Feb 122017
 
 February 12, 2017  Posted by at 10:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Model wearing Dior on the banks of the Seine, Paris 1948

 


Does UK’s Lucrative Arms Trade Come At The Cost Of Political Repression? (G.)
UK Journalists Who Obtain Leaked Official Material Could Face Jail (Tel.)
Women And Children ‘Raped, Beaten And Abused’ In Dunkirk’s Refugee Camp (G.)
Bank For International Settlements Warns Of Looming Debt Bubble (F.)
Trump Regime Was Manufactured By A War Inside The Deep State (Nafeez Ahmed)
Banking, Credit & Norway (Steve Keen)
Greece Says Bailout Deal Close, But Will Not Accept ‘Illogical’ Demands (G.)
Greece 2017: Numbers And Facts About 8 Years Of Recession (AthensLive)
Tsipras Warns IMF, Germany To Stop ‘Playing With Fire’ Over Greek Debt (AFP)
Yanis Varoufakis: Grexit ‘Never Went Away’ (AlJ)
Why Falling Home Prices Could Be a Good Thing (NYT)
Army Veterans Return To Standing Rock To Form Human Shield Against Police (G.)
France’s Bumbling Search for a Candidate to Stop Le Pen (Spiegel)
A $500 Billion Plan To Refreeze The Arctic Before The Ice Melts (G.)

 

 

Look, Guardian, this is a good piece. But your editor destroys it by adding a headline with a question mark. Reality is, Britain is nothing but a front for a criminal racket. Its arms sales -both abroad and to its own forces- are responsible for the misery of countless deaths and maimed and refugees each and every year. Which your PM phrases as “..the UK will be at the forefront of a wider western effort to step up our defence and security partnership.” But you as a paper don’t have to play that game. Just tell your readers what is happening, and what has happened for decades. You live by blood and destruction.

Does UK’s Lucrative Arms Trade Come At The Cost Of Political Repression? (G.)

On 24 January 2015 a private jet touched down in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh. On board were a handful of Foreign Office officials, security personnel and the then prime minister, David Cameron, who was visiting the kingdom to pay his condolences following the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. The decision to charter the jet – at a cost to the taxpayer of £101,792 – raised eyebrows among Whitehall mandarins. But when it comes to Saudi Arabia, normal UK rules don’t seem to apply. For decades the two kingdoms have quietly enjoyed a symbiotic relationship centred on the exchange of oil for weapons. Analysis of HM Revenue and Customs figures by Greenpeace EnergyDesk shows that in 2015 83% of UK arms exports – almost £900m – went to Saudi Arabia. Over the same period, the UK imported £900m of oil from the kingdom.

Now this relationship has come under scrutiny as a result of a judicial review brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which has sent alarm bells ringing in Whitehall. The case follows concerns that a coalition of Saudi-led forces may have been using UK-manufactured weapons in violation of international humanitarian law during their ongoing bombardment of Yemen, targeting Iranian-backed Houthi forces loyal to the country’s former president. The legal challenge comes at a crucial time for the UK’s defence industry, which makes about 20% of arms exported globally. In recent years Ministry of Defence cutbacks have led to the sector looking abroad for new sales, and the government, with one eye on the post-Brexit landscape, is keen on the strategy. Last month Theresa May heralded a £100m deal involving the UK defence giant BAE and the Turkish military, and many defence experts see this as a sign of things to come.

But the policy – as the Saudi case makes clear – is controversial. Many of the UK’s biggest customers have questionable human rights records and there are concerns exported weapons are used for repression or against non-military targets. Thousands have died in the Yemen campaign, with the Saudis accused of targeting civilians. Four-fifths of the population is in need of aid, and famine is gripping the country. But despite this, and protests from human rights groups and the United Nations, the UK has continued to arm the Saudi regime, licensing about £3.3bn of weapons to the kingdom since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015.

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Orwell meets Samuel Beckett.

UK Journalists Who Obtain Leaked Official Material Could Face Jail (Tel.)

Campaigners have expressed outrage at new proposals that could lead to journalists being jailed for up to 14 years for obtaining leaked official documents. The major overhaul of the Official Secrets Act – to be replaced by an updated Espionage Act – would give courts the power to increase jail terms against journalists receiving official material. The new law, should it get approval, would see documents containing “sensitive information” about the economy fall foul of national security laws for the first time. In theory a journalist leaked Brexit documents deemed harmful to the UK economy could be jailed as a consequence. One legal expert said the new changes would see the maximum jail sentence increase from two years to 14 years; make it an offence to “obtain or gather” rather than simply share official secrets; and to extend the scope of the law to cover information that damages “economic well-being”.

John Cooper QC, a leading criminal and human rights barrister who has served on two law commission working parties, added: “These reforms would potentially undermine some of the most important principles of an open democracy.” Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said: “The proposed changes are frightening and have no place in a democracy, which relies on having mechanisms to hold the powerful to account. “It is unthinkable that whistle blowers and those to whom they reveal their information should face jail for leaking and receiving information that is in the public interest.” Her organisation has accused the Law Commission, the Government’s statutory legal advisers, of failing to consult fully with journalists before making its recommendations in a 326-page consultation published earlier this month. “It is shocking that so few organisations were consulted on these proposed changes given the huge implications for public interest journalism in this country,” said Ms Ginsberg.

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And this, too, is Britain, in 2017. And way before that too.

Women And Children ‘Raped, Beaten And Abused’ In Dunkirk’s Refugee Camp (G.)

Children and women are being raped by traffickers inside a refugee camp in northern France, according to detailed testimony gathered ahead of fresh legal action against the UK government’s approach to the welfare of unaccompanied minors. Corroborating accounts from volunteers, medics, refugees and security officials reveal that sexual abuse is common within the large camp at Dunkirk and that children and women are forced to have sex by traffickers in return for blankets or food or the offer of passage to the UK. Legal proceedings will be issued by London-based Bindmans against the Home Office, which is accused of acting unfairly and irrationally by electing to settle only minors from the vast Calais camp that closed last October, ignoring the child refugees gathered in Dunkirk, 40 miles away along the coast.

The legal action, brought on behalf of the Dunkirk Legal Support Team and funded by a crowd justice scheme, says the Home Office’s approach was arbitrary and mean-spirited. On Wednesday the government’s approach to child refugees provoked widespread indignation when the home secretary, Amber Rudd, announced the decision to end the “Dubs scheme”, having allowed just 350 children to enter the UK, 10% of the number most MPs and aid organisations had been led to believe could enter. [..] On Friday the archbishop of Canterbury said the government’s decision meant that child refugees would be at risk of being trafficked and even killed. Justin Welby’s warnings of what could happen if child refugees were denied the opportunity of safe passage are graphically articulated in the testimonies gathered over several months by the Observer.

Accounts from those at the camp, which currently holds up to 2,000 refugees, of whom an estimated 100 are unaccompanied minors, portray a squalid site with inadequate security and atrocious living conditions. The Dunkirk Legal Support Team says the failure of the authorities to guard the site has allowed the smugglers to take control. One volunteer coordinator, who has worked at the camp’s women’s centre since October 2016, said: “Sexual assault, violence and rape are all far too common. Minors are assaulted and women are raped and forced to pay for smuggling with their bodies.” Testifying on condition of anonymity, she added: “Although the showers are meant to be locked at night, particularly dangerous individuals in the camp have keys and are able to take the women to the showers in the night to force themselves on them. This has happened to women I know very well.”

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Looming, right?

Bank For International Settlements Warns Of Looming Debt Bubble (F.)

So you thought the world was deleveraging after the housing and derivatives bubble of 2008, hey? Well…fooled you! Global debt-to-GDP is now at a comfortable record high and the Bank for International Settlements, aka the central bank of central banks, noted on Friday that over the last 16 years, debts of governments, households and corporations has gone up…everywhere. In the U.S., debt is up 63%. The Eurozone, Japan, U.K., Canada and Australia average around 52%. And emerging markets, led by China, leverage is up 85%. In some important emerging economies like Brazil major cities are on the verge of bankruptcy. Rio is CCC credit thanks to mismanagement of a deep sea oil bonanza and over spending on the FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

“The next financial crisis is likely to revolve around how this debt burden is managed,” warns Neil MacKinnon, an economist with VTB Capital in London. “In the U.K., most crises are related to boom and busts in the housing market, where there is an approximate 18-year cycle suggesting that the next bust will be in 2025.” That’s quite a ways away. And for London real estate, they always have the Saudis, the Russians and the Chinese to save them. But further south, in countries like France and Italy, credit downgrades are expected. And guess which southern European country is back to give us all headaches again? Greece! Greece is making headlines once more for its inability to work out a debt deal with its lenders. There is now a rift between the EU and the IMF over Greek debt sustainability.

Most of the debt is with the European Commission itself, so German policy makers are basically the lenders and so far are not willing to take a haircut on bond prices. The IMF predicts that the Greek debt-GDP ratio, now at 180%, will soar to 275% all the while primary fiscal surplus is currently at zero. That means Greece’s debt to GDP is like Japan, only without the power of the Japanese economy to back it up. Greece is broke. “Greece is caught in a debt-trap which has shrunk the Greek economy by 25%,” notes MacKinnon. They owe Europe around €7 billion in July. Good luck with that. Jaime Caruana, General Manager for the Bank for International Settlements hinted in a speech in Brussels on Monday that the core central banks might not know what they’re in for.

“We need to escape the popular models that prevent us from recognizing the build-up of vulnerabilities,” Caruana said. “Getting all the right dots in front of you does not really help if you do not connect the dots. Right now, I worry that even though we have data on aggregate debt, we are not properly connecting the dots and we are underestimating the risks, particularly when the high levels of debt are aggravated by weak productivity growth in many countries. The standard of evidence for precautionary action has to be the preponderance of evidence, not evidence beyond a shadow of doubt. Waiting for fully compelling evidence is to act too late.”

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Long and deep from Nafeez.

Trump Regime Was Manufactured By A War Inside The Deep State (Nafeez Ahmed)

President Donald Trump is not fighting a war on the establishment: he’s fighting a war to protect the establishment from itself, and the rest of us. At first glance, this isn’t obvious. Among his first actions upon taking office, Trump vetoed the Trans Pacific Partnership, the controversial free trade agreement which critics rightly said would lead to US job losses while giving transnational corporations massive power over national state policies on health, education and other issues. Trump further plans to ditch the TTIP between the EU and US, which would have diluted key state regulations on the activities of transnational corporates on issues like food safety, the environment and banking; and to renegotiate NAFTA, potentially heightening tensions with Canada. Trump appears to be in conflict with the bulk of the US intelligence community, and is actively seeking to restructure the government to minimize checks and balances, and thus consolidate his executive power.

His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has completely restructured the National Security Council under unilateral presidential authority. While Bannon and his Chief of Staff Richard ‘Reince’ Priebus now have permanent seats on the NSC’s Principals’ Committee, the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are barred from meetings except when requested for their expertise. The Secretary of Energy and US ambassador to the UN have been expelled entirely. Trump’s White House has purged almost the entire senior staff of the State Department, and tested the loyalty of the Department of Homeland Security with its new ‘Muslim ban’ order. So what is going on? One approach to framing the Trump movement comes from Jordan Greenhall, who sees it as a conservative (“Red Religion”) Insurgency against the liberal (“Blue Church”) Globalist establishment (the “Deep State”).

Greenhall suggests, essentially, that Trump is leading a nationalist coup against corporate neoliberal globalization using new tactics of “collective intelligence” by which to outsmart and outspeed his liberal establishment opponents. But at best this is an extremely partial picture. In reality, Trump has ushered in something far more dangerous: The Trump regime is not operating outside the Deep State, but mobilizing elements within it to dominate and strengthen it for a new mission. The Trump regime is not acting to overturn the establishment, but to consolidate it against a perceived crisis of a wider transnational Deep System. The Trump regime is not a conservative insurgency against the liberal establishment, but an act of ideologically constructing the current crisis as a conservative-liberal battleground, led by a particularly radicalized white nationalist faction of a global elite.

The act is a direct product of a global systemic crisis, but is a short-sighted and ill-conceived reaction, pre-occupied with surface symptoms of that crisis. Unfortunately, those hoping to resist the Trump reaction also fail to understand the system dynamics of the crisis.

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If you want to know what ails us, it doesn’t get much clearer than this.

Banking, Credit & Norway (Steve Keen)

This was an invited talk during Oslo University’s “Week of Current Affairs”, so though my talk covered the global issues of credit and economic cycles, I paid particular attention to Norway, which is one of the 9 countries I have identified as very likely to experience a credit crunch in the next few years.

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But illogical demans are all there is.

Greece Says Bailout Deal Close, But Will Not Accept ‘Illogical’ Demands (G.)

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras said on Saturday he believed the country’s drawn-out bailout review would be completed positively but repeated that Athens would not accept “illogical” demands by its lenders. He warned all sides to “be more careful towards a country that has been pillaged and people who have made, and are continuing to make, so many sacrifices in the name of Europe”. Greece and its international lenders made clear progress on Friday toward bridging differences over its fiscal path in coming years, moving closer to a deal that would secure new loan disbursements and save the country from default. “(The review) will be completed, and it will be completed positively, without concessions in matters of principle,” Tsipras told a meeting of his leftist Syriza party. Reaching agreement would release another tranche of funds from it latest €86 billion bailout, and facilitate Greece making a major €7.2 billion debt repayment this summer.

European and IMF lenders want Greece to make €1.8 billion – or 1% of GDP – worth of new reforms by 2018 and another €1.8 billion after then and the measures would be focused on broadening the tax base and on pension cutbacks. But further cutbacks, particularly to pensions which have already gone through 11 cuts since the start of the crisis in 2010, are hard to sell to a public worn down after years of austerity. Representatives of Greece’s lenders are expected to return to Athens this week to report on whether Greece has complied with a second batch of reforms agreed under the current bailout, its third. “We are ready to discuss anything within the framework of the (bailout) agreement and within reason, but not things beyond the framework of the agreement and beyond reason,” Tsipras said. “We will not discuss demands which are not backed up by logic and by numbers,” he said.

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One minute of devastating numbers.

Greece 2017: Numbers And Facts About 8 Years Of Recession (AthensLive)

While Greece is back in the headlines, we got together some numbers and facts about eight years of economic recession.

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Well, they won’t stop.

Tsipras Warns IMF, Germany To Stop ‘Playing With Fire’ Over Greek Debt (AFP)

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras on Saturday warned the IMF and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble to “stop playing with fire” in the handling of his country’s debt. Opening a meeting of his Syriza party, Tsipras said he was confident a solution would be found, a day after talks between Greece and its creditors ended in Brussels with no breakthrough. He urged a change of course from the IMF. “We expect as soon as possible that the IMF revise its forecast.. so that discussions can continue at the technical level.” Referring to Schaeuble, Tsipras also called for German Chancellor Angela Merkel to “encourage her finance minister to end his permanent aggressiveness” towards Greece. Months of feuding with the IMF has raised fears of a new debt crisis.

Greece is embroiled in a row with its eurozone paymasters and the IMF over debt relief and budget targets that has rattled markets and revived talk of its place in the euro. Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said progress had been made in the Brussels talks with Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and other EU and IMF officials. But he provided few details. The Athens government faces debt repayments of €7.0 billion this summer that it cannot afford without defusing the feud that is holding up new loans from Greece’s €86 billion bailout. Breaking the stalemate in the coming weeks is seen as paramount with elections in the Netherlands on March 15 and France in April through June threatening to make a resolution even more difficult.

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Mostly rehashing Yanis’ time as FinMin. That’s a shame, because his views on today are much more interesting.

Yanis Varoufakis: Grexit ‘Never Went Away’ (AlJ)

With the UK on the cusp of leaving the European Union and Greece increasingly facing the same fate, is it over for the beleaguered body? An “epidemic” washing over other European countries may see the end of the EU, warns Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister. “The right question is: Is there going to be a eurozone and the European Union in one or two years’ time?” asks Varoufakis, who served as finance minister for five months under the Syriza government. Italy is already on the way out, Varoufakis tells UpFront. “When you allow an epidemic to start spreading from a place like Greece to Spain … to Ireland, then eventually it gets to a place like Italy,” says Varoufakis. “As we speak, only one political party in Italy wants to keep Italy in the eurozone.”

When asked about his failure to pull Greece out of its debt crisis during his tenure as finance minister, Varoufakis blamed the so-called troika – the IMF, the EU Commission and the European Central Bank – by intentionally sabotaging any debt-repayment agreement. “They were only interested in crushing our government, making sure that there would be no such mutually advantageous agreement,” says Varoufakis, who claims Greece was being used as a “morality tale” to scare voters in other European countries away from defying the troika. “The only reason why we keep talking about Greece … is because it is symptomatic of the architectural design faults and crisis of the eurozone.”

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To pop the bubble? To allow people to live where their families do?

Why Falling Home Prices Could Be a Good Thing (NYT)

Suppose there were a way to pump up the economy, reduce inequality and put an end to destructive housing bubbles like the one that contributed to the Great Recession. The idea would be simple, but not easy, requiring a wholesale reframing of the United States economy and housing market. The solution: Americans, together and all at once, would have to stop thinking about their homes as an investment. The virtues of homeownership are so ingrained in the American psyche that we often forget that housing is also a source of economic stress. Rising milk prices are regarded as a household tragedy for some, and spiking gas prices stoke national outrage. But whenever home prices go up, it’s “a recovery,” even though that recovery also means millions of people can no longer afford to buy.

Homes are the largest asset for all but the richest households, but shelter is also a basic necessity, like food. We have a variety of state and federal programs devised to make housing cheaper and more accessible, and a maze of local land-use laws that make housing scarcer and more expensive by doing things like prohibiting in-law units, regulating how small lots can be, and capping the number of unrelated people who can live together. Another big problem: High rent and home prices prevent Americans from moving to cities where jobs and wages are booming. That hampers economic growth, makes income inequality worse and keeps people from pursuing their dreams. So instead of looking at homes as investments, what if we regarded them like a TV or a car or any other consumer good? People might expect home prices to go down instead of up.

Homebuilders would probably spend more time talking about technology and design than financing options. Politicians might start talking about their plans to lower home prices further, as they often do with fuel prices. In this thought experiment, housing prices would probably adjust. They would be somewhat cheaper in most places, where population is growing slowly. But they would be profoundly cheaper in places like super-expensive San Francisco. That was the conclusion of a recent paper by the economists Ed Glaeser of Harvard and Joe Gyourko at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The paper uses construction industry data to determine how much a house should cost to build if land-use regulation were drastically cut back. Since the cost of erecting a home varies little from state to state — land is the main variable in housing costs — their measure is the closest thing we have to a national home price.

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Hope they get their media organized so news can get out. If it does it could be the worst PR disaster ever.

Army Veterans Return To Standing Rock To Form Human Shield Against Police (G.)

US veterans are returning to Standing Rock and pledging to shield indigenous activists from attacks by a militarized police force, another sign that the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline is far from over. Army veterans from across the country have arrived in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, or are currently en route after the news that Donald Trump’s administration has allowed the oil corporation to finish drilling across the Missouri river. The growing group of military veterans could make it harder for police and government officials to try to remove hundreds of activists who remain camped near the construction site and, some hope, could limit use of excessive force by law enforcement during demonstrations. “We are prepared to put our bodies between Native elders and a privatized military force,” said Elizabeth Williams, a 34-year-old Air Force veteran, who arrived at Standing Rock with a group of vets late Friday.

“We’ve stood in the face of fire before. We feel a responsibility to use the skills we have.” It is unclear how many vets may arrive to Standing Rock; some organizers estimate a few dozen are on their way, while other activists are pledging that hundreds could show up in the coming weeks. An estimated 1,000 veterans traveled to Standing Rock in December just as the Obama administration announced it was denying a key permit for the oil company, a huge victory for the tribe. The massive turnout – including a ceremony in which veterans apologized to indigenous people for the long history of US violence against Native Americans – served as a powerful symbol against the $3.7bn pipeline. Since last fall, police have made roughly 700 arrests, at times deploying water cannons, Mace, rubber bullets, teargas, pepper spray and other less-than-lethal weapons.

Private guards for the pipeline have also been accused of violent tactics. “We have the experience of standing in the face of adverse conditions – militarization, hostility, intimidation,” said Julius Page, a 61-year-old veteran staying at the vets camp. Dan Luker, a 66-year-old veteran who visited Standing Rock in December and returned this month, said that for many who fought in Vietnam or the Middle East it was “healing” to help water protectors.“This is the right war, right side,” said Luker, a Vietnam vet from Boston. “Finally, it’s the US military coming on to Sioux land to help, for the first time in history, instead of coming on to Sioux land to kill natives.” Luker said he was prepared to be hit by police ammunition if necessary: “I don’t want to see a 20-something, 30-something untrained person killed by the United States government.”

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Good overview of what is only 2 months away and could change Europe dramatically. Opinionated, but then that’s Der Spiegel.

France’s Bumbling Search for a Candidate to Stop Le Pen (Spiegel)

[..] even if Fillon survives as a candidate, he will be so damaged that he has virtually no chance of winning. Last week, in fact, his own party began discussing a “Plan B” so openly that it was almost disrespectful. Juppé is one possible replacement candidate being discussed, but the names of some young conservatives have also been circulating. Regardless, none of these alternatives would be as capable of taking voters away from Marine Le Pen and her project “Marine 2017” as the pre-scandal Fillon would have been. This, of course, is welcome news for Marine Le Pen, who transformed the fascist clique surrounding her father into a modern party, the right-wing populist Front National, with her at the center. Over the weekend, she introduced “140 proposals for France” as she launched the main segment of her campaign.

Yet even as she hits the stump, she is comfortably secure in the knowledge that she has the support of at least one-quarter of the country’s voters no matter what she says and no matter what others might say about her. She has been accused of having systematically misappropriated EU funds for party purposes in the European Parliament. She is no longer able to hide the fact that she is sparring over the direction of the party with her own niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen. But it doesn’t matter: Her polling numbers have remained constant at 25%, indicating that it is very likely she will attract enough voters to make it into the second round of voting in the presidential election. The only question is who will be her challenger? Who will become the “lesser of two evils” of this campaign?

Will it be Socialist candidate Hamon, with his foolhardy plan of introducing an unconditional basic income for all French, starting at €600 and later rising to €750? The plan would likely lead to €380 billion in additional annual spending for the French government. Or will it be Emmanuel Macron? There is no doubt that he has the charisma of a leader, but he also has some weaknesses that make him prone to attack, including two that could become particularly dangerous. The first is a resume that is hardly consistent with the image of a young hero shaking up an ossified political system. Macron studied at France’s elite École nationale d’administration (ENA), he’s a wealthy former banker who worked at Rothschild before becoming an adviser to François Hollande. He has long been part of the elite on which he has declared war.

Then there’s Macron’s second problem: With the exception of a relatively refreshing and clear commitment to the EU, at least for a Frenchman, he doesn’t have much of a platform. He has said he will announce his plans in late February, once his movement’s hundreds of thousands of volunteers, organized in working groups across the country, assemble policy proposals on diverse issues. If this operation is successful and Macron does indeed produce a coherent political platform, it will represent yet another grassroots miracle for France. But is such a thing even possible? Can a new political course -neither left nor right, but simply correct and good- really be formulated by the masses? There is plenty of hope surrounding Macron, but mockery is never far away. A French comedian could be heard last week on the radio, still an important opinion-shaping media in France, saying that washing machines have more programs than Macron.

Recent polls showed him pulling in 23% of the vote. Leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a man who thinks quite highly of himself and his ideas, stands at around 10%. Mélenchon is promising to allow people to retire at the age of 60 and draw full pension benefits and is calling for a monthly minimum wage of 1,300 euros. He wants France and the European Union to recognize Palestine as a state, he is calling for France to withdraw from NATO and is demanding the renegotiation of the EU treaties. Next.

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Someday some fool will actually execute some of these schemes. Why stop the causes if you can play God?

A $500 Billion Plan To Refreeze The Arctic Before The Ice Melts (G.)

Physicist Steven Desch has come up with a novel solution to the problems that now beset the Arctic. He and a team of colleagues from Arizona State University want to replenish the region’s shrinking sea ice – by building 10 million wind-powered pumps over the Arctic ice cap. In winter, these would be used to pump water to the surface of the ice where it would freeze, thickening the cap. The pumps could add an extra metre of sea ice to the Arctic’s current layer, Desch argues. The current cap rarely exceeds 2-3 metres in thickness and is being eroded constantly as the planet succumbs to climate change. “Thicker ice would mean longer-lasting ice. In turn, that would mean the danger of all sea ice disappearing from the Arctic in summer would be reduced significantly,” Desch told the Observer.

Desch and his team have put forward the scheme in a paper that has just been published in Earth’s Future, the journal of the American Geophysical Union, and have worked out a price tag for the project: $500bn. It is an astonishing sum. However, it is the kind of outlay that may become necessary if we want to halt the calamity that faces the Arctic, says Desch, who, like many other scientists, has become alarmed at temperature change in the region. They say that it is now warming twice as fast as their climate models predicted only a few years ago and argue that the 2015 Paris agreement to limit global warming will be insufficient to prevent the region’s sea ice disappearing completely in summer, possibly by 2030. “Our only strategy at present seems to be to tell people to stop burning fossil fuels,” says Desch. “It’s a good idea but it is going to need a lot more than that to stop the Arctic’s sea ice from disappearing.”

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Nov 182016
 
 November 18, 2016  Posted by at 10:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Unknown Army of the James, James River, Virginia. 1865


The End of Globalization? (Spiegel)
Global Trade Is Slowing (BBG)
US Recovery Is Heading Towards Its Death: Albert Edwards (CNBC)
US Retail Sales, Ignorance & Return Reality (Roberts)
How “Dynamic Scoring” Could Justify A Debt Driven Keynesian Stimulus (BBG)
How US Federal Revenues Have Been Used To Steer The Economy In The Past (BBG)
Yellen: I’m Not Stepping Down Until My Term Is Done (CNBC)
Europe At Risk Of Collapse; France, Germany Must Lead – French PM (R.)
Renzi Renews Pledge To Resign If He Loses Referendum (Local.it)
Italy Is The Next Country To Fall To Trumpism (David McWilliams)
EU Reinforces 2017 Budget On Migration And Jobs (EUO)
Kremlin Ramps Up Efforts To Crack Down On US Tech Companies (BBG)
Why the World Needs WikiLeaks (Sarah Harrison)
Another 100 Migrants Feared Drowned in Mediterranean (AFP)
The North Pole Is An Insane 36º Warmer Than Normal As Winter Descends (WaPo)

 

 

They all find it terribly hard to acknowledge that globalization is gone because growth is too. Wonder how long it will take them. A long five-part article.

The End of Globalization? (Spiegel)

Who could have imagined in 2006 that such an outlandish billionaire like Donald Trump could become president of the United States? Who would have believed that the British would leave the European Union? Who would have thought it possible that a right-wing populist party in Germany would win over 10% support in several state elections? Nobody. Ten years ago, the world was a vastly different place. In 2006, Germany lived through its “Summer Fairytale” of hosting the football World Cup – still untainted by accusations of corruption – and presented itself as a cosmopolitan host. Russia was still part of the G-8 and welcomed world leaders to the summit in St. Petersburg. Pope Benedict XVI visited Turkey and prayed in the Blue Mosque. In Berlin, the first Islam conference took place, promoting better integration for the religion.

A Romano Prodi-led alliance defeated the populist Silvio Berlusconi in Italian parliamentary elections. And international trade grew by 9% while the Chinese economy spiked by almost 13%. Between then and now lie years of crisis. Banks and entire countries had to be bailed out, debt grew and faith in the economy and politics evaporated. Central banks chopped their interest rates again and again to stimulate the economy – with modest success and significant side-effects: Debt continued climbing around the world while in industrialized countries, savers suffered and middle-class retirement funds in particular took a hit. Now, in 2016, many people in Western, industrialized countries are worried about losing their jobs, their prosperity and that of their children. They see themselves as the losers of a development that has only helped the elite.

[..] It is a fact that globalization and free trade have increased global prosperity, but they have also increased inequality in the world’s wealthiest nations. They have made the biggest companies more powerful, because business operates globally while politics tends to be a local or regional affair, and made the world more vulnerable to crises, because everything is networked and the debts of American homeowners could lead the entire world to the brink of collapse. In short, globalization is responsible for a host of problems that would otherwise not exist. And it is therefore in the process of gambling away the trust of people around the world. Already today, global trade growth has slowed and state interference is on the rise. The world finds itself at a turning point. It must try to eliminate the drawbacks of globalization without destroying its advantages. If, on the other hand, protectionism and populism gain the upper hand, there is a danger that global prosperity could shrink. The age of globalization would be at an end.

