Jul 252017
 
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Vincent van Gogh Sunflowers 1887

 

The Next Financial Crisis Is Parked Out Front (G.)
Bank of England Warns of ‘Spiral Of Complacency’ on Household Debt (G.)
How Big Of A Deleveraging Are We Talking About? (Roberts)
IMF: US Looks Weaker, Rest Of The World Picks Up Economic Slack (CNBC)
Bloated London Property Prices Fuel Exodus (G.)
The Foreclosure ‘Pig’ Moves Through The Housing-Crisis ‘Python’ (MW)
Australian Housing Market At Risk Of Crash – UBS Research (CNBC)
It’s Time To Rethink Monetary Policy (Rochon)
Scandals Threaten Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Grip On Power (G.)
Brussels To Act ‘Within Days’ If US Sanctions Hurt EU Trade With Russia (RT)
EU Divided On How To Answer New US Sanctions Against Russia (R.)
US ‘May Send Arms’ To Ukraine, Says New Envoy (BBC)
Tsipras and Varoufakis Go Public With Spat (K.)
Alexis Tsipras’s Mixed Messages Over Appointing Me As Finance Minister (YV)
Greece Plans Return To Bond Market As Athens Sees End To Austerity (G.)
Greek Spending Cuts Prettify Budget Data (K.)

 

 

Can’t let a headline like that go to waste. More on the topic in the 2nd article.

The Next Financial Crisis Is Parked Out Front (G.)

Good morning – Warren Murray here with your Tuesday briefing. Britain’s rising level of personal debt has prompted a warning from the Bank of England about dire consequences for lenders and the economy. There are “classic signs” that the risks involved in car finance, credit cards and personal loans are being underestimated as financial institutions make hay while the sun shines, says Alex Brazier, the Bank’s director for financial stability. The economy defied expectations when it grew strongly in the six months after the EU referendum. But that was partly fuelled by consumers racking up their credit cards and loans, as lenders offered easier terms and longer interest-free deals. Much higher levels of borrowing compared with income are now being allowed, at a time when household incomes have only marginally risen.

As the anniversary of the global financial meltdown approaches, Brazier has suggested current low rates of default on personal credit may have again caused banks to become blinkered to the potential for disaster. Back in 2007, “banks – and their regulators – were blind to the basic fact that more debt meant greater risk of loss”. “Lenders have not entered, but they may be dicing with, the spiral of complacency. The spiral continues, and borrowers rack up more and more debt. “[In 2007] complacency gave way to crisis. Companies and households were unable to refinance their debts. The result was economic disaster.”

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The BoE creates huge bubbles, and afterwards starts warning about them. Typical central bank behavior.

Bank of England Warns of ‘Spiral Of Complacency’ on Household Debt (G.)

The Bank of England has told banks, credit card companies and car loan providers that they risk fresh action against reckless lending as it warned of a looming “spiral of complacency” about mounting consumer debt. In its toughest warning yet about the possibility of a rerun of the financial crisis that devastated the economy 10 years ago, Threadneedle Street admitted it was alarmed about the increase in the amount of money being borrowed on easy terms over the past year. “Household debt – like most things that are good in moderation – can be dangerous in excess”, Alex Brazier, the Bank director for financial stability, said in a speech in Liverpool. “Dangerous to borrowers, lenders and, most importantly from our perspective, everyone else in the economy.”

Brazier’s said there were “classic signs” of lenders thinking the risks were lower following a prolonged period of good economic performance and low losses on loans. The first signs of the Bank’s anxiety about consumer debt came from its governor, Mark Carney, a month ago, but Brazier’s comments marked a ratcheting up of Threadneedle Street’s rhetoric. “Lenders have been the lucky beneficiaries of the benign way the economy has evolved. In expanding the supply of credit, they may be placing undue weight on the recent performance of credit cards and loans in benign conditions,” Brazier said. The willingness of consumers to take on more debt to fund their spending helped the economy grow strongly in the six months after the EU referendum, a period when the Bank expected growth to fall sharply.

