Apr 202017
 
 April 20, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Fra Filippo Lippi 1406-1469 The Virgin Mary

 


The IMF Says Austerity Is Over (Tel.)
Reflation Trades of 2016 Deflate With Remarkable Speed (R.)
IMF Warns High US Corporate Leverage Could Threaten Financial Stability (WSJ)
Securities-Based Loans Are Scaring Fiscal Experts (NYP)
Telling the Truth: (P + G) – M = I (MarkGB)
You’re Hired! A Guaranteed Job For Anyone Who Wants One (DJ)
Japan’s Middle-Aged ‘Parasite Singles’ Face Uncertain Future (R.)
The EU’s Collapse Is Now “Imminent” (Doug Casey)
Greece Needs To Start Having Babies Again or Face Financial Oblivion (Ind.)
40% of Spanish Children Live in Poverty (EurA)
Ontario Set to Unveil Its Plan to Cool Toronto Housing (BBG)
Feds Knew of 700 Wells Fargo Whistleblower Cases in 2010 (CNN)
So It Goes (Oliver Stone)
A Melting Arctic Changes Everything (BBG)

 

 

Yeah, sure, just come look in Greece. Where the IMF itself demands ever more austerity. While claiming austerity is over.

The IMF Says Austerity Is Over (Tel.)

Austerity is over as governments across the rich world increased spending last year and plan to keep their wallets open for the foreseeable future. After five years of belt tightening, the IMF says the era of spending cuts that followed the financial crisis is now at an end. “Advanced economies eased their fiscal stance by one-fifth of 1pc of GDP in 2016, breaking a five-year trend of gradual fiscal consolidation,” said the IMF in its fiscal monitor. “Their aggregate fiscal stance is expected to remain broadly neutral in 2017 as well as in the following years.” The British Government is still trying to reduce the deficit but at a slower pace, as Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, wanted to ease spending cuts following the vote for Brexit last year.

Although extra spending may be welcomed by those who want funds for specific projects or public services, the IMF is worried that governments are still heavily indebted and need to be careful with their budgets. The US government, for instance, should use the current economic growth spurt as a chance to get its finances under control. “In the United States, where the economy is close to full employment, fiscal consolidation could start next year to put debt firmly on a downward path,” the IMF said. That contrasts heavily with President Donald Trump’s plans to spend more on infrastructure and defence while cutting taxes, a combination that risks ramping up the budget deficit. “These policies are expected to generate rising deficits over the medium term.

As a result, the US debt ratio is projected to increase continuously over the five-year forecast horizon,” the IMF warned. Overall the IMF believes government debts “should stabilise in the medium term, averaging more than 100pc of GDP, rather than decline as previously expected.” With debts that high, governments have to walk a fine line to use fiscal policy to support sustainable economic growth, but avoid dangerous over-indebtedness. “Fiscal policy is generally seen as a powerful tool for promoting inclusive growth and can contribute to stabilising the economy, particularly during deep recessions and when monetary policy has become less effective,” said the IMF.

Read more …

How can anyone get this right if they can’t even properly define inflation?

Reflation Trades of 2016 Deflate With Remarkable Speed (R.)

Stocks, bond yields and the dollar are all falling, yield curves are flattening and sterling is marching higher. The “reflation” trades of 2016 that were supposed to mark a turning point in global markets are fading. Fast. The question for investors is whether this is the play book for the rest of the year, or whether the trends of 2016 will resume in the second half of the year. What is clear is that much of the conviction with which investors went into 2017 has been lost. This week, Goldman Sachs ditched its long-standing bullish call on the U.S. dollar, and Deutsche Bank did likewise with their gloomy sterling outlook. Following the developed world’s two most seismic events last year – the U.S. presidential election and Brexit – investors around the world had positioned for a broad-based reflation trade.

Trump’s surprise election victory was supposed to unleash a wave of tax cuts, banking deregulation and fiscal largesse that would lift U.S. – and global – growth. Meanwhile, sterling’s 20% plunge after the Brexit vote was supposed to pave the way for a surge in UK equities and inflation. This, indeed, is how it played out as 2017 got underway. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates twice, the dollar reached a 14-year peak, Wall Street hit record highs, and government bond yield curves around the world steepened to the benefit of banks and financial stocks. But it is now unraveling, in large part due to a clear slowdown in U.S. growth and signs that global inflation is leveling off. Flatter yield curves where short- and long-term bond yields are close to each other suggest economic uncertainty.

[..] Citi’s economic surprises indexes for most of the world’s major economies have been heading south for the past month. The U.S. index has suddenly tumbled to lows not seen since November, and is below all its peers apart from Japan’s. And inflation expectations are showing signs of peaking too. The dollar is now down 2.5% year-to-date (but still up 2% since the U.S. election; U.S. bank stocks are down 10% from their February peak (but still up 20% from the election); and sterling is down 13% against the dollar since the Brexit vote last June (but it has been down as much as 20%). Estimates of first quarter U.S. growth have been slashed in recent weeks, with the Atlanta Fed’s closely-watched GDPNow model pointing to just 0.5% compared with around 2.5% less than two months ago.

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All it takes is a few rate hikes.

IMF Warns High US Corporate Leverage Could Threaten Financial Stability (WSJ)

U.S. corporate debt has ballooned on cheap credit to levels exceeding those prevailing just before the 2008 financial crisis, a potential threat to financial stability, the IMF warned in its latest review of the top threats to markets and banks. High corporate leverage could become problematic as the Federal Reserve raises short-term interest rates, the IMF warned, since higher borrowing costs could hinder the ability of firms to service debts. While borrowing costs remain low, debt servicing as a proportion of income has risen to its highest level since 2010, raising questions over firms’ ability to service their debts, according to the IMF’s study of nearly 4,000 U.S. firms accounting for about half of the economywide corporate sector balance sheet.

Companies have added $7.8 trillion of debt and other liabilities since 2010, while issuing $3 trillion of equity, net of buybacks, according to the IMF. The IMF’s message stands in contrast to the one being sent by the corporate bond market, which has been rallying for more than a year now. In early March, the average spread between junk-rated corporate bond yields and U.S. Treasury yields reached 3.44 percentage points, its lowest point since July 2014, according to Bloomberg Barclays data. It was most recently at 3.92 percentage points, still a very low level by historical standards, indicating that investors don’t see the debt as very risky.

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So you buy mortgage backed securities, and then use them as collateral for a loan that lets you buy more securities. The serpent and the tail.

Securities-Based Loans Are Scaring Fiscal Experts (NYP)

Forget subprime mortgages – one of Wall Street’s biggest risks doesn’t even show up on most banks’ balance sheets. Financial insiders are getting increasingly worried over the popularity of securities-based loans, or SBLs – a risky form of debt marketed to wealthy investors who typically use it to buy big assets like houses. The loans, which are taken against pools of stocks and bonds, offer borrowers cheap money fast without having to sell their underlying securities – an attractive option when the Dow is rising. But if markets crash, brokers can unload their clients’ holdings at fire-sale prices – and go after the house to cover the the vig. Fears of such ugly scenarios are growing as the Fed hikes interest rates, stocks are hitting all-time highs, and high-net-worth individuals are using this form of “shadow margin” to borrow more against stocks and bonds in their portfolios than ever before.

It’s not clear how much debt has been taken out in the form of SBLs, and a lack of regulatory oversight is partly to blame. Finra, the brokerage regulator, doesn’t track it, nor does the Securities and Exchange Commission — even though both have warned investors about the risks. However, several advisers surveyed by The Post estimated there is between $100 billion and $250 billion in outstanding SBLs among all brokerages. At least one concerned financial executive is in talks with lawyers to file a whistleblower case over the issue against a major bank with the Securities and Exchange Commission, The Post has learned. “When the market does turn, and it will at some point, it will be a major disaster,” said the exec, who requested confidentiality in exchange for speaking on the issue with The Post.

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Here’s what I think will lead to UBI: poor old people. I skipped all the examples and links provided here. Do read them. “Where ‘P’ is pensions, ‘G’ is ‘government intervention’, ‘M’ is media oversight, and ‘I’ is insolvency.”

Telling the truth: (P + G) – M = I (MarkGB)

Telling the truth has never been popular with politicians. They believe that it would prevent them from getting elected. Making new promises that will never be kept, and covering up the unaffordability of old promises…is how politicians get elected. The pattern is well worn and predictable: they use promises to ‘bribe’ people to vote for them, then they fail to deliver, then they blame someone else, then they change the subject…rinse and repeat…meanwhile the really important stuff get’s brushed under the carpet or kicked down the road…choose your own metaphor. There are few greater examples of this than the approaching crisis in pensions: A tale that has been decades in the telling, the climax will be a calamity that the corporate media doesn’t want to look at, and politicians never mention or acknowledge. Short of being strapped to a metal chair and entertained with an electrical massage they never will…which is a nice thought but regrettably still illegal, at least on the mainland.

[..] Despite the dark pleasure it would give me to label our political and economic elites: ‘as thick as two short planks’…the truth is that many of them are not. It’s far worse than that I’m afraid. They are ‘liars’. The politicians, central bankers, economists and journalists who understand the situation we face, but do nothing to address it, are discrediting the positions of responsibility that they hold…by lying through omission, by obfuscation, through denial, by issuing false and/or misleading information, and via the good old fashioned ‘art’ of bull$hitting straight to camera. Finally, and on a slightly lighter note, for anyone reading this who has been brainwashed with the idea that any theory or observation that can’t be reduced to an equation, is not real ‘economics’…here is an equation for you (but don’t expect your professor to like it):

(P + G) – M = I

Where ‘P’ is pensions, ‘G’ is ‘government intervention’, ‘M’ is media oversight, and ‘I’ is insolvency. Throughout recorded history, this equation has never failed to balance eventually…ask any legionnaire.

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Another -more palatable?!- way of phrasing UBI.

You’re Hired! A Guaranteed Job For Anyone Who Wants One (DJ)

Democrats have begun the presidency of Donald Trump exiled to the political wilderness. They’ve lost the White House, both houses of Congress, a shocking number of state governments, while the “blue state” vote has turned out to be really just the “blue city” vote. The party has cast about for solutions, battling it out over identity politics, the proper opposition strategy, and more. But Democrats might consider taking a cue from Trump himself. Namely, his relentless promises to bring back good-paying American jobs. “It’s the first and most consistent thing he discusses,” observed Mike Konczal, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, after reviewing Trump’s speeches. The President understands, as The New York Times’s Josh Barro noted, that most Americans think the purpose of private business is to provide good jobs, not merely turn a profit.

Even Trump’s xenophobia and white nationalism are not totally separate from this: Kicking out all the immigrants and rolling foreign competitors are critical components of how he would restore jobs. Democrats tend to treat jobs as the happy by-product of other goals like infrastructure revitalization or green energy projects. Or they treat deindustrialization and job dislocation as regrettable inevitabilities, offering training, unemployment insurance, health care, and so on to ameliorate their effects. All these policies are worthy. But a job is not merely a delivery mechanism for income that can be replaced by an alternative source. It’s a fundamental way that people assert their dignity, stake their claim in society, and understand their mutual obligations to one another. There’s pretty clear evidence that losing this social identity matters as much as the loss of financial security.

The damage done by long-term joblessness to mental and physical health is rivaled only by the death of a spouse. It wreaks havoc on marriages, families, mortality rates, alcoholism rates, and more. The 2008 crisis drove long-term unemployment into the stratosphere, and today it remains near a historic high. Trump went right at this problem, telling Michigan in October of 2016: “I am going to bring back your jobs.” Period. Democrats should consider making the same moon shot promise. But unlike Trump, they should back it up with a policy plan. And there’s an idea that could do the trick. It emerges naturally from progressive values. It’s big, bold, and could fit on a bumper sticker. It’s generally called the “job guarantee” or the “employer of last resort.” In a nutshell: Have the federal government guarantee employment, with benefits and a living wage, to every American willing and able to work.

Read more …

More pension troubles. Today Japan, tomorrow your neck of the woods.

Japan’s Middle-Aged ‘Parasite Singles’ Face Uncertain Future (R.)

Their youth long gone, members of Japan’s generation of “parasite singles” face a precarious future, wondering how to survive once the parents many depended on for years pass away. Some 4.5 million Japanese aged between 35 and 54 were living with their parents in 2016, according to a researcher at the Statistical Research and Training Institute on a demographic phenomena that emerged two decades ago, when youthful singles made headlines for mooching off parents to lead carefree lives. Now, without pensions or savings of their own, these middle-aged stay-at-homes threaten to place an extra burden on a social welfare system that is already creaking under pressure from Japan’s aging population and shrinking workforce.

Hiromi Tanaka once sang backup for pop groups, and epitomized the optimism of youth. “I got used to living in an unstable situation and figured somehow it would work out,” Tanaka told Reuters as she sat at the piano in a small parlor of an old house connected to her elderly mother’s next door. Now aged 54, Tanaka relies on income from giving private singing lessons to a dwindling number of students, and her mother’s pension to make ends meet. She has no pension plan of her own, and has used up most of her savings. “My father died last year so pension income was halved,” she said. “If things go on like this, my mother and I will fall together.” Tanaka is one of the growing ranks of “life-time singles,” whose numbers hit a record in 2015, according to data released this month that showed that among 50-year-olds, 1 in 4 men and 1 in 7 women were unmarried.

“During the ‘bubble economy’ until the mid-1990s, the 20-somethings were happily amusing themselves. They thought by the time they were in their 30s, they’d be married,” said Masahiro Yamada, a Chuo University sociologist who coined the term “parasite singles” in 1997. “But one-third never married and are now around age 50,” Yamada said. The trend is not only a factor behind Japan’s low birthrate and shrinking population. It also puts an extra damper on consumption since new household formation is a key driver of private spending. And since about 20% of the middle-aged stay-at-home singles rely on parents for support, they also threaten to weigh on social safety nets. “Once they use up inherited assets and savings, when nothing is left, they will go on the dole,” Yamada said.

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Casey gets lots of things spectacularly wrong. The EU did need trade pacts etc., to enhance, guarantee quality control. The EU did a lot of good things. But it got taken over by the shit that floats to the top: “The European Union in Brussels is composed of a class of bureaucrats that are extremely well paid, have tremendous benefits, and have their own self-referencing little culture. They’re exactly the same kind of people that live within the Washington, D.C. beltway.”

The EU’s Collapse Is Now “Imminent” (Doug Casey)

A free trade pact between different governments is unnecessary for free trade. An individual country interested in prosperity and freedom only needs to eliminate all import and export duties, and all import and export quotas. When a country has duties or quotas, it’s essentially putting itself under embargo, shooting its economy in the foot. Businesses should trade with whomever they want for their own advantage. But that wasn’t the way the Europeans did it. The Eurocrats, instead, created a treaty the size of a New York telephone book, regulating everything. This is the problem with the EU. They say it is about free trade, but really it’s about somebody’s arbitrary idea of “fair trade,” which amounts to regulating everything. In addition to its disastrous economic consequences, it creates misunderstandings and confusion in the mind of the average person.

Brussels has become another layer of bureaucracy on top of all the national layers and local layers for the average European to deal with. The European Union in Brussels is composed of a class of bureaucrats that are extremely well paid, have tremendous benefits, and have their own self-referencing little culture. They’re exactly the same kind of people that live within the Washington, D.C. beltway. The EU was built upon a foundation of sand, doomed to failure from the very start. The idea was ill-fated because the Swedes and the Sicilians are as different from each other as the Poles and the Irish. There are linguistic, religious, and cultural differences, and big differences in the standard of living. Artificial political constructs never last. The EU is great for the “elites” in Brussels; not so much for the average citizen.

Meanwhile, there’s a centrifugal force even within these European countries. In Spain, the Basques and the Catalans want to split off, and in the UK, the Scots want to make the United Kingdom quite a bit less united. You’ve got to remember that before Garibaldi, Italy was scores of little dukedoms and principalities that all spoke their own variations of the Italian language. And the same was true in what’s now Germany before Bismarck in 1871. In Italy 89% of the Venetians voted to separate a couple of years ago. The Italian South Tyrol region, where 70% of the people speak German, has a strong independence movement. There are movements in Corsica and a half dozen other departments in France. Even in Belgium, the home of the EU, the chances are excellent that Flanders will separate at some point.

Read more …

Another feature brought to you by the Troika.

Greece Needs To Start Having Babies Again or Face Financial Oblivion (Ind.)

People in Greece can’t afford to have more than one child, and many are opting to have none at all. Fertility doctor Minas Mastrominas tells the New York Times that some women have decided not to conceive, and single-child parents have been asking him to destroy their remaining embryos. He said: “After eight years of economic stagnation, they’re giving up on their dreams.” It isn’t just Greece suffering low birth rates. In fact the trend spreads to most of Europe, with Spain, Portugal and Italy also reporting dangerously low rates. Unemployment continues to be a serious issue in Greece. Rates are slightly lower than in 2016 when they were 23.9%, but are still very high at 23.5%. The slump has affected women more, with unemployment rates at 27% compared to 20% of men.

Child tax breaks and subsidies for large families have decreased, and the country stands at having to lowest budget in the EU for family and child benefits. During the height of the crisis, women postponed childbirth in favour of working. As the years dragged on, the rate of fertility decreased, making it biologically more difficult to conceive. Additionally, gender equality came to a standstill, and many women of ‘childbearing age’ were denied employment, or had their contract changed to part time involuntarily, as soon as they got pregnant. One of the most prominent areas that will be detrimentally affected is pensions and the welfare system. Additionally, according to Eurostat, such low birth rates – under 2.1 – could create a demographic disaster. This will have a knock-on effect on pensions, with fewer young people working.

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And the children we do have, we treat like this. No wonder there are fewer of them.

40% of Spanish Children Live in Poverty (EurA)

Spain has the EU’s third highest rate of child poverty, after Romania and Greece. EURACTIV Spain reports. After the economic crisis and years of austerity, child poverty is on the rise in wealthy countries, according to Unicef. In Spain, the proportion of children living below the poverty line increased by 9 percentage points between 2008 and 2014, to reach almost 40%. While child poverty in general rose significantly, the sharpest increase (56%) was among households of four people (two adults and two children) living on less than €700 per month, or €8,400 per year. Spain has the third widest gap in the EU, behind Latvia and Cyprus, between the levels of social protection offered to children and people over 65. During the crisis, Spain’s oldest citizens were much better protected than its youngest.

According to the Spanish Statistical Office, cited by Unicef, investment in the social protection of families fell by €11.5 billion between 2009 and 2015. Unicef also highlighted that families with children, large families, single-parent families and teenagers suffered the most from the effects of poverty. As for Madrid’s response to the crisis, the UN’s agency for children criticised its failure to contain child poverty. “Social protection policies are very fragmented and very unequal, with little focus on children,” Unicef said. For the organisation, this is due, among other causes, to the strong link between social security and workers’ contributions, and the fact that many of the state’s family aid programmes take the form of tax credits, which have little impact on low earners.

Read more …

They’ll get it awfully wrong. It’s too late in the game.

Ontario Set to Unveil Its Plan to Cool Toronto Housing (BBG)

Ontario is expected to impose a tax on “non-resident speculators” when it announces new measures Thursday to cool the red-hot housing market in Toronto, according to people familiar with the plans. The measures are intended to improve housing affordability, and address both supply and demand, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the plans are not yet public. The measures are also said to include a new tax aimed at curbing purchases from non-resident speculators. [..] Home prices in the Toronto area climbed 6.2% last month, the biggest one-month gain on record, according to a benchmark price index by the Canadian Real Estate Association, and are up almost 30% in the past 12 months. Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said last week the price gains are “divorced” from the typical measures of demand, such as income growth and demographics, and said they are unsustainable.

“The focus has to be on runaway prices, more so than affordability per se,” Robert Hogue, a senior economist at Royal Bank of Canada, said in a phone interview. “The risk now is about expectations in the market, or market psychology, as you have both sellers and buyers expecting much higher prices.” The Toronto Star reported earlier, without saying where it got the information, that Sousa will announce some 10 measures ranging from rent controls to a new tax on speculators. The move comes a week before the province tables its budget on April 27, and two days after Sousa said the government recognizes that “now” is the time to address runaway home prices. Sousa on Tuesday met Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Toronto Mayor John Tory, who said that possible steps include taxing homes left empty for speculative purposes. Rent increases on newer buildings may be limited to about 1.5% above the inflation rate, which was at 2% in February, the Star reported.

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Daddy, please tell the story again of why we have regulators!

Feds Knew of 700 Wells Fargo Whistleblower Cases in 2010 (CNN)

America’s chief federal banking regulator admits it failed to act on numerous “red flags” at Wells Fargo that could have stopped the fake account scandal years earlier. One particularly alarming red flag that went unheeded: In January 2010, the regulator was aware of “700 cases of whistleblower complaints” about Wells Fargo’s sales tactics. An internal review published on Wednesday by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency found that the regulator didn’t live up to its responsibilities. The report found that oversight of Wells Fargo was “untimely and ineffective” and federal examiners overseeing the bank “missed” several opportunities to uncover the problems that led to the creation of millions of fake accounts. The review painted a damning picture of the OCC’s ability to spot what in retrospect should have been obvious problems at one of the nation’s biggest banks.

The OCC did confront Carrie Tolstedt, then head of Wells Fargo’s community bank, about the stunning number of whistleblower claims. However, there are no records that show that federal inspectors “investigated the root cause,” or force Wells Fargo to probe it. It’s now clear that root cause of Wells Fargo’s problems – both the creation of fake accounts and the related 5,300 firings – was the notoriously aggressive sales goals targets set by senior management. At one point, rank and file bankers were asked to open as many as eight accounts per customer. That’s why the bank has eliminated them. From top management to Wells Fargo’s board of directors, everyone turned a blind eye to these issues. There’s evidence now that some of this was flagged as early as 2004 to management.

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Stone states the obvious.

So It Goes (Oliver Stone)

I confess I really had hopes for some conscience from Trump about America’s wars, but I was wrong – fooled again! – as I had been by the early Reagan, and less so by Bush 43. Reagan found his mantra with the “evil empire” rhetoric against Russia, which almost kicked off a nuclear war in 1983 – and Bush found his ‘us against the world’ crusade at 9/11, in which of course we’re still mired. It seems that Trump really has no ‘there’ there, far less a conscience, as he’s taken off the handcuffs on our war machine and turned it over to his glorified Generals – and he’s being praised for it by our ‘liberal’ media who continue to play at war so recklessly. What a tortured bind we’re in. There are intelligent people in Washington/New York, but they’ve lost their minds as they’ve been stampeded into a Syrian-Russian groupthink, a consensus without asking – ‘Who benefits from this latest gas attack?’

Certainly neither Assad nor Putin. The only benefits go to the terrorists who initiated the action to stave off their military defeat. It was a desperate gamble, but it worked because the Western media immediately got behind it with crude propagandizing about murdered babies, etc. No real investigation or time for a UN chemical unit to establish what happened, much less find a motive. Why would Assad do something so stupid when he’s clearly winning the civil war? No, I believe America has decided somewhere, in the crises of the Trump administration, that we will get into this war at any cost, under any circumstances – to, once again, change the secular regime in Syria, which has been, from the Bush era on, one of the top goals – next to Iran – of the neoconservatives. At the very least, we will cut out a chunk of northeastern Syria and call it a State.

Abetted by the Clintonites, they’ve done a wonderful job throwing America into chaos with probes into Russia’s alleged hacking of our election and Trump being their proxy candidate (now clearly disproved by his bombing attack) – and sadly, worst of all in some ways, admitting no memory of the same false flag incident in 2013, for which again Assad was blamed (see Seymour Hersh’s fascinating deconstruction of this US propaganda, ‘London Review of Books’ December 19, 2013, “Whose sarin?”). No memory, no history, no rules – or rather ‘American rules.’ No, this isn’t an accident or a one-off affair. This is the State deliberately misinforming the public through its corporate media and leads us to believe, as Mike Whitney points out in his brilliant analyses, “Will Washington Risk WW3” and “Syria: Where the Rubber Meets the Road,” that something far more sinister waits in the background.

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BBG can’t even run a story on climate anymore without adding “..the emerging risk of an emboldened and growing Russian empire..”, and more of such useful hints.

A Melting Arctic Changes Everything (BBG)

The story of the Arctic begins with temperature but it’s so much more—this is a tale about oil and economics, about humanity and science, about politics and borders and the emerging risk of an emboldened and growing Russian empire. The world as a whole has warmed about 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880. Arctic temperatures have risen twice that amount during the same time period. The most recent year analyzed, October 2015 to September 2016, was 3.5C warmer than the early 1900s, according to the 2016 Arctic Report Card. Northern Canada, Svalbard, Norway and Russia’s Kara Sea reached an astounding 14C (25F) higher than normal last fall. Scientists refer to these dramatic physical changes as “Arctic amplification,” or positive feedback loops. It’s a little bit like compound interest.

A small change snowballs, and Arctic conditions become much less Arctic, much more quickly. “After studying the Arctic and its climate for three-and-a-half decades,” Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data center, wrote recently. “I have concluded that what has happened over the last year goes beyond even the extreme.” The heat is making quick work of its natural prey: ice. Scientists track the number of “freezing-degree days,” a running seasonal tally of the amount of time it’s been cold enough for water to freeze. The 2016-2017 winter season has seen a dramatic shortfall in coldness—more than 20% below the average, a record. Sea ice has diminished much faster than scientists and climate models anticipated. Last month set a new low for March, out-melting 2015 by 23,000 square miles.

Compared with the 1981-2010 baseline, the average September sea-ice minimum has been dropping by more than 13% per decade. A recent study in Nature Climate Change estimated that from 30-50% of sea ice loss is due to climate variability, while the rest occurs because of human activity. Receding ice decreases the Earth’s overall reflectivity, making the Arctic darker and therefore absorbing even more heat. The ice is not all the same age or thickness, although it has become somewhat more uniform. In 1985, about 45% of Arctic sea ice was made up of older and thicker multi-year ice. By 2016, that number shrank to 22%.

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Apr 112017
 
 April 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Carole Lombard 1934

 


54% Of Canadians Think Home Prices Will Never Fall (BNN)
Wild Housing Speculation Drives Entire Canadian Economy (WS)
Third of US Car Owners Can’t Afford Surprise Repairs (UT)
The Retail Apocalypse’s Terrifying Impact On One Corner Of Wall Street (BI)
China Is Playing a $9 Trillion Game of Chicken With Savers (BBG)
Currency-Issuing Governments Never Have To Worry About Bond Markets (Bilbo)
Recessions Are Never Desirable Events And Are Always Avoidable (Bilbo)
So Many Triggers (Thomas)
American Carnage – The New Landscape of Opioid Addiction (Caldwell)
How Erdogan’s Referendum Gamble Might Backfire (Spiegel)
Share of Member States in EU GDP (EC)
Austria FinMin Calls For €1 Billion EU Investment In Greece (R.)
JP Morgan Report Sees ‘Light At The End Of The Tunnel’ For Greece (Amna)
Refugee Community Center Set To Open On Lesvos (K.)

 

 

Stupefying. “Of those in the younger generation who are already in the housing market, more than four of every five plan to sell..”

54% Of Canadians Think Home Prices Will Never Fall (BNN)

More than half of the country believes home prices will never fall, according to a new poll from CIBC. Despite lofty valuations in the Toronto and Vancouver housing markets, 54% of respondents to the CIBC poll say housing prices will rise indefinitely, while only 40% think prices will decline over the course of the next five years. David Madani, senior Canadian economist at Capital Economics, thinks the unbridled optimism is just one more sign the Toronto housing market is in bubble territory. “The fact that the majority of Canadians still think home prices can continue to shoot up is sort of testament to the fact we’re in a full-blown housing bubble,” he said in an interview with BNN. According to the poll, those high prices are keeping homeowners on the sidelines, with 62% of respondents saying they’re reluctant to sell their home, lest they become buyers again.

Home prices in Toronto are up more than 30% over the course of the last year, and prices in Vancouver have risen more than 14%. Those who are looking to sell are largely of the baby boomer cohort, with more than two-thirds of respondents older than 55 saying they plan to downsize to a smaller home or condo. CIBC says boomers are motivated to sell not just due to the ease of maintaining a smaller home, but also as a boost to their retirement savings. What’s less clear is who they’re going to sell their home to: 52% of the millennial generation either don’t believe they’ll ever own a home, or are unsure if home ownership is in their future, according to the CIBC poll. Of those in the younger generation who are already in the housing market, more than four of every five plan to sell, with 63% complaining the mortgage and housing costs are making them cash-poor.

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It drives it and will make it crumble. But Justin isn’t listening.

Wild Housing Speculation Drives Entire Canadian Economy (WS)

Here’s another data point on the Canadian housing bubble, how immense it really is, and how utterly crucial wild housing speculation has become to the Canadian economy. Housing starts surged to 253,720 units in March seasonally adjusted, the highest since September 2007, according to Canada Mortgage & Housing Corp. Of them, 161,000 were multi-family starts of condos and rental units in urban areas. In Toronto, one of the hot beds of Canada’s house price bubble, housing starts jumped by 16,600 units, all of them condos and apartments, defying any expectation of a slowdown. Housing starts are an indication of construction activity, a powerful additive to the local economy with large secondary effects. Housing construction gets fired up by the promise of ever skyrocketing housing prices, and thus big payoffs for developers, lenders, real estate agents, and the entire industry.

National home price data covers up the real drama in certain cities, particularly Vancouver (British Columbia) and Toronto (Ontario), but it does show by how much Canadian housing prices have overshot the already lofty US housing prices. The chart below by Stéfane Marion, Chief Economist at Economics and Strategy, National Bank of Canada, compares US home prices per the Case-Shiller 20-City index to Canadian home prices per the Teranet-National Bank 26-market index. Both indices are based on similar methodologies of comparing pairs of sales of the same home over time. The shaded areas denote recessions in Canada. Note that during the housing crisis in the US, there was only a blip in Canada’s housing market:

How important is real estate and housing construction to the Canadian economy? Hugely important! It accounts for an ever larger proportion of the Canadian economy. For all of Canada, according to data by Statistics Canada, housing construction and real estate activities combined account for 15.5% of GDP, up from 14.7% in 2011. This chart shows housing construction and real estate activities in the largest four provinces as percent of the province’s GDP in 2015, and for Canada overall. StatCan data for 2016 are not yet available. Note British Columbia: 22% of its economy is based on residential construction and real estate activities – due to Canada’s number one housing hot-bed Vancouver:

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As I said last week: it seems there’s an article on this theme every week now.

Third of US Car Owners Can’t Afford Surprise Repairs (UT)

Nearly one-in-three American motorists cannot pay for vehicle repairs without taking on debt, according to a new study from AAA. The study estimates 64 million drivers could not pay out-of-pocket for an average repair bill of $500 to $600. There are about 210 million licensed motorists in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. About 76% of men said they could afford the expense, while only 62% of women could do the same. “We were a little shocked at the results,” said Michael Calkins, AAA manager of technical services. “That one-third of American drivers couldn’t afford the cost of a $500 auto repair is a little concerning.”

AAA suggests motorists adhere to a scrupulous vehicle maintenance schedule and set aside $50 a month to build a fund for maintenance and unexpected repairs. But some motorists don’t – or can’t. About one-third of U.S. drivers delay or skip recommended car maintenance, Calkins said, a possible lingering repercussion of the 2008 recession. Motorists pay later for putting off vehicle maintenance now, as worn-down parts increase the likelihood of costly roadside breakdowns, Calkins said. A car-care fund can help motorists stick to their maintenance schedules, but for many low-income families, $50 a month is a big ask, said Asley Orr, executive director of Good News Mountaineer Garage, a nonprofit that donates used cars to West Virginians who need transportation to work.

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Who owns the stores and malls? Who owns the debt that keeps them going until it doesn’t?

