal with Canada, called the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), bore many of the same problems.

Ministers from Germany and France have also called for a halt in negotitations on the EU-U.S. deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). “We will have to see where the weaknesses of (CETA) are. Many are the same as with TTIP,” Kern, a social-democrat, said, without elaborating. Kern is expected to address issues surrounding TTIP at a news conference on Friday. There are widespread concerns in Austria that the TTIP could compromise food safety standards. Kern also opposes the idea that the agreement could allow companies to challenge government policies if they feel regulations put them at a disadvantage.

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There are multiple truths in this case. In the end, though, this is about Brussels seeking to supersede member states’ sovereign law. For that, the constitutions of 27 nations should be held to the light. I would venture that what Brussels does here, and in many other fields, violates a fair number of these constitutions. And that is not legal no matter what their respective governments say or do. That’s an issue for their judicial systems. There’s a reason why the political and judicial systems have been made separate entities.

Apple Travesty Is A Reminder Why Britain Must Leave The Lawless EU (AEP)

Europe’s Competition Directorate commands the shock troops of the EU power structure. Ensconced in its fortress at Place Madou, it can dispatch swat teams on corporate dawn raids across Europe without a search warrant. It operates outside the normal judicial control that we take for granted in a developed democracy. The US Justice Department could never dream of acting in such a fashion. Known as ‘DG Comp’, it acts as judge, jury, and executioner, and can in effect impose fines large enough to constitute criminal sanctions, but without the due process protection of criminal law. It misused evidence so badly in pursuit of the US chipmaker Intel that the company alleged a violation of human rights. Apple is just the latest of the great US digital companies to face this Star Chamber.

It has vowed to appeal the monster €13bn fine handed down from Brussels this week for violation of EU state aid rules, but the only recourse is the European Court of Justice. This is usually a forlorn ritual. The ECJ is a political body, the enforcer of the EU’s teleological doctrines. It ratifies executive power. We can mostly agree that Apple, Google, Starbucks, and others have gamed the international system, finding legal loopholes to whittle down their tax liabilities and enrich shareholders at the expense of society. It is such moral conduct that has driven wealth inequality to alarming levels, and provoked a potent backlash against globalisation. But the ‘Double Irish’ or the ‘Dutch Sandwich’ and other such tax avoidance schemes are being phased out systematically by the G20 and by a series of tightening rules from the OECD.

The global machinery of “profit shifting” will face a new regime by 2018. We can agree too that Apple’s cosy EU arrangements should never have been permitted. It paid the standard 12.5pc corporate tax on its Irish earnings – and is the country biggest taxpayers – but the Commission alleges that its effective rate of tax on broader earnings in 2014 was 0.005pc, achieved by shuffling profits into a special ‘stateless company’ with its headquarters in Ireland. “The profits did not have any factual or economic justification. The “head office” had no employees, no premises and no real activities,” said Margrethe Vestager, the EU competition chief.

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Someone will find a way to blame this on Brexit.

UK Defined Benefit Pension Fund Deficit Grows By £100 Billion In A Month (G.)

The combined deficit of the UK’s 6,000 defined benefit pension funds has grown by £100bn in the last month, bringing the total deficit to £710bn, according to a new report. The research, by the accountants PricewaterhouseCooper, found that the pension schemes have total assets of £1,450bn but are liable to pay out about £2,160bn in contractual promises to existing and former workers. Pension deficits have worsened since the EU referendum because companies use the interest rate on gilts, otherwise known as the yield, as the main tool in estimating how much they will have to pay out in pensions in the future. The lower the gilt yield, the more that companies have to set aside to meet their future costs.

The scale of the problems facing companies offering final salary pension schemes was underlined on Wednesday by the Yorkshire-based manufacturer Carclo, which issued a statement to the stock exchange to say that the recent increase in its pension deficit meant that a dividend payout to shareholders announced in June and due to be paid in October could not now go ahead. Carclo, which is based near Leeds and employs about 1,300 people making plastics and LED products, said in its statement: “If the corporate bond yield remains at its current low level then this will result in a significant increase in the group’s pension deficit.” It said this would have the effect of “extinguishing the company’s available distributable reserves”. The announcement immediately wiped almost 15% off the company’s share price.

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How to kill a city, Chapter 826.

London’s Elite ‘Pushed Out Of Exclusive Postcodes By Super Rich’ (G.)

London’s traditional elite, such as lawyers, architects and academics, are being pushed out of their enclaves in Mayfair, Chelsea and Hampstead by an influx of global super rich investors, causing a chain reaction of gentrification across the capital, according to research by the London School of Economics. An influx of extremely wealthy overseas buyers is leading the old elite to sell up and move from London’s most exclusive postcodes and buy in areas they previously considered undesirable, said Dr Luna Glucksberg, of the LSE’s International Inequalities Institute. This displacement of old money and affluent middle class professionals is in turn pricing neighbourhoods in south and east London out of the reach of average Londoners and threatening to push those on low incomes to the margins of the city and beyond, she added.

“The changes happening at the top end of the market are real, and although they do not affect large numbers of people directly, the ripple effects they generate do resonate across London,” Glucksberg said. “In terms of the impact on London as a whole, this represents a very different kind of ‘trickle down’ effect from what politicians across the spectrum have long argued would be the benefit of the ‘super rich moving into our city’,” said Glucksberg. “Affordability for average Londoners in the rest of the city is likely to become an even more difficult issue to solve.” The trend was contributing to dramatic house price rises in areas ranging from Battersea and Clapham to Acton, as the old elite bought property there with the significant profits – usually in the millions – made from selling up to the global uber wealthy, the researcher found.

“The study shows that the wealthy individuals and families that live in London’s most exclusive areas no longer feel able to compete at the top end of the capital’s property market,” said the researcher. “Instead they feel like they are being pushed out of elite neighbourhoods. For the first time, this elite group are buying flats for their children in areas they never would have previously considered.”

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We need the death penalty for poachers and buyers, the entire chain, not just in Africa but everywhere, also in China and Japan. If they don’t comply, no more trade and full isolation.

A Third Of Africa’s Elephants Were Wiped Out In Just 7 Years (CNN)

Scanning Botswana’s remote Linyanti swamp from the low flying chopper, elephant ecologist Mike Chase can’t hide the anxiety and dread as he sees what he has seen too many times before. “I don’t think anybody in the world has seen the number of dead elephants that I’ve seen over the last two years,” he says. From above, we spot an elephant lying on its side in the cracked river mud. From a distance it could be mistaken for a resting animal. But the acrid stench of death hits us before we even land. Up close, it is a horror. He was a magnificent bull right in his prime, 45 to 50 years old. To get at his prized ivory tusks, poachers hacked off his face. Slaughtered for their ivory, the elephants are left to rot, their carcasses dotting the dry riverbed; in just two days, we counted the remains of more than 20 elephants in a small area.

Visitors and managers at the tourist camps here are frequently alarmed by the sound of gunshots nearby. And Chase worries that if Botswana can’t protect its elephants, there’s little hope for the species as a whole. Chase, the founder of Elephants Without Borders (EWB), is the lead scientist of the Great Elephant Census, (GEC) an ambitious project to count all of Africa’s savannah elephants – from the air. Before the GEC, total elephant numbers were largely guesswork. But over the past two years, 90 scientists and 286 crew have taken to the air above 18 African countries, flying the equivalent of the distance to the moon – and a quarter of the way back – in almost 10,000 hours.

Prior to European colonization, scientists believe that Africa may have held as many as 20 million elephants; by 1979 only 1.3 million remained – and the census reveals that things have gotten far worse. According to the GEC, released Thursday in the open-access journal PeerJ, Africa’s savannah elephant population has been devastated, with just 352,271 animals in the countries surveyed – far lower than previous estimates. Three countries with significant elephant populations were not included in the study. Namibia did not release figures to the GEC, and surveys in South Sudan and the Central African Republic were postponed due to armed conflict. In seven years between 2007 and 2014, numbers plummeted by at least 30%, or 144,000 elephants.

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 August 31, 2016  Posted by at 8:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Esther Bubley Watching parade to recruit civilian defense volunteers, Washington DC 1943

The Central Pillar Of Global Order Is In Danger As TTIP Disintegrates (AEP)
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China’s Biggest-Ever Metals Deal Snaps Up Cleveland’s Aleris (BBG)
Case Shiller Lags and Understates the Housing Bubble (Adler)
25 Email Questions Hillary Clinton Must Answer Under Oath By September 29 (SBA)
Could EU’s ‘Apple Tax’ Reboot Corporate Tax Reform In The US? (Forbes)
Bitcoin Was Brought Down By Its Own Potential – And The Banks (Qz)
The Dawn Of The Anthropocene (G.)
Greek Islands Raise Alarm Over Fast Increasing Refugee Arrivals (Kath.)
Counting The Lost And Nameless Dead Of The Mediterranean (SMH)

 

 

Another wonderful Ambrose dramatic exeggaration.

Central Pillar Of Global Order In Danger Of Collapse As TTIP Disintegrates (AEP)

The Transatlantic pact intended to unite Europe and North America in a vast free trade zone is close to collapse after France called for a complete suspension of talks, accusing the US of blocking any workable compromise. “Political support in France for these negotiations no longer exists,” said Matthias Fekl, the French commerce secretary. Mr Fekl said his country would request a formal decision by EU ministers at a summit in Bratislava to drop the hotly-contested deal, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). “The Americans are offering nothing, or just crumbs. That is not how allies should negotiate. There must be a clear and definite halt to these talks, to restart them later on a proper basis,” he said.

The project is infinitely more than a trade deal. It is part of a strategic push to bind together the two halves of North Atlantic civilisation at a dangerous moment when the Western liberal order is under threat. The two sides are currently drifting towards divorce. “TTIP was supposed to set the rules for the global trade,” said Rem Korteweg, a trade expert at the Centre for European Reform. “It was to be a central pillar of an alliance of like-minded countries. If it all falls apart in acrimony, what kind of global governance are we going to have?” he said. Mr Fekl’s hard-line comments were echoed in slightly softer language by French president François Hollande, who said on Tuesday that there was no chance of a deal on TTIP before the next administration takes power in Washington.

“The talks have become bogged down, the positions have not been respected, and the imbalance is obvious. It is better that we face up to this candidly rather than prolong a discussion on foundations that cannot succeed,” he said.

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There’s a lot more to get rid of.

The New TTIP? Meet TISA, ‘Secret Privatisation Pact’ (Ind.)

An international trade deal being negotiated in secret is a “turbo-charged privatisation pact” that poses a threat to democratic sovereignty and “the very concept of public services”, campaigners have warned. But this is not TTIP – the international agreement it appears campaigners in the European Union have managed to scupper over similar concerns – this is TISA, a deal backed by some of the world’s biggest corporations, such as Microsoft, Google, IBM, Walt Disney, Walmart, Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase. Few people may have heard of the Trade In Services Agreement, but campaign group Global Justice Now warns in a new report: “Defeating TTIP may amount to a pyrrhic victory if we allow TISA to pass without challenge.” Like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TISA is being negotiated in secret, even though it could have a major impact on countries which sign up.

While TTIP is only between the EU and US, those behind TISA have global ambitions as it involves most of the world’s major economies – with the notable exceptions of China and Russia – in a group they call the “Really Good Friends of Services”. The Department for International Trade dismissed the idea that public services were at risk from TISA, adding that the UK was committed to securing an “ambitious” deal. But according to Global Justice Now’s report, the deal could “lock in privatisation of public services”; allow “casino capitalism” by undermining financial regulations designed to prevent a recurrence of the 2008 recession; threaten online privacy; damage efforts to fight climate change; and prevent developing countries from improving public services.

Nick Dearden, director of group, said: “This deal is a threat to the very concept of public services. It is a turbo-charged privatisation pact, based on the idea that rather than serving the public interest, governments must step out of the way and allow corporations to ‘get on with it’. “Of particular concern, we fear TISA will include clauses that will prevent governments taking public control of strategic services, and inhibit regulation of the very banks that created the financial crash.” He suggested pro-Brexit voters should be concerned at the potential loss of sovereignty. “Many people were persuaded to leave the EU on the grounds they would be ‘taking back control’ of our economic policy,” Mr Dearden said. “But if we sign up to TISA, our ability to control our economy – to regulate, to protect public services, to fight climate change – is massively reduced. In effect, we would be handing large swathes of policy-making to big business. “

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Growth based on debt reduces productive investment.

Debt, Deficits & Economic Warnings (Roberts)

By increasing taxes, to generate additional revenue for the government, you decrease the available capital that could be used for productive investments. Since the government doesn’t want factories, office buildings, or oil wells, but rather cash, this forces the liquidation of productive investments thereby reducing capacity for economic growth. The current Administration is failing once again to recognize the problems that exist with this country, at this moment, does not lie with the “rich.” Instead, the problem is a lack of ability for consumers to maintain a standard of living that is well beyond their earnings capability. While the two most recent Administrations have been heavily criticized for running burgeoning deficits – the reality is that the average American has been doing the same for the past thirty years.

[..] as the “rich” invest in productive investments it leads to higher employment, strong consumer demand and economic growth. In turn, this leads to higher tax revenue. “However, deficits, and deficit spending, are HIGHLY destructive to economic growth as it directly impacts gross receipts and saved capital equally. Like cancer – running deficits, along with continued deficit spending, continues to destroy saved capital and damages capital formation.” Debt is, by its very nature, a cancer on economic growth. As debt levels rise it consumes more capital by diverting it from productive investments into debt service. As debt levels spread through the system it consumes greater amounts of capital until it eventually kills the host. The chart below shows the rise of federal debt and its impact on economic growth.

The reality is that the majority of the aggregate growth in the economy since 1980 has been financed by deficit spending, credit creation and a reduction in savings. This reduced productive investment in the economy and the output of the economy slowed. As the economy slowed, and wages fell, the consumer was forced to take on more leverage to maintain their standard of living which in turn decreased savings. As a result of the increased leverage more of their income was needed to service the debt – and with that the “debt cancer” engulfed the system.

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Excellent from Jeffrey Snider.

The Academic Math of This Economy and The Long Run Consequences (Snider)

[..] the continued and “unexpected” lack of recovery after nine years of failure in monetary policy is forcing the math to recognize what is obvious in non-mathematical terms. No regressions are at all necessary to conclude that the bond market has, in fact, made sense this whole time and that it is economists who have no idea what is going on or why. By the mathematics of 2011, real GDP “should be” $19.3 trillion in Q2 2016; it was instead just $16.6 trillion after the third straight quarter near 1%. To the academics, “gloom” is irrational and thus requires translation into math to become somehow backwards explanatory for why the economy that “should be” isn’t.

In the actual economy, “gloom” is properly called reality. In this world, people know all-too-well that jobs disappeared during and after the Great Recession and never came back. No amount of asset price manipulation can possibly make up that difference. Economists try to convince everyone but really themselves that it didn’t matter when it is this very math that proves yet again it did; in fact, the true state of labor beyond the unemployment rate and Establishment Survey is all that matters.

The math of potential and even gloom is just the frustratingly late catch-up forcing economists to come to terms with the fact they have been all wrong about all of this all along. You need no PhD to so easily understand that you just cannot substitute jobs with debt; doing so is economic suicide. At some point over the long run you must come to terms with that discrepancy. This math is finally welcoming economists to that long run, a place their patron saint, Keynes, said didn’t exist. It really does as the math has been recalculated far more toward the “impossible” [..]

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Yikes graphs. A G-20 that might actually count for something.

China Turmoil Looms As Traders Bet On Post-G-20 Yuan Tumble (ZH)

Something is different this time. For the last few years, China has ‘ensured stability’ in the Yuan ahead of major geopolitical events – no matter what – only to let things slide back into turmoiling after. Ahead of this weekend’s G-20, however, and amid notably deteriorating fundamentals (and an increasingly hawkish-sounding Fed), China has let the Yuan tumble in the last week… and traders are piling into bets on post-G-20 weakness to continue. As Bloomberg notes, history shows that the Chinese currency usually strengthens ahead of major political or economic events, such as President Xi Jinping’s state visits to the U.S. and the Boao Forum.

But this time – ahead of the G-20 gathering – onshore Yuan is being allowed to weaken… back near post-Brexit lows…

Perhaps as another warning to The Fed? But as Bloomberg reports, derivative markets are pointing to renewed bets on yuan depreciation, with a measure of expected price swings poised for the biggest monthly increase since January.