Over the past year, Brazier said, household incomes had grown by just 1.5% but outstanding car loans, credit card balances and personal loans had risen by 10%. He added that terms and conditions on credit cards and personal loans had become easier. The average advertised length of 0% credit card balance transfers had doubled to close to 30 months, while advertised interest rates on £10,000 personal loans had fallen from 8% to around 3.8%, even though official interest rates had barely changed.

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More great work by Lance. if these graphs and numbers don’t scare you, look again.

How Big Of A Deleveraging Are We Talking About? (Roberts)

Debt, if used for productive investments, can be a solution to stimulating economic growth in the short-term. However, in the U.S., debt has been squandered on increases in social welfare programs and debt service which has an effective negative return on investment. Therefore, the larger the balance of debt becomes, the more economically destructive it is by diverting an ever growing amount of dollars away from productive investments to service payments. The relevance of debt growth versus economic growth is all too evident as shown below. Since 1980, the overall increase in debt has surged to levels that currently usurp the entirety of economic growth. With economic growth rates now at the lowest levels on record, the growth in debt continues to divert more tax dollars away from productive investments into the service of debt and social welfare.

It now requires nearly $3.00 of debt to create $1 of economic growth.

In fact, the economic deficit has never been greater. For the 30-year period from 1952 to 1982, the economic surplus fostered a rising economic growth rate which averaged roughly 8% during that period. Today, with the economy growing at an average rate of just 2%, the economic deficit has never been greater.

But again, it isn’t just Federal debt that is the problem. It is all debt. As discussed last week, when it comes to households, which are responsible for roughly 2/3rds of economic growth through personal consumption expenditures, debt was used to sustain a standard of living well beyond what income and wage growth could support. This worked out as long as the ability to leverage indebtedness was an option. The problem is that eventually, the debt reaches a level where the level of debt service erodes the ability to consume at levels great enough to foster stronger economic growth. In reality, the economic growth of the U.S. has been declining rapidly over the past 35 years supported only by a massive push into deficit spending by households.

[..]The massive indulgence in debt, or a “credit induced boom”, has now begun to reach its inevitable conclusion. The debt driven expansion, which leads to artificially stimulated borrowing, seeks out diminishing investment opportunities. Ultimately these diminished investment opportunities lead to widespread malinvestments. Not surprisingly, we clearly saw it play out in “real-time” in 2005-2007 in everything from sub-prime mortgages to derivative instruments. Today, we see it again in mortgages, subprime auto loans, student loan debt and debt driven stock buybacks and acquisitions.

When credit creation can no longer be sustained the markets will begin to “clear” the excesses. It is only then, and must be allowed to happen, can resources be reallocated back towards more efficient uses. This is why all the efforts of Keynesian policies to stimulate growth in the economy have ultimately failed. Those fiscal and monetary policies, from TARP and QE to tax cuts, only delay the clearing process. Ultimately, that delay only potentially worsens the inevitable clearing process. That clearing process is going to be very substantial. With the economy currently requiring roughly $3 of debt to create $1 of real, inflation-adjusted, economic growth, a reversion to a structurally manageable level of debt would involve a nearly $35 Trillion reduction of total credit market debt from current levels.

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Difference: BOJ and ECB still buy trilions in ‘assets’.

IMF: US Looks Weaker, Rest Of The World Picks Up Economic Slack (CNBC)

Despite cutting the economic growth outlook for the U.S. and U.K., the IMF kept its global growth forecast unchanged on expectations the euro zone and Japanese growth would accelerate. In the July update of its World Economic Outlook, the IMF forecast global economic growth of 3.5% for 2017 and 3.6% for 2018, unchanged from its April outlook. That was despite earlier cutting its U.S. growth projection to 2.1% from 2.3% for 2017 and to 2.1% from 2.5% for 2018, citing both weak growth in the first quarter of this year as well as the assumption that fiscal policy will be less expansionary than previously expected. A weaker-than-expected first quarter also spurred the IMF to cut its forecast for U.K. growth for this year to 1.7% from 2.0%, while leaving its 2018 forecast at 1.5%.