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“The days of frenzied trade growth may be over.” No kidding.

Global Trade Is Slowing (BBG)

Until he takes office in January, Donald Trump won’t be able to follow through on his pledges to scrap TPP, renegotiate NAFTA, or penalize Chinese imports. Even without him, protectionism is rising, and world trade is slowing. Responding to an outcry from local steelmakers, the EU this year has punished Chinese competitors for allegedly selling steel below cost. The EU has announced antidumping duties as high as 81.1% on Chinese steel. “Free trade must be fair, and only fair trade can be free,” EC VP Jyrki Katainen said in a statement on Nov. 9, adding that some 30 million European jobs depend on free trade. Around the world, many companies that binged on easy credit after the global financial crisis have excess capacity and are struggling to find buyers, since economic growth in the U.S., Europe, and Japan is relatively weak, and China’s economy is cooling.

“The pie is growing more slowly, and that makes domestic producers more defensive about their share of it and more willing to fight when threatened,” says Tim Condon, chief Asia economist in Singapore with ING. Bloomberg Intelligence chief Asia economist Tom Orlik points out that over the past two decades, consumers and businesses have spent heavily on laptops, tablets, and smartphones, but despite efforts by Apple and others to popularize smart watches, there’s no new must-have device to boost global trade. Stagnant income growth in the West also forces politicians to show they understand voters’ worries. “The pressure grows for governments to appease those voices by giving them the things they want,” says Orlik, “and the things they want are trade restrictions.”

[..] In the five months leading up to mid-October, members of the world’s 20 major economies, the Group of 20, implemented an average of 17 trade constraints a month, the World Trade Organization reported on Nov. 10. “The continued introduction of trade-restrictive measures is a real and persistent concern,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said in a statement. The curbs come while global commerce is sputtering. World trade volume has grown a little more than 3% a year since 2012, the IMF reported last month, less than half the average expansion rate over the prior three decades. Said the IMF, “Between 1985 and 2007, real world trade grew on average twice as fast as global GDP, whereas over the past four years, it has barely kept pace. Such prolonged sluggish growth in trade volumes relative to economic activity has few precedents during the past five decades.”

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As always, I’m uncomfortable with the definition of inflation used here, it obscures the argument.

US Recovery Is Heading Towards Its Death: Albert Edwards (CNBC)

Societe Generale’s resident uber-bear, Albert Edwards, says the very long economic recovery underway in the U.S. is gearing up to suffer a “very traditional death” as consumption will likely crumble under rapidly stepped-up inflation and tighter monetary conditions next year. In Edwards’ own words, “Even if the Fed refuses to tighten, monetary conditions will tighten dramatically anyway as bond yields and the dollar surge, exacerbating the profits recession.” “The surge in headline inflation from zero to 2.5%-3% in Q1 next year is likely to crush consumption,” he continued, adding, “The expected expansion of the fiscal deficit under Trump will not prevent this happening in 2017 as it will come too late – in 2018/19.”

Edwards breaks down the recent spike in nominal bond yields by pointing out it has been driven by spiraling inflation expectations with real yields staying relatively steady. An anomaly in the current situation, he says, is that this has occurred without an accompanying surge in oil prices. However, what has risen more quickly than acknowledged by the U.S. Federal Reserve or the broader market, in his view, is real wage inflation, partially disguised by the weakness of nominal wage inflation given subdued consumer price index (CPI) inflation. But as we move into an era of higher CPI inflation, Edwards warns that it is such real wage inflation that will slip to zero before long. According to Edwards, “We might quibble about how much nominal wage inflation might accelerate in a weak economic and corporate profits environment, but accelerate it will.”

Why this is so important, he notes, is that it is likely to propel the Fed into action. Speaking about the U.S. central bank, he says “to those who retort that the increasingly weak economy in H1 2017 means they should not tighten, I would probably agree. But that doesn’t mean the Fed won’t be forced into it by surging wage inflation.” The knock-on effect for bonds will come through in the form of a continued rise in yields over the next six months with the trend upwards now having become a momentum trade with investors “looking for a narrative to support the direction of travel”.

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“81% of American’s are now worse off than they were in 2005..”

US Retail Sales, Ignorance & Return Reality (Roberts)

There was an awful lot of cheering about the recent retail sales report which showed an uptick of 0.8% which beat the analyst’s estimates of 0.6%. Despite the fact the improvement was driven by a surge in gasoline prices (which is important as consumers did not consume MORE of the product, but just paid more for it) important discretionary areas like restaurants and furniture declined. However, if we dig deeper behind the headlines more troubling trends emerge for the consumer which begins to erode the narrative of the “economy is doing great” and “there is no recession” in sight. [..] Despite ongoing prognostications of a “recession nowhere in sight,” it should be remembered that consumption drives roughly 2/3rds of the economy. Of that, retail sales comprise about 40%. Therefore, the ongoing deterioration in retail sales should not be readily dismissed. More troubling is the rise in consumer credit relative to the decline in retail sales as shown below.

What this suggests is that consumers are struggling just to maintain their current living standard and have resorted to credit to make ends meet. Since the amount of credit extended to any one individual is finite, it should not surprise anyone that such a surge in credit as retail sales decline has been a precursor to previous recessions. Further, the weakness of consumption can be seen in the levels of retailers inventory relative to their actual sales. We can also view this problem with retail sales by looking at the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Survey. The survey asks respondents about last quarter’s actual sales versus next quarter’s expectations.

[..] it really isn’t just the Millennial age group that are struggling to save money but the entirety of the population in the bottom 80% of income earners. According to a recent McKinsey & Company study, 81% of American’s are now worse off than they were in 2005: “Based on market income from wages and capital, the study shows 81% of US citizens are worse off now than a decade ago. In France the figure is 63%, Italy 97%, and Sweden 20%.”

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If you don’t like the models, well, we have other ones.

How “Dynamic Scoring” Could Justify A Debt Driven Keynesian Stimulus (BBG)

Republicans have long argued that economic growth from tax cuts should be fed back into the model, year by year. They call this approach “dynamic scoring” or “macroeconomic analysis.” For the first time, macroeconomic analysis will likely prevail in next year’s official scores for major revenue bills from the JCT. Some Democrats, who’ve been suspicious of an approach that makes tax cuts look cheaper, are slowly warming to the same idea for appropriations bills. It could make infrastructure spending look cheaper, too. Into this fussing over details strides Donald Trump. During the campaign, he proposed a tax cut that would cost, according to his own preferred estimate, $4.4 trillion. And to pay for it, his campaign proposed a new kind of analysis, an economic model radically more complex than what either academics or policymakers have tried in the past.

All aspects of Trump’s plan, including trade and regulatory rollbacks, would be part of the analysis. Together, the campaign argued, they would create enough growth, and therefore enough tax revenue, to offset all but about $200 billion of those tax cuts. The real challenge of budgeting is to offer something, but at a discount. In 2017 dynamic scoring will let the Republican majority offer tax cuts without having to offset them entirely with spending cuts. It may even offer infrastructure spending—without having to renege on the promise of tax cuts. If the models are right, they’re right. If they’re wrong, the tax cuts will be a debt-driven Keynesian stimulus. Dynamic scoring arrived on the Republican wave of 1994. In January 1995, as one of its first acts, the new GOP majority in Congress invited Alan Greenspan, among others, to a rare joint hearing of the budget committees.

The representatives wanted to talk about macroeconomic models of budget changes. Greenspan, then the chairman of the Federal Reserve and thus in charge of the world’s best-known macroeconomic modeler, was skeptical. Then as now, the CBO every year produces a 10-year projection of economic growth. This is the “baseline,” the fixed point from which everything else is calculated. Under “static analysis,” modelers in Washington make assumptions about human behavior. But as they project out into the future, they can’t change the CBO’s baseline gross domestic product. Under “dynamic analysis,” they can. Next year’s projected growth changes the baseline for the year after, and so on. If static analysis is arithmetic, dynamic analysis is calculus.

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The comparisons only hold up to a point, as Trump will find out. There’s nowhere to grow to anymore. But focusing on domestic production and consumption can still solidify the economy somewhat.

How US Federal Revenues Have Been Used To Steer The Economy In The Past (BBG)

Donald Trump plans massive fiscal stimulus to combat lackluster growth just as the budget deficit begins rising again, making this a good time to look at how federal revenues have been used to steer the economy in the past. After the six recessions prior to the 2007-2009 downturn, lawmakers let the deficit’s share of GDP rise for an average of 15 months to make sure the economy was back on track. Following the last downturn, the most severe since World War II, Barack Obama’s stimulus gave way to Republican-backed spending cuts to shrink the deficit within just eight months – and the weakest recovery in decades.

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She won’t be able to stop the first rate hike, and after that things will be very different anyway.

Yellen: I’m Not Stepping Down Until My Term Is Done (CNBC)

Forget all that talk about Janet Yellen stepping down if Donald Trump becomes president: The Fed chair told Congress on Thursday she’s not leaving. Trump has been critical of the central bank leader and has suggested that he would replace her at some point. He once told CNBC that Yellen should be “ashamed” of her actions, saying her policies were political positions to help President Barack Obama. Amid expectations that the president-elect would step up political pressure on the Fed after he takes office in January, there was chatter that Yellen might just step aside. “No I cannot,” she said when asked by Rep. Carolyn Maloney if there were circumstances under which she might leave before her term expires. “I was confirmed by the Senate to a four-year term, which ends at the end of January of 2018, and it is fully my intention to serve out that term.” If Trump removes her from the chair, she could still stay on as a governor until her 14-year term expires in 2024.

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Yeah, lead the collapse!

Europe At Risk Of Collapse; France, Germany Must Lead – French PM (R.)

The EU is in danger of breaking apart unless France and Germany, in particular, work harder to stimulate growth and employment and heed citizens’ concerns, French PM Manuel Valls said in the German capital on Thursday. Valls said the two countries, for decades the axis around which the EU revolved, had to help refocus the bloc to tackle an immigration crisis, a lack of solidarity between member states, Britain’s looming exit, and terrorism. “Europe is in danger of falling apart,” Valls said at an event organized by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. “So Germany and France have a huge responsibility.” He said France must continue to open up its economy, not least by cutting corporate taxation, while Germany and the EU as a whole must increase investment that would stimulate growth and job creation, as well as boosting defense.

As Britain seeks to negotiate its post-Brexit relationship with the EU, hoping to restrict immigration from the EU while maintaining as much access as possible to the EU single market, Valls said it must be prevented from cherry-picking. “If they are able to have all the advantages of Europe without the inconveniences, then we are opening a window for others to leave the EU,” Valls said. Immigration was one of the main drivers of Britons’ vote to leave the EU, and Valls said the bloc, which more than a million migrants entered last year, had to regain control of its borders. He said the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election victory showed how important it was to listen to angry citizens, and that politicians scared of making decisions were opening the door to populists and demagogues.

In France, opinion polls suggest that the far-right, anti-EU, anti-immigration National Front leader Marine Le Pen will win the first round of the presidential election next April, before losing the runoff.

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He has no choice.

Renzi Renews Pledge To Resign If He Loses Referendum (Local.it)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Wednesday that he would have no interest in a government role if he loses Italy’s upcoming constitutional referendum. In an interview on Italian radio, the premier said: “I’m here to change things. If that doesn’t happen, there is no role for me to play.” If the ‘No’ vote wins on December 4th and Renzi’s proposed changes to the constitution are rejected, it is likely that a temporary or technical government will be formed to change the electoral law before general elections can be held. The PM said he would not be willing to seek a deal with other parties to form a coalition if this happens, adding that he didn’t want to take part in “old-style political games”. Renzi vowed to “fight like a lion” to win the vote and said he believed the “silent majority” of voters would back him in the referendum.

He is currently touring the south of the country, where the ‘No’ camp’s lead is strongest. However, he also emphasized that he didn’t envisage a ‘No’ victory causing immediate problems in the country. “The 5th of December won’t be Armageddon,” said Renzi. “If ‘No’ wins, everything will stay as it is. Italians shouldn’t be fooled by politicians who are fighting to keep the privileges they have always had.” The reforms would see the number of senators and their legislative power drastically reduced, which Renzi claims will cut down on bureaucracy, making government more stable and efficient. But his opponents argue that there are inconsistencies in his proposed changes, and that they would put too much power in the hands of the prime minister.

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I like McWilliams, but Trumpism is a nonsensical term, and Italy’s resistance against the EU and globalization was way earlier than Trump became an issue. Correlation and causation.

Italy Is The Next Country To Fall To Trumpism (David McWilliams)

The Bangladeshi selfie-stick hawkers are doing a brisk trade outside the Colosseum. Local chain-smoking lads dressed as gladiators prey on vulnerable tourists, while portly priests on their annual visit to Catholicism’s corporate HQ take time out from soul-searching. Even the heavily armed soldiers, there to protect against a potential Italian Bataclan, are smiling in the Mediterranean sunshine. And as it is midday in Italy, everyone is checking out everyone else. All looks quite normal, chilled out and as it should be. But it is not. Italy is a country going through what could be described as a nervous breakdown. After a decade of almost no economic growth, in two weeks Italians will vote in a referendum which will determine what direction this huge country of nearly 60 million people will take. The result will profoundly affect the EU.

Although the referendum is technically about the way Italy is governed, the country is split down the middle in a plebiscite that has come to symbolise something much bigger. Once again, like the Brexit vote and the Trump election, this referendum is about insiders against outsiders. It is about those who are the victims of inequality and globalisation and those who uphold the status quo. On one side, you have the Italian political elite — the insiders embodied by Matteo Renzi, the youthful prime minister. He represents the people and institutions that have ruled Italy for decades. On the other side, you have an unusual anti-EU coalition, the Left and the Right — the ‘Outsiders’ — who are united by a common belief that, after 10 years of economic stagnation, there must be another way.

We have the same picture we saw in the UK in June and in the US last week, where an elite is desperately trying to connect with the people and large swathes of the population are saying they have had enough. In terms of the big picture, the Italian election can be seen as yet another domino in a year of falling dominos. First we had Brexit, then Trump, and the next big one for Europe after Italy is the potential rise of Le Pen in France. Italy is the triplet in a quartet that will culminate in France, and, in my opinion, if the Italian elite loses on December 4th, Marine Le Pen will win in France.

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The amounts are mind-boggling. Money in, waste out.

EU Reinforces 2017 Budget On Migration And Jobs (EUO)

EU member states and European Parliament have reached an agreement on a budget for next year that focuses on tackling the migration crisis and creating jobs. After 20 hours of discussions, a deal was reached early on Thursday (17 November) to set the total commitments for 2017 at €157.88 billion and payments at €134.49 billion. “The 2017 EU budget will thus help buffer against shocks, providing a boost to our economy and helping to deal with issues like the refugee crisis,” budget commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said. The budget commits €5.91 billion to tackling the migration crisis and reinforcing security, an 11.3% increase on 2016’s figure, according to a statement from the EU Council, which represents member states.

The money will help EU countries resettle refugees, create reception centres, and return those who have no right to stay. Extra spending will also go to help enhance border protection, crime prevention, counter terrorism activities and protect critical infrastructure. A total of €21.3 billion was put aside to boost economic growth and create new jobs, which is an increase of around 12% compared with this year, the council said. The Erasmus+ scheme, a cross-border student programme, will see an increase of its budget of 19%. The 2017 budget also includes €500 million for youth unemployment, and a €42.6 billion support for farmers.

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The Russians are highly aware of what Facebook and Alphabet are doing: “Not replacing foreign IT would be equivalent to dismissing the army.”

Kremlin Ramps Up Efforts To Crack Down On US Tech Companies (BBG)

In a Nov. 14 phone call with President-elect Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin held out the prospect of better relations between their two countries. But U.S. tech companies shouldn’t expect warmer ties to ease a Kremlin effort to freeze out their products. Seeking to cut dependence on companies such as Google, Microsoft, and LinkedIn, Putin in recent years has urged the creation of domestic versions of everything from operating systems and e-mail to microchips and payment processing. Putin’s government says Russia needs protection from U.S. sanctions, bugs, and any backdoors built into hardware or software. “It’s a matter of national security,” says Andrey Chernogorov, executive secretary of the State Duma’s commission on strategic information systems. “Not replacing foreign IT would be equivalent to dismissing the army.”

Since last year, Russia has required foreign internet companies to store Russian clients’ data on servers in the country. In January the Kremlin ordered government agencies to use programs for office applications, database management, and cloud storage from an approved list of Russian suppliers or explain why they can’t—a blow to Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle. Google last year was ordered to allow Android phone makers to offer a Russian search engine. And a state-backed group called the Institute of Internet Development is holding a public contest for a messenger service to compete with text and voice apps like WhatsApp and Viber. Russia’s Security Council has criticized the use of those services by state employees over concerns that U.S. spies could monitor the encrypted communications while Russian agencies can’t. Trump’s election hasn’t changed those policies, according to Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “This doesn’t depend on external factors,” he says. “It’s a consistent strategy.”

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Do try and wrap your head around the irony of this being published by the NYT, on of the main media companies whose disfunctionality makes Wikileaks so necessary.

Why the World Needs WikiLeaks (Sarah Harrison)

My organization, WikiLeaks, took a lot of heat during the run-up to the recent presidential election. We have been accused of abetting the candidacy of Donald J. Trump by publishing cryptographically authenticated information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign and its influence over the Democratic National Committee, the implication being that a news organization should have withheld accurate, newsworthy information from the public. The Obama Justice Department continues to pursue its six-year criminal investigation of WikiLeaks, the largest known of its kind, into the publishing of classified documents and articles about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay and Mrs. Clinton’s first year as secretary of state. According to the trial testimony of one F.B.I. agent, the investigation includes several of WikiLeaks founders, owners and managers.

And last month our editor, Julian Assange, who has asylum at Ecuador’s London embassy, had his internet connection severed. I can understand the frustration, however misplaced, from Clinton supporters. But the WikiLeaks staff is committed to the mandate set by Mr. Assange, and we are not going to go away, no matter how much he is abused. That’s something that Democrats, along with everyone who believes in the accountability of governments, should be happy about. Despite the mounting legal and political pressure coming from Washington, we continue to publish valuable material, and submissions keep pouring in. There is a desperate need for our work: The world is connected by largely unaccountable networks of power that span industries and countries, political parties, corporations and institutions; WikiLeaks shines a light on these by revealing not just individual incidents, but information about entire structures of power.

While a single document might give a picture of a particular event, the best way to shed light on a whole system is to fully uncover the mechanisms around it – the hierarchy, ideology, habits and economic forces that sustain it. It is the trends and details visible in the large archives we are committed to publishing that reveal the details that tell us about the nature of these structures. It is the constellations, not stars alone, that allow us to read the night sky. [..] WikiLeaks will continue publishing, enforcing transparency where secrecy is the norm. While threats against our editor are mounting, Mr. Assange is not alone, and his ideas continue to inspire us and people around the world.

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Just another day.

Another 100 Migrants Feared Drowned in Mediterranean (AFP)

The toll of missing and dead rose Thursday in a grim week of Mediterranean crossings as African survivors described being robbed of life jackets and boat engines and abandoned to a watery grave. A group of 27 survivors, all men, were plucked to safety on Wednesday, but roughly 100 other passengers who set off with them from Libya were missing and feared drowned, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said. Along with two other shipwrecks this week, the latest incident pushed the toll to 18 confirmed dead and 340 missing, in what was already the most lethal year ever recorded for migrant deaths at sea. The survivors rescued Wednesday by a British Navy ship, described being stripped of their sole means of survival by the men they had paid for safe passage.

They had set off before dawn on Monday from a beach close to Tripoli. After several hours the traffickers, travelling aboard a separate boat, ordered them at gunpoint to hand over life jackets they had paid for, as well as the boat engine, and left them without a satellite phone to call for help. “At that point I thought we were going to die”, said Abdoullae Diallo, 18, according to MSF. “Without a motor, we couldn’t go far. A trafficker told us we would be rescued but I felt like we were going to die.” The overcrowded dinghy began rapidly taking on water and deflated. Tossed for two days and nights on rough seas, some passengers fell overboard, while others succumbed to exhaustion. By the time the British Royal Navy’s HMS Enterprise – engaged in the anti-trafficking Sofia operation – found them, just 27 people were left alive, clinging to what was left of the dinghy.

[..] The first group of survivors were brought to Catania, in Sicily, while the second group were expected to arrive on Italy’s mainland in the port of Reggio Calabria Some were children. “One young boy has been weeping, asking for his mother,” Mathilde Auvillain, a spokeswoman for SOS Mediterranee told AFP. “Another has written a list of names of the people travelling with him and re-reads it over and over. He wants to know if his friends are on the boat or in the sea,” she said.

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Watching in bewilderment.

The North Pole Is An Insane 36º Warmer Than Normal As Winter Descends (WaPo)

Political people in the United States are watching the chaos in Washington in the moment. But some people in the science community are watching the chaos somewhere else — the Arctic. It’s polar night there now — the sun isn’t rising in much of the Arctic. That’s when the Arctic is supposed to get super-cold, when the sea ice that covers the vast Arctic Ocean is supposed to grow and thicken. But in the fall of 2016 — which has been a zany year for the region, with multiple records set for low levels of monthly sea ice — something is totally off. The Arctic is super-hot, even as a vast area of cold polar air has been displaced over Siberia. At the same time, one of the key indicators of the state of the Arctic — the extent of sea ice covering the polar ocean — is at a record low. The ice is freezing up again, as it always does this time of year after reaching its September low, but it isn’t doing so as rapidly as usual.

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 August 21, 2016  Posted by at 9:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange ‘A season’s work in the beans’, Marion County, Oregon 1939


Neo-Liberalism Has Had Its Day. So What Happens Next? (G.)
BOJ’s Kuroda Says Won’t Rule Out Deepening Negative Rate Cut (R.)
EU Officials Ignored Years of Emissions Evidence (Spiegel)
The Sound of Blairite Silence (Paul Mason)
53% Of Clinton Foundation Donors Would Be Barred Under Proposed Rule (ZH)
Leaked Memo Proves Soros Ruled Ukraine In 2014 (Duran)
The Aleppo Poster Child (Paul Craig Roberts)
Refugees In Greek Camps Targeted By Mafia Gangs (G.)
Hundreds Rescued From Overcrowded Migrant Boats In Med (EN)
‘Next Year Or The Year After, The Central Arctic Will Be Free Of Ice’ (G.)

 

 

Long, not terrible but not terribly convincing either.

Neo-Liberalism Has Had Its Day. So What Happens Next? (G.)

The western financial crisis of 2007-8 was the worst since 1931, yet its immediate repercussions were surprisingly modest. The crisis challenged the foundation stones of the long-dominant neoliberal ideology but it seemed to emerge largely unscathed. The banks were bailed out; hardly any bankers on either side of the Atlantic were prosecuted for their crimes; and the price of their behaviour was duly paid by the taxpayer. Subsequent economic policy, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, has relied overwhelmingly on monetary policy, especially quantitative easing. It has failed. The western economy has stagnated and is now approaching its lost decade, with no end in sight.

After almost nine years, we are finally beginning to reap the political whirlwind of the financial crisis. But how did neoliberalism manage to survive virtually unscathed for so long? Although it failed the test of the real world, bequeathing the worst economic disaster for seven decades, politically and intellectually it remained the only show in town. Parties of the right, centre and left had all bought into its philosophy, New Labour a classic in point. They knew no other way of thinking or doing: it had become the common sense. It was, as Antonio Gramsci put it, hegemonic. But that hegemony cannot and will not survive the test of the real world.

The first inkling of the wider political consequences was evident in the turn in public opinion against the banks, bankers and business leaders. For decades, they could do no wrong: they were feted as the role models of our age, the default troubleshooters of choice in education, health and seemingly everything else. Now, though, their star was in steep descent, along with that of the political class. The effect of the financial crisis was to undermine faith and trust in the competence of the governing elites. It marked the beginnings of a wider political crisis. But the causes of this political crisis, glaringly evident on both sides of the Atlantic, are much deeper than simply the financial crisis and the virtually stillborn recovery of the last decade. They go to the heart of the neoliberal project that dates from the late 70s and the political rise of Reagan and Thatcher, and embraced at its core the idea of a global free market in goods, services and capital.

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Yada yada Kuroda.

BOJ’s Kuroda Says Won’t Rule Out Deepening Negative Rate Cut (R.)

The Bank of Japan will not rule out deepening a cut to negative rates it introduced in February, the Sankei newspaper quoted Governor Haruhiko Kuroda as saying, even as the controversial policy has failed to spur inflation or economic growth. In an interview with the daily, Kuroda said the BOJ’s negative rate policy has not reached its limits. “The degree of negative rates introduced by European central banks is bigger than Japan. Technically there definitely is room for a further cut,” Kuroda told the Sankei. The BOJ stunned markets in January when it set a minus 0.1% rate on some deposits that banks place at the central bank, with the move taking effect from February.

While the BOJ hoped the shift to negative rates would encourage banks to lend more, spurring higher spending and inflation, none of that has happened as yet. The BOJ will also consider whether to make any changes to the 80 trillion yen ($798 billion) per year massive asset-purchase plan once the outcome of a comprehensive assessment of its monetary policies is out in September, Kuroda said. The asset purchases are a key plank of the central bank’s “quantitative and qualitative easing” program deployed in 2013, aimed at achieving its 2% inflation target. Despite the aggressive easings, however, inflation is well off the target and growth remains anemic.

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Just another way to signal the failure of the EU. It’s endemic.

EU Officials Ignored Years of Emissions Evidence (Spiegel)

Meeting minutes, correspondence and conversation records that SPIEGEL ONLINE and the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet have obtained now show that the European Commission and member states knew, since 2010 at the latest, that the extremely harmful emissions from diesel cars were strikingly higher than legal levels. But apparently none of the officials wanted the automakers to tell them why this was the case. According to EU officials, pressure from countries with a strong auto industry, most notably Germany, significantly reduced interest in an investigation. Instead of doing something about the environmental policy violation, the Commission and the member states passed the buck to each other.

This undignified back-and-forth even continued after the VW scandal about manipulated diesel cars in the United States was exposed in September 2015. The EU bureaucracy was one of the first to be informed, through its research organizations, about the high nitric oxide emissions of the VW vehicle fleet. In 2007, experts with European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) tested the emissions from operating diesel cars. Additional tests using the so-called PEMS method were performed in 2011 and 2013. The results were the same each time: Nitric oxide (NOX) emissions were several times higher than the levels measured in type approval tests in the laboratory.

Volkswagen was already making an unfavorable impression at the time. The biggest nitric oxide emitter in the 2011 and 2013 tests was a VW Multivan with a diesel engine. This emerges from the list of names of the car models involved, which were not published at the time but has been obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE. The other eight diesel cars, however, that were randomly selected by the JRC engineers for the PEMS test had the same problem. Be it the Fiat Scudo, Bravo or Punto, the VW Golf or Passat, the Renault Clio or the BMW 120d, not a single model even remotely complied with nitric oxide limits in normal operation.

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The UK won’t let the US get away with claiming the title of ugliest political story.

The Sound of Blairite Silence (Paul Mason)

With Owen Smith it is never clear where, on the road from BBC Wales, via Pfizer, via the years as a special adviser in Belfast surrounded by all those nice members of MI5, via losing Blaenau Gwent to an independent because he was too identified with Blair … at what point did Owen become converted to Jeremy Lite left radical socialism? This combination of high personal ambition and the lack of a permanent belief system is exactly the right attribute for someone whose purpose is to be a placeholder for the Blairite counter-revolution. Who can forget, after all, that Angela Eagle -the original placeholder- launched her campaign without a single policy. Smith is there to remove the grip of Corbyn, and Corbynism on those few parts of the Labour machine it controls.

After that the money amassed by Saving Labour, Progress and Labour Tomorrow will be used to fund the party’s re-conversion to a safe tool of the global elite. It will be back to normal. At every stage, the pro-1% Labour machine has tried to suppress democracy: it tried to force Corbyn off the ballot paper; it tried to debar new, pro-Corbyn members from voting; it tried to produce a new Labour leader without a vote; it imposed an arbitrary cut-off date for new members voting. At the same time the Labour right is promoting an series of largely unfounded victim narratives: that ‘Corbyn is antisemitic’ (backed up with a defamatory attack on Shami Chakrabarti). It’s promoted the narrative of misogyny, of physical threats, of ‘Trotskyist entrism’, of Corbyn ‘sabotaging’ the Remain campaign.

We must anticipate the outcome of this on the principle that Chekov outlined in theatre: if a gun appears in Act I, by the end of Act III someone is going to get shot. Every signal from the Labour right appears to point towards a second coup against Corbyn, once he wins the leadership election, which will make Owen Smith s current effort look like a sideshow.