The Retail Apocalypse’s Terrifying Impact On One Corner Of Wall Street (BI)

One of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades is killing off malls across the US and taking some Wall Street investments with it. Struggling with online competition, huge retailers like Sears, JCPenney, and Macy’s are closing hundreds of stores that typically anchor malls, meaning they occupy the largest spaces at mall entrances and drive most shopper traffic. When a big store shuts down, it triggers a chain reaction that can end with the shopping mall being unable to collect enough rent to cover its debts, forcing it to default. By one measure, as many as a third of the malls in the US are at risk of facing this situation. This has become a nightmare for investors who are expecting to collect on those debts. They own bonds – called commercial mortgage-backed securities, or CMBSs – that are backed by the mall properties’ rents.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s similar to one element of the financial crisis. Back then, mortgage-backed securities, which pooled homeowners’ mortgages into a multitrillion-dollar financial market, were part of the problem. They encouraged risky lending, and together with derivatives on the bonds that were ginned up by Wall Street, they left banks and investors with massive losses that threatened the financial system. Nobody is predicting anything that dire today, but CMBSs, which Morgan Stanley says account for nearly 10% of the $3.6 trillion commercial real-estate mortgage market, work similarly. They pool debt payments from several malls or other commercial properties and then splice them so that investors can buy the segment and take on the kind of risk they want.

What’s happening in the retail market, though, is worse than anyone who invested in the bonds could’ve imagined a few years ago. “Malls are hard to turn around once they go downhill,” said Steve Jellinek, vice president of CMBS analytical services for Morningstar Credit Ratings. As a result, many CMBS investments are getting wiped out, and “retail lending has really taken a beating,” he said. About $48 billion in loans backed by mall properties are at risk of default, according to Morningstar.

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This is how the Chinese see Beijing, first as full of hot air (true), and second as capable of making good on any and all losses (not true): “Cracking down on implicit guarantees is just like curbing home prices,” she says. “It’s something that the government needs to say, but it’s not something they will eventually do.”

China Is Playing a $9 Trillion Game of Chicken With Savers (BBG)

Like many individual investors in China, Yang Mo has no idea what’s in the wealth management products that make up a big chunk of her net worth. She says there’s really no point in finding out. Sure, WMPs invest in all kinds of risky assets, but the government would never let a big one fail, she explains. “It’s not how the Chinese government does things, and it’s not even Chinese culture,” says Yang, a 29-year-old public relations professional in Beijing. Hers is a common refrain in Asia’s largest economy, where savers have poured $9 trillion into WMPs and similar products on the assumption that they’ll get bailed out if the investments sour. Even after news in February that policy makers are drafting rules to make it clear that state guarantees don’t exist, Yang is undaunted.

She says she’ll only withdraw money from WMPs in the unlikely event that they start to suffer losses. “Cracking down on implicit guarantees is just like curbing home prices,” she says. “It’s something that the government needs to say, but it’s not something they will eventually do.” Yang’s steadfast faith in bailouts illustrates the dilemma for authorities as they try to reduce moral hazard and improve the pricing of risk in China’s financial system: It may require a major WMP blowup to shake investors out of their complacency, an event that could wreak havoc on banks that increasingly rely on the products for funding. [..] WMPs – a key part of China’s shadow banking system – are getting squeezed as the nation’s central bank increases interest rates to discourage excessive leverage.

That’s not only putting pressure on products that use borrowed funds to meet their fixed return targets, it’s also weighing on the Chinese bond market, where WMPs allocate the biggest portion of their funds. For as long as they can, banks will make investors whole when WMPs run into trouble because they fear the reputational damage of a failed product, according to Hong. At some point, though, WMP shortfalls may be too large for the banks to cover, forcing policy makers to decide whether they’re willing to allow losses. Intervention is becoming less likely, if the new draft rules are anything to go by. Regulators are working on language that would make clear there are no state guarantees on asset-management products – which include WMPs, trusts, mutual funds and other products – people familiar with the matter said in February.

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Snippets from a great and long article by Australian economist Bill Mitchell. Everything they tell you about austerity is a lie.

Currency-Issuing Governments Never Have To Worry About Bond Markets (Bilbo)

How many times have you heard a politician claim they had to cut government spending and move the fiscal balance to surplus because they had to engender the confidence of the bond markets. Apparently, this narrative alleges that if bond markets are not ‘confident’ (whatever that means) then they will stop begging treasury departments for more debt issues and the government, in question, will run out of money and then pensions will stop being paid and the public service will be sacked and public trains and buses will stop running and before we know it the skies will blacken and collapse on us. The narrative ignores the usual statistics that bid-to-cover ratios are typically high (hence my ‘begging’ terminology) which are supplemented by well documented cases where the bond dealers (including banks etc) do actually beg central banks to stop driving yields down in maturity segments where these characters have pitched their “business model” (read: where they make the most profits).

The facts are exactly the opposite to the neo-liberal pitch. Currency-issuing governments never need to worry about how bond markets ‘feel’. Essentially, the bond markets are irrelevant to the ability of such a government to design and implement its fiscal plans. And, the central bank always can counteract any tendencies that the bond markets might seek to impose where governments do actually issue debt. [..] Nothing a student learns in a mainstream macroeconomics course at university (at any level – and the deception becomes worse the in later years as the student enters graduate school) about the relative powers of governments and bond markets is true. [..] So next time you hear an economist or a politician talk about how bond markets have to be satisfied and they use that as a justification for hacking into public spending (and driving up unemployment and poverty rates) you know they are lying and are frauds.

The bond traders never have to be satisfied. They can be forced to live on crumbs by the central bank if it so chooses. [..] The narrative that asserts that governments have to assuage the sentiments of the bond markets – which is an oft-repeated claim to justify job-destroying and poverty-inducing austerity – is just fake. It is a lie. It is just one of many lies that the elites use to pursue their biased austerity. Biased because they never advocate cutting spending or government support that helps them. They just support cuts that help the most disadvantaged who have little political voice and so can be disregarded. The point is that currency-issuing governments never have to worry about bond markets. And it would be better if the government eliminated the public debt market altogether – then the bond traders would have to do something productive for a living and get off the corporate welfare teat!

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More Bill Mitchell.

Recessions Are Never Desirable Events And Are Always Avoidable (Bilbo)

Bloomberg published an article last week (April 7, 2017) that it should not have published given that the article offers only fake knowledge to its readership. The article in question – Australia’s Delayed Recession Fallout Is Showing Up in Its Jobs Data – carried the sub-title “There may be trouble ahead” and purported to argue that because the Australian government’s fiscal stimulus allowed our nation to avoid a recession in 2009 we now have to ‘pay the piper’ and take our medicine and suffer a recession anyway. The proposition is ridiculous to say the least. The article uses as authority some nonsensical statements from a “business management consultant”, who doesn’t appear to have a very sound grasp of either history or what is actually going on. This is another case of misinformation.

The fact is that the Australian government’s fiscal stimulus in 2008 and 2009 saved the economy from recession. The current slowdown and parlous labour market is not some delayed effect from that. Rather, it is because the Australian government caught the ‘fiscal surplus bug’ obsession, and began a misguided pursuits of surpluses, irrespective of what the external and private domestic sectors were doing. It caused an immediate slowdown and all the virtuous dynamics that were accompanying the stimulus-led growth (for example, fall in household debt and the rise in the household saving ratio) were reversed, as we would expect. Far from being delayed effects, the poor jobs data is because current fiscal policy is too restrictive. Simple solution: expand the discretionary fiscal deficit (preferably with a large-scale public sector job creation strategy).

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“..Deutsche is ten times larger than Lehman Brothers..”, ” (90% of Deutsche’s revenue has been from derivative trading, which is what brought down Lehman.)”

So Many Triggers (Thomas)

Deutsche Bank has announced that it will create more shares, selling them at a 35% discount. Existing shareholders have not been pleased and, in the first four days since the offer was announced, the value of existing shares dropped by 13% as shareholders began dumping them. So why on earth would Germany’s foremost bank do something so rash? Well, in recent years, the bank has been involved in many arbitrations, litigations, and regulatory proceedings as a result of fraudulent activities, including the manipulation of markets. Having been found guilty, they presently owe $7.2 billion to the US Department of Justice and are now facing an additional $10 billion litigation bill. Unfortunately, the bank is already broke and, should Deutsche actually be able to sell the new shares, the $8.6 billion they hope to receive will still not save them from bankruptcy.

Business has also not been so good. They’ve lost nearly $2 billion in the last two years, instituted a hiring freeze, cut bonuses by 80%, and are facing a $2.5 million civil penalty to pay to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for failure to report transactions and, not surprisingly, have been downgraded. The German government has stated that they will not bail out Deutsche and, indeed, under the EU agreement, they cannot do so. It’s safe to say that Germany’s largest bank will soon go the way of the dodo. For those who don’t live in Europe, this may not seem all that significant. However, Deutsche is the bank that funds the euro system, which they can now no longer do. Further, Deutsche is ten times larger than Lehman Brothers, an American bank that famously went down in 2008, heralding in that year’s economic crash. (90% of Deutsche’s revenue has been from derivative trading, which is what brought down Lehman.)

Upon the collapse of Deutsche Bank, four major US banks would be expected to become insolvent in a matter of days. The ripples would then continue to spread outward into the economic system as a whole. For many years, I’ve made repeated reference to the fact that the Western powers have been headed south economically, repeatedly relying on strategies that would provide short-term gain but would ultimately create long-term pain. They’ve been remarkably consistent and steadfast in this trend and, at this point, Deutsche is merely the latest trigger that may bring down the system.

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Chilling.

American Carnage – The New Landscape of Opioid Addiction (Caldwell)

There have always been drug addicts in need of help, but the scale of the present wave of heroin and opioid abuse is unprecedented. Fifty-two thousand Americans died of overdoses in 2015—about four times as many as died from gun homicides and half again as many as died in car accidents. Pawtucket is a small place, and yet 5,400 addicts are members at Anchor. Six hundred visit every day. Rhode Island is a small place, too. It has just over a million people. One Brown University epidemiologist estimates that 20,000 of them are opioid addicts—2% of the population. Salisbury, Massachusetts (pop. 8,000), was founded in 1638, and the opium crisis is the worst thing that has ever happened to it. The town lost one young person in the decade-long Vietnam War. It has lost fifteen to heroin in the last two years.

Last summer, Huntington, West Virginia (pop. 49,000), saw twenty-eight overdoses in four hours. Episodes like these played a role in the decline in U.S. life expectancy in 2015. The death toll far eclipses those of all previous drug crises. And yet, after five decades of alarm over threats that were small by comparison, politicians and the media have offered only a muted response. A willingness at least to talk about opioid deaths (among other taboo subjects) surely helped Donald Trump win last November’s election. In his inaugural address, President Trump referred to the drug epidemic (among other problems) as “carnage.” Those who call the word an irresponsible exaggeration are wrong.

Jazz musicians knew what heroin was in the 1950s. Other Americans needed to have it explained to them. Even in the 1960s and 1970s, with bourgeois norms and drug enforcement weakening, heroin lost none of its terrifying underworld associations. People weren’t shooting it at Woodstock. Today, with much of the discourse on drug addiction controlled by medical bureaucrats, it is common to speak of addiction as an “equal-opportunity disease” that can “strike anyone.” While this may be true on the pharmacological level, it was until quite recently a sociological falsehood. In fact, most of the country had powerful moral, social, cultural, and legal immunities against heroin and opiate addiction. For 99 percent of the population, it was an adventure that had to be sought out. That has now changed.

America had built up these immunities through hard experience. At the turn of the nineteenth century, scientists isolated morphine, the active ingredient in opium, and in the 1850s the hypodermic needle was invented. They seemed a godsend in Civil War field hospitals, but many soldiers came home addicted. Zealous doctors prescribed opiates to upper-middle-class women for everything from menstrual cramps to “hysteria.” The “acetylization” of morphine led to the development of heroin. Bayer began marketing it as a cough suppressant in 1898, which made matters worse. The tally of wrecked middle-class families and lives was already high by the time Congress passed the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act in 1914, threatening jail for doctors who prescribed opiates to addicts. Americans had had it with heroin. It took almost a century before drug companies could talk them back into using drugs like it.

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Referendum on April 16: “..some pollsters see the “no” camp ahead by as much as 10%.”

How Erdogan’s Referendum Gamble Might Backfire (Spiegel)

Support for the presidential system is crumbling. Erdogan may be giving the impression that the entire country is behind him, with his speeches resembling religious masses. On Sunday a week ago, tens of thousands cheered him on in Ankara. But some pollsters see the “no” camp ahead by as much as 10%. Even previously loyal Erdogan supporters, including party functionaries, don’t understand why the president so desperately wants this referendum. According to polls, one third of AKP voters are fluctuating between yes and no. The new system would concede powers to the president that even the nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, didn’t have.

The president would be able to appoint ministers and 12 of 15 constitutional judges, and he would have the power to dissolve parliament any time he wanted to. The position of prime minister would also be eliminated. Erdogan claims the reform is necessary to secure stability and prevent further coup attempts. But he already has more power than any other politician in recent Turkish history. Campaign posters plasterd with Erdogan’s visage hang everywhere in Bursa. The balconies are decorated with Turkish flags and vehicles drive through the streets blaring AKP election songs. The AKP is trying to create excitement, and that shouldn’t be too difficult here in Bursa. The city is Turkey’s fourth-largest and a higher-than-average share of residents voted for the AKP in the November 2015 parliamentary election.

For a long time, the residents of Bursa were the way Erdogan wanted them to be: hard-working and pious. The city has developed into an industrial center and the government built brand new residential neighborhoods, with shopping malls and mosques. But since the attempted coup, the economy has collapsed and many storefronts now stand empty. Mumcu’s cousin, who runs a textile company, says that his revenue has dropped from €50 million to €2 million in the past year.

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Germany and France are half of EU GDP. The rest are mere pawns.

Share of Member States in EU GDP (EC)

In 2016, the GDp of the European Union (EU) amounted to €14 800 billion (bn) at current prices. Over half of it was generated by three Member States: Germany, the United Kingdom and France. With a GDP worth €3 100bn in 2016, Germany was the leading EU economy, accounting for over a fifth (21.1%) of EU GDP. It was followed by the United Kingdom (16.0%), France (15.0%), Italy (11.3%), Spain (7.5%) and the Netherlands (4.7%). At the opposite end of the scale, eleven Member States had a GDP of less than 1% of the EU total. They were: Malta, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Hungary. As regards the 19 Member States which form the euro area, their cumulated GDP stood at €10 700 bn in 2016, meaning that they accounted all together for 72.5% of the EU GDP. Germany (29.2%) and France (20.7%) made up half of the euro area GDP.

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Schäuble is shaking his head.

Austria FinMin Calls For €1 Billion EU Investment In Greece (R.)

The European Union should consider a one-billion-euro special investment programme to spur growth in debt-ridden Greece, Austria’s finance minister told daily Der Standard in an interview published on Monday. Hans Joerg Schelling said Greece would only be able to get back on track and regain access to capital markets if it was able to generate sustainable growth in the mid- and long-term. It was important to help the country participate in a pick-up in growth in the euro zone, he added. There was no immediate comment from Athens which has called for more help and debt relief as it struggles to cope with its financial crisis and attain a budget surplus of 3.5% of economic output, excluding debt servicing outlays next year.

“You must assess whether to start a big investment programme through the European Investment Bank or maybe with the (European bailout fund) ESM… to get an additional boost (for the Greek economy),” the paper quoted Schelling as saying. “I would define a scale of one billion euros.” Schelling, seen as a possible successor to Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said one project could be an investment in renewable energy to make Greece less dependent on energy imports. The European Investment Bank (EIB) launched a one billion euro credit line to Greek banks in December, mainly to be used for on-lending to small and medium sized companies and firms promoting youth employment.

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JP Morgan doesn’t understand the state the Greek economy is in.

JP Morgan Report Sees ‘Light At The End Of The Tunnel’ For Greece (Amna)

The decision reached by Eurozone finance ministers in Malta concerning Greece increases the chances of a solution for completing the second review of the Greek programme before May 22, according to a report by J. P. Morgan released on Monday. The U.S. banking and financial services giant said the decisions appears to have clarified most of the obstacles that were delaying talks for concluding the review and point to a higher possibility of a good outcome for Greece. J.P. Morgan’s central scenario, to which it gives an 85 pct probability, predicts that the next step will be the return of the institutions’ missions to Greece to finalise the technical details that will support a staff-level agreement (SLA).

If its predictions are correct, the report said, there will be great progress over the next few weeks, while the sequence of events will be the signature of the SLA, passing of the measures agreed by the Greek Parliament and the completion of the review ensuring future disbursements and further details on debt relief measures. As a part of this positive scenario, J.P. Morgan said, it was also expected that Greece will become eligible for inclusion in the ECB’s quantitative easing programme in the summer. “We give an 85 pct probability to this development. This is the most positive result for the Greek bond market and we expect that 10-year Greek bonds will have price/yield rations of about 85 euros/5.5-6 pct with this scenario,” the report says. Even if the worst of the three scenarios it has drawn up should be proved right, J.P. Morgan said that an accident leading to Grexit was extremely unlikely after last Friday’s decisions and that in its medium-term outlook on Greek bonds “the reward for the risk remains attractive.”

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Fantastic. The Automatic Earth and its very generous readers play a substantial role in this. Thank you so much for making it possible.

Refugee Community Center Set To Open On Lesvos (K.)

Just a 10-minute walk from the municipal-run camp of Kara Tepe and a bit over a half-hour from the Moria migrant camp north of Mytilene, the capital of Lesvos, a community center currently under construction on a 1.5-acre site aspires to become a magnet for individuals stranded on the eastern Aegean island by offering a wide range of activities. Run by the Swiss Cross charity, the center, which is set to open in the coming days, was built by migrants with the help of volunteers who arrived here from different parts of Europe. The project is called “One Happy Family.” The facility will provide a coffee shop (complete with nargile), a home cinema, a library and a garden.

The O Allos Anthropos (Fellow Man) group has agreed to provide about 1,000 servings of food [daily]. The entire project will cost 200,000 euros, which includes rent for the first 12 months. “The Swiss are very good at organizing, while the Greeks are good at hospitality, so great things can come out of that mix,” Achilleas Peklaris, a writer and journalist now working for Swiss Cross, told Kathimerini. After doing charity work in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Swiss Cross moved to Lesvos, prompted by the tragic deaths of Moria camp residents living outdoors in tents in freezing conditions this past winter.

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Apr 092017
 
 April 9, 2017  Posted by at 8:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Paul Gauguin Avenue de Clichy 1889

 


Central Banks “Took Over” Markets In 2009; In December “Unwind” Begins (ZH)
‘No Bubble, No Pop’: Why Banks Are As Safe As Houses (WAus)
Greek Gloom As Economy Stalls Amid Latest Bout Of EU Wrangling (G.)
The Picture Of Our Economy Looks A Lot Like A Rorschach Test (NYT)
Steve Keen And Michael Hudson: Fixing The Economy (EI)
Trump’s ‘Wag the Dog’ Moment (Robert Parry)
Former DIA Colonel: “US Strikes On Syria Based On A Lie” (IntelT)
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard On Syria (Fox)
How Marine Le Pen Could Win (Pol.)
Privacy Experts Say CIA Left Americans Open To Cyber Attacks (IBT)
Rising Waters Threaten China’s Rising Cities (NYT)

 

 

“What do credit traders look at when they mark their books? Well, these days it is fair to say that they have more than one eye on the equity market.”

Central Banks “Took Over” Markets In 2009; In December “Unwind” Begins (ZH)

Citigroup’s crack trio of credit analysts, Matt King, Stephen Antczak, and Hans Lorenzen, best known for their relentless, Austrian, at times “Zero Hedge-esque” attacks on the Fed, and persistent accusations central banks distort markets, all summarized best in the following Citi chart… have come out of hibernation, to dicuss what comes next for various asset classes in the context of the upcoming paradigm shift in central bank posture. In a note released by the group’s credit team on March 27, Lorenzen writes that credit’s “infatuation with equities is coming to an end.” “What do credit traders look at when they mark their books? Well, these days it is fair to say that they have more than one eye on the equity market.”

Understandable: after all, as the FOMC Minutes revealed last week, even the Fed now openly admits its policy is directly in response to stock prices. As the credit economist points out, “statistically, over the last couple of years both markets have been influencing (“Granger causing”) each other. But considering the relative size, depth and liquidity of (not to mention the resources dedicated to) the equity market, we’d argue that more often than not, the asset class taking the passenger seat is credit. Yet the relationship was not always so cosy. Over the long run, the correlation in recent years is actually unusual. In the two decades before the Great Financial Crisis, three-month correlations between US credit returns and the S&P 500 returns tended to oscillate sharply and only barely managed to stay positive over the long run..

Rudolf E. [email protected]
Replying to @zerohedge
Here is a chart of the well being of the American middle-class and poor over the same period.

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“Tell a European you think there’s a housing bubble and you’ll have a reasonable discussion,” Grantham said. “Tell an Australian and you’ll have World War III…”

‘No Bubble, No Pop’: Why Banks Are As Safe As Houses (WAus)

The housing sector is therefore picking up the slack, and as far as the Westpac chair can discern the underlying demand is real. “That’s why I believe there is no bubble — there is huge demand from local and offshore buyers,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean we’re not looking at things like the capacity to pay interest and repay principal, so we don’t have any issues with the measures announced (on March 31). “APRA has its mandate; we have ours. But we have no interest in lending to people who can’t repay.” That’s the reasoned analysis from Norris and Maxsted, and Henry mostly concurs. If you’re after the full Catherine wheel experience, try taking the alternative position as a market-leading fund manager or economist and warning the public about an inflating property bubble. Legendary US investor Jeremy Grantham did just that, vowing in 2012 he would never do it again. “Tell a European you think there’s a housing bubble and you’ll have a reasonable discussion,” Grantham said. “Tell an Australian and you’ll have World War III. Been there, done that!”

Local economist Steve Keen entered the fray in 2009, likening the experience to “having my genitals cut off”, while hedge fund managers have lost so much money short-selling Australian banks because they expected the bubble to pop that it’s been called the “widow maker’s” trade. True to his word, Grantham failed to respond to an email inviting him to trigger World War III. Keen, who has relocated to Britain but was in Australia this week, has no such hesitation, saying it is abundantly clear that we’re in a debt-fuelled housing bubble that has only a year or two to run before it pops. “We’re in hock to the banks and we depend on endless rising levels of credit,” the economics professor says. “Credit can continue rising but eventually you reach a peak and the gas runs out.”

Denmark, according to Keen, reached its world-record peak in 2010 at a household debt-to-GDP ratio of 139 per cent. While Australia is currently at 123 per cent, the country has some headroom because the corporate sector has deleveraged and the RBA still has some policy ammunition with the 1.5 per cent cash rate. Keen reckons we have two years, at most, before unravelling in a similar, catastrophic way to Ireland in the financial crisis. However Phil Ruthven, the experienced forecaster and founder of IBISWorld, says low interest rates mean that debt servicing is the lowest it’s been in 50 years. “But we do need to increase supply, and we do need to warn home buyers of the dangers of going too deep into debt when interest rates are rising,” Ruthven says.

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“They no longer have the means to meet basic needs, with consumption of milk and bread right down and payment of electricity bills at an all-time low.”

Greek Gloom As Economy Stalls Amid Latest Bout Of EU Wrangling (G.)

Eight years into Greece’s ordeal to escape bankruptcy, thousands of Communist party sympathisers packed into Syntagma Square in Athens on Friday to protest at the latest concessions made by Alexis Tsipras’s leftist government to keep the country afloat. Massed before parliament in the fading light of day, they did what they had come to do: rail against the cuts that loom in return for further disbursement of the emergency aid now needed to avert economic collapse. The serial drama of Greece’s debt repayments will reach a climax again when loans of €7.5bn mature in July. That communist-aligned unionists can still muster such protests is testament to the party’s zealous determination to make itself heard. Most Greeks gave up demonstrating long ago.

Two years short of a decade in freefall, and with little prospect of recovery, the nation has succumbed to protest fatigue. With the exception of pensioners – the great losers in Greece’s assault by austerity – anger has been replaced by malaise, the lassitude that strikes when loss becomes commonplace. Friday’s protest, one of more than 60 nationwide, came within hours of Europe escaping another dose of Greek drama after eurozone finance ministers announced that bailout talks – stalled as Athens bickered over the terms of its latest compliance review with lenders – could finally resume. International auditors representing the bodies behind the three bailout packages the country has received since May 2010 are expected to return to Greece on Monday. Once technical issues are addressed, the delayed bailout payment will be disbursed, ensuring default is averted in July.

In exchange, the once fiercely anti-austerity Tsipras has signed up to further reforms worth €3.6bn, the equivalent of 2% of GDP, to be put into effect once the current programme ends next year. “It is in the nature of every agreement for there to be compromises,” said Greek finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos, who faces the thankless task of having to sell the prospect of more pension cuts and tax rises to sceptical leftists in the ruling Syriza party when it convenes on Sunday. “There are things that will upset … the Greek people.” After more than a year of hard talk and bluster – the review was meant to have been concluded in February 2016 – the government once again conceded on its own red lines, reflecting Athens’s overarching policy of keeping Greece in the heart of the eurozone. Tsipras, who fought hard to ensure countermeasures can also be taken to offset losses if economic indicators are better than expected, was quick to sound optimistic. “The Greek economy,” he announced, “is ready to leave the crisis behind it.”

But the breakthrough falls far short of the all-inclusive package the government was hoping for. Once again, promises of reducing the country’s staggering debt pile – at 180% of GDP, the biggest impediment to real economic recovery – will have to wait. [..] Unemployment has increased from 23.2% to 23.5%, with investors – the only guarantee of soaking up such an oversupply of labour – staying away. In a repeat of the chaos that beset the country’s financial system at the height of the crisis in 2015, an estimated €2.5bn of deposits left Greek banks in January and February. Consumption is also down. “The 37% of Greeks at risk of poverty and social exclusion really cannot make ends meet,” said Aliki Mouriki, a leading Greek sociologist. “They no longer have the means to meet basic needs, with consumption of milk and bread right down and payment of electricity bills at an all-time low.”

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That’s what you get for publishing made-up reports all the time, NYT.

The Picture Of Our Economy Looks A Lot Like A Rorschach Test (NYT)

Economics has a foundation in hard numbers – employment, inflation, spending – that has largely allowed it to sidestep the competing partisan narratives that have afflicted American politics and culture. But not anymore. Since Donald J. Trump’s victory in November, consumer sentiment has diverged in an unprecedented way, with Republicans convinced that a boom is at hand, and Democrats foreseeing an imminent recession. “We’ve never recorded this before,” said Richard Curtin, who directs the University of Michigan’s monthly survey of consumer sentiment. Although the outlook has occasionally varied by political party since the survey began in 1946, “the partisan divide has never had as large an impact on consumers’ economic expectations,” he said.

At the same time, familiar economic data points have become Rorschach tests. That was evident after the government’s monthly jobs report on Friday; Republicans’ talking points centered on a 10-year low in the unemployment rate, while Democrats focused on a sharp decline in job creation. “I find it stunning, to be honest. It’s unreal,” said Michael R. Strain, director of economic policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “Things that were less politicized in the past, like how you feel about the economy, have become more politicized now.” Indeed, the night-and-day views underscore yet another front on which Americans remain polarized five months after the election, and with President Trump nearing his 100th day in office.

[..] The University of Michigan researchers have their own way of measuring the gulf between the two viewpoints and how quickly it has flipped. Among Republicans, the Michigan consumer expectations index was at 61.1 in October, the kind of reading typically reported in the depths of a recession. Confident that Mrs. Clinton would win, Democrats registered a 95.4 reading, close to the highs reached when her husband was in office in the late 1990s and the economy was soaring. By March, the positions were reversed, with an even more extreme split. Republicans’ expectations had soared to 122.5, equivalent to levels registered in boom times. As for Democrats, they were even more pessimistic than Republicans had been in October.

As at the voting booth, the split in perceptions could have real-world consequences. If behavior tracks the recession-era sentiment among Democrats, who account for 32% of respondents in the survey, prophecies could quickly become self-fulfilling by affecting spending and investing decisions. “If one-third of the population cut their consumer spending by 5%, you get a recession,” said Alan Blinder, a Princeton economist who served in the Clinton administration and advised Al Gore and Hillary Clinton on economic policy during their Democratic presidential campaigns. “I don’t think it will happen, but it’s not beyond the realm of the possible.”

To be sure, even if Democratic consumers pulled back, that wouldn’t necessarily bring on a recession. A burst of spending by bullish Republicans, who equal 27% of those polled by the Michigan researchers, could counteract much of that drag. And independents, who are the largest cohort in the survey, at 41%, remain fairly optimistic about future growth. It is rare for “rising optimism to coexist with increasing uncertainty,” said Mr. Curtin, the Michigan expert. “The current level of optimism clearly indicates that no economywide spending retrenchment is underway, but the prevailing level of uncertainty will limit growth in discretionary spending.”

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Great conversation between two great economists. Very much worth a full read.

Steve Keen And Michael Hudson: Fixing The Economy (EI)

Michael Hudson: If you don’t cancel the debts, they’re going to keep growing, and all of the growth and national income is going to go to the creditors. So the fact is that the debts aren’t owed to the “we” – the 99%. The debts are owed to the 1%. 1% of the population has 75% of the financial assets. All their growth has occurred since 1980. So the question is, who are you going to save? The economy or the banks? If you don’t cancel the debts, they’re going to keep growing, and all of the growth and national income is going to go to the creditors. When President Obama came in, he promised that he was going to write down the debts – especially the junk mortgages – to the actual real value of the homes that the junk mortgage people had taken out.

Or and set the debt service – the money you have to pay every month to pay the mortgage, amortization, and principal, and interest to what the normal rental value of this would be. Well, as soon as he was elected, he dropped it all. He invited the bankers to the White House and said, boys, I’m the only guy standing between you and the pitchforks out there. Don’t worry, I can deliver my constituency to you. So, basically, the Democratic Party broke its voters into a black constituency, a women’s constituency, a LGBTQ constituency, and they’re all for Wall Street. Instead of saving the economy, Obama bailed out and saved the banks by keeping the debts in place. And once you have to pay that, it’s curtains. In the end, everybody’s going to end up in Greece. Greece is where you’re going, if you don’t.

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“I’m hearing from sources on the ground in the Middle East, people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence that is available who are saying that the essential narrative that we’re all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham.”

“People in both the agency [the CIA] and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he already should have known – but maybe he didn’t – and they’re afraid that this is moving toward a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict..”

Trump’s ‘Wag the Dog’ Moment (Robert Parry)

On Thursday night, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. intelligence community assessed with a “high degree of confidence” that the Syrian government had dropped a poison gas bomb on civilians in Idlib province. But a number of intelligence sources have made contradictory assessments, saying the preponderance of evidence suggests that Al Qaeda-affiliated rebels were at fault, either by orchestrating an intentional release of a chemical agent as a provocation or by possessing containers of poison gas that ruptured during a conventional bombing raid. One intelligence source told me that the most likely scenario was a staged event by the rebels intended to force Trump to reverse a policy, announced only days earlier, that the U.S. government would no longer seek “regime change” in Syria and would focus on attacking the common enemy, Islamic terror groups that represent the core of the rebel forces.

The source said the Trump national security team split between the President’s close personal advisers, such as nationalist firebrand Steve Bannon and son-in-law Jared Kushner, on one side and old-line neocons who have regrouped under National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, an Army general who was a protégé of neocon favorite Gen. David Petraeus. In this telling, the earlier ouster of retired Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser and this week’s removal of Bannon from the National Security Council were key steps in the reassertion of neocon influence inside the Trump presidency. The strange personalities and ideological extremism of Flynn and Bannon made their ousters easier, but they were obstacles that the neocons wanted removed.