But slowdowns in the U.S. and U.K. were expected to be offset by increased forecasts for many euro area countries, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain, where first quarter growth largely beat expectations, the IMF said. “This, together with positive growth revisions for the last quarter of 2016 and high-frequency indicators for the second quarter of 2017, indicate stronger momentum in domestic demand than previously anticipated,” the IMF said in its release. It raised its euro-area growth forecast for 2017 to 1.9% from 1.7%. For 2018, it increased its forecast to 1.7% from 1.6%.

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The Guardian has the guts to claim that people don’t move out because they don’t have the money to stay, but because they want to get on the f*cking property ladder.

Bloated London Property Prices Fuel Exodus (G.)

In the Kent seaside town of Whitstable, long-term residents call them DFLs – people who have moved “down from London”, sometimes for the lifestyle but more often for cheaper housing. The number of people fleeing the capital to live elsewhere has hit a five-year high. In the year to June 2016, net outward migration from London reached 93,300 people – more than 80% higher than five years earlier, according to analysis of official statistics. A common theme among the leavers’ destinations is significantly cheaper housing, according to the estate agent Savills, which analysed figures from the Office for National Statistics and the Land Registry. Cambridge, Canterbury, Dartford and Bristol are reportedly among the most popular escape routes for people who have grown tired of London and its swollen property prices.

The most likely destination for people aged over 25 moving from Islington is St Albans in Hertfordshire, where the average home is £173,000 cheaper. People moving from Ealing to Slough – the most popular move from the west London borough – stand to save on average £241,000. Among all homeowners leaving London, the average house price was £580,000 while the average in the areas they moved to was £333,000. The exodus is not just of homeowners, but of renters too. Rents in London have soared by a third in the last decade, compared to 18% in the south-west, 13% in the West Midlands and 11% in the north-west of England.

The only age group that has a positive net migration figure in the capital is those in their twenties, the research found. Everyone else, from teens to pensioners, is tending to get out. Since 2009, the trend has been steadily increasing among people in their thirties with 15,000 more people in that age bracket leaving every year than at the end of the last decade – a 27% rise. The phenomenon is being driven by a widespread desire to “trade up the housing ladder”, something that is all too often impossible in London according to Lucian Cook, Savill’s head of residential research. “Five years ago people would have been reluctant [to move out] because the economy wasn’t as strong and some owners didn’t want to miss out on house price growth [in London],” he said.

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Pretending it’s the last of the pig. We’ll see about that.

The Foreclosure ‘Pig’ Moves Through The Housing-Crisis ‘Python’ (MW)

As the effects of the housing crisis further recede, markers of distress are declining, with one notable exception: Among the batches of severely delinquent mortgages bought by institutional investors, foreclosures are on the rise. The trend is a reminder of the reasons many community advocates resisted allowing institutional investors to buy delinquent mortgages in government auctions that began in 2010. Wall Street, those advocates said, shouldn’t be rewarded for its role in creating the housing crisis with the chance to buy for pennies on the dollar the very assets whose values it dented. The government auctions promised a risk-sharing solution that would benefit nearly everyone: Homeowners whose mortgages had been bought dirt-cheap could get loan modifications, investors would get profitable assets, and communities would see tax revenues restored and neighborhoods revitalized.

But that win-win-win scenario may bring little relief to the most distressed among those troubled assets. A new Attom Data analysis for MarketWatch shows increasing foreclosures in the mortgages auctioned by the government. A subsidiary of private-equity firm Lone Star Investments, for example, has foreclosed on nearly 2,000 homeowners this year, through early July, and has increased foreclosures every year since 2013. And a Goldman Sachs subsidiary called MTGLQ, which has more than doubled foreclosures each year from 2014 to 2016, may do the same again this year, based on early 2017 data. Those figures stand in stark contrast to the housing market overall, where foreclosures fell 22% in the second quarter, touching an 11-year low of just over 220,000.

The institutional-investor foreclosure figures are a small fraction of the total, noted Daren Blomquist, Attom’s senior vice president of communications. And they don’t surprise investors who intentionally snatch up the most distressed mortgages available because their elevated risk promises higher yield. Attom Data does show an uptick in foreclosures by other lenders, though not all participated in the government auctions. But they’re a reminder that a decade after the housing downturn began, the pockets of foreclosures that still pop up represent the worst of the worst, prompting even those questioning the program to agree that some foreclosures were inevitable, no matter who owned the mortgages. Analysts call the current crop of foreclosures “the last of the pig moving through the python.”