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Not even the same ballpark. “The IMF estimates China’s nonperforming-loan ratio at 15%, compared with the official 1.75% figure..”

Chinese Banks Step Up Bad-Loan Write-Offs (WSJ)

China’s largest banks are writing off huge volumes of soured loans in an effort to clean up their balance sheets, as they look to improve their future profitability despite the country’s economic slowdown. The country’s top four banks collectively wrote off 130.3 billion yuan ($19.5 billion) of bad loans in the first half of 2016, 44% more than in the same period a year earlier. The clear-out has helped banks in one sense: Overall, their nonperforming loans as a proportion of their lending book were unchanged at the close of the second quarter from the end of March, the first quarter since mid-2013 that the key metric hasn’t increased.

But the write-offs have come as a number of other challenges beset Chinese banks. New loans are shriveling—nearly all in July went to mortgages. A series of interest-rate cuts by the central bank since 2012 have squeezed banks’ earnings. And a plan by Beijing to let companies allot their equity to banks in exchange for loan forgiveness is likely to saddle lenders with more dubious assets in coming months, bankers and analysts say. The IMF estimates China’s nonperforming-loan ratio at 15%, compared with the official 1.75% figure reported by the government, because of differences in the way bad loans are recognized.

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Buying know-how.

China’s Biggest-Ever Metals Deal Snaps Up Cleveland’s Aleris (BBG)

China’s influence in global metals markets just stepped up a gear after the owner of its top supplier of aluminum products agreed to buy Aleris of the U.S. for $2.3 billion, marking the nation’s biggest-ever overseas purchase of a metals processor.
The purchase of the Cleveland, Ohio-based company by Zhongwang USA, owned by Liu Zhongtian, founder and chairman of China Zhongwang, will open up new markets for the Chinese company among aerospace and automotive companies. Monday’s deal underscores China’s shift to higher value-added products and will give Zhongwang access to technological know-how and more demanding customers, said Paul Adkins, managing director of Beijing-based aluminum consultancy AZ China.

“Aleris supplies the Boeings and the big carmakers of this world – very advanced consumers,” Adkins said by phone on Tuesday. “Buying it has to provide some sort of opportunity for Zhongwang to bring that know-how back to China. When you’ve got more than half of the world’s primary aluminum supply in China, there is a natural momentum for China to pull other parts of the supply chain into its orbit.” China Zhongwang is Asia’s biggest producer of extruded aluminum, and already has ambitions to sell aluminum sheet to China’s emerging auto and aerospace industries. It’s due this year to start up a flat-rolled aluminum plant in Tianjin, near Beijing, which will supply products that China still has to import.

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Not an entirely new criticism, but good to point out from time to time.

Case Shiller Lags and Understates the Housing Bubble (Adler)

Here’s how the Case Shiller Index (CSI) press release spun the data on the state of the US single family housing market today: “The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, reported a 5.1% annual gain in June, unchanged from last month. The 10-City Composite posted a 4.3% annual increase, down from 4.4% the previous month.The 20-City Composite reported a year-over-year gain of 5.1%, down from 5.3% in May.” The problem is that Case Shiller’s methodology causes price suppression and severe lag. That gives the impression that the US housing market isn’t in a bubble. It’s a misimpression, considering that market prices on average are actually above the 2006 bubble peak.

If 2006 was the top of the most extreme bubble in US history, what does that make today’s higher prices? Case Shiller uses only public record data. The current release, which purports to be June data, is really data culled from government records for recorded sales. The closings were purportedly in June, but the contracts were entered at least a month before, and in most cases 2 months to 3 months prior. So the current CSI release doesn’t represent the current market. In fact, the lag is even greater than that. Case Shiller doesn’t merely use only the most recent month’s data, as you would think. It uses that month and the two prior months, so that effectively it represents average recorded closed sale prices for the 3 months of April May and June. It’s the average price as of the time midpoint of the period, in this case mid May.

Add the typical 45-60 day closing and the current data represents contracts signed in mid to late March. It is now almost September. The Case Shiller data is from 5 months ago. The housing market normally moves in very stable trends over years, if not decades, until there’s a crash. This lag factor isn’t too critical for those buying homes for their families to live in. It’s a little more critical for stock market traders and investors, because at major turning points, misleading data can lead to costly investing mistakes. For traders, using the Case Shiller data would be like making decisions based on where the 3 month moving average of the S&P 500 back in late March. Who would do that when current market prices are available?

It’s the same for the housing market. We have near current data on contract prices from both the NAR, and from the online Realtor firm, Redfin. The NAR compiles the MLS data on contract prices from the entire US and releases it within 30 days of the end of the previous month. Redfin compiles sales from 30 large US metros. So whereas Case Shiller is giving us a smoothed average price as of March, we have current actual prices as of July from both the NAR and Redfin. Apply a little technical analysis to that data, and we can see the state of the housing market as of last month, not 5 months ago. It has actually accelerated a bit this year relative to the prior 12 months. And it’s definitely at a new high versus the last bubble.

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No space for the whole list. Useful read though.

25 Email Questions Hillary Clinton Must Answer Under Oath By September 29 (SBA)

Judicial Watch today announced it submitted questions to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concerning her email practices. Clinton’s answers, under oath, are due on September 29. On August 19, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan granted Judicial Watch further discovery on the Clinton email matter and ordered Clinton to answer the questions “by no later than thirty days thereafter….” Under federal court rules, Judicial Watch is limited to twenty-five questions. The questions are:

1) Describe the creation of the clintonemail.com system, including who decided to create the system, the date it was decided to create the system, why it was created, who set it up, and when it became operational.

2) Describe the creation of your clintonemail.com email account, including who decided to create it, when it was created, why it was created, and, if you did not set up the account yourself, who set it up for you.

3) When did you decide to use a clintonemail.com email account to conduct official State Department business and whom did you consult in making this decision?

4) Identify all communications in which you participated concerning or relating to your decision to use a clintonemail.com email account to conduct official State Department business and, for each communication, identify the time, date, place, manner (e.g., in person, in writing, by telephone, or by electronic or other means), persons present or participating, and content of the communication.

5) In a 60 Minutes interview aired on July 24, 2016, you stated that it was “recommended” you use a personal email account to conduct official State Department business. What recommendations were you given about using or not using a personal email account to conduct official State Department business, who made any such recommendations, and when were any such recommendations made?

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Corporations have too much political power to let that happen.

Could EU’s ‘Apple Tax’ Reboot Corporate Tax Reform In The US? (Forbes)

For years, corporate tax reform in the U.S. has been dead in the water, in part because of deep disagreements within the American business community over what such a restructuring should look like. But the European Union’s increasingly aggressive effort to force its members to collect tax on U.S.-based multinationals has the potential to change that dynamic. The EU’s push has resulted in a series of major initiatives, none bigger than its decision to order Ireland to collect a stunning $14.5 billion in back taxes from Apple. That ruling has generated a swift backlash from the U.S. high-tech industry, U.S. policymakers across the political spectrum, and from Ireland itself. Yet, for all the howling, it might open the door for long-awaited tax reform in the United States.

To understand why, think about two kinds of U.S. corporations—those that pay lots of taxes and those that pay little or none. Some—especially companies whose business is built on intellectual property—have structured themselves in a way that sharply reduces their worldwide taxes. They shift income to related firms located in low-tax or no-tax countries while allocating interest costs and other expenses to the high-rate U.S. The result: Many pay effective tax rates in the single digits. At the same time, firms such as retailers, without the ability to shift income to low-tax countries, pay quite high effective tax rates. That split hamstrings the debate over corporate tax reform, especially the version that would eliminate tax preferences in exchange for a lower corporate rate.

If you are already paying close to the top statutory rate of 35%, you love that swap. After all, you are paying a high effective rate because those tax preferences are not helping you, so why not support legislation to ditch them in exchange for a lower rate? But for low-tax firms, the political calculation is dramatically different. If tax preferences make it possible for you to pay an effective rate of 10%, why would you give them up in return for a new U.S. statutory rate of 28%, or even 25%? How do you explain to your shareholders why more than doubling your rate is a good thing?

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Too many doubts.

Bitcoin Was Brought Down By Its Own Potential – And The Banks (Qz)

The best that can be said about Bitcoin right now is that it still exists. Split by internal divisions while its most useful aspects are harvested by the very financial behemoths it once hoped to destroy, Bitcoin is fast becoming the tech world’s version of Waiting for Godot, wherein a hermetically sealed community squabbles and bickers over arcane points of code and law as their world slowly crumbles around them. In the last 12 months, attempts made to produce a road map for the cryptocurrency’s future have come to naught, all while core developers abandon the project and opaque Chinese mining concerns wield outlandish power. Welcome to today’s Bitcoin—a phenomenon so internally focused that its advocates have barely noticed the battle has already been lost.

Back at its inception, the conversation around the currency was driven by an almost unconscionable optimism. This wasn’t simply a mechanism for the easy transfer of capital: This was a tool by which the entire international financial system could be made anew, with corrupt central banks, inflationary currencies, and immoral stockbrokers consigned to the dustbin of history. In a world still reeling from the chaos of the global financial crisis, Bitcoin seemed less like a currency and more like a way of future-proofing the global economy from ever having to deal with something so awful again.

The Bitcoin boom of late 2013 brought greater mainstream attention to the cryptocurrency. Bitcoin’s value surged from $200 to $1,200 over the space of a few weeks, temporarily rendering it more valuable than gold. This was to be a short-lived state of affairs, however, as a string of scandals, hacks, exchange collapses, and—dare I say it—common sense brought the price of Bitcoin plummeting back to Earth. Cue three years of stagnation and false promise, as Bitcoin has struggled to prove its use for, well … anything, really. Even after all this time, Bitcoin is still an economy driven almost entirely by potential—by the dream that, one day soon, Bitcoin will become the lingua franca of the global economic order.

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“One criticism of the Anthropocene as geology is that it is very short,” said Zalasiewicz. “Our response is that many of the changes are irreversible.”

The Dawn Of The Anthropocene (G.)

Humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared, according to an official expert group who presented the recommendation to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town on Monday. The new epoch should begin about 1950, the experts said, and was likely to be defined by the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet by nuclear bomb tests, although an array of other signals, including plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken were now under consideration. The current epoch, the Holocene, is the 12,000 years of stable climate since the last ice age during which all human civilisation developed.

But the striking acceleration since the mid-20th century of carbon dioxide emissions and sea level rise, the global mass extinction of species, and the transformation of land by deforestation and development mark the end of that slice of geological time, the experts argue. The Earth is so profoundly changed that the Holocene must give way to the Anthropocene. “The significance of the Anthropocene is that it sets a different trajectory for the Earth system, of which we of course are part,” said Prof Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester and chair of the Working Group on the Anthropocene (WGA), which started work in 2009. “If our recommendation is accepted, the Anthropocene will have started just a little before I was born,” he said. “We have lived most of our lives in something called the Anthropocene and are just realising the scale and permanence of the change.”

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“The number of migrants on Lesvos has reached 5,226 while existing camps are only designed to host 3,500. The situation on Chios is equally disheartening, with 3,309 migrants in accommodation for 1,100.”

Greek Islands Raise Alarm Over Fast Increasing Refugee Arrivals (Kath.)

Local and port authorities on the islands of the eastern Aegean are demanding immediate government action to decongest overcrowded migrant camps, insisting that they cannot cope with the recent surge in arrivals from neighboring Turkey. In a letter addressed to Shipping and Island Policy Minister Theodoros Dritsas, the Lesvos Port Authority raised the alarm, saying the island simply does not have the available infrastructure to accommodate the increased flows. The number of migrants on Lesvos has reached 5,226 while existing camps are only designed to host 3,500. The situation on Chios is equally disheartening, with 3,309 migrants in accommodation for 1,100.

According to the latest data, there are 12,120 migrants on the islands. A March deal between the European Union and Turkey to stem the flow managed to limit monthly arrivals to just a few thousand. However, the figure rose to its highest in four months in August. While Interior Ministry officials have attributed the overcrowded conditions at the camps to delays in the registration process, some critics have interpreted the increased traffic as a form of pressure from Ankara, which has linked the deal’s implementation to visa-free travel for its citizens within the EU.

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“There are still an estimated 277,000 migrants in Libya, as well as 348,000 internally displaced people and 310,000 returnees..”

Counting The Lost And Nameless Dead Of The Mediterranean (SMH)

The central Mediterranean is by far the most dangerous crossing into Europe for migrants. On Monday alone, 6908 migrants were rescued in the Channel of Sicily in 35 rescue operations, pulling them from 44 rubber dinghies, eight small wooden boats and two bigger fishing boats. The surge came after a week of windy and rough conditions had kept would-be migrants on the shores of Libya. Two people were reported to have died. There has also been a surge this week in the number of migrants arriving on Greek islands, where on average 100 people come ashore each day.

Of the 3165 people who have died or went missing this year crossing the sea (as of August 28), 2725 were attempting the passage to Italy from North Africa, according to the International Organization for Migration’s figures. More people died on this route than last year in the same period. [..] As of August 28, 272,070 migrants had crossed the Mediterranean into Europe in 2016. Just under half of the arrivals, or 106,461 (as of August 24) arrived in Italy. There, most arrivals came from Nigeria, Eritrea and Gambia. There are still an estimated 277,000 migrants in Libya, as well as 348,000 internally displaced people and 310,000 returnees – refugees returned from abroad.

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Aug 302016
 
 August 30, 2016  Posted by at 8:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Wynand Stanley Ice-packed Buick motor stunt, San Francisco 1922

Banks Get Ready For ‘Economic Nuclear Winter’ (CNBC)
The “Devastating” Truth Behind America’s Record Household Net Worth (ZH)
We Have Passed The Peak Of The Bubble (Maloney)
Oil Discoveries at 70-Year Low (BBG)
House Price Gloom In Canada A Lesson For Australia (AFR)
Unemployed Italians Lead Europe in Abandoning Job Hunt (BBG)
Apple Facing Back Taxes Running Into Billions Over Ireland Deal (G.)
Life After Community Death: A Food Bank (G.)
Judge: Kim Dotcom Can Livestream Legal Fight Against The US (AP)
60% Of South Asia’s Groundwater Too Contaminated To Use (AFP)
China Regulator To Curb News That Promotes ‘Western Lifestyles’ (R.)
EU Seeks To Protect Greek Statistics Office From Its Own Government (BBG)
Greek GDP Contraction In First Half 2016 Was Worse Than Thought (Kath.)
Turkey Warns Refugee Deal To Collapse Unless EU Grants Visa-Free Travel (Kath.)
6,500 Migrants Rescued Off Libya Coast Overnight By Italian Coastguard (AFP)

 

 

Beautiful Brexit as the bubble burster.

Banks Get Ready For ‘Economic Nuclear Winter’ (CNBC)

The first half of 2016 has been a roller-coaster for financial markets. A combination of uncertainties surrounding the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union and weaker-than-expected corporate earnings results across the region means a tough second half looms. European banks, in particular, have had a very tough six months as the shock and volatility around Brexit sent banking stocks south. Major European banks like Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse saw their shares in free-fall after the referendum’s results were announced. In the U.K., RBS was the worst-hit, with its shares plunging by more than 30% since June 24. The current uncertainty over when the U.K. will start the process of quitting the EU has banks on tenterhooks. But a source told CNBC that banks are “preparing for an economic nuclear winter situation.”

Speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic, a source from a major investment bank told CNBC that financial services firms have put together a strategy in place that takes into account the worst-case scenario that could happen by the end of this year. “This could mean triggering Article 50, referendum in other European nations leading to a break-up of the euro or sterling hitting below $1.20 or lower. The banks are ready for anything now,” the source said. The source further explained that the challenge in 2016 is nothing compared to when the Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008 and the banking sector is this time a lot more resilient. “Markets hate uncertainty and the events this year have unfortunately created a lot of mystery around what is going to happen next.”

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It’s all a bubble.

The “Devastating” Truth Behind America’s Record Household Net Worth (ZH)

Every quarter, as part of its Flows of Funds statement, the Fed releases a detailed breakdown of America’s assets and liabilities, of which the most interesting section is the one dealing with US household wealth and debt, and most importantly, their net worth. The last such release in June showed that as of March 31, total US household assets rose decidedly above $100 trillion, hitting an all time high $102.6 trillion, offset by $14.5 trillion in liabilities, resulting in $88.1 trillion in household net worth. It is worth noting that of this $100+ trillion in assets, 69% was in the form of financial assets (stocks, mutual funds, pensions, deposits, etc), and only $31.5 trillion was real, tangible assets including $26 trillion worth of real estate.

