Dec 162017
 
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Tamara de Lempicka The refugees 1937

 

Note: I feel kind of sorry this has become such a long essay. But I still left out so much. You know by now I care a lot about Greece, and it’s high time for another look, and another update, and another chance for people to understand what is happening to the country, and why. To understand that hardly any of it is because the Greeks had so much debt and all of that narrative.

The truth is, Greece was set up to be a patsy for the failure of Europe’s financial system, and is now being groomed simultaneously as a tourist attraction to benefit foreign investors who buy Greek assets for pennies on the dollar, and as an internment camp for refugees and migrants that Europe’s ‘leaders’ view as a threat to their political careers more than anything else.

I would almost say: here we go again, but in reality we never stopped going. It’s just that Greece’s 15 minutes of fame may be long gone, but its ordeal is far from over. If you read through this, you will understand why that is. The EU is deliberately, and without any economic justification, destroying one of its own member states, destroying its entire economy.

 

 

A short article in Greek paper Kathimerini last week detailed the latest new cuts in pensions the Troika has imposed on Greece, and it’s now getting beyond absurd. For an economy to function, you need people spending money. That is what keeps jobs alive, jobs which pay people the money they need to spend on their basic necessities. If you don’t do at least that, there’ll be ever fewer jobs, and/or ever less money to spend. It’s a vicious cycle.

We may assume the Troika is well aware of this, and that would mean they are intentionally killing off the Greek economy. Something I’ve said a thousand times before. Still, both the Greek Tsipras government and exterior voices continue to claim the economy is recovering. Even if that is mathematically impossible. There undoubtedly are sectors of the economy being boosted, but they are only the ones the Troika members are interested in.

The economy’s foundation, the ‘normal’ people, who work jobs if they’re lucky, are not recovering or being boosted. Quite the contrary. Half of young people are unemployed and receive no money at all. Most of those who do have jobs receive less than €500 for a full month of work. Mind you, this is while the cost of living is as high as it is in Germany or Holland, where people would protest vehemently if even their unemployment benefits were cut that low. Unemployment benefits hardly exist at all in Greece.

This situation, as also mentioned often before, means that entire families must live off the pension a grandmother or grandfather gets. As of next year, such a pension will be cut to net €480. Of which most will go to rent. And the cuts are not finished. There are plenty neighborhoods in Athens where there are more boarded-up shops then there are open ones. It is fiscal waterboarding, it is strangulation of an entire society, and there is no valid economic reason for it, nor is there a justification.

If Greece had access to international debt markets, if would perhaps pay a higher interest rate, but investors would buy its bonds. The Troika denies Greece that access. Likewise, if the ECB had not excluded the country from its QE bond-buying programs, the country would be nowhere near its present disastrous predicament. The ECB’s decision not to buy Greek bonds can only be a political one, it’s not economic. There is something else going on.

Here’s that latest pension news:

 

Greek Pension Cuts To Hit 70% Since The Start Of The Bailouts

The next batch of pension cuts, voted through in the last couple of years and set to come into force within the next two years, will take total losses for pensioners since the start of the bailout period in 2010 up to 70%. A recent European Commission report on the course of Greece’s bailout program revealed that the reforms passed since 2015 will slash up to 7% of the country’s GDP up to 2030. The United Pensioners network has made its own calculations and estimates that the impending cuts will exacerbate pensioners’ already difficult position, with 1.5 million of them threatened with poverty. The network argues that when the cuts expected in 2018 and 2019 are added to those implemented since 2010, the reduction in pensions will reach 70%.

Network chief Nikos Hatzopoulos notes that “owing to the additional measures up until 2019, the flexibility in employment and the reduction of state funding from 18 billion to 12 billion euros, by 2021, one in every two pensioners will get a net pension of 550 euros [per month]. If one also takes into account the reduction of the tax-free threshold, the net amount will come to 480 euros.” Pensioners who retired before 2016 stand to lose up to 18% of their main and auxiliary pensions, while the new pensions to be issued based on the law introduced in May 2016 by then minister Giorgos Katrougalos will be up to 30% lower.

More than 140,000 retirees on low pensions will see their EKAS supplement decrease in 2018, as another 238 million euros per year is to be slashed from the budget for benefits for low income pensioners. The number of recipients will drop from 210,000 to 70,000 in just one year. There will also be a reduction in new auxiliary pensions (with applications dating from January 2015), a 6% cut to the retirement lump sum, and a freeze on existing pensions for another four years, as retirees will not get the nominal raise they would normally receive based on the growth rate and inflation.

 

As half of the pensioners see their pensions cut to €480 a month, they’re not the worst off in the country. There are about a million unemployed who get nothing at all, and 580,000 who do have ‘jobs’ but ‘earn’ just €407 a month. And that’s if they’re lucky enough to get a contract. Many don’t, and work for even less. Yeah, that’s how you keep unemployment numbers down; Americans should know all about it.

 

Unemployment Decreases, Yet 580,000 Workers Earn Just €407 Per Month

Greece’s jobless rate fell to 20.2% in July-to-September from 21.1% in the second quarter, data from the country’s statistics service ELSTAT have showed. About 75.6% of Greece’s 970,000 jobless are long-term unemployed, meaning they have been out of work for at least 12 months, the figures showed on Thursday. Greece’s highest unemployment rate was recorded in the first quarter of 2014, when joblessness hit 27.8%.

Athens has already published monthly unemployment figures through June, which differ from quarterly data because they are based on different samples and are seasonally adjusted. Quarterly figures are not seasonally adjusted. At the same time, part-time employment has been constantly increasing. According to latest data, 580,000 workers earn just 407 euros per month. An amount that is for sure not enough to help people come through the month. And this data refers to declared work contracts. In undeclared work market people earn even 200 or 300 euros.

 

While all these Greeks don’t make enough to feed themselves and their families, the Troika-induced tax rises keep on coming like a runaway train with broken brakes. Every single day, more people are added to the list of those who simply can’t afford to pay their taxes, under the guise of going after ‘strategic defaulters’. There is no way out if this other than large scale debt forgiveness, debt restructuring, debt write-offs. Consumer spending is what keeps economies alive, but in Greece that is what’s shrinking day after day.

 

Greeks Crushed By Tax Burden

Tax authorities have confiscated the salaries, pensions and assets of more that 180,000 taxpayers since the start of the year, but expired debts to the state have continued to rise, reaching almost €100 billion, as the taxpaying capacity of the Greeks is all but exhausted. In the month of October, authorities made almost 1,000 confiscations a day from people with debts to the state of more than €500. In the first 10 months of the year, the state confiscated some €4 billion, and the plans of the Independent Authority for Public Revenue provide for forced measures to be imposed on 1.7 million state debtors next year.

IAPR statistics show that in October alone, the unpaid tax obligations of households and enterprises came to €1.2 billion. Unpaid taxes from January to October amounted to €10.44 billion, which brings the total including unpaid debts from previous years to almost €100 billion, or about 55% of the country’s GDP. The inability of citizens and businesses to meet their obligations is also confirmed by the course of public revenues, which this year have declined by more than €2.5 billion. The same situation is expected to continue into next year, as the new tax burdens and increased social security contributions look set to send debts to the state soaring. Notably, since 2014, there has been a consolidated trend of a €1 billion increase each month in expired debts to the state.

There are now 4.17 million taxpayers who owe the state money. This means that one in every two taxpayers is in arrears to the state, with 1,724,708 taxpayers facing the risk of forced collection measures. Of the €99.8 billion of total debt, just €10-15 billion is still considered to be collectible, as the lion’s share concerns debts from previous years, in many cases of bankrupt enterprises and deceased individuals.

 

Lately, a narrative is being force-fed into, and by, western media about Greece becoming some sort of paradise for investors. But why would anyone want to invest into an economy that clearly is no longer functioning, not even viable? Well, in such an economy, all kinds of things can be bought on the cheap. And because Greece is very beautiful, and has beautiful weather, why not buy it all and turn it into a tourist colony owned by foreigners and the odd rich Greek?

One tiny thing: they would prefer a different, even more business-friendly government. As if Tsipras hasn’t crawled up the Troika’s where-the-sun-never-shines parts enough. That’s the context into which to place for instance Kyle Bass’s comments:

 

Kyle Bass: Investors to Pour Billions into Greece after Political Change

Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass believes that Greece will come out of the crisis and investors will pour billions into its economy once the government changes, according to a CNBC report. The founder and chief investment officer of Hayman Capital Management; which manages an estimated $815 million in assets, is closely following the course of the Greek economy and political situation, and has invested in Greek bank stocks.

Bass says that foreign investors are waiting on the sidelines for a political shift to take place in 2018. “My best guess is a snap election for prime minister will be called between April and September of next year and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will lose power. When that happens, there will be a massive move into the Greek stock market. Big money will flow in as investors feel more confident with a more moderate administration,” Bass said.

“It’s going to take Kyriakos Mitsotakis; president of New Democracy, the Greek conservative party, to be voted in as prime minister to reform the culture and rekindle investor confidence,” the investor said. “I have no doubt 15 billion euros in bank deposits will come back to Greek banks if he’s elected. The stock and bond markets will also jump following the election.” Bass says that global investors are waiting for the political change in order to invest in real estate, energy and tourism.

So far, the hedge fund manager noted, Greece has proceeded with privatizations of its main port; regional airports; its railway system; the largest insurance company, and there are more important ones to be completed within the next two years. “There is so much potential in Greece,” Bass said, noting that investors are waiting for the right moment to enter, the CNBC report concludes.

Kyle Bass and all his ilk are lining up for the goodies for pennies on the dollar. If only the desolate pensioners and unemployed young are desperate enough to believe that, and vote for, a right-wing government is good, simultaneously, for both their interests and that of international vultures and hedge funds.

 

Funds Take Positions Ahead Of Government Change In Greece

Brevan Howard Asset Management, one of Europe’s biggest hedge funds, revealed to Bloomberg on Tuesday that it has set up two investment funds whose exclusive targets are assets in Greece such as real estate, enterprises and securities, and is aiming to collect 500 million euros from private investors. Co-founder of Brevan Howard and head of one of the two funds Trifon Natsis said that some 250 million euros has already been collected. The company was co-founded by four others, including Alan Howard, in 2002. “After eight years of crisis and recession that’s hit Greece, we’re at a point where the tail risks have disappeared and the country is stabilizing at a low base,” he said.

“We anticipate a material uplift in the Greek economy and asset prices.” “The likely political transition over the next 12 to 18 months will add momentum and reinforce that process,” Natsis said. Brevan Howard seems to be in agreement with Hayman Capital, whose head Kyle Bass said a few weeks ago that the brewing change in government in Greece within the next 18 months will benefit the market: “You’re starting to see green shoots, you’re starting to see the banks do the right things finally in Greece, and you’re about to have new leadership,” he stated recently.

My personal assessment after spending much of my time over the past 2.5 years in Athens is that they will be disappointed. Not only does a country, to make it attractive for foreigners, need a functioning economy, which Greece no longer has even at a “low base”, but the anger that has been building up here, which was held in check by Syriza and its ultimately empty promises, is bound to explode when some right winger manages to seize power.

Athens is the most peaceful city you can imagine, the only violence is between ‘anarchists’ and police, and it mostly takes place at set dates and places. Violence among people is virtually non-existent, despite all the deception, the betrayal, the poverty and the youthful testosterone energy that has nowhere to go. But that’s not going to last, I’m afraid.

 

And that will also be because many Greeks understand the contents of the following, devastating, interview by Michael Nevradakis for Mint Press News with Nicholas Logothetis, former member of the board of the Greek Statistical Authority (ELSTAT). Greece has been set up. And many people here know it. They have put their hopes in the democratic process, in voting into power a different government from the same old clique they have seen for many decades.

The likely winner of the next elections is New Democracy, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the man the hedge-funders want in. Mitsotakis, a banker, is very much part of the old Greek elite, his father was a prime minister. If he gets elected things are not very likely to remain peaceful. Says my gut.

 

Update: while I was writing this article, the following came out. Eurogroup head Dijsselbloem admitting the first Greek referendum had nothing to do with helping Greece, the reason always provided for why it happened. Instead, it was always, as we’ve said so many times, meant to save German and French banks. And now that he’s leaving the job, Dijsselbloem, who obviously feels untouchable, just lays it out there. After having played a large role in destroying the country, the society, the economy. It’s almost hard to believe. But only almost. Because the Troika doesn’t answer to anyone. Then again, Greece has an independent judicial system.

 

The Aim Of The First Memorandum Was To Rescue Investors Outside Greece, Dijsselbloem Admits

The main aim of the first Greek memorandum, especially, was to rescue investors outside Greece, outgoing Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem admitted in the Europarliament on Thursday. “There were mistakes in the first programmes, we improvised. The way we dealt with the banks was expensive and ineffective. It is true that our aim was to rescue investors outside Greece and for this reason I support the rules for bail-ins, so that investors aren’t rescued with tax-payers’ money,” said Dijsselbloem in reply to independent Greek MEP Notis Marias.

Dijsselbloem noted that it had been a huge crisis because the fiscal sector had faced the risk of a total collapse that would have left many countries with a high debt. However, he pointed out that banks had only needed €4.5 billion in the third programme because the private sector had a huge participation. Referring to the non-performing loans, he said that a private solution that did not once again place the burden on tax-payers was near. He also pointed to measures being taken in Greece for the protection of the socially weaker groups, to make sure that they were not the victims of the auctions.

Referring to the early payment of the IMF loans with the remaining money of the programme, the Eurogroup chief said that this made sense financially, given that the IMF’s loans were more expensive than those of the Europeans. However, from a political point of view, the Eurogroup prefers that the IMF remain fully involved in the Greek programme, with its own responsibilities, he added. In any case, he noted that the final decisions on debt relief will be made later, when the programme is concluded and the sustainability of the Greek debt has been examined.

 

As an introduction, a piece of that interview with former Greek Statistical Authority bioard member Nicholas Logothetis (see the rest below). Greece being set up is not just some fantasy idea.

In my opinion, joining these medieval memorandums, which have brought about this economic crisis that Greece is still experiencing, was beyond any doubt pre-planned and predetermined. This arises not only from Strauss-Kahn’s own admission that the IMF had been preparing every detail of this with Papandreou, it also arises for other reasons that subsequently became known – that Greece was chosen by the designers of the European Union to become the guinea pig for the implementation of harsh austerity and other forms of economic punishment, set up for all as an example to be avoided, in the context of a new EU economic policy for handling the member countries with fiscal problems.

Indeed, the policy of the memorandums gave the opportunity not only to the IMF to put a foot in Europe – until then its activities always were, with devastating consequences, limited to developing countries in Africa and Latin America – but also gave the opportunity to the French and German banks to get rid of their so-called toxic bonds, that were loaded onto the Greek people by turning a private debt into a state debt.

In order to achieve all of this, of course, they had to plant the appropriate person in ELSTAT at a time when certain statistical adjustments were required, in order to support their treacherous plan. Where did this lead eventually? To the bankruptcy of the Greek state.

This is some story. It’s being denied in what just about amounts to a full blast PR campaign by many of those involved on the Troika side. Their narrative is: how dare the Greeks attack, and drag into court, their own unblemished ex-IMF statistician (who’s not even a statistician)? Whereas the actual question should be: how dare the Troika et al attack the Greek judicial system?

They’re getting away with it so far, but there are still court cases pending. And as Nicholas Logothetis says, he is confident that the Greek court system is the only party that has the power and the independence to set this straight.

I wanted to take bits and pieces out of this, shorten it etc., but it’s just too good. Sorry, Michael, sorry MintPress! It reads like a crime novel. And you can never again say you didn’t know. We can only hope that the Greek court system will hold Europe to task.

But while they can probably call on Papandreou to stand trial, what about Strauss-Kahn or Lagarde? Or Schäuble and Dijsselbloem? What if they can even prove Greece was set up, who’s going to pay the damage done to the Greek population, society, and the Greek economy, over a decade?

It’ll take many decades for the country to recover from what has been perpetrated upon it. And this could only happen because western media have been too lazy and compliant to question what has been going on. 90%+ of what you’ve been reading about Greece has been fake news. Note: I always put everything I quote in italics, but this is an exception to that rule:

Here we go:

 

The Trials of Andreas Georgiou and the Fraud That Drove Greece into Austerity

The mainstream narrative regarding the cause of the severe economic crisis Greece has experienced is that the Greek people and Greek state were irresponsible with their finances, lived “beyond their means” at the expense of EU taxpayers, and provided overly generous social benefits and pensions to an underproductive, uncompetitive, and lazy populace.

These characterizations have then been used to justify the successive memorandum agreements, or “bailouts,” and the austerity measures that have been imposed in Greece since 2010, as the country’s “just deserts” — the “bitter medicine” that must be prescribed to correct Greece’s previous ills.

A different view exists, however — one that is based on allegations that Greece was driven into the memorandum and austerity regime not by economic incompetence and cultural deficiencies, but by a fraud that was perpetrated against the Greek people and the country of Greece.

In this interview, which aired in November on Dialogos Radio, Nicholas Logothetis, a former member of the board of the Greek Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), describes allegations that have been made against Andreas Georgiou, ELSTAT’s former president, and against EU statistical authority Eurostat, regarding how Greece’s deficit and debt figures were illegitimately inflated in 2010, providing the rationale to drag Greece under a regime of austerity and extreme economic oversight.

Logothetis details how debt swaps and other questionable financial dealings were added to Greece’s debt and deficit, as well as the consequences of these actions, the criminal and civil convictions against Georgiou, and the court cases that are still pending.

 

MPN: Let’s begin with a discussion about Andreas Georgiou, the embattled former president of ELSTAT, who oversaw the augmentation of the Greek deficit and debt. Describe for us Georgiou’s background prior to taking on the role of president of ELSTAT. Was Georgiou even a statistician?

NL: No, he wasn’t. The operation of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), as a continuation of the initial National Statistical Authority, as we called it, officially began in late June of 2010. This was the time that the members of ELSTAT’s management board were selected and approved by the conference of parliamentary presidents, with the required supermajority of four-fifths.

Georgiou has been working at the International Monetary Fund since the late 1980s. For a few years before he came to Greece, he was deputy head of a division of the IMF’s statistics department, the financial institutions division. However, the Greek Ministry of Finance announced the appointment of ELSTAT’s board of directors through a press release to all Greek newspapers. In that press release, it presented Georgiou as deputy head of the entire IMF statistics department, a very big department in the IMF and a very important one, hiding his actual organizational position in the IMF, a position of an economic nature rather than a statistical nature, in a subordinate division of the statistics department.

Obviously, the objective of the Greek Minister of Finance was to present Georgiou as an experienced statistician with a significant management position at the IMF, who supposedly left America and came here to “save” Greece by putting in order all of its statistics. In fact, this gentleman was not only unable to run an important institution such as ELSTAT, with over 1,000 employees, but he wasn’t even a statistician, with no academic publications and no knowledge of statistics.

Moreover, for at least six months after assuming the ELSTAT presidency, Georgiou still held his organizational position at the IMF, something that was explicitly forbidden by ELSTAT’s founding law.

 

MPN: What were the actions undertaken by Georgiou as president of ELSTAT? In other words, how were the Greek deficit and debt figures manipulated and in what other ways were Greece’s official economic figures altered?

NL: First of all, Georgiou’s first moves were to remove from the other members of the board any ability and initiative to propose discussion topics or to be involved in the calculation of the deficit or the debt. They were forbidden even to communicate with the remaining staff of ELSTAT! This behavior of Georgiou was not only due to his inability to act as a manager but also due to the fact that he understood from the very beginning, even from the second meeting of the board in September 2010, our refusal to adopt the deficit and debt calculation procedures he wanted to follow. He knew that eventually, the majority of the board members would not approve his deficit figures to be officially published before the end of October 2010.

 


Andreas Georgiou, stands outside the headquarters of the Statistics agency, in Athens, Greece. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

 

Shortly after the last meeting of the board in early October 2010, the final silencing of the whole board followed and we were never convened again, thus leaving the way free for Georgiou, always under the auspices of senior Eurostat executives, on the one hand, to change the founding law—as he always wanted, to turn ELSTAT into one-person authority—and on the other hand, to inflate the 2009 figures. Exactly how he did this became clear later, but we had suspected soon enough what he was going to do.

My first disagreement with him was when I realized he would add to the deficit figures and to the national debt of Greece the Simitis swaps — that is, the swaps that former Greek prime minister Costas Simitis had made use of in 2001 in order for Greece to get accepted to the Eurozone. Allow me to briefly explain what these swaps are, as they indicate clearly an activity typical of the statistical mishandlings that had always been used and are still taking place in our country, every time the government’s leaders want to achieve something with communication or financial benefits for themselves or for third parties. Swaps are a type of a bond, a banking derivative or simply a stock exchange bet, a currency exchange bet. Many countries do it, even now they are doing it, converting their existing debt into currencies of other countries, say in Swiss francs or Japanese yen, betting that the value of that currency will rise and at the maturity of this debt, the owner will gain from the difference in the value of currencies.

In a way, what happened in 2001 is that much of Greece’s debt was converted into yen, but at the value that the yen had in 1995, which was higher than that of 2001! Remember, the swaps were made in 2001, but the price of the yen in 1995 was the one used for this swap. We can put a big question mark here because I don’t know how legitimate this was, to consider as valid the exchange value of the yen of six years ago. But anyway, this was what happened.

From this action, Greece was theoretically gaining an amount of 2.8 billion euros, which theoretically reduced our debt by this amount, and also reduced the annual deficit below 3%, thus meeting the requirement of the Maastricht Treaty for Greece’s entry into the Eurozone. But let us not forget, however, that this was a bet. It’s not unlike, say, a bond that matures and is redeemable after 30 years: at the time of the swap, there was no applicable European regulation allowing the “bond” to be cashed in prior to maturity, and therefore the swaps were of indeterminate value.

However, Walter Radermacher — at the time the general director of Eurostat, the EU’s statistical authority — decided only for Greece and only for that time and while the value of the yen had collapsed, that this swap value had to be included in our total debt, thus raising our national debt by 21 billion euros because of the losses of the yen. So we found ourselves with an additional fiscal debt of 21 billion euros.

Radermacher’s additional act was to instruct Georgiou to divide this amount by four and to include what came out of it in the deficits for the years 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2006. So eventually, for 2009 and all the three previous years, we found ourselves with an additional deficit of about 5.5 billion euros. But I’m pointing out again that swaps should not be used in any way before their maturity, in order to manipulate negatively or positively the fiscal debt, let alone the yearly deficit.

Another illegal augmentation of our deficit made by Georgiou included the addition of 3.6 billion euros in hospital costs that were not even approved by the Court of Auditors. The Court of Auditors is one of the three institutions of Greek justice, along with the Supreme Court and the Council of State. With regards to this cost, as it turned out later, no one committed to it and no one was paying for it. And finally, the major swelling of the budget deficit was accomplished by the overnight inclusion of the deficits of 17 public utilities, violating many Eurostat criteria and rules. That alone added 18.2 billion euros, equivalent to 20 billion dollars, to the fiscal debt of Greece.

As a result of all the above, Greece ended up with a huge deficit for the year 2009 — 36 billion euros, or equivalently, 15.4% of GDP. This legitimated the first memorandum, paved the way for the second and worst memorandum, and justified the imposition of these cumbersome austerity measures, such as the pension cuts, social insurance and healthcare, and the tax increases — huge tax increases — measures that we are still suffering today.

 

MPN: Dominique Strauss-Kahn himself, the former president of the International Monetary Fund, has gone on the record as saying that he met with George Papandreou to discuss an IMF “bailout” of Greece in April 2009. This was several months before Papandreou was elected as prime minister and at a time when Papandreou was saying, while campaigning, that plenty of money existed to fund the social programs he was promising to Greek voters. Do you believe that the economic “crisis” in Greece was pre-ordained or pre-planned?


Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, right, shakes hand with the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, during a joint news conference in Athens, Dec. 7, 2010. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

NL: Yes, I do. In my opinion, joining these medieval memorandums, which have brought about this economic crisis that Greece is still experiencing, was beyond any doubt pre-planned and predetermined. This arises not only from Strauss-Kahn’s own admission that the IMF had been preparing every detail of this with Papandreou, it also arises for other reasons that subsequently became known — that Greece was chosen by the designers of the European Union to become the guinea pig for the implementation of harsh austerity and other forms of economic punishment, set up for all as an example to be avoided, in the context of a new EU economic policy for handling the member countries with fiscal problems.

Indeed, the policy of the memorandums gave the opportunity not only to the IMF to put a foot in Europe — until then its activities always were, with devastating consequences, limited to developing countries in Africa and Latin America — but also gave the opportunity to the French and German banks to get rid of their so-called toxic bonds, that were loaded onto the Greek people by turning a private debt into a state debt.

In order to achieve all of this, of course, they had to plant the appropriate person in ELSTAT at a time when certain statistical adjustments were required, in order to support their treacherous plan. Where did this lead eventually? To the bankruptcy of the Greek state.

 

MPN: Andreas Georgiou is no longer in Greece, despite the fact that various legal cases and judicial decisions are outstanding against him. Where does Georgiou find himself today and what is he presently involved with?

NL: He’s away, because he knows what he’s faced with, with trials and legal cases. Georgiou is currently in his comfortable villa in Maryland. He left Greece in the summer of 2015, one month before the end of his five-year term as ELSTAT chairman. Coincidentally, this was shortly after the call from the House of Parliament to testify before the examination committee that had been formed at that time to investigate the reasons for our accession to the first memorandum. He never came to the examination room, pretending to be in the hospital with “pneumonia.” Who on earth has ever heard of a pneumonia case in the middle of the Greek summer?

Anyway, immediately after his “discharge” from the hospital, he left for America. I repeat, one month before the end of his term and without requesting a renewal of the chairmanship position for another five years. He could have done that, but he didn’t, apparently having realized that he could not have avoided the imminent court hearing on the prosecutions for breach of duty and for the felony of inflating the deficit figures — which in the legal language is expressed as “felony of false certification at the expense of the state” together with the “aggravating order for public abusers,” a very impressive legal phrase. This is a legal category that leads to life imprisonment.

I presume that he’s engaged at this time in preparing his defense, through statements via his lawyers in Greece, while he remains absent, missing from every trial that has taken place regarding him.

 

MPN: A few months ago Georgiou was found guilty by the Greek justice system. What were the charges for which Georgiou was convicted and sentenced?

NL: There are two convictions Georgiou had this year. In March, in a criminal court, he was convicted for libel and for written defamation, and he was given one-year imprisonment with a three-year suspension. He appealed through his lawyers, but the Penal Court of Appeals condemned Georgiou again, giving him the same sentence.