[..] Alarm within the U.S. intelligence community about Trump’s hasty decision to attack Syria reverberated from the Middle East back to Washington, where former CIA officer Philip Giraldi reported hearing from his intelligence contacts in the field that they were shocked at how the new poison-gas story was being distorted by Trump and the mainstream U.S. news media. Giraldi told Scott Horton’s Webcast: “I’m hearing from sources on the ground in the Middle East, people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence that is available who are saying that the essential narrative that we’re all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham.” Giraldi said his sources were more in line with an analysis postulating an accidental release of the poison gas after an Al Qaeda arms depot was hit by a Russian airstrike.

“The intelligence confirms pretty much the account that the Russians have been giving … which is that they hit a warehouse where the rebels – now these are rebels that are, of course, connected with Al Qaeda – where the rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties. Apparently the intelligence on this is very clear.” Giraldi said the anger within the intelligence community over the distortion of intelligence to justify Trump’s military retaliation was so great that some covert officers were considering going public. “People in both the agency [the CIA] and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he already should have known – but maybe he didn’t – and they’re afraid that this is moving toward a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict,” Giraldi said before Thursday night’s missile strike. “They are astonished by how this is being played by the administration and by the U.S. media.”

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The picture is pretty clear by now.

Former DIA Colonel: “US Strikes On Syria Based On A Lie” (IntelT)

Donald Trump’s decision to launch cruise missile strikes on a Syrian Air Force Base was based on a lie. In the coming days the American people will learn that the Intelligence Community knew that Syria did not drop a military chemical weapon on innocent civilians in Idlib. Here is what happened.

• The Russians briefed the United States on the proposed target. This is a process that started more than two months ago. There is a dedicated phone line that is being used to coordinate and deconflict (i.e., prevent US and Russian air assets from shooting at each other) the upcoming operation.

• The United States was fully briefed on the fact that there was a target in Idlib that the Russians believes was a weapons/explosives depot for Islamic rebels.

• The Syrian Air Force hit the target with conventional weapons. All involved expected to see a massive secondary explosion. That did not happen. Instead, smoke, chemical smoke, began billowing from the site. It turns out that the Islamic rebels used that site to store chemicals, not sarin, that were deadly. The chemicals included organic phosphates and chlorine and they followed the wind and killed civilians.

• There was a strong wind blowing that day and the cloud was driven to a nearby village and caused casualties.

• We know it was not sarin. How? Very simple. The so-called “first responders” handled the victims without gloves. If this had been sarin they would have died. Sarin on the skin will kill you. How do I know? I went through “Live Agent” training at Fort McClellan in Alabama.

• There are members of the U.S. military who were aware this strike would occur and it was recorded. There is a film record. At least the Defense Intelligence Agency knows that this was not a chemical weapon attack. In fact, Syrian military chemical weapons were destroyed with the help of Russia.

This is Gulf of Tonkin 2. How ironic. Donald Trump correctly castigated George W. Bush for launching an unprovoked, unjustified attack on Iraq in 2003. Now we have President Donald Trump doing the same damn thing. Worse in fact. Because the intelligence community had information showing that there was no chemical weapon launched by the Syrian Air Force. Here’s the good news. The Russians and Syrians were informed, or at least were aware, that the attack was coming. They were able to remove a large number of their assets. The base the United States hit was something of a backwater. Donald Trump gets to pretend that he is a tough guy. He is not. He is a fool.

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Tulsi is being drowned out by the trigger happy Democrats. But she actually served in the Middle East.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard On Syria (Fox)

The cost of war is profound. I’m opposed to the escalation of the counterproductive regime change war in Syria because it will lead to the deaths of more innocent men, women and children. Terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS, the strongest forces on the ground in Syria, will continue to increase their strength and influence over the region in the vacuum of a central government.

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The French detest their political system even more than Americans do theirs. It’s very possible abstentions will decide the elections. And Le Pen voters WILL go to the ballot box.

How Marine Le Pen Could Win (Pol.)

Could Marine Le Pen become France’s next president? A quick look at polling trends suggests that at first blush at least, the answer is “no.” [..] But for Serge Galam, a French physicist who predicted Donald Trump’s election in the United States, polls are missing out on an important factor: abstention — and specifically, how it affects voter turnout for different candidates. He argues that abstention, which a poll by CEVIPOF showed could be as high as 30%, is likely to be decisive in a “dirty” campaign dominated by scandals. “Obviously, nothing is done yet but her election is becoming very likely,” said Galam, a researcher with the French National Center for Scientific Research who also studies public opinion at the CEVIPOF political science institute. “I’m taking a scientific view of this — she needs a turnout differential of about 20% to win.”

[..] If Le Pen is projected to lose the runoff by 41 to 59%, for example, Galam argues that Le Pen could still win if the turnout rate for her voters is 90% versus 70% for her rival, for an overall turnout rate of 79%. In other words, the National Front leader could benefit because a substantial number of people who say they will vote for her rival may not actually go to the polls. Equally, if Le Pen is projected to lose by 45 to 55% in the runoff, she could win if turnout for her is 85% versus 70% for her rival, for an overall turnout of 77%. If overall turnout is 76%, then Le Pen would need a turnout of 90% versus 65% for her rival, and so on.

Some polls have Le Pen lagging behind Macron or Fillon by more than 30 percentage points, which would make her victory near impossible. But others show her within striking distance, with a lag of less than 20 points. If she can shrink the gap, then the challenge for Le Pen will be to mobilize a greater proportion of her supporters than her rivals. In this regard, Galam argues that Le Pen has a shot. For different reasons, he says, both Macron and Fillon aroused intense feelings of “aversion” among some voters, with a large proportion of Macron voters saying they could change their mind on election day. Negative or ambivalent feelings could translate into weaker turnout for them on election day.

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Newsweek wakes up to a 2 week old report from IBT.

Privacy Experts Say CIA Left Americans Open To Cyber Attacks (IBT)

WikiLeaks release of the latest cache of confidential C.I.A. documents as part of an ongoing “Vault 7” operation exposed some of the U.S. government’s hacking and digital espionage capabilities—this time having to do with iPhones and other smart devices used by hundreds of millions of people across the globe. But cyber security experts and computers scientists are raising concerns over the C.I.A.’s disregard of safety measures put in place for discovering these dangerous flaws in smart gadgets. The federal agency has kept its discovery of many exploits (software tools targeting flaws in products, typically used for malicious hacking purposes) a secret, “stockpiling” that information rather than reporting it to multinational corporations, throwing millions of Americans into the crosshairs of a dangerous, intergovernmental spying game in the process.

“What’s critical to understand is that these vulnerabilities can be exploited not just by our government but by foreign governments and cyber criminals around the world, and that’s deeply troubling,” said Ashley Gorski, an American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney working on the civil rights group’s national security project. “Our government should be working to help the companies patch vulnerabilities when they are discovered, not stockpiling them.” The C.I.A. knew its own classified documents had been floating around the dark web for at least a year and was well aware the hacking capabilities it was using to break into everyday tech could also have been employed by hostile foreign networks. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin reportedly orchestrated a sprawling governmental operation in an attempt to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which featured several cyber attacks on email servers and devices used by members of the Democratic Party.

The government enacted the Vulnerabilities Equities Process to reduce the unnecessary stockpiling of exploits. The procedure was meant to provide guidelines for agencies like the C.I.A. for notifying companies when dangerous issues are discovered in their devices. The measure was put in place during the Obama administration to prevent cyber attacks from terrorist networks and foreign governments, including Russia and China. But the C.I.A. completely ignored the Vulnerabilities Equity Process, instead exploring ways to use exploits for their own purposes, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international nonprofit digital rights group that reviewed a copy of the practice after filing a Freedom of Information Act request. “It appears the CIA didn’t even use the [Vulnerabilities Equity Process],” said Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “That’s worrisome, because we know these agencies overvalue their offensive capabilities and undervalue the risk to the rest of us.”

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There is so much wrong in China’s urbanization it’s hard to decide where to start.

Rising Waters Threaten China’s Rising Cities (NYT)

The rains brought torrents, pouring into basements and malls, the water swiftly rising a foot and a half. The city of Dongguan, a manufacturing center here in the world’s most dynamic industrial region, was hit especially hard by the downpour in May 2014. More than 100 factories and shops were inundated. Water climbed knee-high in 20 minutes, wiping out inventory for dozens of businesses. Next door in Guangzhou, an ancient, mammoth port city of 13 million, helicopters and a fleet of 80 boats had to be sent to rescue trapped residents. Tens of thousands lost their homes, and 53 square miles of nearby farmland were ruined. The cost of repairs topped $100 million. Chen Rongbo, who lived in the city, saw the flood coming. He tried to scramble to safety on the second floor of his house, carrying his 6-year-old granddaughter. He slipped. The flood swept both of them away.

Flooding has been a plague for centuries in southern China’s Pearl River Delta. So even the rains that May, the worst in the area in years, soon drifted from the headlines. People complained and made jokes on social media about wading through streets that had become canals and riding on half-submerged buses through lakes that used to be streets. But there was no official hand-wringing about what caused the floods or how climate change might bring more extreme storms and make the problems worse. A generation ago, this was mostly farmland. Three vital rivers leading to the South China Sea, along with a spider’s web of crisscrossing tributaries, made the low-lying delta a fertile plain, famous for rice. Guangzhou, formerly Canton, had more than a million people, but by the 1980s, China set out to transform the whole region, capitalizing on its proximity to water, the energy of its people, and the money and port infrastructure of neighboring Hong Kong.

Rushing to catch up after decades of stagnation, China built a gargantuan collection of cities the size of nations with barely a pause to consider their toll on the environment, much less the future impact of global warming. Today, the region is a goliath of industry with a population exceeding 42 million. But while prosperity reshaped the social and cultural geography of the delta, it didn’t fundamentally alter the topography. Here, as elsewhere, breakneck development comes up against the growing threat of climate change. Economically, Guangzhou now has more to lose from climate change than any other city on the planet, according to a World Bank report. Nearby Shenzhen, another booming metropolis, ranked 10th on that World Bank list, which measured risk as a percentage of GDP.


Shenzhen was transformed in a few decades from a small fishing village into a city of millions.

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Apr 072017
 
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Fred Stein Times Square at Night 1947

 


Eyewitness Says Syrian Military Anticipated US Raid (ABC)
The Biggest Stock Bubble In US History (IRD)
The Unavoidable Pension Crisis (Roberts)
Americans Are Taking Out The Largest Mortgages On Record (MW)
Global Debt Explodes At ‘Eye-Watering’ Pace To Hit £170 Trillion (Tel.)
Wall Street Doubts Trump Wants to Split Up Biggest US Banks (BBG)
Fed’s Asset Shift To Pose New Test Of Economy’s Recovery, Resilience (R.)
M5S Plans To ‘Revolutionize Democracy’ With Online Voting, E-petitions (LI)
Arms Sales Becoming France’s New El Dorado, But At What Cost? (F24)
Guns Are The True Cause Of Hunger And Famine (G.)
Greece’s Dark Age: How Austerity Turned Off The Lights (R.)
On Dimitris Christoulas: ‘He Is A Part Of History Now’ (AlJ)

 

 

“I think Secretary of Defense [General] James Mattis gave the president a list of options, this being the smallest…”

Eyewitness Says Syrian Military Anticipated US Raid (ABC)

Syrian military officials appeared to anticipate Thursday’s night raid on Syria’s Shayrat airbase, evacuating personnel and moving equipment ahead of the strike, according to an eyewitness to the strike. Dozens of Tomahawk missiles struck the airbase near Homs damaging runways, towers and traffic control buildings, a local resident and human rights activist living near the airbase told ABC News via an interpreter. U.S. officals believe the plane that dropped chemical weapons on civilians in Idlib Province on Tuesday, which according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights killed 86 people, took off from the Shayrat airbase. The attack lasted approximately 35 minutes and its impact was felt across the city, shaking houses and sending those inside them fleeing from their windows. Both of the airport’s major runways were struck by missiles, and some of its 40 fortified bunkers were also damaged.

Local residents say the Russian military had used the airbase in early 2016 but have since withdrawn their officers, so the base is now mainly operated by Syrian and Iranian military officers. There is also a hotel near the airport where Iranian officers have been staying, though it was not clear whether it was damaged. The eyewitness believes human casualties, at least within the civilian population, were minimal, as there was no traffic heading toward the local hospital. [..] Former National Security Adviser and ABC News contributor Richard Clarke said this attack, one of the quickest displays of force by a new president in recent history, is largely “symbolic.”

Following a 2013 chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1400 people outside of Damascus which a U.S. government intelligence assessment concluded likely used a nerve agent, the Obama administration threatened retaliation but ultimately called off planned airstrikes after Assad agreed to turn over the majority of his chemical weapons arsenal to an international watchdog group. Trump has attempted to blame Obama’s “weakness” for the worsening violence in Syria. “This attack on one air base seems more symbolic,” Clarke said. “I think Secretary of Defense [General] James Mattis gave the president a list of options, this being the smallest. It was a targeted attack not designed to overwhelm the Syrian military … I think the president was trying to differentiate himself from his predecessor.”

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“Tesla has never made money and never will make money. Next to Amazon, it’s the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history.”

The Biggest Stock Bubble In US History (IRD)

Please note, many will argue that the p/e ratio on the S&P 500 was higher in 1999 than it is now. However, there’s two problems with the comparison. First, when there is no “e,” price does not matter. Many of the tech stocks in the SPX in 1999 did not have any earnings and never had a chance to produce earnings because many of them went out of business. However – and I’ve been saying this for quite some time and I’m finally seeing a few others make the same assertion – if you adjust the current earnings of the companies in SPX using the GAAP accounting standards in force in 1999, the current earnings in aggregate would likely be cut at least in half. And thus, the current p/e ratio expressed in 1999 earnings terms likely would be at least as high as the p/e ratio in 1999, if not higher. (Changes to GAAP have made it easier for companies to create non-cash earnings, reclassify and capitalize expenses, stretch out depreciation and pension funding costs, etc).

We talk about the tech bubble that fomented in the late 1990’s that resulted in an 85% (roughly) decline on the NASDAQ. Currently the five highest valued stocks by market cap are tech stocks: AAPL, GOOG, MSFT, AMZN and FB. Combined, these five stocks make-up nearly 10% of the total value of the entire stock market. Money from the public poured into ETFs at record pace in February. The majority of it into S&P 500 ETFs which then have to put that money proportionately by market value into each of the S&P 500 stocks. Thus when cash pours into SPX funds like this, a large rise in the the top five stocks by market cap listed above becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The price rise in these stocks has nothing remotely to do with fundamentals. Take Microsoft, for example (MSFT). Last Friday the pom-poms were waving on Fox Business because MSFT hit an all-time high.

This is in spite of the fact that MSFT’s revenues dropped 8.8% from 2015 to 2016 and its gross margin plunged 13.2%. So much for fundamentals. In addition to the onslaught of retail cash moving blindly into stocks, margin debt on the NYSE hit an all-time high in February. Both the cash flow and margin debt statistics are flashing a big red warning signal, as this only occurs when the public becomes blind to risk and and bet that stocks can only go up. As I’ve said before, this is by far the most dangerous stock market in my professional lifetime (32 years, not including my high years spent reading my father’s Wall Street Journal everyday and playing penny stocks).

Perhaps the loudest bell ringing and signaling a top is the market’s valuation of Tesla. On Monday the market cap of Tesla ($49 billion) surpassed Ford’s market cap ($45 billion) despite the fact that Tesla delivered 79 thousand cars in 2016 while Ford delivered 2.6 million. “Electric Jeff” (as a good friend of mine calls Elon Musk, in reference to Jeff Bezos) was on Twitter Monday taunting short sellers. At best his behavior can be called “gauche.” Musk, similar to Bezos, is a masterful stock operator. Jordan Belfort (the “Wolf of Wall Street”) was a small-time dime store thief compared to Musk and Bezos. Tesla has never made money and never will make money. Next to Amazon, it’s the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history. Without the massive tax credits given to the first 200,000 buyers of Tesla vehicles, the Company would likely be out of business by now.

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And to think even without demographics pensions look screwed too, just from financial engineering and insane debt levels.

The Unavoidable Pension Crisis (Roberts)

There is a really big crisis coming. Think about it this way. After 8 years and a 230% stock market advance the pension funds of Dallas, Chicago, and Houston are in severe trouble. But it isn’t just these municipalities that are in trouble, but also most of the public and private pensions that still operate in the country today. Currently, many pension funds, like the one in Houston, are scrambling to slightly lower return rates, issue debt, raise taxes or increase contribution limits to fill some of the gaping holes of underfunded liabilities in their plans. The hope is such measures combined with an ongoing bull market, and increased participant contributions, will heal the plans in the future. This is not likely to be the case. This problem is not something born of the last “financial crisis,” but rather the culmination of 20-plus years of financial mismanagement.

An April 2016 Moody’s analysis pegged the total 75-year unfunded liability for all state and local pension plans at $3.5 trillion. That’s the amount not covered by current fund assets, future expected contributions, and investment returns at assumed rates ranging from 3.7% to 4.1%. Another calculation from the American Enterprise Institute comes up with $5.2 trillion, presuming that long-term bond yields average 2.6%. With employee contribution requirements extremely low, averaging about 15% of payroll, the need to stretch for higher rates of return have put pensions in a precarious position and increases the underfunded status of pensions. With pension funds already wrestling with largely underfunded liabilities, the shifting demographics are further complicating funding problems.

One of the primary problems continues to be the decline in the ratio of workers per retiree as retirees are living longer (increasing the relative number of retirees), and lower birth rates (decreasing the relative number of workers.) However, this “support ratio” is not only declining in the U.S. but also in much of the developed world. This is due to two demographic factors: increased life expectancy coupled with a fixed retirement age, and a decrease in the fertility rate. In 1950, there were 7.2 people aged 20–64 for every person of 65 or over in the OECD countries. By 1980, the support ratio dropped to 5.1 and by 2010 it was 4.1. It is projected to reach just 2.1 by 2050. The table below shows support ratios for selected countries in 1970, 2010, and projected for 2050:

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Happy days!

Americans Are Taking Out The Largest Mortgages On Record (MW)

For the past few years, the housing market has been unbalanced. Strong demand and lean supply keep pushing prices higher and higher. On Wednesday, a fresh piece of data confirmed that trend. The Mortgage Bankers Association’s weekly purchase loan data showed that the average size of a home loan was the largest in the history of its survey, which goes back to 1990. Higher prices have a few different effects on the market. Buyers have to make tradeoffs on the kinds of homes they can afford, or may be shut out of ownership altogether. They may also adjust their borrowing. Larger mortgage sizes may reflect not just more expensive properties, but also more leveraged ones.

The 20% down payment is a relic: the median down payment in 2016 was 10%. For first-time buyers, it was 6%. First-timers and other buyers of less-expensive homes are more leveraged now than they were at the height of the housing bubble a decade ago. Home loan sizes aren’t the only things that have changed in the years since MBA started its survey. Back at the start of the survey, the median mortgage size was only about 3.3 times the median annual income. It’s now over five times as big – though buyers get bigger homes and lower interest rates.

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Over $70 trillion since 2008.

Global Debt Explodes At ‘Eye-Watering’ Pace To Hit £170 Trillion (Tel.)

Global debt has climbed at an “eye-watering” pace over the past decade, soaring to a fresh high of £170 trillion last year, according to the Institute of International Finance (IIF). The IIF said total debt levels, including household, government and corporate debt, climbed by more than $70 trillion over the last 10 years to a record high of $215 trillion (£173 trillion) in 2016 – or the equivalent of 325pc of GDP. It said emerging markets posed “a growing source of concern” to financial stability and the global economy as debt burdens in these countries climb at a rapid pace. The IIF data showed the increase was partly driven by a “spectacular rise” in emerging markets, where total debt stood at $55 trillion at the end of 2016, or 215pc of total emerging market GDP.

Debt has risen from $16 trillion in 2006 and $7.4 trillion in 1996. The body, which represents the world’s top financial institutions, said a wave of maturing debt this year presented a “growing refinancing risk”. It estimates that more than $1.1 trillion of emerging market bonds and loans will mature this year, with dollar-denominated debt accounting for a fifth of all redemptions. It said China faced around $40bn of dollar-denominated redemptions this year, while Russia faced redemptions of $20bn. International bodies including the IMF and OECD have warned that rising interest rates in the US could bring an end to an emerging market corporate debt binge as companies in these countries see their debt servicing costs rise in local currency terms. “While risks associated with currency mismatches may not be as acute as during past emerging market debt crises, the overall emerging market debt burden – particularly as global interest rates head higher – is a growing source of concern,” the IIF said in a note.

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Goldman is not a consumer bank. They might actually profit from this.

Wall Street Doubts Trump Wants to Split Up Biggest US Banks (BBG)

President Donald Trump and his advisers have vowed to bring back a Depression-era law that would cleave the biggest U.S. lenders in half by separating commercial and investment banking operations. Wall Street doesn’t expect that to happen. After chief economic adviser Gary Cohn reiterated the administration’s stance toward the Glass-Steagall Act in a private meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday, analysts said they viewed any radical regulatory changes as unlikely. Shares of Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, which would be most affected by the rule, rose Thursday after Bloomberg first reported on Cohn’s comments. Reinstating Glass-Steagall, which was created after the banking crises of the 1930s and repealed in 1999, would require a rewriting of U.S. banking rules. The Dodd-Frank Act took more than a year of work by Congress.

The Trump administration hasn’t put forward a detailed plan and the revisions proposed by House Republicans don’t involve the return of Glass-Steagall. “Anything resembling Glass-Steagall is so far from happening that it’s hard to envision,” said Ian Katz, an analyst at Capital Alpha. “It simply isn’t a priority issue in Congress.” The Republicans who control the House and the Senate want to loosen banking regulations, not make them stricter, Katz wrote. The Republican Party made restoring Glass-Steagall part of its platform, and Trump sometimes criticized the big banks during the campaign, saying “I’m not going to let Wall Street get away with murder.” Since taking office, he’s appointed Cohn and several other former Goldman Sachs bankers to top posts, and said that he’ll look to JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon for advice about regulatory reform.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said during his confirmation hearing that he opposes the old Glass-Steagall, but supports a “21st Century” version. He didn’t elaborate on what he meant. “If you’ve listened to all the rhetoric on regulation, we’ve no real guidance on where we are going,” said Christopher Wheeler, an Atlantic Equities analyst in London. “The uncertainty is immense and what you have to believe is that things will continue as they are.” The regulation might not mean that commercial and investment banks have to be separated, Cowen Group analyst Jaret Seiberg wrote in a report. Instead, the government could require that broker-dealers be subsidiaries of holding companies, rather than banks, he said. That would mean that the brokerage arm would have to be separately funded. “Cohn was the most likely obstacle within the Trump White House,” Seiberg wrote. “With him supporting Glass-Steagall’s restoration, there is no one in the inner circle left to fight it.”

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More uncharted territory. We tend to forget, but for 10 years now they’re grasping in the dark. They have no idea what they do, all they have to go on are outdated textbooks that were flawed to begin with. Time to audit the Fed and then close it.

Fed’s Asset Shift To Pose New Test Of Economy’s Recovery, Resilience (R.)

The Federal Reserve’s coming decision to reduce its massive asset holdings will set off a complex dance with global investors and the U.S. Treasury as it tries to put a final end to policies used to fight the 2007 financial crisis without upending the economy along the way. It is a feat with no clear precedent, according to analysts and officials involved in the process: a central bank trying to squeeze trillions of dollars out of markets it has supported for a decade, and in the process likely pushing up the cost of home buying, corporate finance and an array of other activities. Though final decisions have not been made, the Fed may shift policy as soon as the end of this year, and over 2018 begin pulling anywhere from $20 billion to $60 billion a month out of bond markets, according to a review of current Fed asset holdings.

For several years during the crisis, the Fed added to its holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds and securities backed by home mortgages to the tune of $85 billion a month before the program was slowed. The purchases were an emergency measure made necessary because the Fed’s short-term interest rate – its primary tool to encourage people and businesses to spend and invest – had already been cut to zero. With the economy still in freefall, the asset purchases added to demand for financial securities, and are thought to have held down long-term interest rates in general, a boost to the home-building and other industries in particular. The central bank is already raising its short-term interest rate and has managed a series of increases without slowing the economy. When it starts to scale back the size of its $4.5 trillion stockpile of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities – essentially reversing the purchases it made during the crisis – it will pose a stiff new test of the economy’s resilience.

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This was always the plan. Use technology to strengthen democracy.

M5S Plans To ‘Revolutionize Democracy’ With Online Voting, E-petitions (LI)

Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement party plans to introduce online voting and public referendums to increase “democracy and transparency” in the country’s capital. Five Star councillors presented the draft resolution at Rome’s city hall on Monday, where it will be debated. They claimed the proposed ideas would take the city “from Mafia Capitale [the ongoing corruption scandal which has seen dozens of Rome politicians and businessmen put on trial] to direct democracy and transparency in five years”. The ideas suggested included online consultations and participatory budgeting. The latter process would give citizens more say in how Rome money is spent, and has already been introduced by Five Star-led local authorities in some areas, including Mira and Ragusa.

In a blog post, leader Beppe Grillo said that within a year, a Five Star government would introduce public petitions which can be created online and sent directly to the Italian parliament for discussion – a system which already exists in the UK, for example. “It should be the citizens and the local community who govern cities through the Internet, using collective intelligence,” said Grillo. “The web is revolutionizing the relationship between citizens and institutions making direct democracy feasible, as applied in ancient Greece.” Angelo Sturni, one of the councillors behind the proposal, said: “We also want to experiment with electronic voting in referendums, using the American model.” Discontent over widespread corruption in Rome, as revealed in the Mafia Capitale trial, was one of the main factors in Five Star candidate Virginia Raggi’s victory in mayoral elections last June.

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UK, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium: merchants of death. Government sponsored murder.

Arms Sales Becoming France’s New El Dorado, But At What Cost? (F24)

When Qatar agreed to buy 24 French Rafale fighter jets in a €6.3 billion contract at the end of April, it represented yet another major success for France’s arms industry, coming hot on the heels of further multi-billion euro sales of Rafales to Egypt and India. The deals have been hailed by Hollande and his government. According to France’s Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian, in comments made to the Journal du Dimanche newspaper Sunday, the Qatar contract brought the value of the country’s arms exports to more than €15 billion this year so far. That sum is already more than the €8.06 billion for the whole of 2014, which itself was the highest level seen since 2009 – suggesting a continued upward trajectory for the French arms trade and one that is providing a much-needed salve to the country’s economic woes.

But some of these deals have raised more than a few eyebrows, with anti-arms trade campaigners critical of France’s willingness to sell weapons to countries with less than stellar human rights records. These concerns are only set to rise when Hollande heads first to Doha on Monday and then Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh the day after, where furthering the recent success of the French arms industry is likely to be one of his top priorities. Saudi Arabia has already proved a lucrative trading partner for French arms manufacturers, most recently in a deal signed in November that saw the kingdom buy $3 billion-worth (€2.7 billion) of French weapons and military equipment to supply the Lebanese army. The oil-rich country is currently on something of an arms spending spree. Last year, the Saudis surpassed India to become the world’s biggest arms importer, upping its spending by 54% to €5.8 billion, according to a report by industry analyst IHS.

France, thanks to some adept diplomatic manoeuvering in recent years, is well placed to take advantage of the Saudi cash cow. Paris has been an increasingly close ally of Riyadh ever since it was among the most vocal in backing military intervention against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, a key ally of Shiite Iran – one of Sunni Saudi Arabia’s main regional rivals. “You’re seeing political fractures across the region, and at the same time you’ve got oil, which allows countries to arm themselves, protect themselves and impose their will as to how they think the region should develop,” Ben Moores, author of the IHS report, told AP in March. France, of course, is not alone in striking lucrative arms deals in the region. The US remains the biggest arms exporter to the Middle East, with $8.4 billion (€7.5 billion) worth of weapon sales in 2014, while the UK and Germany are also major players.

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And this is what the merchants of death leave behind.

Guns Are The True Cause Of Hunger And Famine (G.)

Last year, the World Bank revised its position on conflict – upgrading it from being one of many drivers of suffering and poverty, to being the main driver. In Somalia, despite some political progress the conflict has put more than half the population in need of assistance, with 363,000 children suffering acute malnutrition. In north-east Nigeria, conflict with Boko Haram has left 1.8m people still displaced, farmers unable to grow crops, and 4.8 million people need food. In Yemen, an escalation in conflict since 2015 has worsened a situation already made dire by weak rule of law and governance. Now more than 14 million people need food aid. Only if we understand conflict can we understand hunger. South Sudan is another example. I worked there for two years following the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement in 2005.

Right now a place called Koch, where Mercy Corps works, is in what the famine early warning systems network calls a “level 4 emergency phase”. This means that people will start to die of hunger in a matter of months if they don’t receive enough aid. Until recent years, Koch was a thriving community with fertile land. It has been destroyed in armed clashes since conflict broke out in South Sudan in December 2013. Families have had to move time and time again and disease is rampant due to the lack of clean water. As one father of five told our team in Koch: “My house was burnt, everything was looted and I do not know how to rebuild my life.” Across the places where we work and where people are facing starvation, the pattern is the similar.

Hunger is not some freak environmental event; it is human-made, the result of a deadly mix of conflict, marginalisation and weak governance. Yet watching some of the news and the crisis appeals, one could be forgiven for thinking that what we need is another Live Aid song and airdrops of food. Red Nose Day has been criticised for portraying Africa as a place where “nothing ever grows”. A recent social media campaign to send a plane filled with food to Somalia gathered support: a noble gesture, but not a long-term solution. Mercy Corps’ own emergency response is not the long-term answer either.

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It’s easy to label something ‘theft’, but for Greeks it’s either go illegal or sit in the dark, freeze etc. Still can’t believe this is the European Union.

Greece’s Dark Age: How Austerity Turned Off The Lights (R.)

Kostas Argyros’s unpaid electricity bills are piling up, among a mountain of debt owed to Greece’s biggest power utility. His family owe €850 to the Public Power Corporation (PPC), a tiny fraction of the state-controlled firm’s 2.6 billion euros ($2.8 billion) in unpaid bills. Argyros picks up only occasional work as an odd-job man. “When you only work once a week, what will you pay first?” said the 35-year-old, who lives in a tiny apartment in an Athens suburb with his unemployed wife and four small children. The Argyros family are emblematic of deepening poverty in Greece following seven years of austerity demanded by the country’s international creditors. They burn wood to heat their home in winter, food is cooked on a small gas stove, and hot water is scarce.

The only evening light is the blue glare of a TV screen, for fear of racking up more debt. Five-watt lightbulbs provide a dim glow and Argyros worries about the effect on their eyesight. More than 40% of Greeks are behind on their utility bills, higher than anywhere else in Europe. People in poor neighborhoods are also increasingly turning to energy fraud, meaning that the problem for PPC is much higher than the mountain of unpaid bills suggests. Power theft is costing PPC around €500-600 million a year in lost income, an industry official said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge the numbers. Public disclosures by the Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator HEDNO, which checks meters, show that verified cases of theft climbed to 10,600 last year, up from 8,880 in 2013 and 4,470 in 2012.