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There is simply too much wrong about this. A Hillary presidency would damage the reputation of America’s political system too severely. Even Trump Jr of all people makes a valid point.

And no, that does not mean I support Trump. Air everyone’s dirty laundry, by all means. Investigate Trump with all you got. But don’t ignore this.

53% Of Clinton Foundation Donors Would Be Barred Under Proposed Rule (ZH)

On Thursday evening, alongside Trump’s unexpected statement of “regret”, Bill Clinton made another just as important announcement when he said that should Hillary become president, the $2 billion Clinton Family foundation will no longer accept money from any corporate and foreign donors and will bring an end to its annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting regardless of the outcome of the November election. To this we responded that this was to be expected: after all “once Hillary is president, she will no longer need a backdoor way of legally receiving Saudi and other foreign money: at that moment, billions in Saudi dollars will be deemed perfectly acceptable for passage through the front door, mostly in exchange for weapons and ammo.”

Other had similar reactions, with the announcement drawing skepticism on Friday mostly from the right left as critics wondered why the Clintons have never before cut off corporate and overseas money to their charity, and more importantly why they would wait until after the election to do so. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted Friday that the Clintons’ continued acceptance of those dollars during the presidential campaign is a “massive, ongoing conflict of interest.” The left also spoke up, when Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator who was a leading surrogate for Clinton’s rival in the Democratic primary race, Bernie Sanders, said the restrictions were a good step but should be imposed immediately. “In my opinion, and in the opinion of lots of Americans, this should have been done long ago,” she said.

As it turns out, the self-impossed restrictions would be more stringent than those put in place while Clinton was secretary of state – ironically when the temptation to bribe the top US diplomat was far higher – when the foundation was merely required to seek State Department approval to accept new donations from foreign governments, permitting the charity to accept millions of dollars from governments and wealthy interests all over the world. They would also be stricter than the policy adopted when Clinton launched her campaign that placed some limits on foreign government funding but allowed corporate and individual donations, for the simple reason that Hillary was willing the accept cash for any and all future favors.

Others questioned why Clinton had now decided that the foundation should rule out donations that she apparently thought were acceptable during her tenure as the country’s top diplomat. “Is it ok to accept foreign and corporate money when Secretary of State but not when POTUS???” Donald Trump Jr., son of the Republican nominee, tweeted Thursday night.

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A man so old he could die any moment now gets to shape a future he will not live to see, just because he has some money. If that’s not a damning verdict of our political systems, what is?

Leaked Memo Proves Soros Ruled Ukraine In 2014 (Duran)

We noted in a previous post how important Ukraine was to George Soros, with documents from DC Leaks that show Soros, and his Open Society NGO, scouring the Greek media and political landscape to push the benefits of his Ukraine coup upon a Russian leaning Greek society. Now more documents, in the massive 2,500 leaked tranche, show the immense power and control Soros had over Ukraine immediately following the illegal Maidan government overthrow. Soros and his NGO executives held detailed and extensive meetings with just about every actor involved in the Maidan coup: from US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, to Ukraine’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Health, and Education. The only person missing was Victoria Nuland, though we are sure those meeting minutes are waiting to see the light of day.

Plans to subvert and undermine Russian influence and cultural ties to Ukraine are a central focus of every conversation. US hard power, and EU soft power, is central towards bringing Ukraine into the neo-liberal model that Soros champions, while bringing Russia to its economic knees. Soros’ NGO, International Renaissance Foundation (IRF) plays a key role in the formation of the “New Ukraine”…the term Soros frequently uses when referring to his Ukraine project. In a document titled, “Breakfast with US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt”, George Soros, (aka GS), discusses Ukraine’s future with: Geoffrey Pyatt (US Ambassador to Ukraine); David Meale (Economic Counsellor to the Ambassador); Lenny Benardo (OSF); Yevhen Bystrytsky (Executive Director, IRF); Oleksandr Sushko (Board Chair, IRF); Ivan Krastev (Chariman, Centre for Liberal Studies); Sabine Freizer (OSF); Deff Barton (Director, USAID, Ukraine)

The meeting took place on March 31, 2014, just a few months after the Maidan coup, and weeks before a full out civil war erupted, after Ukraine forces attacked the Donbass. In the meeting, US Ambassador Pyatt outlines the general goal for fighting a PR war against Putin, for which GS is more than happy to assist. “Ambassador: The short term issue that needs to be addressed will be the problem in getting the message out from the government through professional PR tools, especially given Putin’s own professional smear campaigns.” “GS: Agreement on the strategic communications issue—providing professional PR assistance to Ukrainian government would be very useful. Gave an overview of the Crisis Media Center set up by IRF and the need for Yatseniuk to do more interviews with them that address directly with journalists and the public the current criticisms of his decision making.”

Pyatt pushes the idea of decentralization of power for the New Ukraine, without moving towards Lavrov’s recommendation for a federalized Ukraine. GS notes that a federalization model would result in Russia gaining influence over eastern regions in Ukraine, something that GS strictly opposes.

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How many more years of this?

The Aleppo Poster Child (Paul Craig Roberts)

Washington’s media presstitutes are using the image of the child to bring pressure on Russia to stop the Syrian army from retaking Alleppo. Washington wants its so-called moderate rebels to retain Alleppo so that Washington can split Syria in two, thereby keeping a permanent pressure against President Assad. As for the little boy in the propaganda picture, he does not seem to be badly injured. Let us not forget the tens of thousands of children that Washington’s wars and bombings of 7 Muslim countries have killed without any tears shed by CNN anchors, and let us not forget the 500,000 Iraqi children that the United Nations concluded died as a result of US sanctions against Iraq, children’s deaths that Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said were worth it.

Let us not forget that Washington’s determination to overthrow the Syrian government has brought many deaths to Syrians of all age groups. Washington alone is responsible for the deaths. The evil Obama regime has stated over and over that “Assad must go” and is prepared to destroy the country and much of the population in order to get rid of him. According to the Obama regime, Assad must go because he is a dictator. Washington tells this lie despite the fact that Assad was elected and re-elected and has far higher support among Syrians that Obama has among Americans. Moreover, whatever Washington accuses Assad of doing to Syrians is nothing compared to the death and destruction that Washington brought to Syria.

Perhaps the tragedy of Aleppo could have been avoided if the Russian government had not prematurely declared “mission accomplished” in Syria and withdrawn only to have to rush back after the Russian government was again deceived by Washington.

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The EU, Europe as a whole, fails dramatically, and nothing is improving.

Greece by then had already received €181m to help deal with the crisis from Brussels.

Look, Greece estimated the cost to its budget at €2 billion at least 6 months ago. Now, all the money goes to NGOs. Whose track record is not great, to say the least.

Refugees In Greek Camps Targeted By Mafia Gangs (G.)

Fresh evidence is emerging that refugees stranded in camps across Greece are falling victim to rising levels of vice peddled by mafia gangs who see the entrapped migrants as perfect prey for prostitution, drug trafficking and human smuggling. Details of the alarming conditions present in many of the facilities comes as the Greek government – facing criticism after the Observer’s exposé of sexual abuse in camps last week – announced urgent measures to deal with the crisis. A further four refugee centres, it said, would be set up in a bid to improve severe overcrowding, a major source of tensions in the camps. Aid workers say an estimated 58,000 migrants and asylum seekers in Greece are increasingly being targeted by Greek and Albanian mafias.

Tales of criminals infiltrating camps to recruit vulnerable women and men are legion. “If nothing is done to improve the lifestyle of these refugees and to use their time more productively, I see a major disaster,” warned Nesrin Abaza, an American aid worker volunteering at the first privately funded camp known as Elpida (Greek for hope) outside Thessaloniki. “These camps are a fertile breeding ground for terrorism, gangs and violence. It seems like the world has forgotten about them. They are not headline news any more, so therefore they do not exist … but the neglect will show its ugly head.” With an estimated 55 centres nationwide – including “hotspots” on the Aegean islands within view of Turkey – Greece has effectively become a huge holding pen for refugees since EU and Balkan countries closed their borders to shut them out earlier this year.

[..] the EU released €83m in April to improve living conditions for refugees stranded in the country. The UN refugee agency, the International Federation of the Red Cross and six international NGOs were given the bulk of the funding. Greece by then had already received €181m to help deal with the crisis from Brussels. Announcing the emergency support, the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, Christos Stylianides, claimed the assistance was “a concrete example of how the EU delivers on the challenges Europe faces”. “We have to restore dignified living conditions for refugees and migrants in Europe as swiftly as possible,” he said. But four months later, as allegations of sexual abuse and criminal activity envelop the camps, questions are mounting over whether the money was properly administered. In addition to bad sanitary conditions and lack of police protection, the latest revelations have shone a light on whether the humanitarian system is working at all.

“There is no emphasis on humanity, it is all about numbers,” Amed Khan, a financier turned philanthropist who funded Elpida, told the Observer. Elpida, also established in a former factory near Thessaloniki, has a tea room and yoga centre and, seeing itself as a pioneering initiative, encourages refugees to regard it as a home. In the month since the camp opened its doors, it has won plaudits for being the most humane refugee centre in Greece. “Nobody is using money here efficiently or effectively,” lamented Khan. “The humanitarian system is the same one that has been in place since the second world war, it lacks intellectual flexibility and is totally broken. The real question to be asked is, has the aid that has been given been appropriately utilised?”

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3000 dead so far this year.

Hundreds Rescued From Overcrowded Migrant Boats In Med (EN)

More than 300 people have been rescued from the Mediterranean Sea after migrant boats capsized off the coast of Libya. One small vessel packed with 27 Syrians flipped over and sank, according to humanitarian group Migrant Offshore Aid Station. The bodies of two women and one man were recovered. Among the dead were two girls, aged eight months and five years. The survivors were taken to the Sicilian port of Trapani. Migrants from North Africa are favouring the dangerous voyage toward Italy after last year’s prefered route from Turkey to the Greek islands has been largely shut down. According to the International Organization for Migration, about three thousand migrants have died in the Med so far this year.

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“You will be able to cross over the North Pole by ship.”

‘Next Year Or The Year After, The Central Arctic Will Be Free Of Ice’ (G.)

Peter Wadhams has spent his career in the Arctic, making more than 50 trips there, some in submarines under the polar ice. He is credited with being one of the first scientists to show that the thick icecap that once covered the Arctic ocean was beginning to thin and shrink. He was director of the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge from 1987 to 1992 and professor of ocean physics at Cambridge since 2001. His book, A Farewell to Ice, tells the story of his unravelling of this alarming trend and describes what the consequences for our planet will be if Arctic ice continues to disappear at its current rate. “You have said on several occasions that summer Arctic sea ice would disappear by the middle of this decade. It hasn’t. Are you being alarmist?”

No. There is a clear trend down to zero for summer cover. However, each year chance events can give a boost to ice cover or take some away. The overall trend is a very strong downward one, however. Most people expect this year will see a record low in the Arctic’s summer sea-ice cover. Next year or the year after that, I think it will be free of ice in summer and by that I mean the central Arctic will be ice-free. You will be able to cross over the North Pole by ship. There will still be about a million square kilometres of ice in the Arctic in summer but it will be packed into various nooks and crannies along the Northwest Passage and along bits of the Canadian coastline. Ice-free means the central basin of the Arctic will be ice-free and I think that that is going to happen in summer 2017 or 2018.

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Jul 202016
 
 July 20, 2016  Posted by at 9:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Newsie, Washington DC 1920


To the Mattresses: Cash Levels Highest In Nearly 15 Years (CNBC)
The Financial System Is Breaking Down At An Unimaginable Pace (Black)
This ‘Market’ Discounts Nothing Except Monetary Cocaine (Stockman)
These Sicilian Mortgages Show How Hard It Is to Rescue Italian Banks (BBG)
Deal With Canada On The Brink as German Party Sues EU Over CETA (Exp.)
The Long, Sad, Corrupted Devolution Of The GOP (Intercept)
The World Is Taking Revenge Against Elites. When Will America’s Wake Up? (G.)
The Secret History of Glass-Steagall (WSJ)
We Need More Borders And More States (Mises Inst.)
June 2016 Was 14th Consecutive Month Of Record-Breaking Heat (G.)
This Year’s Record Arctic Melt Is a Problem For Everybody (Stone)

 

 

Breaking point.

To the Mattresses: Cash Levels Highest In Nearly 15 Years (CNBC)

Despite the post-Brexit market rally, fund managers have gotten even more wary of taking risks. The S&P 500 has jumped about 8.5% since the lows hit in the days after Britain’s move to leave the EU, but that hasn’t assuaged professional investors. Cash levels are now at 5.8% of portfolios, up a notch from June and at the highest levels since November 2001, according to the latest BofA Merrill Lynch Fund Manager Survey. In addition to putting money under the mattress, investors also are looking for protection, with equity hedging at its highest level in the survey’s history. Indeed, fear is running high as investors believe that global financial conditions are tightening, despite nearly $12 trillion of negative-yielding debt around the world and the U.S. central bank on hold perhaps until 2017.

In fact, fear is running so high that BofAML experts think that it’s helping fuel the recent market rally. “Record numbers of investors saying fiscal policy is too restrictive and the first underweighting of equities in four years suggest that fiscal easing could be a tactical catalyst for risk assets going forward,” Michael Hartnett, chief investment strategist, said in a statement. Positioning changed, with a rotation from euro zone, banks and insurance companies shifting to the U.S., industrials, energy, technology and materials stocks. Fund managers believe that so-called helicopter money will become a reality, with 39% now anticipating the move compared to 27% in June.

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“..the total sum of negative-yielding debt in the world has increased in the last sixteen days alone by an amount that’s larger than the entire GDP of Russia.”

The Financial System Is Breaking Down At An Unimaginable Pace (Black)

Now it’s $13 trillion. That’s the total amount of government bonds in the world that have negative yields, according to calculations published last week by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Given that there were almost zero negative-yielding bonds just two years ago, the rise to $13 trillion is incredible. In February 2015, the total amount of negative-yielding debt in the world was ‘only’ $3.6 trillion. A year later in February 2016 it had nearly doubled to $7 trillion. Now, just five months later, it has nearly doubled again to $13 trillion, up from $11.7 trillion just over two weeks ago. Think about that: the total sum of negative-yielding debt in the world has increased in the last sixteen days alone by an amount that’s larger than the entire GDP of Russia.

Just like subprime mortgage bonds from ten years ago, these bonds are also toxic securities, since many of are issued by bankrupt governments (like Japan). Instead of paying subprime home buyers to borrow money, investors are now paying subprime governments. And just like the build-up to the 2008 subprime crisis, investors are snapping up today’s subprime bonds with frightening enthusiasm. We’ll probably see $15 trillion, then $20 trillion, worth of negative-yielding subprime government debt within the next few months. So this trend will continue to grow for now, until, just like in 2008, the bubble bursts in cataclysmic fashion. It took several years for the first subprime bubble to pop. This one may take even longer. But even still, we can already see the consequences today.

A few months ago I told you about the remarkable $3.4 trillion funding gap in the US pension system. Remember, we’re not talking about Social Security– that has its own $40+ trillion shortfall. I’m talking about private companies’ retirement pensions, or public service worker pensions at the city and state level. (By the way, this is NOT strictly a US phenomenon. Europe suffers its own $2 trillion pension shortfall.) There’s zero mathematical probability that these pensions will be able to meet their obligations. They’re already underfunded. And the problem is getting worse, thanks in part to this plague of low and negative interest rates.

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“Regardless of whether the November winner is Hillary or the Donald, there is one thing certain. There will be no functioning government come 2017.”

This ‘Market’ Discounts Nothing Except Monetary Cocaine (Stockman)

[..]..whether the central banks buy public debt from the inventories of the 23 prime dealers and other market speculators or directly from the US treasury makes no technical difference whatsoever. The end state of “something for nothing” finance is the same in both cases. In fact, “helicopter money” is just a desperate scam emanating from the world’s tiny fraternity of central bankers who have walked the financial system to the brink, and are now trying to con the casino into believing they have one more magic rabbit to pull out of the hat. They don’t. That’s because it takes two branches of the state to tango in the game of helicopter money.

The unelected monetary central planners can run the digital printing presses at whim, and continuously “surprise” and gratify the casino gamblers with another unexpected batch of the monetary drugs. That has been exactly the pattern of multiple rounds of QE and the unending invention of excuses to prolong ZIRP into its 90th month. The resulting rises in the stock averages, of course, were the result of fresh liquidity injections and the associated monetary high, not the discounting of new information about economics and profits. By contrast, helicopter money requires the peoples’ elected representatives to play.

That is, the Congress and White House must generate large incremental expansions of the fiscal deficit—so that the central bankers can buy it directly from the US treasury’s shelf, and then credit the government’s Fed accounts with credits conjured from thin air. To be sure, the cynics would say – no problem! When have politicians ever turned down an opportunity to borrow and spend themselves silly, and to than be applauded, not chastised, for the effort? But that assumes we still have a functioning government and that today’s politicians have been 100% cured of their atavistic fears of the public debt. Alas, what is going to cause helicopter money to be a giant dud – at least in the US – is that neither of these conditions are extant.

Regardless of whether the November winner is Hillary or the Donald, there is one thing certain. There will be no functioning government come 2017.

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Rewriting the law to save your banks?

These Sicilian Mortgages Show How Hard It Is to Rescue Italian Banks (BBG)

Down the cobbled streets of Palermo, past baroque churches and gothic palaces, a lesson is lurking for Italy’s government as it hatches a plan to save the country’s banks. Sicily’s biggest city is the focal point of a 2007 securitization of non-performing loans, or NPLs, that shows just how long it can take to resolve soured loans in the country. The deal, known as Island Refinancing, should also act as a warning for investors of the dangers of buying similar securities as Italian banks gear up to sell more of them. The Island bonds are backed by two portfolios of NPLs originated by a Sicilian bank that’s now a subsidiary of UniCredit SpA. Just under half of the loans originated in the 1990s and they include residential mortgages as well as loans financing hotels and industrial buildings.

Unlike other asset-backed securities where interest and principal are paid through cash flows from mortgage or auto credit borrowers, investors in NPL securitizations depend on getting money back from soured loans – typically through the courts. And that’s where the problem lies. A court may auction the loan collateral and use the proceeds to pay the bonds, but that is a slow process. Italy is almost as well known these days for its sluggish and cumbersome insolvency procedures as it is for the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the AC Milan soccer club. Italian bankruptcy proceedings last an average of 7.8 years, compared to an average of just over two years for the rest of Europe.

Efforts are currently being made to speed up the process, with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi saying recent reforms to insolvency laws will shorten recovery times on NPL collateral to as little as six months. Still, the thus-far glacial pace of cash collections from NPLs has resulted in multiple credit ratings downgrades for the Island Refinancing deal, which will expire in 2025.

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The time for trade deals is over.

Deal With Canada On The Brink as German Party Sues EU Over CETA (Exp.)

Centre-left Die Linke has launched legal action to block the controversial Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) pact, saying it is unconstitutional under German law. The party’s attempt to torpedo the hated deal is just the latest in a series of devastating trade blows for the EU, which is unravelling following the Brexit vote. And it reveals once more the cavernous differences opening up between different member states which have effectively rendered the European project unworkable. Earlier this month Canada’s despairing Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland asked: “If the EU cannot do a deal with Canada, I think it is legitimate to say who the heck can it do a deal with?”

But now there is a very real prospect that CETA will be torpedoed before it has even left port in a development which will throw the future of a much bigger deal with America into serious doubt. Negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) have ground to a halt, with impatient American officials warning Brussels to stop dragging their heels. The US chief negotiator said the proposed deal was nowhere near as enticing to Washington now that Britain has left the bloc, comparing a Europe without the UK to an America without California. Britain will not be affected by either calamity after voting to leave the EU, and is now free to begin informal talks on sealing its own trade deals with Canada, the US and the rest of the world.

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Lincoln, too, was a Republican.

The Long, Sad, Corrupted Devolution Of The GOP (Intercept)

In August 1956, the Republican Party gathered in San Francisco to re-nominate President Dwight D. Eisenhower as its candidate in the upcoming presidential election. The party that year adopted a platform that emphasized that the GOP was “proud of and shall continue our far-reaching and sound advances in matters of basic human needs.” This included boasting that Eisenhower had overseen a hike in the federal minimum wage that raised incomes for 2 million Americans while expanding Social Security to 10 million more people and increasing benefits for 6.5 million others.

Today’s Republican Party has made weakening labor unions a priority, but the 1956 platform noted that under Eisenhower, “workers have gained and unions have grown in strength and responsibility, and have increased their membership by 2 millions.” It also touted an increase in federal funding for hospital construction and expanded federal aid for health care for the poor and public housing. The platform also pointed out that Eisenhower had asked for “the largest increase in research funds ever sought in one year” to tackle ailments like cancer and heart disease. Rather than opposing self-governance for Washington, D.C., 1956’s Republicans encouraged it, saying they “favor self-government national suffrage and representation in the Congress of the United States” for those living there.

The platform also asked Congress to submit a constitutional amendment establishing “equal rights for men and women.” The platform boasted proudly of the African-Americans who had been appointed to positions in Eisenhower’s administration, and of ending racial discrimination in federal employment. At no point did the document call for any restrictions on immigration; rather, by contrast, it asked Congress to consider an extension of the 1953 Refugee Act, which brought tens of thousands of war-weary European refugees to American shores. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the face of the Republican Party in the 1950s. He had served as the supreme commander of the Allied forces as they retook Europe from fascist militaries in the decade before.

Experiencing two global wars shaped Eisenhower’s worldview, turning him into an advocate of peace. Eisenhower cut the military budget by 27% following the Korean War, and used his bully pulpit to highlight the trade-offs of military spending. “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,” he said in a 1953 speech. In his farewell address on January 17, 1961, he highlighted the rise of what he called a “military-industrial complex” — a war industry that he cautioned could exert “undue influence” on the government.

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When indeed?

The World Is Taking Revenge Against Elites. When Will America’s Wake Up? (G.)

A snapshot of America in the middle of June 2016. It is several days before the first great shock of the summer, the Brexit vote, and here in America, all is serene. The threat posed by Senator Bernie Sanders has been suppressed. The Republicans have chosen a preposterous windbag to lead them; the consensus is that he will be a pushover. For all the doubts and dissent of the last year, the leadership faction of the country’s professional class seem to have once again come out on top, and they are ready to accept the gratitude of the nation. And so President Barack Obama did an interview with Business Week in which he was congratulated for his stewardship of the economy and asked “what industries” he might choose to join upon his retirement from the White House.

The president replied as follows: “… what I will say is that – just to bring things full circle about innovation – the conversations I have with Silicon Valley and with venture capital pull together my interests in science and organization in a way I find really satisfying.” In relating this anecdote, I am not aiming to infuriate because the man we elected in 2008 to get tough with high finance and shut the revolving door was now talking about taking his own walk through that door and getting a job in finance. No. My object here is to describe the confident, complacent mood of the country’s ruling class in the middle of last month. So let us continue. On the morning after British voters chose to leave the EU, Obama was in California addressing an audience at Stanford University, a school often celebrated these days as the pre-eminent educational institution of Silicon Valley.

The occasion of the president’s remarks was the annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit, and the substance of his speech was the purest globaloney, flavored with a whiff of vintage dotcom ebullience. Obama marveled at the smart young creative people who start tech businesses. He deplored bigotry as an impediment that sometimes keeps these smart creative people from succeeding. He demanded that more power be given to the smart young creatives who are transforming the world. Keywords included “innovation”, “interconnection”, and of course “Zuckerberg”, the Facebook CEO, who has appeared with Obama on so many occasions and whose company is often used as shorthand by Democrats to signify everything that is wonderful about our era.

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“The law was seen as protecting the specialized securities firms from having to compete with large national banks..”

The Secret History of Glass-Steagall (WSJ)

The Republican party platform calls for a revival of the Glass-Steagall Act, a depression-era banking law repealed in 1999. Glass-Steagall was the brainchild of Sen. Carter Glass (D-VA), best known as the principal architect of the Federal Reserve system. It erected a firewall between deposit-taking/loan-making banks and securities activities such as underwriting and trading. Its original goal was to prevent three things: purchasing of risky securities with government-insured deposits, extending bad loans to shaky companies owned by a bank, and pushing underwritten securities onto naïve bank customers. The provision became law when the Banking Act of 1933 was passed within days of President Franklin Roosevelt taking office in March 1933 in an effort to restore public confidence in the banking system.

The same act created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which insures bank deposits, as well as the Federal Open Market Committee, the monetary policy making board of the Federal Reserve. The act also banned banks from paying interest on checking accounts and granted the Fed authority to put ceilings on interest rates offered for other deposits. Far from resisting Glass-Steagall, Wall Street securities firms embraced and became its most vocal supporters. The law was seen as protecting the specialized securities firms from having to compete with large national banks funded by cheap retail and commercial deposits.

The law was strengthened by a 1956 law that put bank holding companies under the purview of the Federal Reserve and made it clear they could not control both a commercial bank and an investment bank. As the years passed, however, the wall separating securities firms and banks developed cracks—primarily because of pressure from banks wanting to expand into securities dealing. Banks won regulatory approval for their affiliates to underwrite government securities, mortgage-backed securities and commercial paper. They were allowed to provide brokerage services to customers and market insurance. Banks began providing advice and assistance on mergers, acquisitions and financial planning. All this occurred without the law being changed.

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The perks of decentralization.

We Need More Borders And More States (Mises Inst.)

In the context of trade and immigration, borders are often discussed as a means of excluding foreign workers and foreign goods. In one way of thinking, borders provide an opportunity for states to exclude private actors such as workers, merchants, and entrepreneurs. On the other hand, borders can also serve a far more endearing function, and this is found in the fact that borders represent the limits of a state’s power. That is, while borders may exclude goods and people, a state’s borders also often exclude other states. For example, East Germany’s border with West Germany represented the limits of the East German police state, beyond which the power of the Stasi to kidnap, torture, and imprison peaceful people was far more limited than it was within its native jurisdiction.

The West German border acted to contain the East German state. Similarly, the borders of Saudi Arabia delineate a limit to the Saudi regime’s ability to behead people for sorcery or for making critical remarks about the blood-soaked dictators known as the House of Saud. Even within a single nation-state, borders can illustrate the benefits of decentralization, as in the case of the Colorado-Nebraska border. On one side of the border (i.e., Nebraska) state police will arrest you and imprison you for possessing marijuana. They may kill you if you resist. On the other side of the border, the state’s constitution prohibits police from prosecuting marijuana users. The Colorado border contains Nebraska’s war on drugs.

Certainly, there are ways for regimes to extend their power even beyond their borders. This can be done by cozying up with the regimes of neighboring countries (or intimidating them), or through the organs of international quasi-state organizations. Or, as in the case of the US and EU, imposing broader policies upon a number of supposedly sovereign states. Nevertheless, thanks to the competitive nature of states, many states will often find it difficult to project their power into neighboring states, and thus borders represent a very-real impediment to a state’s power. This can then open the door to greater freedom, and even save lives as certain states impoverish or make war on their own citizens.

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When this streak is over everyone will think we’re safe.

June 2016 Was 14th Consecutive Month Of Record-Breaking Heat (G.)

As the string of record-breaking global temperatures continues unabated, June 2016 marks the 14th consecutive month of record-breaking heat. According to two US agencies – Nasa and Noaa – June 2016 was 0.9C hotter than the average for the 20th century, and the hottest June in the record which goes back to 1880. It broke the previous record, set in 2015, by 0.02C. The 14-month streak of record-breaking temperatures was the longest in the 137-year record. And it has been 40 years since the world saw a June that was below the 20th century average.

The string of record-breaking monthly temperatures began in April 2015, and was pushed along by a powerful El Niño, where a splurge of warm water spreads across the Pacific Ocean. But the effects of El Niño have receded, and the effects of global warming are clear, said Nasa’s Gavin Schmidt. “While the El Niño event in the tropical Pacific this winter gave a boost to global temperatures from October onwards, it is the underlying trend which is producing these record numbers,” he said.

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“..a Texas-sized chunk of sea ice has disappeared from our planet’s north pole between the early 1980s and today.”

This Year’s Record Arctic Melt Is a Problem For Everybody (Stone)

If your life has felt like a hot mess this year, you’re not alone. Same goes for the Arctic, which month after month has seen its ice cover contract to new lows. By late September, Arctic sea ice may reach its lowest extent since satellite record-keeping began. And that’s got scientists in a tizzy, because if there’s one thing geologic history has taught us, it’s that sudden drops in Arctic ice cover are often the tip of the proverbial iceberg for a whole slew of planetary feedbacks. It’s difficult to keep up with all the climate-related records our world has been smashing, so here’s a quick recap of what’s been happening up north.