Georgiou’s crime was that, in an official ELSTAT news release, he accused former ELSTAT board member Dr. Nicholas Stroblos of being a statistical swindler, obviously trying to divert guilt from himself for statistical fraud. I’m pointing out here that Dr. Stroblos is the former director of the national accounts department of ELSTAT, whom Georgiou illegally replaced with one of his now co-defendants. Consequently, Stroblos sued him in both criminal and civil courts and, apart from the one-year imprisonment imposed by the criminal court, the civil court fined Georgiou 10,000 euros for damages resulting from libel.

Georgiou’s most recent conviction is concerned with one of the three accusations included in the prosecution for breach of duty. The first accusation was related to the fact that he was in parallel for several months, from July to November 2010, as head of the statistical authority in Greece but also as an employee of the IMF, a duplication of employment explicitly prohibited by ELSTAT’s founding law 3832 of 2010. That law required him to work exclusively and with full employment in the ELSTAT board. Georgiou deluded the Greek parliament about his ongoing post with the IMF — and note that the IMF is one of the lenders of Greece — while at the same time he had accepted the post as president of ELSTAT’s board. He would not have been selected as ELSTAT president, not even as a simple member of the board, had the parliament known about his double post.

The second accusation concerned the fact that Georgiou did not convene the ELSTAT board for a whole year, violating the law that required meetings at least once a month.

The third accusation, and the most important of all three, concerned the fact that the decision to endorse the revised figures for 2009’s deficit was taken only by Georgiou, without the agreement of the other members of the board — which had been selected, I remind you, and approved exactly for this purpose by the conference of the parliamentary presidents with a majority of four-fifths. For this accusation, he was convicted in the context of breach of duty, and this had to do with the publication of deficit figures without our approval, as required by law. Georgiou appealed this conviction to the Supreme Court, and we are waiting to see what the Supreme Court will decide.

Georgiou was acquitted on the charge that he did not timely convene the ELSTAT board, although this is intimately interconnected with the non-convening of the board for the approval of the data, for which he was convicted. So we ended up with a paradoxical situation here. He was also acquitted of the charge that while he was a member of the IMF — that is to say, a servant of the lender — he was also chairman of ELSTAT — that is, a servant of the borrower — something that is inconceivable worldwide and yet happened in today’s occupied and economically enslaved Greece.

Naturally, the people who were present in the courtroom were annoyed and protested these acquittals, but when they heard the announcement of his conviction on the third charge they were relieved, of course, and for this charge he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with a three year suspension — without being granted, of course, any mitigation.

I, together with fellow whistleblower and former ELSTAT board member Zoe Georganta, filed an objection against the court judgment for the two accusations for which he was acquitted, and we expect a Supreme Court decision as to whether or not Georgiou will go to a new trial for these new accusations. At the moment, the two acquittals cannot be considered irrevocable. But it is true that the most important accusation, for which Georgiou desperately wanted to be acquitted, was the one for which he got convicted.

Indeed, the fact that Georgiou published the inflated elements of the deficit without approval by the ELSTAT board not only proves his guilt of the second accusation, of not convening the board as he should have, but it also implies a deception, because he knew that his swollen deficit figures would never be accepted by a majority of the board members. He further recognized that such a disagreement would sooner or later become public and reveal the irregularities he used with the help of Eurostat itself. Such a revelation would result in the failure of the plan to legitimize the first memorandum and thence to impose onerous austerity measures on Greece. That was not acceptable by the initiators of this plan, who I believe had to use Georgiou and instructed him to silence the rest of the ELSTAT board.

 

MPN: Following the guilty verdicts against Georgiou this past spring, a barrage of positive coverage and PR in favor of Georgiou appeared in the Greek and international media — including Bloomberg, the Washington Post and Politico. We also heard numerous statements of support from major political figures in Greece, the European Union, and elsewhere. These statements criticized the supposed lack of independence of the Greek justice system in the verdicts against Georgiou. How would you describe or characterize Georgiou’s network of support within and outside of Greece, and these arguments made in his favor?

NL: Yes, indeed, various statements have been heard and continue to be heard in support of Georgiou, trying to sanctify him, to elevate him as a serious personality and as an honest scientist. All this in order to justify everything he did illegally as ELSTAT president. All that has been said rests on myths that have been circulated by the domestic and foreign supporters of Georgiou, who are desperate that the case not be brought to the court of justice — the major case of the inflation of the deficit figures.

But this also proves their own guilt in the matter. If they really believe that Georgiou is innocent and that we are the slanderers and the liars, why don’t they let Greek justice do its job and prove his presumed innocence in a court hearing? I would even expect Georgiou himself to be the first to grab this opportunity to be redeemed. This furious effort of all his supporters to prevent the case from being brought to trial reveals their panic as well as their guilt, because they know very well that in the forthcoming court hearing all the evidence will be revealed proving that Greece has suffered the greatest national betrayal since the time of the Thermopylae treason, 2500 years ago, when Efialtes betrayed the Greek army which was fighting the Persian invasion.

The participation of all those major political figures in Greece and the European Union in the betrayal perpetrated by Georgiou will also be revealed. Indeed, the core of this support network includes first and foremost Eurostat, whose senior staff advised Georgiou on how to inflate the 2009 deficit and also how to change ELSTAT’s founding laws in order to neutralize the rest of the board.

Imagine therefore what impact Georgiou’s conviction would have on Eurostat’s image! Eurostat’s political chief is the European Commission, Brussels — that is, one-third of the troika — with all that implies, of course, for many high-ranking political figures in the European Union and beyond. So one can clearly understand why high-level managers from Eurostat and major political figures from the EU itself are continuing to build a wall of protection and support for Georgiou — in the hope that the government and the Supreme Court of Greece will believe all these myths they are promoting.


Greece’s Statistics agency employees walk past the logo of the agency in Piraeus, near Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

The first myth is that in recent years Georgiou was acquitted many times but the persecution against him continues. That’s what they say. The supporters of Georgiou claim again and again that Georgiou was acquitted, but it’s not true. The acquittal may occur only after the irrevocable final judgment in a court trial, or after an exonerating court order is accepted by the Supreme Court. As appeals against all rulings in Georgiou’s case have been filed with the Supreme Court, he has not been acquitted irrevocably for any charges brought against him.

On the contrary, he has had an irrevocable conviction for defamation, as I said before, and a conviction for one of the three accusations for breach of duty — regarding which the Supreme Court decision is awaited, whether or not it will become irrevocable. But the other two accusations for breach of duty for which he has been acquitted, as I have already said, for these we have filed a complaint and they cannot, therefore, be considered irrevocable or a final acquittal. So it’s in keeping with due process that the prosecutions against him still continue.

The second myth goes as follows: Georgiou took over the presidency of ELSTAT after the first memorandum. He cannot, therefore, be regarded responsible for the memorandum and the economic crisis that followed. Well indeed, when Georgiou took action in ELSTAT, we were already under the first memorandum. If you remember, our entry into the first memorandum was announced by George Papandreou in his speech made on the Greek island of Kasterllorizo in April 2010, and the reason for this was allegedly the high level of the 2009 deficit, which was put by Papandreou at 13.6% of GDP. That’s equivalent to about 30 billion euros.

However, it was not the actual deficit, but the prediction by Papandreou of what it would be after all relevant calculations took place. Papandreou did not have the right to take such an important decision, one that would affect Greek society so much, based only on a prediction that had not even been approved by the Court of Auditors. We would be the ones, as ELSTAT’s management board, to supervise the calculations of the actual deficit, to approve it and publish it in October 2010, six months later.

Actually, if we had been given the opportunity to do that and found these deficit figures to be less than 10%, we would have been able to denounce the first memorandum and cancel it! And of course, the rest of the memorandums that followed. But obviously, this would not be something that the designers of the first memorandum wished to happen, and so the appropriate person must be found who, with specific statistical adjustments, could make the deficit of 2009 “confirm” the “validity” of Papandreou’s deficit “forecast” in April 2010, and fully justify our entry into the first memorandum. This is what they wanted.

Furthermore, in order to avoid any controversies with the rest of the board that could endanger their plan, it was decided to neutralize not only the dissidents on the board but the whole of ELSTAT’s board. As a result of all these unlawful actions, the first memorandum was legitimized — and the door opened for the second and worst memorandum and obviously the rest of the memorandums that have followed, and for the austerity measures that have been imposed since then. Therefore, it’s perhaps wrong to say that the first memorandums was due to Georgiou. It’s more appropriate to say that all memorandums and their related medieval austerity measures that we still have on our backs are actually due to Georgiou!

The third myth: since Eurostat has approved Georgiou’s practices and figures, they must be right, they must be correct. But would it have been possible for Eurostat not to approve these statistics, provided by Georgiou, and the methods of administration that he was using? It was Eurostat’s director himself, Walter Radermacher, who gave orders to Georgiou as to what data to add to the deficit. Correspondence has been revealed, from Radermacher to Georgiou, that shows how to add this amount of debt that was incurred by the Simitis swaps, how to add it into four years’ deficits until 2009 — prior to the expiry date, as we previously explained, and although no European regulation existed at the time that would allow this.

Also, it was the permanent representative of Eurostat at ELSTAT, Hallgrimur Snorrason, who — with the assistance of Eurostat’s legal adviser, Per Samuelson — advised Georgiou on how to change ELSTAT’s founding law in order to transform ELSTAT into one-man authority. It’s hardly surprising therefore that Eurostat approved the practices and the deficit figures of Georgiou. Of course, that does not mean that they were correct.

The final myth that I want to mention is that his proponents are saying Georgiou applied all proper European regulations. On the contrary, most European regulations and Eurostat’s own criteria for the deficit and debt calculations were violated by Georgiou and his advisers from Eurostat, in order to justify the unjustifiable integration of deficits of many public utilities into the 2009 deficit — a decision that would require a thorough study of several months for each public utility. You can’t just decide to include the deficit of a utility in the public debt; you need a thorough study, for several months, six months. So what kind of European regulations did Georgiou actually apply, I wonder? No one knows.

 

MPN: What is plainly evident is that there is a very extensive and very powerful network of support for the likes of Andreas Georgiou, a network that includes powerful media voices, major politicians and political figures, major centers of power and influence and decision-making. How can such a powerful and seemingly unified network of political and media forces even be countered by the Greek people?

NL: Indeed, Georgiou’s support network, composed of high-ranking political figures — domestic and foreign — is powerful. But no matter how much influence this network can have on political affairs in Greece, I think that it is not in a position to influence the Greek justice system, which I consider impartial. The fact that the case has reached up to the level of the Supreme Court, which so far has justified many of our objections and appeals against Georgiou, gives us hope that ultimately the systemic power network that exists supporting Georgiou can be successfully dealt with.

At the end of the day, our justice system, perhaps the only irreproachable institution in our country, seems to have borne the burden of this matter. I believe that the truth will soon be revealed, no matter how many powerful political and media forces try to force an acquittal of Georgiou.

 

MPN: What are the judicial cases still outstanding regarding the ELSTAT case and Andreas Georgiou? What are the charges which Georgiou is still facing? And what is your expectation regarding the outcome of these cases?

NL: Most importantly, the cases of the false inflation of data and of the breach of duty by Georgiou, involve crimes of public document forgery and violation of ELSTAT’s founding law. As I have already said, Georgiou was convicted of one of the more important accusations related to the breach of duty — that of the publication of the 2009 deficit figures without the approval of the ELSTAT board. He has been acquitted on the other two charges — the duplication of his appointment in the IMF and ELSTAT and the non-convening of the board — but we have appealed these two verdicts, and we hope that the Supreme Court will decide to repeat the trial for these two related charges.

If this affair is remanded back to the trial courts, we certainly expect Georgiou to be convicted, because the evidence we have against him is rock solid and undeniable. This is what Georgiou’s supporters know. That’s why they push as hard as they can to prevent the case from reaching the high court of justice.

 

MPN: In what way do you believe the verdicts that will be reached by the Greek justice system concerning the ELSTAT and Georgiou cases impact the future of Greece, particularly with regard to the austerity policies and memorandums that are being imposed and the non-serviceable public debt of Greece?

NL: I agree with you that Greek debt is non-serviceable. Even if we get away from the memorandums, we don’t get away from the related loan agreements, and we will continue to be under supervision by the EU until we pay 75% of our debt, something impossible for the next 60 years!

If, however, as we hope, there is an irrevocable conviction of Georgiou for the act of inflating the deficit figures, this will prove that all these medieval memorandums were imposed on the basis of false figures — which gives Greece the right to claim compensation from the European Union for the damage we suffered in the last seven years of the financial crisis.

Article 340 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union gives us the right to claim this compensation, and we have even estimated the financial loss since Georgiou set foot in Greece, a cost that may well exceed 210 billion euros. A compensation of this magnitude would certainly overturn the disgraceful economic situation we are experiencing today. However, I emphasize again that a necessary condition is an irrevocable conviction of Georgiou regarding the felony of inflating the deficit figures.

And what about these instigators who used Georgiou to carry out their treacherous plans? Even Grigoris Peponis — the impeccable investigator who proposed the criminal prosecution of Georgiou in the first place — has suggested that the possible existence of certain instigators within the Greek and European political systems, who directed Georgiou on what to do, has to be taken into consideration. These are the ones who do not want the case to reach an open court hearing — the ones who are so desperate for the acquittal of Georgiou as early as possible, in order to cover their own involvement in the above crime, because they’re well aware that we have evidence of their unlawful intervention in inflating the deficit and also in transforming ELSTAT from an independent authority into one-man authority.

If the Supreme Court sends Georgiou to trial in the high court of justice, all his supporters know that this will mean a likely conviction for him. The support network will then collapse, and they will find themselves accused for their betrayal of their homeland and crimes against its citizens. Our country will then pass from an underprivileged position of a beggar, to the strong position of a challenger, on the basis of specific articles of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union itself.


Protesters hold a banner during a rally in Athens, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

As far as we are concerned, we do not really care about the strict or non-strict punishment of Georgiou, who is now a pensioner of the IMF. What interests us is to prove his guilt and thereby to remove the injustice that has been committed against Greece through the false inflation of the public debt and deficit of 2009, and also prove the criminal involvement of the European Commission and Eurostat. This will only be done when the case is referred to an open court hearing, in which Eurostat and Georgiou will have to be present, in order to testify under oath whether or not they have falsely inflated the statistical figures of Greece, and the reasons for doing so.

I do not know when and if this will happen, and how many battles we have to give from now on in order to achieve this. Some tell us that there’s no point in continuing to fight, as it seems that with such a front of support for Georgiou by strong decision-making centers, the battle has already been won against us. We reply by saying that if we stop fighting, there will simply be no other battle — something we don’t want, because let’s not forget what Bertolt Brecht said once: “He who fights, can lose. He who doesn’t fight, has already lost.”

 

MPN: Looking at the situation in Greece today and the economic claims that are being made by the Greek government — that the country has returned to economic growth, that Greece has turned a corner — do you believe that the Greek statistical figures today are credible, or are they perhaps still being manipulated?

NL: Unfortunately, the statistical figures have already been exploited by any government in power so far in Greece. We have seen this happen with the alchemies of swaps in order to get into the Eurozone. By the way, I wish that we had never gotten into the Eurozone in the first place! Our economy was not in a position to handle such a strong and competitive currency. We saw another exploitation of the statistical figures, of the deficit, this time. They became the reason for an economic crisis of the past seven years.

I cannot say what is happening these days with the statistical figures, as I am not in ELSTAT. But we will find out sooner or later what is happening. The truth always comes out for any case of mishandling of statistical figures. We’ve seen this happen. But unfortunately, as long as there is no reliable team to correctly manage the handling of the statistical data in the Greek Statistical Authority, I’m afraid we should again expect irregularities and alchemies of the data.

 

 

Nov 232017
 
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Nicolas de Staël Mer du nord 1954

 

Punxsutawney Phil Hammond, the UK chancellor, presented his Budget yesterday and declared five more years of austerity for Britain. As was to be expected. One doesn’t even have to go into the details of the Budget to understand that it is a dead end street for both the country and for Theresa May’s Tory party.

So why the persistent focus on austerity while it becomes clearer every day that it is suffocating the British economy? There are many answers to that. Sheer incompetence is a major one, a lack of empathy with the poorer another. Conservative Britain is a class society full of people who dream of empire, and deem their class a higher form of life than those who work low-paid jobs.

When you see that the British Parliament has even voted that animals don’t feel pain or emotions, you’d be tempted to think it’s a throwback all the way back to the Middle Ages, not just the British Empire. They’re as lost in time as Bill Murray is in Groundhog Day. Only worse.

But perhaps incompetence is the big one here. The inability to understand that if your economy is not doing well, you need to stimulate it, not drain even more of what’s left out of it. The people in government don’t understand economics, and therefore rely on economic theory for guidance. And the prevailing theories of the day prescribe bloodletting as the cure, so they bloodlet (let blood?). Let it bleed.

This is not a British problem, it’s pan-European if not global. Neither is the UK Tory party the only one being killed by it, all Conservative parties share that faith. They’re just lucky that their left wing opponents have all committed hara kiri, and joined their ranks when it comes to economics. All of Europe’s poorer have lost the voices that were supposed to speak for them, to economic incompetence.

Obviously, the US democrats did their own hara kiri years ago. One might label -some of- Bernie Sanders’ views left-wing, but he’s trapped in a system that won’t let him breathe.

 

All of this leads me to question the following:

A letter in the Guardian published on Sunday called on Chancellor Philip Hammond, ahead of his budget presentation on Wednesday, to end austerity in the UK. It is signed by 113 people, a veritable who’s who from the academic field, one -economics- professor after another. They include people like Joe Stiglitz, Steve Keen, Dave Graeber.

Looking at the letter itself, and then the entire list, makes me wonder: I’m sure you all mean well, guys, but I think perhaps you should first of all ask yourselves how it is possible that such a large group of well-educated ladies and gentlemen has become so utterly sidelined over time when it comes to major economic decisions, has allowed itself to be sidelined.

It’s one thing to ask what someone else is doing wrong, it’s another to ask yourself what you have done wrong. My question to y’all would be: where were you? Shouldn’t you have written and/or signed this letter 7 years ago, or 5, even just 3? Isn’t calling on the Chancellor to ‘end austerity now’ a bit late in the game?

Is it even the right call, or should you maybe be calling for him to simply resign (along with the entire cabinet)? After all, what are the odds that the Tories are going to turn on a dime and reverse their entire economic policies? They would look stupid, and they will avoid that like the plague. Here’s that letter:

 

The Chancellor Must End Austerity Now – It Is Punishing An Entire Generation

Seven years of austerity has destroyed lives. An estimated 30,000 excess deaths can be linked to cuts in NHS spending and the social care crisis in 2015 alone. The number of food parcels given to impoverished Britons has grown from tens of thousands in 2010 to over a million. Children are suffering from real-terms spending cuts in up to 88% of schools. The public sector pay cap has meant that millions of workers are struggling to make ends meet. Alongside the mounting human costs, austerity has hurt our economy.

The UK has experienced its weakest recovery on record and suffers from poor levels of investment, leading to low productivity and falling wages. This government has missed every one of its own debt reduction targets because austerity simply doesn’t work. The case for cuts has been grounded in ideology and untruths. We’ve been told public debt is the outcome of overspending on public services rather than bailing out the banks. We’ve been told that while the government can find money for the DUP, we cannot afford investment in public services and infrastructure.

We’ve been told that unless we “tighten our belts” we’ll saddle future generations with debt – but it’s the onslaught of cuts that is punishing an entire generation. Given the unprecedented economic uncertainty posed by Brexit negotiations and the private sector’s failure to invest, we cannot risk exacerbating an already anaemic recovery with further public spending cuts. We’ve reached a dangerous tipping point. Austerity has failed the British people and the British economy. We demand the chancellor ends austerity now.

If you ask me, Britain reached that ‘dangerous tipping point’ years ago. And talking about ‘an anaemic recovery’ sounds like total nonsense. There is no recovery, as you yourselves make clear with the examples you provide of the consequences of austerity. So why say it?

I don’t know if we can blame individual economists for missing out on the effects of political measures, although when those measures affect economics, we probably should. But regardless, the big game in town these days is politics, not economics. Everywhere there are ‘leaders’ fighting for survival, and it’s telling that Donald Trump is not nearly the most besieged among them.

That Theresa May is still PM of the UK is as surprising as it is ridiculous. But it also points to the lack of coherence and timing among her opponents, including those 113 academics. That once May goes, which could be soon, the Tories get to pick yet another one of their own as PM, is even more ridiculous. To top off the absurdity, the next in line could be Boris Johnson.

A country that finds itself in a quandary as immense as the UK faces post-Brexit vote, should not let one party that had a mere 42% of the vote, run all the plans, decisions and negotiations, be they domestic and/or international. There is no surer way for disaster to ensue. It’s the system itself that fails if that possibility exists, more than that one party.

The UK needs, more than anything, a national government (or something in that vein), an option in which at least a majority of the population is represented. That is much more important than some call for some policy to be halted.

Moreover, everyone should see this in the light of international political developments as a whole. What’s happening in Albion is not an isolated event, and it doesn’t happen under the influence of isolated forces or developments. What happened overnight on Sunday with the failure of Angela Merkel’s attempt to form a German coalition government makes that more obvious than ever.

Traditional political parties, left and right, have been swept out of power all over Europe. Germany is just one more example. The process doesn’t have the same shape, or the same speed, everywhere. But it’s real. It’s due to a mixture of rising inequality, deteriorating economic conditions and no left left to represent the people, the victims, at the bottom of societies. Well, and there’s the incessant lies about economic recovery.

But let’s take a little detour first. Just in order to illustrate the point even more. The Guardian ran a piece, also on Sunday, on newly minted French President Emmanuel Macron and his government and party, that is pretty hilarious.

 

New Head Of Macron’s Party Vows To Recapture Its Grassroots ‘Soul’

A fiercely loyal, self-styled “man of the people” has been appointed to lead Emmanuel Macron’s fledgling political movement, La République En Marche (The Republic on the Move, or La REM), promising to recapture the party’s“soul” after a hiatus since the recent election win. Christophe Castaner, 51, a burly member of parliament with a southern accent, styles himself as both in touch with everyday voters and devoted to Macron’s well-oiled communications machine. He was handpicked by the French president to take over the running of La REM.

Castaner, currently a minister and government spokesman, was a Socialist mayor of a picturesque small town in Provence for more than a decade before becoming one of the first politicians to jump ship to Macron’s centrist project in its early days. He grew up in a military family in the south of France, left school before his final exams – which he retook as an adult – and has a reputation for straight-talking. At La REM’s first party congress in Lyon this weekend, Castaner was the lone candidate for the role of party director.

He was picked by Macron at a presidential palace dinner, then confirmed by a group of party members with a show of hands rather than a secret ballot, sparking criticism from the media and political observers about undemocratic internal party practices. A small group of 100 party followers went public last week with an open resignation letter, claiming the party had no internal democracy. Others, including La REM members of parliament, responded that Castaner was “the obvious choice”.

Macron founded his own movement because he saw an opening to defeat all traditional French parties. He won the presidential elections, and only after that organized the movement into an actual political party ahead of parliamentary elections. I’d still like to see someone explain who paid for the campaigns of hundreds of candidate parliamentarians. It’s a mystery. France’s banking and business sector?

Macron has set an example for many people in other countries, provided they can unravel that mystery, of how they, too, can defeat incumbents and other long time power blocks. There are two countries where such tactics have until now not seemed possible: the UK and US. But that, too, will change.

In many other European countries, age-old blocks have already been beaten into submission. Even if many deep state powers in France et al have merely shifted allegiances. As their peers elsewhere will. But that’s just the way things are. It doesn’t negate the huge shifts in politics. Voters all over feel they’ve been had for too long. It’s all part of a tectonic shift. Deteriorating economic conditions will do that for you.

What makes the article on Macron et al so entertaining is the mention of the promise to “..recapture the party’s grassroots “soul”. A political party that’s barely a year old does not have grassroots, let alone a soul. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not thinking. And that is a good thing to keep in mind, because Macron’s example – and success- will inspire similar initiatives in many places, and similar nonsensical narratives.

 

Ironically, if that’s the right word, the world -or at least the EU- is now Macron’s oyster. Angela Merkel has shown her weaknesses, and she has blinked first, in her failed attempt to form a new cabinet, and she will not recover from that, not with anything remotely like her past clout. Maybe -more than- 12 years as head of state is not such a good idea.

While Macron is a blank sheet without a soul or grassroots, Merkel and her CDU party possess both in spades. It’s just that in today’s world these things tend to easily turn against you. You’re better off without a past that you can be blamed for. Macron has no past. And no soul.

Merkel leaves an enormous void both in Germany and in Europe (even globally). And it’s one thing for her to have become too powerful at home, but it’s quite another for the same to have been allowed on the entire continent. Germany, under any leadership, will remain the only power in Europe that matters, no matter what grand plans Macron devises. And that is the EU’s fatal flaw. If you have 27-28 sovereign countries and you try to order them around all the time, you have a problem on your hands.

 

There is an inherent contradiction in being both the leader of political union’s strongest country and -simultaneously- of the union as a whole, and Merkel has bitterly failed in addressing, let alone solving, that contradiction. Merkel didn’t create it, true enough, but because she is/was the boss, it is her responsibility to address it. Even if it’s ultimately unsolvable.

In the present setting, any German leader, Angela or someone else, will be voted in by Germans, and focus on their interests, to hold on to these votes. But German interests are not always the same as those of other countries. That means Germany will always come out on top, and more so as time passes. Ever more wealth will flow to Berlin. That’s the fatal flaw, and at present there’s no way out of it.

With Merkel weakened, or soon even gone, lots of voices will speak up across Europe for their countries’ sovereignty, and the attack on them from Brussels. We already have Poland, Czechia and Hungary. Expect a lot more noise from Italy in the run-up to its elections. The power balance that Merkel held together is gone for good.

Yes, her refugee policy backfired, which is no surprise given that she decided on it like some empress. But what may be more important is that her traditional opponent, the left wing SPD, was not only her coalition partner, but it has no ideas that are notably different from her conservatives, and its new head is the former head of the European Parliament.

Where does one turn as a German who doesn’t want all that more EU all the time? Either far left or far right. Everything else has become a homogenous blob, all across Europe. And all of that blob is in favor of imposing ever more austerity on the most unlucky in their societies, because bloodletting is the most advanced treatment they know of.