Authorities believe theft is far higher than the cases verified by HEDNO, another official said, declining to be named. Households in the country are equipped with analog meters, which are easy to hack. One of the most common tricks is using magnets, which slow down the rotating coils to show less consumption than the real amount, a HEDNO official said. Some websites even offer consumers tips and tricks on power fraud. For households who have had their electricity cut off, a group of activists calling themselves the “I Won’t Pay” movement have taken it upon themselves to reconnect the supply. The group says it has done hundreds this year. PPC, which has a 90% share of the retail market and 60% of the wholesale market, is supposed to reduce this dominance to less than 50% by 2020 under Greece’s third, 86 billion euro bailout deal.

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It’s time to make this personal. Against Schäuble and Dijsselbloem, Merkel and Rutte and Hollande. They are killing people. There’s nothing innocent about that. Making it personal is the only thing that’ll work. Bring it to their doorstep. Literally to their doorstep.

On Dimitris Christoulas: ‘He Is A Part Of History Now’ (AlJ)

On the morning of April 4, 2012, a gunshot sounded amid the city’s hustle and bustle. As passers-by rushed to work through Syntagma Square in central Athens, Dimitris Christoulas had taken his life with a shotgun a few metres from the Greek parliament. The 77-year-old pensioner, a former pharmacist, had left a note in his pocket. “The occupation government literally annihilated my ability to survive,” he wrote. “I depended on my decent pension, which I alone and without the support of the state, paid for 35 years.” His only daughter, Emmy Christoula, had known nothing about his plans. But, speaking as the fifth anniversary of his death approached, she confidently described her father’s public suicide as a political act. Her father woke up in the morning, got dressed, and wrote two identical notes – putting one in his pocket and leaving the other on his kitchen table for his daughter to read.

He took the subway to the square, site of the country’s most important protests for more than a century. When Dimitris arrived at Syntagma, he texted his daughter – “It’s the end, Emmy,” he wrote – and switched off his phone. Greek morning television talk shows broke the news of Christoulas’s suicide a few minutes after it happened. Hundreds soon gathered to pay their respects. Flowers, letters and notes of resistance were left by the tree where he chose to take his life. Spaniards wrote songs of his resistance. Irish poets wrote odes to him. His funeral turned into a rally against the austerity measures imposed on Greece, when the country’s debt payments became too onerous to pay amid the worldwide recession. The country’s creditors called for harsh spending cuts and steep tax increases so that Athens could make the payments. Protests and riots became a staple of life in Athens in the years that followed.

Five years on from Christoulas’ suicide, the crisis has only grown deeper. Greece’s debt is 175% of its GDP. Greek officials have cut retirees’ pensions 17 times to around half of their value before the recession, according to the Greek Association of Pensioners. Budget cuts have also been implemented in education, health, and welfare services. Lenders must improve most government decisions. Unemployment stands at more than 23%. A fourth bailout agreement is expected soon. According to the Greek Statistical Service, suicides have increased by 68% since 2008, the first year Greek economic growth stagnated. “I’m of a certain age and don’t have the power of dynamically reacting,” wrote Christoulas in his suicide note. “I can’t find another solution to a dignified end, as soon I’d have to start scavenging through the garbage to find my own food.”

Christoulas’ suicide became a symbol of the devastating effects of austerity on the Greek people. Until then, the majority of the stories published in the international media on the issue were about lazy Greeks who deserved their comeuppance for living off debt for so many years. “[My father] taught me that you shouldn’t just follow history, you should write it,” said Emmy, adding that she has accepted her father’s decision but still aches from his absence. Emmy describes her father as a wiry and lean man who had long participated in public life. Her first childhood memories include sitting on his shoulders at pro-democracy rallies against Greece’s military government in the 1970s. The police brutality didn’t deter father and daughter from participating.

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Apr 042017
 
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Esther Bubley Child living in alley near US Capitol 1943

 


Living Standard Will Fall Without Productivity Boost, Warns IMF (G.)
67% Of Low-Income Americans Worry A Lot About Hunger, Homelessness (ZH)
The Issue With China Isn’t Trade, It’s Excess Savings (Pettis)
Toronto Bidding Wars So Fierce That Homebuyers Skip Inspections
Can Housing Bubbles Be Stopped? (WSJ)
Cernovich Explains How He Learned About Susan Rice (ZH)
The Deep State Now Works For The ‘Good Guys’ (AlJ)
The Deep State Now Works For The ‘Good Guys’ (AlJ)
Putin Derangement Syndrome Arrives (Matt Taibbi)
Euro MPs ‘Unanimously’ Condemn Dijsselbloem’s No-Show (AFP)
Greek Pensions Hot Potato Puts Tsipras in Tight Spot on Bailout (BBG)
Austerity-Crushed Greek Households Keep Cutting Food Purchases (TNH)
Youth Unemployment Shows Euro-Area Recovery Not Working for All (BBG)
Erdogan Says Turks In Europe Should Defy ‘Grandchildren Of Nazism’ (R.)
Yes, Let’s Allow The Syrian People To Decide For Themselves (Ron Paul)
New Evidence Undermines EU Report Tying Refugee Rescue Group To Smugglers (IC)
The Vanishing Art Of Seizing The Day (Krznaric)

 

 

Interesting. I’m sure Lagarde has no idea why productivity fell. She has some textbook explanation, for sure, but her ‘solutions’ are bland: education and technology. But those were available all along as productivity was falling. Plus, technology costs jobs too. Then again, for the IMF there’s always ‘reforms’ of course: more globalization. But wait: that also costs jobs. Question then: if you lose enough jobs, will productivity rise?

Living Standard Will Fall Without Productivity Boost, Warns IMF (G.)

The head of the IMF has issued a stark warning that living standards will fall around the world unless governments take urgent action to increase productivity by investing in education, cutting red tape and incentivising research and development. Christine Lagarde used a speech in Washington to tell policymakers they could not simply wait for innovation to drive up productivity growth and help living standards recover from the legacy of the global financial crisis. She highlighted a poor global record on productivity growth in recent years and said IMF analysis suggested GDP in advanced economies would be about 5% higher today if the pre-crisis trend had continued for total factor productivity growth – a broad measure of what goes into production, such as research spending.

“That would be the equivalent of adding another Japan – and more – to the global economy,” the IMF managing director in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute. Legarde warned the world could not afford to leave productivity growth in the doldrums. “Another decade of weak productivity growth would seriously undermine the rise in global living standards. Slower growth could also jeopardise the financial and social stability of some countries by making it more difficult to reduce excessive inequality and sustain private debt and public obligations. “Leaning back and waiting for artificial intelligence or other technologies to trigger a productivity revival is simply not an option.”

[..] In the UK, productivity growth has been sluggish for years and is behind most other big economies, prompting the chancellor, Philip Hammond, to pledge more investment in infrastructure and other areas with a £23bn national productivity investment fund. Calling on all governments to do more, Lagarde sought to emphasise productivity as the most important source of higher income and rising living standards. “For example, the average American worker today works only about 17 weeks to live at the annual real income level of the average worker in 1915,” she said. That kind of progress had been seen in many countries, she added. “But this engine of prosperity has slowed down in recent years, with negative consequences for growth and incomes that look very hard to unwind.”

She also echoed concerns over how rapid changes in technology had cost jobs in some sectors, hitting lower skilled workers hardest. Governments must help such workers through targeted education programmes, Lagarde said. That in turn would help solve productivity problems and create more inclusive and sustainable growth.

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Bit of a vague survery, but who today is going to be surprised at the outcome?

67% Of Low-Income Americans Worry A Lot About Hunger, Homelessness (ZH)

Something unexpected happened on the road to Obama’s economic “recovery” – according to Gallup, over the past two years, a record two-thirds, or an average of 67% of lower-income U.S. adults, up from 51% from 2010-2011, have worried “a great deal” about the problem of hunger and homelessness in the country. They are not alone: concern has also increased among middle- and upper-income Americans, but they still worry far less than do lower-income Americans. Some details: since 2001, worry has been highest among those residing in lower-income households, likely because those with limited financial resources are more at risk of going hungry or becoming homeless. A consistent majority of lower-income adults worried about the problem before 2012, but that has only increased in the past five years. Concern among middle-income Americans in 2016-2017 falls just short of the majority level at 47%, while 37% of upper-income Americans are worried.

Rising concern among all income groups could be a result of the political and media attention devoted to U.S. income inequality in recent years. Americans may also worry more about hunger and homelessness when other issues are not dominating the national consciousness, such as the economy and budget deficit were in 2010-2011 and terrorism was in the years after 9/11. Overall, 47% of Americans now worry about hunger and homelessness “a great deal,” according to Gallup’s March 1-5 survey, tied with 2016 as the high in the trend. Previously, concern had been as low as 35% in 2004 and as high as 45% in 2001, the first year Gallup asked the question.

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In which paying off debt is counted towards savings. And not savings at household level.

The Issue With China Isn’t Trade, It’s Excess Savings (Pettis)

trade imbalances were mostly determined by direct differences in the cost of traded goods, while capital flowed from one country to another mainly to balance trade flows. Today, however, conditions have changed dramatically. Capital flows dwarf trade flows, and investment decisions by fund managers determine their direction and size. This has profound implications for trade. Large, persistent trade surpluses such as the one China runs with the U.S. are no longer the consequence of explicitly mercantilist measures. Instead, they’re driven by policies that distort domestic savings rates by subsidizing production at the expense of households. Take Germany, for example. After a decade of trade deficits and high unemployment, worried leaders in Berlin implemented labor reforms in 2003-05 whose main effect was to weaken wage growth.

As unemployment dropped and business profits surged, the reforms also shrunk the share of national income allocated to ordinary households, driving down the consumption share as well. German businesses, blessed with higher profits, responded unhelpfully. They paid down debt instead of investing the profits, increasing the share of national income devoted to savings. As the growing gap between German savings and investment soon became among the largest in history, so did the German trade surplus. German banks exported the excess savings into other European countries, no longer protected by the interest-rate and currency adjustments proscribed under the rules of the euro. By 2009, after insolvency prevented one European country after another from absorbing any more of the German tsunami of capital outflows, these shifted to countries outside Europe.

While the experiences of China and Japan may seem different on the surface, they were broadly similar in impact. China, for example, severely repressed interest rates in order to boost growth. This simultaneously reduced the household share of Chinese GDP to among the lowest ever recorded and raised Chinese savings to among the highest – so high that, even with the fastest-rising investment in the world, China still needed large trade surpluses to make up for weak domestic demand. What happens next is the most confusing part for economists who don’t understand how trade has changed. When new capital pours into advanced economies that have always had easy access to investment – such as the U.S. and southern Europe – it doesn’t boost investment further. Instead it automatically causes savings to contract.

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Not a bubble. Why of sound mind gets into this?

Toronto Bidding Wars So Fierce That Homebuyers Skip Inspections

In Toronto, some homebuyers are so desperate to win bidding wars that they’re rushing to make offers without even getting an inspection. The average price for a detached home in Canada’s largest metropolitan area jumped to C$1.21 million ($905,950) in February, up a third from a year earlier, amid a dearth of properties for sale. In the same period, Toronto-based home-inspection firm Carson Dunlop saw a 34% drop in volume. Murray Parish, president of the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors, said he’s seen a 30% decline at his firm, Parish Home Inspections. “The bottom line is we are in a shortage of supply,’’ said Tasis Giannoukakis, a Century 21 broker based in Toronto, adding that it’s not uncommon to see bids of as much as C$200,000 over the asking price.

“That pressure is what’s causing everybody to remove the conditions on an inspection.’’ Home-price increases in North America’s fourth-largest city and its suburbs have outpaced growth in places including Manhattan, Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco, leading local officials to search for ways to control price gains and spurring concerns a correction may be coming. The frothy market, buoyed by low interest rates, is resulting in frenzied bidding wars, causing many shoppers to leave once-standard clauses such as a professional home inspection and financing contingencies out of their purchase offers. A move away from inspections isn’t unique to Toronto.

Vancouver, Canada’s hottest real estate market until Toronto took that mantle last year, saw a surge in unconditional purchase offers in the first half of 2016, said Adil Dinani, an agent with Royal LePage West Real Estate Services in the West Coast city. The same is true in hot U.S. markets. Mark Attarha, president of Bay Sotheby’s International Realty, which has seven offices in the in San Francisco Bay area, said he’s seeing a spate of offers without contingencies, along with a raft of “overbidding.” Attarha estimates that 75% of prospective buyers he works with are accepting a home-inspection report from the seller rather than ordering their own or including an inspection clause in their purchase offers.

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Let your house do the work for you: “Demand in Melbourne is driving up valuations of house land plots by $7,500 a week..”

Can Housing Bubbles Be Stopped? (WSJ)

From Australia to Canada, authorities are learning a hard lesson in their efforts to curb the foreign money flooding their property markets: deterrents quickly lose their punch. In recent years, regulators in several countries have raised taxes on residential real-estate purchases, required banks to demand bigger down payments and taxed empty homes—to little long-term avail. Now they are trying again. Australian regulators on Friday ordered banks to limit the flow of interest-only loans—a villain in the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis—to 30% of new loans from about 40% now and to restrict loans to people making small down payments. The country’s corporate regulator said on Monday it was investigating whether lenders and mortgage brokers are inappropriately promoting interest-only loans.

New South Wales state, home to Sydney, is considering a further property-tax rise for foreigners. The moves are an attempt to blunt a price rise that has resumed after the last crackdown starting in late 2014. House prices in Sydney and Melbourne, the nation’s two biggest cities, rose by about 19% and 16% in the year through Mar. 31, much of it in the last six months, according to an analysis by data company CoreLogic released on Monday. The median house price in Sydney hit $821,000 last year, according to Demographia, a U.S. think tank. It said the figure, equivalent to 12.2 times the average annual wage, made Sydney the world’s second most expensive city after Hong Kong on a house-price-to-income ratio. Demand in Melbourne is driving up valuations of house land plots by $7,500 a week, said Giles Bray, a local mortgage broker.

Developers are now building 300-square-foot apartments—roughly a third of the average new American unit—with 8-foot ceiling heights to pack in more units. In the past three years, foreigners have bought thousands of them sight unseen. “They are poorly built and lack light,” Mr. Bray said. The gains are testing the limits of government measures aimed at preventing housing bubbles from developing in cities around the world. The frothiness is driven by ultralow interest rates at central banks that spur investors to hunt for returns in tangible assets. Chinese investors also are a big driver of the phenomenon. The concern: foreign, speculative investors are making properties unaffordable for locals and adding economic risk because these buyers are more likely to flee in a downturn. In 2010 the Reserve Bank of Australia tightened policy to cool things off. But lately the central bank has been keeping rates at a record-low 1.5% to aid an economy that is still struggling to adjust at the end of a long mining boom.

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The Susan Rice story has many quirks. A big one: what did Obama know? RandPaul wants her to testify under oath to that. It could go a long way towards proving Trump’s wiretap allegations. But also very odd: BBG and NYT sat on the story for -at least- days. And yes, Cernovich is a bit of an oddball. But he has proof, something that’s still sorely lacking for all of the Russia narrative. So much so that it doesn’t matter anymore if proof comes eventually: the US media have published millions of words of innuendo and accusations without any proof. That may work in the echo chamber, but it kills your credibility outside of it.

Cernovich Explains How He Learned About Susan Rice (ZH)

Ever since Mike Cernovich dropped the bombshell report over the weekend outing Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, as the person behind the unmasking of the identity of various members of Trump’s team who were ‘incidentally’ surveilled during the 2016 campaign, a report which was subsequently confirmed by Eli Lake of Bloomberg earlier this morning, everyone has been wondering who within the Trump White House or the intelligence community supplied him with such a massive scoop. But, as it turns out, Cernovich didn’t need a ‘deep throat’ within the NSA or CIA for his blockbuster scoop, all he needed was some well-placed sources inside of a couple of America’s corrupt mainstream media outlets. As Cernovich explains below, his sources for the Susan Rice story were actually folks working at Bloomberg and the New York Times who revealed that both Eli Lake (Bloomberg) and Maggie Haberman (NYT) were sitting on the Susan Rice story in order to protect the Obama administration.

“Maggie Haberman had it. She will not run any articles that are critical of the Obama administration.” “Eli Lake had it. He didn’t want to run it and Bloomberg didn’t want to run it because it vindicates Trump’s claim that he had been spied upon. And Eli Lake is a ‘never Trumper.’ Bloomberg was a ‘never Trump’ publication.”

“I’m showing you the politics of ‘real journalism’. ‘Real journalism’ is that Bloomberg had it and the New York Times had it but they wouldn’t run it because they don’t want to run any stories that would make Obama look bad or that will vindicate Trump. They only want to run stories that make Trump look bad so that’s why they sat on it.”

“So where did I get the story? I didn’t get it from the intelligence community. Everybody’s trying to figure out where I got it from. I got it from somebody who works in one of those media companies. I have spies in every media organization. I got people in news rooms. I got it from a source within the news room who said ‘Cernovich, they’re sitting on this story, they’re not going to run it, so you can run it’.”

“If you’re at Bloomberg, I have people in there. If you’re at the New York Times, I have people in there. LA Times, Washington Post, you name it, I have my people in there. I got IT people in every major news room in this country. The IT people see every email so that’s how I knew it.”

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“Anyone, including experienced journalists, who raises questions or recommends caution is immediately dismissed as a Putin stooge or a Trump apologist by an army of progressives convinced, with obdurate certainty, of who is guilty and what is true.”

The Deep State Now Works For The ‘Good Guys’ (AlJ)

US progressives are clinging on to false heroes like the FBI and CIA in their existential battle to dethrone Trump. [..] In Comey’s case, his rather abrupt and miraculous transformation from devil to saint came after his March 20 testimony before a House Intelligence Committee where he finally, belatedly, confirmed that the FBI was indeed investigating the disturbing, cob-web-like connections between the Trump campaign team and Russia before, during and after the presidential election. Ah, now that the G-men are on the case, the indictments would surely follow, the familiar progressive chorus wrote. Trump’s days are numbered. Resignation and impeachment are in the offing. The cavalry is riding to America’s rescue. Comey’s role in torpedoing Clinton’s chances at becoming America’s first female president has fast receded into the rear-view mirror.

The political executioner has become a prince of probity and the rule of law. Defying history and credulity, joining Comey and the FBI in the progressives’ new-found white knight brigade are, incredibly, the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA). Like the FBI, the spooks are also being widely celebrated as guardian angels in the existential battle to dethrone the treasonous King. The thinking – such as it is – goes something like this: the CIA and NSA must have the surreptitious “goods” on Trump and his gang of Russian mob and FSB consorting thugs that they will, in time, share with Americans and the world. The “goods” perhaps involves oodles of various types of intercepted and incriminating communications and possibly even a notorious Moscow hotel videotape, starring the deviant king himself.

And the hope is that, taken together, it will all eventually expose and doom him. Apparently, these days, the “deep state” is no longer working for the bad guys, but the good guys. It has, in effect, changed sides. Sure, the deep state may have denied Clinton her rightful and long overdue crown and has, for years, systematically spied on, collected and stored intimate details about the lives of countless people with little or no oversight, let alone a warrant. But progressives are too busy letting bygones be bygones to remember. The good guys have fixed their crosshairs on Trump and treacherous company and that’s all that matters.

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“One way we recognize a mass hysteria movement is that everyone who doesn’t believe is accused of being in on the plot..” Journalism should not ever be about ‘belief’, but about proven facts. But there are none. oh, and the syndrome doesn’t ‘arrive’, it’s been here for a long time.

Putin Derangement Syndrome Arrives (Matt Taibbi)

So Michael Flynn, who was Donald Trump’s national security adviser before he got busted talking out of school to Russia’s ambassador, has reportedly offered to testify in exchange for immunity. For seemingly the 100th time, social media is exploding. This is it! The big reveal! Perhaps it will come off just the way people are expecting. Perhaps Flynn will get a deal, walk into the House or the Senate surrounded by a phalanx of lawyers, and unspool the whole sordid conspiracy. He will explain that Donald Trump, compromised by ancient deals with Russian mobsters, and perhaps even blackmailed by an unspeakable KGB sex tape, made a secret deal. He’ll say Trump agreed to downplay the obvious benefits of an armed proxy war in Ukraine with nuclear-armed Russia in exchange for Vladimir Putin’s help in stealing the emails of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and John Podesta.

I personally would be surprised if this turned out to be the narrative, mainly because we haven’t seen any real evidence of it. But episodes like the Flynn story have even the most careful reporters paralyzed. What if, tomorrow, it all turns out to be true? What if reality does turn out to be a massive connect-the-dots image of St. Basil’s Cathedral sitting atop the White House? (This was suddenly legitimate British conspiracist Louise Mensch’s construction in The New York Times last week.) What if all the Glenn Beck-style far-out charts with the circles and arrows somehow all make sense? This is one of the tricks that keeps every good conspiracy theory going. Nobody wants to be the one claiming the emperor has no clothes the day His Highness walks out naked. And this Russia thing has spun out of control into just such an exercise of conspiratorial mass hysteria.

Even I think there should be a legitimate independent investigation – one that, given Trump’s history, might uncover all sorts of things. But almost irrespective of what ends up being uncovered on the Trump side, the public prosecution of this affair has taken on a malevolent life of its own. One way we recognize a mass hysteria movement is that everyone who doesn’t believe is accused of being in on the plot. This has been going on virtually unrestrained in both political and media circles in recent weeks.

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Illustrating what a dud the European Parliament is. They want the man who’s negotiating with Greece to come explain what he does, and he simply refuses. Imagine that in Congress. A Dutch MP said Dijsselbloem is now effectively a ‘persona non grata’ in the European Parliament. And remember: the Eurogroup has no official status, so what can thay do?

Euro MPs ‘Unanimously’ Condemn Dijsselbloem’s No-Show (AFP)

European Parliament lawmakers on Monday “unanimously condemned” the refusal by Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem to appear at a hearing on Greece this week. Dijsselbloem, who is also the Dutch finance minister, has been facing calls to step down since he suggested in an interview in a German newspaper that southern European countries blew their money on “drinks and women”. In the wake of the controversy, the parliament had invited the head of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers to discuss the stalled Greek bailout at this week’s plenary session in Strasbourg. Expectations were that MEP’s would use the opportunity to harshly criticise Dijsselbloem.

“Unanimous condemnation by the European Parliament against Jeroen Dijsselbloem for umpteenth refusal to answer questions on sacrifices made by our citizens,” European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani posted on Twitter. MEP Gianni Pittella, the head of the left-of-centre S&D group, said Dijsselbloem’s refusal to attend was “a further slight after his previous shameful remarks”. “He should resign,” Pittella added. In a letter on Thursday, Dijsselbloem said he was unable to attend the hearing because of a scheduling conflict.

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To repeat: Why are Greek pension costs relatively high? Because “The country hasn’t yet put in place a proper social welfare system”. And it can’t of course, because that would cost money it’s not allowed to spend by Brussels. Let’s see all benefits expenditures for all nations, and then talk again.

Greek Pensions Hot Potato Puts Tsipras in Tight Spot on Bailout (BBG)

Greece is set to miss yet another self-imposed deadline with no accord expected when the Eurogroup meets in Malta on Friday. While there has been “a lot of progress,” there will be no agreement on April 7, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the group’s chief, said on March 31. “That’s too early.” Europe has become impatient with Greece as the region prepares for Brexit and the threat from emerging populist movements. The failure to reach an accord stems in part from the conflicting political interests of the two sides — Tsipras doesn’t want to face a scheduled general election in 2019 at the same time as pensioners take a cut of as much as 30% in their monthly payments. Creditors worry that if the plan is put in place after 2019, a new government that’s not a signatory of the accord might not implement it.

The IMF, backed by Greece’s euro-area creditors, is pushing Athens to save €1.8 billion, or 1% of GDP, from pension cuts. Greece spends more than 13.3% of its GDP on old-age pensions, the highest proportion in the EU, Eurostat figures show. Greece, which crossed what it once characterized as a red line and accepted the need for pension cuts, is asking creditors to give the country more time to see how measures agreed to last year work before embarking on anything new. The country hasn’t yet put in place a proper social welfare system , making pensions the de facto safety net for many families, supporting several generations. A survey in January showed that 49% of households relied on pensions as a primary source of income.

Further cuts in pensions has become a thorny issue to sell at home as pensioners use their ever-shrinking income to support jobless children at time when youth unemployment stands at more than 40%. Take Panagiotis Papapetrou, for example. The 65-year-old retiree and his wife, who collectively take home a pension of €1,480 a month, support two grown children. “Not only can we not afford any kind of entertainment, but we also have made cuts in our diet,” he said. “We eat less meat and we seek to buy cheap goods.”

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This economy cannot survive. It will keep on shrinking. There is no other possibility as long as there is a Troika. Economies run on consumer spending, and that keeps on falling in Greece. It needs stimulus, not austerity. Europe is creating a powder keg here.

Austerity-Crushed Greek Households Keep Cutting Food Purchases (TNH)

More than seven years into a brutal economic crisis worsened by austerity measures hitting workers, pensioners and the poor, Greek households are continuing to cut food purchases, even for essential items. Repeated salary and pension cuts have left millions unable to keep up, with a survey by the Marketing Laboratory of the Athens University of Economics and Business showing consumers spending almost €40 ($42.72) less a month at supermarkets this year compared to 2016. Average monthly household expenditure came to €274 against €310 a year earlier, with the 13% decline also reflected on supermarket turnover as the sector struggles to lure customers despite sales and 2-for-1 deals.

The study was aimed at average consumers who make up the bulk of supermarket customers drawing a bleak picture of their ability to buy what they want and as more turn away from brand names in favor of cheaper goods. Some 63.4% of Greeks said they buy fewer products and 45.8% buy only the absolute necessities with 54.4% turning to private-label chain products. Data from Nielsen researchers showed that in 2016, some 51% of brand products sold in supermarket were on special offer, up from 33.1% in 2009 and after super markets wouldn’t cut prices despite the crisis, until they were forced to do so by lagging sales. Sales fell another 4% in 2016, driving the cumulative downturn to 18% since 2009, as the crisis began and a year before the then-ruling PASOK Socialists asked for what turned into €326 billion in three bailouts.

The data compiled by Nielsen researchers showed that besides a sharp decline in demand and with more people turning as well to generic brands and looking for offers, that mergers and acquisitions had taken a big bite out of the sector. The phenomenon is likely to continue for several more years with analysts expecting a further drop of 2-3%. In 2016, the sales value of food retailing – including small grocery stores – amounted to about €10.78 billion, down 4.1% from 2015, pushing the sector back to 2005 levels and showing the devastating effect of the crisis and harsh austerity measures that brought big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings. The number of small food retail stores has dropped from about 32,000 in 2005 to 27,000 in 2015 with major chains showing their sales values plummet at the same time with only the discount food chain Lidl showing increases.

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It shows Euro area is not working. Period.

Youth Unemployment Shows Euro-Area Recovery Not Working for All (BBG)

For all the continued momentum in the euro-area recovery, differing prospects for young people across the bloc show the wounds of the debt crisis remain very raw. The unemployment rate for those under age 25 was at 19.4% in February, according to data on Monday. While that’s an improvement compared with a year ago – and is the lowest since 2009 – it’s more than twice the total for the euro-area of 9.5%. In four southern European countries – Greece, Spain, Italy and Cyprus – at least three in 10 young people are still out of work. [..] the unevenness across geography and age groups show how complicated it is for the ECB to set monetary policy for 19 nations.

In Germany, the youth unemployment rate is just 6.6%. That’s lower than the overall rate in Spain has ever been since the euro’s introduction. In Greece, still struggling seven years after its first bailout, the figure in December was almost seven times greater than Germany’s, at 45.2%. Draghi has said that monetary policy can’t take the whole weight of the economic recovery, and repeatedly urged governments to implement reforms to reduce structural unemployment. That’s made harder by the rise of populist parties across Europe, with France and Germany all facing general elections in the coming months.

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Waiting for real craziness over the next 2 weeks.

Erdogan Says Turks In Europe Should Defy ‘Grandchildren Of Nazism’ (R.)

President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday called on Turkish voters in Europe to defy the “grandchildren of Nazism” and back a referendum this month on changing the constitution, comments likely to cause further ire in Europe. Erdogan has repeatedly lashed out at European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, in campaigning for the referendum, accusing them of “Nazi-like” tactics for banning his ministers from speaking to rallies of Turkish voters abroad. Both the Germans and Dutch have been incensed by the comparisons to Nazism and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the references must stop. “With this determination, we will never allow three or four European fascists … from harming this country’s honor and pride,” Erdogan told a packed crowd of flag-waving supporters in the Black Sea city of Rize, where his family comes from.

“I call on my brothers and sisters voting in Europe…give the appropriate answer to those imposing this fascist oppression and the grandchildren of Nazism.” Erdogan is counting on the support of expatriates in Europe, including the 1.4 million Turks eligible to vote in Germany, to pass constitutional changes that would give him sweeping presidential powers. But ties with Europe have deteriorated in the run-up to the campaign. Erdogan last month said Turkey would reevaluate its relationship with the bloc, and may even hold a second referendum on whether to continue accession talks. On Monday, he said he could take the issue of whether Turkey should restore the death penalty to referendum if necessary. “The European Union will not like this. But I don’t care what Hans, George or Helga say, I care what Hasan, Ahmet, Mehmet, Ayse and Fatma say. I care what God says… If necessary, we will take this issue to another referendum as well,” he told the rally.

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“Congress can rein him in with very little effort by saying no money can be spent to deploy US troops to areas where they may encounter hostilities unless a state of war is declared.”

Yes, Let’s Allow The Syrian People To Decide For Themselves (Ron Paul)

Is common sense beginning to creep into US policy in the Middle East? Last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the longer-term status of Syrian President Assad would be “decided by the Syrian people.” The media reported this as a radical shift in US foreign policy, but isn’t this just stating what should be obvious? What gives any country the right to determine who rules someone else? Washington is currently paralyzed by evidence-free rumors that the Russians somehow influenced our elections, but no one blinks an eye when Washington declares that one or another foreign leader “must go.” It’s only too bad that President Obama hadn’t followed this back in 2011 instead of declaring that Assad had to go and then arming rebel groups who ended up being allies with al-Qaeda.

Imagine how many thousands of lives and billions of dollars would have been saved by following this policy in the first place. Imagine the millions of refugees who could still be in their homes, running their businesses, living their lives. Will the Trump Administration actually follow through on Tillerson’s Syria policy statement? It is too early to tell. The President has illegally sent hundreds of US troops to fight on the ground in Syria. Current US positions in eastern Syria suggest that Washington may be looking to carve out parts of oil-rich areas of the country for some kind of future federation. The White House followed up on Tillerson’s comments by stating that getting rid of Assad was no longer a top priority for the US. This also sounds good. But does this mean that once the current top priority, destroying ISIS, is completed, Washington may return to its active measures to unseat the Syrian president?

Neocons in Washington still insist that the rise of ISIS in Syria was due to President Assad, but in fact ISIS did not appear in Syria until the US began trying to overthrow Assad. They haven’t given up on their desire to overthrow the Syrian government and they do have influence in this Administration. If the Trump Administration is serious about letting the people of Syria decide their fate he needs to take concrete steps. Rather than sending in more troops to fight an ISIS already on its last legs, he must bring US troops home and prohibit the CIA from further destabilizing the country.

It would also be nice if Congress would wake up from its long slumber and start following the Constitution. The President (and his predecessors) have taken this country to war repeatedly without proper Constitutionally-required authority to do so. The president has reportedly decided not to even bother announcing where next he plans to send the troops. Congress can rein him in with very little effort by saying no money can be spent to deploy US troops to areas where they may encounter hostilities unless a state of war is declared.

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Frontex plays a very ugly role here. We saw that coming from miles away.