[..] as Pedro da Costa points out, when one looks beneath the surface, a “devastating” picture emerges: US inequality like no-one has seen it before. To help with this peek behind the scenes, we look at the latest, just released CBO report on Trends in Family Wealth, which shows that far from equitable, US wealth has never been so skewed. The picture in question:

Here are the CBO report’s summary findings: In 2013, aggregate family wealth in the United States was $67 trillion (or about four times the nation’s gross domestic product) and the median family (the one at the midpoint of the wealth distribution) held approximately $81,000, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. For this analysis, CBO calculated that measure of wealth as a family’s assets minus its debt. CBO measured wealth as marketable wealth, which consists of assets that are easily tradable and that have value even after the death of their owner. Those assets include home equity, other real estate (net of real estate loans), financial securities, bank deposits, defined contribution pension accounts, and business equity. Debt is nonmortgage debt, including credit card debt, auto loans, and student loans, for example.

But to get to the stunning punchline, one has to read The section on How Is the Nation’s Wealth Distributed? Here is the answer: In 2013, families in the top 10% of the wealth distribution held 76% of all family wealth, families in the 51st to the 90th percentiles held 23%, and those in the bottom half of the distribution held 1%. Average wealth was about $4 million for families in the top 10% of the wealth distribution, $316,000 for families in the 51st to 90th percentiles, and $36,000 for families in the 26th to 50th percentiles. On average, families at or below the 25th percentile were $13,000 in debt.

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“These people are just absolutely dangerous. They are going to drag the entire world economy down.”

We Have Passed The Peak Of The Bubble (Maloney)

What the central banks are doing has never worked and they keep on trying – you just hit that nail a little bit harder each time because it isn’t working. They have these theories and they think that the theory is correct that this – and no matter what the results are they say well, we just didn’t do enough of it. Japan has been trying this for 30 years now and it hasn’t worked. These people are just absolutely dangerous. They are going to drag the entire world economy down. You talked about the helicopter money that is now happening in Europe and so on. That is going to be coming to the United States soon. Coming to a Central Bank near you. It always has damaging results. They don’t look at this. It is a huge wealth transfer.

The immorality of an entity and everywhere I go I take a look at – when I would go speak in Singapore or Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Colombia, Peru doesn’t matter – Russia – everywhere I go I take a look, I go on the websites of the central bank for that country and I start gathering information. I haven’t found a central bank that is part of the government. They are all private. Here is a private entity that is allowed to create currency and now they are buying bonds from corporations? They can buy stocks. When they write a check and they buy something, currency is created and it enters circulation. A very large portion of it is Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac stuff. It is the mortgage backed securities. And so that means that they own real estate. This private corporation is able to counterfeit and purchase real estate legally. The morality of this is insane.

Keynesian economics isn’t even remotely plausible. But it’s what is taught all over the world. They don’t understand fundamental economics. This is the problem that we have: all economies on the planet are being run by economists that don’t understand economics. The purchasing power that is contained in currency is basically the agreement that we have as a society that we are all going to use that currency and we trust that currency and we store hours of our lives. We trade hours of our lives for currency. We work. That is the purchasing power. Then that currency measures the goods and services in a society. The true wealth.

They think that they can actually print wealth. When they print new units of currency, the only way it can get purchasing power is the moment that it is spent in the circulation – it has to steal it from somewhere else because it is empty when it comes into existence. There is no work that went into it. There are no hours of life traded for it. There is no product or service that it represents until it is spent in circulation and then it steals that purchasing power from all other units of currency. It is fraud. It is theft. They can’t actually stimulate an economy. All they can do is warp it. They can steal purchasing power from some areas of the economy and transfer it to another area of the economy pushing that area into a bubble. It is very, very disruptive.

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“EIA estimates that global oil demand will grow from 94.8 million barrels a day this year to 105.3 million barrels in 2026. “ I do not.

Oil Discoveries at 70-Year Low (BBG)

Explorers in 2015 discovered only about a tenth as much oil as they have annually on average since 1960. This year, they’ll probably find even less, spurring new fears about their ability to meet future demand. With oil prices down by more than half since the price collapse two years ago, drillers have cut their exploration budgets to the bone. The result: Just 2.7 billion barrels of new supply was discovered in 2015, the smallest amount since 1947, according to figures from consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. This year, drillers found just 736 million barrels of conventional crude as of the end of last month. That’s a concern for the industry at a time when the U.S. EIA estimates that global oil demand will grow from 94.8 million barrels a day this year to 105.3 million barrels in 2026.

While the U.S. shale boom could potentially make up the difference, prices locked in below $50 a barrel have undercut any substantial growth there. New discoveries from conventional drilling, meanwhile, are “at rock bottom,” said Nils-Henrik Bjurstroem at Oslo-based consultant Rystad Energy. “There will definitely be a strong impact on oil and gas supply, and especially oil.” Global inventories have been buoyed by full-throttle output from Russia and OPEC. They’ve flooded the world with oil despite depressed prices as they defend market share. But years of under-investment will be felt as soon as 2025, Bjurstroem said. Producers will replace little more than one in 20 of the barrels consumed this year, he said.

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We rapidly get used to seeing bubbles as new normal.

House Price Gloom In Canada A Lesson For Australia (AFR)

A commodity economy with record-breaking property prices, fuelled by ultra-low interest rates and Chinese buyers, raises taxes on foreign homebuyers. While the scenario is eerily similar to Australia, it is actually Canada and early signs are the property market is rapidly cooling. The unravelling could offer insight for Australians contemplating the state of the expensive local real estate market. A record one in five Canadians expect house prices to fall. The number of property price pessimists has nearly doubled since a 15% foreign buyer tax on Vancouver homes took effect on August 2. In the first two weeks since the tax came into effect, home sales fell 51% in the metropolitan area, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver said.

Nanos Research chairman Nik Nanos told The Australian Financial Review that real estate was the “canary in the mine” for the Canadian economy and the foreign acquirer tax has had an immediate “chill” effect on confidence. “If we see a significant slide in confidence in real estate there will be an immediate negative knock-on effect on the Canadian economy because right now there is no energy [oil] economy to fall back on,” he said. The price of Canada’s biggest export, oil, has crashed over the past two years, much like iron ore and coal prices in Australia. Like Sydney and Melbourne, real estate prices in Canada’s most-liveable cities have surged in recent years.

A combination of low borrowing costs, strong demand, limited housing supply because of red tape and, anecdotally, foreign buyers mainly from China seeking to park their money in perceived safe havens offshore, pushed up values. Vancouver house prices soared 30% in the year ended May 31, and prices shot up 15% in Canada’s biggest city of Toronto. The median price for detached houses in Vancouver jumped to $C1.6 million.

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And you think this Union can stay together?

Unemployed Italians Lead Europe in Abandoning Job Hunt (BBG)

Going from the final quarter of 2015 through March of this year, 37% of unemployed Italians gave up their job search, while only 13% landed new work and a full half found their status unchanged. On the opposite end of the scale, very few Greeks – just 1% – gave up their job hunt while only 4% found new employment in the economically hard-pressed nation.

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Deductible from its US taxes.

Apple Facing Back Taxes Running Into Billions Over Ireland Deal (G.)

Apple could face back taxes running into billions with the European commission expected to rule against the company on Tuesday over its arrangements with the Irish government. A ruling by Margrethe Vestager, the European competition commissioner, could make Apple liable for billions of euros. Irish officials expect the commission to declare the arrangements unlawful under state aid rules. A decision against Apple and Ireland after a two-year investigation would rebuff US efforts to persuade the commission to drop its interest amid warnings about retaliation from Washington. The commission has been investigating whether Apple’s tax deals with Ireland, which have allowed the company to pay very little tax on income earned throughout Europe, amounted to state aid.

The commission opened a formal inquiry in September 2014 after publishing preliminary findings suggesting deals between Apple and Ireland in 1991 and 2007 involved state aid that was incompatible with the EU’s internal market. Apple and Ireland have denied repeatedly that they have a special deal. Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has called the investigation “political crap” and said his company and Ireland would appeal against a ruling that Apple received state aid. The investment bank JP Morgan has warned that if the commission requires Apple to retroactively pay the Irish corporate tax rate of 12.5% on the pre-tax profits it collected via Ireland it could cost the company as much as $19bn.

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Of course I can’t read a story like this about a food bank in Britain without thinking about the project you and I are supporting in Greece -all over Greece. Where conditions are much worse still. I hope the Brits who read this realize that.

Life After Community Death: A Food Bank (G.)

I never expected to leave a food bank feeling optimistic. To visit a kitchen serving hundreds of free summer-holiday meals to kids who might otherwise go hungry – and come away pondering the lessons Westminster, and especially Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, should learn. But then, until last week, I hadn’t met the two women who run the Neo cafe. To understand what an achievement Neo is, you have to see what it’s up against. There’s the area, for a start: Birkenhead, now practically a byword for social deprivation. In parts of this town the life expectancy for baby boys is lower than in North Korea. Since the Brexit vote there’s been a boom in hand-waving commentary on “left-behind” Britain.

The columnists and studio guests should come here for a day, and see what their talking points look like as lived experience. Industrial decline? The once great shipbuilder Cammell Laird still clings on, but many of the other big employers have been wiped out. Insecure work? The usual features of an exploitative jobs market are all present, from zero-hours contracts and temp agencies to, most of all, low wages. And of course austerity, from benefit sanctions to multimillion pound cuts at Wirral council. Impose such conditions on a family and you create misery. Push them across an entire community and you get breakdown.

Widespread economic insecurity produces social instability. Relationships fail. Colin, a twentysomething on temp work, describes how his partner had to move out because “I couldn’t make my pay packet feed two”. Stop-start work makes planning budgets hard enough – it makes planning families impossible. Neighbours move in then move out, so you never know who’s living next door – and you’d all rather leave. One grandmother, Wendy, remembers how she cried on being offered a council house in Rock Ferry, the patch of town that’s home to Neo. Then Anne and Trish chip in with other problems: druggies and no-go areas, so that a kid from this estate can’t go to that one. Here, the horizons have shrunk so far that the neighbourhood can seem like a trap.

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Good. Let’s hear it.

Judge: Kim Dotcom Can Livestream Legal Fight Against The US (AP)

Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom will be allowed to livestream his legal bid to halt his extradition to the United States, a New Zealand judge ruled Tuesday. Dotcom and three of his colleagues are appealing a December lower-court decision which allows them to be extradited to the U.S. to face conspiracy, racketeering and money-laundering charges. If found guilty, they could face decades in jail. Dotcom’s lawyer Ira Rothken told AP he was pleased with the decision. “It provides everybody in the world with a seat in the gallery of the New Zealand courtroom,” Rothken said. “It’s democracy at its finest.” Rothken said the livestreaming would begin Wednesday on YouTube. He said there would be a 20-minute delay to prevent any evidence that was protected by the court from becoming public. The appeal is expected to last six weeks.

Justice Murray Gilbert, the New Zealand judge hearing the appeal, had asked other media about Dotcom’s request and didn’t receive any objections. Rothken said the U.S. had opposed the plan on the basis it could taint a potential jury pool and could cede court control over evidence. December’s lower-court ruling came nearly four years after the U.S. shut down Dotcom’s file-sharing site Megaupload, which prosecutors say was widely used by people to illegally download songs, television shows and movies. Megaupload was once one of the internet’s most popular sites. Prosecutors say it raked in at least $175 million and cost copyright holders more than $500 million. But Dotcom and colleagues Mathias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk and Finn Batato argue they can’t be held responsible for people who chose to use the site for illegal purposes.

Rothken said the lower-court judge made an error of law in his ruling, and that broad safe-harbor provisions protect internet service providers from the types of charges his clients face.

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750 million people. Add China’s polluted water, and you get well over a billion.

60% Of South Asia’s Groundwater Too Contaminated To Use (AFP)

60% of the groundwater in a river basin supporting more than 750 million people in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh is not drinkable or usable for irrigation, researchers have said. The biggest threat to groundwater in the Indo-Gangetic Basin, named after the Indus and Ganges rivers, is not depletion but contamination, they reported in the journal Nature Geoscience. “The two main concerns are salinity and arsenic,” the authors of the study wrote. Up to a depth of 200m (650ft), some 23% of the groundwater stored in the basin is too salty, and about 37% “is affected by arsenic at toxic concentrations”, they said.

The Indo-Gangetic basin accounts for about a quarter of the global extraction of groundwater – freshwater which is stored underground in crevices and spaces in soil or rock, fed by rivers and rainfall. Fifteen to twenty million wells extract water from the basin every year amid growing concerns about depletion. The new study – based on local records of groundwater levels and quality from 2000 to 2012 – found that the water table was in fact stable or rising across about 70% of the aquifer. It was found to be falling in the other 30%, mainly near highly populated areas.

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Xi trying to assert power he doesn’t have.

China Regulator To Curb News That Promotes ‘Western Lifestyles’ (R.)

China will crack down on social and entertainment news that promotes improper values and “Western lifestyles”, the country’s broadcasting regulator said, the latest effort at censorship in an already strictly regulated media environment. President Xi Jinping has embarked on an unprecedented drive to censor media that do not reflect the views of Communist Party leaders. Authorities have already issued rules limiting “foreign-inspired” television shows and put tougher penalties on the spread of rumors via social media. Social and entertainment news must be dominated by mainstream ideologies and “positive energy”, the official Xinhua news agency said late on Monday, citing the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT).

News content should not make improper jokes, defile classics, or “express overt admiration for Western lifestyles”, the regulator said in a circular, according to Xinhua. “They should also avoid putting stars, billionaires or Internet celebrities on pedestals”, and not advocate overnight fame or hype family disputes, Xinhua said. China’s legislature this week is also reviewing a draft law that would require film industry workers to maintain excellent “moral integrity”, after recent cases in which celebrities had been arrested for drug offences and prostitution, Xinhua said in a separate report. Xi has been explicit that media must follow the party line, uphold the correct guidance on public opinion and promote “positive propaganda”. The term “positive energy” is a catch phrase that has been favored by China’s propaganda and internet authorities under Xi, referring to content that is morally uplifting and patriotic.

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A curious case of Brussels intervention. There’s nary a soul in Greece who doubts that Georgiou greatly exaggerated the Greek budget deficit in 2009 in order to make an EU bailout inevitable. Now the EU wants to label Greece’s scrutiny of this as “political interference in administrative matters”. But matters such as these can be investigated in simple ways: an objective look at the numbers. That’s not politics, but accounting. Thing is, if Georgiou did this, it was in collusion with the EU.

EU Seeks To Protect Greek Statistics Office From Its Own Government (BBG)

Greece’s finance chief said the next international aid payout to the country may be delayed as the European Union stepped up warnings about domestic political meddling in the Greek state. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos raised the possibility of the government in Athens failing to qualify on time for a €2.8 billion disbursement due in September from the euro area. That’s what remains of a €10.3 billion tranche that finance ministers approved in principle three months ago. “If there is a delay, it’ll be days not weeks,” Tsakalotos told Bloomberg News in Brussels on Monday before a meeting with EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici. “Part of the reason for the meeting is to discuss the process to ensure there aren’t delays.”

Slipping timetables have been a regular feature of loan payouts to Greece since it first turned to the euro area and the IMF for a rescue in 2010. Now in it’s third bailout, the country faces continued creditor warnings about backsliding on overhauls that are a condition for aid. The European Commission sent the latest salvo to Athens, saying on Monday that criticism of the former head of Greece’s statistical agency by allies of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras risks undermining the credibility of Greek fiscal data. The commission, the EU’s executive arm, said the Greek government must push ahead under its aid program with commitments to curb political interference in administrative matters.

“The commission has long urged the implementation of the pillar of the program related to the modernization of the Greek state and public administration,” Margaritis Schinas, chief spokesman at the 28-nation body, told reporters in Brussels. “This also includes the need to depoliticize the Greek administration.” The political controversy centers on Andreas Georgiou, who faces felony charges in Greece for reporting a 2009 budget deficit that was more than five times the EU limit and that unleashed the euro-area debt crisis. The EU has vouched for data submitted by the Hellenic Statistical Authority under Georgiou from 2010 to 2015 and validated by EU statistics office Eurostat.