 

It’s not even so much the financial crisis that has caused a political crisis in Europe, it’s the answers to it, the incompetence. Greece is a far worse-off victim of austerity than Britain is, and Yanis Varoufakis has described very well why that is: an absolute stonewalling refusal to talk about any alternatives to bloodletting. Because austerity is an ideology bordering on religion, executed by people who care much more about their own careers than they do about their people.

Greece is beyond salvation, its economy has been so thoroughly destroyed it will take decades to recover, if it ever can. Britain is set to follow the Greek example. The blame for that will be put on Brexit, not disastrous economic ‘policies’. In the same way that the Greek crisis was blamed on the Greeks, not the German and French banks that treated the country like an overleveraged game of Texas Hold ’em.

After Merkel Europe will fall victim to a vast power vacuum. In effect, today’s already ‘After Merkel’, even if it will take people a while to understand that. The EU is unraveling, and the blame goes to austerity and its incompetent priests. Including Angela. The bloodletters destroy their own economies, and they don’t understand that either.

Merkel hasn’t just demolished Greece, she has, in doing that, fatally undermined the foundations of the EU as well. And Germany. Look, ‘Mutti’ Merkel invited a million refugees to her country, and now refuses to let hundreds of war-traumatized children stuck on Greek islands join their parents in Germany, because she fears it could cost her votes. Talk about priorities. Theresa May does the same as we speak.

There’s a price to be paid for incompetence. It’s a shame that Merkel and Theresa May and Punxsutawney Phil Hammond won’t be the ones paying -the worst of- it.

 

 

Nov 232017
 
 November 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Roger Viollet Great Paris Flood, Avenue Daumesnil 1910

 

Fed Fears New Record High Credit Bubble – Danielle DiMartino Booth (USAW)
Global Debt Is Rising, Especially in Emerging Economies (St. Louis Fed)
Pressure on US Households Intensifies (DDMB)
Zombie Firms Roam Europe Because Banks Help Keep Them Undead
China Is Pumping A Lot Of Cash Into Its Economy To Calm Investors (CNBC)
Chinese Investors Eye Leverage to Juice U.S. CLO Returns (BBG)
China’s $3.4 Trillion Corporate Bond Market Faces Rocky 2018 (BBG)
Worst Growth In Decades Pushes UK To Inject £25bn Into Economy (Ind.)
Budget Shows Tories Are Unfit For Office – Corbyn (G.)
Facebook To Let Users See If They ‘Liked’ Russian Accounts (R.)
Putin Tell Russian Firms To Be Ready For War Production (Ind.)
PNG Police Move In On Closed Australia Refugee Camp On Manus (AFP)
Night Being Lost To Artificial Light (BBC)

 

 

“I don’t think any of us know what the implications are for a $50 trillion debt build since the great financial crisis (of 2008). It is impossible to say. We have never dealt with anything of this magnitude.”

Fed Fears New Record High Credit Bubble – Danielle DiMartino Booth (USAW)

Former Federal Reserve insider Danielle DiMartino Booth says the record high stock and bond prices make the Fed nervous because it’s fearful of popping this record high credit bubble. DiMartino Booth says, “The Fed’s biggest fear is they know darn well this much credit has built up in the background, and the ramifications of the un-wind for what has happened since the great financial crisis is even greater than what happened in 2008 and 2009. It’s global and pretty viral. So, the Fed has good reason to be fearful of what’s going to happen when the baby boomer generation and the pension funds in this country take a third body blow since 2000, and that’s why they are so very, very intimidated by the financial markets and so fearful of a correction.”

Why will the Fed not allow even a small correction in the markets? DiMartino Booth says, “Look back to last year when Deutsche Bank took the markets to DEFCON 1. Maybe you were paying attention and maybe you weren’t, but it certainly got the German government’s attention. They said the checkbook is open, and we will do whatever we need to do because we can’t quantify what will happen when a major bank gets into a distressed situation. I think what central banks worldwide fear is that there has been such a magnificent re-blowing of the credit bubble since 2007 and 2008 that they can’t tell you where the contagion is going to be. So, they have this great fear of a 2% or 3% or 10% (correction) and do not know what the daisy chain is going to look like and where the contagion is going to land.

It could be the Chinese bond market. It could be Italian insolvent banks or it might be Deutsche Bank, or whether it might be small or midsize U.S. commercial lenders. They can’t tell you where the systemic risk lies, and that’s where their fear is. This credit bubble is of their making.” In short, the Fed does not know what is going to happen, and according to DiMartino Booth, nobody does. DiMartino Booth contends, “I don’t think any of us know what the implications are for a $50 trillion debt build since the great financial crisis (of 2008). It is impossible to say. We have never dealt with anything of this magnitude.”

“2017 is the record for quantitative easing (money printing) globally. We have never, not even in the darkest days of the financial crisis, central banks have never injected as much money as they have into the markets. . . . I am not a gold bug, but we do know that in times of corrections that there is no place to hide in traditional asset classes that you can get at your Merrill Lynch brokerage. Gold and silver in the precious metals complex are the only places to hide and get true diversification and safety.”

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They do know what’s going on.

Global Debt Is Rising, Especially in Emerging Economies (St. Louis Fed)

The world has become used to cheap credit. And the increase in borrowing by emerging economies could pose a risk as monetary policy normalizes. In response to the most recent recession, central banks around the world decreased their main policy rates to almost zero, as seen in the figure below.

[..] The downward trend in short-term and long-term interest rates has made borrowing cheaper over time. As a result, global debt has increased substantially since 2007. According to Bank for International Settlements (BIS) data, total debt of the nonfinancial sector (that is, households, government and nonfinancial corporations) amounted to $145 trillion in the first quarter of 2017, an increase of 40% since the first quarter of 2007. Most of this increase has been driven by an increase in total debt in emerging economies, especially in China, as seen in the following figure.

Furthermore, emerging economies have borrowed heavily in foreign currency, mainly in U.S. dollars, shown in the figure below.

According to the BIS, total dollar-denominated debt outside the U.S. reached $10.7 trillion in the first quarter of 2017, and about a third of this debt is owed by the nonfinancial sector of emerging economies. Analysts have stressed that the rapid accumulation of debt in emerging economies could pose risks for the global economy in the presence of U.S. monetary policy normalization. Market expectations of a rapid increase in the policy rate and the reduction of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet could lead to higher borrowing costs and an appreciation of the U.S. dollar. This, in turn, would increase the cost of refinancing debt in emerging economies. If these risks materialized, there could be an increase in the demand for safe assets, particularly U.S. Treasuries. This would lead to a decrease in long-term rates. In times of monetary normalization, the yield curve would flatten, and banks profitability could be eroded.

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After the storms…

Pressure on US Households Intensifies (DDMB)

The full effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are rapidly showing up in the data. In September, according to Black Knight, the number of mortgages either past due or in foreclosure rose by 214,000, or 9%, compared with August. At 5.1%, the combined rate is far off the previous month’s 4.7% and the most recent low of 4.5% recorded in March 2007. October’s numbers have brought the picture more clearly into focus. More than 229,000 past-due mortgages are tied to the storms. Hurricane Irma accounted for 163,000 and Harvey, 66,000. To place the damage to households in context, before the storms, Florida and Texas ranked 22nd and 20th among non-current mortgage states. As of October, Florida has risen to second place and Texas is in fifth place.

The economy has also enjoyed a rush of car sales as sufficiently-collateralized and insured drivers immediately replaced vehicles destroyed by the storms. According to the latest retail data, car sales slowed to a 0.7% growth rate in October, far below September’s blistering 4.6-percent pace. Nonetheless, the next development could be a further deterioration in auto delinquencies attributed to storm victims. The most recent third-quarter data from the New York Fed suggest struggling households continue to buckle under the strains of their monthly payments. The delinquency rate for subprime loans originated by auto-finance companies, as opposed to banks, hit 9.7% in the three months ended in September.

With one in four auto loans outstanding going to subprime borrowers, the rate has been rising since 2013 and is at a seven-year high. What’s most notable is that these delinquency rates are being recorded outside recession, all but ensuring 2009’s peak of 10.9% will be breached in the next downturn. And while credit-card delinquencies are nowhere near their crisis-era double-digit peaks, the New York Fed noted that serious delinquencies have been on the rise for one year. The serious delinquency rate hit 4.6% in the third quarter, up from 4.4% the prior quarter. Adjusted for inflation, the growth of U.S. credit-card spending has outpaced that of incomes for 26 straight months.

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Anyone shorting Italy for real yet?

Zombie Firms Roam Europe Because Banks Help Keep Them Undead

So-called zombie firms – companies that would be out of business or painfully restructured in a competitive economy – have become a key issue for policy makers grappling with sluggish productivity growth in developed economies. The fear is that those “zombies” are sucking up capital that could otherwise go to more productive firms. A new study by the OECD helps explaining how banks favor the spread of zombie firms. It shows that weak companies tend to be connected to weak banks which prefer to roll over or restructure bad loans rather than declaring them delinquent and writing them off. The OECD’s research by Dan Andrews and Filippos Petroulakis lends new urgency to the ECB’s efforts to slash non-performing loans in the region.

Supervisors have asked for detailed plans of how NPLs will be cut and are mulling requiring banks to set aside more capital for soured loans. “In order to facilitate the unwinding of the zombie problem, it is essential that bank balance sheets are strong, underlining the need for fast recapitalizations after crises and other measures to reduce NPLs,” write the authors. “The zombie firm problem in Europe may at least partly stem from bank forbearance.” Weak productivity matters in an ageing continent like Europe, where a shrinking working population is expected to support an ever increasing number of retirees. This can’t happen unless technology and education make it possible to squeeze more and more output from labor and capital.

The OECD has been investigating the impact of living-dead companies for years. It argues that zombification leads to capital misallocation, as weak banks tend to steer less capital to healthier and more productive firms. This in turn leads to low productivity and returns, making it more difficult to get credit even for innovative companies. Andrews and Petroulakis also say that, in addition to forcing banks to work down their NPLs and bolster capital, efficient laws on insolvency are needed. It is not a coincidence that Italy – the European country with the largest NPL problem – overhauled its bankruptcy rules last month to make them quicker and more efficient.

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Mr. Xi, sir, it’s time to be careful.

China Is Pumping A Lot Of Cash Into Its Economy To Calm Investors (CNBC)

China has been pumping a lot of cash into its system to lift market sentiment, as the world’s second-largest economy walks a thin line between curbing debt and keeping everything running smoothly. Last week, the People’s Bank of China injected cash totaling 810 billion Chinese yuan ($122.4 billion) in five straight days of daily liquidity management operations. Those actions, which represented the largest weekly net increase since January, were in part a Beijing response to its 10-year sovereign bond yields spiking to multiyear highs, experts said. “Surging Chinese government bond yields hit the nerve of policymakers, so in order to further prevent a greater surge, they injected liquidity into the system to improve market sentiment,” said Ken Cheung, a foreign exchange strategist at Mizuho Bank who focuses on Chinese currencies and monetary policies.

Nomura analysts said last week in a note that the bond rout was due to fears of regulatory tightening from Beijing. Bond yields, which move inversely to prices, briefly hit 4% in China for the first time in three years. A rise in the benchmark government bond yield threatens to drive up overall borrowing costs — and potentially worsen the country’s debt situation. On Monday and Tuesday of this week, the PBOC injected a net 30 billion yuan ($4.5 billion), but it didn’t expand that money supply on Wednesday. Analysts said that pause may have been due to market sentiment seemingly stabilizing, but it may be short-lived. As Chinese 10-year yields are still near the psychologically important 4% level, Cheung told CNBC he expects more injections ahead if necessary, as Beijing needs to “maintain liquidity to please the market.”

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“It’s dangerous territory. Leveraging BB-rated bonds – is that a good idea?”

Chinese Investors Eye Leverage to Juice U.S. CLO Returns (BBG)

The last time Asian investors borrowed money to invest in structured-credit products – during the run-up to the financial crisis – it didn’t work out so well. Now, a new set of buyers from China are hoping things turn out differently. Instead of snapping up packages of risky derivatives tied to U.S. home loans, they’re buying collateralized loan obligations that bundle together corporate loans to highly leveraged companies. And while such CLOs weathered the last crisis relatively well, there’s already concern that these investors are being tempted to deploy leverage to amplify their returns. The problem is that even the riskiest pieces of CLOs can yield less than the 8 to 10% targets Chinese investors have grown accustomed to in their markets, according to Collin Chan, a CLO analyst at Bank of America Corp.

So CLOs, the junk-rated slices of which yield just 5.5 percentage points more than Libor, “may not be crazily attractive” to them, said Chan, whose team has trekked to China multiple times this year to pitch the products to investors there. On a recent trip to China, potential new investors expressed interest in the idea of applying leverage for the purchase of CLOs, even at the riskier BB level, Chan said. He estimates levered returns for the BB-rated CLO slice may be almost 20%. Leverage is employed using the repo financing market, where short-term loans allow investors to borrow money by lending securities. It’s the latest evidence of the search for yield that has engulfed credit markets and provided a significant boost for CLO sales this year. China and its many types of financial institutions now look like promising buyers for a product that in Asia has typically been bought by Japanese banks and Korean insurers.

“It wouldn’t be wise for the Chinese to use leverage at this stage,” said Asif Khan, head of CLO origination and distribution at MUFG. “It’s dangerous territory. Leveraging BB-rated bonds – is that a good idea? Any potential use of leverage by Chinese investors could pose potential risk in case of severe volatility.” [..] Chinese investors have yet to enter the CLO market en masse. However signs point to their growing participation. In some cases, investment banks and CLO managers have made as many as five trips to Asia this year, adding on special CLO-focused investor conferences in mainland China for the first time ever to raise the product’s profile. The demand to diversify into dollar assets has grown from a wide range of investors, despite Chinese-government capital controls limiting deployment of capital abroad.

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$3.4 trillion sounds low.

China’s $3.4 Trillion Corporate Bond Market Faces Rocky 2018 (BBG)

China’s deleveraging campaign is finally starting to bite in the nation’s corporate-bond market, a shift that will make 2018 a clearer test of policy makers’ appetites to let struggling companies fail. Yields on five-year top-rated local corporate notes have jumped about 33 basis points since the month began, to a three-year high of 5.3%, according to data compiled by clearing house ChinaBond. Government bonds, which have far greater liquidity, had already moved last month as the central bank warned further deleveraging was needed. With more than $1 trillion of local bonds maturing in 2018-19, it will become increasingly expensive for Chinese companies to roll over financing – and all the tougher for those in industries like coal that the nation’s leadership wants to shrink.

Two companies based in Inner Mongolia, a northern province that’s suffered from a debt-and-construction binge, missed bond payments on Tuesday, in a demonstration of the kind of pain that may come. In the long haul, that all may be good for China. Allowing more defaults could see its bond market become more like its overseas counterparts, with a greater differentiation in price. And that could mean it channels funds more productively. “The deleveraging campaign and the new rules on the asset management industry will further differentiate good and bad quality credits, and make the onshore credit market more efficient,” said Raymond Gui at Income Partners Asset Management. “Weaker companies will find it harder to roll over their debts because funding costs will stay high.” Gui predicts yields will keep climbing. The average for top-rated corporate bonds is already 2.2 percentage points above what investors demanded to hold them in October last year.

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More austerity.

Worst Growth In Decades Pushes UK To Inject £25bn Into Economy (Ind.)

Britain faces its worst period of economic growth in more than half a century after official data revealed a country hamstrung by feeble productivity and Brexit. Dismal figures released alongside Philip Hammond’s Budget led the Chancellor to announce a £25bn cash injection to strengthen the ailing economy. The major giveaway will see money head towards housebuilding, preparing Whitehall for Brexit, the NHS and boosting the tech sector. But despite the extra cash most government departments will still experience deep cuts over the next five years, as Mr Hammond struggles to get the public finances under control. Mr Hammond tried to put a positive sheen on progress towards reducing net debt and abolishing the deficit, but data suggested Britain would now fail to achieve a budget surplus before 2031.

Forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility indicated GDP would grow by 1.5% in 2017, down from the 2% forecast in March. The Government’s official financial auditor said growth would drop to 1.4% next year – as low as 1.3% in 2019 and 2020 – and then pick up to 1.5% in 2021 and 1.6% in 2022. The OBR said the main downward pressure on growth was a big fall in the UK’s projected productivity, intensifying public spending cuts and Brexit uncertainty. The body was established in 2010 by then-Chancellor George Osborne to end a system under which the Treasury produced its own economic growth estimates. The latest predictions are the gloomiest that the auditor has ever given, and they are also smaller than any produced by the Treasury since 1983. Institute for Fiscal Studies director Paul Johnson said the 1.4% average growth forecast over the period was “much worse than we have had over the last 60 or 70 years”.

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“.. the reality will be – a lot of people will be no better off. And the misery that many are in will be continuing.”

Budget Shows Tories Are Unfit For Office – Corbyn (G.)

In his response to the budget, Corbyn – it is the leader of the opposition who traditionally speaks rather than the shadow chancellor – said Hammond had completely failed to tackle a national crisis of stagnation and falling wages. “The test of a budget is how it affects the reality of people’s lives all around this country,” the Labour leader said. “And I believe as the days go ahead, and this budget unravels, the reality will be – a lot of people will be no better off. And the misery that many are in will be continuing.” Largely eschewing direct focus on Hammond’s specific announcements in favour of a broader critique of the government’s wider economic approach, Corbyn castigated Hammond for again missing deficit reduction targets, and for a continued spending squeeze on schools and the police.

Speaking about housing, Corbyn said rough sleeping had doubled since 2010, and that this Christmas 120,000 children would be living in temporary accommodation. “We need a large-scale publicly funded housebuilding programme, not this government’s accounting tricks and empty promises.” Summing up, he said: “We were promised a revolutionary budget. The reality is nothing has changed. People were looking for help from this budget. They have been let down. Let down by a government that, like the economy they’ve presided over, is weak and unstable and in need of urgent change. They call this budget ‘Fit for the Future’. The reality is this is a government no longer fit for office.”

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Mish commented on Twitter he’d be more interested in seeing which CIA propaganda sites he’d liked.

Question is: should we trust Facebook’s assessment of what is Russian and what not? I don’t think so.

Facebook To Let Users See If They ‘Liked’ Russian Accounts (R.)

Facebook said on Wednesday it would build a web page to allow users to see which Russian propaganda accounts they have liked or followed, after U.S. lawmakers demanded that the social network be more open about the reach of the accounts. U.S. lawmakers called the announcement a positive step. The web page, though, would fall short of their demands that Facebook individually notify users about Russian propaganda posts or ads they were exposed to. Facebook, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Twitter are facing a backlash after saying Russians used their services to anonymously spread divisive messages among Americans in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. elections. U.S. lawmakers have criticized the tech firms for not doing more to detect the alleged election meddling, which the Russian government denies involvement in.

Facebook says the propaganda came from the Internet Research Agency, a Russian organization that according to lawmakers and researchers employs hundreds of people to push pro-Kremlin content under phony social media accounts. As many as 126 million people could have been served posts on Facebook and 20 million on Instagram, the company says. Facebook has since deactivated the accounts. Facebook, in a statement, said it would let people see which pages or accounts they liked or followed between January 2015 and August 2017 that were affiliated with the Internet Research Agency. The tool will be available by the end of the year as “part of our ongoing effort to protect our platforms and the people who use them from bad actors who try to undermine our democracy,” Facebook said.

The web page will show only a list of accounts, not the posts or ads affiliated with them, according to a mock-up. U.S. lawmakers have separately published some posts. It was not clear if Facebook would eventually do more, such as sending individualized notifications to users.

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NATO is a real threat.

Putin Tell Russian Firms To Be Ready For War Production (Ind.)

Russian business should be prepared to switch to production to military needs at any time, said Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. The Russian president was speaking at a conference of military leaders in Sochi. “The ability of our economy to increase military production and services at a given time is one of the most important aspects of military security,” Mr Putin said. “To this end, all strategic, and simply large-scale enterprise should be ready, regardless of ownership.” A day earlier, the president had spoken of a need to catch up and overtake the West in military technology. “Our army and navy need to have the very best equipment — better than foreign equivalents,” he said. “If we want to win, we have to be better.”

Since the 2008 Georgian war, which was a difficult operation, the Russian military has undergone extensive modernisation. Ageing Soviet equipment has gone. There is a new testing regime. There are new command structures. The budget has also increased exponentially. This year, military expenses will cross 3 trillion roubles, or 3.3% of GDP. This would be a record were it not for one-off costs in 2016. Over the next two years, spending is forecast to be cut back slightly, to approximately 2.8% of GDP. Though that budget remains less than 30% of the combined Nato budget in Europe, many countries are increasing their military spending in response to the “Russian threat”. Nato military command has also been restructured — it says in response to Russian cyber and military threats.

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First thing that needs to happen is Australian media reporting on this. Then people must protest. New Zealand recently offered to take a whole group of these people, Australia declined. Many need medical treatment. Australia refuses.

PNG Police Move In On Closed Australia Refugee Camp On Manus (AFP)

Papua New Guinea police moved into the shuttered Australian refugee camp on the country’s Manus Island Thursday in the most aggressive push yet to force hundreds of men to leave, the Australian government and detainees said. The police operation was confirmed by Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who said Canberra was “very keen for people to move out of the Manus regional processing centre”. “I think it’s outrageous that people are still there,” he told Sydney commercial radio station 2GB. “We want people to move.” Iranian Behrouz Boochani tweeted from inside the camp earlier Thursday, writing that “police have started to break the shelters, water tanks and are saying ‘move, move'”.

“Navy soldiers are outside the prison camp. We are on high alert right now. We are under attack,” he said, adding that two refugees were in need of urgent medical treatment. Other refugees posted photos to social media sites showing police entering the camp, which Australia declared closed on October 31 after the PNG Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. [..] Australia had shut off electricity and water supplies to the camp and demanded that some 600 asylum-seekers detained there move to three nearby transition centres. Around 400 of the asylum-seekers have refused to leave, saying they fear for their safety in a local population which opposes their presence on the island. They also say the three transition centres are not fully operational, with a lack of security, sufficient water or electricity.

[..] Canberra has strongly rejected calls to move the refugees to Australia and instead has tried to resettle them in third countries, including the United States. But so far, just 54 refugees have been accepted by Washington, with 24 flown to America in September. Despite widespread criticism, Canberra has defended its offshore processing policy as stopping deaths at sea after a spate of drownings.

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Oh, the lights will go out eventually…

Night Being Lost To Artificial Light (BBC)

A study of pictures of Earth by night has revealed that artificial light is growing brighter and more extensive every year. Between 2012 and 2016, the planet’s artificially lit outdoor area grew by more than 2% per year. Scientists say a “loss of night” in many countries is having negative consequences for “flora, fauna, and human well-being”. A team published the findings in the journal Science Advances. Their study used data from a Nasa satellite radiometer – a device designed specifically to measure the brightness of night-time light. It showed that changes in brightness over time varied greatly by country. Some of the world’s “brightest nations”, such as the US and Spain, remained the same. Most nations in South America, Africa and Asia grew brighter. Only a few countries showed a decrease in brightness, such as Yemen and Syria – both experiencing warfare.

The nocturnal satellite images – of glowing coastlines and spider-like city networks – look quite beautiful but artificial lighting has unintended consequences for human health and the environment. Lead researcher Christopher Kyba from the German Research Centre for Geoscience in Potsdam said that the introduction of artificial light was “one of the most dramatic physical changes human beings have made to our environment”. He and his colleagues had expected to see a decrease in brightness in wealthy cities and industrial areas as they switched from the orange glow of sodium lights to more energy-efficient LEDs; the light sensor on the satellite is not able to measure the bluer part of the spectrum of light that LEDs emit.

“I expected that in wealthy countries – like the US, UK, and Germany – we’d see overall decreases in light, especially in brightly lit areas,” he told BBC News. “Instead we see countries like the US staying the same and the UK and Germany becoming increasingly bright.” Since the satellite sensor does not “see” the bluer light that humans can see, the increases in brightness that we experience will be even greater than what the researchers were able to measure.


UK, Netherlands, Belgium

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Nov 162017
 
 November 16, 2017  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Leonardo da Vinci Salvator Mundi 1513

 

Landmark Study Links Tory Austerity To 120,000 Deaths (Ind.)
Jeremy Corbyn Will Inevitably Become UK Prime Minister – Varoufakis (BI)
Why Care More About Benefit Scroungers Than Billions Lost To The Rich? (G.)
No Evidence Of Russian Interference In Brexit, PM May Admits In Parliament (RT)
China’s Outbound Investment Plunged 41% On Year In January To October (BBG)
Senior China Minister Says Some Officials Practice Sorcery (R.)
Corruption in China Could Lead To Soviet-Style Collapse – Graft Buster (ToI)
The Complete Idiot’s Guide To The Biggest Risks In China (ZH)
Why the Anti-Corruption Drive in Saudi Arabia is Doomed to Fail (CP)
Saudi Walks Back Escalation As Dramatic Moves Backfire (AP)
Friendly Reminder That Jeff Bezos Is Trying To Take Over The Universe (CJ)
Why Japan Knocks Down Its Houses After 30 Years (G.)
Kyle Bass: Investors to Pour Billions into Greece after Political Change (GR)
Lesvos Reaches Breaking Point, Mayor Declares General Strike (G.)
Monsanto, US Farm Groups Sue California Over Glyphosate Cancer Warnings (R.)
Plastics Found In Stomachs Of Deepest Sea Creatures (G.)

 

 

It doesn’t get much more damning than this. Nothing Monty Python about it.

Landmark Study Links Tory Austerity To 120,000 Deaths (Ind.)

The Conservatives have been accused of “economic murder” for austerity policies which a new study suggests have caused 120,000 deaths. The paper found that there were 45,000 more deaths in the first four years of Tory-led efficiencies than would have been expected if funding had stayed at pre-election levels. On this trajectory that could rise to nearly 200,000 excess deaths by the end of 2020, even with the extra funding that has been earmarked for public sector services this year. Real terms funding for health and social care fell under the Conservative-led Coalition Government in 2010, and the researchers conclude this “may have produced” the substantial increase in deaths.

The paper identified that mortality rates in the UK had declined steadily from 2001 to 2010, but this reversed sharply with the death rate growing again after austerity came in. From this reversal the authors identified that 45,368 extra deaths occurred between 2010 and 2014, than would have been expected, although it stops short of calling them “avoidable”. Based on those trends it predicted the next five years – from 2015 to 2020 – would account for 152,141 deaths – 100 a day – findings which one of the authors likened to “economic murder”. The Government began relaxing austerity measures this year announcing the end of its cap on public sector pay rises and announcing an extra £1.3bn for social care in the Spring Budget. Over three years the additional funding for social care is expected to reach £2bn, which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said was “patching up a small part of the damage” wrought by £4.6bn cuts.