New Evidence Undermines EU Report Tying Refugee Rescue Group To Smugglers (IC)

Last month, an Italian prosecutor opened an investigation into whether nonprofits working to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean had connections to smuggling operations. “We want to know who is behind all these humanitarian groups that have proliferated in the last few years,” the prosecutor said, and “where all the money they have is coming from.” The implication of the investigation is inflammatory: Why would humanitarian groups want to have anything to do with human traffickers or smugglers? But the idea that nonprofits are directly involved in smuggling people into Europe has swept through conservative media in recent months, fueled by a news report that the EU’s border agency, Frontex, had “accused charities operating in the Mediterranean of colluding with people smugglers.”

The report, which appeared in the Financial Times in December, didn’t name any particular charities, and it quickly started to show holes; within a week, the paper issued a correction and Frontex distanced itself from the accusations. Despite the walk-back, the story stuck, and the Italian prosecutor cited Frontex’s concerns about “collusion with smugglers” in announcing his investigation. The Intercept has obtained a full copy of the Frontex report on which the Financial Times story was based. The report, along with video evidence and interviews with rescue workers who witnessed the incident described in it, further undermines the allegations of collusion. In the report, Frontex does say that people were smuggled to Europe via an NGO ship. But the report provides little evidence for the allegation, and what it does contain is contradicted by the rescue crew.

The confusion shows the fraught conditions of rescue work in the Mediterranean – where smugglers and opportunists do take advantage of refugees and their rescuers, but where the situation is not always so cut and dry. In dire rescues, if a nonprofit accepts help from nearby Libyan boats, they may have no idea who they are working with. “It’s not us that force the people on the boats and cause them to be out there. But once they are out there, we all have to apply maritime law,” said Ruben Neugebauer, who works with the group Sea-Watch. “If there is a boat in distress, we are obliged to help, but also a potential smuggler is also obliged to help.”

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Watching TV. Still far more important than other media. “..television takes up a full 50% of our leisure time..” and “if you live to 75, you will have spent around nine years of your life watching television.”

The Vanishing Art Of Seizing The Day (Krznaric)

Carpe diem – seize the day – is one of the oldest philosophical mottos in Western history. First uttered by the Roman poet Horace over 2,000 years ago, it retains an extraordinary resonance in popular culture. Ask someone to spell out their philosophy of life and there’s a good chance they will say something like “seize the day” or “live as if there’s no tomorrow” – even if they appear to be trapped by routine or paralysed by procrastination. It’s a message found in Hollywood films like Dead Poets Society, in one of the most successful brand campaigns of the last century (“Just Do It”), and in the social media hashtag #yolo (“you only live once”). Almost every language has an equivalent expression for the original Latin phrase. Carpe diem has been a call to arms for everyone from the Jewish sage Hillel the Elder, who in the first century bce asked, “If not now, when?”, to the Rastafarian sage Bob Marley, who sang out: “Wake up and live!”

However, in the course of writing my new book on the vanishing art of seizing the day, I discovered that carpe diem has been hijacked – in part, by the most popular leisure pursuit in the Western world. I loved television as a kid, fitting in an hour before school each day (Thunderbirds, Superheroes) and at least an hour-and-a-half before dinner (5.30: Wheel of Fortune, 6.00: The Goodies, 6.30: Dr Who). What I didn’t realise as a teenager, as I sat on my beanbag in suburban Sydney making the agonising decision whether to break tradition and watch Gilligan’s Island instead of The Goodies, was that I was absorbed in a ritual that ranks as one of the most momentous cultural transformations ever experienced by humankind. Within less than 50 years of the first ever television demonstration in

Selfridges London department store in 1925, around 99 per cent of Western households had a set. Today the typical European or American watches an average of around three hours per day, whether it’s on flat-screen TVs, computers, phones or other devices. This is apart from time spent engaged in digital pursuits such as internet surfing, social media, texting or video games. So television takes up a full 50% of our leisure time, and more time than we spend doing any other single activity apart from work or sleep. Perhaps the best way to grasp how much TV has colonised our lives is to tape the following statistic to your remote control: assuming your viewing habits are somewhere near average, if you live to 75, you will have spent around nine years of your life watching television.

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Apr 032017
 
 April 3, 2017  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Paul Wolff Frankfurt Opera House 1934

 


‘Buy Property In Sydney And You’re ‘Pretty Well Set For Life’ (WS)
Sydney Property Prices Rise Almost 20% In Past 12 Months (G.)
Australia Sticks With Blunt Instruments To Battle Housing Bubble (R.)
A ‘Sleeping Beast’ In The Markets Is About To Be Unleashed – SocGen (BI)
Commercial Real Estate Is The Next ”Big Short” (F.)
Euro Is A ‘Knife In The Ribs’ Of The French Says Le Pen (R.)
ECB Leads The Cure For Euro-Pessimism (CNBC)
Scotland Yard Examines Allegations Of Saudi War Crimes In Yemen (G.)
Greek Households Spend €40 Less Per Month On Supermarket Purchases (KTG)
Greece To Accelerate Return Of Migrants To Turkey As Arrivals Pick Up (K.)

 

 

“Once you are in the Sydney housing market, you are pretty well set then for the rest of your life.”

‘Buy Property In Sydney And You’re ‘Pretty Well Set For Life’ (WS)

How far can a desperate government go to keep the whole overleveraged edifice of a housing bubble from tumbling down and doing God-knows-what to the economy and the banks? Australia is trying to find out. The housing bubble in Sydney and Melbourne, by now among the top in the world, is taking on grotesque proportions, not only in price increases, but also in political pronouncements. So much of the economy depends on this bubble that no politician can imagine bringing it down to earth. Prices for all types of homes in Sydney jumped 19% in March year-over-year, according to CoreLogic, with houses up nearly 20% and “units” (we’d call them condos) up 15%. Sydney’s home prices have nearly doubled since 2008. In Melbourne, overall home prices jumped 16%, with houses up 17%, and condos up 5%. The index for all dwellings in Canberra and Hobart also rose in the double-digits.

In Adelaide and Brisbane, prices rose in the mid-single digits. Perth and Darwin showed declines in the 4.5% range. The CoreLogic index is not based on sales pairs, such as the Case-Shiller index in the US, or on median prices, but on its own “hedonic methodology,” which, like the other two methods, has plenty of critics. The government has its own Residential Property Price Indexes. The latest edition, released on March 21, was for Q4 2016, so a little slow. Based on the median price, the index for Sydney jumped 10.3% and for Melbourne 10.8%. Real estate is highly leveraged, and household debt is at an all-time high. Wages even in Sydney haven’t risen at the same pace. So the inevitable is beginning to happen. Affordability becomes a political issue, and delinquencies become a financial issue.

[..] On February 24, Anthony Roberts, New South Wales Minister for Planning and Housing, was speaking at the launch of a 690-unit apartment development at Olympic Park, a suburb of Sydney, heaping praise on the developer for having committed to offer 60 units first to first-time buyers. A new policy on housing affordability would be announced in the “very near future,” Roberts said. But as a first step, he threw in an incentive for first-time buyers. Instead of the normal 10% down payment, they’d only need to make 5%. “This is the beginning, this is the start,” he said. And in hyping the Sydney housing market and the importance of getting in now or be priced out forever, he also said this: “This is about fairness, and this is about enabling people to get into the Sydney housing market. Once you are in the Sydney housing market, you are pretty well set then for the rest of your life.

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Get out while you can.

Sydney Property Prices Rise Almost 20% In Past 12 Months (G.)

Sydney property prices have increased by almost 20% in just 12 months, putting the city at the front of a nationwide trend that has seen dwelling values increase by 12.9% on average. Sydney house values soared by 19.65% in the past year, and unit values increased by 15.27%. New data from CoreLogic, released on Monday, shows house values in Melbourne (up 17.15%), Canberra (13.64%), and Hobart (11.05%) have followed Sydney’s rapid rise. Only homes in Perth (-4.68%) and Darwin (-4.41%) have bucked the trend, slipping backwards over the past year. CoreLogic’s five capital city aggregate – which includes Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, Adelaide and Perth – shows prices for houses and units rose 12.9% on average last year.

But the news comes as the ratings agency Moody’s warned an increasing number of borrowers have fallen behind on their mortgage and car repayments, saying more borrowers are set to join them amid rising underemployment, record-low wages growth and a more difficult housing market. On Monday, Moody’s said delinquencies for prime residential mortgage-backed securities increased to 1.61% in January, from 1.57% in December, while 30-day delinquencies for car loan asset-backed securities rose to 1.80%, from 1.54% over the same period. “Weaker economic conditions in states reliant on the mining industry, rising underemployment, weak wages growth and less favourable housing market conditions will drive delinquencies higher,” vice president and senior analyst Alena Chen said on Monday.

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More like no instruments at all: “..limit new interest-only loans to 30% of total new mortgage lending..”

Australia Sticks With Blunt Instruments To Battle Housing Bubble (R.)

In their struggle to cool red-hot property prices in Australia’s big cities, authorities are ratcheting up measures that could dent the whole market but avoiding more targeted steps that have had some success in New Zealand and China. Australian regulators first focused on reining in investment loans nationally in 2015, by imposing an annual limit of 10% on how much banks could expand their investor loan book. Those steps worked for a while, but the heat is on again in Sydney, where prices are rising almost 20% a year, having more than doubled since 2008, and Melbourne, where the pace is over 15%, according to property consultant Core Logic.

That and all-time high household debt prompted the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority (APRA) to move again on Friday, asking banks to limit new interest-only loans to 30% of total new mortgage lending, from 40% now, and promising a lot of “monitoring”, “scrutinizing” and “observing”. Industry players doubt that will do the trick. “I personally don’t think this will have a material impact,” said Simon Orbell at mortgage broker Smartmove, as prices kept rising even though it was already a tough lending market. “Maybe more needs to be done,” he added. [..] There has been market speculation that the Reserve Bank of Australia will be forced to hike interest rates, a yet blunter instrument, though record low inflation and weak wages growth make that an unattractive option. There is also political resistance to measures that could make prices actually fall, with two thirds of households owning their homes.

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Too much uncertainty to unleash it.

A ‘Sleeping Beast’ In The Markets Is About To Be Unleashed – SocGen (BI)

The bond market has been quiet. Too quiet in fact. That’s about to change, says Societe Generale’s fixed income team led by Vincent Chaigneau. “Spring is likely to be more threatening for bond investors as US data improves, political risk in Europe ebbs and investors refocus on a slow central bank exits,” the team wrote in a note to clients on Thursday. The note is titled “The Sleeping Beast.” In the wake of the U.S. Presidential election, traders priced in the prospect that Donald Trump’s agenda of a protectionist trade policy, cutting taxes, rolling back regulations, and massive infrastructure would bring back inflation to the United States. Reflecting this, the yield on 10-year Treasurys rallied more than 80 basis points, reaching a high of 2.64%, in the weeks following the election.

But for the last few months, the yield has been trapped in a tight 35 basis point range as traders take a wait-and-see approach in regards to Trump’s ability to execute his proposed agenda. “We expect that to reverse in spring, especially if Trump proves a little more effective in pushing his agenda through Congress,” Societe Generale wrote. “Treasuries too present some seasonal patterns: the average of the past five years shows the 10yT reaching a low around mid-April before bearish forces start to take over.”

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America turns on the mall.

Commercial Real Estate Is The Next ”Big Short” (F.)

A small but growing group of hedge funds are positioning themselves to profit from the collapse of the real estate market. Sounds like 2007, right? It’s actually happening right now. But this time, hedge funds (along with Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley) aren’t targeting subprime mortgages—they’re going after commercial real estate. It’s no secret retailers and malls have been struggling for years, but it looks like the perfect storm is set to hit them in 2017. Bearish bets against commercial loans jumped 50% year-over-year in February—and with problems piling up for malls, it’s no wonder. Around $3.5 billion in retail loans were liquidated in 2016. Investment firm Gapstow Capital said losses on mall loans have been “meaningfully higher than in other areas.” This is because malls are reliant on retailers like Macy’s, J.C. Penny and Sears. Unfortunately for these landlords, their tenants’ businesses are failing, which brings us to…

As a result of falling sales, retailers are shutting up shop at a rate that has not been seen since the 2008 financial crisis.

…and they plan to close hundreds more over the coming years, which is very bad news for malls. Most malls are dependent on one or more of these big retailers. When anchor stores close, it reduces foot traffic, and that hurts other retailers. This begins a cycle of blight, leading other tenants to leave. Alder Hill (a hedge fund started by associates of billionaire David Tepper) is bearish on commercial loans and expects 2017 to be a “tipping point.” Morningstar Credit Ratings estimates roughly 40% of the loans due this year won’t be paid. This comes at a bad time for the industry. Commercial real estate prices have been on a tear since 2009, but with vacancies rising, prices have stagnated.

This, coupled with new rules that came into effect in December (which force banks to hold at least 5% of the loans they make on their books), has caused loan growth to stall. As a result, leading retail analyst Jan Rogers Kniffen expects around one-third of American malls to close in the coming years. So, what are the implications of this commercial collapse?

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But the French love the euro. Hard sell.

Euro Is A ‘Knife In The Ribs’ Of The French Says Le Pen (R.)

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen told a political rally on Sunday that the euro currency which she wants France to ditch was like a knife in the ribs of the French people. The leader of the eurosceptic and anti-immigrant National Front (FN) also told the rally in the city of Bordeaux that the forthcoming election for president could herald a “change in civilization”. Encouraged by the unexpected election of Donald Trump in the United States and by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Le Pen hopes to profit from a similar populist momentum in France, though opinion polls suggest she will lose the May 7 run-off. “We are at the mercy of a currency adapted to Germany and not to our economy. The euro is mostly a knife stuck in our ribs to make us go where others want us to go,” Le Pen said to loud cheers and applause.

Reiterating her anti-globalization and anti-immigration views, she declared: “We do not want France to be open to all commercial and human flows, without protection and borders.” A government under Le Pen’s presidency would take France out of the euro zone and bring back a national currency, hold a referendum on its EU membership and slap taxes on imports and on companies hiring foreigners. Le Pen says she would curb migration, expel all illegal migrants and restrict certain rights now available to all residents, including free education, to French citizens. She hit out at her two main opponents in the French election, independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and conservative candidate Francois Fillon, saying they belonged to “the same system” “The system is panicking because it sees people are waking up,” she said.

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Draghi slays austerity?

ECB Leads The Cure For Euro-Pessimism (CNBC)

The euro-sclerosis and the euro-pessimism are only a few of the old neologisms that got a new lease on life thanks to “reformers” and “crisis managers” who devastated the euro area economy with their – take a deep breath – “austerity growth model,” consisting of deep public spending cuts, tax hikes, jobs-destroying structural reforms and a monetary policy that should look the other way. Predictably, the area’s economy took it on the chin and went down for the count, with millions of lives destroyed by soaring poverty and destitution – until the ECB stepped in to provide the antidote to that cruel nostrum and to begin a long process of healing and recovery.

The ECB’s intervention eventually stiffened the spines, and gave some oxygen, to scared and disoriented political leaders in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal – exactly one-half of the euro area’s GDP – who abandoned the fiscal madness and structural destruction to latch on to the life jacket thrown at them by their lender of last resort. The economic recovery we see now is a result of that policy mix. At 1.7%, the euro area growth last year matched the pace of the U.S. economy and seems poised for further gains in the months ahead. The ECB-driven recovery was also reflected in steadily rising asset values. As of last Friday, the euro area equity prices (Euro Stoxx 50 in dollar terms) were 17.3% above their year-earlier level, with nearly half of that increase (7.6%) recorded since the beginning of this year.

[..] France is the next political test with the first round of elections on April 23. Again, anybody betting against the euro and the EU will lose big. According to the French media, voters are largely indifferent toward the presidential candidates, but the economy is improving and low credit costs have unleashed a real estate boom that’s triggering solid consumer spending. The French are also great fans of the euro: An opinion poll published last Tuesday (March 25) shows that 75% of the French like the European currency, and half of them are pleased with the EU, although they believe that some of their neighbors were greater beneficiaries of the whole project. The French, of course, have Germany in mind. They are looking at Germany’s huge trade surpluses and the industrial takeover by the world-beating manufacturing companies across the Rhine.

Read more …

It should be investigating British war crimes.

Scotland Yard Examines Allegations Of Saudi War Crimes In Yemen (G.)

Scotland Yard is examining allegations of war crimes by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, the Guardian can reveal, triggering a possible diplomatic row with Britain on the eve of Theresa May’s visit to the Arab state. The Metropolitan police confirmed that their war crimes unit was assessing whether criminal prosecutions could be brought over Saudi Arabia’s devastating aerial campaign in Yemen. The force’s SO15 counter-terrorism unit revealed to a London human rights lawyer that it had launched a “scoping exercise” into the claims before Maj Gen Ahmed al-Asiri’s visit to the capital last week. The revelation comes as May plans to underline Britain’s close relationship with the Saudi royal family on her visit to the Arab state this week, in which tackling the terror threat from Islamic State will be a key factor.

Speaking in advance of the trip, in which she will also visit Jordan, the prime minister said she wanted to “herald a further intensification in relations between our countries and deepen true strategic partnerships”. She argued that the intelligence relationship with Saudi Arabia had been critical, potentially saving hundreds of lives in the UK, and claimed there were huge possibilities for closer trade links as the UK moves towards leaving the European Union. May plans to stress the need for collaboration in the wake of the Westminster terror attack, while also pledging humanitarian support to Jordan to help it handle the huge volumes of refugees displaced by the Syrian conflict.

But the trip comes under the shadow of a war in Yemen that has killed more than 10,000 civilians and displaced more than 3 million people. The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of killing thousands of civilians and triggering a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the region’s poorest countries. The UK, which along with the US supports the Saudis against the Houthis, has been urged to reconsider its arms exports to Saudi Arabia in light of the bloody air campaign.

Read more …

Austerity kills people and economies.

Greek Households Spend €40 Less Per Month On Supermarket Purchases (KTG)

A significant decrease of 13% has been recorded in the amount Greek households spend for daily purchases at the country’s supermarkets. This is the logical consequence caused by low wages, high unemployment rates and increased direct and indirect taxes. Factors that have lead to impoverishment of large groups of the Greek society. Worth mentioning are the extra charges (special consumption fees) imposed as of 1.1.2017 in a variety of supermarket products like coffee. Greek households spend monthly forty euros less for their shopping at the supermarket than in the previous year. The average monthly expenditure of households at the supermarket amounts to 274 euros from 310 last year.

According to research conducted by the Economic University of Athens, the expenditure decrease has been confirmed also by the turnover of the supermarkets. The decrease in sales was 10% in January 2017. The was a slight increase of 2.9% in February, but a serious decline of 15% in March. 63% of respondents said they buy fewer products. 45.8% said they restricted to what is necessary. At the same time, 54.4% said that buy cheaper products especially following a market investigation and that they chase discount offers and products of private label. 81.5% said that they compare prices before they decide which product they will pick up from the supermarket shelf.

99.2% of consumers stated that they do research before going to the supermarket, they know in advance what to buy and they avoid impulse purchases. 38% of respondents said that they would make fewer purchases in 2017, 5% that they will increase their purchases. 57% estimate that their purchases will remain unchanged. The average expenditure per supermarket visit remains almost unchanged. Expenditure in 2017 is at an average of €50.4 euros. It was at 49.5 euros in 2016. However, the frequency of visits has declined down to 6.8 visits per month from 8.5 visits last year.

Read more …

Yes, it can still get worse.

Greece To Accelerate Return Of Migrants To Turkey As Arrivals Pick Up (K.)

As the inflow of undocumented migrants to the islands of the eastern Aegean rises with the improving weather, the government is planning action to ease the pressure on increasingly overcrowded reception centers. In the coming days, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas is expected to issue a circular, banning migrants who appeal against a rejection of their application for political asylum from a voluntary repatriation scheme being run by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Meanwhile police on the islands are boosting efforts to locate and detain migrants who face deportation to Turkey in line with an agreement signed last year between Ankara and Brussels.

Last week, a new detention center opened on Kos, the function of which will be to detain migrants facing deportation. Others awaiting the outcome of asylum applications or inclusion in the IOM’s repatriation scheme are to remain in the island’s main reception center. A similar “closed” center for migrants awaiting deportation is operating on Lesvos. However, police face a problem on Chios, which has seen arrivals from Turkey intensify in recent days, and where local residents vehemently oppose the creation of such a center. A police official told Kathimerini that the main police precinct on the island is already full of migrants and there are no other facilities to accommodate new arrivals. “We don’t know what to do,” he said.

Read more …

Mar 152017
 
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Otto Dix The Triumph of Death 1934

 

Yes, austerity really kills real people, and it kills the societies they live in. Let’s try and explain this in simple terms. It’s a simple topic after all. Austerity is a mere left-over from faith-based policies derived from shoddy economics, and economics is a shoddy field to begin with. The austerity imposed on and in several countries and their economies after 2008, and the consequences it has had in these economies, cannot fail to make you wonder what level of intelligence the politicians have who did the imposing, as well as the economists who advised them in the process.

We should certainly not forget that the people who make these decisions are never the ones affected by them. Austerity hurts the poor. For those who are living comfortably -which includes politicians and economists that “matter”-, austerity at worst means eating and living somewhat less luxuriously. For the poor, taken far enough, it will mean not eating at all, not being able to afford clothing, medical care, even housing. Doing without 10% of very little hits much harder than missing out on 10% of an abundance.

And even then there are differences, for instance between countries. The damage done to British housing, education and health care by successive headless chicken governments is very real, and it will require a huge effort to restore these systems, if that is possible at all. Still, if the British have any complaints about the austerity unleashed upon them, they should really take a look at Greece. As this graph of households having a hard time making ends meet makes painfully clear:

 

 

Britain ‘only’ suffers from economically illiterate politicians and economists. Greece, on top of that, has to cope with a currency it has no control over, and with the foreign -dare we say ‘occupying’?- powers that do. A currency that is geared exclusively to the benefit of the richer Eurozone nations. The biggest mistake in building the EU, and the Eurozone in particular, is that the possibility has been left open for the larger and richer nations to reign over the smaller and poorer almost limitlessly. These things only become clear when things get worse, but then they really do.

This ‘biggest mistake’ predicted the end of the ‘union’ from the very moment it was established; all it will take is time, and comprehension. Eurozone rules say a country’s public debt cannot exceed 60% and its deficit must remain less than 3%. Rules that have been broken left right and center, including by the rich, Germany, France, who were never punished for doing so. The poor are.

These limits are completely arbitrary. They come from the text books of the same clueless cabal of economists that the entire Euro façade is based on. The same cabal also who now demand a 3.5% Greek budget surplus into infinity, the worst thing that can happen to an already impoverished economy, because it means even more money must flow out of an entity that already has none.

But let’s narrow our focus to austerity itself, and what makes it such a disaster. And then after that, we’ll take it a step further. We can blame economists for this mess, and hapless politicians, but that’s not the whole story; in the end they’re just messenger boys and girls. First though, here’s what austerity does. Let’s start with Ed Harrison talking about some revealing data that Matt Klein posted on FT Alphaville about comparing post-2008 Greece to emerging economies:

Europe’s Delusional Economic Policies

Here’s how Matt put it: “Greece had a very different post-crisis experience: it never recovered. By contrast, all the other countries were well past their pre-crisis peak after this much time had elapsed. On average, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey have outperformed Greece by more than 40 percentage points after nine years.”

.. unlike those countries, Greece lacked the ability to use the exchange rate as a shock absorber. So while Brazil and Greece faced the same type of downturn in dollar terms – about 45% in GDP per person – Brazilian living standards only deteriorated about 2%, compared to 26% in Greece. The net effect is that Greece had a relatively typical crisis in dollars but an unprecedently painful one in the terms that matter most”.

[..] Greece doesn’t have its own currency so the currency can’t depreciate. Greece must use the internal devaluation route, which makes its labor, goods and services cheaper through a deflationary path – and that is very destructive to demand, to growth, and to credit.

[..] it’s not about reforms, people. It’s about growth. And the euro – and the policies tied to membership – is anti-growth, particularly for a country like Greece that is forced to hit an unrealistic 3.5% primary surplus indefinitely.

 

Another good report came from the WaPo at about the same time Ed wrote his piece, some 4 weeks ago. After Matt Klein showing how hard austerity hit Greece compared to emerging economies, Matt O’Brien shows us how austerity hit multiple Eurozone countries, compared to what would have happened if they had not cut spending (or introduced the euro). It is damning.

Austerity Was A Bigger Disaster Than We Thought

Cutting spending, you see, shouldn’t be a problem as long as you can cut interest rates too. That’s because lower borrowing costs can stimulate the economy just as much as lower government spending slows it down. What happens, though, if interest rates are already zero, or, even worse, you’re part of a currency union that means you can’t devalue your way out of trouble? Well, nothing good.

House, Tesar and Proebsting calculated how much each European economy grew — or, more to the point, shrank — between the time they started cutting their budgets in 2010 and the end of 2014, and then compared it with what actually realistic models say would have happened if they hadn’t done austerity or adopted the euro.

According to this, the hardest-hit countries of Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain would have contracted by only 1% instead of the 18% they did if they hadn’t slashed spending; by only 7% if they’d kept their drachmas, pounds, liras, escudos, pesetas and the ability to devalue that went along with them if they hadn’t become a part of the common currency and outsourced those decisions to Frankfurt; and only would have seen their debt-to-GDP ratios rise by eight percentage points instead of the 16 they did if they hadn’t tried to get their budgets closer to being balanced.

In short, austerity hurt what it was supposed to help, and helped hurt the economy even more than a once-in-three-generations crisis already had.

[..] the euro really has been a doomsday device for turning recessions into depressions. It’s not just that it caused the crisis by keeping money too loose for Greece and the rest of them during the boom and too tight for them during the bust. It’s also that it forced a lot of this austerity on them. Think about it like this. Countries that can print their own money never have to default on their debts – they can always inflate them away instead – but ones that can’t, because, say, they share a common currency, might have to.

Just the possibility of that, though, can be enough to make it a reality. If markets are worried that you might not be able to pay back your debts, they’ll make you pay a higher interest rate on them – which might make it so that you really can’t.

In other words, the euro can cause a self-fulfilling prophecy where countries can’t afford to spend any more even though spending any less will only make everything worse.

That’s actually a pretty good description of what happened until the ECB belatedly announced that it would do “whatever it takes” to put an end to this in 2012. Which was enough to get investors to stop pushing austerity, but, alas, not politicians. It’s a good reminder that you should never doubt that a small group of committed ideologues can destroy the economy. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

 

 

So those are the outcomes, But what’s the theory, where does the “small group of committed ideologues” go so wrong? Let’s go really basic and simple. Last week, Britsh economist Ann Pettifor, promoting her new book “The Production of Money: How to Break the Power of Bankers”, said this to Vogue:

Politicians who advocate for austerity measures—cutting spending—like to say that the government ought to run its budget the way women manage our households, but unlike us, the government issues currency and sets interest rates and so on, and the government collects taxes. And if the government is managing the economy well, it ought to be expanding the numbers of people who are employed and therefore paying income tax and tax on purchases—purchases that turn a profit for businesses which then hire more employees, and on and on it goes. That’s called the multiplier effect, and for 100 years or so, it’s been well understood. And it’s why governments should invest not in tax breaks for wealthy people, but in initiatives like building infrastructure.

Around the same time, Ann wrote in the Guardian:

[..] the public are told that cuts in spending and in some benefits, combined with rises in income from taxes will – just as with a household – balance the budget. Even though a single household’s budget is a) minuscule compared to that of a government; b) does not, like the government’s, impact on the wider economy; c) does not benefit from tax revenues (now, or in the foreseeable future); and d) is not backed by a powerful central bank. Despite all these obvious differences, government budgets are deemed analogous (by economists and politicians) to a household budget.

[..] If the economy slumps (as in 2008-9) and the private sector weakens, then like a see-saw the public sector deficit, and then the debt, rises. When private economic activity revives (thanks to increased investment, employment, sales etc) tax revenues rise, unemployment benefits fall, and the government deficit and debt follow the same downward trajectory. So, to balance the government’s budget, efforts must be made to revive Britain’s economy, including the indebted private sector.

In other words, when faced with economic hard times, a government should not cut spending, it should increase it -and it can-. Because cutting spending is sure to make things worse. At the same time of course, this is not an option available to Greece, because it has ceded control of its currency, and therefore its economy, to a largely unaccountable and faceless cabal that couldn’t care less what happens in the country.

All they care about is that the debts the banks in the rich part of the eurozone incurred can be moved onto someone else’s shoulders. Which is where -most of- Greece’s crisis came from to begin with. And so, yes, Germany and Holland and France are sitting sort of pretty, because they prevented a banking crisis from happening at home; they transferred it to Greece’s pensioners and unemployed youth. The ‘model’ of the Eurozone allows them to do this. Coincidence? Bug or feature?

 

 

Oh, and it’s not only Greece, though it’s by far the hardest hit. Read Roberto Centeno in the Express below. Reminds me of Greeks friends saying: “In 2010, we were told we had €160 billion or so in debt, and we needed a bailout. Now we have over €600 billion in debt, they say. How is that possible? What happened? What was that bailout for?”

‘Spain Is Ruined For 50 Years’

A leading Spanish economist has hit out at the ECB saying “crazy” loans will ruin the lives of the population for the next 50 years. And it is only a matter of time before the Government is forced to default as a debt bubble and low wages effectively forge the worst declines in “living memory”. Leading economist Roberto Centeno, who was an advisor to US president Donald Trump’s election team on hispanic issues, says the country has borrowed €603 billion that it cannot conceivably pay back. And he says Spanish politicians including Minister of Economy Luis de Guindos are “insulting their intelligence” after doing back door deals with the ECB. In a blog post Mr Centeno says there needs to be audits so the country can understand the magnitude of its debt mountain.

He said Spain was “moving steadily towards the suspension of payments which is the result of out of control public waste, financed with the largest debt bubble in our history, supported by the ECB with its crazy policy of zero interest rate expansion and without any supervision.” The expert added the doomed situation will “lead to the ruin of several generations of Spaniards over the next 50 years”. [..] He said the country is currently suffering from a “third world production model”. He added: “We have a third world production model of speculators and waiters, with a labour market where the majority of jobs created are temporary and with remunerations of €600, the largest wage decline in living memory. “And all this was completed with a broken pension system and an insolvent financial system.”

Forecasting an unprecedented shock to the European financial model, Mr Centento is calling for an immediate audit despite a recent revelation that the ECB is failing in its supervisory role over Europe’s banks. He also claimed the Spanish government and European Union leaders have been manipulating figures since 2008. Mr Centento said: “We will require the European Commission and Eurostat to audit and audit the Spanish accounting system for serious accounting discrepancies that may jeopardise stability. “The gigantic debt bubble accumulated by irresponsible governments, and that never ceases to grow, will be the ruin of several generations of Spaniards. “The Bank of Spain’s debt to the Eurosystem is the largest in Europe. “The day that the ECB minimally closes the tap of this type of financing or markets increase their risk aversion, the situation will be unsustainable.”

 

 

But then it’s time to move on, courtesy of Michael Hudson, prominent economist, who should be a guest of honor, at the very least, at every Eurogroup meeting. You know, to give Dijsselbloem and Schäuble a reality check. Michael shines a whole different additional light on European austerity policies. This is from an interview with Sharmini Peries:

Finance as Warfare: IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt

MICHAEL HUDSON: You said the lenders expect Greece to grow. That is not so. There is no way in which the lenders expected Greece to grow. In fact, the IMF was the main lender. It said that Greece cannot grow, under the circumstances that it has now. What do you do in a case where you make a loan to a country, and the entire staff says that there is no way this country can repay the loan? That is what the IMF staff said in 2015.

It made the loan anyway – not to Greece, but to pay French banks, German banks and a few other bondholders – not a penny actually went to Greece. The junk economics they used claimed to have a program to make sure the IMF would help manage the Greek economy to enable it to repay. Unfortunately, their secret ingredient was austerity.