At the close of 2015 (currently the hottest year in recorded history, but not for long), the Arctic was already sweating iceberg-shaped bullets, thanks to freakishly warm weather brought on by a combination of a monster El Niño and the underlying global warming trend. Then 2016 burst on the scene, with temperatures at the North Pole rising some fifty degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The Arctic stayed exceptionally hot through January and February. By the time March rolled around, the atmosphere was loaded with heat, and Arctic sea ice was already starting to look thin. NASA confirmed that it was indeed the smallest wintertime Arctic sea ice extent on the record books, peaking at some 5.6 million square miles (14.5 million square km).

Then, the Arctic started to melt. And it kept going, and going, and going, smashing record after record, month after month. As of this writing, we’ve just come off the fifth record-low sea ice month this year. Every month except March has marked an all-time monthly low, with June sea ice maxing out a full 100,000 square miles (260,000 square kilometers) below the previous record low, set in 2010. June sea ice was also 525,000 square miles (1.36 million square km) below the 1981-2010 average. Put another way, a Texas-sized chunk of sea ice has disappeared from our planet’s north pole between the early 1980s and today.

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Jun 082016
 
 June 8, 2016  Posted by at 8:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Washington Monument, view from air 1919


Bank of Japan’s Sovereign Debt Endgame Is The Naked Emperor (FP)
Japan’s Biggest Bank To Quit As JGB Primary Dealer (ZH)
Draghi Fires Starting Gun on Corporate Bond Purchases in Europe (BBG)
Public Support For The EU Plunges Across Europe (R.)
France Shuns Europe As Brexit Revolt Spreads (AEP)
Billions Of Pounds Taken Out Of Britain Amid Fears Of Brexit (Ind.)
China’s Exports Weaken, Signaling More Headwinds For Growth (BBG)
China Central Bank Holds Line On Growth Forecast, Sees More Pain To Come (R.)
US-China Talks Limited by Disagreements (WSJ)
Millions Around The World Are Fleeing Neoliberal Policy (RNN)
Only 10 Countries In The World Are Not At War (Ind.)
Arctic Sea Ice Hit A Stunning New Low In May (WaPo)
Greek Legal Rulings Back 35 Refugees Appealing Deportation (Kath.)
EU Considers Linking African Aid to Curbs on Migrant Flows (WSJ)

“The workability of the institution breaks down when a different set of rules are seen to apply to governments versus those that apply to everyone else.”

Bank of Japan’s Sovereign Debt Endgame Is The Naked Emperor (FP)

Last week, Bloomberg reported in depth on Japan’s miraculous diminishing debt load. Turns out, despite a steady rise in government borrowing, the burden of repayment is diminished because the buyer of 90% of that debt is the Bank of Japan. This has serious implications for Canadian investors, yet the full significance has not yet been thoroughly unpacked by media. My bet is most analysts and economists are aghast at this admission by a G7 government that debt could just be summarily forgiven. It suggests the notion of liability in credit does not apply to government, or its associated (yet private, to varying degree) central banks. But it’s really quite simple. The single most important rule upon which our global debt-driven economic growth equation is dependent is that debt is repaid.

If it isn’t, assets are confiscated. Just like if you don’t keep up with the mortgage payments on your house, you lose it. But what happens when the biggest creditor is also the debtor? The entire debtor/creditor relationship is rendered nonsensical. The size of the debt any one nation can undertake is directly related to its ability to repay any proposed amount over time. Its ability to repay its debt, in turn, is derived from the consensus of markets that demand a higher rate of interest the closer a debtor gets to defaulting. The debt limit is reached when no one will lend, because even at the highest rate of interest, the chance of default is greater. Or when the debtor misses a payment. This works well in a world ostensibly governed by free markets, and when the rules are universally applied. The workability of the institution breaks down when a different set of rules are seen to apply to governments versus those that apply to everyone else.

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BoJ buys everything. Banks have to deal with a monopoly, no profit in that.

Japan’s Biggest Bank To Quit As JGB Primary Dealer (ZH)

Ever since the launch of Japan’s QE, and worsening in the aftermath of January’s shocking NIRP announcement, Japan’s bond market, which moments ago slid to new record lows yields across the curve, has had its share of near-death experiences: between repeated VaR shocks, to days in which not a single bond was traded, to trillions in bonds with negative yields, it has seemed that the Japanese Government Bond is on life support. That support may be ending. According to Nikkei, and confirmed by Bloomberg, Japan’s biggest bank, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, is preparing to quit its role as a primary dealer of Japanese government bonds as negative interest rates turn the instruments into larger risks, a fallout from massive monetary easing measures by the Bank of Japan.

While the role of a Primary Dealer comes with solid perks such as meetings with the Finance Ministry over bond issuance and generally being privy to inside information and effectively free money under POMO, dealers also are required to bid on at least 4% of a planned JGB issuance, which as the Nikkei reports has become an increasingly heavy burden for BTMU. In other words, one of the key links that provides liquidity and lubricates the Japanese government bond market has just decided to exit the market due to, among other thinks, lack of liquidity entirely due to the policy failure of Abenomics in general, and Kuroda’s disastrous monetary policies in particular.

One could, of course, ask just how does BTMU plan on also exiting the Japanese economy itself, if and when the country’s $8 trillion bond market implodes, but we doubt the bank will ever be able to answer that. The ministry is expected to let the bank resign. Japan has 22 primary dealers including megabanks and major brokerages. Several foreign brokerages had pulled out before as part of restructuring efforts at home or for other reasons, but BTMU will be the first Japanese institution to quit. In a revolutionary shift, one created by the Bank of Japan itself, banks, once the biggest buyers of JGBs, see little appeal in sovereign debt today. The bonds have very low yields, and a rise in interest rates could leave banks with vast unrealized losses.

Private-sector banks held just over 229 trillion yen ($2.13 trillion) in JGBs at the end of 2015, nearly 30% less than at the end of March 2013, before the BOJ launched massive quantitative and qualitative easing measures. Negative rates introduced this year by the BOJ reinforced the trend. The highest bid yield on benchmark 10-year JGBs sank to a record low of negative 0.092% on Thursday. BTMU was the fifth-largest buyer of Japanese government bonds among the 22 primary dealers until spring 2015, but ranked 10th or lower between October 2015 and March 2016 as shareholders turned up their nose on government debt.

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One day we’ll understand just how insane this is. One massive debt orgasm.

Draghi Fires Starting Gun on Corporate Bond Purchases in Europe (BBG)

Investors will be watching Mario Draghi’s first corporate bond purchases on Wednesday for an indication of whether they were right to snap up the notes before the ECB. The ECB is adding investment-grade corporate notes to its €80 billion monthly purchase program, which already includes covered bonds, asset-backed securities and government debt, as part of efforts to encourage growth. The challenge will be buying enough bonds in increasingly illiquid markets, investors and analysts say. “There is a fair amount riding on this in terms of the ECB’s credibility,” said Victoria Whitehead at BNP Paribas Investment Partners. “The perception is that if they can’t buy at least €5 billion of bonds a month, the program will be seen as unsuccessful.” Investors have piled into investment-grade corporate bonds on the promise of central bank purchases, driving up prices and cutting borrowing costs.

The average yield for euro notes tumbled to 1.002% on Monday, the lowest in more than a year, according to BofAML index data. Companies responded to the surge in demand by selling more than €50 billion of bonds in the single currency in May, the second-busiest month on record. While purchases of more than €5 billion of bonds may boost the market, investors may be disappointed if the ECB bought less than €3 billion a month, CreditSights analysts wrote in a June 5 report. Commerzbank and Morgan Stanley don’t expect the monthly purchases to surpass €5 billion. “We’re worried that they won’t be able to buy quite as much as they want to,” said Tim Winstone at Henderson Global Investors. “If the buying underwhelms and reported volumes are less than most people expect, there is a risk of a selloff.”

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Dissolve the monster peacefully while you still can. Or else.

Public Support For The EU Plunges Across Europe (R.)

Public support for the European Union has fallen sharply in its biggest member states over the past year, a survey showed on Tuesday, weeks before Britons vote on whether to leave the 28-nation bloc. The survey of 10 large EU states by the Washington-based Pew Research Center showed strong support for Britain to stay in the EU, with 89% of Swedes, 75% of Dutch and 74% of Germans viewing a so-called Brexit as a bad thing. But most striking was a plunge in the percentage of Europeans who view the EU favorably, a development which appears linked to the bloc’s handling of the refugee crisis and the economy. The fall was most pronounced in France, where only 38% of respondents said they had a favorable view of the EU, down 17 points from last year.

Favorability ratings also fell by 16 points in Spain to 47%, by eight points in Germany to 50%, and by seven points in Britain to 44%. Public support for the EU was strongest in Poland and Hungary, countries which ironically have two of the most EU-sceptical governments in the entire bloc. The Pew survey showed that 72% of Poles and 61% of Hungarians view the EU favorably. “The British are not the only ones with doubts about the European Union,” Pew said. “Much of the disaffection with the EU among Europeans can be attributed to Brussels’ handling of the refugee issue. In every country surveyed, overwhelming majorities disapprove of how Brussels has dealt with the problem.”

This was especially true in Greece, which has been overwhelmed by migrants crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey. Some 94% of Greeks believe the EU has mishandled the refugee crisis. In Sweden it was 88%, in Italy 77% and in Spain 75%. At 92%, Greeks were also the most disapproving of the EU’s handling of the economy, followed by the Italians at 68% and French at 66%. Roughly two-thirds of Greeks and Britons said powers should be returned to national governments from Brussels, far higher than in the other surveyed countries.

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Close to what I’ve written before: “They may have to dissolve the EU as it is and try to reinvent it, both in order to bring the Brits back and because they fear that the whole political order will be swept away unless they do..”

France Shuns Europe As Brexit Revolt Spreads (AEP)

France has turned even more viscerally eurosceptic than Britain over recent months, profoundly altering the political geography of Europe and making it impossible to judge how Paris might respond to Brexit. An intractable economic crisis has been eating away at the legitimacy of the French governing elites for much of this decade. This has now combined with a collapse in the credibility of the government, and mounting anger over immigration. A pan-European survey by the Pew Research Center released today found that 61pc of French voters have an “unfavourable” view, compared to 48pc in the UK. A clear majority is opposed to “ever closer union” and wants powers returned to the French parliament, a finding that sits badly with the insistence by President Francois Hollande that “more Europe” is the answer to the EU’s woes.

“It is a protest against the elites,” said Professor Brigitte Granville, a French economist at Queen Mary University of London. “There are 5000 people in charge of everything in France. They are all linked by school and marriage, and they are tight.” Prof Granville said the mechanisms of monetary union have upset the Franco-German strategic marriage, wounding the French psyche. “The EU was sold to the French people as a `partnership’ of equals with Germany. But it has been very clear since 2010 that this is not the case. Everybody could see that Germany decided everything in Greece,” she said. The death of the Monnet dream in the EU’s anchor state poses an existential threat to the European project and is running in parallel to what is happening in Britain.

The Front National’s Marine Le Pen is leading the polls for the presidential elections in 2017 with vows to restore the French franc and smash the EU edifice. While it has long been assumed that she could never win an outright majority, nobody is quite so sure after the anti-incumbent upset in Austria last month. “The Front National is making hay from the Brexit debate,” said Giles Merritt, head of the Friends of Europe think tank in Brussels. “The EU policy elites are in panic. If the British vote to leave the shock will be so ghastly that they will finally wake up and realize that they can no longer ignore demands for democratic reform,” he said.

“They may have to dissolve the EU as it is and try to reinvent it, both in order to bring the Brits back and because they fear that the whole political order will be swept away unless they do,” he said. Mr Merritt said it is an error to suppose that the EU would carry on as a monolithic bloc able to dictate terms after a Brexit vote. “The British would have pricked the bubble. The Germans are deeply alarmed at how suddenly the mood is shifting everywhere,” he said.

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It’s going to be so much fun, the next two weeks. Can the footballers save England at the Euro Cup?

Billions Of Pounds Taken Out Of Britain Amid Fears Of Brexit (Ind.)

Investors are moving billions of pounds in assets out of British currency and assets ahead of the EU referendum, new figures suggest. An analysis by Sky News found £65bn left the UK or was converted into other currencies in March and April, the largest amount since the economic crash. In the six months to the end of April, £77bn was pulled out of British pounds, compared to just £2bn in the six months to the end of last October. The figures, published by the Bank of England, are consistent with investors worrying that the pound is due for a sharp fall should Brexit to occur. Because financial markets are prone to collective panic, investors’ views are the main factor in determining whether the pound will actually fall. Any perception that a fall was about to take place could end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In February, HSBC warned that 20% could be wiped off the value of sterling were Britain to leave the EU. In May this figure was corroborated by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research. The pound plunged to a three-week low yesterday, probably partly in response to polls showing the Leave campaigning ahead. It hit a seven-year low against the dollar the day after the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, announced he was backing Brexit, and also suffered the biggest one-day fall since David Cameron become Prime Minister. The collapse of the pound at the end of June would mean Britons going abroad during the summer would have their spending power reduced. Imported goods such as electronics would also likely become significantly more expensive.

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That is one damning graph. Where would China’s imports be without the fake invoices?

China’s Exports Weaken, Signaling More Headwinds For Growth (BBG)

China’s exports stabilized in May, with a weakening currency giving some support to growth in the world’s biggest trading nation. Overseas shipments fell 4.1% in dollar terms from a year earlier, the customs administration said Wednesday. Imports slipped 0.4% – the smallest drop since late 2014 – to leave a trade surplus of $50 billion. Reflecting a weaker currency, both exports and imports fared better when measured in local currency terms. The Shanghai Composite Index pared losses and the Australian dollar rallied. “The worst time for Chinese exports has passed,” said Harrison Hu at Royal Bank of Scotland in Singapore, adding that the dollar-denominated export growth is slightly misleading due to the price changes.

“The quantity of exports actually showed a subdued increase. The yuan also depreciated against a basket of currencies, which supports exports.” Still, that support remains restrained. The World Bank on Tuesday cut its global growth estimate to 2.4% for this year, which would be the same as 2015, from the 2.9% projected in January. Ma Jun, chief economist of the People’s Bank of China’s research bureau, lowered his forecast for China’s exports this year to a 1% decline, versus a 3.1% increase seen previously, according to a work paper published Wednesday. “The weakening momentum of global growth is our main reason to lower the forecast,” he wrote. “A 10-percentage point decline in exports can drag GDP growth down by about 1%.”

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“China’s trade shrank 8% last year, compared with the government’s goal for 6% growth..”

China Central Bank Holds Line On Growth Forecast, Sees More Pain To Come (R.)

China’s central bank slashed its forecast for exports on Wednesday, predicting a second straight annual fall in shipments, but said the economy will still grow 6.8% this year. The People’s Bank of China also warned in its mid-year work report that the government’s push to reduce debt levels and overcapacity could increase bond default risks and make it more difficult for companies to raise funds. And ahead of a meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s policymaking board next week, it said the pace of U.S interest rate rises would affect global capital flows and emerging market currencies, but it did not mention the yuan. “Since the beginning of this year, the global and domestic economic environment has experienced a number of changes,” the PBOC said in the report.

“Reflecting these recent developments, we revised our China macroeconomic forecasts for 2016. Compared with our published forecasts in December last year, we maintain our baseline projection of 2016 real GDP growth at 6.8%.” The report was released shortly after monthly data showed China’s exports fell an annual 4.1% in May, more than expected and the 10th decline in the past 12 months. Imports were more encouraging, however, declining only marginally and much less than expected, pointing to improving domestic demand and adding to views that the economy may be slowly stabilizing. Preliminary commodity trade data showed sharp rises in imports of copper and iron ores.

[..] Despite cutting its forecast for exports to minus 1% from growth of 3.1%, the PBOC saw a domestic recovery remaining on track. It upgraded its forecast for fixed-asset investment growth to 11%, an increase of 0.2 percentage points from estimates it made late last year. A government spending spree on major infrastructure projects and a continuing recovery in the housing market have boosted demand for materials from cement to steel. China’s trade shrank 8% last year, compared with the government’s goal for 6% growth , in the worst performance since the global financial crisis.

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And those are here to stay. Sharply conflicting interests.

US-China Talks Limited by Disagreements (WSJ)

The U.S. and China made little progress on a series of disagreements during two days of high-level economic and security talks, as both countries prepare for leadership change and further economic uncertainty. Statements by officials from both sides on Tuesday suggested mostly incremental results from the dialogue. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said Chinese officials reaffirmed a commitment not to devalue an already weakening yuan for competitive purposes and pledged not to “target” an expansion of the steel industry, whose surging production he previously called market-distorting. Beijing widened access to its tightly regulated financial markets, offering U.S. investors a quota of 250 billion yuan ($38.1 billion) to buy Chinese stocks and bonds.

The two governments agreed to designate clearing banks in the U.S. for settling yuan transactions, a move that would promote greater use of the Chinese currency. Mr. Lew said it was too early to say which U.S. financial institution might be chosen but said the U.S. will have the second-largest quota after Hong Kong. On the more contentious issues in the relationship, the senior officials appeared to restate positions and, in some cases, outright disagree. A new Chinese law that grants police the authority to monitor foreign nonprofits provoked sharp differences. This year’s meeting of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue is the last for the Obama administration, with the U.S. presidential election approaching. China soon will face its own important leadership transition.

In 2017, five of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top decision-making body, are due to step down. The timing of the meetings, combined with tensions over the South China Sea—where the U.S. is challenging Beijing’s assertion of sovereignty over islands, reefs and surrounding waters claimed by other countries—limited prospects for breakthroughs on issues such as trade and investment barriers and China’s currency policy.

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TEXT

Millions Around The World Are Fleeing Neoliberal Policy (RNN)

What it tells is almost identical to what has already been narrated for Russia and Greece. And what’s responsible for the increasing death rates is actually neoliberal economic policy, neoliberal trade policy, and the polarization and impoverishment of a large part of society. After the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, death rates soared, lifespans shortened, health standards decreased all throughout the Yeltsin administration, until finally President Putin came in and stabilized matters. Putin said that the destruction caused by neoliberal economic policies had killed more Russians than all of whom died in World War II, the 22 million people. That’s the devastation that polarization caused there.

Same thing in Greece. In the last five years, Greek lifespans have shortened. They’re getting sicker, they’re dying faster, they’re not healthy. Almost all of the British economists of the late 18th century said when you have poverty, when you have a transfer of wealth to the rich, you’re going to have shorter lifespans, and you’re also going to have immigration. The countries that have a hard money policy, a creditor policy, people are going to emigrate. Now, at that time that was why England was gaining immigrants. It was gaining skilled labor. It was gaining people to work in its industry because other countries were still in the post-feudal system and were driving them out. Russia had a huge emigration of skilled labor, largely to Germany and to the United States, especially in information technology. Greece has a heavy outflow of labor.

The Baltic states have had almost a 10% decline in their population in the last decade as a result of their neoliberal policies. Also, health problems are rising. Now, the question is, in America, now that you’re having as a result of this polarization shorter lifespans, worse health, worse diets, where are the Americans going to emigrate’ Nobody can figure that one out yet. There’s no, seems nowhere for them to go, because they don’t speak a foreign language. The Russians, the Greeks, most Europeans all somehow have to learn English in school. They’re able to get by in other countries. They’re not sure where on earth can the Americans come from’ Nobody can really figure this out.

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Curious ‘thingy’ from the Independent: somewhere in the article it says Iceland is the world’s most peaceful country, even though it’s not in that list of 10.

Only 10 Countries In The World Are Not At War (Ind.)

The world is becoming a more dangerous place and there are now just 10 countries which can be considered completely free from conflict, according to authors of the 10th annual Global Peace Index. The worsening conflict in the Middle East, the lack of a solution to the refugee crisis and an increase in deaths from major terrorist incidents have all contributed to the world being less peaceful in 2016 than it was in 2015. And there are now fewer countries in the world which can be considered truly at peace – in other words, not engaged in any conflicts either internally or externally – than there were in 2014. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, a think-tank which has produced the index for the past 10 years, only Botswana, Chile, Costa Rica, Japan, Mauritius, Panama, Qatar, Switzerland, Uruguay, and Vietnam are free from conflict.

Brazil is the country that has dropped out of the list, and as one of the worst performing countries year-on-year represents a serious concern ahead of the Rio Olympics, the IEP’s founder Steve Killelea told The Independent. But perhaps the most remarkable result from this year’s peace index, he said, was the extent to which the situation in the Middle East drags down the rest of the world when it comes to peacefulness. “If we look at the world overall, it has become slightly less peaceful in the last 12 months,” Mr Killelea said. “But if we took the Middle East out of the index over the last decade – and last year – the world would have become more peaceful,” he said. “It really highlights the impact the Middle East is having on the world.”

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Man was here.

Arctic Sea Ice Hit A Stunning New Low In May (WaPo)

The 2016 race downward in Arctic sea ice continued in May with a dramatic new record. The average area of sea ice atop the Arctic Ocean last month was just 12 million square kilometers (4.63 million square miles), according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). That beats the prior May record (from 2004) by more than half a million square kilometers, and is well over a million square kilometers, or 500,000 square miles, below the average for the month. Another way to put it is this: The Arctic Ocean this May had more than three Californias less sea ice cover than it did during an average May between 1981 and 2010. And it broke the prior record low for May by a region larger than California, although not quite as large as Texas.

This matters because 2016 could be marching toward a new record for the lowest amount of ice ever observed on top of the world at the height of melt season — September. The previous record September low was set in 2012. But here’s what the National Snow and Ice Data Center has to say about that: Daily extents in May were also two to four weeks ahead of levels seen in 2012, which had the lowest September extent in the satellite record. The monthly average extent for May 2016 is more than one million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) below that observed in May 2012. In other words, for Arctic sea ice, May 2016 was more like June 2012 — the record-breaking year. Going into the truly warm months of the year, then, the ice is in a uniquely weak state.

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The whole thing is turning into such a mess you would think this is happening on purpose.

Greek Legal Rulings Back 35 Refugees Appealing Deportation (Kath.)

Fears are rising about the possible breakdown of a deal between the European Union and Turkey for the return of migrants after legal committees in Greece upheld dozens of appeals by refugees against their deportation. By late Monday, Greek appeals committees had ruled in favor of 35 refugees, ruling that Turkey is “an unsafe country.” Only two rulings overturned appeals by refugees against their deportation. On Tuesday a crowd of refugees blocked the container terminal at the port of Thessaoniki to protest the slow pace at which asylum applications are being processed. Hundreds of applications are pending and there are fears that they too will result in rulings in favor of refugees, undercutting a deal signed between Ankara and Brussels in March to return migrants to Turkey.

Meanwhile there are also concerns about a pickup in arrivals from neighboring Turkey. For several weeks, a crackdown by Turkish authorities on smugglers had all but stopped the migrant influx. Now that ties between Turkey and the EU are strained over the former’s refusal to reform terrorism laws and its insistence that Turks be granted visa-free access to the bloc, more migrants have started arriving in Greece from Turkey. The total number of refugees in Greece is 57,458, according to government figures made public on Tuesday. The figure includes 5,700 people in rented accommodation arranged by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR. The remainder of the migrants are living in makeshift camps or state-run facilities on the Aegean islands or mainland Greece.

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When in a hole, keep digging. One deal with a madman is not enough.

EU Considers Linking African Aid to Curbs on Migrant Flows (WSJ)

The European Union’s executive body on Tuesday presented plans linking trade and investment perks for African countries to their efforts in reducing migration to Europe, a controversial idea that still needs the backing of EU governments. While the bloc has managed to stem the influx of Syrian refugees and other migrants after striking a deal with Turkey in March, an increasing number of mostly African migrants are attempting to make the perilous journey via Libya across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy. Nearly 50,000 people were rescued and brought to Italy this year and over 2,000 are feared dead after several boats capsized off the Libyan coast, according the United Nations’ refugee agency.

“We must do in the southern Mediterranean what we’ve done in the Aegean,” European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said Tuesday in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Under the proposed measures from the European Commission, which still need the approval of EU governments and the European Parliament, EU development funding and trade incentives would be linked to the countries’ level of cooperation on migration. “We propose a mix of positive and negative incentives, to reward those countries willing to cooperate effectively with us and to ensure there are consequences for those who do not. This includes using our development and trade policies to create leverage,” Mr. Timmermans said.

EU diplomats in Brussels expect “quite heated discussions” on the idea of linking development aid and trade policies to cooperation on migration, as governments have different views on whether it is ethical to make aid conditional on countries taking people back or preventing them from leaving. EU interior ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Friday will have a first exchange of views on the topic.

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May 112016
 
 May 11, 2016  Posted by at 7:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Jack Delano Engineer at AT&SF railroad yard, Clovis, NM 1943


‘Miracle’ Needed To Save The World, Because Central Banks Can’t (SMH)
“Anonymous Voice” Signals Big Policy Change In China (ZH)
The Triggers For A New Financial Crisis (Das)
US: Neglected Nation (FT)
Big Oil Abandons $2.5 Billion in US Arctic Drilling Rights (BBG)
Germany Posts Record Current-Account Surplus (BBG)
Germany is the Eurozone’s Biggest Problem (Wolf)
London Is Building More Offices Than Ever (BBG)
NATO Is Much Worse Than A Cold War Relic (FFF.Org)
Greece Faces Its Toughest Austerity Measures Yet (G.)

Make it easier to pay off debt and we’ll all go deeper into debt.

‘Miracle’ Needed To Save The World, Because Central Banks Can’t (SMH)

The Bank of Japan and the ECB are printing billions in a “useless” attempt at stimulating demand as a “crisis of confidence” erupts over central banks and their diminishing influence. And for the same reason, the Reserve Bank of Australia may find itself powerless in trying to defeat low inflation by cutting interest rates to fresh record lows. That is the view of Vimal Gor, who is head of income and fixed interest at BT Investment Management. Mr Gor is the latest expert to question the wisdom of RBA rate cuts. “The theory says yes, but in practice it’s unclear as RBA monetary policy has no influence over commodity prices or overcapacity in Chinese and Japanese markets. This takes us back to the question of central bank credibility in being able to deliver on their objectives,” he said.

“Take negative rates any further and central banks risk putting the financial system at risk.” Inflation expectations implied by long-dated inflation swaps suggest markets are not convinced that central banks can lift prices through easy policy settings. “It is clear markets are giving up on central banks to fulfil their mandate in the inflation fighting arena.” Helicopter money, which Mr Gor agrees is a “ridiculous” idea, might be tested, but there is another idea worth exploring. “The other option is to abandon the inflation targeting mantra which has been pervasive over the last 25 years,” he says. Instead, central banks could come up with “a per capita measure of economic activity”. This would limit the pressure to keep lowering interest rates.

“The reality remains that the world is overwhelmed with debt, so that would suggest that we would need to have low rates to make repayment easier, and to discourage saving. “Ironically low rates spur further adoption of debt because of asset prices that are shooting skywards, and actually encourage more saving because income levels from the existing savings pile are too small to live on.”

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Xi doesn’t have the guts to come out and say it.

“Anonymous Voice” Signals Big Policy Change In China (ZH)

Overnight the People’s Daily published an interview with “anonymous authorities” on the topic of China’s economy. It’s a very important article as the “anonymous authorities” is considered to be Mr. Liu He, who is the economy brain of President Xi Jinping. The interview sends strong signals that China policy will shift from its aggressive easing in Q1 to a conservative position which focus on structural reforms. People’s Daily also published the “anonymous authorities” interviews in May 2015 and Jan 2016, which led to the subsequent collapse in the China A share market, because Mr. Liu (and President Xi’s camp) has been promoting structure reforms and risk controls.

For a credit driven China economy and the associated highly leveraged equities/commodities/properties markets, these’re the bad news. The A share market and China domestic commodities market had a big fall last night. Many overseas investors may think last night’s chaos is driven by the weak April import/export data announced during the weekend. I can tell you that it’s not. The local Chinese take the “anonymous authorities” article seriously and his opinion will have much deeper impact for China in the coming quarters. In general, the interview denied the “demand driven” stimulus policy adopted by China in Q1. Like other governments in the world, the CCP party and Chinese government have different sub-parties internally holding different views of the economy.

They believe their own claims are the best for China and advocate their ideas when the reality cling to them. For example, when the economy is really bad, the pro-growth camp will have upper hands and is able to push for their demand driven policies. That’s why we see China swings between structural reform and demand stimulus in the last two years. China pumped $1tn credit in Q1 to stop the falling knife, and this really cross the line of structural reform camp, so that’s why we see the article comes out right now. As the Politburo economy meeting just finished in the end of April, I believe the article delivers the consensus message agreed in the meeting.