[..] The papers’ senior author and a researcher at UCL, Dr Ben Maruthappu, said that while the paper “can’t prove cause and effect” it shows an association. And he added this trend is seen elsewhere. “When you look at Portugal and other countries that have gone through austerity measures, they have found that health care provision gets worse and health care outcomes get worse,” he told The Independent. One of his co-author’s, Professor Lawrence King of the Applied Health Research Unit at Cambridge University, said it showed the damage caused by austerity “It is now very clear that austerity does not promote growth or reduce deficits – it is bad economics, but good class politics,” he said. “This study shows it is also a public health disaster. It is not an exaggeration to call it economic murder.”

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After a report like that, yes. The Tories have taken things too far.

Jeremy Corbyn Will Inevitably Become UK Prime Minister – Varoufakis (BI)

Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister of Greece and author of “Adults in the Room: My Battle with the European and American Deep Establishment,” explains that Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister may be a likely scenario and that this would be beneficial for the UK economy. The following is a transcript of the video. Isn’t it astonishing that after Jeremy Corbyn was being described as “the longest suicide note by the Labour Party” about a year ago, today there is an air of inevitability in a Corbyn-led government. I think it’s a delicious irony and I’m very excited by this transition from impossibility to inevitability. In the interests of full disclosure, I’m a friend of Jeremy Corbyn, a supporter, I’ve worked with his team and will continue to do so.

I believe that the re-orientation of British politics under Corbyn and in particular of the Labour Party is highly beneficial, not only to the large strata within British society that have been discarded in the last 20 to 30 years, but interestingly also for British business that produces real stuff as opposed to the City of London and various other service sectors that produce precarious jobs and nothing much of substance. British manufacturing has been left in the margins for far too long and the dearth of investment in fixed capital is something that this Conservative government has absolutely no interest in, or no concept of. A Labour, Corbyn-led government, might be what is necessary in order to create better circumstances both for labour and manufacturing capital in the United Kingdom.

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“Quite simply, people get hurt when the rich don’t pay their taxes.”

Why Care More About Benefit Scroungers Than Billions Lost To The Rich? (G.)

Will the Paradise Papers shift the public’s focus? The leaks alone are seemingly not enough. The 2016 British Social Attitudes survey was conducted just four months after the release of the Panama Papers. Even then, the British public remained more concerned about benefit claimants than tax avoiders. Fundamentally, the Paradise Papers are about numbers – vast sums of money disappearing offshore that could be spent on public services here in the UK. However, as the former chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Andrew Dilnot, has often pointed out, people are bad at dealing with numbers on this scale. Unless you are an economist or a statistician, numbers in the millions and billions are just not particularly meaningful.

The key is to link these numbers to their consequences. The money we lose because people like Lewis Hamilton don’t pay some VAT on their private jet means thousands more visits to food banks. The budget cuts leading to rising homelessness might not have been necessary if Apple had paid more tax. Fewer people might have killed themselves after a work-capability assessment if companies like Alphabet (Google) had not registered their offices in Bermuda, and the downward pressure on benefits payments was not so intense. The causal chains connecting these events are complex and often opaque, but that does not make their consequences any less real, especially for those who have felt the hard edge of austerity.

The Paradise Papers have dragged the murky world of offshore finance into the spotlight. However, calls for change may founder against the British public’s persistent focus on the perceived crimes of the poor. That is, unless we – as academics, politicians, journalists and others – can articulate how the decisions of the very rich contribute to the expulsion of the vulnerable from the protection of state-funded public services. Quite simply, people get hurt when the rich don’t pay their taxes.

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Oh, cut it out.

No Evidence Of Russian Interference In Brexit, PM May Admits In Parliament (RT)

Theresa May has rejected allegations that Russia interfered in the Brexit referendum. Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions, she stated: “If they care to look at the speech on Monday, they will see that the examples I gave were not in the UK.” During a speech May gave at the Lord Mayor’s banquet, the British leader accused Russia of meddling in European elections, hacking attacks on western government institutions, and spreading fake news. During the customarily confrontational Prime Minister’s Questions, May said that, in her speech, she had indeed cited “Russian interference” occurring “in a number of countries in Europe.” However, she denied that this applied in any way to her own country.

Following the session, a spokesperson for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that “I think we need to see more evidence about what’s being talked about. “In relation to Russia and tensions between NATO and Russia and western powers and Russia more generally, Jeremy has made clear on a number of occasions that we need to see an attempt through dialogue to ratchet down tensions with Russia.” May was responding to a question from Labour MP Mary Creagh, who referred to an assertion by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson that he had seen no evidence of Russia interfering in the Brexit referendum. Johnson made the comment during an appearance before a Commons committee hearing on November 1. Upon prompting by a senior civil servant, Johnson replied “nyet,” and added in English that there was “not a sausage” of evidence.

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Once again: China needs its foreign reserves.

China’s Outbound Investment Plunged 41% On Year In January To October (BBG)

China’s non-financial outbound investment slumped to $86.3 billion in January to October, plunging 41% from a year earlier, as projects in some industries dried up. There were no new real estate, sports or entertainment deals for the period, the Commerce Ministry said in a statement Thursday. Most outbound investment was in leasing and business services, manufacturing, wholesale and retail sales and information technology services. “Irrational” outbound investment has been curbed further, the ministry said, repeating the language it has used this year as authorities push to halt capital outflows.

That’s reversing an unbroken streak of acceleration since at least 2010: Outbound investment soared 44.1% last year to $170.1 billion, about four times the 2009 level, Mofcom data show. “The combination of hardened capital controls and a crackdown on outbound M&A has dented China’s overseas investment,” said Tom Orlik, chief Asia economist at Bloomberg Economics in Beijing. “A short-term downturn was necessitated by the pressing need to stabilize the yuan. Sustained for too long, falling overseas investment would be tough to square with ambitions for greater international influence through the Belt and Road program.”

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In which sorcery is somehow the opposite of socialism.

Senior China Minister Says Some Officials Practice Sorcery (R.)

Some top Chinese officials are guilty of practicing sorcery and would rather believe in gurus and Western concepts of democracy than the Communist Party, a senior minister wrote on Thursday, warning of the danger they presented to its survival. China guarantees freedom of religion for major belief systems such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, but party members are meant to be atheists and are barred from what it calls superstitious practices, such as visits to soothsayers. Recent years have seen several cases of officials jailed as part of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption being accused of superstition, part of the party’s efforts to blacken their names.

Some senior officials in leadership positions had “fallen morally”, their beliefs straying from the correct path, wrote Chen Xi, the recently appointed head of the party’s powerful Organisation Department that oversees personnel decisions. “Some don’t believe in Marx and Lenin but believe in ghosts and gods; they don’t believe in ideals but believe in sorcery; they don’t respect the people but do respect masters,” he wrote in the official People’s Daily, referring to spiritual leaders or gurus. People in China, especially its leaders, have a long tradition of turning to soothsaying and geomancy to find answers to their problems in times of doubt, need and chaos. The practice has grown more risky amid Xi’s war on graft, in which dozens of senior officials have been imprisoned.

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Large scale arrests in the future?

Corruption in China Could Lead To Soviet-Style Collapse – Graft Buster (ToI)

China must step up its battle against corruption in order to safeguard against a Soviet-style collapse, the country’s second most senior graft buster said in an editorial on Wednesday. Yang Xiaodu, the deputy secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, who was promoted to the ruling Communist Party’s 25-strong Politburo last month, said failure would risk the “red country changing colour”. In unusually direct and strongly worded criticism of previous administrations, Yang said “in a previous period”, corruption had been allowed to fester to such an extent that the party’s leadership had weakened, with supervision soft, and ideology apathetic. “It had developed to the point where if not rectified, the country could change colour,” Yang wrote in the official People’s Daily.

“The future fate of the party and the country’s people could follow the same old road to ruin as the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc.” President Xi Jinping, like many officials before him, is steeped in the party’s long-held belief that loosening control too quickly or even at all could lead to chaos and the break up of the country. The party regularly implores cadres to study the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Yang’s editorial is the latest salvo signalling that the intensity of Xi’s signature war on corruption would not wane despite the departure of Xi’s right-hand man, Wang Qishan, who was widely seen as China’s second most powerful politician before being replaced as anti-corruption chief in a leadership reshuffle last month. Wang’s replacement, Zhao Leji, wrote a similarly strongly worded editorial in the People’s Daily on Saturday.

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Not doing well. At all.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide To The Biggest Risks In China (ZH)

With both commodities and Chinese stocks suffering sharp overnight drops, it is hardly surprising that today trading desks have quietly been sending out boxes full of xanax their best under-25 clients (those veterans who have seen one, maybe even two 1% market crashes), along with reports explaining just what China is and why it matters to the new generation of, well, traders. One such analysis, clearly geared to the Ritalin generation complete with 3 second attention spans, comes from Deutsche Bank which in a few hundred words seeks to explain the key risks threatening the world’s most complex centrally-planned economy, and ground zero of the next financial crash. Which, one day after our summary take on why the Chinese commodity, economic and financial crash is only just starting (as those who traded overnight may have noticed), is probably a good place to reiterate some of the more salient points.

As Deutsche Bank’s Zhiwei Zhang writes in “Risks to watch in the next six months”, the key thing to keep in mind about China now that the 19th Party Congress is in the rear-view mirror, is that the government is likely to tolerate slower growth in 2018. Han Wenxiu, the deputy head of the Research Office of the State Council, said that GDP growth at 6.3% in 2018-2020 would be sufficient to achieve the Party’s 2020 growth target. And while this is a positive message for the long term, it indicates growth will likely slow in 2018. And, as DB warns, recent economic data suggest the economic cycle has indeed cooled down. For all those seeking key Chinese inflection points, here are the three big red flags involving China’s economy:

For the first time since Q4 2004, fixed asset investment (FAI) growth turned negative in real terms in Q3 this year.

Growth of property sales for the nation turned negative as well in October, the first time since 2015.

The property market boom in Tier 3 cities is also losing momentum.

We hope not to have lost by now all the Millennial traders who started reading this post. To those who persevered, here – in addition to the risks facing the economy – are the other two main risks facing China’s investors: (rising) inflation and (rising) interest rates.

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The most corrupt are the most powerful. Cue China.

Why the Anti-Corruption Drive in Saudi Arabia is Doomed to Fail (CP)

The problem in resource-rich states is that corruption is not marginal to political power, but central to acquiring it and keeping it. Corruption at the top is a form of patronage manipulated by those in charge, to create and reward a network of self-interested loyalists. It is the ruling family and its friends and allies who cherrypick what is profitable: this is as true of Saudi Arabia as it was true of Libya under Gaddafi, Iraq under Saddam Hussein and his successors, or Iraqi Kurdistan that was supposedly different from the rest of the country. Corruption is a nebulous concept when it comes to states with arbitrary rulers, who can decide – unrestrained by law or democratic process – what is legal and what is illegal. What typifies the politics of oil states is that everybody is trying to plug into the oil revenues in order to get their share of the cake.

This is true at the top, but the same is the case of the rest of the population, or at least a large and favoured section of it. The Iraqi government pays $4bn a month to about seven million state employees and pensioners. These may or may not do productive work, but it would be politically risky to fire them because they are the base support of the regime in power. Anti-corruption drives don’t work, because if they are at all serious, they soon begin to cut into the very roots of political power by touching the “untouchables”. At this point principled anti-corruption campaigners will find themselves in serious trouble and may have to flee the country, while the less-principled ones will become a feared weapon to be used against anybody whom the government wants to target.

A further consequence of the traditional anti-corruption drive is that it can paralyse government activities in general. This is because all officials, corrupt and incorrupt alike, know that they are vulnerable to investigation. “The safest course for them is to take no decision and sign no document which might be used or misused against them,” a frustrated American businessman told me in Baghdad some years ago. He added that it was only those so politically powerful that they did not have to fear legal sanctions who would take decisions – and such people were often the most corrupt of all.

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Wishful thinking?

Saudi Walks Back Escalation As Dramatic Moves Backfire (AP)

Saudi Arabia’s dramatic moves to counter Iran in the region appear to have backfired, significantly ratcheting up regional tensions and setting off a spiral of reactions and anger that seem to have caught the kingdom off guard. Now it’s trying to walk back its escalations in Lebanon and Yemen. On Monday, the kingdom announced that the Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen would begin reopening airports and seaports in the Arab world’s poorest country, days after closing them over a rebel ballistic missile attack on Riyadh. The move came just hours after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who shocked the nation by announcing his resignation from the Saudi capital on Nov. 4, gave an interview in which he backed off his strident condemnation of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah, saying he would return to the country within days to seek a settlement with the Shiite militants, his rivals in his coalition government.

The two developments suggest that Saudi Arabia’s bullish young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, may be trying to pedal back from the abyss of a severe regional escalation. “This represents de-escalation by the Saudis,” said Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “The general trend is that the Saudis are going to back off and this is largely because of the unexpected extent of international pressure, and not least of all U.S. pressure.” Mohammed bin Salman, widely known by his initials, MBS, has garnered a reputation for being decisive, as well as impulsive. At just 32 years old and with little experience in government, he has risen to power in just three years to oversee all major aspects of politics, security and the economy in Saudi Arabia. As defense minister, he is in charge of the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

He also appears to have the support of President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, senior adviser Jared Kushner, who visited the Saudi capital earlier this month. Saudi partners in the Gulf and the Trump administration rushed to defend the kingdom publicly after a rebel Houthi missile was fired at the Saudi capital, Riyadh, from Yemen last week. A top U.S. military official also backed Saudi claims that the missile was manufactured by Iran. However, Saudi Arabia’s move to tighten an already devastating blockade on Yemen in response to the missile was roundly criticized by aid groups, humanitarian workers and the United Nations, which warned that the blockade could bring millions of people closer to “starvation and death.” Saudi Arabia’s decision to ease the blockade after just a week suggests it bowed to the international criticism, and did not want the bad publicity of even more images of emaciated Yemeni children and elderly people circulating online and in the media.

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“WaPo ran sixteen smear pieces on Bernie Sanders in the span of sixteen hours at the hottest point in the Democratic presidential primary battle.”

Friendly Reminder That Jeff Bezos Is Trying To Take Over The Universe (CJ)

Jeff Bezos, currently the wealthiest human being on planet Earth, did not purchase the Washington Post in 2013 because he was expecting newspapers to make a lucrative resurgence. This self-evident fact doesn’t receive enough attention. I will say it again for emphasis: Jeff Bezos, who has used his business prowess to become the wealthiest person in the world, did not purchase the Washington Post in 2013 because he was expecting newspapers to make a profitable comeback. That did not happen. What did happen is the world’s richest plutocrat realizing that he needed a mouthpiece to manufacture public support for the neoliberal corporatist establishment that he is building his empire upon. This is why WaPo ran sixteen smear pieces on Bernie Sanders in the span of sixteen hours at the hottest point in the Democratic presidential primary battle.

[..] Last year Silicon Valley venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya said that Amazon is “a multi-trillion-dollar monopoly hiding in plain sight.” In June Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, wrote that Amazon is trying to “control the underlying infrastructure of the economy.”\ Bezos continues to get cozier and cozier with the US power establishment as his empire metastasizes across human civilization. He kicked WikiLeaks off Amazon servers in 2010, he scored a 600 million dollar contract with the CIA in 2013, he joined a Pentagon advisory board in 2016, he hung out with Defense Secretary James Mattis in August, and he’s spent nearly ten million dollars this year lobbying the federal government, which is likely what led to an NDAA amendment gifting Amazon a $54 billion market it’s expected to dominate as a supplier to the Pentagon. Billion. With a ‘b’.

[..] I gave this story a jokey headline, but seriously, watch Jeff Bezos very closely. Your future is increasingly more likely to be imperiled by new money tech plutocrats like him than by old money plutocrats like Soros and the Rothschilds.

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Interesting. Earthquakes are no. 1 incentive.

Why Japan Knocks Down Its Houses After 30 Years (G.)

In the suburban neighbourhood of Midorigaoka, about an hour by train outside Kobe, Japan, all the houses were built by the same company in the same factory. Steel frames fitted out with panel walls and ceilings, these homes were clustered by the hundreds into what was once a brand new commuter town. But they weren’t built to last. Daiwa House, one of the biggest prefabricated housing manufacturers in Japan, built this town in the 60s during a postwar housing boom. It’s not unlike the suburban subdivisions of the western world, with porches, balconies and rooflines that shift and repeat up and down blocks of gently curving roads. Most of those houses built in the 60s are no longer standing, having long since been replaced by newer models, finished with fake brick ceramic siding in beiges, pinks and browns.

In the end, most of these prefabricated houses – and indeed most houses in Japan – have a lifespan of only about 30 years. Unlike in other countries, Japanese homes gradually depreciate over time, becoming completely valueless within 20 or 30 years. When someone moves out of a home or dies, the house, unlike the land it sits on, has no resale value and is typically demolished. This scrap-and-build approach is a quirk of the Japanese housing market that can be explained variously by low-quality construction to quickly meet demand after the second world war, repeated building code revisions to improve earthquake resilience and a cycle of poor maintenance due to the lack of any incentive to make homes marketable for resale. In Midorigaoka, even the newer homes built in the 80s and 90s are nearing the end of their expected lifespan.

Under normal circumstances, their days might be numbered. But down at the end of one block, there’s a sign things are changing. Scaffolding surrounds a vacant house on a corner and workers from Daiwa House are clanging away inside. They’re not demolishing the house but refurbishing it – reorganising the floor plan, knocking down walls, opening up the kitchen and enhancing the insulation. Rather than tear down the house so the next buyer can build something new, they’re rebuilding it from the inside and putting it back on the market. It’s a relatively rare commodity, but something that is increasingly common across Japan: a secondhand home.

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I’ve long predicted that Greece will be much less peaceful once Syriza loses power. But yeah, the whole country’s put up for sale, so foreigners are certain to take over.

Kyle Bass: Investors to Pour Billions into Greece after Political Change (GR)

Hedge fund manager, Kyle Bass, believes that Greece will come out of the crisis and investors will pour billions into its economy once the government changes, according to a CNBC report. The founder and chief investment officer of Hayman Capital Management; which manages an estimated $815 million in assets, is closely following the course of the Greek economy and political situation, and has invested in Greek bank stocks. Bass says that foreign investors are waiting on the sidelines for a political shift to take place in 2018. “My best guess is a snap election for prime minister will be called between April and September of next year and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will lose power. When that happens, there will be a massive move into the Greek stock market. Big money will flow in as investors feel more confident with a more moderate administration,” Bass said.

“It’s going to take Kyriakos Mitsotakis; president of New Democracy, the Greek conservative party, to be voted in as prime minister to reform the culture and rekindle investor confidence,” the investor said. “I have no doubt 15 billion euros in bank deposits will come back to Greek banks if he’s elected. The stock and bond markets will also jump following the election.” Bass says that global investors are waiting for the political change in order to invest in real estate, energy and tourism. So far, the hedge fund manager noted, Greece has proceeded with privatizations of its main port; regional airports; its railway system; the largest insurance company, and there are more important ones to be completed within the next two years. “There is so much potential in Greece,” Bass said, noting that investors are waiting for the right moment to enter, the CNBC report concludes.

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Europe just lets it get worse.

Lesvos Reaches Breaking Point, Mayor Declares General Strike (G.)

With reception centers on Lesvos bursting at the seams and dozens more migrants arriving daily, the island’s mayor, Spyros Galinos, on Tuesday declared a general strike for Monday in protest. Currently, some 1,500 people – including hundreds of small children – are stranded on the island living in tents, and fears are growing that winter may bring a new humanitarian crisis. In total, there are more than 8,000 migrants and refugees on Lesvos, a favored destination of traffickers bringing people over from neighboring Turkey. “Lesvos has a population of 32,000 residents and there are at the moment 8,300 migrants and refugees,” Galinos told Kathimerini. Moreover, local police union members held a protest over deteriorating working conditions.

“The situation on Lesvos has fueled insecurity among citizens. The police force is dealing exclusively with the migrant issue,” the union chief Dimitris Alexiou said. “We are not expendables,” he added. And with flows to the eastern Aegean islands from Turkey showing no signs of letting up, locals and migrants have reached the end of their tether. Since the beginning of November, 1,603 people have arrived on the islands. In September, 6,000 people arrived from Turkey, the same number as in October. On Monday, another 101 migrants landed on eastern Aegean islands, while more than 400 arrived over the weekend. The situation in the Moria camp on Lesvos is a case in point.

“Conditions at Moria have reached breaking point as the facility is three times over capacity,” said Michael Bakas, coordinator of the northern Aegean branch of the Ecologist Greens, who escorted visiting Group of the Greens MEP and vice chairwoman of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights Barbara Lochbihler. Bakas said about 1,000 children are currently stranded at the camp. The issue will be discussed at the EU assembly on Wednesday.

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Monsanto must now have as many lawyers as scientists on its payroll. Time to say enough is enough.

Monsanto, US Farm Groups Sue California Over Glyphosate Cancer Warnings (R.)

Monsanto and U.S. farm groups sued California on Wednesday to stop the state from requiring cancer warnings on products containing the widely used weed killer glyphosate, which the company sells to farmers to apply to its genetically engineered crops. The government of the most populous U.S. state added glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, to its list of cancer-causing chemicals in July and will require that products containing glyphosate carry warnings by July 2018. California acted after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded in 2015 that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic”. For more than 40 years, farmers have applied glyphosate to crops, most recently as they have cultivated genetically modified corn and soybeans.

Roundup and Monsanto’s glyphosate-resistant seeds would be less attractive to customers if California requires warnings on products containing the chemical. In the lawsuit, filed in federal court in California, Monsanto and groups representing corn, soy and wheat farmers reject that glyphosate causes cancer. They say the state’s requirement for warnings would force sellers of products containing the chemical to spread false information.“Such warnings would equate to compelled false speech, directly violate the First Amendment, and generate unwarranted public concern and confusion,” Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy, said in a statement.

The controversy is an additional headache for Monsanto as it faces a crisis around a new version of an herbicide based on another chemical known as dicamba that was linked to widespread U.S. crop damage this summer. The company, which is being acquired by Bayer AG for $63.5 billion, developed the product as a replacement for glyphosate following an increase of weeds resistant to the chemical. Monsanto has already suffered damage to its investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in glyphosate products since California added the chemical to its list of products known to cause cancer, according to the lawsuit.

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Weep.

Plastics Found In Stomachs Of Deepest Sea Creatures (G.)

Animals from the deepest places on Earth have been found with plastic in their stomachs, confirming fears that manmade fibres have contaminated the most remote places on the planet. The study, led by academics at Newcastle University, found animals from trenches across the Pacific Ocean were contaminated with fibres that probably originated from plastic bottles, packaging and synthetic clothes. Dr Alan Jamieson, who led the study, said the findings were startling and proved that nowhere on the planet was free from plastics pollution. “There is now no doubt that plastics pollution is so pervasive that nowhere – no matter how remote – is immune,” he said. Evidence of the scale of plastic pollution has been growing in recent months. Earlier this year scientists found plastic in 83% of global tapwater samples, while other studies have found plastic in rock salt and fish.

Humans have produced an estimated 8.3bn tonnes of plastic since the 1950s and scientists said it risked near permanent contamination of the planet. Jamieson said underlined the need for swift and meaningful action. “These observations are the deepest possible record of microplastic occurrence and ingestion, indicating it is highly likely there are no marine ecosystems left that are not impacted by anthropogenic debris.” He said it was “a very worrying find.” “Isolating plastic fibres from inside animals from nearly 11 kilometres deep (seven miles) just shows the extent of the problem. Also, the number of areas we found this in, and the thousands of kilometre distances involved shows it is not just an isolated case, this is global.”

[..] The team examined 90 individual animals and found ingestion of plastic ranged from 50% in the New Hebrides Trench to 100% at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The fragments identified include semi-synthetic cellulosic fibres, such as Rayon, Lyocell and Ramie, which are all microfibres used in products such as textiles, to plastic fibres that are likely to come from plastic bottles, fishing equipment or everyday packaging. Jamieson said deep-sea organisms are dependent on food “raining down from the surface which in turn brings any adverse components, such as plastic and pollutants with it.” “The deep sea is not only the ultimate sink for any material that descends from the surface, but it is also inhabited by organisms well adapted to a low food environment and these will often eat just about anything.”


This microscopic arrow worm has eaten a blue plastic fibre that is blocking the passage of food along its gut. Photograph: Richard Kirby/Courtesy of Orb Media

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Nov 142017
 
 November 14, 2017  Posted by at 10:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Vincent van Gogh Laboureur dans un champ 1889

 

The Largest Transfer Of Wealth In Living Memory (OD)
How The American Dream Turned Into Greed And Inequality (WEF)
The Fed Destroyed Functioning American Democracy and Bankrupted the Nation (CH)
The Fatal Flaw Of Neoliberalism: It’s Bad Economics (Rodrik)
China Home Sales Fall by Most in Almost Three Years on Curbs (BBG)
Australia’s Whole Economy Is Built On China Buying Our Stuff (News.com.au)
Austerity, Not Brexit, Has Doomed The Tory Party (G.)
Saudi Retreat From U.S. Oil Market Cuts Exports to 30-Year Low (BBG)
Arab States Spent $130 Billion To Destroy Syria, Libya, Yemen (PressTV)
EU Countries Agree To Create A European Mega-Army (R.)
Fisheries Collapse On US West Coast: “It’s The Worst We’ve Seen” (SHTF)

 

 

Or, as yours truly phrased it 2 weeks ago: The Biggest Ponzi in Human History. But the writer makes a big mistake when she says “this will be passed on to the next generation via inheritance or transfer”. It won’t, because prices will plunge. What will be passed on is the debt.

The Largest Transfer Of Wealth In Living Memory (OD)

Last week, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released new data tracking how wealth has evolved over time. On paper, the UK has indeed become much wealthier in recent decades. Net wealth has more than tripled since 1995, increasing by over £7 trillion. This is equivalent to an average increase of nearly £100,000 per person. Impressive stuff. But where has all this wealth come from, and who has it benefitted? Just over £5 trillion, or three quarters of the total increase, is accounted for by increase in the value of dwellings – another name for the UK housing stock. The Office for National Statistics explains that this is “largely due to increases in house prices rather than a change in the volume of dwellings.” This alone is not particularly surprising. We are forever told about the importance of ‘getting a foot on the property ladder’.