[..] for the last 50 years, every austerity program that the IMF has made has shrunk the victim economy. No austerity program has ever helped an economy grow. No budget surplus has ever helped an economy grow, because a budget surplus sucks money out of the economy.

As for the conditionalities, the so-called reforms, they are an Orwellian term for anti-reform, for cutting back pensions and rolling back the progress that the labor movement has made in the last half century. So, the lenders knew very well that Greece would not grow, and that it would shrink.

 

So, the question is, why does this junk economics continue, decade after decade? The reason is that the loans are made to Greece precisely because Greece couldn’t pay. When a country can’t pay, the rules at the IMF and EU and the German bankers behind it say, don’t worry, we will simply insist that you sell off your public domain. Sell off your land, your transportation, your ports, your electric utilities.

[..] If Greece continues to repay the loan, if it does not withdraw from the euro, then it is going to be in a permanent depression, as far as the eye can see. Greece is suffering the result of these bad loans. It is already in a longer depression today, a deeper depression, than it was in the 1930s.

[..] when Greece fails, that’s a success for the foreign investors that want to buy the Greek railroads. They want to take over the ports. They want to take over the land. They want the tourist sites. But most of all, they want to set an example of Greece, to show that France, the Netherlands or other countries that may think of withdrawing from the euro – withdraw and decide they would rather grow than be impoverished – that the IMF and EU will do to them just what they’re doing to Greece.

So they’re making an example of Greece. They’re going to show that finance rules, and in fact that is why both Trump and Ted Malloch have come up in support of the separatist movement in France. They’re supporting Marine Le Pen, just as Putin is supporting Marine Le Pen. There’s a perception throughout the world that finance really is a mode of warfare.

Sharmini Peries: Greece has now said, no more austerity measures. We’re not going to agree to them. So, this is going to amount to an impasse that is not going to be resolvable. Should Greece exit the euro?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Yes, it should, but the question is how should it do it, and on what terms? The problem is not only leaving the euro. The problem really is the foreign debt that was bad debt that it was loaded onto by the Eurozone. If you leave the euro and still pay the foreign debt, then you’re still in a permanent depression from which you can never exit. There’s a broad moral principle here: If you lend money to a country that your statistics show cannot pay the debt, is there really a moral obligation to pay the debt? Greece did have a commission two years ago saying that this debt is odious. But it’s not enough just to say there’s an odious debt. You have to have something more positive.

[..] what is needed is a Declaration of Rights. Just as the Westphalia rules in 1648, a Universal Declaration that countries should not be attacked in war, that countries should not be overthrown by other countries. I think, the Declaration of International Law has to realize that no country should be obliged to impose poverty on its population, and sell off the public domain in order to pay its foreign creditors.

[..] the looming problem is that you have to pay debts that are so far beyond your ability to pay that you’ll end up like Haiti did after it rebelled after the French Revolution.

[..] A few years after that, in 1824, Greece had a revolution and found the same problem. It borrowed from the Ricardo brothers, the brothers of David Ricardo, the economist and lobbyist for the bankers in London. Just like the IMF, he said that any country can afford to repay its debts, because of automatic stabilization. Ricardo came out with a junk economics theory that is still held by the IMF and the European Union today, saying that indebted countries can automatically pay.

Well, Greece ended up taking on an enormous debt, paying interest but still defaulting again and again. Each time it had to give up more sovereignty. The result was basically a constant depression. Slow growth is what retarded Greece and much of the rest of southern Europe. So unless they tackle the debt problem, membership in the Eurozone or the European Union is really secondary.

There is no such question as “why did austerity fail ‘in a particular case'”?. Austerity always fails. You could perhaps come up with a theoretical example in which a society greatly overspends and toning down spending might balance some things, but other than that, and nothing in what we see today resembles such an example, austerity can only work out badly. And that’s before, as Michael Hudson suggests, austerity is used as a means to conquer people and countries in a financial warfare setting.

This is because our economies (as measured in GDP) are 60-70% dependent on consumer spending. Ergo, when you force consumer spending down through austerity measures, GDP must and will of necessity come down with it. And if you cut spending, stores will close, and then their suppliers will, and they will fire their workers, which will further cut consumer spending etc. It doesn’t get simpler than that.

There is a lot of talk about boosting exports etc., but exports make up only a relatively small part of most economies, even in the US, compared to domestic consumption. As still is the case in virtually every economy, more exports will never make up for what you lose by severely cutting wages and pensions while at the same time raising taxes across the board (Greek reality). The only possible result from this is misery and lower government revenues, in a vicious circle, dragging an economy ever further down.

Since this is so obvious a 5-year old can figure it out in 5 minutes, the reason for imposing the kind of austerity measures that the Eurogroup has unleashed upon Greece must inevitably be questioned in the way professor Hudson does. If someone owes you a substantial amount of money, the last thing you want to do is make sure they cannot pay it back. You want such a person to have a -good- job, a source of income, that pays enough so that they can pay you back. Unless you have your eyes on their home, their car, their daughters, their assets.

What the EU and IMF do with Greece is the exact opposite of that. They’re making sure that Greece gets poorer every day, and the Greeks get poorer, ensuring that the debt, whether it’s odious or not -and that is a very valid question-, will never be paid back. And then they can move in and snap up all of the country’s -rich- resources on the cheap. But in the process, they create a very unstable country, something that may seem to be to their benefit but will blow up in their faces.

It’s not the first time that I say the EU and the US would be well advised to ensure Greece is a stable society, but they all continue to forcibly lead the cradle of democracy in the exact opposite direction.

The best metaphor I can think of is: Austerity is like bloodletting in the Middle Ages, only with a lower success rate.

 

 

Mar 132017
 
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DPC The Mammoth Oak at Pass Christian, Mississippi 1900

 


The Ides of March Could Be A Critical Turning Point For The Stock Market (MW)
The US As The “Cleanest Dirty Shirt” (Snider)
A Third Of American Families Have ‘Roller Coaster’ Finances (MW)
US Interest Rate Rise To Deepen Developing Countries’ Debt Crisis (G.)
The Issue Is The Leverage And Instability Of The System (Rickards)
Who Bleeds When the Wolves Bite? (CNBC)
When It Comes to Wall Street, Preet Bharara Is No Hero (PP)
China’s Economic Miracle Is Over (Friedman)
Iceland Exits Capital Controls Eight Years After Banking Crash (BBG)
Steve Keen Is In The House (YT)
We Will All Need A Stiff Drink To Swallow Hammond’s Austerity (G.)
No Proof Russia Disrupts UK Democracy, But They Can – Boris Johnson (RT)
Brussels Keeping 2015 Emergency Grexit Plan Locked Away (K.)
Fukushima Evacuees Face ‘Forced’ Return As Subsidies Withdrawn (G.)
Police Raid Athens Squats, Detain Dozens Of Refugees (K.)
What Would You Do To Keep Your Children Alive? (I’Cept)

 

 

The Fed, the debt ceiling and the Dutch election. All this Wednesday, March 15.

The Ides of March (Latin: Idus Martiae, Late Latin: Idus Martii) is a day on the Roman calendar that corresponds to 15 March. It was marked by several religious observances and became notorious as the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC..

The Ides of March Could Be A Critical Turning Point For The Stock Market (MW)

As much as Julius Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March signaled an inflection point in Roman history, March 15 may also mark a watershed moment for the U.S. stock market with the Federal Reserve poised to seek closure to its loose monetary policy regime. “The coming week has the potential to be huge for trading opportunities,” said Colin Cieszynski, chief market strategist at CMC Markets, in a note. “Everything centers around the Ides of March…with a number of key developments coming out both on [March] 15 and 16.” The Fed’s monetary policy decision on Wednesday will take center stage with markets nearly 100% certain of a rate increase following solid February jobs data. The focus will be on the Fed’s statement rather than the decision itself.

“The commentary will help determine how many more hikes the market has to get used to and then when it has to start preparing,” said Bob Pavlik at Boston Private Wealth. If the central bank strikes a hawkish tone, it could trigger a selloff in the market although Pavlik expects Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen to keep her comments positive to avoid upsetting the market. Still, investors should keep in mind is that this is the third hike in the current tightening cycle, and history is working against the market. Since 1971, stocks have fallen an average of 2.2% on the third hike over the following three months, said Tom Lee at Fundstrat Global Advisors. To be sure, there are always exceptions. Stocks rose sharply in the following three months after the Fed hiked for a third time in both June 1984 and September 2004, he said.

Most analysts agree that stocks have largely priced in a rate hike of 25 basis points. But there are still bargains to be found in automobile, semiconductors, consumer finance and insurance sectors, which are cheap but benefit from a hawkish Fed, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Aside from the Fed, eight other central banks are scheduled to meet next week, including the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England, providing a quick insight into whether other countries will adjust their policies in response to the Fed. Meanwhile, Trump is expected to present his preliminary budget request to the Congress on Thursday, outlining his administration’s priorities. It will serve as a critical test for whether the euphoria that propelled stocks to record territory in anticipation of tax reforms and ramped up fiscal spending under President Donald Trump is warranted.

The S&P 500 has risen 4.5% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA has gained 5.3% in the first 50 days since Trump took office, the best ever for a GOP president. However, if Trump’s budget proposal fails to meet the market’s expectations, it could spark a major unwinding in positions, leading to a sharp drop in prices. “Thursday could be the day the instant speed of markets crashes into the glacial speed of government,” said Cieszynski.

Read more …

Boy, what a bubble this is turning into.

The US As The “Cleanest Dirty Shirt” (Snider)

It is surely one of the primary reasons why many if not most people have so much trouble accepting the trouble the economy is in. With record high stock prices leading to record levels of household net worth, it seems utterly inconsistent to claim those facts against a US economic depression. Weakness might be more easily believed as some overseas problem, leading to only ideas of decoupling or the US as the “cleanest dirty shirt” – the US economy has problems, but how bad can they be? Yet, despite asset price levels and even record debt, all those prove is just how disconnected those places have become from what used to be an efficient way to redistribute financial resources.

According to the Fed’s Z1 report, Household net worth climbed by $2 trillion in Q4 alone to $92.8 trillion. That is a 69% increase from the low in Q1 2009, even though Final Sales to Domestic Purchasers have grown by just 30% in that same time. The wealth effect is dead, or, more specifically, it never was.

From the view of net worth, the increase to record debt levels seems manageable. From the more appropriate view of income and economy, it does not, even though US debt levels have grown more slowly post-crisis. That would mean debt is partway between assets and economy, sort of splitting the difference of what monetary policy believes and what it, at best, “achieved.”

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The Great Volatility.

A Third Of American Families Have ‘Roller Coaster’ Finances (MW)

When it comes to making money, consistency may be almost as important as quantity. Families that had large fluctuations in their incomes — even when it was a 25% gain — were more likely than those with stable incomes to say they wouldn’t be able to come up with $2,000 for an unexpected need, according to a study by Pew Charitable Trusts released this week. The study looked at “income volatility” among more than 5,600 families the term for a year-over-year change in annual income of 25% or more, between 2014 and 2015. “Volatility in general, regardless of the direction, is very disruptive to families,” said Erin Currier, the director of Pew’s financial security and mobility project, who called that volatility “a roller coaster” for many Americans. “It makes it harder for them to plan.”

More than a third of those households surveyed experienced these large changes in their incomes from 2014 to 2015, Pew found. That number has been fairly consistent over time, Currier said. Households of various incomes see major dips and drops, but since volatility is measured as a percentage change in income, those with lower incomes had the lowest threshold for qualifying as having volatile incomes, Pew’s report says. In fact, there were more households in the years Pew studied that saw a gain in their incomes than those who saw dips, which is probably less surprising given that the economy was growing in those years and many families were finally getting back on their feet after the Great Recession.

Roller coaster finances are more common than many people realize. A quarter of people saw their incomes rise or drop by 30% or more, according to an analysis of 27 million Chase bank accounts between 2013 and 2014 by the J.P. Morgan Chase Institute JPM, -0.32% a J.P. Morgan Chase think tank. Those fluctuations were about the same, regardless of account holders’ incomes. One problem: Although income and spending both change, they don’t always change in the same direction, which can create budgeting problems. Put bluntly, some people keep spending even when they and their families experience a reversal of fortune.

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Been warning about this for a long time. It could get completely out of hand. Much of it is private debt.

US Interest Rate Rise To Deepen Developing Countries’ Debt Crisis (G.)

Developing countries are struggling with steep rises in their debt payments after being hit by a double whammy of lower commodity prices and a stronger dollar, with more pain to come once the US central bank raises interest rates this week, campaigners warn. The Jubilee Debt Campaign said that some of the world’s poorest countries have seen the cost of repaying their debts – as a proportion of government revenue – hit the highest level for a decade. Government coffers have been depleted by lower revenues from commodity exports and the size of dollar-denominated debts has risen as the US currency has strengthened.

The dollar has risen more than 6% against a basket of other big currencies over the past six months as investors anticipate that big spending plans by President Donald Trump will boost US growth and that the US Federal Reserve will follow up December’s interest rate rise with more increases this year. After the latest US jobs numbers on Friday beat expectations, a rate rise from the Fed’s policymakers when they meet this Wednesday is seen as imminent among investors. That would further increase the cost of debt payments for poor countries, which have taken out big loans in recent years from western countries where interest rates have been low, said the Jubilee Debt Campaign.

Tim Jones, economist at the campaign group, warned the rising cost of debt payments was putting developing countries under extra strain just when they needed to be spending more money at home to meet the UN sustainable development targets – a series of goals for human development intended to be achieved by 2030. “The rapid increase in debt payments in many countries comes after a boom in lending, a fall in commodity prices, the rising value of the US dollar and now increasing dollar interest rates,” said Jones. He warned there was a danger that loans from the IMF and other lenders would be used to bail out “reckless lenders” who were at risk of not getting repayments from crisis-hit countries. That would lead to year of economic stagnation, just as in debt-laden Greece, Jones added. “Instead, reckless lenders should be made to shoulder some of the costs of recent economic shocks by accepting lower payments,” he said.

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Has been for may years.

The Issue Is The Leverage And Instability Of The System (Rickards)

[..] expectations of a Fed rate hike March 15 are now near 100% based on surveys of economists and fed funds futures contracts. Markets are looking at things like business cycle indicators, but that’s not what the Fed is watching these days. The Fed is desperate to raise rates before the next recession (so they can cut them again) and will take every opportunity to do so. But as I’ve said before, the Fed is getting ready to raise into weakness. It may soon have to reverse course. My view is that the Fed will raise rates 0.25% every other meeting (March, June, September and December) until 2019 unless one of three events happens — a stock market crash, job losses or deflation. But right now the stock market is booming, job creation is strong and inflation is emerging. So none of the usual speed bumps is in place. The coast is clear for a rate hike this Wednesday.

But growth is being financed with debt, which has now reached epic proportions. A lot of money has been printed since 2007, but debt has expanded much faster. The debt bubble can be seen at the personal, corporate and sovereign levels. If the debt bubble bursts, things can get very messy. In a liquidity crisis, investors who think they have “money” (in the form of stocks, bonds, real estate, etc.) suddenly realize that those investments are not money at all — they’re just assets. When investors all sell their assets at once to get their money back, markets crash and the panic feeds on itself. What would it take to set off this kind of panic? In a super-highly leveraged system, the answer is: Not much. It could be anything: a high-profile bankruptcy, a failed deal, a bad headline, a geopolitical crisis, a natural disaster and so on. This issue is not the catalyst; the issue is the leverage and instability of the system.

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Bit curious coming from a judge, but good title.

Who Bleeds When the Wolves Bite? (CNBC)

The question posed was, “Who Bleeds When the Wolves Bite?” It’s the title of an evocative paper written by Leo Strine, the chief justice of the Delaware Supreme Court. By wolves, he means hedge funds, and his answer, found within a 113-page paper set to be published next month in the Yale Law Review, is that average American investors are the ones getting bit by the existing corporate-governance system. While little known in circles outside the highest ranks of corporate America, Strine’s voice is among one of the most powerful in the business community. That’s because two-thirds of American companies are legally based in Delaware, meaning corporate litigation often takes place in that state, so his opinions on such topics can hold tremendous sway.

Strine’s paper is one of the strongest repudiations to date of hedge-fund activism — or what critics of the industry describe as the practice of investors with major stock holdings aggressively forcing companies into changes that will quickly pump up stock prices, often without regard for those same companies’ long-term health. Strine looks at what he calls a “flesh and blood” perspective on how hedge funds, and specifically hedge-fund activists, are harmful to typical American investors. He calls regular Americans “human investors,” distinguishing from the “wolf packs” of hedge funds. Human investors are those who invest in the capital markets and save for events like retirement or college for their children, according to Strine. Strine’s main argument is that the “current corporate governance system … gives the most voice and the most power to those whose perspectives and incentives are least aligned with that of ordinary Americans.”

Strine’s critics — largely hedge funds and hedge fund advisers — privately criticized the paper, arguing that a justice should not be on the record condemning a group of people who tend to litigate in his court and the lower Delaware courts. Additionally, they say his paper does not offer much in the way of prescriptions for how to fix what he sees as a flawed system. They declined to be quoted, fearing retribution from Strine.

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A history lesson.

When It Comes to Wall Street, Preet Bharara Is No Hero (PP)

After his election in 1968, President Richard Nixon asked Robert Morgenthau, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, to resign. Morgenthau refused to leave voluntarily, saying it degraded the office to treat it as a patronage position. Nixon’s move precipitated a political crisis. The president named a replacement. Powerful politicians lined up to support Morgenthau. Morgenthau had taken on mobsters and power brokers. He had repeatedly prosecuted Roy Cohn, the sleazy New York lawyer who had been Senator Joe McCarthy’s right-hand man. (One of Cohn’s clients and protégés was a young New York City real estate developer named Donald Trump.) When Cohn complained that Morgenthau had a vendetta against him, Morgenthau replied, “A man is not immune from prosecution merely because a United States Attorney happens not to like him.”

Morgenthau carried that confrontational attitude to the world of business. He pioneered the Southern District’s approach to corporate crime. When his prosecutors took on corporate fraud, they did not reach settlements that called for fines, the current fashion these days. They filed criminal charges against the executives responsible. Before Morgenthau, the Department of Justice focused on two-bit corporate misdeeds—Ponzi schemes and boiler room operations. Morgenthau changed that. His prosecutors went after CEOs and their enablers—the accountants and lawyers who abetted the frauds or looked the other way. “How do you justify prosecuting a nineteen-year old who sells drugs on a street corner when you say it’s too complicated to go after the people who move the money?” he once asked. Morgenthau’s years as United States Attorney were followed by political success. He was elected New York County District Attorney in 1974, the first of seven consecutive terms for that office.

There are parallels between Morgenthau, and Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District who was fired by President Trump this weekend. Like Morgenthau, the 48-year old Bharara leaves the office of US Attorney for the Southern District celebrated for taking on corrupt and powerful politicians. Bharara prosecuted two of the infamous “three men in a room” who ran New York state: Sheldon Silver, the Democratic speaker of the assembly and Dean Skelos, the Republican Senate majority leader. He won convictions of a startling array of local politicians, carrying on the work of the Moreland Commission, an ethics inquiry created and then dismissed by New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (This weekend, Bharara cryptically tweeted that “I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like,” a suggestion that he was fired as he was pursuing cases pointed at Trump or his allies.)

But the record shows that Bharara was much less aggressive when it came to confronting Wall Street’s misdeeds. President Obama appointed Bharara in 2009, amid the wreckage of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. He inherited ongoing investigations into the collapse, including a probe against Lehman Brothers. He also inherited something he and his young charges found more alluring: insider-trading cases against hedge fund managers. His office focused obsessively on those. At one point, the Southern District racked up a record of 85-0 in those cases. (Appeals courts would later throw out two prominent convictions, infuriating him and dealing blows to several other cases.)

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I know it’s George Friedman, but he’s right.

China’s Economic Miracle Is Over (Friedman)

Sustained double-digit economic growth is possible when you begin with a wrecked economy. In Japan’s case, the country was recovering from World War II. China was recovering from Mao Zedong’s policies. Simply by getting back to work an economy will surge. If the damage from which the economy is recovering is great enough, that surge can last a generation. But extrapolating growth rates by a society that is merely fixing the obvious results of national catastrophes is irrational. The more mature an economy, the more the damage has been repaired and the harder it is to sustain extraordinary growth rates. The idea that China was going to economically dominate the world was as dubious as the idea in the 1980s that Japan would. Japan, however, could have dominated if its growth rate had continued. Since that was impossible, the fantasy evaporates — and with it, the overheated expectations of the world.

In 2008, China was hit by a double tsunami. First, the financial crisis plunged its customers into a recession followed by extended stagnation, and the appetite for Chinese goods contracted. Second, China’s competitive advantage was cost, and they now had lower-cost competitors. China’s deepest fear was unemployment, and the country’s interior remained impoverished. If exports plunged and unemployment rose, the Chinese would face both a social and political threat of massive inequality. It would face an army of the unemployed on the coast. This combination is precisely what gave rise to the Communist Party in the 1920s, which the Party today fully understands. So, a solution was proposed that entailed massive lending to keep non-competitive businesses operating and wages paid. That resulted in even greater inefficiency and made Chinese exports even less competitive.

The Chinese surge had another result. China’s success with boosting low-cost goods in advanced economies resulted in an investment boom by Westerners in China. Investors prospered during the surge, but it was at the cost of damaging the economies of China’s customers in two ways. First, low-cost goods undermined businesses in the consuming country. Second, investment capital flowed out of the consuming countries and into China. That inevitably had political repercussions. The combination of post-2008 stagnation and China’s urgent attempts to maintain exports by keeping its currency low and utilize irrational banking created a political backlash when China could least endure it — which is now.

China has a massive industrial system linked to the appetites of the United States and Europe. It is losing competitive advantage at the same time that political systems in some of these countries are generating new barriers to Chinese exports. There is talk of increasing China’s domestic demand, but China is a vast and poor country, and iPads are expensive. It will be a long time before the Chinese economy generates enough demand to consume what its industrial system can produce.

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Greece has had capital controls for only 18 months or so.

Iceland Exits Capital Controls Eight Years After Banking Crash (BBG)

Iceland is back. The government at a hastily called press conference on Sunday in Reykjavik announced that effective Tuesday it will lift almost all of the remaining capital controls, allowing its citizens, corporations and pension funds full access to the global capital markets. The move ends an eight-year struggle to clean up after the 2008 banking collapse, which triggered the worst recession in more than six decades and enveloped the north Atlantic island of 340,000 people in political turmoil. Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson said this final step will “create more trust in the Icelandic economy,” with the most significant move being the removal of a requirement for businesses to return foreign exchange. “That will make direct foreign investment easier,” he said in an interview after the press conference.

The controls are being lifted as Iceland is booming, helped by a record surge in tourism. The economy is even at risk of overheating with money flowing back into the economy as the controls have been eased in steps. The economy last year surged 7.2%, driven by household spending and investments. Unemployment is down at about 3% and inflation is under control. The krona has rallied about 18% against the euro over the past year, in part as traders have been attracted to the nation’s higher interest rates. The government hopes these next moves will ease pressure on the currency to appreciate, according to Benediktsson. “We don’t have any exact hints as to what comes next,” he said. While pension funds have taken full use of exemptions that were granted in the past years, the public hasn’t rushed to invest abroad after other controls were eased, he said.

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In Britain, at least Steve gets invited. What good it will do is another matter.

Steve Keen Is In The House (YT)

This talk on whether we can avoid another financial crisis, and what caused the last one, was arranged by New City Agenda and held in a committee room of the House of Commons. I cover what caused the crisis (credit), why mainstream economics erroneously ignores credit, and the empirical data showing which countries face continued stagnation, and which countries face a future private debt crisis.

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Alcohol and politics?!

We Will All Need A Stiff Drink To Swallow Hammond’s Austerity (G.)

Yes, the Conservative party that for a long time believed the state had no role to play in industrial policy is now rediscovering the wheel – but has dismissed Michael Heseltine, who did not need to rediscover it. And the Treasury is placing great emphasis on the importance of “productivity” – ie the supply side of the economy – to provide the future growth on which higher living standards and tax revenues ultimately depend.

For the uncomfortable truth, underlined by the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation last week, is that, after a splurge of consumer spending largely financed by borrowing, the outlook for real incomes is pretty bleak – indeed, there are already signs of a slowdown, and the OECD is forecasting economic growth this year of a mere 1.6%. And the OBR’s post-Brexit forecasts are frightening. But austerity in the public sector is set to continue. Let no one be in doubt: this was a policy choice on the part of George Osborne in 2010, and it is a policy choice now. Underlying it all is the Conservative party’s obsession with shrinking the size of the state and minimising the so called “tax burden” – a “burden” which helps to ensure we have decent hospitals, schools and infrastructure generally.

There can be little doubt that, on his own terms, the decision of Chancellor Lawson in the 1988 budget to bring the top rate of income tax down from 60% to 40%, and the basic rate from 27% to 25%, was what is known in the trade as a “game changer”. Total taxation as a proportion of national income has been around 34% in recent years. But when the economy is operating close to capacity, as the OBR believes it now is, in a decent society the ratio of taxation to national income should be considerably higher – even close to 40% – in order to provide decent public services. For all their conciliatory talk, May and Hammond are pursuing Osborne’s austerity policies. Meanwhile, although for all his efforts Osborne failed to achieve anything like a budget surplus for the nation, he has managed – while capitalising on the lecture circuit upon his experience in office – to achieve a healthy budget surplus for himself. Some people are shameless.

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Lame and empty.

No Proof Russia Disrupts UK Democracy, But They Can – Boris Johnson (RT)

Russia is planning to use “all sorts of dirty tricks” to meddle in the political life of European countries, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned, though he admitted there is “no evidence” that Moscow is actually involved in anything of the kind. “We have no evidence the Russians are actually involved in trying to undermine our democratic processes,” Johnson told British ITV’s Peston on Sunday show. “But what we do have is plenty of evidence that the Russians are capable of doing that,” he insisted adding that Russians “have been up to all sorts of dirty tricks.” Remarkably, Johnson made these statements just weeks before his visit to Russia, during which he will meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. His visit would be the first made to Moscow by a British Foreign Minister in five years.

When asked what the UK’s approach to Russia should be now, he said that Britain needs to take “a twin-track approach” towards Russia. “As the prime minister has said, we’ve got to engage but we have to beware,” Johnson stated. Despite constantly saying there was solid proof that Russia had meddled in the affairs of other countries, such as by bringing down French TV stations and interfering in US elections, he failed to provide any concrete evidence to back his accusations. Johnson also implicated that Russia was involved in the situation in Montenegro, where a group of Serbian nationalists was arrested in October of 2016 suspected of planning to carry out armed attacks on the day of the country’s parliamentary elections.

The British Telegraph newspaper later reported that the group was sponsored and controlled by the Russian intelligence officers and had actually tried to stage a coup targeting its Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic with “the support and blessing” of Moscow. However, the paper’s report turned out to be based mostly on the assumptions of unidentified sources and Montenegrin Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime, Milivoje Katnic, confirmed that, despite the participation of several suspected “nationalists from Russia,” there was no “evidence that the state of Russia is involved in any sense.”

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Democracy, Transparency, EU.

Brussels Keeping 2015 Emergency Grexit Plan Locked Away (K.)

European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici has turned down a request from former Greek minister Anna Diamantopoulou for Brussels to make public the emergency plan it drafted in the summer of 2015 for the possibility of a Greek exit from the eurozone. Diamantopoulou, who also served as a European commissioner between 1999 and 2004, wrote to Moscovici earlier this year following a revival of Grexit speculation and asked for the plan to be published so Greeks could be aware of the dangers involved. However, Moscovici suggested in his response, which Diamantopoulou received a few days ago, that publishing the draft would simply fuel damaging speculation and would not be in the public interest as it would endanger financial, monetary and economic stability in Greece.

He also said that the document contains some highly sensitive issues. Parts of the plan, which is said to include emergency humanitarian aid for Greece, were discussed at the College of Commissioners in Brussels a few days before the July 5 referendum in 2015. “In our view, the public interest is best served when citizens know the whole truth about issues that affect their future,” Diamantopoulou, who now heads the Diktyo think tank, told Kathimerini. “When knowledge is absent, speculation, fear and populism flourish and we are left to watch the support for the euro wane day by day, while that for the drachma rises.”

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Japan’s leaders don’t admit failure easily.

Fukushima Evacuees Face ‘Forced’ Return As Subsidies Withdrawn (G.)

Thousands of people who fled the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant six years ago will soon lose their housing subsidies, forcing some to consider returning despite lingering concerns over radiation in their former neighbourhoods. The measure, condemned by campaigners as a violation of the evacuees’ right to live in a safe environment, will affect an estimated 27,000 people who were not living inside the mandatory evacuation zone imposed after Fukushima became the scene of the worst nuclear accident in Japanese history. The meltdown in three reactors occurred after a magnitude-9 earthquake on 11 March 2011 triggered a powerful tsunami that killed almost 19,000 people along Japan’s north-east coast and knocked out the plant’s backup cooling system.

As a “voluntary” evacuee, Noriko Matsumoto is among those who will have their subsidies withdrawn at the end of this month, forcing them to make a near-impossible choice: move back to homes they believe are unsafe, or face financial hardship as they struggle on living in nuclear limbo. “Many of the other evacuees I know are in the same position,” Matsumoto said at the launch of Unequal Impact, a Greenpeace Japan report on human rights abuses affecting women and children among the 160,000 people who initially fled from areas near the plant. As of last month, almost 80,000 were still displaced. Matsumoto said: “They would still have to contend with high radiation if they returned, but the government is forcing them to go back by withdrawing housing assistance – that’s tantamount to a crime.”

At the time of the incident, Matsumoto was living with her husband and their two daughters in the city of Koriyama, 43 miles (70km) west of the stricken facility, well outside the area where tens of thousands of people were ordered to leave. Matsumoto initially stayed put, but three months later, with her youngest daughter, then aged 12, having nosebleeds, stomach ache and diarrhoea, she left her husband behind and took their children to Kanagawa prefecture, more than 150 miles south of Fukushima. She said: “The government is playing down the effects of radiation exposure … Yet people who don’t return to places like Koriyama after this month will be left to fend for themselves. They will become internally displaced people. We feel like we’ve been abandoned by our government.”

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They should help them, not detain. For what purpose, send them to Turkey?

Police Raid Athens Squats, Detain Dozens Of Refugees (K.)

Police raided squats in central Athens early on Monday, reclaiming properties and detaining dozens of undocumented migrants. In the first raid, officers entered a building on Alkiviadou Street which has been occupied since February. They transferred 120 migrants from the premises to the Aliens Bureau on Petrou Ralli Street. Police subsequently raided a building in Zografou which has been occupied by members of anti-establishment groups since 2012. Noone was in the building at the time of the raid but they started returning while police were on the premises and seven people were taken to the Athens police headquarters. Riot police units were stationed outside the squat buildings to prevent their reoccupation.

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Refugee issues will keep growing until we help rebuild their countries, and work for stability instead of collateral damage control.

What Would You Do To Keep Your Children Alive? (I’Cept)

Women and children from Central America began arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in unprecedented numbers during the summer of 2014. Referring to the “urgent humanitarian situation,” President Barack Obama called on Congress to build new detention centers, hire new immigration judges, and increase border surveillance as tens of thousands of unaccompanied children were detained by U.S. immigration officials. At the same time, the United States backed a Mexican government initiative to increase patrols, detentions, and deportations along Mexico’s southern border. The idea was to stop Central Americans from getting into Mexico, let alone the United States. But the gang violence, kidnappings, and extortion sending families fleeing from the “Northern Triangle” comprising El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala hasn’t stopped.