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One overriding trigger: debt.

The Triggers For A New Financial Crisis (Das)

There are a number of potential triggers to a new crisis. The first potential trigger may be equity prices. The US stock market runs into trouble. A stronger dollar affects US exports and foreign earnings. Emerging market weakness affects businesses in the technology, aerospace, automobile, consumer products and luxury product industries. Currency devaluations combined with excess capacity, driven by debt fuelled over-investment in China, maintain deflationary pressures reducing pricing power. Lower oil prices reduce earnings, cash flow and asset values of energy producers. Overinflated technology and bio-tech stocks disappoint. Earnings and liquidity pressures reduce merger activity and stock buybacks which have supported equity values. US equity weakness flows into global equity markets.

The second potential trigger may be debt markets. Heavily indebted energy companies and emerging market borrowers face increased risk of financial distress. According to the Bank of International Settlements, total borrowing by the global oil and gas industry reached US$2.5 trillion in 2014, up 250% from US$1 trillion in 2008. The initial stress will be focused in the US shale oil and gas industry which is highly levered with borrowings that are over three times gross operating profits. Many firms were cash flow negative even when prices were high, needing to constantly raise capital to sink new wells to maintain production. If the firms have difficulty meeting existing commitments, then decreased available funding and higher costs will create a toxic negative spiral.

A number of large emerging market borrowers, such as Brazil’s Petrobras, Mexico’s Pemex and Russia’s Gazprom and Rosneft, are also vulnerable. These companies increased leverage in recent years, in part due to low interest rates to finance significant operational expansion on the assumption of high oil prices. These borrowers have, in recent years, used capital markets rather than bank loans to raise funds, cashing in on demand from yield hungry investors. Since 2009, Petrobras, Pemex and Gazprom (along with its eponymous bank) have issued US$140 billion in debt. Petrobras alone has US$170 billion in outstanding debt. Russian companies such as Gazprom, Rosneft and major banks have sold US$244 billion of bonds. The risk of contagion is high as institutional and retail bond investors worldwide are exposed.

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A nation on its way to becoming a sinkhole.

US: Neglected Nation (FT)

The American Society of Civil Engineers yesterday projected a $1.44tn investment funding gap between 2016 and 2025, warning of a mounting drag on business activity, exports and incomes. Politicians are demanding action. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, has called for a $275bn spending blitz, including the creation of an infrastructure bank, recalling past glories such as the interstate highway system and Hoover Dam. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is bucking anti-spending dogma within the party by promising major programmes to renew infrastructure and create jobs — albeit without putting forward any detail on how to pay for them.

Without radical surgery, the decay in tunnels, railways and waterways will cost the US economy nearly $4tn in lost GDP by 2025 as costs rise and productivity is impeded, according to estimates from the ASCE, dragging on a recovery in output that is the shallowest since the end of the second world war. Faced with crimped public resources, President Barack Obama’s administration and some states have tried to fill infrastructure gaps by luring in private investment, including from public-private partnerships or P3s. A number of states and municipalities have lifted petrol taxes to pay for roads and bridges, even as the federal petrol tax that serves as the backbone of transport spending nationwide has remained frozen since 1993. Many argue that the recent fall in oil prices presented the perfect moment to raise petrol taxes.

Even in the heart of Washington, Memorial Bridge, a symbolic link between the north and the south of the US, might have to be closed to traffic early in the next decade if major repairs are not carried out. Around the country more than 61,000 bridges were deemed structurally deficient in 2014. Last year US public capital investment, which includes infrastructure, was just 3.4% of GDP, or $611bn, according to the president’s Council of Economic Advisers — the lowest in more than 60 years. In the White House, the inability to do more to improve roads, bridges and other infrastructure is seen as one of the major policy failures since the crisis. Mr Obama last month bemoaned the absence of a major infrastructure programme from 2012 to 2014, when borrowing costs were low and the construction industry was short of jobs.

The administration included so-called shovel-ready infrastructure projects in its $800bn stimulus bill after Mr Obama took office, but the spending fell short of what was needed for repairs and to galvanise the economy. Critics see it as a squandered opportunity. However, Jason Furman, chairman of the council, says Mr Obama made repeated attempts to get more money into infrastructure and was rebuffed. “Congress has been unwilling to substantially expand infrastructure investment — it is as simple as that,” he says.

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Price discovery.

Big Oil Abandons $2.5 Billion in US Arctic Drilling Rights (BBG)

After plunking down more than $2.5 billion for drilling rights in U.S. Arctic waters, Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and other companies have quietly relinquished claims they once hoped would net the next big oil discovery. The pullout comes as crude oil prices have plummeted to less than half their June 2014 levels, forcing oil companies to cut spending. For Shell and ConocoPhillips, the decision to abandon Arctic acreage was formalized just before a May 1 due date to pay the U.S. government millions of dollars in rent to keep holdings in the Chukchi Sea north of Alaska. The U.S. Arctic is estimated to hold 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, but energy companies have struggled to tap resources buried below icy waters at the top of the globe.

Shell last year ended a nearly $8 billion, mishap-marred quest for Arctic crude after disappointing results from a test well in the Chukchi Sea. Shell decided the risk is not worth it for now, and other companies have likely come to the same conclusion, said Peter Kiernan, the lead energy analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit. “Arctic exploration has been put back several years, given the low oil price environment, the significant cost involved in exploration and the environmental risks that it entails,” he said. All told, companies have relinquished 2.2 million acres of drilling rights in the Chukchi Sea – nearly 80% of the leases they bought from the U.S. government in a 2008 auction. Oil companies spent more than $2.6 billion snapping up 2.8 million acres in the Chukchi Sea during that sale, on top of previous purchases in the Beaufort Sea.

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Bloomberg relates this to the US, but that’s not the point. It’s what the surplus does to the rest of the EU that counts.

Germany Posts Record Current-Account Surplus (BBG)

Germany posted a record current-account surplus just days after being placed on a U.S. watchlist for countries that may have an unfair foreign-exchange advantage. The current-account gap climbed to €30.4 billion in March, up from €21.1 billion the previous month, data from the Federal Statistics Office showed on Tuesday. The nation’s trade surplus, a narrower measure that only counts imports and exports of goods and services, widened to €26 billion, also a record. The U.S. put Germany, China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan on a new currency watchlist on April 29, saying their foreign-exchange practices bear close monitoring to gauge whether they provide an unfair trade advantage over America. The 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 and seek potential penalties, including being cut off from some U.S. development financing and exclusion from U.S. government contracts. While Germany has no direct influence over the value of its currency, being just one member of the 19-nation euro area, it was cited because of its current-account and trade surpluses. Taiwan made the list because of its current-account surplus and persistent intervention to weaken the currency, according to the Treasury. Germany’s excess savings could be used to boost growth in the euro area, the Treasury said at the time. A report by the IMF on Monday said the current-account surplus will probably stay near record levels this year.

The euro weakened by more than 10% against the dollar in each of 2014 and 2015, though it has strengthened this year. The single currency traded at $1.1383 at 9:04 a.m. Frankfurt time. It was at almost $1.40 in mid-2014, before the European Central Bank started an unprecedented monetary-stimulus drive that includes negative interest rates and bond purchases.

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Germany and Holland prey on Europe’s poor.

Germany is the Eurozone’s Biggest Problem (Wolf)

Why is conventional German thinking on macroeconomics so peculiar? And does it matter? The answer to the second question is that it matters a great deal. A part of the answer to the first is that Germany is a creditor. The financial crisis has given it a dominant voice in eurozone affairs. This is a matter of might, not right. Creditors’ interests are important. But they are partial, not general, interests. Recent complaints have focused on the European Central Bank’s monetary policies, especially negative interest rates and quantitative easing. Wolfgang Schauble, Germany’s finance minister, even claimed that the ECB bore half of the responsibility for the rise of the Alternative for Germany, an anti-euro party. This is an extraordinary attack.

Criticism of ECB policies is wide-ranging: they make it unnecessary for recalcitrant members to reform; they have failed to reduce indebtedness; they undermine the solvency of insurance companies, pension funds and savings banks; they have barely kept inflation above zero; and they foment anger with the European project. In brief, ECB policy has become a big threat to stability. All this accords with a conventional German view. As Peter Bofinger, an heretical member of Germany’s council of economic experts argues, the tradition goes back to Walter Eucken, the influential father of postwar ordoliberalism. In this approach, ideal macroeconomics has three elements: a balanced budget at (almost) all times; price stability (with an asymmetric preference for deflation); and price flexibility.

This is a reasonable approach for a small, open economy. It is workable for a larger country, such as Germany, with highly competitive tradeable industries. But it cannot be generalised to a continental economy, such as the eurozone. What works for Germany cannot work for an economy three times as large and far more closed to external trade. Note that in the last quarter of 2015, real demand in the eurozone was 2% lower than in the first quarter of 2008, while US demand was 10% higher. This severe weakness in demand is missing from most of the German complaints. The ECB is rightly trying to prevent a spiral into deflation in an economy suffering from chronically weak demand. As Mario Draghi, ECB president, insists, the low interest rates set by the bank are not the problem. They are instead “the symptom” of insufficient investment demand.

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Following the MO of China’s ghost cities.

London Is Building More Offices Than Ever (BBG)

Developers started a record number of central-London office projects in the six months through March as they tried to capitalize on rising rents. Construction work began on 51 office buildings during the period, Deloitte LLP said in a report on Tuesday. About 14 million square feet (1.3 million square meters) of space is now under construction, 28% more than the previous six months and the highest since March 2008, according to the report. “In just 18 months, we have seen activity nearly double,” Deloitte said in the report, which it started publishing in 1996. “This is perhaps the first survey in a long time where we are able to point to the pendulum swinging away from landlords and back toward tenants.”

About 42% of the space under construction has already been leased and vacancy rates remain at a record low of less than 4%, Deloitte said. The “tight market conditions” are likely to continue for a few more years, according to Tim Leckie at JP Morgan. “There is a risk of the cycle turning first in the City from 2018 as new supply comes online,” he said in an e-mail.

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It’s war machine.

NATO Is Much Worse Than A Cold War Relic (FFF.Org)

Whatever else might be said about Donald Trump, the fact is that he has provided a valuable service in producing a national and international discussion of NATO, the old Cold War organization whose mission was to protect Western Europe from an attack from the Soviet Union, which had been America’s partner and ally during World War II. The obvious question arises: Given that NATO was a Cold War institution, why didn’t it go out of existence when the Cold War ended, as its counterpart, the Warsaw Pact, did? Indeed, let’s not forget that that’s precisely what U.S. officials assured Soviet officials would happen as the Cold War was ending. Shut down the Warsaw Pact and we’ll shut down NATO. But U.S. officials double-crossed the Russians. Even though the Warsaw Pact, which consisted of the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, dismantled, NATO didn’t.

[Recently], the New York Times said reminded readers that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates had expressed a concern back in 2011 that young Americans would have no memory of the Cold War and would consider NATO to be just an artifact. If only NATO was only an artifact, one in which people just sat around collecting tax-funded paychecks. Instead, after double-crossing the Russians, it continued operating as if the Cold War had never ended, moving ever close to Russia’s border by absorbing former members of the Warsaw Pact. When NATO forces ultimately reached Ukraine, which is on Russia’s border, how could anyone be surprised over Russia’s reaction? The U.S. would have reacted the same way. In fact, it did in 1961, when the Soviets installed defensive missiles in Cuba.

There is no way U.S. national-security state officials could have been shocked over Russia’s reaction to NATO’s plan to absorb Ukraine. U.S. officials had to know from the get-go that Russia would never permit NATO to take control over its longtime military base in Crimea, which is precisely what would have happened if NATO had absorbed Ukraine. The same New York Times article quotes Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, former supreme allied commander for Europe: “The United States absolutely needs NATO — a NATO that is strong, resilient and united.” According to the article, “Five members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made a similar set of arguments at the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday, also avoiding any mention of Mr. Trump’s name.”

Well, duh! Of course, they favor NATO! What better way to ignite more crises and more Cold War than with NATO? After all, what if Americans demand that U.S. troops come home from the Middle East, thereby eliminating any more threat of anti-American terrorism? What better new official enemy than the old Cold War official enemy, Russia? What better way to keep the entire national-security establishment in high cotton with ever-increasing budgets? The Times article also expressed the concern among many that Trump intends to establish good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Heaven forbid! Why, that’s heresy to any advocate of the national-security state! Everyone knows that Putin is a former KGB official. Everyone knows that the KGB was composed of communists. Everyone knows that a communist can never be trusted. The war on communism is on, once again.

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Allegedly to make sure the country can rebuild its economy. But there’s nothing left to rebuild with.

Greece Faces Its Toughest Austerity Measures Yet (G.)

In his tiny shop in downtown Athens, Kostis Nakos sits behind a wooden counter hunched over his German calculator. The 71-year-old might have retired had he been able to make ends meets but that is now simply impossible. “All day I’ve been sitting here doing the maths,” he sighs, surrounded by the undergarments and socks he has sold for the past four decades. “My income tax has just gone up to 29%, my social security payments have gone up 20%, my pension has been cut by 50 euros; they are taxing coffee, fuel, the internet, tavernas, ferries, everything they can, and then there’s Enfia [the country’s much-loathed property levy]. Now that makes me mad. They said they would take that away!” A mild man in milder times, Nakos finds himself becoming increasingly angry.

So, too, do the vast majority of Greeks who walked through his door on Monday. “Everyone’s outraged, they’ve been swearing, insulting the government, calling [prime minister] Alexis Tsipras a liar,” he exclaims after parliament’s decision on Sunday night to pass yet more austerity measures. “And they’re right. Everything he said, everything he promised, was a fairy tale.” Until the debt-stricken country’s financial collapse, shops like this were the lifeblood of Greece. For small-time merchants, the pain has been especially vivid because, like everyone Nakos knows, he voted for Tsipras and his leftist Syriza party. Now the man who was swept to power on a platform to eradicate austerity has passed the toughest reforms to date – overhauling the pension system, raising taxes and increasing social security fund contributions as the price of emergency bailout aid.

As MPs voted inside the red-carpeted 300-seat chamber on Sunday, police who had blocked off a large part of the city centre deployed teargas and water cannon against the thousands of anti-austerity demonstrators amassed outside. It was a world away from the day the tieless, anti-austerity leftists first assumed office, tearing down the barricades outside the sandstone parliament building. The latest measures – worth €5.4bn (£4.3m) in budget savings – mark a new era. After nine months of wrangling with the international creditors keeping the country afloat, Athens must apply policies that until now had been abstract concepts for a populace who have suffered as unemployment and poverty rates have soared.

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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 212016
 
 April 21, 2016  Posted by at 9:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle April 21 2016
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G.G. Bain ‘Casino Theater playing musical ‘The Little Whopper’, NY 1920


America’s Upcoming National Crisis: Pensions (ZH)
The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans (Atlantic)
Soros: China Looks Like the US Before the Crisis (BBG)
China’s ‘Zombie’ Steel Mills Fire Up Furnaces, Worsen Global Glut (R.)
China Wants Ships To Use Faster Arctic Route Opened By Global Warming (R.)
Japan, Not Germany, Leads World in Negative-Yield Bonds (BBG)
ECB Slides Down Further Into ZIRP Bizarro World (CNBC)
Brexit Means Blood, Toil, Sweat And Tears (AEP)
Greece ‘Could Leave Eurozone’ On Brexit Vote (Tel.)
VW To Offer To Buy Back Nearly 500,000 US Diesel Cars (Reuters)
Public Support For TTIP Plunges in US and Germany (Reuters)
Italian ‘Bad Bank’ Fund ‘Designed To Stop The Sky Falling In’ (FT)
The Troubled Legacy Of Obama’s Record $60 Billion Saudi Arms Sale (R.)
More Than Half Of Americans Live Amid Dangerous Air Pollution (G.)
EU States Grow Wary As Turkey Presses For Action On Visas Pledge (FT)
Hungary Threatens Rebellion Against Brussels Over Forced Migration (Express)
Refugee Camp Near Athens Poses ‘Huge’ Public Health Risk (AFP)

What NIRP and ZIRP bring to the real economy. This is global.

America’s Upcoming National Crisis: Pensions (ZH)

A dark storm is brewing in the world of private pensions, and all hell could break loose when it finally hits. As the Washington Post reports, the Central States Pension Fund, which handles retirement benefits for current and former Teamster union truck drivers across various states including Texas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, New York, and Minnesota, and is one of the largest pension funds in the nation, has filed an application to cut participant benefits, which would be effective July 1 2016, as it “projects” it will become officially insolvent by 2025. In 2015, the fund returned -0.81%, underperforming the 0.37% return of its benchmark. Over a quarter of a million people depend on their pension being handled by the CSPF; for most it is their only source of fixed income.

Pension funds applying to lower promised benefits is a new development, albeit not unexpected (we warned of this mounting issue numerous times in the past). For many years there existed federal protections which shielded pensions from being cut, but that all changed in December 2014, when folded neatly into a $1.1 trillion government spending bill, was a proposal to allow multi employer pension plans to cut pension benefits so long as they are projected to run out of money in the next 10 to 20 years. Between rising benefit payouts as participants become eligible, the global financial crisis, and the current interest rate environment, it was certainly just a matter of time before these steps were taken to allow pension plans to cut benefits to stave off insolvency.

The Central States Pension Fund is currently paying out $3.46 in pension benefits for every $1 it receives from employers, which has resulted in the fund paying out $2 billion more in benefits than it receives in employer contributions each year. As a result, Thomas Nyhan, executive director of the Central States Pension Fund said that the fund could become insolvent by 2025 if nothing is done. The fund currently pays out $2.8 billion a year in benefits according to Nyhan, and if the plan becomes insolvent it would overwhelm the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (designed by the government to absorb insolvent plans and continue paying benefits), who at the end of fiscal 2015 only had $1.9 billion in total assets itself. Incidentally as we also pointed out last month, the PBGC projects that they will also be insolvent by 2025 – it appears there is something very foreboding about that particular year.

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“Nearly half of American adults are “financially fragile” and “living very close to the financial edge.”

The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans (Atlantic)

Since 2013, the federal reserve board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49% of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29% of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43% of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47% of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew? Well, I knew. I knew because I am in that 47%.

I know what it is like to have to juggle creditors to make it through a week. I know what it is like to have to swallow my pride and constantly dun people to pay me so that I can pay others. I know what it is like to have liens slapped on me and to have my bank account levied by creditors. I know what it is like to be down to my last $5—literally—while I wait for a paycheck to arrive, and I know what it is like to subsist for days on a diet of eggs. I know what it is like to dread going to the mailbox, because there will always be new bills to pay but seldom a check with which to pay them. I know what it is like to have to tell my daughter that I didn’t know if I would be able to pay for her wedding; it all depended on whether something good happened. And I know what it is like to have to borrow money from my adult daughters because my wife and I ran out of heating oil.

You wouldn’t know any of that to look at me. I like to think I appear reasonably prosperous. Nor would you know it to look at my résumé. I have had a passably good career as a writer—five books, hundreds of articles published, a number of awards and fellowships, and a small (very small) but respectable reputation. You wouldn’t even know it to look at my tax return. I am nowhere near rich, but I have typically made a solid middle- or even, at times, upper-middle-class income, which is about all a writer can expect, even a writer who also teaches and lectures and writes television scripts, as I do.

And you certainly wouldn’t know it to talk to me, because the last thing I would ever do—until now—is admit to financial insecurity or, as I think of it, “financial impotence,” because it has many of the characteristics of sexual impotence, not least of which is the desperate need to mask it and pretend everything is going swimmingly. In truth, it may be more embarrassing than sexual impotence. “You are more likely to hear from your buddy that he is on Viagra than that he has credit-card problems,” says Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist who teaches at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and ministers to individuals with financial issues. “Much more likely.”

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“From a credit perspective, we’d be more comfortable with China slowing more than it is. We are getting less confident in the government’s commitment to structural reforms.”

Soros: China Looks Like the US Before the Crisis (BBG)

Billionaire investor George Soros said China’s debt-fueled economy resembles the U.S. in 2007-08, before credit markets seized up and spurred a global recession. China’s March credit-growth figures should be viewed as a warning sign, Soros said at an Asia Society event in New York on Wednesday. The broadest measure of new credit in the world’s second-biggest economy was 2.34 trillion yuan ($362 billion) last month, far exceeding the median forecast of 1.4 trillion yuan in a Bloomberg survey and signaling the government is prioritizing growth over reining in debt. What’s happening in China “eerily resembles what happened during the financial crisis in the U.S. in 2007-08, which was similarly fueled by credit growth,” Soros said. “Most of money that banks are supplying is needed to keep bad debts and loss-making enterprises alive.”

Soros, who built a $24 billion fortune through savvy wagers on markets, has recently been involved in a war of words with the Chinese government. He said at the World Economic Forum in Davos that he’s been betting against Asian currencies because a hard landing in China is “practically unavoidable.” China’s state-run Xinhua news agency rebutted his assertion in an editorial, saying that he has made the same prediction several times in the past. China’s economy gathered pace in March as the surge in new credit helped the property sector rebound. Housing values in first-tier cities have soared, with new-home prices in Shenzhen rising 62 percent in a year. While China’s real estate is in a bubble, it may be able to feed itself for some time, similar to the U.S. in 2005 and 2006, Soros said.

China’s economy gathered pace in March as the surge in new credit helped the property sector rebound. Housing values in first-tier cities have soared, with new-home prices in Shenzhen rising 62 percent in a year. While China’s real estate is in a bubble, it may be able to feed itself for some time, similar to the U.S. in 2005 and 2006, Soros said. “Most of the damage occurred in later years,” Soros said. “It’s a parabolic cycle.” Andrew Colquhoun at Fitch Ratings, is also concerned about China’s resurgence in borrowing. Eventually, the very thing that has been driving the economic recovery could end up derailing it, because China is adding to a debt burden that’s already unsustainable, he said.

Fitch rates the nation’s sovereign debt at A+, the fifth-highest grade and a step lower than Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service, which both cut their outlooks on China since March. “Whether we call it stabilization or not, I am not sure,” Colquhoun said in an interview in New York. “From a credit perspective, we’d be more comfortable with China slowing more than it is. We are getting less confident in the government’s commitment to structural reforms.”

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Forget Tata.

China’s ‘Zombie’ Steel Mills Fire Up Furnaces, Worsen Global Glut (R.)

The rest of the world’s steel producers may be pressuring Beijing to slash output and help reduce a global glut that is causing losses and costing jobs, but the opposite is happening in the steel towns of China. While the Chinese government points to reductions in steel making capacity it has engineered, a rapid rise in local prices this year has seen mills ramp up output. Even “zombie” mills, which stopped production but were not closed down, have been resurrected. Despite global overproduction, Chinese steel prices have risen by 77% this year from last year’s trough on some very specific local factors, including tighter supplies following plant shutdowns last year, restocking by consumers and a pick-up in seasonal demand following the Chinese New Year break.

Some mills also boosted output ahead of mandated cuts around a major horticultural show later this month in the Tangshan area. Local mills must at least halve their emissions on certain days during the exposition, due to run from April 29 to October. China, which accounts for half the world’s steel output and whose excess capacity is four times U.S. production levels, has said it has done more than enough to tackle overcapacity, and blames the glut on weak demand. But a survey by Chinese consultancy Custeel showed 68 blast furnaces with an estimated 50 million tonnes of capacity have resumed production. The capacity utilization rate among small Chinese mills has increased to 58% from 51% in January.

At large mills, it has risen to 87% from 84%, according to a separate survey by consultancy Mysteel. The rise in prices has thrown a lifeline to ‘zombie’ mills, like Shanxi Wenshui Haiwei Steel, which produces 3 million tonnes a year but which halted nearly all production in August. It now plans to resume production soon, a company official said. Another similar-sized company, Jiangsu Shente Steel, stopped production in December but then resumed in March as prices surged, a company official said. More than 40 million tonnes of capacity out of the 50-60 million tonnes that were shut last year are now back on, said Macquarie analyst Ian Roper. “Capacity cuts are off the cards given the price and margin rebound,” he said.

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The fight over jurisdiction and fees will heat up. Just like the Arctic itself.

China Wants Ships To Use Faster Arctic Route Opened By Global Warming (R.)

China will encourage ships flying its flag to take the Northwest Passage via the Arctic Ocean, a route opened up by global warming, to cut travel times between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, a state-run newspaper said on Wednesday. China is increasingly active in the polar region, becoming one of the biggest mining investors in Greenland and agreeing to a free trade deal with Iceland. Shorter shipping routes across the Arctic Ocean would save Chinese companies time and money. For example, the journey from Shanghai to Hamburg via the Arctic route is 2,800 nautical miles shorter than going by the Suez Canal. China’s Maritime Safety Administration this month released a guide offering detailed route guidance from the northern coast of North America to the northern Pacific, the China Daily said.

“Once this route is commonly used, it will directly change global maritime transport and have a profound influence on international trade, the world economy, capital flow and resource exploitation,” ministry spokesman Liu Pengfei was quoted as saying. Chinese ships will sail through the Northwest Passage “in the future”, Liu added, without giving a time frame. Most of the Northwest Passage lies in waters that Canada claims as its own. Asked if China considered the passage an international waterway or Canadian waters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China noted Canada considered that the route crosses its waters, although some countries believed it was open to international navigation.

In Ottawa, a spokesman for Foreign Minister Stephane Dion said no automatic right of transit passage existed in the waterways of the Northwest Passage. “We welcome navigation that complies with our rules and regulations. Canada has an unfettered right to regulate internal waters,” Joseph Pickerill said by email.

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Talk to the hand.

Japan, Not Germany, Leads World in Negative-Yield Bonds (BBG)

Europe’s central bank took the unorthodox step of cutting interest rates below zero in 2014. Japan followed suit earlier this year, and has become home to more negative-yielding debt than anywhere else, leading Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium.

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Crazy free money, no strings: “Banks are encouraged to extend credit to the real economy but are not penalized for not meeting their benchmark lending targets..”

ECB Slides Down Further Into ZIRP Bizarro World (CNBC)

Economists and analysts have been swooning over a new series of ultra-cheap, ultra-long bank loans announced by the ECB last month, which they believe might just kickstart the region’s fragile economy. “It’s massively positive,” Erik Nielsen, global chief economist at UniCredit, told CNBC via email regarding the new breed of “credit-easing” tactics announced by ECB President Mario Draghi. These targeted long-term refinancing operations, or TLTRO IIs, advance on a previous model announced by the central bank in 2011 and effectively give free money to the banks to lend to the real economy. They’re a series of four loans – conducted between June 2016 and March 2017 – and will have a fixed maturity of four years.

The interest rate will start at nothing, but could become as low as the current deposit rate, which is currently -0.40%, if banks meet their loan targets. This means the banks will be receiving cash for borrowing from the central bank. Banks will need to post collateral at the ECB but there’s no penalty if they fail to meet their loan targets. All that will happen is that the loans will be priced at zero for four years. Frederik Ducrozet, a euro zone economist with private Swiss-bank Pictet, called it “unconditional liquidity to banks at 0% cost, against collateral.” He said in a note last month that he expects it to lower bank funding costs, mitigate the adverse consequences of negative rates, strengthen the ECB’s forward guidance and improve the transmission of monetary policy.

Abhishek Singhania, a strategist at Deutsche Bank, added that the new LTROs “reduce the stigma” attached to their use compared to the previous model. “Banks are encouraged to extend credit to the real economy but are not penalized for not meeting their benchmark lending targets,” he said in a note last month.

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Ambrose muses on Europe: “The EU is a strategic relic of a post-War order that no longer exists, and a clutter of vested interests that caused Europe to miss the IT revolution.”

Brexit Means Blood, Toil, Sweat And Tears (AEP)

[..] The Justice Secretary is right to dismiss Project Fear as craven and defeatist. A vote to leave the dysfunctional EU half-way house might well be a “galvanising, liberating, empowering moment of patriotic renewal”. The EU is a strategic relic of a post-War order that no longer exists, and a clutter of vested interests that caused Europe to miss the IT revolution. “We will have rejected the depressing and pessimistic vision that Britain is too small and weak, and the British people too hapless and pathetic, to manage their own affairs,” he said. The special pleading of the City should be viewed with a jaundiced eye. This is the same City that sought to stop the country upholding its treaty obligations to Belgium in 1914, and that funded the Nazi war machine even after Anschluss in 1938, lobbying for appeasement to protect its loans. It is morally disqualified from any opinion on statecraft or higher matters of sovereign self-government.