The housing market has long been viewed as a perennial source of wealth. But the price of a property is made up of two distinct components: the price of the building itself, and the price of the land that the structure is built upon. This year the ONS has separated out these two components for the first time, and the results are quite astounding. In just two decades the market value of land has quadrupled, increasing recorded wealth by over £4 trillion. The driving force behind rising house prices — and the UK’s growing wealth — has been rapidly escalating land prices. For those who own property, this has provided enormous benefits. According to the Resolution Foundation, homeowners born in the 1940s and 1950s gained an unearned windfall of £80,000 between 1993 and 2014 alone.

In the early 2000s, house price growth was so great that 17% of working-age adults earned more from their house than from their job. Last week The Times reported that during the past three months alone, baby boomers converted £850 million of housing wealth into cash using equity release products – the highest number since records began. A third used the money to buy cars, while more than a quarter used it to fund holidays. Others are choosing to buy more property: the Chartered Institute of Housing has described how the buy-to-let market is being fuelled by older households using their housing wealth to buy more property, renting it out to those who are unable to get a foot on the property ladder. And it is here that we find the dark side of the housing boom.

House prices are now on average nearly eight times that of incomes, more than double the figure of 20 years ago. It’s unlikely that house prices will be able to outpace incomes at the same rate for the next 20 years. The past few decades have spawned a one-off transfer of wealth that is unlikely to be repeated. While the main beneficiaries of this have been the older generations, eventually this will be passed on to the next generation via inheritance or transfer. Already the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ has become the ninth biggest mortgage lender. The ultimate result is not just a growing intergenerational divide, but an entrenched class divide between those who own property (or have a claim to it), and those who do not.

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The dream is dead.

How The American Dream Turned Into Greed And Inequality (WEF)

[..] the idea that every American has an equal opportunity to move up in life is false. Social mobility has declined over the past decades, median wages have stagnated and today’s young generation is the first in modern history expected to be poorer than their parents. The lottery of life – the postcode where you were born – can account for up to two thirds of the wealth an individual generates.The growing gap between the rich and the poor, the old and the young, has been largely ignored by policymakers and investors until the recent rise of anti-establishment votes, including those for Brexit in the UK and for President Trump in the US. This is a mistake. Inequality is much more than a side-effect of free market capitalism.

It is a symptom of policy negligence, where for decades, credit and monetary stimulus shortcuts too easily substituted for structural reform, investment and economic strategy. Capitalism has been incredibly successful at boosting wealth, but it has failed at redistributing it. Today, without a push to redistribute wealth and opportunity, our model of capitalism and democracy may face self-destruction. The widening of inequality has deep historical roots. Keynes’ interventionist policies worked well during the post-war recovery, as fiscal stimulus for the reconstruction boosted demand for US goods from Europe and Japan. But soon the stimulus faded. The U.S. found itself with declining growth and rising inflation at a time when it was mired in the Cold War and Vietnam conflicts. The baby boomer generation demanded higher living standards.

The response was the Nixon shock in 1971: a set of policies which moved away from the gold standard, initiating the era of fiat money and free credit. Credit was the answer to declining growth and rising inequality: if you couldn’t afford university, a new house or a new car, Uncle Sam would lend you the key to the American Dream in the form of that extra loan you needed. Over the following decades, state subsidies to private credit became popular, spreading to the U.K. and Europe. It was the start of debt-based democracies. Private debt outgrew GDP four times in the US and Europe over the following decades up to the 2008 financial crisis, accompanied by the deregulation of financial markets and of banks. The rest is history: nine long years after the crisis, our economies are still healing from excess debt, and regulators are still working on strengthening our financial system. Inequality, however, has deepened even further. Has capitalism failed?

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Very good from Chris Hamilton.

The Fed Destroyed Functioning American Democracy and Bankrupted the Nation (CH)

Against the adamant wishes of the constitutions framers, in 1913 the Federal Reserve System was Congressionally created. According to the Fed’s website, “it was created to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system.” Although parts of the Federal Reserve System share some characteristics with private-sector entities, the Federal Reserve was supposedly established to serve the public interest. A quick overview; monetary policy is the Federal Reserves actions, as a central bank, to achieve three goals specified by Congress: maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates in the United States. The Federal Reserve conducts the nation’s monetary policy by managing the level of short-term interest rates and influencing the availability and cost of credit in the economy.

Monetary policy directly affects interest rates; it indirectly affects stock prices, wealth, and currency exchange rates. Through these channels, monetary policy influences spending, investment, production, employment, and inflation in the United States. I suggest what truly happened in 1913 was that Congress willingly abdicated a portion of its responsibilities, and through the Federal Reserve, began a process that would undermine the functioning American democracy. How, you ask? The Fed, believing the free-market to be “imperfect” (aka; wrong) believed it should control and set interest rates, determine full employment, determine asset prices; not the “free market”. And here’s what happened:

• From 1913 to 1971, an increase of $400 billion in federal debt cost $35 billion in additional annual interest payments.
• From 1971 to 1981, an increase of $600 billion in federal debt cost $108 billion in additional annual interest payments.
• From 1981 to 1997, an increase of $4.4 trillion cost $224 billion in additional annual interest payments.
• From 1997 to 2017, an increase of $15.2 trillion cost “just” $132 billion in additional annual interest payments.

[..] As the chart below highlights, since the creation of the Federal Reserve the growth of debt (relative to growth of economic activity) has gone to levels never dreamed of by the founding fathers. In particular, the systemic surges in debt since 1981 are unlike anything ever seen prior in American history. Although the peak of debt to GDP seen in WWII may have been higher (changes in GDP calculations mean current GDP levels are likely significantly overstating economic activity), the duration and reliance upon debt was entirely tied to the war. Upon the end of the war, the economy did not rely on debt for further growth and total debt fell.

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Perhaps the biggest mystery is why the (formerly) left got so involved with it.

The Fatal Flaw Of Neoliberalism: It’s Bad Economics (Rodrik)

We live in the age of neoliberalism, apparently. But who are neoliberalism’s adherents and disseminators – the neoliberals themselves? Oddly, you have to go back a long time to find anyone explicitly embracing neoliberalism. In 1982, Charles Peters, the longtime editor of the political magazine Washington Monthly, published an essay titled A Neo-Liberal’s Manifesto. It makes for interesting reading 35 years later, since the neoliberalism it describes bears little resemblance to today’s target of derision. The politicians Peters names as exemplifying the movement are not the likes of Thatcher and Reagan, but rather liberals – in the US sense of the word – who have become disillusioned with unions and big government and dropped their prejudices against markets and the military.

The use of the term “neoliberal” exploded in the 1990s, when it became closely associated with two developments, neither of which Peters’s article had mentioned. One of these was financial deregulation, which would culminate in the 2008 financial crash and in the still-lingering euro debacle. The second was economic globalisation, which accelerated thanks to free flows of finance and to a new, more ambitious type of trade agreement. Financialisation and globalisation have become the most overt manifestations of neoliberalism in today’s world.

That neoliberalism is a slippery, shifting concept, with no explicit lobby of defenders, does not mean that it is irrelevant or unreal. Who can deny that the world has experienced a decisive shift toward markets from the 1980s on? Or that centre-left politicians – Democrats in the US, socialists and social democrats in Europe – enthusiastically adopted some of the central creeds of Thatcherism and Reaganism, such as deregulation, privatisation, financial liberalisation and individual enterprise? Much of our contemporary policy discussion remains infused with principles supposedly grounded in the concept of homo economicus, the perfectly rational human being, found in many economic theories, who always pursues his own self-interest.

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Wonder what Xi is thinking.

China Home Sales Fall by Most in Almost Three Years on Curbs (BBG)

China’s new home sales fell by the most in almost three years last month, adding to signs of cooling as local governments keep rolling out curbs to limit price increases. Sales by value dropped 3.4% from a year earlier to 909 billion yuan ($137 billion), according to Bloomberg calculations based on data released Tuesday by the National Bureau of Statistics. That was the biggest year-on-year decline since November 2014. Signs of a property slowdown, including price rises in fewer cities in September, may concern policy makers who want to avoid any sharp economic deceleration. The government is grappling with fueling growth while containing runaway home prices.

President Xi Jinping last month renewed a yearlong call that homes are built “to be inhabited’’ and not for speculation, in his speech at the twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress, inking the language in one of the nation’s top policy frameworks. Investment in real estate development slowed, growing 5.6% last month from a year earlier, down from a 9.2% increase in September, according to Bloomberg calculations. A Bloomberg Intelligence index of Chinese real-estate owners and developers slipped 0.3%. It’s up 89% this year. The data came amid signs of the government easing financing for property developers and as economic releases for October pointed to a moderating economy.

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Excellent takedown of Australia’s dying economic model.

Australia’s Whole Economy Is Built On China Buying Our Stuff

Australia’s Whole Economy Is Built On China Buying Our Stuff (News.com.au)

I recently watched the federal Treasurer Scott Morrison proudly proclaim that Australia was in “surprisingly good shape”. Indeed, Australia has just snatched the world record from the Netherlands, achieving its 104th quarter of growth without a recession, making this achievement the longest streak for any OECD country since 1970. I was pretty shocked at the complacency, because after 26 years of economic expansion, the country has very little to show for it. For over a quarter of a century our economy mostly grew because of dumb luck. Luck because our country is relatively large and abundant in natural resources, resources that have been in huge demand from a close neighbour — China. Out of all OECD nations, Australia is the most dependent on China by a huge margin, according to the IMF.

Over one-third of all merchandise exports from this country go to China including all physical products and things we dig out of the ground. Outside of the OECD, Australia ranks just after the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and just before the Central African Republic, Iran and Liberia. Does anything sound a bit funny about that? As a whole, the Australian economy has grown through a property bubble inflating on top of a mining bubble, built on top of a commodities bubble, driven by a China bubble. Unfortunately for Australia, that “lucky” free ride is just about to end. Societe Generale’s China economist Wei Yao recently said: “Chinese banks are looking down the barrel of a staggering $1.7 trillion worth of losses”. Hayman Capital’s Kyle Bass calls China a “$34 trillion experiment” which is “exploding”, where Chinese bank losses “could exceed 400% of the US banking losses incurred during the subprime crisis”.

A hard landing for China is a catastrophic landing for Australia, with horrific consequences to this country’s delusions of economic grandeur. The initial rally in commodities at the beginning of 2016 was caused by a bet that more economic stimulus and industrial reform in China would lead to a spike in demand for commodities used in construction. That bet rapidly turned into full-blown mania as Chinese investors, starved of opportunity and restricted by government clamp downs in equities, piled into commodities markets. This saw, in April of 2016, enough cotton trading in a single day to make a pair of jeans for everyone on the planet, and enough soybeans for 56 billion servings of tofu. Market turnover on the three Chinese exchanges jumped from a daily average of about $78 billion in February to a peak of $261 billion on April 22, 2016 — exceeding the GDP of Ireland.

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It’s the people.

Austerity, Not Brexit, Has Doomed The Tory Party (G.)

What is destroying the Conservatives is not outside forces, nor the cack-handed pricking of a gusher of ministerial ineptitude. No, the fundamental cause is their own economic strategy of austerity. Of cutting taxes for the wealthy, while cutting public services and social security for the rest. Of rewarding the owners of capital, while punishing those who rely on their labour. Of claiming to have fixed the economy, while tanking voters’ living standards. Austerity is now the thudding drumbeat behind every ministerial misstep, from a family holiday with the Netanyahus to a fauxpology over Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. It is what unites these individual Westminster outrages into an outline of a ruling party no longer fit for office. By forcing an arbitrary limit on already severely constrained Whitehall and town hall budgets, it renders meaningful government close to impossible.

This is what makes next week’s autumn budget from Philip Hammond so crucial. If the Tories wish to regain any credibility, they will have to ditch the very strategy that defines them. In the days immediately following this summer’s general election, I asked a number of leading figures in Labour how they managed to pull off one of the biggest surprises in postwar political history and rob May of her majority. Their answers all circled back to one thing: austerity fatigue. After seven straight years of seeing their kids’ school classes get bigger and their parents’ hospital waits grow longer, voters were ready for an anti-austerity party leader such as Jeremy Corbyn. Austerity has done more than tear up the public realm; it has imposed private misery on millions of households.

The age of austerity has been the era of the foodbank, the zero-hours contract, the privately rented slum. Unless there is a miracle, the economists at the Resolution Foundation project that the 2010s will be the worst decade for wage growth since the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s.

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But but.. the petrodollar!

Saudi Retreat From U.S. Oil Market Cuts Exports to 30-Year Low (BBG)

For a generation, the huge, whitewashed storage tanks at America’s largest oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, have stored almost nothing but Saudi crude. The plant is owned the Saudi Arabia’s state-run oil company, Aramco, and since it first bought a stake in 1988, the Motiva refinery guaranteed the kingdom a strategic foothold in the world’s largest energy market. The tankers carrying millions of barrels a month of Arab Light crude from the Saudi export terminals to Port Arthur were testament to the strength of the energy and political ties binding Riyadh and Washington. All of a sudden, there are very few Saudi ships arriving in Texas. Since July, Aramco has constricted supply, attempting to drain the crude storage tanks at Motiva – and many others across America -part of a plan to lift oil prices, even at the cost of sacrificing its once prized U.S.

While Motiva is most affected, the rest of the U.S. oil refining system, from El Segundo in California to Lake Lake Charles in Louisiana, has also taken a hit. The result: Saudi crude exports into America fell to a 30-year low last month. “The drop is huge,” said Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at consultant Energy Aspects Ltd. in London. “It’s not just that Saudi exports are low, but they have been low for several months.” At a stroke, the freedom from Saudi oil that’s been a rhetorical aspiration for generations of American politicians, from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush, is within reach – even if it’s largely the choice of supplier rather than the customer. The U.S. imported just 525,000 barrels a day of Saudi crude in October, the lowest since May 1987 and down from 1.5 million barrels a day a decade ago, according to Bloomberg News calculations based on custom data.

The combination of falling Saudi oil exports into the U.S. last year, cheap crude and higher exports of American weapons had already turned upside-down the trade relationship between the two countries. Last year, the U.S. enjoyed its first trade surplus with Saudi Arabia since 1998 — only the third in 30 years, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The sharper cuts in oil exports since the summer will likely amplify that trend.

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“..the United Arab Emirates had planned a military invasion of Qatar with thousands of US-trained mercenaries [..] but it was never carried out as Washington did not give the green light to it..”

Arab States Spent $130 Billion To Destroy Syria, Libya, Yemen (PressTV)

Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia says some regional Arab states have spent $130 billion to obliterate Syria, Libya and Yemen. Ouyahia made the remarks on Saturday at a time when much of the Middle East and North Africa is in turmoil, grappling with different crises, ranging from terrorism and insecurity to political uncertainty and foreign interference. Algeria maintains that regional states should settle their differences through dialog and that foreign meddling is to their detriment. Syria has been gripped by foreign-sponsored militancy since 2011. Takfirism, which is a trademark of many terrorist groups operating in Syria, is largely influenced by Wahhabism, the radical ideology dominating Saudi Arabia.

Libya has further been struggling with violence and political uncertainty since the country’s former ruler Muammar Gaddafi was deposed in 2011 and later killed in the wake of a US-led NATO military intervention. Daesh has been taking advantage of the chaos in Libya to increase its presence there. Yemen has also witnessed a deadly Saudi war since March 2015 which has led to a humanitarian crisis. Last Month, Qatar’s former deputy prime minister Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah said the United Arab Emirates had planned a military invasion of Qatar with thousands of US-trained mercenaries. The UAE plan for the military action was prepared before the ongoing Qatar rift, but it was never carried out as Washington did not give the green light to it, he noted. In late April, reports said the UAE was quietly expanding its military presence into Africa and the Middle East, namely in Eritrea and Yemen.

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As I wrote yesterday, insanity.

EU Countries Agree To Create A European Mega-Army (R.)

France and Germany edged toward achieving a 70-year-old ambition to integrate European defenses on Monday, signing a pact with 21 other EU governments to fund, develop and deploy armed forces after Britain’s decision to quit the bloc. First proposed in the 1950s and long resisted by Britain, European defense planning, operations and weapons development now stands its best chance in years as London steps aside and the United States pushes Europe to pay more for its security. Foreign and defense ministers gathered at a signing ceremony in Brussels to represent 23 EU governments joining the pact, paving the way for EU leaders to sign it in December. Those governments will for the first time legally bind themselves into joint projects as well as pledging to increase defense spending and contribute to rapid deployments.

“Today we are taking a historic step,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters. “We are agreeing on the future cooperation on security and defense issues … it’s really a milestone in European development,” he said. The pact includes all EU governments except Britain, which is leaving the bloc, Denmark, which has opted out of defense matters, Ireland, Portugal and Malta. Traditionally neutral Austria was a late addition to the pact. Paris originally wanted a vanguard of EU countries to bring money and assets to French-led military missions and projects, while Berlin has sought to be more inclusive, which could reduce effectiveness. Its backers say that if successful, the formal club of 23 members will give the European Union a more coherent role in tackling international crises and end the kind of shortcomings seen in Libya in 2011, when European allies relied on the United States for air power and munitions.

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There are a few things we need to stop doing, urgently.

Fisheries Collapse On US West Coast: “It’s The Worst We’ve Seen” (SHTF)

The Gulf of Alaska cod populations appears to have taken a nose-dive. Scientists are shocked at the collapse and starving fish, making this the “worst they’ve ever seen.” “They [Alaskan cod] get weak and die or get eaten by something else,” said NOAA’s Steve Barbeaux. The 2017 trawl net survey found the lowest numbers of cod on record forcing scientists to try to unravel what happened. A lot of the cod hatched in 2012 appeared to survive, but by 2017, those fish were largely gone for the surveys, which also found scant evidence of fish born in subsequent years. Many of the cod that have come on board trawlers are “long skinny fish” according to Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats. “This is a big deal,” Paine said. “We just don’t see these (cod) year classes disappear from one year to the next.”

The decline is expected to substantially reduce the gulf cod harvests that in recent years have been worth — before processing — more than $50 million to Northwest and Alaska fishermen who catch them with nets, pot traps, and baited hooks set along the sea bottom. Barbeaux says the warm water, which has spread to depths of more than 1,000 feet, hit the cod like a kind of a double-whammy. Higher temperatures sped up the rate at which young cod burned calories while reducing the food available for the cod to consume. And many are blaming “climate change” for the effects on the fish, although scientists aren’t directly correlating the two events. “They get weak and die or get eaten by something else,” said Barbeaux, who in October presented preliminary survey findings to scientists and industry officials at an Anchorage meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

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Nov 062017
 
 November 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Salvador Dalí Figure at a window 1925

 

The Next Market Cleanse Will Be Sharp, Deep, Fast (Peters)
Round-Up Of Saudi Princes, Businessmen Widens, Travel Curbs Imposed (R.)
Saudi Arabia Seals Yemen Borders, Accuses Iran Over Missile Strike (AFP)
Paradise Papers Leak Reveals Secrets Of The World Elite’s Hidden Wealth (G.)
Are We Taming Offshore Finance? (BBC)
Queen’s Private Estate Invested Millions of Pounds Offshore (G.)
UK Families Thousands Of Pounds Worse Off After Years Of Cuts (G.)
Britain ‘Would Be Booming’ If It Wasn’t For Brexit – Mark Carney (Tel.)
Most EU Firms Plan Retreat From UK Suppliers (R.)
UK Ministers ‘Could Be In Contempt Of Parliament Over Brexit Papers’ (G.)
China’s Shadow Banking Halts as Regulation Bites – Moody’s (BBG)
Catalonia’s Puigdemont Conditionally Released By Belgian Judge (G.)

 

 

Eric Peters gets points for style.

The Next Market Cleanse Will Be Sharp, Deep, Fast (Peters)

Anecdote: “The most common example is a ball sitting atop a hill,” she said, polished accent, hint of condescension. “Locally stable, but one nudge and it’s all over.” She drove terribly fast, discussing Minsky Moments; the idea that persistent stability breeds instability. “Naturally each cycle is different in key respects, and that’s because you’re far better at preventing past problems from recurring than new ones from arising.” I smiled, amused, insulted. “Despite knowing this all too well, you humans remain inexplicably fixated on the rearview mirror. And this blinds you to all manner of hazards ahead.”

She initiated a few perfect turns of the Tesla, dodging a squirrel or two, tumbling, unhurt. “The source of instability in this cycle is your dissatisfaction with ultra-low bond yields.” $8trln of sovereign debt carries a negative yield, still our central bankers buy. “You should logically respond to this historic rise in valuations across asset classes with a reduction in your expectations for future returns.” I nodded. “But instead you respond with indignation.” So I explained to her that without robust growth and a compounding stream of uninterrupted 7.5% returns, our entitlement systems will implode. They probably will anyway. And lacking the stomach for an honest accounting of this predicament, we prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist.

“Is this humor or sarcasm?” she asked. “Both,” I answered. “Fascinating, anyhow, you then demand that we algorithms produce mathematically impossible returns. So we apply leverage, which makes nearly anything possible, even at valuations that are 99th percentile in all of human history. The more leverage we apply, the more stable your system appears. The flatter your hilltop. Naturally, we ensure that today’s leverage looks different from yesterday’s disaster, recognizing your powerful aversion to repeating recent mistakes.” And I stared out the window, lost in thought, fall’s kaleidoscope whizzing by.

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Not done yet.

Round-Up Of Saudi Princes, Businessmen Widens, Travel Curbs Imposed (R.)

An anti-corruption probe that has purged Saudi Arabian royals, ministers and businessmen appeared to be widening on Monday after the founder of one of the kingdom’s biggest travel companies was reportedly detained. Shares in Al Tayyar Travel plunged 10 percent in the opening minutes of trade after the company quoted media reports as saying Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar, who is still a board member, had been held by authorities. The company gave no details but online economic news service SABQ, which is close to the government, reported Tayyar had been detained in an investigation by a new anti-corruption body headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Dozens of people have been detained in the crackdown, which has consolidated Prince Mohammed’s power while alarming much of the traditional business establishment. Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Saudi Arabia’s best-known international investor, is also being held, officials said at the weekend. The front page of Okaz, a leading Saudi newspaper, challenged businessmen on Monday to reveal the sources of their assets, asking: “Where did you get this?” in a bright red headline. Pan-Arab newspaper Al-Asharq Al-Awsat reported that a no-fly list had been drawn up and security forces in some Saudi airports were barring owners of private jets from taking off without a permit.

Among those detained are 11 princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers, according to Saudi officials. The allegations against the men include money laundering, bribery, extorting officials and taking advantage of public office for personal gain, a Saudi official told Reuters. Those accusations could not be independently verified and family members of those detained could not be reached. A royal decree on Saturday said the crackdown was in response to “exploitation by some of the weak souls who have put their own interests above the public interest, in order to, illicitly, accrue money”.

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The big fear is that it’s all a set-up to go after Iran. Which just signed a $30 billion energy deal with Russia.

Saudi Arabia Seals Yemen Borders, Accuses Iran Over Missile Strike (AFP)

The Saudi-led coalition battling Shiite Huthi rebels in Yemen closed the country’s air, sea and land borders Monday and accused Iran of being behind a weekend missile attack on Riyadh, saying it “may amount to an act of war”. Saudi Arabia intercepted and destroyed the ballistic missile, which was launched from Yemen as rebels appeared to escalate hostilities, near Riyadh’s international airport on Saturday. The missile was the first aimed by the Shiite rebels at the heart of the Saudi capital, underscoring the growing threat posed by the raging conflict. “The leadership of the coalition forces therefore considers this… a blatant military aggression by the Iranian regime which may amount to an act of war,” the official Saudi news agency SPA said in a statement.

Smouldering debris landed inside the King Khalid International Airport, just north of Riyadh, after the missile was shot down but authorities reported no major damage or loss of life. Yemen’s complex war pits the Saudi-backed government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi against former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his Iran-backed Huthi rebel allies. The Saudi statement said that the borders were being closed “to fill the gaps in the inspection procedures which enable the continued smuggling of missiles and military equipment to the Huthi militias loyal to Iran in Yemen”. Despite the temporary closure of the air, sea and land ports, Saudi would protect “the entry and exit of relief and humanitarian personnel”. “The coalition… affirms the kingdom’s right to respond to Iran at the appropriate time and in the appropriate form,” it added.

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Most of this is legal. But what are the Queen, Bono, Trudeau thinking?

Paradise Papers Leak Reveals Secrets Of The World Elite’s Hidden Wealth (G.)

The world’s biggest businesses, heads of state and global figures in politics, entertainment and sport who have sheltered their wealth in secretive tax havens are being revealed this week in a major new investigation into Britain’s offshore empires. The details come from a leak of 13.4m files that expose the global environments in which tax abuses can thrive – and the complex and seemingly artificial ways the wealthiest corporations can legally protect their wealth. The material, which has come from two offshore service providers and the company registries of 19 tax havens, was obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with partners including the Guardian, the BBC and the New York Times. The project has been called the Paradise Papers. It reveals:

• Millions of pounds from the Queen’s private estate has been invested in a Cayman Islands fund – and some of her money went to a retailer accused of exploiting poor families and vulnerable people. • Extensive offshore dealings by Donald Trump’s cabinet members, advisers and donors, including substantial payments from a firm co-owned by Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law to the shipping group of the US commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross. • How Twitter and Facebook received hundreds of millions of dollars in investments that can be traced back to Russian state financial institutions. • The tax-avoiding Cayman Islands trust managed by the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s chief moneyman. • A previously unknown $450m offshore trust that has sheltered the wealth of Lord Ashcroft.

• Aggressive tax avoidance by multinational corporations, including Nike and Apple.• How some of the biggest names in the film and TV industries protect their wealth with an array of offshore schemes. • The billions in tax refunds by the Isle of Man and Malta to the owners of private jets and luxury yachts.• The secret loan and alliance used by the London-listed multinational Glencore in its efforts to secure lucrative mining rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. •The complex offshore webs used by two Russian billionaires to buy stakes in Arsenal and Everton football clubs.

The disclosures will put pressure on world leaders, including Trump and the British prime minister, Theresa May, who have both pledged to curb aggressive tax avoidance schemes. The publication of this investigation, for which more than 380 journalists have spent a year combing through data that stretches back 70 years, comes at a time of growing global income inequality. Meanwhile, multinational companies are shifting a growing share of profits offshore – €600bn in the last year alone – the leading economist Gabriel Zucman will reveal in a study to be published later this week. “Tax havens are one of the key engines of the rise in global inequality,” he said. “As inequality rises, offshore tax evasion is becoming an elite sport.”