Greek Minister of State Nikos Pappas, Tsipras’s closest aide, asked publicly in early August whether Georgiou inflated the spending gap to force the country into a rescue. Avgi, a newspaper affiliated with Tsipras’s anti-austerity Syriza party, labeled Georgiou an “executioner” in an Aug. 4 editorial.

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And the Troika ensures it can only go downhill from here.

Greek GDP Contraction In First Half 2016 Was Worse Than Thought (Kath.)

The contraction of the Greek economy in the first half of the year has turned out to be greater than originally estimated. The revised data released on Monday by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) recorded a bigger drop in GDP on an annual basis, which will make it even more difficult for the government to meet the fiscal targets set for this year. Using previously unavailable data, ELSTAT has now calculated that first quarter GDP declined by 1% and not 0.8% year-on-year, while in the April-June period it fell by 0.9% and not 0.7% as originally thought.

That was the fourth consecutive quarter with a GDP contraction. Consumer spending fell 1.9% in the second quarter on an annual basis, exports of goods and services contracted 11.4% (with goods increasing 2.98% and exports dropping 26.5%), while imports declined 7.1%. Gross capital investments posted a 7% increase. On a quarterly basis, consumer expenditure dropped 0.2% from the first quarter, investment rose 1%, exports fell 1% and imports shrank 0.4%, ELSTAT data showed.

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Any attempt at granting visa-free travel now would break up the EU.

Turkey Warns Refugee Deal To Collapse Unless EU Grants Visa-Free Travel (Kath.)

In an interview with Kathimerini published on Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has warned the EU that if it doesn’t grant Turkish citizens via-free travel to Europe by October “at the latest,” then Ankara will not continue implementing a deal struck in March with Brussels to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. “Despite the fact that irregular migration in the Aegean is now under control, we do not see the EU keen on delivering its promises,” he said, insisting that Turkey cannot continue on its own to stop irregular migration toward the EU while the latter does not assume its obligations. “We expect visa liberalization for Turkish citizens at the latest in October 2016,” said Cavusoglu, who was on an unofficial visit to Crete yesterday and held talks with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias, stressing the potential to further develop Greek-Turkish relations.

Visa liberalization was one of the conditions set by Turkey to sign up to the agreement, which was criticized by human rights groups, to stop the influx of migrant arrivals to Europe which reached more than a million last year. “We did our share in this cooperation… We have prevented new loss of lives and crushed migrant smuggling rings.” The EU missed a deadline late June for the granting of visa-free travel for Turks, saying it had not met all 72 pre-conditions set by Brussels to grant visa-fee travel. The EU also demanded Ankara review its anti-terrorism law. Ankara refused, saying it is critical in its fight against Islamic State and Kurdish militants.

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Numbers are rising again. This will stop only when we stop bombing and squeezing these people.

6,500 Migrants Rescued Off Libya Coast Overnight By Italian Coastguard (AFP)

Around 6,500 migrants were rescued off the coast of Libya, the Italian coastguard said, in one of its busiest days of life-saving in recent years. Dramatic images of one operation showed about 700 migrants crammed onto a fishing boat, with some of them jumping off the vessel in life jackets and swimming towards rescuers. A five-day-old baby was among those rescued along with other infants and was airlifted to an Italian hospital, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which took part in operations.

“The command centre coordinated 40 rescue operations” that included vessels from Italy, humanitarian organisations as well as the EU’s border agency Frontex, saving 6,500 migrants, the coastguard wrote on Twitter. “We’ve been particularly busy today,” a spokesman for the Italian coastguard told AFP. On Sunday more than 1,100 migrants were rescued in the same area. The total number of arrivals in Italy this year now stands at 112,500, according to the UN’s refugee agency and the coastguard, slightly below the 116,000 recorded by the same point in 2015.

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Jul 222016
 
 July 22, 2016  Posted by at 8:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Lewis Wickes Hine Night scene in Cumberland Glass Works, Bridgeton, NJ 1909

(There’s No) Money In The Mattress (Roberts)
Sub-Zero Government Bonds Turn the Hunt For Yield Upside Down (BBG)
US Sides With HSBC To Block Release Of Money Laundering Report (R.)
Are Wall Street Banks in Trouble? You’d Never Know from the Headlines (WSoP)
Denmark Faces ‘Out of Control’ Housing Market in Negative Spiral (BBG)
Fracklog in Biggest US Oil Field May All But Disappear (BBG)
China Continues To Produce More Steel Than The Rest Of The World Combined (BI)
China’s Vice FinMin: We’ve Got No Reason To Devalue The Yuan (CNBC)
Apple’s Q2 China Revenues Could Fall 20%: Baidu (CNBC)
Pension Funds Are Underwater – And Taking Us With Them (VW)
Once-Expanding EU Prepares To Contract For The First Time In Its History (G.)
Earth On Track For Hottest Year Ever As Warming Speeds Up (R.)
Fighting the Most Dangerous Animal in the World (Spiegel)

 

 

“Every time someone says, ‘There is a lot of cash on the sidelines,’ a tiny part of my soul dies.”

Scary graph.

(There’s No) Money In The Mattress (Roberts)

Here is a myth that just won’t seem to die: “Cash On The Sidelines.” This is the age old excuse why the current “bull market” rally is set to continue into the indefinite future. The ongoing belief is that at any moment investors are suddenly going to empty bank accounts and pour it into the markets. However, the reality is if they haven’t done it by now after 3-consecutive rounds of Q.E. in the U.S., a 200% advance in the markets, and now global Q.E., exactly what will that catalyst be? However, Clifford Asness summed up the problem with this myth the best and is worth repeating:

“Every time someone says, ‘There is a lot of cash on the sidelines,’ a tiny part of my soul dies. There are no sidelines. Those saying this seem to envision a seller of stocks moving her money to cash and awaiting a chance to return. But they always ignore that this seller sold to somebody, who presumably moved a precisely equal amount of cash off the sidelines. If you want to save those who say this, I can think of two ways. First, they really just mean that sentiment is negative but people are waiting to buy. If sentiment turns, it won’t move any cash off the sidelines because, again, that just can’t happen, but it can mean prices will rise because more people will be trying to get off the nonexistent sidelines than on.

Second, over the long term, there really are sidelines in the sense that new shares can be created or destroyed (net issuance), and that may well be a function of investor sentiment. But even though I’ve thrown people who use this phrase a lifeline, I believe that they really do think there are sidelines. There aren’t. Like any equilibrium concept (a powerful way of thinking that is amazingly underused), there can be a sideline for any subset of investors, but someone else has to be doing the opposite. Add us all up and there are no sidelines.”

Margin debt levels, negative cash balances, also suggest the same. Cash on the sidelines? Not really.

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And there are plenty plans to ‘do more’.

Sub-Zero Government Bonds Turn the Hunt For Yield Upside Down (BBG)

The erosion of yields on government debt is generally thought to push investors into riskier assets as they seek out higher returns. That’s true, argue Credit Suisse analysts in a new note, but only in the ‘first phase’ of a negative yield world. That is, when yields on government bonds with shorter-durations dip below zero, total returns on riskier assets such as junk-rated corporate debt do trump returns on German bunds. That tendency disappeared, however, as yields on longer-dated government debt also fell into negative territory — at least in Europe.

“The defining characteristic of Phase One is a strong outperformance of high-yielding credit assets versus low-yielding credit assets and government bonds, i.e. a strong hunt for yield trend. Nothing unusual so far,” write Credit Suisse’s William Porter and Chiraag Somaia. “However, more interestingly, Phase Two, still characterized by negative yields, actually sees an outperformance of government bonds versus both low- and high-yielding credit assets, i.e. any hunt for yield over the past 2.5 years as a whole has been an unsuccessful strategy.” The trend is shown in the below chart, where total returns on German government bonds have bested high-yield and investment-grade corporate debt.

“For now, we think ever-falling yields represent an overall risk aversion and/or verdict on economic policies that is not overly friendly to yieldier assets despite the obvious incentives they carry in this environment,” conclude the analysts. “So yield-hunting behavior is not always and everywhere wrong – this summer may treat it favorably – but any outperformance has subsequently been counter-trend in the past 2.5 years.”

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Quick! Find me a carpet to sweep this under!

US Sides With HSBC To Block Release Of Money Laundering Report (R.)

The U.S. government asked a federal appeals court on Thursday to block the release of a report detailing how HSBC is working to improve its money laundering controls after the British bank was fined $1.92 billion. In a brief filed with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Department of Justice sought to overturn an order issued earlier this year by U.S. District Judge John Gleeson to make public a report by the bank’s outside monitor. “Public disclosure of the monitor’s report, even in redacted form, would hinder the monitor’s ability to supervise HSBC,” the government’s court filing said, adding that bank employees would be less likely to cooperate with the monitor if they knew their interactions could be released.

HSBC concurred with the court’s finding. “HSBC also argues that the Monitor’s report should remain confidential, as have the Monitor, the UK Financial Conduct Authority, the US Federal Reserve and other HSBC regulators,” HSBC said in a statement. “The effectiveness of the monitorship is dependent on confidentiality.” The filing comes a week after U.S. congressional investigators criticized senior officials at the Department of Justice for overruling internal recommendations to criminally prosecute HSBC for money-laundering violations. Instead, the government in 2012 fined HSBC and entered into a five-year deferred prosecution agreement that stipulated all charges would be dropped if the bank agreed to install an independent monitor to help improve compliance. In the 2012 settlement, HSBC admitted to violating U.S. sanctions laws and failing to stop Mexican and Colombian cartels from laundering hundreds of millions of dollars in drug proceeds through the bank.

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Martens & Martens. Strong.

Are Wall Street Banks in Trouble? You’d Never Know from the Headlines (WSoP)

On July 14, when America’s biggest bank by assets reported its second quarter earnings, this headline ran at the New York Times: “JPMorgan Chase Has Strong Quarter as Earnings Top Estimates.” CNBC, a unit of NBCUniversal, used the same criteria in its headlines to report the earnings of Citigroup, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley — putting a positive spin in the headline because the earnings had topped what analysts were expecting – rather than the far more meaningful, and traditional, measure of whether earnings had beaten the same quarter a year earlier. CNBC’s headlines read: Citigroup earnings handily top Wall Street expectations: CNBC-July 15, 2016 Bank of America earnings top expectations: CNBC-July 18, 2016 Morgan Stanley solidly beats earnings expectations: CNBC-July 20, 2016.

This is hubris of the highest order. Publicly traded companies simply guide research analysts toward lowered expectations on their upcoming quarterly earnings so that the companies can surprise on the upside and get these kinds of misleading headlines in the all-to-willing New York media – which has a vested interest in making everything appear rosy in the Big Apple. (New York media is dependent on fat Wall Street profits to boost the price of their own publicly traded shares since ad revenue in New York is linked to the health of Wall Street.) One would never know by these headlines that big bank earnings were actually down year over year – and in some cases, down dramatically. JPMorgan Chase earned $6.2 billion in the second quarter of 2016 versus $6.29 billion in the second quarter of 2015.

The news was far worse at Citigroup, despite the rosy headline at CNBC. Citigroup’s second quarter profit fell 17.5% year over year, to $4 billion from $4.85 billion in the second quarter of 2015. Its revenues were the lowest in 14 years according to S&P Capital IQ. At Bank of America, profit fell to $4.23 billion from $5.3 billion in the second quarter of 2015, a sharp decline of 20%. Morgan Stanley reported a year over year decline of 8%, with profits in the second quarter of 2016 falling to $1.67 billion from $1.82 billion in the second quarter of 2015. Now news of jobs cuts is spilling out with the Wall Street Journal reporting that Bank of America will make “$5 billion in annual cost cuts by 2018 as part of its strategy to deal with persistently low interest rates that are eating away at lenders’ profitability.”

The New York Post is calling job cuts at Goldman Sachs the worst since the financial crisis in 2008. Fortune’s Stephen Gandel reported two days ago that Goldman had slashed a whopping “1,700 positions in the past three months.” Something else one won’t find in those smiley-face headlines is the fact that Wall Street is not only bleeding profits and jobs but it’s also bleeding equity capital – the only thing that separates the word “bank” from the word “bankruptcy.” While the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Standard and Poor’s 500 Indices may be setting new highs, the big Wall Street banks are decidedly not.

Over the past 52 weeks, Goldman is down from a share price of $214.61 to an open this morning of $162.55 – a decline of 24%. Bank of America is off 22% from its 52-week high, based on today’s open. Morgan Stanley and Citigroup are in decidedly worse shape with declines of 28% and 27%, respectively, from their 52 week highs versus their share price at the open of the New York Stock Exchange this morning. Add this all up and you’re talking about tens of billions of dollars in equity capital vaporizing.

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Denmark is in the same position as dozens of other countries: “..there’s a real risk that housing prices can see a dramatic fall, even though we’re not seeing a bubble in the classical definition of the term..”

Denmark Faces ‘Out of Control’ Housing Market in Negative Spiral (BBG)

Denmark’s biggest mortgage bank is warning there’s a risk the housing market may get “out of control,” especially around cities, as long-term negative interest rates make borrowers complacent. “To be concrete, there is a danger that Danes go blind to the risk of rates ever rising again,” Tore Stramer, chief analyst at Nykredit in Copenhagen, said in an e-mail. “That raises the risk of a major housing price decline, when rates at some point or other start to rise again.” Denmark’s central bank has had negative interest rates for the better part of four years. Thomas F. Borgen, CEO of Danske Bank, says his managers are operating under the assumption that rates won’t go positive until “at least” 2018, with Britain’s departure from the EU adding to the risk of an even longer period below zero.

With no other country on the planet having experienced negative rates longer than Denmark, the distortions the policy is wreaking may provide a preview of what other economies face should they go down a similar path. Danes can get short-term mortgages at negative interest rates, and pay less to borrow for 30 years than the U.S. government. Apartment prices in Denmark are now about 5% above their 2006 peak. Back then, the country’s bubble burst and apartment prices slumped about 30% through 2009. “It’s worth remembering that there’s a real risk that housing prices can see a dramatic fall, even though we’re not seeing a bubble in the classical definition of the term,” Stramer said. Denmark’s negative rates are a product of the central bank’s policy of defending the krone’s peg to the euro. Its main rate was minus 0.75% for most of last year, though the bank raised it by 10 basis points in January in an effort to normalize policy.

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Reality kicks in. What’s going to happen to the lenders who made it all possible?

Fracklog in Biggest US Oil Field May All But Disappear (BBG)

The number of dormant crude and natural gas wells in the U.S. stopped growing in the first quarter – and may all but disappear in the nation’s biggest oil field should prices hold steady. As of April 1, there were 4,230 wells left idle after being drilled, a figure little changed from January, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence. While some explorers have continued to grow their fracklog of drilled but not yet hydraulically fractured wells, others began tapping them in February as oil prices rose, the report showed.

Crude in the $40- to $50-a-barrel range may wipe out most of the fracklog in Texas’s Permian Basin and as much as 70% of the inventory in its Eagle Ford play by the end of 2017, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Andrew Cosgrove. While bringing them online is the cheapest way of taking advantage of higher prices, the wave of new supply also threatens to kill the fragile recovery that oil and gas markets have seen so far this year. “We think that by the end of the third quarter, beginning of the fourth quarter, the bullish catalyst of falling U.S. production will be all but gone,” Cosgrove said in an interview Thursday. “You’ll start to see U.S. production flat lining.”

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It’s the same as oil producers. In China’s steel industry, a return to reality would mean too many jobs lost to bear.

China Continues To Produce More Steel Than The Rest Of The World Combined (BI)

For the fourth month in a row, China produced more steel than all other nations combined in June. According to data released by the WorldSteel Association on Wednesday, a group that accounts for approximately 85% of the world’s steel production, China produced 69.5 million of crude steel in June, dwarfing production in all other nations which came in at 66.5 million tonnes. At 136 million tonnes, total global output in June was unchanged from the levels of a year earlier.

While down 1.4% on the 70.5 million tonnes produced in May, Chinese crude steel production is now 1.7% higher than the levels of June 2015, fitting with the splurge in state-backed infrastructure investment seen in recent months. Despite the recent uplift in steel production, shown in the chart below supplied by WorldSteel, global steel production came in at 794.8 million tonnes in the first half of the year, down 1.9% on the same corresponding period in 2015.

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They fix it daily, but that’s not manipulation nor devaluation…. That’s just fixing.