Mr Gove is right that the European Court has become a law unto itself, asserting a supremacy that does not exist in treaty law, and operating under a Roman jurisprudence at odds with the philosophy and practices of English Common Law. It has seized on the Charter of Fundamental Rights to extend its jurisdiction into anything it pleases. Do I laugh or cry as I think back to the drizzling Biarritz summit of October 2000 when the Europe minister of the day told this newspaper that the charter would have no more legal standing than “the Beano or the Sun”? What Mr Gove cannot claim with authority is that Britain will skip painlessly into a “free trade zone stretching from Iceland to Turkey that all European nations have access to, regardless of whether they are in or out of the euro or the EU”.

Nobody knows exactly how the EU will respond to Brexit, or how long it would take to slot in the Norwegian or Swiss arrangements, or under what terms. Nor do we know how quickly the US, China, India would reply to our pleas for bi-lateral deals. Over 100 trade agreements would have to be negotiated, and the world has other priorities. Brexit might set off an EU earthquake as Mr Gove says – akin to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in the words of France’s Marine Le Pen – but it would not resemble his children’s fairy tale. The more plausible outcome is a 1930s landscape of simmering nationalist movements with hard-nosed reflexes, and a further lurch toward authoritarian polities from Poland to Hungary and arguably Slovakia, and down to Romania where the Securitate never entirely lost its grip and Nicolae Ceausescu is back in fashion.

Pocket Putins will have a field day knowing that they can push the EU around. The real Vladimir Putin will be waiting for his moment of maximum mayhem to try his luck with “little green men” in Estonia or Latvia, calculating that nothing can stop him restoring the western borders of the Tsarist empire if he can test and subvert NATO’s Article 5 – the solidarity clause, one-for-all and all-for-one. A case can be made that the EU has gone so irretrievably wrong that Britain must withdraw to save its legal fabric and parliamentary tradition. If so, let us at least be honest about what we face. One might equally quote another British prime minster, with poetic licence: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat’.

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Greece is mor elikely to leave in the wake of a new refugee disaster.

Greece ‘Could Leave Eurozone’ On Brexit Vote (Tel.)

Greece could crash out of the eurozone as early as this summer if Britons vote to leave the European Union in the upcoming referendum, economists have predicted. The uncertainty following a ‘yes’ vote to Britain leaving the EU would put unsustainable pressure on Greece’s cash-strapped economy at a time when it is also struggling to cope with an influx of migrants escaping turmoil in the Middle East and Africa, according to a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit. The authors of the report say it is highly likely that Greece will be forced to leave the eurozone at some point within the next five years, but that if the UK votes to leave the EU in June, it could happen much sooner. Greece is already under a huge amount of pressure and a so-called Brexit could tip it over the edge.

The country has large debt payments due in mid-2016, while structural reforms recommended in Greece’s bail-out programme are “slow burners” and unlikely to deliver any significant growth in the short term. Greece’s true GDP contracted by 0.3pc last year, while unemployment stands at 24pc. The country’s overall debt-to-GDP ratio has hit 171pc. “While the region could probably handle a Brexit, Grexit or an escalation of the migrant crisis individually, it would be unlikely to navigate successfully a situation in which several of those crises came to a head simultaneously,” the report, entitled ‘Europe stretched to the limit’, said. “It is not impossible that this could happen as early as mid-2016, when the UK votes on whether or not to remain in the EU.”

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If they have to offer a similar deal in Europe, that’s curtains.

VW To Offer To Buy Back Nearly 500,000 US Diesel Cars (Reuters)

Volkswagen and U.S. officials have reached a framework deal under which the automaker would offer to buy back almost 500,000 diesel cars that used sophisticated software to evade U.S. emission rules, two people briefed on the matter said on Wednesday. The German automaker is expected to tell a federal judge in San Francisco Thursday that it has agreed to offer to buy back up to 500,000 2.0-liter diesel vehicles sold in the United States that exceeded legally allowable emission levels, the people said. That would include versions of the Jetta sedan, the Golf compact and the Audi A3 sold since 2009. The buyback offer does not apply to the bigger, 80,000 3.0-liter diesel vehicles also found to have exceeded U.S. pollution limits, including Audi and Porsche SUV models, the people said.

U.S.-listed shares of Volkswagen rose nearly 6% to $30.95 following the news. VW in September admitted cheating on emissions tests for 11 million vehicles worldwide since 2009, damaging the automaker’s global image. As part of the settlement with U.S. authorities including the Environmental Protection Agency, Volkswagen has also agreed to a compensation fund for owners, a third person briefed on the terms said. The compensation fund is expected to represent more than $1 billion on top of the cost of buying back the vehicles, but it is not clear how much each owner might receive, the person said. Volkswagen may also offer to repair polluting diesel vehicles if U.S. regulators approve the proposed fix, the sources said.

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It’ll be increasingly hard to push through in Europe. And in America too unless Hillary’s elected.

Public Support For TTIP Plunges in US and Germany (Reuters)

Support for the transatlantic trade deal known as TTIP has fallen sharply in Germany and the United States, a survey showed on Thursday, days before Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama meet to try to breathe new life into the pact. The survey, conducted by YouGov for the Bertelsmann Foundation, showed that only 17% of Germans believe the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a good thing, down from 55% two years ago. In the United States, only 18% support the deal compared to 53% in 2014. Nearly half of U.S. respondents said they did not know enough about the agreement to voice an opinion. TTIP is expected to be at the top of the agenda when Merkel hosts Obama at a trade show in Hanover on Sunday and Monday.

Ahead of that meeting, German officials said they remained optimistic that a broad “political agreement” between Brussels and Washington could be clinched before Obama leaves office in January. The hope is that TTIP could then be finalised with Obama’s successor. But there have been abundant signs in recent weeks that European countries are growing impatient with the slow pace of the talks, which are due to resume in New York next week. On Wednesday, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel described the negotiations as “frozen up” and questioned whether Washington really wanted a deal.

The day before, France’s trade minister threatened to halt the talks, citing a lack of progress. Deep public scepticism in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has clouded the negotiations from the start. The Bertelsmann survey showed that many Germans fear the deal will lower standards for products, consumer protection and the labor market. It also pointed to a dramatic shift in how Germans view free trade in general. Only 56% see it positively, compared to 88% two years ago. “Support for trade agreements is fading in a country that views itself as the global export champion,” said Aart de Geus, chairman and chief executive of the Bertelsmann Foundation.

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Bottom line: “..non-performing debt [..] stands at €360bn, according to the Bank of Italy. So is Atlante — with about €5bn of equity — really enough to keep the heavens in place?”

Italian ‘Bad Bank’ Fund ‘Designed To Stop The Sky Falling In’ (FT)

Atlante, a new private initiative backed by the Italian government, is designed to stop the sky falling in. The fund, which takes its name from the mythological titan who held up the heavens, will buy shares in Italian lenders in a bid to edge the sector away from a fully-fledged crisis. Last week’s announcement of the fund, which can also buy non-performing loans, led to a welcome boost for Italian banks. An index for the sector gained 10% over the week — its best performance since the summer of 2012, though it remains heavily down on the year. But Italian banks have made €200bn of loans to borrowers now deemed insolvent, of which €85bn has not been written down on their balance sheets. A broader measure of non-performing debt, which includes loans unlikely to be repaid in full, stands at €360bn, according to the Bank of Italy.

So is Atlante — with about €5bn of equity — really enough to keep the heavens in place? The Italian government has been placed in a highly unusual position. It has become much harder to directly bail out its financial institutions, as other European countries did during the crisis. Meanwhile, a new European-wide approach to bank failure, which involves imposing losses on bondholders, is politically fraught in Italy, where large numbers of bonds have been sold to retail customers. The new fund also comes in the context of an extremely weak start to the year for global markets. “In this market it is impossible for anyone to raise any capital,” says Sebastiano Pirro, an analyst at Algebris, adding that, since November last year, “the markets have been shut for Italian banks”.

The government has been forced into an array of subtle interventions to provide support. Earlier this year, details emerged of a scheme for non-performing loans to be securitised — a process where assets are packaged together and sold as bond-like products of different levels, or tranches, of risk. The government planned to offer a guarantee on the most senior tranches — those with a triple B, or “investment grade” rating.

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Support for dying empires will come at a price. The Nobel Peace Prize came free of charge.

The Troubled Legacy Of Obama’s Record $60 Billion Saudi Arms Sale (R.)

Six years ago, Saudi and American officials agreed on a record $60 billion arms deal. The United States would sell scores of F-15 fighters, Apache attack helicopters and other advanced weaponry to the oil-rich kingdom. The arms, both sides hoped, would fortify the Saudis against their aggressive arch-rival in the region, Iran. But as President Barack Obama makes his final visit to Riyadh this week, Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities remain a work in progress – and the gap in perceptions between Washington and Riyadh has widened dramatically. The biggest stumble has come in Yemen. Frustrated by Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and the U.S. pullback from the region, Riyadh launched an Arab military intervention last year to confront perceived Iranian expansionism in its southern neighbour.

The conflict pits a coalition of Arab and Muslim nations led by the Saudis against Houthi rebels allied to Iran and forces loyal to a former Yemeni president. A tentative ceasefire is holding as the United Nations prepares for peace talks in Kuwait, proof, the Saudis say, of the intervention’s success. But while Saudi Arabia has the third-largest defence budget in the world behind the United States and China, its military performance in Yemen has been mixed, current and former U.S. officials said. The kingdom’s armed forces have often appeared unprepared and prone to mistakes. U.N. investigators say that air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition are responsible for two thirds of the 3,200 civilians who have died in Yemen, or approximately 2,000 deaths. They said that Saudi forces have killed twice as many civilians as other forces in Yemen.

On the ground, Saudi-led forces have often struggled to achieve their goals, making slow headway in areas where support for Iran-allied Houthi rebels runs strong. And along the Saudi border, the Houthis and allied forces loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh have attacked almost daily since July, killing hundreds of Saudi troops. Instead of being the centrepiece of a more assertive Saudi regional strategy, the Yemen intervention has called into question Riyadh’s military influence, said one former senior Obama administration official. “There’s a long way to go. Efforts to create an effective pan-Arab military force have been disappointing.”

Behind the scenes, the West has been enmeshed in the conflict. Between 50 and 60 U.S. military personnel have provided coordination and support to the Saudi-led coalition, a U.S. official told Reuters. And six to 10 Americans have worked directly inside the Saudi air operations centre in Riyadh. Britain and France, Riyadh’s other main defence suppliers, have also provided military assistance. Last year, the Obama administration had the U.S. military send precision-guided munitions from its own stocks to replenish dwindling Saudi-led coalition supplies, a source close to the Saudi government said. Administration officials argued that even more Yemeni civilians would die if the Saudis had to use bombs with less precise guidance systems.

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Half of Europe too, no doubt. And China. And larger cities everywhere.

More Than Half Of Americans Live Amid Dangerous Air Pollution (G.)

More than half of the US population lives amid potentially dangerous air pollution, with national efforts to improve air quality at risk of being reversed, a new report has warned. A total of 166 million Americans live in areas that have unhealthy levels of of either ozone or particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association, raising their risk of lung cancer, asthma attacks, heart disease, reproductive problems and other ailments. The association’s 17th annual “state of the air” report found that there has been a gradual improvement in air quality in recent years but warned progress has been too slow and could even be reversed by efforts in Congress to water down the Clean Air Act. Climate change is also a looming air pollution challenge, with the report charting an increase in short-term spikes in particle pollution.

Many of these day-long jumps in soot and smoke have come from a worsening wildfire situation across the US, especially in areas experiencing prolonged dry conditions. Six of the 10 worst US cities for short-term pollution are in California, which has been in the grip of an historic drought. Bakersfield, California, was named the most polluted city for both short-term and year-round particle pollution, while Los Angeles-Long Beach was the worst for ozone pollution. Small particles that escape from the burning of coal and from vehicle tail pipes can bury themselves deep in people’s lungs, causing various health problems. Ozone and other harmful gases can also be expelled from these sources, triggering asthma attacks and even premature death.

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Can Brussels survive such failure? More urgently, can Greece survive the fallout? Because it’s Greece that will suffer first, and most, if the EU pact with the devil falls through.

EU States Grow Wary As Turkey Presses For Action On Visas Pledge (FT)

European diplomats are agonising over their politically perilous promise to grant visa-free travel to 80m Turks, amid strong warnings from Ankara that the EU migration deal will fold without a positive visa decision by June. The EU’s month-old deal to return migrants from Greece to Turkey has dramatically cut flows across the Aegean, easing what had been an acute migration crisis. But the pact rests on sweeteners for Ankara that the EU is struggling to deliver – above all, giving Turkish citizens short-term travel rights to Europe’s Schengen area. Germany, France and other countries nervous of a political backlash over Muslim migration have started exploring options to make the concession more politically palatable, including through safeguard clauses, extra conditions or watered-down terms.

The political calculations are further complicated by looming EU visa decisions for Ukraine, Georgia and Kosovo. Several senior European diplomats say ideas considered include a broad emergency brake, allowing the EU to suspend the visa deal under certain circumstances; limiting the visa privileges to Turkish executives and students; or opting for an unconventional visa-waiver treaty with Turkey, which would allow more rigorous, US-style checks on visitors. Selim Yenel, Turkey’s ambassador to the EU, called the efforts to water down the terms “totally unacceptable”, saying: “They cannot and should not change the rules of the game.” One senior EU official said the search for alternatives reflected “growing panic” in Berlin and Paris over the looming need to deliver the pledge.

The various options, the official added, were “a political smokescreen” to muster support in the Bundestag and European Parliament, which must also vote on the measures. The Turkish visa issue has even flared in Britain’s EU referendum campaign, forcing David Cameron, the prime minister, to clarify on Wednesday that Turks could not automatically come to the UK if they were granted visa rights to the 26-member Schengen area. The matter could come to a head within weeks. Brussels says Turkey is making good progress in fulfilling 72 required “benchmarks” to win the visa concessions and will issue a report on May 4. This is expected to say that Turkey is on course to meet the criteria by early June, passing the political dilemma to the EU member states and European Parliament.

One ambassador in Brussels said it looked ever more likely that several states would try to block visas for Turkey – a possibility that Mr Yenel also appears to anticipate. “They are probably getting cold feet since we are fulfilling the benchmarks,” he told the Financial Times. “We expect them to stick to what was agreed, otherwise how can we continue to trust the EU? We delivered on our side of the bargain. Now it is their turn.” Signs of Brussels backtracking have already prompted angry Turkish responses. “The EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said recently. Meanwhile, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s prime minister, has warned that “no one can expect Turkey to adhere to its commitments” if the June deadline was not respected.

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How is this any different from Europe’s long lamented bloody past?

Hungary Threatens Rebellion Against Brussels Over Forced Migration (Express)

The much-derided Schengen Area is on the brink of collapse after furious Hungary launched a rebellion against open borders. The country’s prime minister Viktor Orban is also angry at mandatory migrant quotas enforced by the European Union. He is now touring Europe’s capital cities, where he is rallying support for a new plan with greater protection for individual states, dubbed “Schengen 2.0.” Currently, EU countries are forced to comply with orders from Brussels to accept and settle a specified number of migrants. Orban has described these quotas as “wrong-headed” and is now leading a group of other countries determined to re-take control of their borders. “The EU cannot create a system in which it lets in migrants and then prescribes mandatory resettlement quotas for every member state.”

Orban also promised a referendum in Hungary on whether the country should accept these orders, warning that some of the settled migrants were unlikely to integrate, leading to social friction. He said: “If we do not stop Brussels with a referendum, they will indeed impose on us masses of people, with whom we do not wish to live together.” Other countries may follow suit in opposing these plans and hold their own referendums, taking the power from Brussels and putting it back in the hands of their residents. Slovakia and the Czech Republic have both threatened to take legal action against the EU’s orders to take in migrants. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said on Sunday: “I expect the line of opposition will be wider. Let us talk about legal action against the proposal when it is necessary.”

The action plan, which will be shared with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland as well as the prime ministers of several other unspecified countries, is just the latest nail in the Schengen coffin. Last week, 2,000 soldiers in Switzerland’s tank battalion were told to postpone their summer holidays in order to be ready to rush to the border with Italy to block migrants making their way from Sicily. Austria has also begun sealing off its southern border, introducing checks on the vital Brenner Cross motorway and pledging the implementation of €1m worth of border patrols and security improvements. Brussel’s most senior bureaucrat admitted yesterday that confidence in the EU was dropping rapidly across the continent. In an astonishing confession of failure, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “We are no longer respected in our countries when we emphasise the need to give priority to the EU.”

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A team of our Automatic Earth-sponsored friends at the Social Kitchen prepares 1000s of meals for refugees daily at Elliniko. Your contributions are still as welcome as they are necessary.

Refugee Camp Near Athens Poses ‘Enormous’ Public Health Risk (AFP)

Five mayors of Athens’s coastal suburbs warned Wednesday of the “enormous” health risks posed by a nearby camp housing over 4,000 migrants and refugees. “The conditions are out of control and present enormous risks to the public health,” the mayors complained in a letter to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, in reference to the camp at Elliniko, the site of Athens’s old airport. A total of 4,153 people, including many families, have been held there for the last month in miserable conditions. “The number of people is much higher than the capacity of the place and there are serious hygiene problems,” local mayor Dionyssis Hatzidakis told AFP.

He and his four fellow mayors from the area cited a document from Greece’s disease prevention center KEELPNO warning of the “the danger of disease contagion due to unacceptable housing conditions” at the site which they say has no more than 40 chemical toilets. Since the migrants’ favored route through the Balkans to the rest of Europe was shut down in February, numbers have been building up in Greece, with 46,000 Syrians and other nationalities now stuck in the country. Thousands of these have been transferred from the islands they arrived at to temporary centers such as the one at Elliniko, until more suitable reception centers can be set up.

The five mayors also voiced their disquiet at the “tensions and daily violent incidents between the refugees or migrants,” calling on the interior minister to boost police numbers in the area. “We are launching an appeal for help to protect the public health and security of both the refugees and the local population,” they said in their letter. Their intervention came the day after 17-year-old Afghan woman living in Elliniko with her parents died after six days in an Athens hospital. Her death was linked to a pre-existing heart condition exacerbated by the difficult journey to Greece, the doctor who treated her was quoted as saying in the Ethnos daily. Greek island officials on Tuesday began letting migrants leave detention centers where they have been held, as Human Rights Watch heaped criticism on a wave of EU-sanctioned expulsions to ease the crisis.

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Mar 152016
 
 March 15, 2016  Posted by at 10:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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John M. Fox WCBS studios, 49 East 52nd Street, NYC 1948


Stocks: Consensual Hallucination (WS)
Mineworkers’ Protests Shake Chinese Leaders (CW)
China Ocean Freight Indices Plunge to Record Lows (WS)
Yuan Loses Its Luster In Global Trade (WSJ)
Chinese Investors Increase Buying in the US (WSJ)
China Drafts Rules for Tobin Tax on Currency Transactions (BBG)
Bank of Japan Holds Fire on Stimulus, Negative Rate Unchanged (BBG)
ECB Rate Cuts Help Spanish Home-Buyers, Hurt Banks (WSJ)
JPMorgan, Goldman Discuss Buying Deutsche Bank Derivatives (BBG)
Fears Rise Over US Car Loan Delinquencies (FT)
The Recession Australia Has To Have (ABC)
Obama To Kill Off Arctic Oil Drilling (Guardian)
The Cyprus Problem (FT)
Greek Asylum System Is Broken Cog In EU-Turkey Plan (EUO)
FYROM Returned About 600 Refugees To Greece (Reuters)
Greek Minister Sees Refugees Stuck For At Least Two Years (Kath.)

“..of the 30 components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, 20 reported “adjusted” earnings, with 18 of them reporting adjusted earnings that were higher than their earnings under GAAP”

Stocks: Consensual Hallucination (WS)

The simple fact is that corporate earnings data is out there for everyone to see, but no one wants to see it. Instead, everyone wants to see and believe the sweet fairy tale that Wall Street and Corporate America spin with such skill just for us, because if everyone believes that everyone believes in this fairy tale, even knowing that it is a fairy tale, it will somehow lead to ever higher stock prices. This is part of a phenomenon we’ve come to call “Consensual Hallucination.” But that fairy tale got spun to new fanciful extremes in 2015. Revenues of the S&P 500 companies fell 4.0% in the fourth quarter and 3.6% for the year, according to FactSet, with most of the companies having by now reported their earnings. And these earnings declined 3.4% in Q4, dragging earnings “growth” for the entire year into the negative, so a decline in earnings of 1.1%.

While companies can play with revenues to some extent, it’s more complicated and not nearly as rewarding as “adjusting” their profits. That’s the easiest thing to do in the world. A few keystrokes will do. There are no rules or laws against it, so long as it’s called something like “adjusted earnings.” The rewards are huge, in terms of share prices, stock options, bonuses, and for Wall Street, fees. The ultimate target of the magic is earnings per share. EPS is the most crucial term in the canon of the markets. Turns out, the 2015 “growth” in earnings, and particularly the “growth” in EPS – so a decline – as reported by FactSet and others is a figment of the vivid imagination of Wall Street and Corporate America, called “adjusted earnings,” where everything bad has been “adjusted” out of it.

The reason every developed economy uses standardized accounting rules is to give investors a modicum of insight into what is going on in a company, compare these numbers to those of other companies, and make at least not totally ignorant investment decisions. In the US, these are the generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, the most despised acronym of Wall Street and Corporate America. Yet even these principles offer plenty of flexibility for financial statement beautification. We get that. Yet they’re way too harsh for Wall Street. So companies file the required financial statements under GAAP for everyone to look at, but then they hype their “adjusted” earnings in their communications with investors. And the gap between the two in 2015 was a doozie.

For example, of the 30 components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, 20 reported “adjusted” earnings, with 18 of them reporting adjusted earnings that were higher than their earnings under GAAP, according to FactSet. That 18-to-2 relationship alone shows the clear bias of these adjustments: They’re used to inflate earnings, not to lower them to some more realistic level. These adjusted EPS were on average 31% higher in 2015 than EPS under GAAP. That’s way up from 2014 when 19 of the Dow components reported adjusted earnings that were on average 12% higher than under GAAP. And yet, despite the soaring portion of fiction, these adjusted EPS of the companies in the DOW still declined 4.8%. That’s bad enough. But under GAAP, beautified as it might have been, EPS plunged 12.3%.

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It’s beginning.

Mineworkers’ Protests Shake Chinese Leaders (CW)

Thousands of coal miners in the far northeast of China have been on strike for six days, demanding that China’s rulers – the so-called Communist Party dictatorship (CCP) – “give us back our money!” The protests, captured in dramatic video footage that is banned inside China, have shaken the Chinese regime during the very week when its ceremonial National People’s Congress (NPC) has been meeting in Beijing. A key discussion at the NPC has been about how the regime will cut the workforce in state-owned industries, with widely cited reports of 5-6 million redundancies, equivalent to one in six state sector jobs. The striking mineworkers of Heilongjiang province, a region already devastated by closures and layoffs, have given a courageous and resounding answer to these plans.

The mineworkers’ protests began on Wednesday 9 March in the city of Shuangyashan. Longmay Group, the largest state-owned coal producer in Heilongjiang and the whole of northeastern China, operates 10 mines in Shuangyashan and over 40 across the province as a whole. Last September, Longmay announced 100,000 job cuts – 40% of its entire workforce. The company owes a total of 800 million yuan (US$123 million) in unpaid wages dating from 2014. There have been earlier protests to demand payment of wage arrears by Longmay workers in different cities around Heilongjiang. The strike in Shuangyashan did not materialise from nowhere in other words, but is akin to a match being dropped into a large pool of gasoline.

“What the Shuangyashan incident has exposed is just a tip of the iceberg. It has been pretty endemic (workers not getting paid),” a rights activist from Heilongjiang told the Voice of America website. The trigger for the strike was a statement made by Heilongjiang’s governor Lu Hao during the NPC. At a televised meeting on 6 March, Lu claimed there were no wage arrears among Longmay workers and held the company up as an example of successful restructuring. He also stated that annual payrolls of Longmay are 10 billion yuan, equivalent to one-third of the provincial government’s entire budget, implying that the Longmay workforce are a burden on the province. “Their income hasn’t fallen a penny,” said Lu, in comments that made the workers’ anger spill over.

Initially breaking out in the Dongrong district of the city where Longmay runs three mines, the protests quickly spread across the whole of Shuangyashan. According to local sources eight out of the ten pits in Shuangyashan are only partially working, with mineworkers facing months of wage arrears. Whereas underground workers could earn 6,000 yuan a month in the past, most receive just half this level now – when they get paid. For other workers, monthly salaries have been cut to just 800 yuan (US$120)..

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Wolf Richter summarizes China perfectly: “As exports of money from China is flourishing at a stunning pace, exports of goods are deteriorating at an equally stunning pace. “

China Ocean Freight Indices Plunge to Record Lows (WS)

Money is leaving China in myriad ways, chasing after overseas assets in near-panic mode. So Anbang Insurance Group, after having already acquired the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan a year ago for a record $1.95 billion from Hilton Worldwide Holdings, at the time majority-owned by Blackstone, and after having acquired office buildings in New York and Canada, has struck out again. It agreed to acquire Strategic Hotels & Resorts from Blackstone for a $6.5 billion. The trick? According to Bloomberg’s “people with knowledge of the matter,” Anbang paid $450 million more than Blackstone had paid for it three months ago! Other Chinese companies have pursued targets in the US, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere with similar disregard for price, after seven years of central-bank driven asset price inflation. As exports of money from China is flourishing at a stunning pace, exports of goods are deteriorating at an equally stunning pace.

February’s 25% plunge in exports was the 11th month of year-over-year declines in 12 months, as global demand for Chinese goods is waning. And ocean freight rates – the amount it costs to ship containers from China to ports around the world – have plunged to historic lows. The China Containerized Freight Index (CCFI), published weekly, tracks contractual and spot-market rates for shipping containers from major ports in China to 14 regions around the world. Unlike most Chinese government data, this index reflects the unvarnished reality of the shipping industry in a languishing global economy. For the latest reporting week, the index dropped 4.1% to 705.6, its lowest level ever. It has plunged 34.4% from the already low levels in February last year and nearly 30% since its inception in 1998 when it was set at 1,000. This is what the ongoing collapse in shipping rates looks like:

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What state control gets you.

Yuan Loses Its Luster In Global Trade (WSJ)

The yuan is losing its luster as a means of settling cross-border transactions, a development that trading companies blame in part on the Chinese government’s reluctance to loosen its grip on the currency. Bureaucratic issues and a lack of yuan-denominated assets in which to invest have discouraged non-Chinese companies from using the currency in trade with their Chinese partners. Beijing’s recent heavy-handed market interventions have further reduced the currency’s appeal for foreigners, according to Chinese importers and exporters. The yuan’s popularity outside China slipped 0.2% last year, according to an index of metrics such as deposits and foreign-exchange turnover compiled by Standard Chartered since late 2010.

That was the index’s first ever annual decline, although it ticked up in the first month of 2016. Payments using the yuan fell to 21% of China’s total trade last October, before recovering to 30% in January, still well below the 37% peak recorded in August, according to central-bank data. “Given the yuan’s volatility and the authorities’ murky policy intentions, it’s hard to see interest in using the currency among our customers,” said Zhou Lin, finance director of Ningbo United Group Import & Export, a trading firm from China’s east coast that exports steel products and garments and imports coal and wood. “Demand for [yuan trade settlement] will only shrink further,” Mr. Zhou predicted.

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“..36 purchases of U.S. companies valued at $39 billion, eclipsing 2015’s full-year record of $17 billion..”

Chinese Investors Increase Buying in the US (WSJ)

Chinese companies are continuing their U.S. shopping spree. On Monday, the focus was on real estate. A group led by China’s Anbang Insurance came in with a $12.8 billion takeover offer for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. The buyout offer threatens to upend Starwood’s tie-up with Marriott International. Anbang is also near a deal to buy Strategic Hotels & Resorts from a Blackstone-managed real-estate fund, people familiar with the situation said. Chinese companies have announced 36 purchases of U.S. companies valued at $39 billion, eclipsing 2015’s full-year record of $17 billion through 114 deals. And 2015 broke the record set in 2014, when Chinese buyers spent $14 billion on U.S. acquisitions. The tally for each year includes transactions where Chinese firms took big stakes in U.S. firms, such as the 5.6% stake that Alibaba took in Groupon in February.