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No. Hell no.

Are We Taming Offshore Finance? (BBC)

The offshore finance industry puts trillions of dollars worldwide beyond the taxman’s reach. Bringing it to heel is like taming a cat; not just a normal moggy – a thankless task in itself – but a Cheshire Cat: nebulous, hard to pin down, disappearing and reappearing when it likes. No-one can actually agree on what a tax haven is. Or even on the name: one person’s tax haven is another’s “offshore financial centre”. No-one can agree on how many there are. Nor on exactly how much money is stashed offshore. No statistics are fully reliable. And this suits those who operate in offshore finance, from the owner of the wealth to the lawyer or accountant middlemen who manage the funds, to the often sun-kissed beaches of the jurisdictions where they are secluded or pass through. The industry’s key word is privacy. Or secrecy – a word it doesn’t like so much.

One adage cited by the taxation author and expert Nicholas Shaxson sums it up: “Those who know don’t talk. And those who talk don’t know.” But do we really not know how much is stashed offshore? A report this September, co-authored by the economist Gabriel Zucman, estimates about 10% of global GDP – the way we measure the size of the world’s economy – is held offshore, about $7.8tn (£6tn) . The Boston Consulting Group reported it last year at about $10tn. If you are thinking, wow, that’s bigger than Japan’s economy, you’d be right. But if you want a real wow, try $36tn – the estimate offered by James Henry, author of the book Blood Bankers. That’s twice as big as the US economy.

But no-one really knows. And here’s another wow. Remember the slogan “we are the 99%” coined by the Occupy movement to lambast the top 1% of the population for their disproportionate share of wealth? Well, the Zucman report says 80% of all offshore cash is owned by 0.1% of the richest households, with 50% held by the top 0.01%. So if you read this and are thinking, if you can’t beat them… quite frankly, it’s unlikely you will ever join them.

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This cannot be. Many Britons are miserable, and their Queen dodges taxes. As someone suggested, she should go live where her money is stashed.

Queen’s Private Estate Invested Millions of Pounds Offshore (G.)

Millions of pounds from the Queen’s private estate has been invested in a Cayman Islands fund as part of an offshore portfolio that has never before been disclosed, according to documents revealed in an investigation into offshore tax havens. Files from a substantial leak show for the first time how the Queen, through the Duchy of Lancaster, has held and still holds investments via funds that have put money into an array of businesses, including the off-licence chain Threshers, and the retailer BrightHouse, which has been criticised for exploiting thousands of poor families and vulnerable people. The duchy admitted it had no idea about its 12-year investment in BrightHouse until approached by the Guardian and other partners in an international project called the Paradise Papers.

Though the duchy characterised its stake in BrightHouse as negligible, it would not disclose the size of its original 2005 investment, which coincided with a boom in the company’s value. BrightHouse has since been accused of overcharging customers, and using hard sell tactics on people with mental health problems and learning disabilities. Last month, it was ordered to pay £14.8m in compensation to 249,000 customers. Critics are likely to ask why the Queen had money in there in the first place, and the duchy may face awkward questions about whether there was enough oversight and management of the Queen’s “onward investments” to ensure they remained ethical. The duchy has also disclosed investments in “a few overseas funds”, including one in Ireland, and will be under pressure to give details of where the money is being held.

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This is Britain’s reality….

UK Families Thousands Of Pounds Worse Off After Years Of Cuts (G.)

Seven years of cuts to tax credits and universal credit have hugely eroded their role in supposedly rewarding people for working, leaving many families thousands of pounds a year worse off, a study has concluded. Ministers’ promises that the systems would benefit families for taking on more work had effectively been broken because of the cuts, according to the report by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank. The study, titled Austerity Generation, details what it says are the huge numbers of families with children pushed into poverty due to cuts and freezes to benefits, as well as measures such as the new two-child limit for payments. It calls for the chancellor, Philip Hammond, to tackle the issue in next month’s budget by restoring previous levels of universal credit work allowances, the amount of monthly income that can be earned without penalty. These were cut in April 2016.

It also seeks a pension-style triple lock of the child benefit and child credit element of universal credit, ensuring it kept pace with prices and earnings. This alone, the report argues, would keep 600,000 children out of poverty. Introduced in 2003, working tax credits are intended to top up low earnings. It is among a series of benefits replaced by universal credit, which is gradually being rolled out nationally and is intended to incentivise working. But, according to the report, cuts have eroded much of this effect for families. It calculates that a couple with two young children, one working full-time and the other part-time on the national living wage, will lose more than £1,200 a year due to universal credit cuts. Another example given is that of a single parent with two young children who starts work at 12 hours a week on the national living wage and will have an effective hourly wage of £4.18, as opposed to £5.01 before the cuts.

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… and this is what its central bank chief thinks it is instead.

Britain ‘Would Be Booming’ If It Wasn’t For Brexit – Mark Carney (Tel.)

Britain’s economy would be “booming” if not for Brexit, the Governor of the Bank of England has said. Mark Carney said businesses were waiting for the outcome of Theresa May’s negotiations with the EU before making investment decisions, which was slowing down economic growth. He said the bank’s predictions for foreign investment in Britain was now 20 per cent lower than they estimated in the month before the referendum. Speaking to Peston on Sunday, he said: “Since the referendum, what we’re seeing is that business investment has picked up, but it hasn’t picked up to any of the extent that one would have expected given how strong the world is, how easy financial conditions are, how high profitability is and how little spare capacity they have. Despite acknowledging the strength of economy, Mr Carney warned: “It should really be booming, but it’s just growing.

“I think we know why that’s the case, because they’re waiting to see the nature of the deal with the European Union. “It’s the most important investment destination and [businesses] need to know transition and end state, everybody knows this, the government knows it and is working on it, UK businesses know it and the Europeans know it.” Asked if the economy would take a hit if the UK left the EU without a Brexit deal, he said: “In the short term, without question, if we have materially less access (to the EU’s single market) than we have now, this economy is going to need to reorient and during that period of time it will weigh on growth.” He added that in the event of a bad Brexit deal, the bank would not be able to cut future interest rates because of that inflationary pressure.

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Uncertainty.

Most EU Firms Plan Retreat From UK Suppliers (R.)

Most European businesses plan to cut back orders from British suppliers because of the slow progress of Brexit talks, a survey of company managers showed on Monday. 63% of non-British European companies expect to move some of their supply chain out of Britain, up from 44 percent in May, the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) said. With only 17 months left until Britain is due to exit the EU, the lack of clear progress in the negotiations has raised fears among executives of an abrupt departure with no transition. Monday’s survey raised the prospect of disruption for British manufacturers with EU clients. On Sunday, the Confederation of British Industry said almost two in three British firms will have implemented Brexit contingency plans by March if Britain and the rest of the EU have not struck a transitional deal by then.

Britain and the EU said last week they were ready to speed up talks, but CIPS said it was already too late for scores of businesses that look likely to be dropped by European customers. “British businesses simply cannot put their suppliers and customers on hold while the negotiators get their act together,” said Gerry Walsh, CIPS’ group CEO. “The lack of clarity coming from both sides is already shaping the British economy of the future – and it does not fill businesses with confidence.” British finance minister Philip Hammond said last month that a transition deal needed to be struck by early 2018. CIPS said a fifth of British businesses were struggling to secure contracts that extend beyond March 2019, the date Britain is due to leave the EU.

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“Offenders can also theoretically be confined to a room in the Big Ben clock tower, although this power has not been used since 1880.”

UK Ministers ‘Could Be In Contempt Of Parliament Over Brexit Papers’ (G.)

Labour is to warn ministers on Monday that they risk being held in contempt of parliament if they do not immediately release dozens of papers outlining the economic impact of Brexit. The government conceded last week that it had to publish the 58 studies covering various parts of the economy after the move was supported in a Labour opposition motion that was passed unanimously on Wednesday. While normal opposition motions are advisory, Labour presented this one as a “humble address”, a rare and antiquated procedure which the Speaker, John Bercow, advised was usually seen as binding. The leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, said on Thursday that the government accepted the motion as binding, and that “the information will be forthcoming”.

However, she gave no timescale – the government has previously said it will respond to opposition motions within 12 weeks – and indicated some elements of the papers would need to be redacted to avoid “disclosing information that could harm the national interest”. The Labour motion called for the papers to be released immediately to the Brexit select committee, which has a majority of Conservative MPs, and which would then decide what elements should not be published more widely. The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, has warned that Labour will refer the matter to Bercow over possible contempt if the studies are not passed to the committee before parliament’s one-week recess begins on Tuesday.

The parliamentary rulebook, known as Erskine May after its 19th-century author, says actions that obstruct or impede the Commons “in the performance of its functions, or are offences against its authority or dignity, such as disobedience to its legitimate commands” be can viewed as contempt. MPs held in contempt can be asked to apologise, suspended or even expelled by their fellows. Offenders can also theoretically be confined to a room in the Big Ben clock tower, although this power has not been used since 1880.

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Yeah, yeah, but: “core shadow banking activity,” including entrusted loans, trust loans, and undiscounted bankers’ acceptances, continues to expand…”

China’s Shadow Banking Halts as Regulation Bites – Moody’s (BBG)

China’s shadow banking sector, estimated by some analysts to be worth 122.8 trillion yuan ($18.5 trillion), stopped growing in the first half of the year as issuance of wealth management products declined, according to Moody’s Investors Service. For the first time since 2012, China’s gross domestic product grew faster than shadow banking assets in the six-month period, Moody’s said in a statement Monday. Following last month’s Communist Party Congress, further regulation will continue to rein in shadow banking and address some of the key systemic imbalances, Moody’s said. While Moody’s assessment offers some evidence that China’s crackdown on shadow financing is starting to bite, authorities continue to sound the alarm on high debt levels.

In an article on the People’s Bank of China’s website late Saturday, Governor Zhou Xiaochuan pointed to latent risks that are “hidden, complex, sudden, contagious and hazardous.” Government, household and corporate debt adds up to about 260 percent of the economy, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Moody’s said that shadow banking assets accounted for 83 percent of GDP on June 30, down from a peak of 87 percent in 2016. Michael Taylor, the company’s chief credit officer for the Asia-Pacific region, said “core shadow banking activity,” including entrusted loans, trust loans, and undiscounted bankers’ acceptances, continues to expand even as regulation has had an effect.

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The pressure on the judge(s) must be deafening.

Catalonia’s Puigdemont Conditionally Released By Belgian Judge (G.)

A Belgian judge has released the ousted Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, and four of his ministers under certain conditions after a hearing lasting more than 10 hours. Puigdemont, who faces charges of misuse of public funds, disobedience and breach of trust relating to the secessionist campaign, turned himself in to Belgian police earlier on Sunday. The judge decided to grant them conditional release late in the evening pending a ruling by a court within the next 15 days whether to execute the European arrest warrant issued by Spain. The five have been told they must not leave the country and stay in a fixed address. “The request made by the Brussels’ Prosecutor’s Office for the provisional release of all persons sought has been granted by the investigative judge,” a statement from the federal prosecutor’s office said.

On Friday, the Spanish government had issued European arrest warrants against Puigdemont, Antoni Comín, Clara Ponsatí, Meritxell Serret and Lluís Puig for trying to “illegally change the organisation of the state through a secessionist process that ignores the constitution”. The formal charges, punishable by 30 years in prison, are rebellion, sedition, embezzlement of public funds and disobedience to authority, for their role in organising the referendum on Catalan independence on 1 October. The secessionist politicians fled to Belgium on Monday after the Spanish authorities removed Puigdemont and his cabinet from office for pushing ahead with a declaration of independence following an illegal referendum. From his self-imposed exile, Puigdemont claimed he would not receive a fair trial in Spain but promised to cooperate with the Belgian justice system.

[..] In a sign of the growing headache the crisis is causing the Belgian coalition government, the country’s deputy prime minister, Jan Jambon, from the Flemish nationalist party, questioned Spain’s handling of the crisis in Catalonia and suggested the EU should intervene. “When the police hit people, we can still ask questions,” he said. “When the Spanish state has locked two opinion leaders, I have questions. And now the Spanish government will act in the place of a democratically elected government? “Members of a government are put in prison. What have they done wrong? Simply apply the mandate they received from their constituents.”

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Oct 302017
 
 October 30, 2017  Posted by at 9:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Salvador Dalí Cadaques 1923

 

The Dollar’s Enjoying a Renaissance (BBG)
Biggest Stock Collapse in World History Has No End in Sight (BBG)
China’s Bonds Spell Disaster (BBG)
China’s Debt Battle Has Global Growth at Stake (BBG)
China Corporate Bond Investors’ Luck May Be About to Run Out (BBG)
China Bond Selloff Spreads to Stocks as Deleveraging Risks Mount (BBG)
US Regulator Wants To Loosen Leash On Wells Fargo (R.)
Damning Verdict On UK Austerity In Major Report (Ind.)
Plan To Create $400 Million Army in Sahel Faces UN Moment Of Truth (G.)
Greek Islanders Are ‘Heroes,’ Says European Commission VP (K.)
Bushman Banter’ Was Crucial To Hunter-Gatherers’ Evolutionary Success (G.)

 

 

“More than a dead cat bounce?!”

The Dollar’s Enjoying a Renaissance (BBG)

After getting pummeled all year by the euro, the dollar is having a moment. In Wall Street parlance, it may be more than just a dead-cat bounce, as politics, economic fundamentals and technicals have converged to give the greenback a boost. The U.S. currency surged in the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump’s election victory before suffering a long descent that lasted from December until last month. That’s when the political viability of U.S. fiscal policy reform in the shape of – as yet to be detailed – tax cuts (and maybe even tax reform) became increasingly likely. Although equity markets have reflected optimism all year that tax cuts would come, the dollar has conveyed doubt along with gold and bonds. The Bloomberg Dollar Index is up more than 4% from its low for the year on Sept. 8, partially rebounding from the more than 10% drop since the end of December.

There could be more to come in the short term if tax cuts happen, because the legislation is likely to contain a provision that would allow U.S. companies to repatriate significant foreign profits and further bolster the economy. That could spark more inflation and put U.S. monetary policy on a more aggressive path. In terms of the euro, the political situation in Europe has been a distraction. After the election of the far-right Alternative for Germany party to the Bundestag on Sept. 24, the independence movement in the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia has devolved into a political rat’s nest. Uncertainty, regionalism and the risk of escalating discord in Spain are adding to the political dissonance – a stark contrast to the apparent acceptance of U.S. Senate Republicans of higher national debt levels in exchange for tax cuts.

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Lots of Bloomberg today. After the Party Congress, things start to look very different. Stocks and bonds both under a lot of pressure.

Biggest Stock Collapse in World History Has No End in Sight (BBG)

It’s going to take more than the biggest stock slump in world history to convince analysts that PetroChina has finally hit bottom. Ten years after PetroChina peaked on its first day of trading in Shanghai, the state-owned energy producer has lost about $800 billion of market value – a sum large enough to buy every listed company in Italy, or circle the Earth 31 times with $100 bills. In current dollar terms, it’s the world’s biggest-ever wipeout of shareholder wealth. And it may only get worse. If the average analyst estimate compiled by Bloomberg proves right, PetroChina’s Shanghai shares will sink 16% to an all-time low in the next 12 months.

The stock has been pummeled by some of China’s biggest economic policy shifts of the past decade, including the government’s move away from a commodity-intensive development model and its attempts to clamp down on speculative manias of the sort that turned PetroChina into the world’s first trillion-dollar company in 2007. Throw in oil’s 44% drop over the last 10 years and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious plans to promote electric vehicles, and it’s easy to see why analysts are still bearish. It doesn’t help that PetroChina shares trade at 36 times estimated 12-month earnings, a 53% premium versus global peers. “It’s going to be tough times ahead for PetroChina,” said Toshihiko Takamoto, a Singapore-based money manager at Asset Management One, which oversees about $800 million in Asia. “Why would anyone want to buy the stock when it’s trading for more than 30 times earnings?”

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No mincing words.

China’s Bonds Spell Disaster (BBG)

Qin Han, chief fixed-income analyst at Guotai Junan Securities, doesn’t mince his words when it comes to the rout in Chinese bonds. “Considering the pace of the slump, which is very fast, it’s fair to say we are likely in a bond disaster,” Qin said. Shorter-tenor notes led the selloff in government debt on Monday, making the yield curve inversion the steepest since at least 2006, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Concern that rising borrowing costs and inflation will erode returns have weighed on the debt market in the past month, with one top-performing macro fund manager saying he was shorting Chinese bonds.

The yield on five-year government bonds surged nine basis points to 3.97% as of 1:29 p.m. in Shanghai, while the cost on 10-year notes jumped six basis points to 3.9%, with the spread reaching eight basis points earlier Monday. The yield gap will widen further, and the cost on debt due in a decade will likely reach 4% “very soon,” said Qin. “The yield will become even more inverted as fragile sentiment prevails,” he said. “Yes, this is overselling, but it’s not the time to buy yet as the overselling could last longer.”

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It’s not just China that’s affected.

China’s Debt Battle Has Global Growth at Stake (BBG)

It used to be that when America sneezed, the world caught a cold. This time around, it’s the risk of a sickly China that poses a bigger threat. The world’s second-largest economy is now trying to ward off the sniffles. While output is still growing at a pace that sees GDP double every decade, the problem remains that much of that has been fueled by a massive buildup of credit. Total borrowing climbed to about 260% of the economy’s size by the end of 2016, up from 162% in 2008, and will hit close to 320% by 2021 according to Bloomberg Intelligence estimates. Economy-wide debt levels are on track to rank among “the highest in the world,” according to Tom Orlik, BI’s Chief Asia Economist. That path may be what prompted outgoing People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan to warn of the risk of a plunge in asset values following a debt binge, or a “Minsky Moment,” earlier this month.

Given that China is forecast by the International Monetary Fund to contribute more than a third of global growth this year, controlling China’s debt matters far beyond its borders. There are two key components of China’s credit clampdown, each posing challenges to policy makers. First is wringing out bets on property prices. As President Xi Jinping put it in a keynote policy speech to the Communist Party leadership on Oct. 18: Housing is for living in, not for speculation. The latest data show that in some areas, prices are still surging in many cities despite a raft of measures to make it harder for investors to buy real estate with borrowed money. Xi’an, China’s ancient capital, saw home values soar almost 15% in September from a year before. It will be up to regulators to come up with measures that deliver on Xi’s mandate without tipping housing into a downward spiral.

Property crashes in the U.S., Japan and U.K. over the past three decades amply illustrated how damaging they can be to economies. The second key challenge is progress in aligning borrowing costs with borrowers’ ability to repay — rather than with their relationship with the state. China’s financial system has long let companies that are state owned or are seen to be implementing state initiatives get funding more cheaply than others. That’s thanks to the assumption the government would step in if needed to back them up. To help encourage capital to be deployed more efficiently – and to prevent firms that are effectively insolvent keep going thanks to continued funding – policy makers have begun to gradually take away implicit support.

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“A majority of non-bank financial institutions’ debt holdings are corporate bonds, so their selloff can lead to severe consequences..”

China Corporate Bond Investors’ Luck May Be About to Run Out (BBG)

Investors in Chinese company bonds have so far avoided the brunt of a debt selloff that’s driven 10-year sovereign yields to the highest in three years. Their luck may be about to run out. Now that the Communist Party Congress is over, China’s bond holders may be about to get hit by “daggers falling from the sky,” said Huachuang Securities Co., referring to aggressive deleveraging policies. Plus, accelerating inflation and the risk that China’s central bank may follow the Federal Reserve in raising borrowing costs are casting a shadow over the entire bond market. That all means that the situation that’s existed for most of 2017 – sovereign yields rising, and corporate debt remaining relatively resilient – is at risk of cracking. As appetite for bonds of any kind dwindles and authorities roll out measures that target higher-risk investments, company securities are in the line of fire.

“It’s very likely we will see a significant increase in corporate yields in the coming year,” said David Qu, a market economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking in Shanghai. “The trigger could be tougher regulations or a default. A majority of non-bank financial institutions’ debt holdings are corporate bonds, so their selloff can lead to severe consequences. Banks are underestimating authorities’ intentions to tighten regulations.” Signs of a turnaround are already beginning to show, with the yield on three-year AAA notes – the most common grading for Chinese corporate debt – rising 21 basis points this month to the highest level since early June. The spread between those notes and government debt has climbed in October and was last at 116 basis points, though it’s still a long way from this year’s peak of 150 basis points in April.

Losses accelerated earlier this month after People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan voiced concern about high borrowing levels and signaled that growth could beat expectations. If concerns on regulation intensify and risks of a debt repayment failure appear, the market may go through a major correction in the near term, Huachuang analysts including Qu Qing wrote in a note last week.

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How far will Xi go? Is that big yuan devaluation still in play?

China Bond Selloff Spreads to Stocks as Deleveraging Risks Mount (BBG)

Chinese stocks fell the most since early August, breaking the calm that persisted through the recent Communist Party Congress, as government bonds extended a monthly rout amid concern the government will step up efforts to reduce leverage in the financial sector. The Shanghai Composite Index dropped as much as 1.7% on Monday, and was 0.8% lower at 11:27 a.m. local time. Small-cap shares bore the brunt of the selling, with the ChiNext gauge tumbling as much as 2.5%. Equity indexes in Hong Kong pared gains. The 10-year yield climbed five basis points to 3.90%, a three-year high. While China’s equity market was subdued for most of this month amid state efforts to limit volatility during the twice-a-decade Party gathering, sovereign yields have been climbing.

There’s more than 1 trillion yuan ($150 billion) of funding provided by the central bank that matures this week, the most since February. “Pessimism in the bond market is spilling over to the stocks,” said Hao Hong, chief China strategist at Bocom International Holdings Co. in Hong Kong. “Surging yields of the government bonds are resulting in worsened sentiment and higher funding costs for companies, of which smaller ones will suffer most as they rely more heavily on the market rather than bank loans for financing.” There are also early signs economic data may weaken, after solid figures for most of this year buoyed equities. Chinese shares held steady during the week-long Congress amid speculation the “National Team,” as state-backed funds are referred to, would step in to avoid any large swings.

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Yeah, that sounds great. Wells Fargo should be shut down and its execs put on trial.

US Regulator Wants To Loosen Leash On Wells Fargo (R.)

A leading U.S. regulator wants to make it easier for Wells Fargo to pay employees when they leave, loosening a restriction in place since a phony accounts scandal hit the bank last year, according to people familiar with the matter. The initiative comes as President Donald Trump is trying to lighten rules on Wall Street and the bank regulator, Keith Noreika, acting Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), must weigh whether to vet new Wells Fargo executives. If Noreika’s approach prevails, the OCC could go easier on Wells Fargo and any other large banks sanctioned in the future. Since Noreika took control of the OCC in May, he has advocated easing up on sanctions imposed on Wells Fargo in the wake of the scandal over abusive sales practices, according to current and former officials.

Wells Fargo reached a $190 million settlement in September 2016 after admitting that its sales staff opened as many as 2.1 million accounts without customers’ consent. Since then the estimate has climbed to as many as 3.5 million. As part of the deal with regulators, incoming Wells Fargo executives can face a vetting from the OCC while severance payouts must be cleared by the OCC and a sister agency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. But Noreika wants officials to work faster when they review severance pay and the agency can choose to waive its check on incoming executives. Hundreds of Wells Fargo employees have had their severance payouts frozen when they left as regulators tried to determine what role those employees might have had in the scandal.

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High time for the Tories to leave.

Damning Verdict On UK Austerity In Major Report (Ind.)

Despite years of painful austerity, the UK’s level of public spending is today no lower as a share of national income than it was after 11 years of a Labour government in 2008, according to a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The major report from the UK’s leading economic think tank shows that deep cuts have left the NHS, schools and prisons in a “fragile state”, and have merely returned public spending to pre-financial crisis levels. The document presents a challenge to claims that Conservative-driven austerity saved the public finances following years of Labour overspending. The think tank’s report goes on to conclude that in the light of the data, Chancellor Philip Hammond’s plan to abolish the UK’s deficit by the mid-2020s is “no longer sensible”.

With his critical Budget approaching in November, it challenges him to admit the target looks “increasingly unlikely” in the light of a worsening economic outlook, exacerbated by Britain’s “terrible” productivity and uncertainty over Brexit. The IFS analysis of public spending levels appears in its pre-Budget look at the Chancellor’s options published on Monday. It found public spending as a share of national income was at a similar level both now and shortly before the financial crash, an event David Cameron and George Osborne claimed Labour overspending left the country ill-prepared for. In 2007-08, public spending as a share of GDP was 39%, it peaked in 2009-10 at 45.1% and is forecast to be 39.6% this year, according to the IFS.

The main justification for austerity has been the need to reduce and eventually abolish the deficit, a target that the IFS refers to as “ever-receding”. The IFS argues Mr Hammond’s critical budget speech next month, will be given against a backdrop of a worsening economic outlook that demands austerity goals are rethought. [..] The IFS report said: “It looks like [Mr Hammond] will face a substantial deterioration in the projected state of the public finances. “He will know that seven years of ‘austerity’ have left many public services in a fragile state. And, in the known unknowns surrounding both the shape and impact of Brexit, he faces even greater than usual levels of economic uncertainty.”

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Armies. The only answer we have.

Plan To Create $400 Million Army in Sahel Faces UN Moment Of Truth (G.)

Unprecedented plans to combat human trafficking and terrorism across the Sahel and into Libya will face a major credibility test on Monday when the UN decides whether to back a new proposed five-nation joint security force across the region. The 5,000-strong army costing $400m in the first year is designed to end growing insecurity, a driving force of migration, and combat endemic people-smuggling that has since 2014 seen 30,000 killed in the Sahara and an estimated 10,000 drowned in the central Mediterranean. The joint G5 force, due to be fully operational next spring and working across five Sahel states, has the strong backing of France and Italy, but is suffering a massive shortfall in funds, doubts about its mandate and claims that the Sahel region needs better coordinated development aid, and fewer security responses, to combat migration.

The Trump administration, opposed to multilateral initiatives, has so far refused to let the UN back the G5 Sahel force with cash. The force commanders claim they need €423m in its first year, but so far only €108m has been raised, almost half from the EU. The British say they support the force in principle, but have offered no funds as yet. Western diplomats hope the US will provide substantial bilateral funding for the operation, even if they refuse to channel their contribution multilaterally through the UN. France, with the support of the UN secretary general, António Guterres, and regional African leaders, has been pouring diplomatic resources into persuading a sceptical Trump administration that the UN should financially back the force.

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With a straight face. But the refugees must stay on the islands, even if there’s no place for them.