China’s Vice FinMin: We’ve Got No Reason To Devalue The Yuan (CNBC)

China has no reason to devalue the yuan, as economic fundamentals remained strong, with growth at 6.7% in the first half, the country’s Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao told CNBC. Zhu’s comments came shortly before Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump lambasted China again, this time for what he said was “devastating currency manipulation. [..] “The yuan has been trading around five-year lows recently, as concerns over the state of the economy fueled capital outflows. Investors have also expressed concerns over the level of debt built up in the economy. China suffered almost $700 billion worth of capital flight in 2015. The surge in outflows late in 2015 sparked market concerns that China’s foreign reserves weren’t sufficient to stabilize the currency by buying yuan over the long term.

Meanwhile, the greenback has strengthened against most major currencies as investors reacted to negative interest rates in Japan and Europe, as well as the possibility the Federal Reserve would continue on its rate-hiking path. On Friday the dollar/yuan traded at 6.6683 on-shore and 6.6754 off-shore. China fixes its currency against the dollar every day. In August, China shifted the market mechanism for setting the daily fix, saying it would set the spot rate based on the previous day’s close, theoretically allowing market forces to play a greater role in its direction. That resulted in an effective 2% devaluation in the currency, a move that sparked fears of a “currency war” to make Chinese exports more competitive.

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What’s that going to do to the share price?

Apple’s Q2 China Revenues Could Fall 20%: Baidu (CNBC)

Apple’s revenues in China could be down 20% in China in its quarterly earnings report, according to research by Baidu, the so-called “Chinese Google.” As part of its online suite of products Baidu offers mapping software and a search platform. It has about a 70 to 80% market share in search in China and logs billions of location requests on Baidu Maps. Using this so called “big data” from the use of its map and search products, which is all anonymized, Baidu said it could predict employment and consumer trends and their impact on a company’s revenues. It used these tools on Apple’s retail sales in China, selecting a list of flagship Apple stores in mainland China and the counting the volume of map queries of all the stores.

Baidu found that in the last quarter of 2015, map query volumes were up 15.4% year-on-year, which corresponded with a 14% rise in Apple’s China revenue in that same period. But in the first quarter of 2016, map queries declined 24.5% year-on-year, which was parallel with a 26% decline in Apple’s China revenue. “The impressively strong correlation indicates that map query data provides possibilities for us to ‘nowcast’ the company’s revenues and reveal the future trends. Based on our analysis of latest data, we project that the Apple’s revenue in China of second quarter of 2016 may be down around 20% on a year-over-year basis,” Baidu concluded. The “second-quarter” that Baidu references is Apple’s fiscal third-quarter and will be announced on July 26.

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Pensions. A word your children will know only from history books.

Pension Funds Are Underwater – And Taking Us With Them (VW)

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) has announced its worst performance in seven years. Its meager rate of return for the fiscal year ending June 30 just managed to squeak by .6%, not even beating our current meager rate of inflation. After two successive years of tepid returns, long-term fund averages have sunk far below the critical 7.5% benchmark. It’s bad news for California taxpayers, because if returns don’t soon show a long-term average of 7.5%, they’ll be the ones who will have to make up the difference. Ted Eliopoulos, the fund’s chief investment officer, admits the massive pension fund’s long-term returns are well below anticipated levels, telling the Los Angeles Times, “We’re moving into a much more challenging, low-return environment.”

Yeah. Average returns are now barely over seven% for a twenty-year period, and returns over ten and fifteen years now average less than 6%. These changes are not just a blip on the investment horizon, as we assume bond yields and stock dividends will improve. According to the Milliman pension consulting firm, many public pension funds have had to adjust their expectations to accommodate lower returns overall. CalPERS needs to adjust its own expectations accordingly, even though doing so would drive up costs for state and local government agencies covered by the big pension firm. “We quite clearly have a lower return expectation than we had just two years ago,” Eliopoulos said. “That will be reflected in our next cycle. We are cognizant that this is a challenging environment for institutional investors.”

Thus, while the Times reports this dismal turn of events as a new development, it’s apparent Eliopoulos and CalPERS have been struggling for a while. What’s more, financial observers have been voicing concerns about pension fund depletion for at least as long as bond yields and stock dividends have been anemic. [..] The bad news is: If you’re a California public employee, you’re going to take a hit. But even if you’re not a public employee, but merely a California taxpayer, you’ll also take a hit. In addition, while private employee pension funds don’t pose the same financial risk to non-participants, their members run a similar risk; after all, they’re toiling in the same universe of stocks and bonds.

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The Guardian gets the headline right, but shows no understanding of what it means.

Once-Expanding EU Prepares To Contract For The First Time In Its History (G.)

Johannes Hahn’s job title sounds a little incongruous these days: he’s the EU commissioner for European neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations. The job title was created in the late 1990s during a period of optimism and expansion. But now, thanks to the will of 52% of British voters, the EU looks set to contract rather than enlarge for the first time in its history. There are still six candidate countries for EU membership, in the process of making formal applications to join the bloc, as well as a number of other countries with various levels of association. But with many in the EU wary and sceptical of further expansion, the only enlargement negotiations going on at the moment are about managing the expectations of countries that want to join.

Hahn was in Kiev last week, meeting Ukrainian government officials and chairing ministerial meetings of the EU’s Eastern Partnership, a programme linking the EU with six former Soviet countries, which was launched as a response to the Russian war with Georgia in 2008 and was implicitly meant as the first step towards EU membership for the nations. “Don’t believe that the unfortunate decision of Brexit will have any influence on our relationship – quite the opposite,” he told a meeting of the group’s foreign ministers.

But in reality, the initial Eastern Partnership plans are in tatters, as both enlargement fatigue inside the EU and a stick-carrot combination from Russia has pushed a number of the countries away from wanting further integration with the EU. Two of them, Belarus and Armenia, have joined Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union, an explicit challenge to the EU, while nobody seriously speaks about Ukraine or Georgia as members any more.

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Surprise? What surprise?

Earth On Track For Hottest Year Ever As Warming Speeds Up (R.)

The earth is on track for its hottest year on record and warming at a faster rate than expected, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Thursday. Temperatures recorded mainly in the northern hemisphere in the first six months of the year, coupled with an early and fast Arctic sea ice melt and “new highs” in heat-trapping carbon dioxide levels, point to quickening climate change, it said. June marked the 14th straight month of record heat, the United Nations agency said. It called for speedy implementation of a global pact reached in Paris last December to limit climate change by shifting from fossil fuels to green energy by 2100.

“What we’ve seen so far for the first six months of 2016 is really quite alarming,” David Carlson, director of the WMO’s Climate Research Program, told a news briefing. “This year suggests that the planet can warm up faster than we expected in a much shorter time… We don’t have as much time as we thought.” The average temperature in the first six months of 2016 was 1.3° Celsius (2.4° Fahrenheit) warmer than the pre-industrial era of the late 19th Century, according to space agency NASA. [..] “There’s almost no plausible scenario at this point that is going to get us anything other than an extraordinary year in terms of ice (melt), CO2, temperature – all the things that we track,” Carlson said. “If we got this much surprise this year, how many more surprises are ahead of us?”

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Hard to gauge what’s going to happen with this.

Fighting the Most Dangerous Animal in the World (Spiegel)

[..] Aedes aegypti presents a threat to some 4 billion people across the globe. The world long approached the Aedes agypti plague as though it were a storm that would soon blow over, but it has now become a fixture in large cities in the tropics. If nothing is done, experts say, more and more people will die as a result. And it has also become clear that some of the tropical diseases carried by this insect are coming to Europe. Partly, that is the result of rising temperatures on the European continent. In the southwestern German city of Freiburg, for example, scientists have determined that a population of Aedes mosquitoes survived the German winter for the first time. It used to be that only those who traveled to the tropics were at risk of becoming infected with tropical illnesses.

But now, many in Europe must face the prospect of the tropics coming to them. It was images from Brazil that sent a jolt of fear around the world at the beginning of this year. Across the country, babies were suddenly being born with heads that were misshapen and too small. When indications mounted that this curious increase in cases of so-called microcephaly was connected to the Zika epidemic that had stormed across Brazil in the previous months, the WHO declared an international emergency. Brazil mobilized 220,000 soldiers for the battle, sending them through bathrooms, yards and garages to eliminate standing water where female Aedes mosquitoes lay their eggs. But the campaign did little to reduce the threat. In the first four months of this year, officials registered 100,000 additional cases thought to be Zika.

In addition, almost a million people were infected with dengue fever, more than ever before in such a short span of time. There is no vaccine against the Zika virus and there is no medicine that can prevent people from becoming infected. In March, medical researchers said that Zika can also be transmitted via sexual intercourse and, as if that weren’t enough, 151 health experts wrote an open letter in May demanding that the Olympic Games – set to kick off in Rio in two weeks – be postponed or moved. Taking the risk of holding the games as planned, they said, would be irresponsible. The city is expecting a half-million visitors. If only a tiny fraction of them become infected by the virus, these games – intended to crown Brazil’s climb to economic power status – could mark the beginnings of a catastrophe.

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May 032016
 
 May 3, 2016  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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DPC French Market, New Orleans 1910

The EU Exists Only To Become A Superstate (Lawson)
US Dollar Falls To 1-Year Low (BBG)
Yen Under Pressure to Extend World-Beating Rally Against Dollar (BBG)
Kuroda Kollapse Kontinues As USDJPY Nears 105 Handle (ZH)
BOJ Chief Kuroda Warns Current Yen Strength Risks Harming Recovery (BBG)
China Factory Activity Contracts for 14th Straight Month In April (CNBC)
Fed’s Williams Sees Big Drop In Asset Prices As Systemic Risk (R.)
Apple’s Losing Streak Is Nearing Historic Levels (BBG)
No Alternative To Low Rates For Now, Draghi Says (R.)
ECB Report Says Investors May Be Profiting From Leaked US Data (FT)
Six Counterpoints About Australian Public Debt (Stanford)
‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ Behind 25% Of British Mortgages (G.)
Dominoes: Vanishing Arctic Ice Shifts Jet Stream, Which Melts Glaciers (WaPo)
Germany Wants To Extend Border Controls For Another 6 Months (AP)
Denmark Extends Controls On German Border (EN)
EU States Face Charge For Refusing Refugees (FT)
90,000 Unaccompanied Minors Sought Asylum In EU In 2015 (R.)

I don’t think I have much in common with Nigel Lawson -aka Lord Lawson of Blaby-, but it’s important that this ‘little fact’ be known and exposed. Even a superstate needs values if it is to survive. The EU ain’t got any left. Who wants to belong to that?

The EU Exists Only To Become A Superstate (Lawson)

For Britain, the issue in the coming European referendum is not Europe, with its great history, incomparable culture, and diverse peoples, but the European Union. To confuse the two is both geographically and historically obtuse. European civilisation existed long before the coming of the EU, and will continue long after this episode in Europe’s history is, hopefully, over. On the European mainland it has always been well understood that the whole purpose of European integration was political, and that economic integration was simply a means to a political end. In Britain, and perhaps also in the US, that has been much less well understood, particularly within the business community, who sometimes find it hard to grasp that politics can trump economics. The fact that the objective has always been political does not mean that it is in any way disreputable.

Indeed, the most compelling original objective was highly commendable. It was, bluntly, to eliminate the threat to Europe and the wider world from a recrudescence of German militarism, by placing the German tiger in a European cage. Whether or not membership of the EU has had much to do with it, that objective has been achieved: there is no longer a threat from German militarism. But in the background there has always been another political objective behind European economic integration, one which is now firmly in the foreground. That is the creation of a federal European superstate, a United States of Europe. Despite the resonance of the phrase, not one of the conditions that contributed to making a success of the United States of America exists in the case of the EU. But that is what the EU is all about. That is its sole raison d’être. And, unlike the first objective, it is profoundly misguided.

For the United Kingdom to remain in the EU would be particularly perverse, since not even our political elites wish to see this country absorbed into a United States of Europe. To be part of a political project whose objective we emphatically do not share cannot possibly make sense. It is true that our present Prime Minister argues that he has secured a British “opt-out” from the political union, but this is completely meaningless. “But,” comes the inevitable question, “what is your alternative to membership of the EU?” A more absurd question it would be hard to envisage. The alternative to being in the EU is not being in the EU. And it may come as a shock to the little Europeans that most of the world is not in the EU – and that most of these countries are doing better economically than most of the EU.

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Why don’t I see nobody accuse the US of currency manipulation?! That still the Shanghi Accord legacy?

US Dollar Falls To 1-Year Low (BBG)

The dollar fell to an 18-month low against the yen and touched its weakest since August versus the euro amid speculation that the U.S. won’t raise interest rates any time soon. The U.S. currency has lost ground versus most major peers over the past month as traders lowered expectations for a rate increase by the Federal Reserve in June to 12%. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index headed for the lowest close in almost a year, after a report showed manufacturing in the U.S. expanded less than forecast. Persistent weakness dragged the dollar down against the euro for a third straight month in April – its longest losing streak since 2013 – amid signs U.S. policy makers aren’t convinced the global and domestic economies can withstand higher borrowing costs.

It fell on Tuesday against Australia’s currency as Chinese equities climbed by the most in nearly three weeks. The U.S. has posted disappointing growth data as nascent signs of recovery emerge in Europe and China’s growth momentum accelerates. “The Fed is completely out of the picture now for the next few weeks – even with the June meeting, there’s got to be a lot of doubt about whether the Fed can raise rates,” said Shaun Osborne at Bank of Nova Scotia in Toronto. “The dollar has just not done particularly well over the past few weeks as the Fed has moved toward delaying rate hikes, and that’s a situation that definitely will continue, certainly for the near term.”

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Abe must be going nuts.

Yen Under Pressure to Extend World-Beating Rally Against Dollar (BBG)

The yen’s world-beating rally against the dollar looks to be gathering momentum, as central bank inaction on both sides of the Pacific Ocean leaves inflation expectations to drive the exchange rate. Japan’s currency extended its climb to an 18-month high Monday after Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda refrained from adding to stimulus on Thursday. That took its gain this year to 13%, the most among developed-market peers. The BOJ’s decision came just hours after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen frustrated dollar bulls by reiterating she’s in no rush to cool the economy by raising interest rates. JPMorgan sees further yen gains after the U.S. put Japan on a new currency watch list.

With consumer price pressures building in the U.S. and dissipating in Japan, that narrows the gap in so-called real yields – the returns an investor can expect after accounting for inflation – supporting yen strength. If both central banks stay on the sidelines, Credit Suisse projects Japan’s currency could rapidly appreciate toward 90 per dollar. “So long as the Fed signals that they are being cautious in raising rates, real yields in the U.S. will decline, leading the dollar weaker,” said Hiromichi Shirakawa, the Swiss lender’s chief Japan economist and a former BOJ official. “The currency market is in a rather dangerous zone.” The BOJ’s benchmark for measuring progress toward its 2% target showed prices retreated at an annual 0.3% pace in March, the biggest decline since April 2013, the month that Kuroda initiated his stimulus program.

It had previously hovered near zero for more than a year. By contrast, the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, based on the prices of goods and services consumers buy, rose 0.8% in the year through March. The so-called core measure, which strips out food and energy prices, climbed 1.6%. That’s seen a Treasury market gauge of inflation expectations over the coming decade – called the break-even rate – jump to 1.7% from as low as 1.2% in February. The equivalent measure in Japan is languishing at 0.3%. Benchmark 10-year Treasury Inflation Protected Securities yield around 0.1%, compared with about minus 0.5% for equivalent Japanese notes.

Japan met two of three criteria used to judge unfair practices in the U.S. report: a trade surplus with the U.S. above $20 billion, and a current-account surplus amounting to more than 3% of gross-domestic product. The third would be a repeated depreciation of the currency by buying foreign assets equivalent to 2% of gross domestic over a year. Meeting all three would trigger action by the U.S. president to enter discussions with the country and seek potential penalties. China, Germany, South Korea and Taiwan also made the watch list.

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“..Perhaps Jack Lew’s “currency manipulation” report was enough to stall the Japanese currency war for now?..”

Kuroda Kollapse Kontinues As USDJPY Nears 105 Handle (ZH)

Either The BoJ steps in soon and intervenes (even by just “checking levels”) or Kuroda-san is truly terrified of The G-20. USDJPY has now crashed 7 handles since last Thursday’s shock BoJ disappointment crashing to within 5 pips of a 105 handle tonight for the first time in 18 months…

 

 

Erasing the entire devaluation post-Fed, post QQE2…

 

Perhaps Jack Lew’s “currency manipulation” report was enough to stall the Japanese currency war for now? Or is China greatly rotating its Yuan devaluation pressure against another member of its basket…?