Globally outbound Chinese M&A activity is closing in on its full-year high. Chinese companies have spent $102 billion to buy companies outside of its borders, just shy of its full-year record set in 2015 of $106 billion. The $43 billion acquisition of Swiss pesticide and seed company Syngenta by government-owned China National Chemical Corp. accounts for a large portion of that volume. Beyond real estate, Chinese companies have aggressively pursued deals for U.S. chip makers. In mid-February, U.S. technology distributor Ingram Microid said it had agreed to be acquired for about $6 billion by a unit of Chinese conglomerate HNA Group. Chinese buyers also have sought break up a number of existing deals for U.S. semiconductor companies with offers of their own.

Late last year, a group including China Resources Microelectronics and Hua Capital Management made an unsolicited bid for Fairchild Semiconductor International, which already had a deal with U.S. chip maker ON Semiconductor. Prior to that deal, the Chinese chip maker Montage Technology sought to break up Diodes planned purchased of Pericom Semiconductor. Both Fairchild and Pericom rejected the proposals from the Chinese firms, citing concerns that they would fail to pass muster with U.S. authorities on national-security grounds. U.S. regulators -specifically the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment- have pushed back on Chinese purchases. In January, the committee blocked Royal Philips planned $2.8 billion sale of most of its lighting components and automotive-lighting unit to a Chinese investor on national-security grounds. The aggressive push into the U.S. comes amid slowing growth in China.

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Smells desperate.

China Drafts Rules for Tobin Tax on Currency Transactions (BBG)

China’s central bank has drafted rules for a tax on foreign-exchange transactions that would help curb currency speculation, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The initial rate of the so-called Tobin tax may be kept at zero to allow authorities time to refine the rules, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the discussions are private. The tax is not designed to disrupt hedging and other foreign-exchange transactions undertaken by companies, they said. Imposing a levy on foreign-exchange trading would be the most extreme step yet by policy makers to prevent speculative bets against the Chinese currency, after state-run banks repeatedly intervened to support the yuan and the government intensified a crackdown on capital outflows.

A Tobin tax would complicate plans by China to create an international reserve currency and could undermine the leadership’s pledge to increase the role of market forces in the world’s second-largest economy. “These measures can’t guarantee volatility in the market will come down since it’s difficult to identify if currency trading is down to speculation or the genuine need of companies hedging their foreign-exchange exposure,” said Tommy Ong, managing director for treasury and markets at DBS Hong Kong Ltd. “There haven’t been many successful experiences of this happening anywhere else in the world.” The rules still need central government approval and it’s not clear how quickly they can be implemented, the people said. PBOC Deputy Governor Yi Gang raised the possibility of implementing the punitive measure late last year in an article written for China Finance magazine.

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Deflation misunderstood.

Bank of Japan Holds Fire on Stimulus, Negative Rate Unchanged (BBG)

The Bank of Japan refrained from bolstering its record monetary stimulus as policy makers gauge the impact of the negative interest-rate strategy they adopted in January. Governor Haruhiko Kuroda and his board kept the target for increasing the monetary base unchanged, and left their benchmark rate at minus 0.1%, the BOJ said in a statement on Tuesday. The decision was forecast by 35 of 40 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. The central bank reiterated that it will add easing if necessary. With the BOJ far from its 2% inflation goal and economic growth stalling, most analysts have seen additional stimulus as just a matter of time.

The stakes are rising for Kuroda, with household and corporate sentiment waning and investors questioning whether monetary policy is reaching its limits. The governor holds a press briefing later today. “You can see from the statement the agony for the BOJ in the gap between their hopes and the realities in the economy and prices,” said Kyohei Morita, an economist at Barclays. “Japanese inflation is at a level where even the BOJ has to admit its weakness. It is leaning toward additional stimulus and I expect it to be in July.”

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Mortgages for free.

ECB Rate Cuts Help Spanish Home-Buyers, Hurt Banks (WSJ)

Sheila Guerrero loves Mario Draghi. Her Spanish bank probably doesn’t. Ms. Guerrero’s mortgage payments have fallen by about 40% since she and her husband took out a loan in 2006 to buy their two-bedroom home on the southern outskirts of Madrid. The current payments of €485 a month, or about $541, she says, are “less than some people pay in rent.” Mortgage borrowers in Spain, and their banks, are acutely affected by the rate cuts that ECB President Mr. Draghi, rolled out on Thursday. That is because 96% of mortgages in Spain, a far higher percentage than in other European countries, are variable-rate loans that fluctuate with the rise and fall of the euro interbank offered rate. The 12-month Euribor, as the rate is known, plummeted from 2.2% in mid-2011 into negative territory last month. It is now around -0.03%.

The nosedive is a boon to millions of Spanish homeowners, whose mortgage payments are typically repriced each year based on changes in the rate. It has been a bust for the balance sheets of Spanish banks, helping to drive down their stock prices in recent months. The ECB’s announcement Thursday brought some relief for lenders because it included an offer of cheaper funding through new long-term loans to eurozone banks. Investors welcomed the news, and shares of major Spanish banks surged on Friday. Still, negative rates remain a drag on the banks’ profitability. Each drop of 10 basis points in the 12-month Euribor rate triggers around a 2% decline in a profit metric for Spanish banks known as net interest income, Daragh Quinn, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, wrote in a research report Tuesday.

One basis point is equal to one one-hundredth of a percentage point. Net interest income is the difference between what lenders pay clients for deposits and charge for loans. Spanish banks are trying to compensate for the hit to net interest income by shifting away from mortgages, which have accounted for about half their lending, to business loans that carry higher interest rates. But the shift is happening en masse, driving down the rate on business loans too. Ms. Guerrero and her husband, a mechanic, began paying €800 a month when they took out the 50-year loan a decade ago, when they were in their 20s. Their current mortgage will be repriced in April based on February’s negative Euribor rate, which she expects will reduce it by €15, to €470. “Every extra bit you can get is welcome,” said Ms. Guerrero. Mortgages issued by Spanish banks yielded an average of 1.51% in January, one of the lowest rates in all of Europe, ECB data show. That figure compares with 2.58% in Italy and 3.27% in Germany.

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Deutsche derivatives start cracking. Uncleared, single-name, oh boy! How many pennies do they get on the buck?

JPMorgan, Goldman Discuss Buying Deutsche Bank Derivatives (BBG)

Deutsche Bank, the lender exiting some trading operations, is in talks with JPMorgan Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to sell the last batches of about 1 trillion euros ($1.1 trillion) in complex financial instruments, people with knowledge of the matter said. Deutsche Bank, based in Frankfurt, has sold about two-thirds of the portfolio of uncleared, mostly single-name credit default swaps since last year and wants to sell the rest within the next few months, according to the people, who asked not to be identified as the talks are private. The three U.S. banks have already purchased some of the instruments, the people said.

Deutsche Bank is withdrawing from countries, dumping unprofitable clients and pulling out of businesses as co-CEO John Cryan, 55, tries to boost profit and meet tougher capital rules after starting in July. He inherited a plan by his predecessor, Anshu Jain, to stop trading most credit default swaps tied to individual companies after new banking regulations made them costlier. “It’s all about capital and leverage,” said Chris Wheeler at Atlantic Equities. “Cryan clearly feels it’s not a profitable business, given the need to provide more capital under new regulations.” JPMorgan was among banks in talks to purchase more than $250 billion of the swaps, while Citigroup had already bought almost $250 billion, Bloomberg News reported in October. Deutsche Bank’s portfolio of swaps had a gross notional value of about 1 trillion euros when it began sales last year, the people said. That measure includes long and short bets and doesn’t account for offsetting contracts.

[..] Deutsche Bank’s swaps are uncleared, meaning that investors trade them directly with each other rather than through one of the clearinghouses that are mandatory for many trades after the crash. Europe’s biggest banks will need billions of dollars to meet new rules for collateral that they must set aside when trading uncleared swaps, regulators said this week. The swaps are mostly “single-name,” meaning that they’re tied to individual companies’ creditworthiness, as opposed to an index of securities, one of the people said. Deutsche Bank stopped trading these instruments in late 2014, the lender said then. The total size of the credit derivatives market has dropped by almost two-thirds from $33 trillion in 2008, according to the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp.

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Those are old worries, FT.

Fears Rise Over US Car Loan Delinquencies (FT)

HDelinquencies on poor-quality US car loans have climbed to their highest level in almost two decades, according to Fitch Ratings, reinforcing concerns over the rapidly growing market. The rate of “subprime” auto loans overdue by more than 60 days rose to 5.16% in February. This surpassed the post-financial crisis peak and was the highest since the 5.96% reading in October 1996, according to the rating agency. Subprime auto loans have long been a concern for analysts, some of whom feared that rapid issuance since the crisis and weakening lending standards would cause problems in the market for securitised auto loans. There, banks repackage loans into asset-backed securities and sell them on to investors, much like they did with subprime mortgages in the 2000s.

“Sharp origination growth, increased competition and weaker underwriting standards over the past three years have all contributed to the weaker performance of the past year,” Fitch Ratings said in its report. The overall US auto finance market passed $1tn in 2015, powered by strong car sales. Issuance of US auto loan-backed ABS climbed 17% to $82.5bn last year, according to data provider Dealogic, the strongest year for such sales since 2005. Fitch tracks the performance of almost $100bn of auto loans that have been securitised into so-called asset-backed bonds, of which just over a third is considered subprime. The delinquency rate on prime US auto ABS stood at just 0.46% in February, up slightly month-on-month but flat compared to the same month in 2015.

Subprime typically means borrowers with scores below 620 from FICO, the biggest credit risk scorer, which rates consumers from 300 to 850. Fitch expects both prime and subprime auto loan ABS performance to improve this spring thanks to tax refunds, but that the seasonal benefits will be more muted given the weakening of loan quality and the expected softening of the US wholesale car market. “Both the prime and subprime sectors have been buoyed by strong used vehicle values over the past five years, contributing to lower loss severity on defaults,” the report said. “However, with new vehicle sales and expected off-lease vehicle supply levels at historical highs entering 2016, Fitch anticipates weakness in the wholesale market.”

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“Australia’s net foreign debt is now over a trillion dollars, and less than a quarter of that is public debt.”

The Recession Australia Has To Have (ABC)

Earlier this week, Liberal Immigration Minister Peter Dutton warned that Labor’s proposed property investment tax changes would bring the economy to “a shuddering halt” and “crash” the stock market. His comments drew a swift rebuke from Labor’s shadow treasurer Chris Bowen, who described them as “reckless” and part of an “outlandish scare campaign”. But are they really so farfetched? Given the massive impact of Australia’s housing market on the economy as a whole, perhaps not. But that’s precisely why something needs to be done now, so that the possibility of a recession doesn’t become the threat of a depression. If we look closely at Australia’s GDP figures, we can get a sense of how out of kilter our housing market has become – and what might happen if the rug was pulled out from beneath it.

Over the past year, residential construction and renovations grew by around 10%, according to the ABS national accounts. The residential building sector alone thus directly added around half a percentage point to the nation’s 3% GDP growth. Obviously, if the sector stopped expanding, other things being equal, GDP growth would slow to 2.5%. If the industry shrank by an equivalent amount, it would have directly pulled GDP growth back closer to 2%. However, that’s only the beginning. As the home is by far the biggest asset for most of the roughly two-thirds of households who own one (outright or mortgaged), the “wealth effect” of rising property prices is a major driver of household consumption. Unlike residential building which makes up about 5.3% of spending in the economy, household consumption makes up nearly 56%.

If household consumption fell, there is a good chance Australia could see its first recession in a quarter of a century. Last quarter, “final consumption expenditure” was by far the biggest contributor to Australia’s economic growth, adding 0.4 percentage points out of a 0.6% GDP increase. Its mammoth size relative to the total economy saw household expenditure contribute just over half of Australia’s 3% economic growth last year, even though household spending only grew a tepid 2.9%. If falling home prices halted growth in household consumption, that would take a further 1.6 percentage points off growth. Not only has Australian household debt-to-income roughly tripled since the late 1980s to a fresh record 184.6%, driven entirely by surging housing debt, but most of that money has been borrowed from offshore. Australia’s net foreign debt is now over a trillion dollars, and less than a quarter of that is public debt.

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Canada wins?

Obama To Kill Off Arctic Oil Drilling (Guardian)

The Obama administration is expected to put virtually all of the Arctic and much of the Atlantic off limits for oil and gas drilling until 2022 in a decision that could be announced as early as Tuesday. The decision reverses Barack Obama’s move just last year to open up a vast swathe of the Atlantic coast to drilling – and consolidates the president’s efforts to protect the Arctic and fight climate change during his final months in the White House. The five-year drilling plan, which will be formally announced by the interior department, was expected to block immediate prospects of hunting for oil in the Arctic, according to those familiar with the proposals. The move was widely anticipated after Obama and Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, declared last week they would follow “science-based standards” when it came to sanctioning new oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.

But the plan was also expected to seal off large areas of the Atlantic coast from future exploration, following protests from coastal communities in the Carolinas and Georgia – and that could cause reverberations in the presidential elections. Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron have been pushing heavily to reopen drilling off the Atlantic coast, and Republicans and some state governors were also in favour. Obama had been inclined to agree. But after protests from dozens of coastal tourist towns, which feared a repeat of BP’s oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and opposition to drilling from the Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Georgia and the Carolinas were expected to remain closed to future drilling, sources familiar with the plans said.

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Why the EU doesn’t work, and never will. This time it’s all of Europe against tiny Cyprus.

The Cyprus Problem (FT)

Donald Tusk, the European Council president who has been attempting to broker a deal to stop the influx of refugees into the EU, has flown to Nicosia for a meeting this morning with Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades. For a man who spent the week before the last EU migration summit travelling to seven different capitals in four days, the fact that Mr Tusk is making Cyprus his only stop ahead of the next two-day gathering beginning Thursday is telling: the small island nation may prove the most difficult needle to thread in Brussels’ nascent deal with Turkey to take back thousands of migrants now washing ashore in Greece. [UPDATE: Mr Tusk has tacked on an evening trip to Ankara at the last minute.]

Cyprus has long been one of the biggest complicating factors in EU-Turkey relations, so objections from Nicosia to the demands being made by Ankara– another €3bn in aid, a visa-free travel scheme, opening of new “chapters” in EU membership talks – may have been expected. But the small group of EU leaders who brokered last week’s deal, led by Germany’s Angela Merkel, seemed to have forgotten that Cypriot objections this time around are far more consequential: the country is in the middle of delicate talks that diplomats believe are the best (and perhaps last) chance to reunify an island divided since Turkey invaded and held its northern half in 1974.

For Mr Anastasiades, making concessions to Ankara now without any compensation would not only cost him politically at home, but could wreck reunification talks altogether since the Greek Cypriot community he leads would likely abandon him. Like all other 27 EU heads of state, Mr Anastasiades can, on his own, veto the Turkey deal. Officials involved in last week’s summit now admit they may have mishandled the Cyprus issue; at one point, Mr Anastasiades was put into a room with Ms Merkel and the leaders of four other countries, all of whom pressured him to give up the “freeze” Nicosia has on the five membership chapters. The freeze was imposed by Cyprus in 2009 because Ankara had not lived up to commitments made to the EU to recognise the Nicosia-based Greek Cypriot government, and Mr Anastasiades has repeatedly insisted he cannot simply give up on the position without something in return.

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There’s enough being blamed on Greece as is.

Greek Asylum System Is Broken Cog In EU-Turkey Plan (EUO)

Much has been said on the merits of a draft EU-Turkey deal to return unwanted migrants from Greek islands. The plan hinges on designating Turkey as a “safe” country in order to send all “irregular migrants” packing. But Turkey’s patchy application of the Geneva Convention, Europe’s post-WWII human rights bible, and allegations of push-backs have cast a shadow over the draft accord. Big questions also remain on how Greece intends to implement EU asylum law under the new plan. Even if Ankara fulfills its side of the bargain, Greece can still expect a years-long backlog of asylum applications, appeals and meta-appeals that risk undermining the objective of speedy returns. Greece’s asylum system is dysfunctional. Some asylum seekers have waited up to 13 years to have their cases heard.

For rapid returns to work, Greece would need to overhaul its system and hire many more judges. The European Commission wants Greece to make it quick and efficient. “It’s up to the Hellenic authorities to organise this,” commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Monday (14 March). The Greek deputy minister for citizens’ protection, Nikos Toskas, over the weekend said a return under its bilateral agreement with Turkey could take just 48 hours. But a glance at EU laws and at the Greek asylum process makes that prospect seem unlikely. EU law gives anyone, Syrian or otherwise, the right to defend their case before a Greek court after having transited through Turkey. “Asylum seekers won’t be denied the rights to be heard,” said Schinas.

It means all will have the right to claim Turkey is not safe enough for them to be returned to. If Greek authorities reject their initial claim, the asylum seeker can appeal. That appeal must heard before a Greek court. Past cases in Greece show that the system is cumbersome and already overstretched. The Greek Forum for Refugees, an Athens’ based migrants’ group, said in a blog post earlier this month that people who have had their appeal interviews “are now waiting for months, or even years, to receive a decision from the authorities”. As of September last year, Greece had 23,000 pending appeals for applications filed before June 2013. Nobody seems to know how many more cases were filed after June 2013 when the vast bulk of asylum seekers arrived in Greece.

The Greek administrative body that oversees them stopped digging into the cases last October after its mandate expired. “So currently there is a freeze in the examination of appeals. We don’t know how many are pending,” the Brussels-based European Council on Refugees and Exiles, a non-profit watchdog on EU policy, told EUobserver. Meanwhile, 35,000 more people became stuck in Greece in recent weeks after the EU slammed shut its Western Balkan borders About 2,000 more are arriving on Greek shores from Turkey each day. It is likely that many people who struggle across the Aegean will exploit their legal rights to prevent their immediate return. In an added complication, it is also unclear if the legal challenge would be handled in the zones where people are first screened, identified and registered or in separate courts in the Greek islands’ local capitals.

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Another sorrowful episode. Should Greece let them in? Or should it protect its borders?

FYROM Returned About 600 Migrants To Greece (Reuters)

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has sent about 600 refugees who crossed the border on Monday back to Greece, a FYROM police official said on Tuesday. Most of the migrants were taken back to Greece on Monday or overnight on trucks, the official said. Hundreds of migrants marched out of a Greek transit camp, hiked for hours along muddy paths and forded a rain-swollen river on Monday to get around a border fence and cross into FYROM, where they were detained.

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It’ll get completely out of hand way before.

Greek Minister Sees Refugees Stuck For At Least Two Years (Kath.)

It may take up to two years for refugees and migrants trapped in Greece by closed borders at its north to be relocated to other countries of the EU or deported, Alternate Defense Minister and coordinator of the ministerial team managing the crisis Dimitris Vitsas, told the Financial Times on Sunday. “The thousands of migrants at the border are awaiting the outcome of the March 17 summit [of EU leaders] on refugees, hoping they will then be able to cross”, Vitsas said, referring to a summit later this week with Turkish officials to finalize a plan for migrant returns and relocations. “We have to persuade them this is not going to happen .. then the Idomeni camp will quickly empty, I think by the end of the week”, Vitsas told the FT.

His interview came a day before a spokesman for the UNHCR warned that conditions at the makeshift camp that is home to over 10,000 migrants on Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) are just unbelievable. Official estimates on Monday put the number of migrants trapped in Greece at over 44,000 as new arrivals kept landing on the country s eastern islands. Vitsas estimated that even if EU and Turkish leaders agree to speed up relocations, clearing the backlog in Greece may take up to two years. “We also have to recognize that some migrants will stay in Greece permanently. It’s going to happen”, Vitsas told the FT.

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Dec 292015
 
 December 29, 2015  Posted by at 9:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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DPC Sloss City furnaces, Birmingham, Alabama 1906


Weak Demand, Vessel Surplus Mean Horror 2016 For Commodities Shipping (Reuters)
Energy Stocks Fall Along With Oil Prices (WSJ)
Saudi Riyal In Danger As Oil War Escalates (AEP)
Saudis Plan Unprecedented Subsidy Cuts to Counter Oil Plunge (BBG)
Saudi Arabia Plans Subsidy Cuts as King Unveils 2016 Budget (BBG)
Where Next For The Three Arrows Of Abenomics? (Telegraph)
Record Merger Boom Won’t Stop In 2016, Because Money Is Still Cheap (Forbes)
China Control Freaks (BBG)
China Clamps Down on Online Lenders, Vows to Cleanse Market (BBG)
China Central Bank Says To Keep Reasonable Credit Growth, Yuan Stable (Reuters)
Cost Of UK Floods Tops £5 Billion, Thousands Face Financial Ruin (Guardian)
UK Factories Forecast To Shed Tens Of Thousands Of Jobs In 2016 (Guardian)
Questions and Answers (Jim Kunstler)
Qatari Royals Rush To Switzerland In Nine Planes After Emir Breaks Leg (AFP)
Freak Storm In Atlantic To Push Arctic Temps Over 50º Above Normal (WaPo)
German States To Spend At Least €17 Billion On Refugees In 2016 (Reuters)
Schaeuble Slams Greece Over Refugee Crisis, Aims For Joint EU Army (Reuters)
Selfishness On Refugees Has Brought EU ‘To Its Knees’ (IT)
Refugee Arrivals In Greece Rise More Than Tenfold In A Year (Kath.)

Forward looking.

Weak Demand, Vessel Surplus Mean Horror 2016 For Commodities Shipping (Reuters)

Shipping companies that transport commodities such as coal, iron ore and grain face a painful year ahead, with only the strongest expected to weather a deepening crisis caused by tepid demand and a surplus of vessels for hire. The predicament facing firms that ship commodities in large unpackaged amounts – known as dry bulk – is partly the result of slower coal and iron ore demand from leading global importer China in the second half of 2015. The Baltic Exchange’s main sea freight index – which tracks rates for ships carrying dry bulk commodities – plunged to an all-time low this month. In stark contrast, however, tankers that transport oil have in recent months enjoyed their best earnings in years. As crude prices have plummeted, bargain-buying has driven up demand, while owners have moved more aggressively to scrap vessels to head off the kind of surplus seen in the dry bulk market.

Symeon Pariaros, chief administrative officer of Athens-run and New York-listed shipping firm Euroseas, said the outlook for the dry bulk market was “very challenging”. “Demand fundamentals are so weak. The Chinese economy, which is the main driver of dry bulk, is way below expectations,” he added. “Only companies with very strong balance sheets will get through this storm.” The dry bulk shipping downturn began in 2008, after the onset of the financial crisis, and has worsened significantly this year as the Chinese economy has slowed. The Baltic Exchange’s main BDI index – which gauges the cost of shipping such commodities, also including cement and fertiliser – is more than 95% down from a record high hit in 2008. The index is often regarded as a forward-looking economic indicator. With about 90% of the world’s traded goods by volume transported by sea, global investors look to the BDI for any signs of changes in sentiment for industrial demand.

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Very thin trading.

Energy Stocks Fall Along With Oil Prices (WSJ)

A fresh selloff in the oil market weighed down U.S. stocks, with energy shares posting sharp losses. Major U.S. indexes pared their steepest declines but still ended the day in negative territory, returning some of last week’s gains. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 23.90 points, or 0.1%, to 17528.27, after falling as much as 115 points intraday. The S&P 500 index fell 4.49, or 0.2%, to 2056.50. The Nasdaq Composite Index declined 7.51, or 0.1%, to 5040.99. Just 4.8 billion shares changed hands Monday, marking the lowest full day of U.S. trading volume this year, in a holiday-shortened week. Markets in London and Australia were closed Monday for Boxing Day. The U.S. stock market will be closed Friday for New Year’s Day. Energy stocks notched some of the steepest declines across the market. Chevron posted the heaviest loss among Dow components, falling $1.69, or 1.8%, to $90.36.

Marathon Oil shed 95 cents, or 6.8%, to 12.98. “We’re just following the price of oil,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at brokerage First Standard Financial. December has been marked by unusually wide swings in U.S. stocks. A long-awaited interest-rate increase by the Federal Reserve earlier in the month has failed to quiet the recent volatility. A respite from the decline in oil prices last week helped lure investors into the energy sector. U.S. stocks last week posted their biggest weekly gains in more than a month, driven by the energy sector. But both oil prices and energy stocks remain sharply lower this year, even with last week’s rally. A global glut of crude oil has contributed to a 30% fall in U.S. oil prices this year. On Monday, U.S. crude prices fell 3.4% to $36.81 a barrel. Energy stocks in the S&P 500 are down 23% so far in 2015, while the S&P 500 is on track for a loss of 0.1%.

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if the dollar stays strong, the peg is history.

Saudi Riyal In Danger As Oil War Escalates (AEP)

Saudi Arabia is burning through foreign reserves at an unsustainable rate and may be forced to give up its prized dollar exchange peg as the oil slump drags on, the country’s former reserve chief has warned. “If anything happens to the riyal exchange peg, the consequences will be dramatic. There will be a serious loss of confidence,” said Khalid Alsweilem, the former head of asset management at the Saudi central bank (SAMA). “But if the reserves keep going down as they are now, they will not be able to keep the peg,” he told The Telegraph. His warning came as the Saudi finance ministry revealed that the country’s deficit leapt to 367bn riyals (£66bn) this year, up from 54bn riyals the previous year. The IMF has suggested Saudia Arabia could be running a deficit of around $140bn.

Remittances by foreign workers in Saudi Arabia are draining a further $36bn a year, and capital outflows were picking up even before the oil price crash. Bank of America estimates that the deficit could rise to nearer $180bn if oil prices settle near $30 a barrel, testing the riyal peg to breaking point. Dr Alsweilem said the country does not have deep enough pockets to wage a long war of attrition in the global crude markets, whatever the superficial appearances. Concern has become acute after 12-month forward contracts on the Saudi Riyal reached 730 basis points over recent days, the highest since the worst days of last oil crisis in February 1999. The contracts are watched closely by traders for signs of currency stress. The latest spike suggests that the riyal is under concerted attack by hedge funds and speculators in the region, risking a surge of capital flight.

A string of oil states have had to abandon their currency pegs over recent weeks. The Azerbaijani manat crashed by a third last Monday after the authorities finally admitted defeat. The dollar peg has been the anchor of Saudi economic policy and credibility for over three decades. A forced devaluation would heighten fears that the crisis is spinning out of political control, further enflaming disputes within the royal family. Foreign reserves and assets have fallen to $647bn from a peak of $746bn in August 2014, but headline figures often mean little in the complex world of central bank finances and derivative contracts. Dr Alsweilem, now at Harvard University, said the Saudi authorities have taken a big gamble by flooding the world with oil to gain market share and drive out rivals. “The thinking that lower oil prices will bring down the US oil industry is just nonsense and will not work.”

The policy is contentious even within the Saudi royal family. Optimists hope that this episode will be a repeat of the mid-1980s when the kingdom pursued the same strategy and succeeded in curbing non-OPEC investment, and preperaring the ground for recovery in prices. But the current situation is sui generis. The shale revolution has turned the US into a mid-cost swing producer, able to keep drilling at $50bn a barrel, according to the latest OPEC report. US shale frackers can switch output on and off relatively quickly, acting as a future headwind against price rises.

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End of free money.

Saudis Plan Unprecedented Subsidy Cuts to Counter Oil Plunge (BBG)

Confronting a drop in oil prices and mounting regional turmoil, Saudi Arabia reduced energy subsidies and allocated the biggest part of government spending in next year’s budget to defense and security. Authorities announced increases to the prices of fuel, electricity and water as part of a plan to restructure subsidies within five years. The government intends to cut spending next year and gradually privatize some state-owned entities and introduce value-added taxation as well as a levy on tobacco. The biggest shake-up of Saudi economic policy in recent history coincides with growing regional unrest, including a war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is battling pro-Iranian Shiite rebels.

In attempting to reduce its reliance on oil, the kingdom is seeking to put an end to the population’s dependence on government handouts, a move that political analysts had considered risky after the 2011 revolts that swept parts of the Middle East. “This is the beginning of the end of the era of free money,” said Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of London-based consulting firm Cornerstone Global Associates. “Saudi society will have to get used to a new way of working with the government. This is a wake-up call for both Saudi society and the government that things are changing.” This is the first budget under King Salman, who ascended to the throne in January, and for an economic council dominated by his increasingly powerful son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In its first months in power, the new administration brought swift change to the traditionally slow-moving kingdom, overhauling the cabinet, merging ministries and realigning the royal succession. The new measures are the beginning of a “big program that the economic council will launch,” Economy and Planning Minister Adel Fakeih told reporters in Riyadh. The subsidy cuts won’t have a “large effect” on people with low or middle income, he said.

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Immediate danger for House of Saud.