Greek Islanders Are ‘Heroes,’ Says European Commission VP (K.)

The Greek islanders in the eastern Aegean who have helped thousands of refugees under adverse conditions are “heroes,” according to the European Commission’s First Vice President Frans Timmermans. In an interview with Sunday’s Kathimerini ahead of his visit to Greece on Monday, Timmermans said that, despite being under immense pressure, the mayors and residents of the islands are doing everything in their power to help refugees.Timmermans, who has described the situation on the islands as “unacceptable,” expressed concern over the difficulty the Greek government has in absorbing EU funds – around €1 billion – for infrastructure to shelter some 50,000 refugees.

“We are faced with a series of problems,” he said, adding that that the Commission’s experience “has shown that it’s hard to get the support we provide in the spot where it is needed most.” Timmermans, who was one of the main architects of last year’s deal between the EU and Turkey to stem the flow of migrants into Europe, said that people whose asylum applications have been processed should be returned to Turkey as stipulated in the agreement. But with just 1,600 returns having taken place since 2016, Timmermans said that “this doesn’t happen enough.” He refrained from placing blame on either Greece or Turkey but insisted that the system must not be changed. Migrants, he said, must stay on the islands, despite the difficulties, because their transfer to the mainland would send a wrong message and create a new wave of arrivals.

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” If the success of a civilisation is judged by its endurance over time, this means the Khoisan are by far the most successful, stable and sustainable civilisation in human history.”

Bushman Banter’ Was Crucial To Hunter-Gatherers’ Evolutionary Success (G.)

Barely a day goes by when proponents of greater taxation, universal income and other initiatives aimed at addressing systematic inequality are not accused of inciting the “politics of envy”. Doing so is an effective way of closing down debate; envy is, after all, among the deadliest of the “deadly sins”. Yet politicians inclined to dismiss inequality in this way may do so at their peril. For the evidence of our hunting and gathering ancestors suggests we are hard-wired to respond viscerally to inequality. In the 1960s, the Ju/’hoansi “Bushmen” of the Kalahari desert became famous for turning established views of social evolution on their head. But their contribution to our understanding of the human story is far more important than simply making us rethink our past.

Until then, it had been widely believed that hunter gatherers endured a near-constant battle against starvation. But when a young Canadian anthropologist, Richard B Lee, conducted a series of simple economic input-output analyses of the Ju/’hoansi as they went about their daily lives, he found not only did they make a good living from hunting and gathering, but they did so on the basis of only 15 hours’ work per week. On the strength of this, anthropologists redubbed hunter-gatherers “the original affluent society”. I started working with Ju/’hoansi in the early 1990s. By then, more than a half-century of land dispossession meant that, other than in a few remote areas, they formed a highly marginalised underclass eking out a living on the dismal fringes of an ever-expanding global economy. I have been documenting their often traumatic encounters with modernity ever since.

The importance of understanding how hunter-gatherers made such a good living has only recently come to light, thanks to a sequence of genomic studies and archaeological discoveries. These show that the broader Bushmen population (referred to collectively as Khoisan) are far older than we had ever imagined, and have been hunting and gathering continuously in southern Africa for well over 150,000 years. If the success of a civilisation is judged by its endurance over time, this means the Khoisan are by far the most successful, stable and sustainable civilisation in human history.

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Sep 172017
 
 September 17, 2017  Posted by at 9:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Edward Hopper House tops 1921

 

Trade War With China Will End US Global Finance Monopoly – Jim Rogers (RT)
Pension Storm Warning (Mauldin)
S&P On The Verge Of History (ZH)
How Austerity Works (Steve Keen)
Why Bitcoin May Be Worth Only A Third Of Its Value (MW)
How Common is the Seneca Curve? (Ugo Bardi)
Greek Debt Write-Offs To Be Based On Properties (K.)
The Eurozone May Be Back On Its Feet. But Is Greece? (G.)
Chinese Capital Bans Winter Construction To Improve Air Quality (R.)
White House Denies EU Claim That It’s Shifting on Climate Deal (BBG)

 

 

“It will force the rest of the world to find an alternative to the US financial system.” They haven’t found one yet.

Trade War With China Will End US Global Finance Monopoly – Jim Rogers (RT)

RT : What is the likelihood that the US will go through with and actually impose economic sanctions on China if it does not implement the new sanctions regime against North Korea? Jim Rogers : Sanctions are sanctions. They could do sanctions which are not very important or don’t do much damage. And then they will have good public relations which says they have sanctions, but it is meaningless. I would suspect if anything, that is what they will start with. If they put sanctions on China in a big way, it brings the whole world economy down. And in the end, it hurts America more than it hurts China because it just forces China and Russia and other countries closer together. Russia and China and other countries are already trying to come up with a new financial system. If America puts sanctions on them, they would have to do it that much faster and in the end America will lose its monopoly on the financial system, which will hurt America more than anybody.

RT : What do you think, is it an empty rhetoric and saber-rattling from Donald Trump because he said “those [UN] sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen” without specifying what he meant by that. Do you think this is just mere bluff on the part of the US, or would it really use the ‘nuclear option’? JR : If it uses a nuclear option for sanctions, it will hurt America much more than will hurt North Korea, it will hurt America much more than it will hurt China, Russia and everybody else. It will force the rest of the world to find an alternative to the US financial system. If he does that, it is going to cause a lot of turmoil in the world financial economy and in the end it is going to hurt America more than it is going to hurt anybody else. I would give you an example, if you look at Russian agriculture right now – America put sanctions on Russian agriculture trying to hurt Russia, but it has helped Russian agriculture. Russian agriculture is booming now. In the end, America has hurt itself more than it has hurt anybody else.

RT : If that happens, what would the consequences be for the global economy? Could this end up becoming a global economic crisis? JR : We are probably going to have a global economic problem, maybe even crisis, in the next couple of years. This may be one of the things that start it. There is always something which starts a crisis. If America does something like this, this could be the thing that did it. In 1929, it started when America started a huge trade war with the rest of the world and the economists said, “please, this is a mistake,” but America did that anyway. And then we had a great collapse and The Great Depression of the 1930s.

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Pensions and hurricanes: lies and bad preparation.

Pension Storm Warning (Mauldin)

Total unfunded liabilities in state and local pensions have roughly quintupled in the last decade. You read that right – not doubled, tripled or quadrupled: quintupled. That’s nice when it happens on a slot machine, not so nice when it’s money you owe. The graph [shows] that unfunded pension liabilities for state and local governments was $2 trillion. But that assumes an average 7% compound return. What if we assume 4% compound returns? Now the admitted unfunded pension liability is $4 trillion. But what if we have a recession and the stock market goes down by the past average of more than 40%? Now you have an unfunded liability in the range of $7–8 trillion.We throw the words a trillion dollars around, not realizing how much that actually is. Combined state and local revenues for the US total around $2.6 trillion.

Following the next recession (whenever that is), the unfunded pension liabilities for state and local governments will be roughly three times the revenue they are collecting today, and that’s before a recession reduces their revenues. Can you see the taxpayer stuck between a rock and a hard place? Two immovable objects meeting? The math just doesn’t work. Pension trustees don’t face personal liability. They’re literally playing with someone else’s money. Some try very hard to be realistic and cautious. Others don’t. But even the most diligent can’t control when the next recession comes, or when the stock market will crash, leaving a gaping hole in their assets while liabilities keep right on rising. I have had meetings with trustees of various government pensions.

Many of them want to assume a more realistic discount rate, but the politicians in their state literally refuse to allow them to assume a reasonable discount rate, because owning up to reality would require them to increase their current pension funding dramatically. So they kick the can down the road. Intentionally or not, state and local officials all over the US made pension promises that future officials can’t possibly keep. Many will be out of office when the bill comes due, protected from liability by sovereign immunity. We are starting to see cities filing for bankruptcy. That small ripple will be a tsunami within 7–10 years.

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“..a market rally that goes deep into 2019..”

S&P On The Verge Of History (ZH)

U.S. stocks have risen more in the past eight years than in almost any other post-World War II time of economic growth, as defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The logic here is that economic expansions fuel bull markets and so it’s reasonable to measure market recoveries after a period of macro contraction ends. Using that definition, let’s review how the S&P 500 has performed during the last ten economic recoveries. To be precise, the birth of the stock market’s bull market is dated as the first day after an NBER-defined recession has ended. The market run continues through the peak. The S&P 500 Index jumped 172% from July 2009, when the current expansion started, through Wednesday. The biggest advance was about 300% and occurred from April 1991 to March 2001, when Internet-related stocks soared.

As Capital Speculator blog’s James Picerno notes, the question before the house: Will the momentum of late endure long enough to overtake the 1991-2001 record in duration and/or magnitude? If so, the bull market in the here and now has to last another 463 trading days, which translates into a market rally that goes deep into 2019. There’s just one thing wrong… Remember – the ‘market’ is not the ‘economy’… or maybe it is in the new normal?

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It really is this simple.

How Austerity Works (Steve Keen)

I provide a simple numerical explanation of how austerity works at the micro (individual person, industrial sector, or country) and the macro level (country, or group of countries in a currency union).

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A thousand different views. At least this one took some homework.

Why Bitcoin May Be Worth Only A Third Of Its Value (MW)

Dan Davies, senior research adviser at Frontline Analysts, argued there’s no point in attempting to value bitcoin as if it were just another type of security. “It’s not a security with some intrinsic value, rather it’s a currency that in the long term is governed by an exchange rate driven by trade or volume of transactions,” Davies said. The fact that a significant proportion of bitcoins is hoarded or held for investment doesn’t disqualify it from being a currency, according to Davies. But the BTC/USD BTCUSD, -3.37% exchange rate is entirely determined by speculative portfolio capital flows right now, he said, leaving it difficult to assign fair value. Viewing bitcoin as a currency makes it possible, at least in theory, to come up with a long-term exchange rate by using the quantity theory of money.

The formula is: MV = PT, where money supply multiplied by its velocity equals the price level multiplied by the transaction volume. Since both price and transaction volume is expressed in U.S. dollars, the price of bitcoin would be 1/BTCUSD, Davies said. In this case, bitcoin’s supply is fixed at 21 million and money velocity for normal currencies is usually at around 10, according to Davies. So, the long-term fundamental value of bitcoin equals the long-term value of transactions that will be carried out in bitcoin divided by 210 million (21 million bitcoins multiplied by velocity). The hardest value to plug into this formula is the transaction volume. If, for example, bitcoin was used primarily for global trade in illicit drugs, the figure would be around $120 billion, which is an estimate the U.N. used in 2014.

“I used that number a few years ago, but we would have to come up with a different estimate, as bitcoin is clearly used for things other than illicit drugs now,” Davies said. Davies declined to offer an updated number, saying he needed to do more research. But doubling that transaction volume number to $240 billion, for example, and dividing by 210 million produces a value of $1,142, around a third of the current exchange rate of $3,569. That isn’t far from an estimate that Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz Global Investors, recently suggested as a fair value for bitcoin. In an interview with CNBC, El-Erian said the fair price should be about half or a third of what it is now. El-Erian argued the currency will only survive as a peer-to-peer means of payment and governments won’t allow mass adoption.

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It’s universal.

How Common is the Seneca Curve? (Ugo Bardi)

My talk at the Summer Academy of the Club of Rome was mainly a presentation of my latest book, “The Seneca Effect” (Springer 2017). In practice, of course, a book contains many more things than you can say in a 40 minute speech. So, I tried to concentrate on the idea that the behavior I call “the Seneca Curve” is very common, even universal. Below, you can see the Seneca Curve: things go up slowly but collapse rapidly, as the Roman philosopher Seneca said first some two thousand years ago. You may have heard the old Latin motto, “Natura non facit saltus” (Nature doesn’t make jumps) meaning that things change gradually, not abruptly. It may be true in many circumstances but, in practice, it is wholly normal that Nature accumulates energy potentials (as when you inflate a balloon) and then releases them all of a sudden (as when you puncture a balloon).

There are reasons why Nature behaves in this way, but the point I made at the school was not so much about why the curve is so common but how human beings are not normally aware of it. In fact, our thought is often shaped by the idea that things will continue evolving the way they have been evolving up to a certain point. Just think about economic growth, and you’ll notice how economists expect it to continue forever. It goes without saying that the economy is one of those complex systems which are most vulnerable to the Seneca collapse. So, I tried to stress that the understanding that the Seneca Curve exists and it is common is a recent discovery. Even though Seneca had understood it by intuition already almost 2000 years ago, in its modern form it is less than a century old. It was proposed for the first time by Jay Forrester in the 1960s and it was enshrined in “The Limits to Growth” study of 1972, even though the term “Seneca Effect” was not used.

During my talk, I showed this image to evidence how our ideas on the path that complex systems follow evolved over time. You see how modern the idea of “overshoot” (and the subsequent collapse) is. Malthus just didn’t have it. Despite being often accused of catastrophism, he couldn’t envisage societal collapse; he lacked the necessary intellectual tools. He was an optimist! Today, we have this concept. We know that complex systems tend not just to decline, they tend to collapse. But this perception is totally missing in the general debate. When you mention societal collapse, there are two possible reactions. The most common one is that such a thing will never happen.

Then, if you manage to convince people that it is possible, they endeavor to do everything they can to keep the system going; whatever it takes. They don’t realize that when you exceed the carrying capacity of the system, you have to come back, one way or another. And the more you try to stay above the limit, the faster and the harsher the return will be. What you have to do is to ease the collapse, follow it, not try to stop it. Otherwise, it will be worse.

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Is that corruption I smell?

Greek Debt Write-Offs To Be Based On Properties (K.)

Only business owners with no real estate properties will qualify for a partial write-off of corporate debts in the context of the extrajudicial settlement mechanism. This criterion excludes the owner’s main residence and the production properties, i.e. the professional properties used for the entrepreneurial activity. That was the decision that the technical experts of the country’s creditors are said to have reached with representatives of Greek banks and the Independent Authority for Public Revenue, while there was also convergence on setting the criteria for debt settlement for companies owing between €20,000 and €50,000. In this latter category of debtors, which mostly comprise small enterprises, a standardized procedure will be adopted for assessing repayment capacity and the determination of the amount that the debtor will have to pay on a regular basis.

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The Greece firesale will never come anywhere near the €60 billion, but everyone keeps mentioning the number. Their entire railway system went for €45 million. Selling off an entire country is a very bad idea. Europe will find out, but too late.

The Eurozone May Be Back On Its Feet. But Is Greece? (G.)

“It is obvious. Our policies have changed radically, ” says Stergios Pitsiorlas, the deputy economy and development minister, whose airy office is visited daily by bankers, hedge-fund managers and industrialists jockeying for bargains. “Being leftwing doesn’t mean you are also a fool. It doesn’t mean, in the words of Lenin, that we are useful idiots. Let’s speak seriously. Those who complain that Greece is being sold off, that Greece will lose out, don’t know what they are talking about.” Tall, bearded and bespectacled, Pitsiorlas is the point man in Athens’s attempt to raise €60bn (£53bn) through privatisations – sales that, increasingly, have become the focus of international creditors keeping the debt-stricken country afloat. In what has been called the most ambitious sell-off in modern European history, assets ranging from public utilities and transport companies to marinas and hotels are up for grabs.

[..] Privatisations are central to completion of a new round of bailout negotiations with the EU and IMF. Greece’s third, €86bn, rescue programme is due to end next summer and Tsipras has made a clean exit from it, which would herald Athens’s return to the markets, an overarching goal. But hurdles lie ahead. On Friday, eurozone finance ministers warned that continued persecution of the country’s former statistics chief, Andreas Georgiou, could dent international confidence and derail chances of recovery. Officials also raised the prospect of fresh austerity should Greece fail to hit the primary surplus target of 3.5% – a prospect made likely by a huge shortfall in tax revenues. But in a week when the Italians finally took control of Greece’s state-owned train network (acquired by Italy’s own state operator for a paltry €45m) Pitsiorlas is optimistic.

He cites the takeover of Piraeus port by the Chinese shipping conglomerate Cosco as an example of what privatisations can bring: “They will make it the biggest port in Europe and that will boost other professions, create thousands of jobs, revitalise shipyards, which they are also looking at, pave the way to better trains, roads and logistic centres, and trigger development and growth.” In five years, he enthuses, Greece will be a very different place, cosmopolitan and vibrant. “There are rules which need to be observed but ultimately everything will be solved,” he insisted, referring to the obstacles Eldorado and others have encountered. “A miracle will happen. There will be huge change … but the state can’t do it alone, the private sector has to be involved.”

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What happens to the bricklayers et al?

Chinese Capital Bans Winter Construction To Improve Air Quality (R.)

Beijing will suspend construction of major public projects in the city this winter in an effort to improve the capital’s notorious air quality, official media said on Sunday, citing the municipal commission of housing and urban-rural development. All construction of road and water projects, as well as demolition of housing, will be banned from Nov. 15 to March 15 within the city’s six major districts and surrounding suburbs, said the Xinhua report. The period spans the four months when heating is supplied to the city’s housing and other buildings. China is in the fourth year of a “war on pollution” designed to reverse the damage done by decades of untrammelled economic growth and allay concerns that hazardous smog and widespread water and soil contamination are causing hundreds of thousands of early deaths every year.

Beijing has promised to impose tough industrial and traffic curbs across the north of the country this winter in a bid to meet key smog targets. In the capital, it is aiming to reduce airborne particles known as PM2.5 by more than a quarter from their 2012 levels and bring average concentrations down to 60 micrograms per cubic metre. Last year the city experienced near record-high smog in January and February, which the government blamed on “unfavourable weather conditions” Some ‘major livelihood projects’ such as railways, airports and affordable housing may be continued however, providing they are approved by the commission, said the report.

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Paris is an empty deal.

White House Denies EU Claim That It’s Shifting on Climate Deal (BBG)

The European Union said President Donald Trump’s administration is shifting its approach to a landmark global agreement on climate change, an assertion which was quickly denied by the White House. The U.S. signaled that it’s no longer seeking to withdraw from the pact and then renegotiate it, but rather wants to re-engage with the Paris Agreement from within, said EU’s climate chief Miguel Arias Canete. He spoke in an interview from Montreal, where the U.S., China, Canada and almost 30 other countries gathered to discuss the most-sweeping accord to date to protect the environment. “Our position on the Paris agreement has not changed. @POTUS has been clear, US withdrawing unless we get pro-America terms,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Twitter.

Announcing plans to quit the pact, Trump said in June that the agreement favored other countries at the expense of U.S. workers and amounted to a “massive redistribution” of U.S. wealth. Trump’s administration last month began the formal process of exiting from the climate accord, drawing fire from allies and foes alike. EU climate commissioner Canete made the comments about a change of stance after meeting with Everett Eissenstat, deputy director of the National Economic Council and deputy assistant to the president for international economic affairs. “Now we don’t see the messages that they are withdrawing from the Paris agreement radically,” Canete said, adding that the countries at Saturday’s meeting agreed not to seek a re-negotiation of the Paris deal.

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Sep 142017
 
 September 14, 2017  Posted by at 9:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Edward Hopper Chop Suey 1929

 

Top Democrats Announce Deal With Trump To Protect ‘Dreamers’ (MW)
Fed Balance Sheet Reduction Will Reduce Funds Sent To Treasury (BI)
“You Should Take the Fed at Their Word” (WS)
“Markets Have Always Been Wrong” – Jamie Dimon (ZH)
10% of Global GDP Is Stashed In Tax Havens (BI)
Did You Know Housing Gets Counted Twice In GDP? (Murray)
The Real Earnings of Men (WS)
China’s Steel Mills Run at Full Tilt as Output Hits New Peak (BBG)
China’s Economy Cools Again (BBG)
US Senate Rejects Bid To Repeal War Authorizations (R.)
Has the NYT Gone Collectively Mad? (Robert Parry)
Crisis Brings Sea Change To Greek Housing Market (K.)
More Austerity May Be Ahead (K.)

 

 

They dine together, close a deal, and then can’t wait to tell entirely different stories to the press. But Trump has forced them into action.

Top Democrats Announce Deal With Trump To Protect ‘Dreamers’ (MW)

Top Democratic leaders said Wednesday night that they had reached a compromise agreement with President Donald Trump to enact protections for the children of undocumented immigrants in exchange for increased border security measures that do not include funding for a wall — which the White House then disputed. “We had a very productive meeting at the White House with the president,” read a joint statement from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “The discussions focused on DACA. We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.” But shortly after that statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders disputed that border-wall funding was off the table. “Excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to,” she said.

Schumer, of New York, and Pelosi, of California, had dinner with Trump at the White House on Wednesday night. It was apparently the second bipartisan agreement between Democrats and Trump in the past week, after last week’s surprise deal that provided funding for Hurricane Harvey relief and extended the debt ceiling for three months, much to Republicans’ chagrin. Extending protections for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which were rescinded by the Trump administration last week, is a top priority for Democrats and many Republican lawmakers. Without new legislation, the 690,000 children of undocumented immigrants — so-called “Dreamers” — enrolled in the program could face deportation as their status expires over the next two years. Trump had said he may “revisit” the issue of Dreamers in six months if Congress didn’t act.

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It’s like driving into a dark and wet dead end alley.

Fed Balance Sheet Reduction Will Reduce Funds Sent To Treasury (BI)

The Federal Reserve is not expected to raise interest rates again until at least December, and even that increase is now in doubt given low inflation and high political uncertainty in the United States. That doesn’t mean the central bank has no plans to tighten monetary policy, however. Officials are widely expected to announce the start of a gradual reduction of the Fed’s $4.4 trillion balance sheet, which more than quintupled in response to the Great Recession and financial crisis of 2007-2009. Policymakers are hoping the shrinkage, which they intend to accomplish by ceasing reinvestments of maturing bonds back into the central bank’s portfolio, will have minimal market impact. But a previous episode in 2013 known as the “taper tantrum,” when bond yields spiked sharply higher at the mere mention of a possible end to the Fed’s bond-buying program, offers a cautionary tale.

Regardless of immediate market impact, there will be a longer term effect on the government budget, currently the subject of heated debate, that most investors and politicians are ignoring. That’s because the Fed’s bond-buying program, in addition to lowering the government’s borrowing costs at a time when weak economic activity called for bigger budget deficits, created a stream of yearly returns of nearly $100 billion for the Federal Reserve which it then siphoned back to the Treasury. Sometimes these are referred to as the Fed’s “profits,” but that is a deceptive way of describing what is in effect an intra-government transaction. “As assets under management drop, so too will revenue on that portfolio. This will be a lost revenue source for the Treasury that will raise deficits and add to the Treasury’s financing” costs, writes Societe Generale Economist Stephen Gallagher in a research note to clients.

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Downward volatility.

“You Should Take the Fed at Their Word” (WS)

The markets have been brushing off the Fed and have done the opposite of what the Fed has set out to accomplish. The Fed wants to tighten financial conditions. It’s worried about asset prices. It’s worried that these inflated assets which are used as collateral by the banks, pose a danger to financial stability. It has mentioned several inflated asset classes by name, including commercial real estate, which backs $4 trillion in loans heavily concentrated at regional banks. And yet, markets have loosened financial conditions since the Fed started its tightening cycle in earnest last December. Markets are hiding behind “low” inflation, when the Fed is focused on asset prices. So longer-term yields have been falling even as short-term yields have moved up in line with the Fed’s target rate, and thus the yield curve has flattened.

The dollar has been falling. Equities have been soaring to new highs. And companies, if they’re big enough, are able to get funding for the riskiest projects at stunningly low rates. “I think there is maybe too much confidence that the Fed is not really going to do too much more on interest rates, that we’ll have one or two more rate hikes and that’s it,” Brian Coulton, chief economist for Fitch Ratings, told Reuters on Tuesday. Market participants are expecting “just one or two interest rate increases a year” despite the Fed’s stated expectation of seeing long-run interest rates at around 3.0%. “When the Fed says they’re going to engage in a gradual rate of interest rate increases, they mean three or four rate hikes every year and we think that’s what they’re going to do,” Coulton said. “We think that you should take them at their word and it may even be a little faster than that.”

This disconnect between market expectations and the Fed’s stated intentions could create volatility in fixed-income markets when markets finally catch up, he said. Volatility, when it’s used in this sense, always means downward volatility: a sudden downward adjustment in prices and spiking yields – a painful experience for the coddled bond market with big consequences for the stock market. “We think they’re going to be … getting more worried about some of the negative consequences of QE, the fact that it encourages risk taking and may create some issues for the banks,” he said. And he expects – this is “more of a personal view,” he said – that the Fed will continue with the rate hikes, or even accelerate them, even if consumer price inflation remains low.

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“There’s low volatility until they’re highly volatile.” Sounds like Minsky.

“Markets Have Always Been Wrong” – Jamie Dimon (ZH)

Oh, listen, markets are markets. There’s low volatility until they’re highly volatile. The stock market is high until it goes low. Markets therefore have always been wrong. And I think people are making mistakes. I can give you reasons why it might be low. We’ve had this fairly consistent, coherent, consistent growth. But forget the geopolitical noise and stuff like that. We’re chugging along, 2%. Europe is doing 2%. Russia – I mean, Japan is doing 1.5%, China’s doing their 6%. You know, earnings are doing okay. We’ve had a fairly benign economic environment. That’s a reason. I can give you another reason is that the Central Banks of the world that bought $12 trillion of securities. 12 trillion. Since they started doing QE. And that’s only just the U.S. That’s an awful lot of security purchases that might – in all things be equal, and remember things are never all equal – can reduce volatility.

And there may be other sides that are known. And once other sides happen, watch out. Then volatility goes way up. They’ll say they’re a genius, they figured out when it’s going to happened. I don’t guess on which kind of volatility. Like I said, we do a business. And we have to manage the volatility.” [..] The hurricanes are irrelevant. I wouldn’t have any policy matter as a function of hurricanes. Going to reduce GDP in the short run, they’ll probably increase it after that. I’ll let the economists figure it out. But almost a $20 trillion economy, that isn’t a reason to change monetary policy. It will create a lot of noise in the numbers, but I wouldn’t overreact to that. Advice, it’s very sympathetic. We’re doing – just so you know, we’re going to do a lot for affordable housing, get these people in these states 20,000 people in Florida, 6,000 in Houston. Most of the banks are waiving fees, delaying loan payments, offering special services for your employees and stuff like that.”

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Saw the graph before. Greece is the big one here.