People illegally cross the Suchiate River on the Mexico-Guatemala border – Alice Proujansky

The area has the highest murder rate in the world outside a war zone, and people are still coming to Mexico. Only now, as photographer Alice Proujansky documents, they are taking new routes and facing new dangers. “Entire families arrive with little more than backpacks,” Proujansky said. “Women and children are particularly vulnerable: increased enforcement on freight trains has driven migrants to ride buses and walk on isolated routes where they face robbery, assault, and sexual violence.”

Proujansky spent time with families who were hoping to receive asylum from Mexico. There are no reliable figures on how many people cross the border with Guatemala each year, which is still porous despite increased patrols. But between 2014 and the summer of 2016, Mexico detained 425,000 migrants, according to an analysis of government statistics by the Washington Office on Latin America, or WOLA, a human rights advocacy group. In that same time, only 2,900 people received asylum. Last year, there were some 8,700 applicants, of whom 2,800 have so far received protection. (In 2014, Mexico’s refugee agency had just 15 people to screen thousands of applications.)


Alice Proujansky

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Mar 102017
 
 March 10, 2017  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Marjory Collins “Italian girls watching US Army parade on Mott Street, New York” 1942

 


Janet Yellen Is Busy Preparing America For A New Economic Era (G.)
Albert Edwards: Next Week The Fed Will Unleash “A Bond Market Bloodbath” (ZH)
Bill Gross: Don’t Be Fooled By ‘Trump Mirage’ (Forbes)
Why Do Politicians Continue To Push The Zombie Creed Of Austerity? (G.)
New WikiLeaks Reveal Proof Of Slippery Slope Toward Totalitarianism (Kucinich)
Assange Says Leaks Show CIA’s ‘Devastating Incompetence’ (AFP)
China Concerned At Revelations In Wikileaks Dump Of Hacked CIA Data (R.)
Truman Was Right About the CIA (Deist)
Don’t Forget JFK’s Fight With The CIA (LR)
China Rails Against US For Human Rights Violations (R.)
China As A Superpower (Tavares)
Germany’s ‘Powerhouse’ Economy Is Cracking (CNBC)
1/8th Of QE Money, Given To The Public, Would Have Had The Same Effect (MK)
One in Three U.K. Homeowners Earn More From Property Than Work (BBG)
Poland Reacts With Fury To Re-Election Of Donald Tusk (G.)
80% of Greek Households Struggle To Make Ends Meet (BBG)

 

 

“The old rule of thumb is that recessions come around every seven years..” But the old rule said nothing about QE. It talked about functioning markets, not what we see now.

Janet Yellen Is Busy Preparing America For A New Economic Era (G.)

The head of the US central bank is busy preparing America, its new president, and indeed the world, for rising interest rates – and for a new economic era. The story of US interest rates this decade is simple to the point of tedium. The key fed funds rate has been dragging along just above zero ever since the banking crash. In December 2015, it was nudged up by a quarter of a%age point by Ms Yellen and her colleagues at the Federal Reserve. A whole year later, they nudged it up again, which means that seven years after the notional end of the US recession it stands at mere 0.75%. That is set to change. Over the past few weeks, rate setters at the Fed have dropped broader and broader hints that interest rates will go up as soon as next Wednesday – and will keep going up.

Last Friday was the turn of Ms Yellen. Speaking in Chicago, she said: “We currently judge that it will be appropriate to gradually increase the federal funds rate if the economic data continue to come in about as we expect.” That is about as straightforward as you get in central-bank speak. Nor is that likely to be the end of the rises: according to the Fed’s charts, committee members now forecast three interest-rate rises this year alone, and more in 2018. There are geopolitical reasons to hold off making too early a move. Next month, France’s presidential election, in which rightwing, anti-euro candidate Marine Le Pen is leading the polls, kicks off. Last year, the Fed held off in June before the Brexit vote. While the timing is still moot, there are few betting that rates won’t rise.

Considering this, three observations can be made. First, even while all this briefing has been going on, US asset markets have remained remarkably buoyant. That is very different from the nerves exhibited by investors in US Treasury bonds in 2013, when Ms Yellen’s predecessor, Ben Bernanke, dared to suggest he might turn off the tap marked “easy money”. Even with a much more volatile figure in the White House, financial markets seem far more confident on the prospects for the US. Second, by raising rates now the Fed is giving itself vital room for manoeuvre ahead of the next downturn. The old rule of thumb is that recessions come around every seven years – which would mean, going by the National Bureau of Economic Research, that the next bust is not far away.

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“All that is needed now is for the Fed to sprinkle life-giving rate hikes onto these, as yet dormant, seeds of destruction.”

Albert Edwards: Next Week The Fed Will Unleash “A Bond Market Bloodbath” (ZH)

Make no mistake. Unlike most in the markets, I remain a secular bond bull and do not think this 35 year long bull bond market is over. I believe the US Fed has created another massive credit bubble that will, when it bursts, lay the global economy very low indeed. Combine this with the problems of a Chinese economy dependent on increasingly ineffective injections of credit to produce increasingly pedestrian GDP growth and you have a right global mess. The 2007/8 Global Financial Crisis will look like a soft-landing when the Fed blows this sucker sky high. The seeds for that debacle have already been sown with the Fed having presided over one of the biggest corporate credit bubbles in US history. All that is needed now is for the Fed to sprinkle life-giving rate hikes onto these, as yet dormant, seeds of destruction.

Accelerated Fed rate hikes will cause tremors in the Treasury bond markets, forcing rates up, most especially in the 2 year – just like 1994. But as yet another central bank-inspired global recession unfolds, I believe US 10y bond yields will ultimately converge with Japanese and European yields well below zero – in other words, buy 10y bonds on weakness! [..] For those few of us in the markets of a certain age, Orange County conjures up only one thing: 1994 goes down in infamy as one of the biggest ever bond market bloodbaths in history culminating at the end of the year with Orange County in California going bankrupt (younger clients in their late 20s will only know the OC as the mid-2000s teen programme based in Newport Beach, which I watched religiously with my then teenage son and daughter).

I remember the 1994 period as if it were yesterday (unlike yesterday itself). Despite the Fed telegraphing the series of rate hikes and market participants forecasting multiple hikes, it was most curious how the market went into total convulsion. I was chatting to my ‘similarly young’ colleague Kit Juckes about this and he reminded me that the whole yield curve gapped up some 50bp immediately! It was a bloodbath, especially for 2y paper.

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Remember Nicole talking about multiple claims to underlying real wealth: “Our highly levered financial system is like a truckload of nitro glycerin on a bumpy road,” Gross says. “One mistake can set off a credit implosion where holders of stocks, high yield bonds, and yes, subprime mortgages all rush to the bank to claim its one and only dollar in the vault.”

Bill Gross: Don’t Be Fooled By ‘Trump Mirage’ (Forbes)

Bill Gross has never been one to mince words – and his March investment outlook is no anomaly in his oeuvre of outspoken manifestos. In his latest investor letter, out Thursday morning, Janus Capital’s billionaire bond guru warns against putting too much faith in the market exuberance inspired by President Trump and his agenda. “‘Don’t lose it’ is my first and most important conceptual lesson for [my kids] despite the Trump bull market and the current ‘animal spirits’ that encourage risk, as opposed to the preservation of capital,” Gross writes. (Though more a matter of coincidence, the reference to animal spirits is a canny turn of phrase: JPMorgan chief Jamie Dimon said in an interview Thursday morning that business and consumer confidence has “skyrocketed” because Trump has “woken up the animal spirits.”)

Gross goes on: “Don’t be allured by the Trump mirage of 3-4% growth and the magical benefits of tax cuts and deregulation. The U.S. and indeed the global economy is walking a fine line due to increasing leverage and the potential for too high (or too low) interest rates to wreak havoc on an increasingly stressed financial system. Be more concerned about the return of your money than the return on your money in 2017 and beyond.” This not the first time Gross has gone after Trump: he levied criticism in November (“I write in amazed, almost amused bewilderment at what American voters have done to themselves,” he said at the time) and again in December (“investors must consider the negatives of Trump’s anti-globalization ideas”). But the rationale in his latest investor letter is different from his prior notes, centering less on Trump’s policies and more on the global credit situation.

The world economy, Gross says, currently holds more credit relative to GDP than it did at the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis. In the U.S., credit is 350% of annual GDP, “and the ratio is rising,” he says. In China, that ratio sits close to 300%. Gross acknowledges that capitalism depends on credit expansion, but says that credit creation has its limits, and interest rates must be carefully monitored so that borrowers can repay their debts. But if rates are too low, “the system breaks down,” because savers and pension funds can’t earn a high enough rate of return to service those debts. “Our highly levered financial system is like a truckload of nitro glycerin on a bumpy road,” Gross says. “One mistake can set off a credit implosion where holders of stocks, high yield bonds, and yes, subprime mortgages all rush to the bank to claim its one and only dollar in the vault.”

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“We are being schooled in an extraordinary cognitive dissonance..”

Why Do Politicians Continue To Push The Zombie Creed Of Austerity? (G.)

The US cognitive linguist George Lakoff characterises politics as a clash between two opposing models of parenting. Rightwingers subscribe to the strict, responsible parent with a firm grip on the purse strings, while leftwingers prefer the nurturing, providing version. Everyone is currently in thrall to the strict-parent model. Politicians and supposedly impartial broadcasters are constantly noting that, of course, “times are tight”. The beneficent state is a luxury we can no longer afford. “We can’t go back to 1945,” government ministers intone wearily, as if explaining to a child, before blithely announcing a return to other mid-century relics – such as grammar schools. Despite being thoroughly discredited by economists, and despite Theresa May’s promised investment programme, the zombie creed of austerity staggers on.

On what basis, exactly, do we live in straitened times? Yes, there’s the cost and uncertainty of Brexit. But a year or two ago, it was something else – the fallout from the recession, or turbulence in the eurozone. This is opportunistic shock doctrine stuff, where any bungling failure or general sense of global adversity can lend partisan political choices the air of necessity. The annual ritual of the budget reanimates the pernicious myth that the economy is like a household budget. Since we have our own currency, we actually enjoy capacious fiscal elasticity. The “strict” parent is really a mean parent. The “fairer funding formula”, by which the government is proposing to take money from some schools to give to supposedly more deserving ones, is a pointless zero-sum game. Instead of making children fight over measly slivers of cake, why not just bake a bigger one?

There are extraordinary funds in private hands, if only we conceived of them as part of our common wealth. A report last week by property consultants Knight Frank predicted that the number of UK-based ultra-high-net-worth individuals (those with more than £24m in assets) will rise by 30% over the next decade. There is more than £10trn squirrelled away in the UK. The NHS costs £110bn a year; total government spending on education is £85bn a year. We are being schooled in an extraordinary cognitive dissonance, with luxury housing developments springing up in plain sight across the capital. If you question the basis on which we deem these evident riches untouchable, you are dismissed as hopelessly naive. There’s something doubly infantilising about this reaction: aren’t you aware that belts need to be tightened? And don’t you know the difference between public and private money?

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“We have crossed the threshold of a cowardly new world..”

New WikiLeaks Reveal Proof Of Slippery Slope Toward Totalitarianism (Kucinich)

The U.S. government must get a grip on the massive opening that the CIA, through its misfeasance, nonfeasance and malfeasance, has created. If Tuesday’s WikiLeaks document dump is authentic, as it appears to be, then the agency left open electronic gateways that make all Americans vulnerable to spying, eavesdropping and technological manipulation that could bring genuine harm. That the CIA has reached into the lives of all Americans through its wholesale gathering of the nation’s “haystack” of information has already been reported. It is bad enough that the government spies on its own people. It is equally bad that the CIA, through its incompetence, has opened the cyberdoor to anyone with the technological skills and connections to spy on anyone else.

The constant erosion of privacy at the hands of the government and corporations has annihilated the concept of a “right to privacy,” which is embedded in the rationale of the First, Third, Fourth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It is becoming increasingly clear that we are sliding down the slippery slope toward totalitarianism, where private lives do not exist. We have entered a condition of constitutional crisis that requires a full-throated response from the American people. I have repeatedly warned about the dangers of the Patriot Act and its successive iterations, the execrable national security letters that turn every FBI agent into a star chamberlain, the dangers of fear-based security policies eroding our republic. We have crossed the threshold of a cowardly new world, and it’s time we tell the government and the corporations who have intruded to stop it.

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The CIA should have shared its info with Apple et al, to make phones etc safe. It did not.

Assange Says Leaks Show CIA’s ‘Devastating Incompetence’ (AFP)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday accused the CIA of “devastating incompetence” for failing to protect its hacking secrets and said he would work with tech companies to develop fixes for them. “This is a historic act of devastating incompetence, to have created such an arsenal and then stored it all in one place,” Assange said. “It is impossible to keep effective control of cyber weapons… If you build them, eventually you will lose them,” Assange said. Assange was speaking in a press conference streamed live from Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he has been living as a fugitive from justice since 2012. He said his anti-secrecy website had “a lot more information” about the Central Intelligence Agency’s hacking operation but would hold off on publishing it until WikiLeaks had spoken to tech manufacturers.

“We have decided to work with them to give them some exclusive access to the additional technical details we have so fixes can be developed and then pushed out. “Once this material is effectively disarmed by us we will publish additional details about what has been occurring,” he added. [..] WikiLeaks itself said the documents, hacking tools and code came from an archive that had circulated among US government hackers and private contractors. “The CIA has been so careless to produce this material. So do various cyber mafia already have it? Do foreign intelligence agencies already have it? It’s quite possible numerous people already might have it,” Assange said.

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is WikiLeaks going to share info with China tech as well?

China Concerned At Revelations In Wikileaks Dump Of Hacked CIA Data (R.)

China expressed concern on Thursday over revelations in a trove of data released by Wikileaks purporting to show that the CIA can hack all manner of devices, including those made by Chinese companies. Dozens of firms rushed to contain the damage from possible security weak points following the anti-secrecy organization’s revelations, although some said they needed more details of what the U.S. intelligence agency was up to. Widely-used routers from Silicon Valley-based Cisco were listed as targets, as were those supplied by Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE and Taiwan supplier Zyxel for their devices used in China and Pakistan.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China expressed concern about the reports and reiterated its opposition to all forms of hacking. “We urge the U.S. side to stop listening in, monitoring, stealing secrets and internet hacking against China and other countries,” Geng told a daily news briefing. China is frequently accused by the United States and other countries of hacking attacks, which it always denies. The Chinese government has its own sophisticated domestic surveillance program and keeps tight control of the internet at home, saying such measures are needed to protect national security and maintain stability.

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“They spend billions of dollars on stirring up trouble so they’ll have something to report on.”

Truman Was Right About the CIA (Deist)

Unfortunately it was only in hindsight that Truman came to see the “Iron Law of Oligarchy” at work, which posits that all organizations – particularly government bureaucracies – eventually fall under the control of an elite few. That elite, he came to understand, did not include the president or his cabinet:

Truman: I think [creation of the CIA] was a mistake. And if I’d know what was going to happen, I never would have done it. [..] But it got out of hand. The fella … the one that was in the White House after me never paid any attention to it, and it got out of hand. Why, they’ve got an organization over there in Virginia now that is practically the equal of the Pentagon in many ways. And I think I’ve told you, one Pentagon is one too many. Now, as nearly as I can make out, those fellows in the CIA don’t just report on wars and the like, they go out and make their own, and there’s nobody to keep track of what they’re up to. They spend billions of dollars on stirring up trouble so they’ll have something to report on. They’ve become … it’s become a government all of its own and all secret. They don’t have to account to anybody.

That’s a very dangerous thing in a democratic society, and it’s got to be put a stop to. The people have got a right to know what those birds are up to. And if I was back in the White House, people would know. You see, the way a free government works, there’s got to be a housecleaning every now and again, and I don’t care what branch of the government is involved. Somebody has to keep an eye on things. And when you can’t do any housecleaning because everything that goes on is a damn secret, why, then we’re on our way to something the Founding Fathers didn’t have in mind. Secrecy and a free, democratic government don’t mix. And if what happened at the Bay of Pigs doesn’t prove that, I don’t know what does. You have got to keep an eye on the military at all times, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s the birds in the Pentagon or the birds in the CIA.

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“..by the time he was assassinated, Kennedy was at full war against the U.S. national-security establishment. He was challenging all of their Cold War assumptions. He was proposing peaceful coexistence with what the CIA and the military had said was an implacable foe that was determined to take over America. And he was doing the unthinkable — making friends with the Soviet Union (i.e., Russia), Cuba, and the communist world.”

Don’t Forget JFK’s Fight With The CIA (LR)

Kennedy came into office as a standard cold warrior. That is, like most Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, he had bought into the notion that had been inculcated into the American people since the end of World War II — that America’s wartime partner and ally, the Soviet Union (i.e., Russia), was coming to get us and subject the American people to communism. To combat what was billed as an international communist conspiracy based in Moscow, Americans were told, it would be necessary to adopt the same type of governmental structure that existed in Russia — a national-security apparatus grafted onto America’s original limited-government structure that had been established by the Constitution. That apparatus included a giant, permanent, and ever-growing military establishment, or what President Eisenhower would later call “the military-industrial complex.”

It also consisted of a secretive agency called the CIA, which would come to wield omnipotent powers within what continued to be billed as a “limited government.” Such powers would include assassination, regime-change operations, foreign coups, kidnapping, torture, rendition, involuntary medical experimentation (e.g., MKULTRA), spying and surveillance of Americans — the types of things that characterized the KGB and even the Hitler’s Gestapo. Kennedy believed in this apparatus. Even though it had been adopted without a constitutional amendment, he believed it was necessary to keep America free and safe from the Reds, who, it was said, were coming to get us. He experienced his first dose of reality a few months after being sworn into office, when the CIA presented its secret plan to invade Cuba and effect regime change there.

The plan called for using CIA-trained Cuban exiles to do the invading, with the U.S. government denying any role in the operation. Kennedy’s job, under the CIA plan, would be to lie about U.S. involvement in the invasion, thereby making him America’s liar-in-chief (and indirectly subjecting him to blackmail by the CIA). The CIA assured Kennedy that the invasion could succeed without U.S. air support, and JFK made it clear that no air support would be furnished. The CIA lied. In fact, they knew that there was no way that the operation could succeed without air support. But they figured that once the invasion got underway, Kennedy would have no effective choice but to change his mind and provide the needed air support. It was a classic CIA set up of a newly elected president.

When the invasion started to fail, the CIA urged the president to change his mind. He refused to do so, and the invasion force was easily defeated. The CIA considered Kennedy’s action to be a grave betrayal of America and the CIA’s Cuban “freedom fighters.” Kennedy publicly took responsibility for the debacle but privately he was outraged. He knew that the CIA had set him up, with the aim of maneuvering him into intervening with air support. He fired the much-revered and much-respected CIA Director Allen Dulles (who, in a classic conflict of interest, would later be appointed to the Warren Commission). Reflecting his disdain for the CIA, Kennedy promised to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.”

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Yes, it’s come to this. That door is now wide open.

China Rails Against US For Human Rights Violations (R.)

China lashed out at the United States for its “terrible human rights problems” in a report on Thursday, adding to recent international criticism of Washington on issues ranging from violence inflicted on minorities to U.S. immigration policies. The U.S. State Department’s annual report on rights in nearly 200 countries last week accused China of torture, executions without due process, repression of political rights and persecution of ethnic minorities, among other issues. In an annual Chinese response to the U.S. report, China’s State Council, or cabinet, said the United States suffered from rampant gun violence and high levels of incarceration. U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria had caused thousands of civilian deaths, according to the report, which was carried by the state-run Xinhua news agency.

“With the gunshots lingering in people’s ears behind the Statue of Liberty, worsening racial discrimination and the election farce dominated by money politics, the self-proclaimed human rights defender has exposed its human rights ‘myth’ with its own deeds,” the State Council said. “The United States repeatedly trampled on human rights in other countries and wilfully slaughtered innocent victims,” it said, referring to deaths in U.S. drone strikes. On Wednesday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments about migrants, Mexicans and Muslims were “harmful and fuel xenophobic abuses” and that his immigration policies could lead to breaches of international law. Trump’s derogatory campaign rhetoric against Muslims and Mexican immigrants won enthusiastic backing from prominent white supremacists who embrace anti-Jewish, anti-black and anti-Muslim ideologies, though the president has disavowed their support.

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“President Xi Jinping offers some hints. He has discussed the prospects for “democratizing” the international system..”

China As A Superpower (Tavares)

One way to gauge China’s longer term intentions is to assess what Chinese leaders are saying today. President Xi Jinping has articulated a vision for China over the next few decades. This vision has been termed the “Chinese Dream” or the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” These slogans capture goals, milestones, and timelines. In terms of timeframe, the Chinese refer to the “two one hundreds”: i) the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 2021; and ii) the centenary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 2049. By 2021 China hopes to become what the Chinese call a “moderately well-off society.” By mid-century China hopes to be on par with other developed countries.

Most measures for tracking China’s progress are socio-economic in nature: disposable income, socioeconomic equality, access to higher education, access to healthcare and so forth. To achieve these objectives, China still hews to the basic principle laid out by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, namely, peace and development. The concept of peace and development derives from the notion that China needs a peaceful external environment to develop economically. But there are also external components to China’s long term goals, particularly China’s relations with the rest of the world. President Xi Jinping offers some hints. He has discussed the prospects for “democratizing” the international system. This is code for a transition from a unipolar world dominated by the United States to a multipolar world.

As China rises, China envisions the emergence of a new global configuration in which China is a great power among other coequal great powers, including the European Union, India, and Russia, in the international system. This aligns with the “rise of the rest” hypothesis. As China gets very strong, it would also seek to amend the rules that have governed the current international order in ways that accommodates China’s interests as a great power. China’s rise thus raises a series of important questions about the implications for Asia. What does China want in East Asia as it rises? Would China seek to become the dominant power in East Asia? Would it seek a dramatically reduced role for the United States? More troubling, would China seek a Sino-centric regional order in which many of its neighbors, including Japan, must acquiesce to its strategic prerogatives?

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“..German industrial new orders dropping by 7.4% on the month in January – the biggest monthly fall since 2009 [..] January figures showed a drop of 10.5% in domestic demand and a contraction of 4.9% in foreign orders.”

Germany’s ‘Powerhouse’ Economy Is Cracking (CNBC)

Germany is often described as the “powerhouse” of Europe, but the health of the world’s fourth largest economy is not as rosy as most people think, according to one economist. “The crack in Germany’s economy has become most evident in consumer spending. Retail sales volumes have slowed consistently since growth rates peaked in mid-2015. They have crashed in the last six monthly reports,” Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics, said in a note earlier this week. Hard data shows that Germany’s economy has been facing problems for at least the past six months, despite an uptick in growth at the end of last year. At the same time, income has been slowing dramatically and the reasons behind this are far from clear.

“As domestic demand is imploding, so is foreign demand,” Weinberg added. “Exports are flat year-on-year. This is not to say that net exports are not rising. However, the flat gross exports mean industrial output to make goods for export is not growing.” “Without growth of either exports or domestic consumer spending, industrial production has stalled,” Weinberg said. On Tuesday, data showed German industrial new orders dropping by 7.4% on the month in January – the biggest monthly fall since 2009. According to Reuters, a breakdown of the January figures showed a drop of 10.5% in domestic demand and a contraction of 4.9% in foreign orders.

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Second part of the show. Last week, Steve ‘submittied evidence’ on QE to a Treasury Committee in the UK.

“If these conventional theories of economics actually worked, you and I wouldn’t have an audience.”

1/8th Of QE Money, Given To The Public, Would Have Had The Same Effect (MK)

In this episode of the Keiser Report, Max and Stacy discuss why neoliberalism didn’t make us richer. In the second half, Max interviews professor Steve Keen about Quantitative easing (QE) and its role in financial crisis.

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But they will tell you this is normal.

One in Three U.K. Homeowners Earn More From Property Than Work (BBG)

Home prices in 31% of the U.K.’s local authority districts have risen more than the total average take-home pay of workers in the area over the past two years, according to Halifax. While homeowners would have to sell their houses to realize those gains, it illustrates how quickly prices have risen, as well as how hard it is for new buyers to get on the property ladder. Rising house prices have helped underpin consumption, the backbone of Britain’s economy, even as wage increases have been more modest. Still, the distribution of gains highlight regional disparities. More than 90% of the areas were in London, the South and East of England, the report published Friday said.

The biggest gap was in Haringey, a borough in the north of the capital city, where house prices increased by an average of 139,803 pounds ($169,805), exceeding average take-home earnings by 91,450 pounds or 3,810 pounds per month. “While it’s no longer unusual for houses to ‘earn’ more than the people living in them in some places, there are clearly local impacts,” said economist Martin Ellis. “Homeowners in these areas can build up large levels of equity quickly, but for potential buyers whose wages have failed to keep pace, the cost of buying a home has become more unaffordable.” The only areas where earnings exceeded house price increases were the North East, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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The peak AND the bottom of EU democracy. Tusk is in Brussels to represent Poland. But Poland doesn’t want him to do that. The EU doesn’t care.

Poland Reacts With Fury To Re-Election Of Donald Tusk (G.)

Donald Tusk has won a second term as European council president, overcoming bitter opposition from Poland that has left the country isolated in Europe. Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, was re-elected on Thursday with overwhelming support to lead the council, the body that organises EU leaders’ meetings, for a second term lasting two and a half years. His reappointment until the end of 2019 means he will play a crucial role in Britain’s negotiations to leave the EU. The Pole, from the pro-European centre-right Civic Platform party, overcame strong resistance from his own government, led by the Eurosceptic Law and Justice party (PiS). The outcome was never in doubt, but is a blow for the Warsaw government, which responded with fury. “We know now that it [the EU] is a union under Berlin’s diktat,” the Polish foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, told Polish media, echoing persistent claims by PiS that the EU is controlled by Berlin.

Despite its anger, however, Poland was left isolated as other countries including traditional central European allies lined up to back Tusk, a popular choice to guide the EU through difficult Brexit talks and tense debates on migration. News of his re-election was broken by Belgium’s prime minister, Charles Michel, who tweeted his congratulations less than two hours after the meeting had started. In a rare formal vote, 27 of the EU’s 28 governments supported Tusk. The Polish prime minister, Beata Szydlo, confirmed that Poland would retaliate by blocking the EU summit communique, a statement summarising EU policy on economic growth, migration and the western Balkans. But the document can still be approved in a different procedure, a manoeuvre likely to deepen the wedge between Warsaw and other EU capitals.

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For some reason the text with the graph is about the UK, though that’s obviously not where the problem is.

80% of Greek Households Struggle To Make Ends Meet (BBG)

Around one in six U.K. households had “great difficulty” or “difficulty” in making ends meet in 2015, according to Eurostat. While that’s below the estimated average of 26% across the European Union, it’s more than triple the proportion of struggling Swedes and about double the%age in Germany. With inflation forecast to accelerate this year and grocers such as Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc warning price increases will soon hit, British consumers look set to face a further squeeze on living standards this year.

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Mar 082017
 
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Dorothea Lange A Family Of Mexican Migrants, On The Road In California 1936

 


Wikileaks ‘Vault 7’, Largest Ever Publication Of Confidential CIA Docs (ZH)
Snowden: What The Wikileaks Revelations Show Is “Reckless Beyond Words” (ZH)
WikiLeaks Releases Trove of Alleged CIA Hacking Documents (NYT)
Wikileaks: CIA Capable Of Cyber “False Flag” Attack To Blame Russia (TAM)
CIA Contractor on #VAULT7 Leak: ‘There is Heavy Shit Coming Down’ (RF)
US Trade Deficit Jumps To Five-Year High On Imports (R.)
China Posts Rare Trade Deficit As February Imports Surge in Yuan Terms (R.)
Why Are Europe’s Small Central Banks Stocking Up Foreign Money? (WSJ)
Dispel The Economic Myths That Hold Women Back (Ann Pettifor)
Austerity Is A Feminist Issue (G.)
The Women’s Protest That Sparked The Russian Revolution (G.)
Vacant Homes Are A Global Epidemic (BD)
There’s No Housing Bubble in Australia, Heads of Big Banks Say (BBG)
Australian Lenders Are Handing Out Mortgages Like Confetti (LF)
Greece’s Still-Falling GDP Dispels Creditors’ “Recovery” Myth (Prime)
Tax Weary Greek Employers Pay In Kind As Creditor Demands Rise (BBG)
America’s Forgotten History of Illegal Deportations (Atlantic)

 

 

It’s obvious there is only one story today, which ironically(?!) blows the whole Trump-Russia accusation narrative to bits, even though of course Russia gets the blame for this too in all sorts of corners. But the files are reported to have been ‘out there’ for a while, in the hands of hackers and possible foreign agencies. The CIA spent a huge wad of taxpayer money on this, and then lost it all. It’s early days to say what this will mean for the agency’s abilities, and the nation’s safety, as well as that of American citizens, but it’s not good. Question is: who’s going to investigate how this could have happened? (Snowden and Kim Dotcom could)… And who’s going to repair the damage done? Anyone could be spying on your phone and your TV by now, not just the CIA -as if that wouldn’t be bad enough.

And this is just the first part. Wikileaks has announced more from where this came from.

Wikileaks ‘Vault 7’, Largest Ever Publication Of Confidential CIA Docs (ZH)

A total of 8,761 documents have been published as part of ‘Year Zero’, the first in a series of leaks the whistleblower organization has dubbed ‘Vault 7.’ WikiLeaks said that ‘Year Zero’ revealed details of the CIA’s “global covert hacking program,” including “weaponized exploits” used against company products including “Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows and even Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones.”

WikiLeaks tweeted the leak, which it claims came from a network inside the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Virginia.

Among the more notable disclosures which, if confirmed, “would rock the technology world“, the CIA had managed to bypass encryption on popular phone and messaging services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. According to the statement from WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate Android phones and collect “audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”

Another profound revelation is that the CIA can engage in “false flag” cyberattacks which portray Russia as the assailant. Discussing the CIA’s Remote Devices Branch’s UMBRAGE group, Wikileaks’ source notes that it “collects and maintains a substantial library of attack techniques ‘stolen’ from malware produced in other states including the Russian Federation.

“With UMBRAGE and related projects the CIA cannot only increase its total number of attack types but also misdirect attribution by leaving behind the “fingerprints” of the groups that the attack techniques were stolen from. UMBRAGE components cover keyloggers, password collection, webcam capture, data destruction, persistence, privilege escalation, stealth, anti-virus (PSP) avoidance and survey techniques.”

As Kim Dotcom summarizes this finding, “CIA uses techniques to make cyber attacks look like they originated from enemy state. It turns DNC/Russia hack allegation by CIA into a JOKE

But perhaps what is most notable is the purported emergence of another Snowden-type whistleblower: the source of the information told WikiLeaks in a statement that they wish to initiate a public debate about the “security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.”  Policy questions that should be debated in public include “whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency,” WikiLeaks claims the source said.

The FAQ section of the release, shown below, provides further details on the extent of the leak, which was “obtained recently and covers through 2016”. The time period covered in the latest leak is between the years 2013 and 2016, according to the CIA timestamps on the documents themselves. Secondly, WikiLeaks has asserted that it has not mined the entire leak and has only verified it, asking that journalists and activists do the leg work.

Among the various techniques profiled by WikiLeaks is “Weeping Angel”, developed by the CIA’s Embedded Devices Branch (EDB), which infests smart TVs, transforming them into covert microphones. After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on. In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.

As Kim Dotcom chimed in on Twitter, “CIA turns Smart TVs, iPhones, gaming consoles and many other consumer gadgets into open microphones” and added ” CIA turned every Microsoft Windows PC in the world into spyware. Can activate backdoors on demand, including via Windows update”

Dotcom also added that “Obama accused Russia of cyberattacks while his CIA turned all internet enabled consumer electronics in Russia into listening devices. Wow!”