Saudi Arabia Plans Subsidy Cuts as King Unveils 2016 Budget (BBG)

Saudi Arabia said it plans to gradually cut subsidies and sell stakes in government entities as it seeks to counter a slump in oil revenue. The government expects the 2016 budget deficit to narrow to 326 billion riyals ($87 billion) from 367 billion in 2015. Spending, which reached 975 billion riyals this year, is projected to drop to 840 billion. Revenue is forecast to decline to 513.8 billion riyals from 608 billion riyals. The budget is the first under King Salman, who ascended to the throne in January, and an economic council dominated by his increasingly powerful son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The collapse in oil prices has slashed government revenue, forcing officials to draw on reserves and issue bonds for the first time in nearly a decade.

“The budget was approved amid challenging economic and financial circumstances in the region and the world,” the Finance Ministry said. “The deficit will be financed through a plan that considers the best available options, including domestic and external borrowing.” The 2015 deficit is about 16% of GDP, according to Alp Eke, senior economist at National Bank of Abu Dhabi. The median estimate of 10 economists in a Bloomberg survey was a shortfall of 20%. Oil made up 73% of this year’s revenue, according to the Finance Ministry. Non-oil income rose 29% to 163.5 billion riyals. The government has managed to reign in “some spending in the second half of the year,” Monica Malik at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank said. “With the further fiscal retrenchment that we expect in 2016, we think that the fiscal deficit should narrow to about 10.8% of GDP.”

For 2016, the government allocated 213 billion riyals for military and security spending, the largest component of the budget as the kingdom fights a war in Yemen against Shiite rebels. “In terms of defense expenditure in particular there’s the burden of the war in Yemen,” Nasser Saidi, president of Nasser Saidi & Associates, said by phone. The outcome for 2016 depends on “the course of the war in Yemen, oil prices, how much will subsidies actually get reduced, how effective are they in reigning in public spending and rationalizing some of the spending on large projects, and finally how good are they at reigning in current spending,” he said.

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” Japan’s debt pile is huge, at around 240pc of GDP, and the OECD warned this year that it could balloon to 400pc of GDP..”

Where Next For The Three Arrows Of Abenomics? (Telegraph)

The last sales tax increase threw the world’s third largest economy into recession. For this reason, things may start getting more complicated at the checkout. Policymakers announced last week that they plan to exempt food from the next hike. This would be the first time Japan has adopted different consumption tax rates since it was introduced in 1989. The government estimates this will cost about one trillion yen (£5.5bn) in lost revenues – equivalent to about a fifth of what it expects the increase to bring in. While cynics highlight the move as a ploy to win votes ahead of next year’s upper house elections, it is also a reminder that steering Japan out of its two-decade malaise remains a challenge. It’s been three years since prime minister Shinzo Abe took power with a promise to smash deflation and “take back Japan”.

Under the stewardship of Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda, the country launched a multi trillion yen quantitative easing programme in 2013 that was beefed up to ¥80 trillion (£446bn) annually last October. Pessimists argue that Japan’s monetary steroids have had little impact. As economists at BNP Paribas highlight, real GDP has grown by just 2.2pc between the fourth quarter of 2012 and the third quarter of this year – or an average of just 0.8pc per year – a poor performance compared with its G7 peers. Japan’s recovery has been lacklustre since the 2008 crisis, and the economy would currently be in a quintuple-dip recession if growth for the third quarter of 2015 had not been revised up this month. This month, the Bank of Japan revised down its growth forecast for the year ending next March to 1.2pc, from 1.7pc, citing weaker global growth.

It also pushed back its expectation of achieving 2pc inflation to the second half of the year or early 2017, from a previous forecast of mid-2016. This is the second time the target date has been moved since Mr Kuroda pledged in April 2013 to lift consumer inflation to 2pc in “around two years”. Policymakers are already talking down their chances of reflating the economy. Consumer prices rose by just 0.3pc in the year to October, while core inflation, which strips out the impact of volatile food and energy prices, stood at 0.7pc. “If consumer prices were rising more than 1.5pc then I don’t think you could complain when talking about the price target,” said Akira Amari, Japan’s economy minister.

On a brighter note, nominal GDP, or the cash size of the economy, has risen at a more robust pace. This is important because nominal GDP determines a country’s ability to pay down its debt, most of which is fixed in cash terms. Japan’s debt pile is huge, at around 240pc of GDP, and the OECD warned this year that it could balloon to 400pc of GDP unless policymakers implemented vital structural reforms.

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M&A as a means to hide one’s indebtedness.

Record Merger Boom Won’t Stop In 2016, Because Money Is Still Cheap (Forbes)

It was a year for the record books when it comes to merger and acquisition activity. Nearly $5 trillion in deals were cut globally, a new all-time high, as dealmakers used consolidation to uncover cost cuts, bolster their scale and take advantage of historically low borrowing costs. Though 2016 may be a tougher year if emerging market growth slows further and the impact of a sharp rout in commodities hits North America, few expect today’s merger boom to slow. After all, most of the reasons M&A climbed from $3 trillion to $4 trillion and now a rounding error below $5 trillion remain. Corporations are using cheap debt financing to buy competitors and wrench out synergies that can quickly grow their earnings. Amid a mostly halting economic recovery in the United States, M&A has proven far more attractive and easy to pitch to investors than an expansion, which might require increased plant and equipment and rising expenses.

For the nation’s largest companies, there’s also been a race to increase market power, or respond to consolidation among competitors. In pharmaceuticals, these trends have manifest themselves in the race to merge with European-domiciled drugmakers who can access cash stockpiles without triggering repatriation tax and aren’t charged at U.S. rates globally. This has spurred a pharma merger wave that hit new records in 2015 and it isn’t expected to slow anytime soon. In technology, mergers are yet to hinge on tax savings. Instead, semiconductors facing tectonic shifts such as the adoption wireless devices and cloud computing are merging in an effort to round out their services. Consolidation in cable and telecommunications is being used to adapt to the commoditization of once lucrative services like video and data bundles.

The combination of overlapping wireless and broadband networks is also seen as an efficient way to build the infrastructure that’s needed to serve consumers’ shift to streaming media. Spongy financing markets have aided the M&A boom. Low economic growth, modest inflation and weak pricing power are all causing CEOs to look at engineering profits through share buybacks and mergers. Meanwhile, activist shareholders are putting pressure on C-Suites to provide a clear plan on how they reinvest profits. Bold bets have to be justified with credible return expectations and these days it seems the returns by way of M&A, not capital expenditure or expansion.

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Casino control.

China Control Freaks (BBG)

Can authorities in China really take a back seat? In the midst of a bull market (stocks are up more than 20% from their August lows), Beijing appears to be handing control over to companies for all new initial public offerings from March onward. The shift toward a more U.S.-style disclosure system, where any company can list so long as they provide the requisite information, has been a long time coming. In a more market-oriented system, the regulator concentrates on supervising publicly traded firms rather than acting as a gatekeeper. Such a system would give China’s cash-strapped corporates a funding alternative to shadow banks and online peer-to-peer lenders, and help clear a logjam of almost 700 companies waiting to sell shares for the first time. The question is, can Beijing truly stop its tinkering?

According to KPMG, China has imposed moratoriums on IPOs nine times in the A-share market’s relatively short 25-year history – four of those in the last decade during periods when things were heading south. The most recent halt, enforced in July after several blockbuster share sales and some stomach-churning stock declines, ended only last month when a government-engineered rally revived the market.Even when IPOs have been approved, social policy dominates. A few years ago, when China was trying to cool its then-heady real estate sector and rein in burgeoning bad loans, no developer or city commercial bank would have stood a chance getting listing approval. Instead, some went to Hong Kong to raise funds. The conundrum for the China Securities Regulatory Commission is that letting any (qualified) company sell shares would result in a glut and damp appetite for the state-owned firms that dominate the market.

However, rationing admittance to the IPO market means bureaucrats rather than investors are making the decisions, and has resulted in an insatiable demand for new stock. An even bigger challenge for the CSRC, whose seven-member listing committee currently vets IPO applications, is managing investor expectations. In a nation where investment options tend to be limited to volatile wealth management products, equally choppy real estate or low-yielding bank accounts, people have little recourse for their some $22 trillion in savings beyond stocks. That explains why retail investors own about 80% of publicly traded companies’ tradeable shares unlike the U.S., where institutional investors dominate. Such a prevalence of individuals, who don’t have class action lawsuits to fall back on in cases of corporate malfeasance, also makes for a stock market more akin to a casino than a funding tool.

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Shadow banking clamp down.

China Clamps Down on Online Lenders, Vows to Cleanse Market (BBG)

China’s banking regulator laid out planned restrictions on thousands of online peer-to-peer lenders, pledging to “cleanse the market” as failed platforms and suspected frauds highlight risks within a booming industry. Online platforms shouldn’t take deposits from the public, pool investors’ money, or guarantee returns, the China Banking Regulatory Commission said on Monday, publishing a draft rule that will be its first for the industry. The thrust of the CBRC’s approach is that the platforms are intermediaries – matchmakers between borrowers and lenders – that shouldn’t themselves raise or lend money. It rules out P2P sites distributing wealth-management products, a tactic that some hoped would diversify their revenue sources, and limits their use for crowdfunding.

“The rule is quite strict,” Shanghai-based Maizi Financial Services, which operates a P2P site and other investment platforms, said in a statement. “The industry’s hope of upgrading itself with wealth management products and adopting a diversified business model is completely dashed.” The banking regulator issued its plan at the same time as the central bank put out a rule to tighten oversight of online-payment firms. The looming clampdown – the regulator asked for feedback by Jan. 27 – comes as the police probe Ezubo, an online site that raised billions of dollars from investors according to Yingcan Group, a company which provides industry data. It also follows a stock boom and bust that was fueled by leverage, including some channeled through online lenders.

China had 2,612 online lending platforms operating normally as of November, with more than 400 billion yuan ($61.7 billion) of loans outstanding, while another 1,000 were “problematic,” the CBRC said. Firms such as Tiger Global Management, Standard Chartered and Sequoia Capital are among those to invest in the industry, which China initially allowed to develop without regulation. Under the planned rule, P2P platforms will need to register with local financial regulators and cannot help borrowers who want to raise money to invest in the stock market. They’re banned from crowdfunding “for equities and physical items,” a description that wasn’t clarified in the CBRC statement. “Many online lenders have strayed from the role of information intermediary,” the CBRC said in a separate statement, adding that it wanted to protect consumers and “cleanse the market.”

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Control clowns: “..a goal of doubling GDP and per capita income by 2020 from 2010..”

China Central Bank Says To Keep Reasonable Credit Growth, Yuan Stable (Reuters)

China’s central bank said on Monday that it would “flexibly” use various policy tools to maintain appropriate liquidity and reasonable growth in credit and social financing. The People’s Bank of China will keep the yuan basically stable while forging ahead with reforms to help improve its currency regime, it said in a statement summarizing the fourth-quarter monetary policy committee meeting. The PBOC said it would maintain a prudent monetary policy, keeping its stance “neither too tight nor too loose”. The prudent policy has been in place since 2011. “We will improve and optimize financing and credit structures, increase the proportion of direct financing and reduce financing costs,” it said. The central bank said it would closely watch changes in China’s economy and financial markets, as well as international capital flows.

Top leaders at the annual Central Economic Work Conference pledged to make China’s monetary policy more flexible and expand its budget deficit in 2016 to support a slowing economy as they seek to push forward “supply-side reform”. The PBOC has cut interest rates six times since November 2014 and lowered banks’ reserve requirements, or the amount of cash that banks must set aside as reserves. But such policy steps have yielded limited impact on the economy, as the government has been struggling to reach its growth target of about 7% this year. President Xi Jinping has said China must keep annual average growth of no less than 6.5% over the next five years to hit a goal of doubling GDP and per capita income by 2020 from 2010.

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Betcha Cameron is more concerned right now with London’s flood control than Lancashire’s.

Cost Of UK Floods Tops £5 Billion, Thousands Face Financial Ruin (Guardian)

The cost of the UK’s winter floods will top £5bn and thousands of families and businesses will face financial ruin because they have inadequate or non-existent insurance, a leading accountant has warned, as the government defended its record on flood defences. The prime minister faced growing anger from politicians in the north of England who accused the government of creating “a north-south gap” in financial support for flood-prevention schemes. On a tour of the region, David Cameron defended spending levels amid mounting criticism from MPs and council leaders. “We are spending more in this parliament than the last one and in the last parliament we spent more than the one before that,” he said during a stop in York.

“I think with any of these events we have to look at what we are planning to spend and think: ‘Do we need to do more?’ We are going to spend £2.3bn on flood defences in this parliament but we will look at what’s happened here and see what needs to be done. We have to look at what’s happened in terms of the flooding, what flood defences have worked and the places where they haven’t worked well enough.” But Judith Blake, leader of Leeds city council, said a flood prevention scheme for the city was ditched by the government in 2011, and warned that there was “a very strong feeling” across the region that the north was being short-changed.

“I think there’s a real anger growing across the north about the fact that the cuts have been made to the flood defences and we’ll be having those conversations as soon as we are sure that people are safe and that we start the clean-up process and really begin the assess the scale of the damage. “So there are some very serious questions for government to answer on this and we’ll be putting as much pressure on as possible to redress the balance and get the funding situation equalised so the north get its fair share.” Labour MP Ivan Lewis, meanwhile, challenged Cameron to back up his vision of the Northern Powerhouse by sending immediate help to residents and businesses in his Bury South constituency.

[..] On Monday, as the waters receded in the worst hit areas, residents began to face up the scale of the damage. In York telephone lines and internet connections were down and some cash machines were not working. Many of the bars and shops that were open were only taking cash. In Hebden Bridge in Calderdale, volunteers spent the day clearing out schools, shops and homes that had been overwhelmed by filthy floodwater – a scene repeated in scores of towns and cities across the region. Forecasters warned another storm – Storm Frank – is expected to bring more rain to the west and north of the UK on Wednesday. It is feared that up to 80mm (3in) will fall on high ground and as much as 120mm (4.7in) in exposed locations, accompanied by gale force winds..

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Oh yeah, an economy others are jealous of.

UK Factories Forecast To Shed Tens Of Thousands Of Jobs In 2016 (Guardian)

British manufacturers will shed tens of thousands of jobs next year as they battle a tough export market, the fallout from steel plant closures and a collapse in demand from the embattled North Sea oil industry, an industry group has forecast. The manufacturers’ organisation EEF said the factory sector will shrug off this year’s recession and eke out modest growth in 2016 but it warned a number of risks loom on the horizon, chief among them a sharper downturn in China that could trigger a global slump. A cautious mood has prompted many firms to plan cuts to both jobs and investment in a further blow to George Osborne, after the latest official figures showed UK economic growth had faltered and that his “march of the makers” vow had failed to translate into a manufacturing revival.

EEF said its latest snapshot of manufacturers’ mood shows some bright spots for 2016, however, particularly in the car, aerospace and pharmaceutical sub-sectors. They will be the main drivers behind overall manufacturing growth of 0.8% in 2016, following an expected 0.1% contraction this year. Those sub-sectors will also buck the wider manufacturing trend of job cuts with an employment increase in 2016, EEF predicts. “Some of the headwinds have been a consistent theme over 2015 – the collapse in oil and gas activity, weakness in key export markets, and strong sterling. Others, like disappointing construction activity and the breakdown in the steel industry, have piled on the pain since the second quarter of 2015,” said EEF’s chief economist, Lee Hopley, in the report. “It’s not all doom and gloom however, with the resilience of the transport sectors and the rejuvenation of the pharmaceuticals industry providing reasons for cheer in UK manufacturing.”

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“..it would require dedication to clear goals and the hard work of altering all our current arrangements – and giving up these childish fantasy distractions about space and technology.”

Questions and Answers (Jim Kunstler)

The really big item in last night’s 60-Minutes newsbreak was that the latest Star Wars movie passed the billion dollar profit gate a week after release. That says just about everything you need to know about our floundering society, including the state of the legacy news media. The cherry on top last week was Elon Musk’s SpaceX company’s feat landing the first spent stage of its Falcon 9 rocket to be (theoretically) recycled and thus hugely lowering the cost of firing things into space. The media spooged all over itself on that one, since behind this feat stands Mr. Musk’s heroic quest to land humans on Mars. This culture has lost a lot in the past 40 years, but among the least recognized is the loss of its critical faculties. We’ve become a nation of six-year-olds.

News flash: we’re not going Mars. Notwithstanding the accolades for Ridley Scott’s neatly-rationalized fantasy, The Martian (based on Andy Weir’s novel), any human journey to the red planet would be a one-way trip. Anyway, all that begs the question: why are we so eager to journey to a dead planet with none of the elements necessary for human life when we can’t seem to manage human life on a planet superbly equipped to support us? Answer: because we are lost in raptures of techno-narcissism. What do I mean by that? We’re convinced that all the unanticipated consequences of our brief techno-industrial orgy can be solved by… more and better technology! Notice that this narrative is being served up to a society now held hostage to the images on little screens, by skilled people who, more and more, act as though these screens have become the new dwelling place of reality.

How psychotic is that? All of this grandstanding about the glories of space goes on at the expense of paying attention to our troubles on this planet, including the existential question as to how badly we are fucking it up with burning the fossil fuels that power our techno-industrial activities. Personally, I don’t believe that any international accord will work to mitigate that quandary. But what will work, and what I fully expect, is a financial breakdown that will lead to a forced re-set of human endeavor at a lower scale of technological activity. The additional question really is how much hardship will that transition entail and the answer is that there is plenty within our power to make that journey less harsh.

But it would require dedication to clear goals and the hard work of altering all our current arrangements – and giving up these childish fantasy distractions about space and technology. Dreaming about rockets to Mars is easy compared to, say, transitioning our futureless Agri-Biz racket to other methods of agriculture that don’t destroy soils, water tables, ecosystems, and bodies. It’s easier than rearranging our lives on the landscape so we’re not hostage to motoring everywhere for everything. It’s easier than educating people to both think and develop real hands-on skills not dependent on complex machines and electric-powered devices.

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Wild theories welcome.

Qatari Royals Rush To Switzerland In Nine Planes After Emir Breaks Leg (AFP)

Unidentified individuals travelling in as many as nine planes belonging to Qatar’s royal family made an emergency trip to Switzerland over the weekend for medical reasons, according to a Swiss official. A spokesman for Switzerland’s federal office of civil aviation confirmed local media reports that multiple aircraft made unscheduled landings at the Zurich-Kloten airport overnight from 25 to 26 December and that the planes were part of the Qatari royal fleet. He gave no details as to who was on board or who any of the potential patients may have been. “The emergency landing clearance was given by the Swiss air force,” he told AFP, explaining that the civil aviation office was closed during the hours in question.

Qatari authorities later said that the country’s former ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, had been flown to Switzerland over the weekend for surgery after breaking a leg. The Qatari government’s communications office said early on Tuesday that Sheihk Hamad suffered “a broken leg while on holiday” and was flown to Zurich on Saturday to receive treatment. The office says the 63-year-old sheikh underwent a successful operation and was in Zurich “recovering and undergoing physiotherapy.” The government declined to say how or where Sheikh Hamad broke his leg but the royal family had reportedly been on holiday in Morocco at a resort in the Atlas mountains. Night landings and takeoffs are typically forbidden at Zurich-Kloten to avoid disturbing local residents.

Swiss foreign ministry spokesman Georg Farago told AFP in an email that the federation was informed about the “stay of members of Qatar’s royal family in Switzerland”, without giving further details. According to Zurich’s Tages Anzeiger newspaper, the first Qatari plane, an Airbus, landed in Zurich from Marrakesh shortly after midnight on 26 December. A second flight landed at Zurich-Kloten at 5am (0400 GMT) on 26 December, with a third plane coming 15 minutes later, both having originated in Doha, the paper reported. According to Tages Anzeiger, the medical emergency in question was so significant that six more planes linked to the Qatari royal family and government landed in Zurich through the weekend. Sheikh Hamad is believed to have been in poor health for years. He ruled the oil-and-gas-rich Qatar from 1995 until handing over power to his son, Sheikh Tamim, in 2013.

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“It’s as if a bomb went off. And, in fact, it did.”

Freak Storm In Atlantic To Push Arctic Temps Over 50º Above Normal (WaPo)

The vigorous low pressure system that helped spawn devastating tornadoes in the Dallas area on Saturday is forecast to explode into a monstrous storm over Iceland by Wednesday. Big Icelandic storms are common in winter, but this one may rank among the strongest and will draw northward an incredible surge of warmth pushing temperatures at the North Pole over 50 degrees above normal. This is mind-boggling. And the storm will batter the United Kingdom, reeling from recent flooding, with another round of rain and wind. Computer model simulations show the storm, sweeping across the north central Atlantic today, rapidly intensifying along a jet stream ripping above the ocean at 230 mph. The storm’s pressure is forecast by the GFS model to plummet more than 50 millibars in 24 hours between Monday night and Tuesday night, easily meeting the criteria of a ‘bomb cyclone’ (a drop in pressure of at least 24 mb in 24 hours),

By Wednesday morning, when the storm reaches Iceland and nears maximum strength, its minimum pressure is forecast to be near 923 mb, which would rank among the great storms of the North Atlantic. (Note: there is some uncertainty as to how much it will intensify. The European model only drops the minimum pressure to around 936 mb, which is strong but not that unusual). Winds of hurricane force are likely to span hundreds of miles in the North Atlantic. Environmental blogger Robert Scribbler notes this storm will be linked within a “daisy chain” of two other powerful North Atlantic low pressure systems forming a “truly extreme storm system.” He adds: “The Icelandic coast and near off-shore regions are expected to see heavy precipitation hurled over the island by 90 to 100 mile per hour or stronger winds raging out of 35-40 foot seas. Meanwhile, the UK will find itself in the grips of an extraordinarily strong southerly gale running over the backs of 30 foot swells.”

[..] Ahead of the storm, the surge of warm air making a beeline towards the North Pole is astonishing. [..] It’s as if a bomb went off. And, in fact, it did. The exploding storm acts a remarkably efficient heat engine, drawing warm air from the tropics to the top of the Earth. The GFS model projects the temperature at the North Pole to reach near freezing or 32 degrees early Wednesday. Consider the average winter temperature there is around 20 degrees below zero. If the temperature rises to freezing, it would signify a departure from normal of over 50 degrees.

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Hope some of that goes toward giving them jobs.

German States To Spend At Least €17 Billion On Refugees In 2016 (Reuters)

Germany’s federal states are planning to spend around €17 billion on dealing with the refugee crisis in 2016, newspaper Die Welt said on Tuesday, citing a survey it conducted among their finance ministries. The sum, bigger than the €15.3 billion that the central government planned to allocate to its education and research ministry in 2015, is a measure of the strain that the influx is causing across the country as a whole. Germany is the favoured destination for many of the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, partly due to the generous benefits that it offers.

The German states have repeatedly complained that they are struggling to cope, and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy has caused tensions within her conservative camp. Die Welt said that excluding the small city state of Bremen, which did not provide any details, current plans suggested the states’ combined expenditure would be €16.5 billion. The paper said actual costs would probably be even higher because the regional finance ministries had based their budgets on an estimate from the federal government that 800,000 refugees would come to Germany in 2015. In fact, 965,000 asylum seekers had already arrived by the end of November.

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Finance ministers have no place intervening in politics.

Schaeuble Slams Greece Over Refugee Crisis, Aims For Joint EU Army (Reuters)

Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and a senior Bavarian politician criticized Greece on Sunday over the way it is managing its role in Europe’s biggest migration crisis since World War Two. Schaeuble, who has clashed repeatedly with Greek officials this year over economic policy, told Bild am Sonntag that Athens has for years ignored the rules that oblige migrants to file for asylum in the European Union country they arrive in first. He said German courts had decided some time ago that refugees were not being treated humanely in Greece and could therefore not be sent back there. “The Greeks should not put the blame for their problems only on others, they should also see how they can do better themselves,” Schaeuble said.

Greece, a main gateway to Europe for migrants crossing the Aegean sea, has faced criticism from other EU governments who say it has done little to manage the flow of hundreds of thousands of people arriving on its shores. Joachim Herrmann, the interior minister of the southern state of Bavaria, that has taken the brunt of the refugee influx to Germany, criticized the way Greece is securing its external borders. “What Greece is doing is a farce,” Herrmann said in an interview with Die Welt am Sonntag newspaper, adding any that any country that does not meet its obligations to secure its external borders should leave the Schengen zone, where internal border controls have been abolished.

[..] In contrast to his criticism of Greece, Schaeuble sought to offer to compromise with eastern European countries that have voiced reluctance to accept migrants under EU quotas. “Solidarity doesn’t start by insulting each other,” Schaeuble said. “Eastern European states will also have to take in refugees, but fewer than Germany.” The influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants, many fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, also means that European countries will have to increase spending on defense, he said. “Ultimately our aim must be a joint European army. The funds that we spend on our 28 national armies could be used far more effectively together,” Schaeuble said.

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No, EU indifference on refugees has brought it down.

Selfishness On Refugees Has Brought EU ‘To Its Knees’ (IT)

The “ruinously selfish” behaviour of some member states towards refugees has brought the European Union to its knees, former attorney general Peter Sutherland has said. In a sharp denunciation of Europe’s failures on migration and social integration, Mr Sutherland, who is special representative to the United Nations secretary general for migration, said political “paralysis and ambivalence” was threatening the future of the EU and resulting in the rise of xenophobic and racist parties. With a population of 508 million, the EU should have had no insuperable problem welcoming even a million refugees “had the political leadership of the member states wanted to do so and had the effort been properly organised,” Mr Sutherland said. “But instead, ruinously selfish behaviour by some member states has brought the EU to its knees.”

There were several “honourable exceptions”, most notably German chancellor Angela Merkel, who he described as “a heroine” for showing openness and generosity towards refugees. Mr Sutherland made the remarks in the Littleton memorial lecture, which was broadcast on RTÉ radio on St Stephen’s Day. More than a million refugees and migrants arrived in the EU by land and sea in 2015, according to the International Organisation for Migration, making this the worst crisis of forced displacement on the continent since the second World War. Half of those arriving were Syrians fleeing a conflict that has left almost 250,000 people dead and displaced half the country’s pre-war population. A European Commission plan to use quotas to relocate asylum seekers arriving in southeastern Europe was adopted in the autumn against strong opposition from several states, including Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Slovakia said it would take in only a few hundred refugees, and they would have to be Christians. Mr Sutherland said the razor and barbed wire fences being erected on the Hungarian border to keep out migrants and refugees “are not just tragic but they are also particularly ironic, as Hungarians were for so long confined by the Iron Curtain.” He recalled that in 1956, after their failed revolution, 200,000 Hungarian refugees were immediately given protection throughout Europe and elsewhere. “Yet now, prime minister Viktor Orbán is the most intransigent and vociferous opponent of taking refugees in the EU.” Mr Sutherland accused some heads of government of “stoking up prejudice” by speaking of barring Muslim migrants and said the absence of EU agreement on a refugee-sharing scheme meant a Europe of internal borders was increasingly likely to become a reality across the continent.

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Waiting for the next surge as soon as the weather gets better.

Refugee Arrivals In Greece Rise More Than Tenfold In A Year (Kath.)

Over 800,000 refugees and migrants entered Greece between the start of the year and the end of November, with the number of arrivals increasing more than tenfold compared to last year’s total of 72,632, data published by the Greek Police showed Monday. The number tallies with figures from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which puts total arrivals in Greece from January 1 to December 24 at 836,672. The UNHCR also reported that in the three-day period from December 24 to 26, daily arrivals in Greece came to 2,950, with the monthly average at 3,400 per day, a significant drop from November’s average of 5,040. Most arrivals continue to enter Greece via the islands close to Turkey, the main transit point for refugees and migrants fleeing strife in the Middle East and South Asia and trying to enter the European Union.

On Lesvos alone, authorities estimate that they continue to receive from 2,000 to 2,500 arrivals every day, down from an average of over 5,000 in November. Police on the eastern Aegean island on Monday said that more than 3,500 refugees and migrants were waiting to be ferried to the mainland by this afternoon, while at the island’s main registration center in Moria, there are a further 4,000 people waiting to be processed and granted permission to leave for Athens, from where they will continue their journey north. In the capital, meanwhile, the Asylum Service of the Citizens’ Protection Ministry on Monday published data showing that only 82 of the 449 applications it has submitted so far for the relocation of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea to other parts of the European Union have been successful.

The initial plan drawn up by European authorities was for a total of 66,400 refugees to be transferred from Greece to other EU member-states, though only 13 countries have come forward, offering to take in a total of 565 asylum seekers. The repatriations that have been successful have been to Luxembourg, which took in 30 people, Finland (24), Portugal (14), Germany (10) and Lithuania, which accepted four relocations.

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