 

Charts: Bloomberg

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1) What recovery? 2) Abe and Kuroda are powerless prisoners to America’s dollar manipulation

BOJ Chief Kuroda Warns Current Yen Strength Risks Harming Recovery (BBG)

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda warned that the yen’s biggest rally since Abenomics began risks harming the nation’s economic recovery. Speaking to reporters in Frankfurt Monday, Kuroda also reiterated that BOJ policy makers won’t hesitate to expand monetary stimulus in order to achieve their 2% inflation target. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the same day in Paris that rapid movements in exchange rates are undesirable, according to national broadcaster NHK. “There is a risk that the yen’s current appreciation brings an unwelcome impact on the economy,” Kuroda said on the sidelines of an annual gathering of finance chiefs from members of the Asian Development Bank, which he used to lead.

“We will be closely monitoring the impact of financial markets on the real economy and prices.” A weaker currency has been a linchpin of Abe’s program to stoke growth and exit deflation. Japan’s economy is at risk of sliding into its second recession in two years after contracting in the final three months of 2015, while inflation remains far from the BOJ’s target. One gauge showed consumer prices retreated at an annual 0.3% pace in March, the biggest decline since April 2013, the month that Kuroda initiated his stimulus program. The yen has climbed 13% against the dollar this year, the best performance among its developed-market peers. That has chipped away at the 36% decline over the previous four years, which was triggered by Abe’s pledge of unlimited monetary easy to correct yen strength.

Kuroda and his board left policy settings unchanged at a meeting Thursday, spurring a nearly 5%, two-day surge in the yen against the dollar. It reached an 18-month high of 106.05 per greenback on Tuesday, before trading at 106.19 as of 9:54 a.m. in Singapore. Japanese markets are closed for holidays Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week.

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Beyond salvation.

China Factory Activity Contracts for 14th Straight Month In April (CNBC)

Activity in China’s manufacturing sector unexpectedly declined further in April, a private survey showed Tuesday, reviving doubts over the health of the world’s second-largest economy. The Caixin Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to 49.4 in April from 49.7 in March, according to Markit, which compiles the index. A reading above 50 indicates expansion; one below indicates contraction. The Caixin PMI, which focuses on smaller and medium-sized enterprises, was last in expansionary territory in February 2015. The official PMI, which targets larger companies, printed at 50.2 in April, the second successive month of expansion, figures released over the weekend showed. The survey findings follow recent economic data that appeared to suggest that China’s economy was slowly regaining its poise after a torrid 12 months.

China’s exports rose at their fastest clip in a year in March, while industrial profits also picked up in the first quarter. A flurry of rate cuts and easing of reserve requirement have helped bolster sentiment, while the capital outflows that had unnerved sentiment at the start of the year have slowed. The Caixin survey, however, cast a more somber picture. Respondents reported stagnant new orders, while new export work fell for a fifth month running. Companies shed staff as client demand was muted. “The fluctuations indicate the economy lacks a solid foundation for recovery and is still in the process of bottoming out. The government needs to keep a close watch on the risk of a further economic downturn,” said He Fan at Caixin Insight Group.

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What blows up must blow down.

Fed’s Williams Sees Big Drop In Asset Prices As Systemic Risk (R.)

San Francisco Fed President John Williams reiterated Monday his view that the U.S. economy is ready for higher interest rates, but flagged the risk of broad-based declines in asset prices as a result. “It makes sense for us to be moving interest rates gradually back to more a normal level over the next couple years,” Williams said. “I actually think that’s a sign of strength for the global economy.” Speaking at a panel on systemic risk at the Milken Institute Global Conference, Williams said the biggest systemic financial risk currently is the possibility that “broad sets of assets are going to see big movements downward” as interest rates rise. “That’s an area that I think is a potential risk.” Williams did not suggest he sees another crisis brewing, adding that U.S. regulators have made “amazing” progress in shoring up banks against potential future failure.

“What I worry a lot more about is when people forget about the financial crisis, when they forget about the terrible things that happened,” he said, suggesting that may not happen for another five or ten years. The Fed raised interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade last December, but has held off raising them any further amid global stock volatility and worries over a decline in global growth. Even after the Fed resumes raising rates, Williams said, it will not be able to lift them as high as it has in the past. Most Fed officials currently think that the rate at which the economy can sustain healthy employment and steady prices has probably fallen to about 3.25% in the long run, a full %age point lower than was the case before the crisis. But there are significant downside risks to that estimate, Williams said.

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No. 1 US stock for years.

Apple’s Losing Streak Is Nearing Historic Levels (BBG)

So far in 2016, Apple is the dog of the Dow. After an underwhelming earnings report led to the shares’ worst week since January 2013, Apple stock extended its losses to kick off May, closing down 0.18% on Monday. The benchmark index’s laggard has declined by nearly 11% so far this year heading into today’s session: Bespoke Investment Group notes that Monday’s negative close marks eight straight sessions in the red for Apple—something that last happened in July 1998, and has now happened only four times in the company’s history. More than $79 billion in Apple’s market capitalization has been erased over the past eight sessions.

The company’s heavy weighting in major sector and benchmark indexes, coupled with the stock’s terrible two-week stretch, has made $4 billion in assets of exchange-traded funds evaporate over this stretch. “Smart beta” ETFs are poised to trounce their more popular peers, Bloomberg’s Eric Balchunas observes, in the event that this span of underperformance continues. There’s a possible silver lining for Apple bulls, and investors who own those market-cap-weighted ETFs: The stock tends to bounce back in earnest following these rare stretches of rotten performance. “Two of the three eight-day streaks saw the stock fall on day nine as well, but the stock has never experienced a losing streak longer than nine trading days,” Bespoke writes. “While the next day and next week returns following eight-day losing streaks lean negative, the stock has been higher over the next month all three times for a median gain of 8.01%.”

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Well, there is, but Draghi’s masters don’t want it.

No Alternative To Low Rates For Now, Draghi Says (R.)

Low interest rates are not harmless but they are only the symptom, not the cause of an underlying problem across major economies, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Monday, arguing that there was no alternative for now. “Thus the second part of the answer to raising rates of return is clear: continued expansionary policies until excess slack in the economy has been reduced and inflation dynamics are sustainably consistent again with price stability,” Draghi told a conference. “There is simply no alternative to this today.” “The only potential margin for maneuver is in the composition of the policy mix, that is, the balance of monetary and fiscal policy,” he added.

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Corruption is not a deficiency, it’s the MO.

ECB Report Says Investors May Be Profiting From Leaked US Data (FT)

US investors may be profiting from leaked economic data releases that allow them to front-run market-moving news, according to a research paper published by the ECB. Macroeconomic news announcements can move markets, as traders watch for indications about how the economy is performing. The data are released to everyone at the same time to ensure fairness but ECB researchers said they had found evidence of “informed trading” ahead of US data releases. Of the 21 market-moving announcements analysed, seven “show evidence of substantial informed trading before the official release time”, according to the paper, including two releases from the US government. The pre-release “price drift” accounts for about half of the overall price impact from the announcement.

The researchers looked at the impact on futures tracking the S&P 500 stock index and the 10-year Treasury bond for the 30 minutes preceding the announcement. The researchers also note that the price impact has become worse since 2008, and estimate that since 2008 profits in the S&P “e-mini” futures market alone amount to about $20m per year. “These results imply that some traders have private information about macroeconomic fundamentals,” said the report. “The evidence suggests that the pre-announcement drift likely comes from a combination of information leakage and superior forecasting based on proprietary data collection and reprocessing of public information.”

The paper raises questions about the safeguards used to ensure data are protected up until scheduled release time. Important economic indicators in the US are subject to the “Principle Federal Economic Indicator” guidelines, but the report notes that many distributors of the data are not subject to the same rules. “To ensure fairness, no market participant should have access to this information until the official release time,” the report added. “Yet, in this paper we find strong evidence of informed trading before several key macroeconomic news announcements.”

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Household debt is a much bigger factor is some countries than others. In Australia, it’s far bigger than government debt. But the latter is what all political talk is about. “Pumping up fear of government debt is always an essential step in preparing the public to accept cutbacks in essential public services.”

Six Counterpoints About Australian Public Debt (Stanford)

In the lead-up to today’s pre-election Commonwealth budget, much has been written about the need to quickly eliminate the government’s deficit, and reduce its accumulated debt. The standard shibboleths are invoked liberally: government must face hard truths and learn to live within its means; government must balance its budget (just like households do); debt-raters will punish us for our profligacy; and more. Pumping up fear of government debt is always an essential step in preparing the public to accept cutbacks in essential public services. And with Australians heading to the polls, the tough-love imagery serves another function: instilling fear that a change in government, at such a fragile time, would threaten the “stability” of Australia’s economy.

However, this well-worn line of rhetoric will fit uncomfortably for the Coalition government, given its indecisive and contradictory approach to fiscal policy while in office. The deficit has gotten bigger, not smaller, on their watch, despite the destructive and unnecessary cutbacks in public services imposed in their first budget. Their response to Australia’s fiscal and economic problems has consisted mostly of floating one half-formed trial balloon after another (from raising the GST to transferring income tax powers to the states to cutting corporate taxes), with no systematic analysis or framework. And their ideological desire to invoke a phony debt “crisis” as an excuse for ratcheting down spending will conflict with another, more immediate priority: throwing around new money (or at least announcements of new money), especially in marginal electorates, in hopes of buying their way back into office.

In short, the politics of debt and deficits will be both intense and complicated in the coming weeks. To help innoculate Australians against this hysteria, here are six important facts about public debt, what it is – and what it isn’t.

1. Australia’s public debt is relatively small

3. Other sectors of society borrow much more than government

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Somone should explain to these people what’s going on. Mum and Dad will lose their shirts AND their skirts. Ironically, some insist more homes must be build. Ironoc, because that would mean even steeper losses for those buying into today’s craze.

‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ Behind 25% Of British Mortgages (G.)

The “Bank of Mum and Dad” will help finance 25% of UK mortgage transactions this year, according to research. Parents are set to lend their children £5bn to help them on to the property ladder. If the lending power was of all these parents was combined, it would be a top 10 mortgage provider. Nigel Wilson, chief executive of Legal & General, which carried out the research, said the data showed a number of issues, including house prices being “out of sync with wages”. The research estimated that the Bank of Mum and Dad will provide deposits for more than 300,000 mortgages. The homes purchased will be worth £77bn and the average contribution is £17,500 or 7% of the average purchase price.

But relying on parental support might soon be unsustainable as parents could be giving away more than they can afford. Wilson said that in London the funding method was reaching “tipping point” already as parental contributions made up more than 50% of the wealth (excluding property) of the average household in the capital. He said: “The Bank of Mum and Dad plays a vital role in helping young people to take their early steps on to the housing ladder.” Not all young people have parents who can afford to help them and some who do still do not have enough to buy a place of their own, he said. He added: “We need to fix the housing market by revolutionising the supply side – if we build more houses, demand can be met at a sensible level and prices will stabilise relative to wages.”

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Positive feedback.

Dominoes: Vanishing Arctic Ice Shifts Jet Stream, Which Melts Glaciers (WaPo)

Investigating the factors affecting ice melt in Greenland — one of the most rapidly changing places on Earth — is a major priority for climate scientists. And new research is revealing that there are a more complex set of variables affecting the ice sheet than experts had imagined. A recent set of scientific papers have proposed a critical connection between sharp declines in Arctic sea ice and changes in the atmosphere, which they say are not only affecting ice melt in Greenland, but also weather patterns all over the North Atlantic. The new studies center on an atmospheric phenomenon known as “blocking” — this is when high pressure systems remain stationary in one place for long periods of time (days or even weeks), causing weather conditions to stay relatively stable for as long as the block remains in place.

They can occur when there’s a change or disturbance in the jet stream, causing the flow of air in the atmosphere to form a kind of eddy, said Jennifer Francis, a research professor and climate expert at Rutgers University. Blocking events over Greenland are particularly interesting to climate scientists because of their potential to drive temperatures up and increase melting on the ice sheet. “When they do happen, and they kind of set up in just the right spot, they bring a lot of warm, moist air from the North Atlantic up over Greenland, and that helps contribute to increased cloudiness and warming of the surface,” Francis said. “When that happens, especially in the summer, we tend to see these melt events occur.” Now, two new studies have suggested that there’s been a recent increase in the frequency of melt-triggering blocking events over Greenland — and that it’s likely been fueled by climate change-driven losses of Arctic sea ice.

A paper set to be published Monday in the International Journal of Climatology reveals an uptick in the frequency of these blocking events over Greenland since the 1980s. A team of researchers led by the University of Sheffield’s Edward Hanna used a global meteorological dataset relying on historical records to measure the frequency and strength of high pressure systems over Greenland all the way back to the year 1851. Previous analyses had only extended the record back to 1948, so the new study is able to place recent blocking events in a much larger historical context. When the researchers analyzed the data, they found that the increase in blocking frequency over the past 30 years is particularly pronounced in the summer, the time of year when blocking events are likely to have the biggest impact on ice melt.

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Clueless, rudderless, valueless.

Germany Wants To Extend Border Controls For Another 6 Months (AP)

Germany and some other EU countries are planning to ask the European Commission for an extension of border controls within the Schengen passport-free travel zone for another six months because they fear a new wave of migrants. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizere’s spokesman says a letter is being sent Monday asking for an extension of the controls on the German-Austrian border, which were implemented last year when thousands of migrants crossed into Germany daily. De Maizere has expressed concern before that an increasing number of migrants will try to reach Europe this summer by crossing the Mediterranean Sea from lawless Libya to Italy, then travel north to Austria and Germany. Germany registered nearly 1.1 million new arrivals last year and is keen to bring the numbers down in 2016.

Germany’s defense minister, meanwhile, said it was up to Italy to protect its borders but other European countries must be ready to help if needed. Ursula von der Leyen’s comments Monday touched on the potential problems Italy could have with increased arrival of migrants looking for an alternative route into the EU now that the West Balkans route is closed and Turkey has committed to taking back those arriving illegally to Greece. She said a solution must be found “together with Italy.” Austria plans to impose border controls at its main border crossing with Italy to prevent potential attempts by migrants to enter, and with Austria bordering Germany, von der Leyen’s comments indicate her country’s concern that it also may have to deal with new waves of migrants seeking entry.

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“..We have to protect ourselves against the Islamic State group..”

Denmark Extends Controls On German Border (EN)

Denmark has extended temporary controls on its border with Germany, first imposed in January to help regulate an influx of migrants. The measures have been prolonged by another month until the beginning of June. The European Commission, struggling to prevent the collapse of the Schengen agreement, has confirmed it will soon authorise more such extensions. The Danish government says it has joined several countries in writing to the Commission asking for a two-year extension. “Together with the Germans, the French, the Austrians and the Swedes I have today sent a letter to the EU commission asking for the possibility to extend the border control for the next two years,” said Inger Støjberg, Danish minister of immigration and integration.

“I have done so because we need to look out for Denmark. We have to protect ourselves against the Islamic State group, who are trying to take advantage of the situation where there are holes in borders. But also as protection against the influx of refugees coming through Europe.” The Commission could give the green light as early as Wednesday to countries within the passport-free Schengen zone wishing to extend exceptional border controls. The five countries have taken the measures because of the influx of migrants and refugees heading north via the so-called Balkans route after entering Europe via the Greek shores. Although the crisis has eased, the governments say many migrants are still camped along the route and in Greece.

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The cattle trade continues unabated. Europeans are as immoral as their leadership.

EU States Face Charge For Refusing Refugees (FT)

European countries that refuse to share the burden of high immigration will face a financial charge of about €250,000 per refugee, according to Brussels’ plans to overhaul the bloc’s asylum rules. The punitive financial pay-off clause is one of the most contentious parts of the European Commission’s proposed revision of the so-called Dublin asylum regulation, due to be revealed on Wednesday. It represents the EU’s most concerted attempt to salvage an asylum system that collapsed under the weight of a million-strong migration to Europe last year, endangering the principle of passport-free travel in the Schengen area. In recent weeks migrant flows to Greece have fallen due to tighter controls through the western Balkans and a deal with Turkey to send-back asylum seekers arriving on Greek islands.