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks editor stated that “There is an extreme proliferation risk in the development of cyber ‘weapons’. Comparisons can be drawn between the uncontrolled proliferation of such ‘weapons’, which results from the inability to contain them combined with their high market value, and the global arms trade. But the significance of “Year Zero” goes well beyond the choice between cyberwar and cyberpeace. The disclosure is also exceptional from a political, legal and forensic perspective.”

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“…first public evidence US [Government] secretly paying to keep US software unsafe”

Snowden: What The Wikileaks Revelations Show Is “Reckless Beyond Words” (ZH)

While it has been superficially covered by much of the press – and one can make the argument that what Julian Assange has revealed is more relevant to the US population, than constant and so far unconfirmed speculation that Trump is a puppet of Putin – the fallout from the Wikileaks’ “Vault 7” release this morning of thousands of documents demonstrating the extent to which the CIA uses backdoors to hack smartphones, computer operating systems, messenger applications and internet-connected televisions, will be profound. As evidence of this, the WSJ cites an intelligence source who said that “the revelations were far more significant than the leaks of Edward Snowden.”

Mr. Snowden’s leaks revealed names of programs, companies that assist the NSA in surveillance and in some cases the targets of American spying. But the recent leak purports to contain highly technical details about how surveillance is carried out. That would make them far more revealing and useful to an adversary, this person said. In one sense, Mr. Snowden provided a briefing book on U.S. surveillance, but the CIA leaks could provide the blueprints. Speaking of Snowden, the former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower, who now appears to have a “parallel whisteblower” deep inside the “Deep State”, i.e., the source of the Wikileaks data – also had some thoughts on today’s CIA dump.

In a series of tweets, Snowden notes that “what @Wikileaks has here is genuinely a big deal”, and makes the following key observations “If you’re writing about the [email protected] story, here’s the big deal: first public evidence USG secretly paying to keep US software unsafe” and adds that “the CIA reports show the USG developing vulnerabilities in US products, then intentionally keeping the holes open. Reckless beyond words.” He then asks rhetorically “Why is this dangerous?” and explains “Because until closed, any hacker can use the security hole the CIA left open to break into any iPhone in the world.” His conclusion, one which many of the so-called conspiratorial bent would say was well-known long ago: “Evidence mounts showing CIA & FBI knew about catastrophic weaknesses in the most-used smartphones in America, but kept them open – to spy.”

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“..WikiLeaks, which has sometimes been accused of recklessly leaking information that could do harm, said it had redacted names and other identifying information from the collection. It said it was not releasing the computer code for actual, usable weapons “until a consensus emerges on the technical and political nature of the C.I.A.’s program and how such ‘weapons’ should be analyzed, disarmed and published.”

WikiLeaks Releases Trove of Alleged CIA Hacking Documents (NYT)

In what appears to be the largest leak of C.I.A documents in history, WikiLeaks released on Tuesday thousands of pages describing sophisticated software tools and techniques used by the agency to break into smartphones, computers and even Internet-connected televisions. The documents amount to a detailed, highly technical catalog of tools. They include instructions for compromising a wide range of common computer tools for use in spying: the online calling service Skype; Wi-Fi networks; documents in PDF format; and even commercial antivirus programs of the kind used by millions of people to protect their computers. A program called Wrecking Crew explains how to crash a targeted computer, and another tells how to steal passwords using the autocomplete function on Internet Explorer. Other programs were called CrunchyLimeSkies, ElderPiggy, AngerQuake and McNugget.

The document dump was the latest coup for the antisecrecy organization and a serious blow to the C.I.A., which uses its hacking abilities to carry out espionage against foreign targets. The initial release, which WikiLeaks said was only the first installment in a larger collection of secret C.I.A. material, included 7,818 web pages with 943 attachments, many of them partly redacted by WikiLeaks editors to avoid disclosing the actual code for cyberweapons. The entire archive of C.I.A. material consists of several hundred million lines of computer code, the group claimed. In one revelation that may especially trouble the tech world if confirmed, WikiLeaks said that the C.I.A. and allied intelligence services have managed to compromise both Apple and Android smartphones, allowing their officers to bypass the encryption on popular services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. According to WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate smartphones and collect “audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”

Unlike the National Security Agency documents Edward J. Snowden gave to journalists in 2013, they do not include examples of how the tools have been used against actual foreign targets. That could limit the damage of the leak to national security. But the breach was highly embarrassing for an agency that depends on secrecy. Robert M. Chesney, a specialist in national security law at the University of Texas at Austin, likened the C.I.A. trove to National Security Agency hacking tools disclosed last year by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers. “If this is true, it says that N.S.A. isn’t the only one with an advanced, persistent problem with operational security for these tools,” Mr. Chesney said. “We’re getting bit time and again.”

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No ‘evidence’ (and remember none was provided to date) of Russian spying is the least bit credible anymore after today.

Wikileaks: CIA Capable Of Cyber “False Flag” Attack To Blame Russia (TAM)

According to a Wikileaks press release, the 8,761 newly published files came from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence (CCI) in Langley, Virginia. The release says that the UMBRAGE group, a subdivision of the center’s Remote Development Branch (RDB), has been collecting and maintaining a “substantial library of attack techniques ‘stolen’ from malware produced in other states, including the Russian Federation.” As Wikileaks notes, the UMBRAGE group and its related projects allow the CIA to misdirect the attribution of cyber attacks by “leaving behind the ‘fingerprints’ of the very groups that the attack techniques were stolen from.”

In other words, the CIA’s sophisticated hacking tools all have a “signature” marking them as originating from the agency. In order to avoid arousing suspicion as to the true extent of its covert cyber operations, the CIA has employed UMBRAGE’s techniques in order to create signatures that allow multiple attacks to be attributed to various entities – instead of the real point of origin at the CIA – while also increasing its total number of attack types. Other parts of the release similarly focus on avoiding the attribution of cyberattacks or malware infestations to the CIA during forensic reviews of such attacks. In a document titled “Development Tradecraft DOs and DON’Ts,” hackers and code writers are warned “DO NOT leave data in a binary file that demonstrates CIA, U.S. [government] or its witting partner companies’ involvement in the creation or use of the binary/tool.” It then states that “attribution of binary/tool/etc. by an adversary can cause irreversible impacts to past, present and future U.S. [government] operations and equities.”

While a major motivating factor in the CIA’s use of UMBRAGE is to cover it tracks, events over the past few months suggest that UMBRAGE may have been used for other, more nefarious purposes. After the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election shocked many within the U.S. political establishment and corporate-owned media, the CIA emerged claiming that Russia mounted a “covert intelligence operation” to help Donald Trump edge out his rival Hillary Clinton.[..] the U.S. intelligence community’s assertions that Russia used cyber-attacks to interfere with the election overshadowed reports that the U.S. government had actually been responsible for several hacking attempts that targeted state election systems.

For instance, the state of Georgia reported numerous hacking attempts on its election agencies’ networks, nearly all of which were traced back to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Now that the CIA has been shown to not only have the capability but also the express intention of replacing the “fingerprint” of cyber-attacks it conducts with those of another state actor, the CIA’s alleged evidence that Russia hacked the U.S. election – or anything else for that matter – is immediately suspect. There is no longer any way to determine if the CIA’s proof of Russian hacks on U.S. infrastructure is legitimate, as it could very well be a “false flag” attack.

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“..we come to find out the same people who told us the Russians were our enemy, revealing corruption and depravity on a monumental scale via the Podesta emails, they were, in fact, the ones spying on us all along – both lying and mocking us like Lords in a fiefdom.”

CIA Contractor on #VAULT7 Leak: ‘There is Heavy Shit Coming Down’ (RF)

Everything that Wikileaks has revealed over the past year has hurt both the integrity and honor of the United States. The question you have to grapple with, is it well deserved? After all, living inside of a vast and powerful empire has its benefits. As the empire expands, so does the wealth of its citizens. But it hasn’t worked out that way, has it? The CIA deep staters have turned their guns on the people they serve – using third world banana republic tactics to silence opposition, take down regimes not beholden to their world view, using advanced technology to both spy and monitor on American citizens – infringing on our civil rights like nothing we’ve ever seen before. The reason for the populist uprising and the lack of equanimity amongst those traditionally supportive of the CIA lies in the improper distribution of the spoils of war. There aren’t any.

All the average American has received from $10 trillion in Obama inspired deficit spending is American casualties of war, jobs lost to cheaper labor overseas, expensive oil prices, expensive healthcare, and run away education costs – along with a sundry of social disturbances that have people fed up. While the elite flaunt hedonistic lifestyles, eschewing basic decency for the perverse, normies get more of the same old bullshit. After electing a true agent of change in Donald Trump, the people are laughed at and impugned by the elitist media. Their President is set upon by ‘permanent government’ officials in the intelligence agencies – whose only goal is to derail and destroy his term before it even begins.

Then we come to find out the same people who told us the Russians were our enemy, revealing corruption and depravity on a monumental scale via the Podesta emails, they were, in fact, the ones spying on us all along – both lying and mocking us like Lords in a fiefdom. Here’s Fox News reporting on the latest scandal to hit the wires, #VAULT7 Fox New sources inside the CIA said the agency was running around like headless chickens, saying ‘there is heavy shit coming down.’

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US exports are plunging. 10.7% to Germany, 13.4% to China.

US Trade Deficit Jumps To Five-Year High On Imports (R.)

The U.S. trade deficit jumped to a near five-year high in January as cell phones and rising oil prices helped to push up the import bill, suggesting trade would again weigh on economic growth in the first quarter. The Commerce Department said on Tuesday the trade gap increased 9.6% to $48.5 billion, the highest level since March 2012. The deficit was in line with economists forecasts. December’s trade shortfall was unrevised at $44.3 billion. When adjusted for inflation, the trade deficit rose to $65.3 billion from $62.0 billion in December. Both the inflation-adjusted exports and imports were the highest on record in January.

The wider trade gap added to weak data such as housing starts, consumer and construction spending in suggesting the economy struggled to regain momentum early in the first quarter after growth slowed to a 1.9% annualized rate in the final three months of 2016. The economy grew at a 3.5% pace in the third quarter. Trade cut 1.7 percentage points from GDP in the fourth quarter. The Atlanta Fed is forecasting GDP rising at a 1.8% rate in the first quarter. The dollar was trading marginally higher, while prices for U.S. government bonds were little changed. U.S. stock index futures were slightly lower. The Trump administration is eyeing trade as it seeks 4% annual GDP growth. President Donald Trump has vowed sweeping changes to U.S. trade policy, starting with pulling out of the 12-nation TPP.

[..] The bulk of the increase in the trade-weighted value of the greenback occurred in the final months of 2016 and will probably take a while to reflect in the trade data. Exports to Germany tumbled 10.7%. A Trump trade adviser has accused Germany of unfairly benefiting from a weak euro. Shipments of goods to China, also singled out by the Trump administration, dropped 13.4%. The politically sensitive U.S.-China trade deficit increased 12.8% to $31.3 billion in January, while the trade gap with Germany fell 8.0% to $4.9 billion. The United States also saw its trade deficit with Mexico shrink 10.1% to its lowest level since July 2015.

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We need to see: 1) dollar terms and 2) Lunar New Year distortions.

China Posts Rare Trade Deficit As February Imports Surge in Yuan Terms (R.)

China unexpectedly posted a rare trade deficit in February as imports surged far more than expected to feed a months-long construction boom, driven by commodities from iron ore and copper to crude oil and coal. Imports in yuan-denominated terms surged 44.7 percent from a year earlier, while exports rose 4.2 percent, official data showed on Wednesday. That left the country with a trade deficit of 60.63 billion yuan ($8.79 billion) for the month, the General Administration of Customs said. Customs has not yet published dollar-denominated trade figures, on which most economists and investors base their forecasts and analysis. Apart from currency fluctuations, higher commodity prices and the timing of the long Lunar New year holidays early in the year also may have distorted the data.

Most of China’s commodity imports grew strongly in volume terms from a year earlier, but dipped from January. Still, economists say the upbeat readings reinforced a growing view that economic activity in China and globally picked up in the first two months of the year. That could give China’s policymakers more confidence to press ahead with oft-delayed and painful structural reforms such as tackling a mountain of debt. Containing the risks from years of debt-fueled stimulus and heavy spending has been a major focus at the annual meeting of China’s parliament which began on Sunday.

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They know something?!

Why Are Europe’s Small Central Banks Stocking Up Foreign Money? (WSJ)

Europe’s smaller central banks are loading up on foreign currencies at rates usually associated with periods of intense global stress, highlighting the fragile underpinnings of the global economic recovery despite the recent upbeat mood in financial markets. Switzerland’s holdings of foreign assets jumped last month at their fastest pace in over two years as its central bank fought the strong franc, which weakens exports and inflation. The Czech central bank intervened in January on a massive scale to maintain its currency target against the euro. Denmark has also stepped up its foreign-currency purchases to keep the krone from strengthening too much. These central banks are showing crisis-like behavior to protect their currencies even in the absence of obvious trouble. This exposes them to losses if their currencies fail to weaken on their own.

It also raises doubts as to how long they can keep this up in an era when economic and political uncertainties appear to be a lasting feature of the world economy. “There is a little bit of survivor behavior,” said Peter Rosenstreich, head of market strategy at Swissquote Bank. “They’ve been protecting their currencies so long and it’s hard to give up that defensive position.” The Swiss National Bank said Tuesday its foreign exchange reserves swelled nearly 25 billion Swiss francs ($24.63 billion) last month to 668 billion francs, the biggest rise since December 2014, the month before the Swiss abandoned a cap on the franc’s value. The pile of foreign reserves is greater than Switzerland’s entire gross domestic product. “It’s quite bizarre. You’d think at some time you’d run out of surprises,” said Stefan Gerlach, chief economist at BSI Bank in Zurich and a former deputy governor at Ireland’s central bank.

[..] Central banks accumulate foreign reserves when they purchase assets denominated in other currencies, using freshly created money. They do this to weaken their currencies, protecting exports and giving a boost to inflation. Foreign reserves can waver slightly due to changes in currency values, but big increases like Switzerland’s signal aggressive intervention. This tool has gained traction in recent years as official rates have turned negative in Denmark and Switzerland and are near zero in the Czech Republic.

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A few good articles for International Women’s Day. Pettifor’s insistence that households are not like governments is important.

Dispel The Economic Myths That Hold Women Back (Ann Pettifor)

There are two economic myths that fail the interests of women. The first is the fallacy that government budgets conform to “the household analogy”: that, as with family budgets, a state’s outgoings cannot exceed its income. The second is that “there is no money” for the services women use and need. On the first, the public are told that cuts in spending and in some benefits, combined with rises in income from taxes will – just as with a household – balance the budget. Even though a single household’s budget is a) minuscule compared to that of a government; b) does not, like the government’s, impact on the wider economy; c) does not benefit from tax revenues (now, or in the foreseeable future); and d) is not backed by a powerful central bank. Despite all these obvious differences, government budgets are deemed analogous (by economists and politicians) to a household budget.

To understand why the government/household analogy is false it is important to understand that the balance of the government budget, unlike that of a household, is entirely a function of the wider economy. If the economy slumps (as in 2008-9) and the private sector weakens, then like a see-saw the public sector deficit, and then the debt, rises. When private economic activity revives (thanks to increased investment, employment, sales etc) tax revenues rise, unemployment benefits fall, and the government deficit and debt follow the same downward trajectory. So, to balance the government’s budget, efforts must be made to revive Britain’s economy, including the indebted private sector.

Because government spending (unlike a household’s spending) has a big impact on the economy, governments can use loan-financed investment to expand tax-generating employment – both public (for example, nurses and teachers) and private sector employment (construction workers). Both nurses and construction workers will return a large part of their incomes into the economy through spending, benefitting the private sector. Thanks to the multiplier effect, that spending will generate VAT and corporation tax revenues – for repaying government debt. George Osborne believed that government spending cuts would be offset by a rise in private sector confidence, inspired by a government “getting its house in order”. But that did not happen.

As many of us predicted, government spending cuts contracted the economy further. Economic activity (investment, sales, employment) was weaker than expected. Even when employment revived, lower wages and insecure, part-time work meant that income and corporate taxes were lower than expected. So government borrowing did not fall. As a result, public debt as a share of GDP was higher than expected. In the meantime, massive harm had been done to public sector services and those employed in the sector – while the economy endured the slowest post-crisis recovery in history. And it was women who largely paid the price.

One woman can be said to have given the phrase “there is no money” much credibility. In her 1983 speech to the Conservative party conference, Margaret Thatcher declared that: “The state has no source of money, other than the money people earn themselves. If the state wishes to spend more it can only do so by borrowing your savings, or by taxing you more … There is no such thing as public money. There is only taxpayers’ money.” Today this framing of the debate is at odds with reality. After the financial crisis, the Bank of England injected £1,000bn into the private finance sector to prevent systemic economic failure. And after the shock of the Brexit vote, the Bank unveiled the “Term Funding Scheme” as part of a £170bn “stimulus package” aimed at the private finance sector. The money was “public money” offered at a historically low interest rate – to bankers. It was not raised by cutting spending, and it was not raised from “your taxes”, even while its issue was backed by Britain’s taxpayers.

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Good points.

Austerity Is A Feminist Issue (G.)

Women are massively more affected by budget cuts than men, says the Labour peer. They are more likely to be single parents, earn less and work part time than their male counterparts. She argues the government must replace ‘gender-neutral’ budgeting with economic policies that put women first.

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100 years ago.

The Women’s Protest That Sparked The Russian Revolution (G.)

The first day of the Russian revolution – 8 March (23 February in the old Russian calendar) – was International Women’s Day, an important day in the socialist calendar. By midday of that day in 1917 there were tens of thousands of mainly women congregating on the Nevsky Propsekt, the principal avenue in the centre of the Russian capital, Petrograd, and banners started to appear. The slogans on the banners were patriotic but also made forceful demands for change: “Feed the children of the defenders of the motherland”, read one; another said: “Supplement the ration of soldiers’ families, defenders of freedom and the people’s peace”. The crowds of demonstrators were varied. The city’s governor, AP Balk, said they consisted of “ladies from society, lots more peasant women, student girls and, compared with earlier demonstrations, not many workers”. The revolution was begun by women, not male workers.

In the afternoon the mood began to change as female textile workers from the Vyborg side of the city came out on strike in protest against shortages of bread. Joined by their menfolk, they swelled the crowds on the Nevsky, where there were calls for “Bread!” and “Down with the tsar!” By the end of the afternoon, 100,000 workers had come out on strike, and there were clashes with police as the workers tried to cross the Liteiny bridge, connecting the Vyborg side with the city centre. Most were dispersed by the police but several thousand crossed the ice-packed river Neva (a risky thing to do at -5C) and some, angered by the fighting, began to loot the shops on their way to the Nevsky. Balk’s Cossacks struggled to clear the crowds on the Nevsky. They would ride up the demonstrators, only to stop short and retreat. Later it emerged that they were mostly young reservists who had no experience of dealing with crowds.

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How to kill a city part 829.

Vacant Homes Are A Global Epidemic (BD)

Runaway real estate speculation has been filling global capitals with vacant homes, creating artificial shortages in the world’s most sought after cities. The “shortage” has made local home owners wealthy overnight, but it comes at the cost of turning lively cities into empty shells. The city of Paris has decided it’s had enough, and implemented a tax in 2015. They didn’t quite get the results they wanted, so they’re now tripling the tax to 60%. Paris has been trying to deal with vacant property owners for some time. Despite warnings that the city will have to take action, the number of vacant homes is growing. There’s now 107,000 vacant homes, representing 7.5% of all residential dwellings in the city according to France’s INSEE. Deputy Mayor Ian Brossat told Le Monde that 40,000 of those vacant homes aren’t even connected to the electrical grid.

Local developers have argued that more new construction is the solution. However Brossat argues “In a city as dense as Paris, where it is very difficult to build, controlling the occupancy of housing is strategic.” It appears the city believes they have 107,000 reasons more construction is not the solution. Paris implemented a tax recently, but it didn’t quite produce the desired outcome. Starting in 2015 the city elected to tax vacant homes the equivalent of 20% of the fair market value of rent. On January 30 this year, they decided to triple that amount to 60%. The idea isn’t to punish those fortunate enough to own a second (or twelfth) home. They’re trying to discourage speculation and promote a healthy rental market.

Paris’ 107,000 empty homes might seem like a lot, but it’s becoming strangely normal around the world. New York City had a whopping 318,831 vacant units in 2015. It’s a hot topic in Sydney, where 118,499 vacant units were counted in 2013. Heck, London considers it a critical issue, and they “only” have 22,000 empty homes. There’s a massive numbers of vacant homes across the globe, but only Paris has decided to take aggressive action to tackle it. Growing populations have barely put a dent in the vacant homes in global real estate capitals. The amount of speculation has been scaling with demand, which is a curious paradox. This signifies an issue that’s more complex than just a basic supply and demand problem.

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And you can’t call it perjury. But look at the article below this one.

There’s No Housing Bubble in Australia, Heads of Big Banks Say (BBG)

Soaring home prices in Australia’s biggest cities don’t necessarily mean the country is in the grip of a housing bubble, according to the heads of the nation’s biggest banks. Testifying before a parliamentary committee, the chief executives of National Australia, Westpac and Commonwealth Bank of Australia all said that while they are worried about elements of the housing market, prices aren’t over-inflated. “I would draw the distinction between a speculative bubble in prices and prices beyond what fundamentals would justify,” Westpac’s Brian Hartzer told the committee in Canberra Wednesday. A bubble isn’t occurring in Sydney or Melbourne, where house prices have risen the most, he said.

“There are increasing risks, but I still believe the answer is no,” National Australia Bank’s Andrew Thorburn said when asked if houses in Sydney and Melbourne are overpriced. Commonwealth Bank, the nation’s largest mortgage lender, is “lending at levels we are comfortable with” across Australia, CEO Ian Narev told the committee when he testified Tuesday. The bank chiefs were appearing in front of the committee, which was set up by the government to ward off calls for a more far-reaching inquiry into the financial industry, for the second time within six months. The banks have been under pressure from opposition parties after a series of scandals in their insurance and wealth divisions and concern they failed to pass on the full benefits of central bank interest-rate cuts to borrowers.

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“Boosting leveraged demand to make housing affordable makes no sense.”

Australian Lenders Are Handing Out Mortgages Like Confetti (LF)

In the thrall of irrational exuberance, Australia is experiencing a debt-financed housing bubble. In our two major cities of Sydney and Melbourne, the housing markets are out of control due to the rapid acceleration of debt enabled by lenders issuing remarkable amounts of mortgages. Household debt to income ratios for the states of NSW and VIC suggest this to be the case. Australian lenders are handing out mortgages like confetti – why? It demonstrates banks and non-bank lenders are quite willing to issue risky mortgages to applicants who will not have the long-term financial capability to repay. Lenders are indeed taking on these excessive risks. Throwing everything but the kitchen sink is today the common approach governments take to ensure housing prices continually rise given their fear of the political and economic damage caused by falling prices.

Governments engaged in co-buying and co-owning housing with FHBs stimulates debt accumulation and hence prices. The VIC government, for instance, is attempting to provide a large gift to current residential land owners and lenders at the cost of FHBs acquiring mortgages they cannot afford to service over the long-run. This is done through the proposed shared equity model whereby the government acquires 25% of the home price. To make matters worse, the VIC government is also cutting stamp duty for FHBs and doubling the FHOB (for new properties in regional areas); both in theory have the effect of boosting housing prices. The VIC government cannot allow housing prices in Melbourne and the rest of Victoria decline significantly because it will suffer the same adverse impact that Dublin and Ireland experienced last decade.

The problems are the same and the end result will be the same. Unfortunately, just like the federal government, the VIC government is stuck. Implementing policies on the demand and supply sides to reduce land prices will cause a great deal of pain to all stakeholders: governments, lenders, homeowners, investors, including employees – many may lose their jobs if debt growth craters and removes a considerable portion of demand from the economy. Government has dug itself into a hole but instead of assessing a way out, it simply continues to dig, hoping to kick the can down the road long enough for the next party in power to deal with the problems. Both the LNP and ALP at the federal and state levels have refused to deal with the issues at hand, and prefer to enslave a generation of Aussies to the most profitable and high-risk banking system in the western world.

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As I’ve been saying forever. Recovery is unpossible in Greece.

Greece’s Still-Falling GDP Dispels Creditors’ “Recovery” Myth (Prime)

The latest GDP figures for Greece, relating to Q4 of 2016, are disastrous. For Greece first and foremost, but also for the credibility of the EU and IMF’s failed harsh austerity (but on the EU side no-debt-cancellation) policy. Far from evidencing the long-promised recovery, they show a new decline in GDP – both on the previous quarter (after seasonal adjustment) and year on year. In fact, the economy has been broadly stagnant at a low level since 2013. In constant volume terms, GDP fell by over 27% from (peak) Q2 2007 to Q4 2013, and in Q4 2016 it was 0.3% smaller than in Q4 2013. In Q4 it was only marginally higher than the post-crisis record low to date, Q3 2015. This chart from Elstat (the Greek Statistical Office) shows the development of GDP over the last decade:

What is more extraordinary is that current price (i.e. nominal) GDP has fallen even further than real GDP over the decade – by 28.5% From 2008 to 2016, GDP fell quarter-on-quarter in no fewer than 27 out of 36 quarters, of which two in 2016. [..] there has been some modest improvement, with unemployment in November 2016 about 66,000 lower than a year before, and employment up by about 50,000. But employment is still 200,000 below its 2011 level. The unemployment rate remains a disastrous 23%, which reminds one of chronic European levels in the 1920s and 1930s:

The Financial Times’ Mehreen Khan yesterday (6 March) described the current state of negotiations towards the absurd requirement of a contractionary 3.5% of GDP budget surplus (i.e. after interest): “Progress on the country’s €86bn rescue deal has stuttered this year following a standoff between the EU and IMF over the level of austerity, reforms and debt relief baked into Greece’s three-year programme. Bailout monitors however returned to Athens last week to ensure the left-wing Greek government was making steps towards legislating for around €2bn in tax and pension measures that will help the country meet a surplus target of 3.5 per cent of GDP from 2018. Approval of the second review would unlock around €6bn in rescue cash for the economy.”

And ah yes, as Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Chair of the Eurogroup finance ministers, put it on 20th February, in an interview with CNBC (h/t Professor Helen Thompson ): “…anyone who wants to talk about crisis can talk to someone else because the Greek economy is gradually recovering and what we need to do is to strengthen that and give that more opportunity and that is what I’m trying to do.” Alas, Mr Dijsselbloem comes from the Dutch Labour Party, not the conservatives, and here symbolizes all that is so profoundly wrong with the Eurozone’s economic policy and ideology. It’s high time he looked again at that table of unemployment in the 1930s – and the terrible ordeal imposed on the Dutch working class.

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The creditors force Greek companies into contortionist tricks just to survive. There is such a thing as too much tax.

Tax Weary Greek Employers Pay In Kind As Creditor Demands Rise (BBG)

When Maria’s employer, a large communications company in Athens, gave her additional tasks at one of its new units, it told her she wouldn’t be paid for the work in euros. “I was informed that this extra payment of 150 euros per month would be in coupons that I can use in supermarkets,” said the 45-year-old, declining to provide her last name for fear of losing her job. Payments in kind are among practices companies are using in Greece as they seek to cap payroll costs, undermining efforts to balance the books of the country’s cash-strapped social security system. As creditors push the government to boost its budget surplus, companies avoiding payroll charges and effectively expanding the shadow economy are making the task harder. By some estimates, the so-called black market already accounts for as much as a quarter of Greece’s economy.

“Such practices help companies to avoid social contributions, but the burden for the economy is huge,” said Panos Tsakloglou, a professor at the Athens University of Economics and Business. “Less contributions for pensions means more budget transfers to them which then leads to more austerity measures to meet fiscal targets, measures that will probably hit pensioners.” Greek officials have been meeting in Athens with representatives of the euro area and IMF to set out the policies the country must undertake to unlock more bailout loans. The government foresees an accord in March or early April, but the scale of pending issues raises concerns they may be politically hard to sell at home. Greece has agreed to target for a budget surplus before interest payments equal to 3.5% of GDP for 2018, which could mean more belt-tightening.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government finds itself between a rock and a hard place as it tries to appease creditors while avoiding mass protests. After an anemic recovery, the Greek economy shrank again in the fourth quarter, raising the specter of growing tensions at home even as European creditors and the IMF push for more austerity. With an economy that has shrunk by more than a quarter in the last seven years, Greece has an unemployment rate of 23%, close to a historic high. Creditors, meanwhile, are demanding greater labor-market flexibility that would make it easier for companies to hire and fire people. They want the threshold of collective dismissals to be doubled to 10% and demand that Athens not revoke any of the measures legislated during the crisis.

[..] For overtaxed Greek companies, dodging social security contributions through payments in kind has become a way to make ends meet. According to the latest available data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the average single worker in Greece faced a tax wedge of 39.3% compared with an average of 35.9% among developed economies. About half of the burden falls upon employers. “We do not have the exact picture,” said Nasos Iliopoulos, an official in Greece’s Labor Ministry. “But it is clear that it is not legal to replace payments with coupons. It is only permitted to give coupons as an extra bonus. Companies are seeking to gain from lower social contributions and also from not paying for extra working hours.”

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There’s nothing new.

America’s Forgotten History of Illegal Deportations (Atlantic)

It was a time of economic struggle, racial resentment and increasing xenophobia. Installed in the White House was a president who had never before held elected office. A moderately successful businessman, he promised American jobs for Americans—and made good on that promise by slashing immigration by nearly 90 percent. He wore his hair parted down the middle, rather than elaborately piled on top, and his name was Herbert Hoover, not Donald Trump. But in the late 1920s and early 1930s, under the president’s watch, a wave of illegal and unconstitutional raids and deportations would alter the lives of as many as 1.8 million men, women and children—a threat that would seem to loom just as large in 2017 as it did back in 1929.

What became colloquially known as the “Mexican repatriation” efforts of 1929 to 1936 are a shameful and profoundly illustrative chapter in American history, yet they remain largely unknown—despite their broad and devastating impact. So much so that today, a different president is edging towards similar solutions, with none of the hesitation or concern that basic consciousness would seem to require. [..] Back in Hoover’s era, as America hung on the precipice of economic calamity—the Great Depression—the president was under enormous pressure to offer a solution for increasing unemployment, and to devise an emergency plan for the strained social safety net. Though he understood the pressing need to aid a crashing economy, Hoover resisted federal intervention, instead preferring a patchwork of piecemeal solutions, including the targeting of outsiders.

According to former California State Senator Joseph Dunn, who in 2004 began an investigation into the Hoover-era deportations, “the Republicans decided the way they were going to create jobs was by getting rid of anyone with a Mexican-sounding name.” “Getting rid of” America’s Mexican population was a random, brutal effort. “For participating cities and counties, they would go through public employee rolls and look for Mexican-sounding names and then go and arrest and deport those people,” said Dunn. “And then there was a job opening!” “We weren’t rounding up people who were Canadian,” he added. “It was an absolutely racially-motivated program to create jobs by getting rid of people.”

[..] The so-called repatriation effort was, in large part, a misnomer, given the fact that as many as sixty percent of those sent to “home” Mexico were U.S. citizens: American-born children of Mexican-descent who had never before traveled south of the border. (Dunn noted, “I don’t know how you can repatriate someone to a country they’ve not been born or raised in.”) “Individuals who left at 5, 6 and 7 years old found themselves in Mexico dealing with process of socialization, of learning the language, but they maintained an American identity,” said Balderrama. “And still had the dream to come back to ‘my country.’”

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