10% of Global GDP Is Stashed In Tax Havens (BI)

The Panama Papers and other major leaks from offshore tax havens have helped shed light on just how much money the world’s wealthiest people are parking in untaxed obscurity, away from the authorities and, importantly, economic researchers. This new evidence has helped economists gain greater insight into just how steep disparities between the rich and the poor have become, because having actual data on offshore holdings tends to widen wealth gaps considerably. Three of these researchers have teamed up on two important papers that offer a more in-depth look at what the world’s worst tax-evading and -avoiding nations are, and they find that the existence of tax havens makes inequality much worse than it appears with standard, publicly available economic data.

“The equivalent of 10% of world GDP is held in tax havens globally, but this average masks a great deal of heterogeneity—from a few % of GDP in Scandinavia, to about 15% in Continental Europe, and 60% in Gulf countries and some Latin American economies,” Annette Alstadsæter at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Niels Johannesen of the University of Copenhagen, and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California at Berkeley write in the first of the two articles. Global gross domestic product is about $75.6 trillion, according to World Bank figures. They then apply these estimates to build revised series of top wealth shares in 10 countries accounting for nearly half of world GDP. “Because offshore wealth is very concentrated at the top, accounting for it increases the top 0.01% wealth share substantially in Europe, even in countries that do not use tax havens extensively,” the authors write. “It has considerable effects in Russia, where the vast majority of wealth at the top is held offshore.”

About 60% of the wealth of Russia’s richest households is held offshore, the economists estimate. “More broadly, offshore wealth is likely to have major implications for the concentration of wealth in many of the world’s developing countries, hence for the world distribution of income and wealth.” “These results highlight the importance of looking beyond tax and survey data to study wealth accumulation among the very rich in a globalized world,” they continue. They say that despite lip service to transparency, “very little has been achieved” in recent years. “With the exception of Switzerland, no major financial center publishes 18 comprehensive statistics on the amount of foreign wealth managed by its banks.”

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GDP is a lousy measure.

Did You Know Housing Gets Counted Twice In GDP? (Murray)

Your car gets counted once in GDP when it is built, not when it is driven. Your clothes, your bicycle, your furniture, all get counted once when they are manufactured, and not again when they are worn, ridden, or sat on. But homes are counted twice: Once when they are constructed, and again when they are occupied. The argument to include both housing construction (as a new capital investment good) and housing occupancy (as a consumption good) arises from a conceptual trick at the heart of national accounting. That trick is to separate out two types of ‘final’ goods when adding up the ‘value-added’ in the economy, which is what GDP does. One good is a consumption good. These are goods (and services) that households consume, like clothes, food, entertainment, and so forth. All the value added at intermediate stages in the production chain of these goods can be captured by looking only at the final retail value of the goods.

That value represents the total value-added across the economy to produce that good. The other type of good is an investment good. This is a good that lasts a long time and contributes to future production. A new rail line, for example, is classified a new investment good, and the value of its production is counted in GDP, even though households don’t get any value from it until it is used to run trains. Once the rail line is being used to run trains, the value of those travel services is also counted in GDP as a consumption good, which will include within it the value contribution of the rail line itself. Thus there is a type of double-counting when it comes to investment goods — you count them when they are made, and you count them again when they are used to make consumption goods.

This is intentional. The production of investment goods is a large share of GDP — between 20 and 40% in most countries. By ignoring this production, which is also the more volatile part of production over the business cycle, GDP loses much of its value as a measure of how economically active a country is. The construction of new homes is, therefore, an investment good, which gets counted in GDP. But then the occupancy of these same homes gets counted gain as a consumption ‘home rental’ good each period after. This applies to the 70% of households (in Australia at least) who own their own home, not just the renters. Although they don’t pay themselves rent to occupy their home, GDP is calculated as if they do by ‘imputing’ the rent that homeowners would have to pay themselves if they instead rented their home.

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” On this inflation-adjusted basis, men had earned more than that in 1972″
..

The Real Earnings of Men (WS)

For women who were working full-time year-round, median earnings (income obtained only from working) rose 0.7% on an inflation-adjusted basis from a year ago to $48,328, continuing well-deserved increases over the data series going back to 1960. The female-to-male earnings ratio hit a new record of 80.5%, after steady increases, up from the 60%-range, where it had been between 1960 and 1982. And while that may still be inadequate, and while more progress needs to be made for women in the workforce, it was nevertheless the good news.

Men in the workforce haven’t been so lucky. They have experienced the brunt of the wage repression over the past four decades, obtained in part via inflation, where wages inch up, but not quite enough to keep up with the Fed-engineered loss of purchasing power of the dollar. Median earnings for men who worked full-time year-round fell 0.4% in 2016, adjusted for inflation, to $51,640. On this inflation-adjusted basis, men had earned more than that in 1972 ($52,361). And it’s down 4.4% from the earnings peak in 1973 ($54,030). This translates into 44 years of real earnings decline:

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Just in time for the Party Congress. What a lucky coincidence!

China’s Steel Mills Run at Full Tilt as Output Hits New Peak (BBG)

Steel production in China chalked up a fresh monthly record as mills in the world’s top supplier increase output to profit from a rally in prices to six-year highs before government-ordered pollution curbs are implemented. Crude steel output climbed to 74.59 million metric tons last month, surpassing the previous peak of 74.02 million in July, and up from 68.57 million in August 2016, according to the statistics bureau Thursday. While that’s an all-time high for the month, daily output was less than the record in June. Production surged 5.6% to 566.4 million tons in the first eight months, also a record. Steel prices have been supercharged this year in the country that accounts for half of global output. A crackdown on illegal mills shuttered some supply, boosting the remaining producers, while demand has been underpinned by significant state-backed stimulus.

Investors are also eyeing signals that the government will press ahead with anti-pollution curbs over winter. “Steel mills have boosted output as profit margins are good,” said Helen Lau at Argonaut Securities in Hong Kong. “Production cuts won’t set in until September or October, so steelmakers are churning out as much as they can in the meantime.” Spot reinforcement bar in China, a benchmark product used in construction, hit 4,396 yuan a ton early this month, the highest level since October 2011. Prices have gained 30% this year. Steel output may drop in coming months as Asia’s top economy presses ahead with supply-side reforms. Hebei province, the center of China’s mammoth steel industry, has plans that’ll allow for winter output cuts of as much as 50% to reduce pollution. Citigroup Inc. has estimated daily production could shrink 8% because of the environmental crackdown.

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But wait! Same source, same day, opposite views.

China’s Economy Cools Again (BBG)

The pace of China’s economic expansion unexpectedly cooled further last month after a lackluster July, as factory output, investment and retail sales all slowed. • Industrial output rose 6.0% from a year earlier in August, versus a median projection of 6.6% and July’s 6.4%. That’s the slowest pace this year • Retail sales expanded 10.1% from a year earlier, versus a projection of 10.5% and 10.4% in July, also the slowest reading in 2017 • Fixed-asset investment in urban areas rose 7.8% in the first eight months of the year over the same period in 2016, compared with a forecast 8.2% rise. That’s the slowest since 1999.

The continued cooling of the world’s second-largest economy suggests that efforts to rein in credit expansion and reduce excess capacity are hitting home ahead of the key 19th Party Congress in October. Still, producer-price inflation and a manufacturing sentiment gauge both exceeded estimates earlier this month, signaling some resilience. The Shanghai Composite Index reversed earlier gains to fall 0.4%. “Today’s data shows that the economy clearly already peaked in the first half of this year,” said Larry Hu at Macquarie in Hong Kong. “Recently both property and exports are slowing down and that’s why the whole economy is slowing.” “Regulatory tightening in the financial sector is putting a squeeze on highly indebted firms reliant on shadow bank financing,” said Frederic Neumann at HSBC in Hong Kong.

“And officials are unlikely to take their foot off the regulatory brakes any time soon. Growth therefore looks set to weaken further into year end, as regulators step up their campaign to rein in shadow banking.” “That’s still on track to a gradual moderation,” Chang Jian, chief China economist at Barclays in Hong Kong, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “The government has been closing capacity, especially those that don’t meet environmental standards, and enforcement this year has been much stricter in the run-up to the 19th Party Congress.”

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An empire built on war.

US Senate Rejects Bid To Repeal War Authorizations (R.)

The U.S. Senate rejected an amendment on Wednesday that would have forced the repeal of war resolutions used as the legal basis for U.S. military actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and against extremists in Syria and other countries. The Senate voted 61 to 36 to kill the measure, which six months after it became law would have put an end to authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF) passed in 2001 and 2002. The legislation was offered by Republican Senator Rand Paul as an amendment to a must-pass annual defense policy bill, which lawmakers are using as a vehicle to gain a greater say in national security policy. Paul’s measure was aimed at asserting the constitutional right of Congress to approve military action, rather than the president.

Some of the other amendments address issues such as sanctions on North Korea and President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender troops in the military. Many members of Congress are concerned the 2001 AUMF, passed days after the Sept. 11 attacks to authorize the fight against al Qaeda and affiliates, has been used too broadly as the legal basis for a wide range of military action in too many countries. The majority of support for the amendment came from Democrats, who joined Paul in arguing that it is long past time for Congress to debate a new authorization for the use of force. “We should oppose unauthorized, undeclared, unconstitutional war. At this particular time, there are no limits on war,” Paul said.

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Not really. They’re just chasing illusions.

Has the NYT Gone Collectively Mad? (Robert Parry)

For those of us who have taught journalism or worked as editors, a sign that an article is the product of sloppy or dishonest journalism is that a key point will be declared as flat fact when it is unproven or a point in serious dispute – and it then becomes the foundation for other claims, building a story like a high-rise constructed on sand. This use of speculation as fact is something to guard against particularly in the work of inexperienced or opinionated reporters. But what happens when this sort of unprofessional work tops page one of The New York Times one day as a major “investigative” article and reemerges the next day in even more strident form as a major Times editorial? Are we dealing then with an inept journalist who got carried away with his thesis or are we facing institutional corruption or even a collective madness driven by ideological fervor?

What is stunning about the lede story in last Friday’s print edition of The New York Times is that it offers no real evidence to support its provocative claim that – as the headline states – “To Sway Vote, Russia Used Army of Fake Americans” or its subhead: “Flooding Twitter and Facebook, Impostors Helped Fuel Anger in Polarized U.S.” In the old days, this wildly speculative article, which spills over three pages, would have earned an F in a J-school class or gotten a rookie reporter a stern rebuke from a senior editor. But now such unprofessionalism is highlighted by The New York Times, which boasts that it is the standard-setter of American journalism, the nation’s “newspaper of record.” In this case, it allows reporter Scott Shane to introduce his thesis by citing some Internet accounts that apparently used fake identities, but he ties none of them to the Russian government.

Acting like he has minimal familiarity with the Internet – yes, a lot of people do use fake identities – Shane builds his case on the assumption that accounts that cited references to purloined Democratic emails must be somehow from an agent or a bot connected to the Kremlin. For instance, Shane cites the fake identity of “Melvin Redick,” who suggested on June 8, 2016, that people visit DCLeaks which, a few days earlier, had posted some emails from prominent Americans, which Shane states as fact – not allegation – were “stolen … by Russian hackers.” Shane then adds, also as flat fact, that “The site’s phony promoters were in the vanguard of a cyberarmy of counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts, a legion of Russian-controlled impostors whose operations are still being unraveled.”

Read more …

See my article yesterday.

Crisis Brings Sea Change To Greek Housing Market (K.)

“What we are experiencing is the end of the era of home ownership in Greece as households can no longer save to buy property,” says Nikos Hatzitsolis, chief executive at real estate firm CB Richard Ellis-Axies, underscoring the fundamental changes that the crisis has triggered in the Greek property market. This change, the experts explain, is not just evident in the case of those just flying the nest who wouldn’t be in any position to own their home anyway unless it was given to them by their family, but also existing homeowners who are opting to leave their property and rent it out or sell it. “Around 70% of homeowners are becoming renters because they choose to sell their property to pay off debts such as mortgages, late taxes or credit card debt,” says Lefteris Potamianos, vice president of the Athens-Attica Estate Agents Association.

“If any money is left over from the transaction, it is not reinvested in another property, as was the case in the past, but used to rent another home. Basically, the dream of ownership that drove past generations has come to an end.” A significant%age of homeowners choosing to rent out their home and lease a different property for themselves also consists of young people who see their accommodation requirements increasing, due to the birth of a child for example, or want to live in an area with better schools or security. “We are seeing more and more such cases in the property market,” says Potamianos. “Given that sales prices are very low and it is hard to find a buyer, many owners prefer to rent out their property and then rent another for themselves, as getting bank funding for a purchase is incredibly difficult. Some even move around to see which area suits them best. Renting has this flexibility, allowing you to relocate if you’re not happy.”

For the overwhelming majority, however, renting is the only option, as buying is seen as bringing no advantages whatsoever anymore. “Even from a purely economic perspective, it’s not worth owning a home today. In contrast, people who rent avoid all the additional tax costs and are not exposed to the instability of the tax framework for real estate assets, which has become a tool of politics and results in no taxpayer knowing what tomorrow will bring,” explains Hatzitsolis. “Previous generations believed that buying houses was a form of investment. This is no longer the case, as we’re seeing a completely different mentality in younger people.”

The expert also draws attention to the cases of people who are stuck with their properties. “I know an owner who inherited a house in [the upscale Athenian suburb of] Ekali and has to pay 80,000 euros a year in property tax,” he recounts. “At best, the house could fetch 50,000 euros a year in rent, which means that this man has to cover losses of 30,000 euros every year, something that is a complete dead end.” This owner has little choice but to sell, says Hatzitsolis, adding that such cases also explain why an increasing number of people are refusing their inheritances.

Read more …

Europe won’t rest until they have created their very own Somalia.

More Austerity May Be Ahead (K.)

Greek authorities will honor their commitments as laid out in the latest loan deal with international creditors, even if this results in the need for additional austerity measures next year, a top government official indicated Wednesday. In an unusual show of honesty and realism, the same official suggested that there might not be a “clean exit” for Greece after its third bailout expires next summer but something more restrictive. There are a range of possible scenarios between that of a clean exit, which Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has heralded, and the prospect of a credit line for Greece, the official said. On the prospect of more austerity next year, the official said he believed that there would not be a big divergence in fiscal targets next year. “If there is, we’ll see what happens, but were are committed to a target of 3.5% of GDP,” the official said, referring to the primary surplus goal set by creditors.

The official also noted that, once a primary surplus target is reached, residual revenue will go toward boosting the Social Solidarity Income program for 2017 for Greeks who have been hardest hit by austerity but also toward paying off state debts to the private sector and to growth programs. Decisions on these matters are expected to be taken following talks with the mission chiefs representing Greece’s foreign lenders, who are expected to travel to Athens next month and to assess the progress of authorities in boosting tax collection and curbing spending. Although Greek officials have underlined the importance of completing the next bailout review by the end of the year, sources suggest that the process might drag into January.

The most important thing, the official noted, is “that we are not part of the problem” when important discussions about the future of the Greek program get under way in the first quarter of next year, touching on the participation (or not) of the IMF in Greece’s third bailout and relief for the country’s debt burden. Greek authorities are concerned about the IMF’s stance opposite Athens. Apart from the Fund’s traditionally tough position on fiscal matters, there are concerns too about its demands for a further recapitalization of Greek banks. The official, however, assumed the stance of the ECB on this issue, noting that there is no need for Greek banks to receive further capital. The official said that Greece planned to tap international bond markets in the next 6-9 months following a successful return in July.

Read more …

Sep 132017
 
 September 13, 2017  Posted by at 7:09 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Eugene Delacroix Greece expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi 1826

 

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, famous for his imbibition capacity and uttering -not necessarily in that order- the legendary words “when it becomes serious, you have to lie”, presented his State of the Union today. Which is of pretty much limited interest because, as Yanis Varoufakis’ book ‘Adults in the Room’ once again confirmed, Juncker is nothing but ventriloquist Angela Merkel’s sock puppet.

But of course he had lofty words galore, about how great Europe is doing, and how that provides a window for more Europe, in multiple dimensions. Juncker envisions a European Minister of Finance (Dutch PM Rutte immediately scorned the idea), and he wants to enlarge the EU by inviting more countries in, like Albania, Montenegro and Serbia (but not Turkey!).

Juncker had negative things to say about Britain and Brexit, about Poland, Prague and Hungary who don’t want to obey the decree about letting in migrants and refugees, and obviously about Donald Trump: Brussels apparently wants ‘to make our planet great again’.

What the likes of Jean-Claude don’t seem to be willing to contemplate, let alone understand or acknowledge, is that the EU is a union of sovereign countries. The meaning of ‘sovereignty’ fully escapes much of the pro-EU crowd. And if they keep that up, it will break the union into pieces.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary must accept their migrant ‘quota’, as decided in Brussels, and that, too, constitutes an infringement on these countries’ sovereignty. And don’t forget, sovereignty is not something that can be divided into separate parts, some of which can be upheld while others are discarded. A country is either sovereign or it is not.

The single euro currency is already shirking awfully close to violating sovereignty, if not passing over an invisible line, and a European Finance Minister would certainly constitute such a violation. At some point, the politicians in all these countries will have to tell their voters that they’re about to surrender -more of- their sovereignty and become citizens of Merkel Land. But they don’t want to do that, because as soon as people would realize this, the pitchforks would come out and the union would be history.

The EU will be able to muddle on for a while longer, but Europe is not at all doing great economically (however, to maintain the illusion ECB head Draghi buys €60 billion a month in ‘assets’), and when the next crisis comes people will demand their sovereignty back. It really is that simple. And what will the negotiations look like to make that happen? 27 times Brexit?

 

The real Europe is not the one Juncker paints a portrait of. The real Europe is Greece. That’s where you can see the economic reality as well as the political one. Greece has no sovereignty left to speak of, despite the fact that it is guaranteed it in EU law. Europe’s political reality is about raw power. About the rich waterboarding the poor, to the point that they are turned from sovereign citizens of their countries into lost souls in debt prisons.

This week, another chapter has been added to the dismal annals of the Greek adventures in the European Union. It’s like the Odyssee, I kid you not. Like the previous chapters, this one will not solve the Greek crisis, or even alleviate it, but instead it will deepen it further, and not a little bit. This chapter concerns the forced auctioning of -real estate- properties.

Not to Greeks, 90% of whom can’t afford to buy anything at all, let alone property, but to foreigners, often institutional investors. At the same time, bad loans, including mortgage loans, will be offloaded for pennies on the dollar to that same class of ‘investors’. Once the Troika is done with this chapter, Greece will have seen capital destruction the likes of which the world has seldom if ever witnessed.

People in the country have a hard time understanding the impact:

Greece Property Auctions Certain To Drive Market Prices Even Lower

Ilias Ziogas, head of property consultancy company NAI Hellas and one of the founding members of the Chartered Surveyors Association, said that the property market is certain to suffer further as a result of the auctions: “The impact on prices will be clearly negative, not because the price of a property will be far lower at the auction than a nearby property, but because it will diminish demand for the neighboring property.”

[..]Giorgos Litsas, head of the GLP Values chartered surveyor company, which cooperates with PQH [..] told Kathimerini that the only way is down for market rates. “I believe that unless there is an unlikely coordination among the parties involved – i.e. the state (tax authorities, social security funds etc.), the banks and the clearing firms – in order to prevent too many properties coming onto the market at the same time, rates will go down by at least 10%.”

He noted that “we estimate the stock of unsold properties of all types comes to 270,000-280,000, in a market with no more than 15,000 transactions per year. Therefore the rise in supply will send prices tumbling.” Yiannis Xylas, founder of Geoaxis surveyors, added, “I fear the auctions will create an oversupply of properties without the corresponding demand, which translates into an immediate drop in rates that may be rapid if one adds the portfolios of bad loans secured on properties that will be sold to foreign funds at a fraction of their price.”

A 10% drop? Excuse me? Even in the center of Athens, rental prices for apartments that are not yet absorbed by Airbnb have plummeted. With so many people making just a few hundred euro a month that is inevitable. You can rent a decent place for €200 a month, and if you keep looking I’m sure you can find one for €100. An 80% drop?! But property prices would only go down by 10% in a market that has 20 times more unsold properties than it sells in a year?

The Troika creditors found they had to deal with attempts to prevent the wholesale fire sale of Greek properties. They now think they’ve found the solution. First, they will force the government to lower official valuations concerning the so-called “primary residence protection”, which protected homes valued at below €300,000 from foreclosure. Second, they will bypass the associations of notaries who refused to cooperate in ‘physical’ auctions, as well as protesters, by doing the fire sale electronically:

E-Auctions Of Foreclosed Property For First Time This Month In Greece

Environment and Energy Minister Giorgos Stathakis confirmed the development in statements to a local television station, announcing the relevant justice ministry is ready to begin electronic auctions in the middle of next week.At the same time, Stathakis noted that a law protecting a debtor’s primary residence from creditors will be expanded until the end of 2018. According to reports, the e-auctions will take place every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday over a four-hour period, i.e. from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Some 5,000 foreclosed commercial properties will be up for sale by the end of the year, which translates into 1,250 properties per month, on average.

Currently, the primary residence protection against foreclosure extends to properties valued (by the State tax bureau) at under €300,000, a very high threshold that shields the “lion’s share” of mortgaged residential real estate in the country, if judged by current commercial property values in Greece. Creditors and local lenders have called for a decrease in the protection threshold, a prospect that is very likely.

The development is also expected to generate another round of acrimonious political skirmishing, given that both leftist SYRIZA, and its junior coalition partner, the rightist-populist Independent Greeks party, rode to power in January 2015 on a election campaign platform that included an almost universal protection of residential property from bank foreclosures and auctions.

Associations representing notaries – professionals who in Greece are law school graduates specializing in drawing up contracts and maintaining registries of deeds, property transactions, wills etc. – had also blocked old-style auctions from taking place in district courts by ordering their members not to take part. The e-auction process aims to bypass this opposition, as well as disruptions and occupations of courtrooms by anti-austerity protesters.

The claim is that Greek banks must be made healthy again by removing bad loans from their books. The question is if selling both properties and bad loans to foreign institutional investors for pennies on the buck is a healthy way to achieve that. But yeah, if 50% of your outstanding loans are bad, you have a problem. Still, at the same time, the problem with that is that many if not most of those loans have turned sour because of the neverending carrousel of austerity measures unleashed upon the country. It’s a proverbial chicken and egg issue.

If Brussels were serious about Greek sovereignty, it would make sure that Greek homes were to remain in Greek hands. You can’t be sovereign if foreigners own most of your real estate. By bleeding the country dry, and forcing the sale of Greek property to Germans, Americans, Russians and Arabs, the Troika infringes upon Greek sovereignty in ways that will scare the heebees out of other EU nations.

It’s not for nothing that the entire Italian opposition is talking about a parallel currency next to the euro. That is about sovereignty.

5,000 Greek Properties Under the Electronic Auction System by End of 2017

Auctions of foreclosed properties to settle bad debts are seen as key to returning Greek banks to health by helping reduce the burden of non-performing loans. These currently stand at roughly €110 billion, or 50% of the banks’ total loans. Under pressure from its lenders, in the summer of 2016 the Greek government passed measures allowing the sale of delinquent mortgages and small business loans to international funds, a move seen by many as yet another betrayal by the SYRIZA-led government.

Greek banks won’t return to health, they’ll simply shrink the same way the people do who can’t afford to rent a home or eat decent food. Austerity kills entire societies, including banks. If Mario Draghi would decide tomorrow morning to include Greece in his €60 billion a month QE bond-buying program, and Greece could use that money to stop squeezing pensions and wages, and no longer raise taxes and unemployment, both the people AND the banks could return to health. It would take a number of years, but still.

 


Attica! Attica!

 

Whatever you call what happens to Greece, and what’s been happening for nearly 10 years now, whether you call it fiscal waterboarding or Shock Doctrine, it is definitely not something that has a place in a union of sovereign nations bound together in mutual respect and dignity. And that will ensure the demise of that union.

 

Another aspect of the fire sale is the valuation of the properties austerity has caused to crumble (so many buildings in Athens are empty and falling apart, it’s deeply tragic, at times it feels like the entire city is dying). The press calls it a hard task, but that doesn’t quite cover it.

It’s not just about mortgages, many Greeks simply give up their properties because they can’t afford the taxes on them. People that inherit property refuse to accept their inheritance, even if it’s been in their families for generations, and it’s where they grew up. In that sense, it may be good to lower valuations to more realistic levels. But tax revenues will plunge along with the valuations, and the government is already stretched silly. Add a new tax, then?

Greece Property Value Review A Hard Task

The government is facing a daunting task in adjusting the so-called objective values (the property rates used for tax purposes) to market levels by the end of the year, as its bailout agreement dictates. The huge slump in transactions and the forced sales of properties due to their owners’ debts do not lead to any safe conclusions for the values per area. One in four sales are conducted with prices that lag the objective value by 60-70%, and the prices of 2008 by 70-80%. The Finance Ministry must overcome all the obstacles to bring to Parliament all the necessary adjustments and regulations.

Moreover, once the objective values are brought in line with market rates, the government will have to maintain the same amount of revenues from the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) either by raising the tax’s rates or by introducing a new tax in the form of the old Large Property Tax.

Furthermore, once the objective values are reduced by 40-50% to match the going prices, banks may see problems with their capital adequacy, as lenders will incur losses by having to revise the collateral they get. Mortgage loans in Greece amount to €59.44 billion, of which 42%, or €25.4 billion are nonperforming.

Yeah, there’s the health of the banks again. And the government. And the people. A wholesale fire sale is the worst possible thing that could happen at this point in time. Greece needs help, stimulus, hope, not more austerity and fire sales. Juncker and his Berlin ventriloquist have this all upside down and backwards, squared. The one thing the EU cannot afford itself to do, is the one thing it engages in.

They may as well pack in the whole thing today, and go home. Actually, that would be by far the best option, because more of this will inevitably lead to the very thing Europe prides itself in preventing for the past 70 years: battle, struggle, war, fighting in the streets, and worse. If the EU cannot show it exists for the good and benefit of its people, it no longer has a reason to exist.

Saving the banks in the richer countries by waterboarding an entire other country is not just the worst thing they could have thought of, it’s entirely unnecessary too. The EU and ECB could easily have saved Greece from 90% of what it has gone through, and will go through going forward, at virtually no cost at all. But yes, German, French, Dutch banks would likely have had to cut the bonuses of their bankers, and their vulture funds couldn’t have snapped up the real estate quite that cheaply.

Summarized: the EU is a disgrace, morally, politically, economically. I know that French President Macron on the one side, and Yanis Varoufakis’ DiEM25 movement on the other, talk about reforming the EU. But the EU is the mob, and you don’t reform the mob. You dismantle their organization and then you lock them up.