However, the EU remains as politically divided as ever over strengthening the bloc’s asylum rules. While acknowledging these political constraints, the commission’s reforms aim to gradually shift more responsibility away from the overwhelmed frontline states, such as Greece, in future crises, primarily through an automatic system to share refugees across Europe if a country faces a sudden influx. Crucially, this is backed by a clause that allows immigration-wary countries to pay a fee — set at a deliberately high level — if they want to avoid taking relocated asylum seekers for a temporary period. According to four people familiar with the proposal, this contribution was set at €250,000 per asylum seeker in Monday’s commission draft. But those involved in the talks say it may well be adjusted in deliberations over coming days.

“The size of the contribution may change but the idea is to make it appear like a sanction,” said one official who has seen the proposal. Another diplomat said in any event the price of refusing to host a refugee would be “hundreds of thousands of euros”. Eastern European states such as Poland and Hungary would welcome alternatives to mandatory asylum quotas but will balk at the high penalties suggested. At the commission’s recommended rate, Poland would need to pay around €1.5bn to avoid its existing 6,200 quota to relocate refugees from Italy and Greece. These financial contributions are in part designed to fix incentives around migrant quotas, which have badly failed and proved almost impossible to implement even once agreed in law. The commission proposal builds on the EU’s flagship emergency scheme to relocate 160,000 refugees, which has barely redistributed 1% of its target since it was agreed last year.

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And how many did you say are unaccounted for, Europe?

90,000 Unaccompanied Minors Sought Asylum In EU In 2015 (R.)

Some 88,300 unaccompanied minors sought asylum in the EU in 2015, 13% of them children younger than 14, crossing continents without their parents to seek a place of safety, EU data showed on Monday. More than a million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa reached Europe last year. While that was roughly double the 2014 figure, the number of unaccompanied minors quadrupled, statistics agency Eurostat said. Minors made up about a third of the 1.26 million first-time asylum applications filed in the EU last year. EU states disagree on how to handle Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II and anti-immigrant sentiment has grown, even in countries that traditionally have a generous approach to helping people seeking refuge.

Four in 10 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in Sweden, where some have called for greater checks, suspicious that adults are passing themselves off as children in order to secure protection they might otherwise be denied. Eurostat’s figures refer specifically to asylum applicants “considered to be unaccompanied minors,” meaning EU states accepted the youngsters’ declared age or established it themselves through age assessment procedures. More than 90% of the minors traveling without a parent or guardian were boys and more than half of them were between 16 and 17 years old. Half were Afghans and the second largest group were Syrians, at 16% of the total. After Sweden, Germany, Hungary and Austria followed as the main destinations for unaccompanied underage asylum seekers.

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Apr 302016
 
 April 30, 2016  Posted by at 8:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle April 30 2016
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Byron Street haberdashery, New York 1900

US Puts China, Japan on New Watch List for FX Practices (BBG)
US Chides Five Economic Powers Over Policies (WSJ)
UK Consumers Borrow At Fastest Rate In Over A Decade (R.)
Apple Stock Suffers Worst Week Since 2013 (R.)
Chinese Cities Dive Back Into Debt To Fuel Growth Even As Defaults Rise (R.)
China’s Stocks, Bonds, Yuan Are a Triple Losing Bet This Month (BBG)
Hong Kong Underwater Mortgages Jump 15-Fold in Q1 as Prices Drop (BBG)
Derivatives Houses To Open Accounts With Federal Reserve (FT)
Draghi Challenge Seen As Consumer Prices Fall More Than Forecast (BBG)
Fighting Deflation With Unconventional Fiscal Policy (VoxEu)
Oil Market Deja Vu Triggers Predictions of a Return to $30 (BBG)
Pipelines: The Next Devastating Phase Of The Oil Bust (Forbes)
More Tigers Poached In India So Far This Year Than In All Of 2015 (AFP)
Small Mammal Shuts Down World’s Most Powerful Machine (NPR)
The Full Story Behind Bloomberg’s Attempt To “Unmask” Zero Hedge (ZH)
Turkey PM: Denying Visa-Free Travel Means Collapse Of EU Refugee Deal (DS)

Very funny. But the one country that has seen its currency gain global advantage of late is the US itself.

US Puts China, Japan on New Watch List for FX Practices (BBG)

The U.S. put economies including China, Japan and Germany on a new currency watch list, saying their foreign-exchange practices bear close monitoring to gauge whether they provide an unfair trade advantage over America. The inaugural list also includes South Korea and Taiwan, the Treasury Department said Friday in a revamped version of its semi-annual report on the foreign-exchange policies of major U.S. trading partners. The five economies met two of the three criteria used to judge unfair practices under a February law that seeks to enforce U.S. trade interests. Meeting all three would trigger action by the president to enter discussions with the country and seek potential penalties.

The new scrutiny of some of the world’s biggest economies comes amid a bruising presidential campaign in which candidates from both the Democratic and Republican parties have questioned the merits of free trade. Republican front-runner Donald Trump has promised to declare China a currency manipulator, and the latest report may fail to appease critics in Congress who say China’s practices have cost American manufacturing jobs. “We will continue to watch this process closely to ensure that the president squarely addresses currency manipulation and stands up for the American people,” House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, said in a statement on the Treasury report. The Treasury had already been monitoring countries for evidence of currency manipulation under a 1988 law.

In the latest report, the department concluded that no major trading partner qualified as a currency manipulator; the last country it labeled as such was China, in 1994. Under the new law, Treasury officials developed three criteria to decide if countries are being unfair: an economy having a trade surplus with the U.S. above $20 billion; having a current-account surplus amounting to more than 3% of its GDP; and one that repeatedly depreciates its currency by buying foreign assets equivalent to 2% of output over the year. China, Japan, Germany and South Korea were flagged as a result of their trade and current-account surpluses, the department said. Taiwan made the list because of its current-account surplus and persistent intervention to weaken the currency, according to the Treasury. If a country meets all three criteria, it could eventually be cut off from some U.S. development financing and excluded from U.S. government contracts.

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But then again, the idea is probably that attack is the best defense…

US Chides Five Economic Powers Over Policies (WSJ)

The Obama administration delivered a shot across the bow to Asia’s leading exporters and Germany for their economic policies and warned that a number of major economies around the globe could face intense pressure to engage in currency interventions to counter slow growth. The U.S. Treasury Department, in its semiannual currency report to Congress, called out China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Germany for relying on policies it says threaten to damage the U.S. and the global economy. The countries are cited in a new name-and-shame list that can trigger sanctions against offending trade partners under fresh powers Congress granted last year to address economic policies that threaten U.S. industries.

U.S. officials are increasingly concerned other countries aren’t doing enough to boost demand at home, relying too heavily on exports to bolster growth. Counting on cheap currencies as a shortcut to boosting exports can create risks across the global economy, as nations fight to stay ahead of their competitors. Over the past two decades, for example, many U.S. officials have accused China of using an undervalued currency to bolster its manufacturing sector. A cheaper currency makes products cheaper overseas. Although China has moved to address some of those worries, tension over currency policy more broadly has heightened in recent years, amid an unprecedented era of easy-money policies, weak global growth and rising exchange-rate volatility.

The failure of many countries to overhaul their economies after the financial crisis has prompted economists to slash global growth forecasts. Amplifying those worries, a 20% surge in the dollar’s value against a basket of major currencies over the past two years has slowed U.S. growth, as American products became more expensive to international buyers. The Obama administration said in its new report that the economic and currency policies of China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Germany are adding to the global economy’s problems. Absent stronger efforts by those countries to boost domestic demand, “global growth has suffered and will continue to suffer,” the Treasury Department said.

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This is not good. This is very bad.

UK Consumers Borrow At Fastest Rate In Over A Decade (R.)

British mortgage approvals fell for the first time in six months in March shortly before a new tax took effect, but consumers borrowed at the fastest rate in over a decade, Bank of England data showed. Mortgage approvals for house purchases numbered 71,357 in March, down from 73,195 in February. Analysts in a Reuters poll had forecast 74,500 mortgage approvals were made in March. British finance minister George Osborne announced in November that he would add a surcharge on the purchase of buy-to-let properties and second homes from April 1, in a move aimed to boost home ownership by first-time buyers. The news spurred an increase in buying of such properties in recent months before March’s slowdown as the deadline approached.

Net mortgage lending, which lags approvals, rose by £7.435 billion last month, the biggest increase since October 2007, before the global financial crisis hit and above all forecasts in the Reuters poll. Figures released earlier this week by the British Bankers’ Association, which are less comprehensive than those of the BoE, also showed a fall in mortgage approvals in March accompanied by a rise in mortgage lending as previously approved deals were carried out. The BoE said consumer credit grew by £1.883 billion last month, the strongest increase since March 2005 and a long way above the median forecast for an increase of £1.3 billion in the Reuters poll of economists. The rise was not a one-off: in the first quarter as a whole, consumer credit rose by an annualised 11.6%, the strongest increase since the first three months of 2015.

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The narrative: “..progress [in China] has been a let-down..”. But a 26% plunge in revenue is not just a ‘let-down’.

Apple Stock Suffers Worst Week Since 2013 (R.)

Apple on Friday ended its worst week on the stock market since 2013 as worries festered about a slowdown in iPhone sales and after influential shareholder Carl Icahn revealed he sold his entire stake. Shares of Apple, a mainstay of many Wall Street portfolios and the largest component of the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, have dropped 11% in the past five sessions. That shrank the technology behemoth’s market capitalization by $65 billion. Confidence in the company has been shaken since posting its first-ever quarterly decline in iPhone sales and first revenue drop in 13 years on Tuesday, although Apple investors pointed to the stock’s relatively low valuation as a key reason to hold onto the stock. “If you’re going to buy Apple, you have to buy it for the long term, because the next year or two are going to be very tough,” said Michael Yoshikami, chief executive of Destination Wealth Management.

Faced with lackluster sales of smartphones in the United States, Apple has bet on China as a major new growth engine, but progress there has been a let-down. Revenue from China slumped 26% during the March quarter and its iBooks Stores and iTunes Movie service in China were shut down last week after the introduction of new regulations on online publishing. Pointing to concerns that Beijing could make it difficult for Apple to conduct business in China, long-time Apple investor Carl Icahn told CNBC on Thursday that he had sold his stake in the company he previously described as a “no brainer” and undervalued. The selloff has left Apple trading at about 11 times its expected 12-month earnings, cheap compared to its average of 17.5 over the past 10 years. S&P 500 stocks on average are trading at 17 times expected earnings.

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China is fast becoming a one-dimensional nation.

Chinese Cities Dive Back Into Debt To Fuel Growth Even As Defaults Rise (R.)

With a nod from Beijing, China’s local governments have embarked on a massive new round of off-balance sheet debt financing, underpinning a fragile pick up in the economy but raising red flags on financial stability. The increased borrowing for an economy already swimming in debt adds to concerns about growing bubbles in certain major asset classes, such as real estate and commodities, and a bond market seeing a rise in corporate defaults. Economists say increasing public sector investment – most of it financed locally with debt – is behind improvements in China’s economy. First-quarter GDP rose at the weakest pace in seven years, but other data suggested growth was picking up in March. “With new infrastructure projects effectively all funded by debt and more consumer mortgages, the leverage problem and risks on the financial sector are rising,” Credit Suisse analysts wrote in a research report.

Local government financing vehicles (LGFVs), which Chinese cities use to circumvent official spending limits, raised at least 538 billion yuan ($83 billion) in bonds in the first quarter, up 178% from a year earlier and the highest quarterly issuance since June 2014, Everbright Securities said, quoting figures from privately held financial data provider WIND. Issuance in March alone was a monthly record of 287 billion yuan ($44.3 billion). China’s planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission, declined to comment on the sharp rise in LGFV issuance. Most of the LGFV debt in the first quarter was made up of so-called enterprise bonds, which the NDRC oversees. Beijing had been trying to move LGFV debt on to municipal balance sheets via the 2014 creation of a municipal bond market. But policymakers retreated from this in the middle of 2015, easing borrowing restrictions as economic growth stumbled.

Consequently, LGFV issuance in the first quarter of 2016 was nearly 60% as large as the municipal bond issuance meant to replace it, up from just 37% in the fourth quarter of 2015, central clearinghouse and brokerage data shows. “In the second half of last year, the government raised the%age of project financing that can be funded with debt,” said Yang Zhao, chief China economist at Nomura in Hong Kong, helping spark the flurry of LGFV deals. “If they continue on, the debt-to-GDP ratio could actually go up quite rapidly. I don’t think the policy is sustainable, and you’ll see policymakers slow down the pace of (credit) easing in a quarter or two.”

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“..Your return is too low for your risk in China.”

China’s Stocks, Bonds, Yuan Are a Triple Losing Bet This Month (BBG)

For the first time in two years, China’s stocks, bonds and currency are all a losing proposition. The Shanghai Composite dropped 2.2% in April, the yuan fell 0.6% versus the dollar, while government and corporate bonds tumbled, with the five-year sovereign yield rising 27 basis points. Even a sudden revival in the nation’s commodities markets is looking fragile after frenzied speculation prompted exchanges to take measures to cool trading. The declines mark a reversal from March, when the benchmark equities gauge jumped 12% and the yuan rallied the most since 2010 as new credit surged. Improving data from industrial output to retail sales have led traders to pare back bets for more stimulus, while rising credit defaults are fueling the biggest selloff in junk debt since the data became available in 2014.

Deutsche Bank is one bull looking to reduce holdings of Chinese stocks on bets the economy will fail to reach the government’s growth targets and yuan declines will accelerate. “Clearly there was a turn in China,” said Sean Taylor, CIO for Asia Pacific for Deutsche Bank’s wealth-management unit in Hong Kong. “You’ve seen money in the A-share market going to property and commodities. We’ve been adding risk in the last few months and coming into the summer, we will take it away and wait for opportunities to add again. We are not yet ready for China’s structural story because earnings haven’t come through.” Investor interest in the world’s second-largest equity market is waning, with turnover on the Shanghai Stock Exchange falling to levels last seen regularly in 2014 and a gauge of volatility dropping to a 12-month low. Investments in stock-market funds fell by 89 billion yuan ($13.7 billion) in April.

[..] Government bonds are coming under pressure as inflation increased to the highest since mid-2014, while corporate notes are slumping amid a spate of defaults and a surprise move by state-owned China Railway Materials to halt its bond trading this month because of what the company called “repayment issues.” “We will definitely see more defaults and difficulties for corporates in issuing new bonds,” said David Gaud at Edmond de Rothschild Asset Management in Hong Kong. “Credit costs will go up and credit spreads will widen. Your return is too low for your risk in China.”

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Small potatoes for now, but at the same time there’s nothing in sight that could reverse the trend.

Hong Kong Underwater Mortgages Jump 15-Fold in Q1 as Prices Drop (BBG)

The number of Hong Kong homeowners with apartments worth less than their mortgages surged 15 times in the first quarter, according to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. The number of negative-equity mortgages rose to 1,432, with a total value of HK$4.9 billion ($634 million), for the three months ended March, from 95 such home loans worth HK$418 million in the previous quarter, the city’s de facto central bank said on its website Friday.

Property prices in Hong Kong, which reached a record last year, have been sliding and sales tumbled to a 25-year low in February amid economic uncertainty. Home prices in the city slumped 13% from September to March, according to data compiled by Centaline Property Agency. The government is determined to tackle the housing problem and maintain a healthy development of the market, the city’s Rating and Valuation Department said in a report on Friday, while maintaining that it has no intention to withdraw demand-side property curbs.

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The one word that comes to mind: incestuous: “..The switch has been made possible by clearing houses’ designation as systemically-important utilities..”

Derivatives Houses To Open Accounts With Federal Reserve (FT)

Derivatives brokers choosing where to park their margin money will now have the option of the world’s most powerful central bank. The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago has authorised three of the US’s largest clearing houses, run by CME Group and Intercontinental Exchange, and the Options Clearing Corporation, to open an account at the central bank. ICE’s permit is for its US credit derivatives clearing house. The change at the CME applies only to house cash belonging to brokers, its executives said on a conference call on Thursday. Margin posted by their customers will continue to be walled off and held by commercial banks or in US Treasury bonds, they confirmed.

The switch has been made possible by clearing houses’ designation as systemically-important utilities, which recognised the dangers to the financial system if they failed and gave them access to the Fed’s cash in an emergency. Tougher regulation of markets means they must now handle billions of dollars of futures and swaps trades every day. Traders who use derivatives must safeguard their deals against defaults with margin and collateral. For clearing brokers whose business has been damaged by years of low interest rates, keeping cash at the Fed could yield better returns. New market rules also authorised a regional Fed bank to maintain an account for designated clearing houses and pay earnings on any balance, as it already does for US banks subject to Fed oversight.

“When effective, we expect to pass a higher rate to clearing members for their house positions than we do today,” John Pietrowicz, CME’s chief financial officer, told analysts. Mr Pietrowicz said the accounts would open in the “next month or so”. While the majority of the returns would be passed back to clearing members, CME would also be able to “earn more” as cash balances increased. CME applied for access to a Fed account in 2014, a spokeswoman said, and would direct funds into an omnibus account for collateral and settlement services. The derivatives industry and its regulator have argued in recent years that tougher banking laws have hurt the brokerage business by making clearing uneconomical. “The resulting industry consolidation would increase systemic risk by concentrating derivatives clearing activities in fewer clearing member banks,” Walt Lukken, chief executive of the FIA industry association, testified to a US House agriculture subcommittee on Thursday.

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It might be best to ignore these numbers. Whatever BBG’s economist panel predicts is always wrong. Growth numbers are always manipulated. One good thing to take away is that consumer prices do not equal inflation.

Draghi Challenge Seen As Consumer Prices Fall More Than Forecast (BBG)

Mario Draghi’s policy challenge was highlighted once again on Friday, with the fastest economic growth in a year overshadowed by a renewed drop in consumer prices. The euro-area inflation rate fell to minus 0.2% in April, a worse out-turn than the 0.1% decline forecast by economists in a Bloomberg survey. It wasn’t all bad news for the ECB president however, with the economy expanding 0.6% in the first quarter and unemployment declining in March to the lowest since 2011. Draghi has said the situation in the 19-nation region is slowly improving, but that hasn’t assuaged his concerns about the inflation outlook. Policy makers cut interest rates and ramped up other stimulus last month, and the ECB president has signaled he’s willing to do even more to revive price growth. “Draghi has to be on alert – despite the solid growth momentum, inflation is not picking up,” said Michael Schubert at Commerzbank.

“The ECB will have to do more in the future, an extension of QE being most likely, but for the time being we’ll have to be patient.” Eurostat released the euro-area growth data about two weeks earlier than usual as it tries to make figures on output more timely, which could help inform the ECB’s policy-making. The new timing brings the region into line with the U.S. and U.K., which also publish first estimates within about a month of the end of the quarter. Based on the latest data, the euro area grew faster than both countries in the January-March period, with the U.K. expanding 0.4% and the U.S. by 0.5% on an annualized basis. National euro-zone data on Friday also provided some positive news, with both the French and Spanish economies expanding faster than expected. Growth in France accelerated to 0.5% from 0.3%, helped by investment and consumer spending, while Spain shrugged off a political deadlock that’s left it facing new elections to grow 0.8%.

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More economists entirely clueless on the link between debt and deflation. There’s tons of them, and they’re on ‘both sides of the debate’. And it doesn’t matter one iota how many ‘equations’ from their school books they can quote. Suggesting that increasing VAT rates -in incremental steps- will make people spend more ignores the reason why they don’t spend now: debt. In fact, VAT increases will make things more expensive, and that will result in less spending, not more. That’s what Japan has been showing us for 20 years.

Fighting Deflation With Unconventional Fiscal Policy (VoxEu)

In his Marjolin lecture on 4 February 2016, Mario Draghi asserted that “there are forces in the global economy that are conspiring to hold inflation down” (Draghi 2016). Eurostat confirmed that in February 2016 the annual inflation rate for the Eurozone was -0.2% (Eurostat 2016). On 10 March 2016, the ECB board agreed upon a set of largely unexpected monetary policy measures, with the aim of boosting inflation and growth in the Eurozone. These measures were inspired, among others, by thoughts in Bernanke (2010) and Blanchard et al. (2010).

The conundrum the Eurozone faces is finding a recipe to support inflation and ultimately consumption and economic growth in a setting in which traditional monetary policy measures are not viable, and governments cannot support growth with fiscal spending because of their large debt-to-GDP ratios. In this column, we discuss an alternative to monetary interventions, which we call unconventional fiscal policy. • Unconventional fiscal policy aims to increase growth and inflation in a budget neutral fashion, while keeping constant the tax burden on households.

Feldstein (2002) introduced the notion of unconventional fiscal policy measures at times of liquidity traps. Among several possible interventions Feldstein proposed: “A series of pre-announced increases in the value-added tax (VAT) to generate consumer price inflation, and hence increase private spending via intertemporal substitution.” In his words: “This [VAT] tax-induced inflation would give households an incentive to spend sooner rather than waiting until prices are substantially higher.” The intuition for this proposal is based on a simple logic: announcing higher prices in the future will increase current inflation expectations. Higher inflation expectations at times of fixed nominal interest rates should reduce real interest rates (Fisher equation), and lower real interest rates should increase households’ incentives to consume rather than save (Euler equation).

Because imposing higher VAT reduces households’ wealth – especially poorer households’ wealth – and might affect households’ labour supply, lower income taxes (or transfers for those households that do not pay any income tax) should accompany the increase in VAT. Designed this way, the policy measure would be budget-neutral for the government, as well as for households. It would incentivise households to consume immediately, jump-start the economy, and hence help the economy exit the slump. In his presidential address to the 2011 American Economic Association Annual Meeting, Bob Hall (2011) reiterated Feldstein’s ideas, and encouraged further research to understand the viability and effects of unconventional fiscal policy, both theoretically and empirically.

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Clueless: “..the current recovery could boost industry activity and slow the decline..”

Oil Market Deja Vu Triggers Predictions of a Return to $30 (BBG)

Oil’s climb above $45 a barrel is reassuring influential figures from BP to the IEA that the industry is finally recovering from the worst slump in a generation. Others say the market is about to fall into the same trap as last year. There’s a sense of deja vu at Commerzbank, BNP Paribas and UBS, who say crude’s gain of about 70% from a 12-year low in January resembles the recovery that took hold this time last year – only to sputter out by May as the supply glut endured. Prices will sink back towards $30 a barrel in the coming weeks, BNP and UBS warn. “There are dangerous parallels to 2015,” said Eugen Weinberg at Commerzbank. “The market already appears overheated and a correction is overdue.”

Last year, Brent crude rose 45% from January to almost $68 in May as traders anticipated a rapid decrease in U.S. output as drilling rigs were idled. The rally reversed when production kept rising, peaking at 9.61 million barrels a day in June 2015, a year after the price slump began. While drilling cutbacks eventually took their toll and the nation’s output slipped to 8.9 million barrels a day last week, the current recovery could boost industry activity and slow the decline.

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At least something’s trickling down…

Pipelines: The Next Devastating Phase Of The Oil Bust (Forbes)

When oil and natural gas prices began their swan dive in 2014 and continued their descent in 2015, the casualties seemed obvious. Exploration and production companies would need to file for bankruptcy protection and restructure en masse. Banks that financed these companies would need to write down bad loans and noteholders that invested in their high yield debt would be left holding the bag, or at least, the equity securities of the reorganized producers. The damage would also extend to the so-called “midstream” companies that transport oil and gas from wells to processing facilities and end-users downstream. It was thought that the damage to such midstream companies would be substantial, but manageable.

However, an ongoing legal tussle in the Sabine Oil and Gas bankruptcy proceeding in New York threatens to devastate an important corner of the $500 billion midstream industry and set off a new and entirely unexpected phase of the energy crisis. The dispute started in September 2015, when Sabine filed a motion in its bankruptcy case seeking authority to reject contracts it had entered into with two separate midstream operators that provided gas gathering and other services. Rejecting contracts and walking away from pre-bankruptcy obligations is commonplace for bankrupt debtors, but in the oil and gas industry many midstream companies thought their arrangements were protected from this risk.

That is because such gathering contracts “dedicate” the relevant oil and gas mineral interests and surrounding acreage to the midstream companies, which is intended to create a property interest known as a “real covenant” that “runs with the land.” Under longstanding bankruptcy principles, conveyances of real property—and certain associated rights—are not contracts that can be “rejected.” If the midstream companies prevailed in the argument that contractual dedications could create real covenants, then if a producer filed for bankruptcy protection or if its mineral rights were transferred to a new owner, the midstream company would retain its exclusive property right to gather oil and gas produced from the land and receive a fee for such services.

This argument seemed a strong one. However, after examining the applicable Texas property law at issue, on March 8, 2016, Judge Chapman issued a non-binding bench ruling holding that the legal requirements for treating these arrangements as real property interests were not satisfied and that they could be invalidated in bankruptcy through the contract rejection process. This ruling rocked the midstream world. It also came when similar attempts to reject gathering agreements were underway in the Quicksilver Resources and Magnum Hunter Resources bankruptcy cases in Delaware, leading to a sense that the midstream industry was under assault.

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We’re fast losing the conditions that gave us life. But we lack the intelligence to understand this. Which makes it only fitting. If you’re not smart enough to survive, then you won’t.

More Tigers Poached In India So Far This Year Than In All Of 2015 (AFP)

More tigers have been killed in India already this year than in the whole of 2015, a census showed Friday, raising doubts about the country’s anti-poaching efforts. The Wildlife Protection Society of India, a conservation charity, said 28 of the endangered beasts had been poached by April 26, three more than last year. Tiger meat and bones are used in traditional Chinese medicine and fetch high prices. “The stats are worrying indeed,” said Tito Joseph, programme manager at the group. “Poaching can only be stopped when we have coordinated, intelligence-led enforcement operations, because citizens of many countries are involved in illegal wildlife trade. It’s a transnational organised crime.”

Poachers use guns, poison and even steel traps and electrocution to kill their prey. India is home to more than half of the world’s tiger population with 2,226 in its reserves according to the last count in 2014. The figures come after a report by the WWF and the Global Tiger Forum said the number of wild tigers in the world had increased for the first time in more than a century to an estimated 3,890. The report cited improved conservation efforts, although its authors cautioned that the rise could be partly attributed to improved data gathering.

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“Nor are the problems exclusive to the LHC: In 2006, raccoons conducted a “coordinated” attack on a particle accelerator in Illinois. It is unclear whether the animals are trying to stop humanity from unlocking the secrets of the universe. Of course, small mammals cause problems in all sorts of organizations. Yesterday, a group of children took National Public Radio off the air for over a minute before engineers could restore the broadcast.”

Small Mammal Shuts Down World’s Most Powerful Machine (NPR)

A small mammal has sabotaged the world’s most powerful scientific instrument. The Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile superconducting machine designed to smash protons together at close to the speed of light, went offline overnight. Engineers investigating the mishap found the charred remains of a furry creature near a gnawed-through power cable. “We had electrical problems, and we are pretty sure this was caused by a small animal,” says Arnaud Marsollier, head of press for CERN, the organization that runs the $7 billion particle collider in Switzerland. Although they had not conducted a thorough analysis of the remains, Marsollier says they believe the creature was “a weasel, probably.” (Update: An official briefing document from CERN indicates the creature may have been a marten.)

The shutdown comes as the LHC was preparing to collect new data on the Higgs Boson, a fundamental particle it discovered in 2012. The Higgs is believed to endow other particles with mass, and it is considered to be a cornerstone of the modern theory of particle physics. Researchers have seen some hints in recent data that other, yet-undiscovered particles might also be generated inside the LHC. If those other particles exist, they could revolutionize researcher’s understanding of everything from the laws of gravity, to quantum mechanics. Unfortunately, Marsollier says, scientists will have to wait while workers bring the machine back online. Repairs will take a few days, but getting the machine fully ready to smash might take another week or two. “It may be mid-May,” he says.

These sorts of mishaps are not unheard of, says Marsollier. The LHC is located outside of Geneva. “We are in the countryside, and of course we have wild animals everywhere.” There have been previous incidents, including one in 2009, when a bird is believed to have dropped a baguette onto critical electrical systems. Nor are the problems exclusive to the LHC: In 2006, raccoons conducted a “coordinated” attack on a particle accelerator in Illinois. It is unclear whether the animals are trying to stop humanity from unlocking the secrets of the universe. Of course, small mammals cause problems in all sorts of organizations. Yesterday, a group of children took National Public Radio off the air for over a minute before engineers could restore the broadcast.

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Though they have every right to defend themselves, something makes me wish Tyler Durden had counted to 10 before writing this. They could have limited it to: “Zero Hedge admits to having hired an unstable writer”, and left it at that. That’s all the Bloomberg attempt at smut warrants. As is, Zero Hedge poebably killed the secrecy as much as Bloomberg did.

The Full Story Behind Bloomberg’s Attempt To “Unmask” Zero Hedge (ZH)

Over the years, Zero Hedge has proven to be a magnet for media attention. It started years ago with a NY Magazine article published in September 2009 which first “unmasked” the people behind Zero Hedge with the “The Dow Zero Insurgency: The nothing-can-be-believed chaos of the financial crisis created a golden opportunity for a blog run by a mysterious ex-hedge-funder with a dodgy past and conspiracy theories to burn” in which we were presented as a bunch of “conspiracy theory” tin foil hat paranoid loons. We are ok with being typecast as “conspiracy theorists” as these “theories” tend to become “conspiracy fact” months to years later.

Others, such as “academics who defend Wall Street to reap rewards” had taken on a different approach, accusing the website of being a “Russian information operation”, supporting pro-Russian interests, which allegedly involved KGB and even Putin ties, simply because we refused to follow the pro-US script. We are certainly ok with being the object of other’s conspiracy theories, in this case completely false ones since we have never been in contact with anyone in Russia, or the US, or any government for that matter. We have also never accepted a dollar of outside funding from either public or private organization – we have prided ourselves in our financial independence because we have been profitable since inception. Which brings us to the latest “outing” of Zero Hedge, this time from none other than Bloomberg which this morning leads with “Unmasking the Men Behind Zero Hedge, Wall Street’s Renegade Blog” in which it makes the tacit admission that “Bloomberg LP competes with Zero Hedge in providing financial news and information.”

To an extent we were surprised, because while much of the “information” Bloomberg claims it reveals could have been discovered by anyone with a cursory 30 second google search, this time the accusation lobbed at Zero Hedge by Bloomberg was a new one: that we are capitalists who seek to generate profits and who have expectations from our employees. This comes from a media organization which caters to Wall Street and is run by one of the wealthiest people in the world. Underlying the entire Bloomberg article is disclosure based on a former employee at Zero Hedge. Traditionally we don’t reply to such media stories but in this case we’ll make an exception as there is a substantial amount of information Bloomberg has purposefully failed to add.

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Brussels will never be able to push through visa-free travel for nearly 80 million Turks. It’s simply not going to happen, not in a democratic way. Greece should be very afraid.

Turkey PM: Denying Visa-Free Travel Means Collapse Of EU Refugee Deal (DS)

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Thursday evening that there are disappointments and the EU has un-kept promises in recent Turkish-EU relations and that Turkey will stop implementing the recent readmission agreement if the EU does not keep its word and grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens. Speaking to a group of journalist who accompanied his visit to Qatar on Thursday, Davutoglu said that Turkey is successfully implementing the EU-Turkey deal from March 18 and that the deal has ended illegal migration to Europe.

“Last October there were 6,800 illegal migrants passing over to Europe from Turkey every day. This figure went down to 3,000 in January after we started to implement the terms of the November deal with EU. We made a game changing move with the March 18 deal and this figure is now about 25 per day. Moreover, in April there have been some days on which no migrant passed to Europe,” Davutoglu said, and asked: “Have you heard about the death of a migrant in the Aegean Sea since April 4?” Asserting that Turkey will fulfill all EU criteria for visa-free travel on Monday, Davutoglu said that Ankara will stop implementing the readmission agreement if the EU does not grant visa-free travel.

“These two issues are linked to each other and are part of the deal with the EU. This is a test for everyone. We think that we have passed our test,” Davutoglu said, and added that it is now time for the EU to fulfill its obligations. “[The EU] promised to invest €1 billion for refuges until end of July. We will see whether they keep their promise or not. We have experienced disappointment in the past. We will react negatively if these experiences reoccur,” Davutoglu said, adding that in 2004 the EU had promised to lift restrictions on Turkish Cypriots if they vote for the Annan Plan, but it did not keep its promise afterward.

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