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All bubble countries now face the issue. There’s no way out. So they’ll deny their bubble for a while longer.

Australian Housing Market At Risk Of Crash – UBS Research (CNBC)

The Australian housing market has peaked and could crash if the country’s central bank raises rates by too much or too quickly according to researchers at the Swiss bank, UBS. Property in Australia has boomed and the most recent government data marked growth in residential property prices at 10.2% year on year for the 2017 March quarter. In a note Monday, UBS Economist George Tharenou said any rash interest rate action from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) could trigger a crash. “We still see rates on hold in the coming year, amid macroprudential tightening on credit growth and interest only loans. “Hence we still see a correction, but not a collapse, but if the RBA hikes too early or too much (as flagged by its hawkish minutes), it risks triggering a crash,” Tharenou warned.

Housing starts fell 19% in the first quarter of the year and May’s mortgage approvals also slid 20%. After a multi-year boom, the cost of an average home in the country now sits at 669,700 Australian dollars ($532,000) but Tharenou said price growth is certain to slow. “Despite weaker activity, house prices just keep booming with still strong growth of 10% y/y in June. However, this is unsustainably 4-5 times faster than income. “Looking ahead, we still see price growth slowing to 7% y/y in 2017 and 0-3% in 2018, amid record supply & poor affordability,” the economist added.

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Raising rates into a gigantesque bubble. No problem.

It’s Time To Rethink Monetary Policy (Rochon)

July 12 marks the date the Bank of Canada ignored common sense and increased its rate for the first time in seven years. Economists are largely divided on whether this was a good move, but in my opinion this was an ill-informed decision, largely based on the usually strong first quarter data, which may prove unsustainable in the longer term. In turn, it raises important questions about the conduct of monetary policy and the need to rethink the role and purpose of central bank policy. For the record, I don’t think there is much to fear from a single increase to 0.75% from 0.50, though it will have an immediate impact on mortgage rates — some Canadians will pay more for their homes. However, it is the prospect of what that move represents that sends chills down this economist’s spine.

As we know all too well, central banks never raise rates once or twice, but usually do so several times. Indeed, the consensus among economists is that there will be at least two more raises before the end of 2018, bringing the bank rate to 1.25%. This is still low by historical standards, but the raises begin to add up. I expect many more rate hikes through 2019 and 2020. You see, the Bank of Canada believes the so-called natural rate is 3%, which means we could possibly see nine more interest rate increases. Imagine the damage that will do. Yet, according to their own model, this rate is the “neutral” or “natural” rate and should have no far reaching impact. Try telling that to Canadians who have consumer debt and a mortgage. Clearly, there is nothing “neutral” about these rate increases. This alone is a reason to rethink monetary policy.

Second, the Bank of Canada targets inflation, and has been officially since 1991, a fact it reminds us of all the time. All other objectives, including economic growth and unemployment, or even household debt and income inequality, are far behind the principal objective of trying to keep the inflation rate on target. There is much to say about this, including whether interest rates and monetary policy in general are the best tool to deliver on the inflation crusade. Even if we accept this, inflation is currently at a near two-decade low. In other words, where’s the inflation beef? Inflation does not represent a current threat, and there are no inflationary pressures in the economy, which raises the question: Why raise rates?

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With Abenomics dead, so is Abe.

Scandals Threaten Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Grip On Power (G.)

Shinzo Abe is fighting for his future as Japan’s prime minister as scandals drag his government’s popularity close to what political observers describe as “death zone” levels. Apart from clouding Abe’s hopes of winning another term as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) when a vote is held next year, the polling slump also undermines his long-running push to revise Japan’s war-renouncing constitution. Abe, who returned to the prime ministership four and a half years ago, was long seen as a steady hand whose position appeared unassailable – so much so that the LDP changed its rules to allow Abe the freedom to seek a third consecutive three-year term at the helm of the party. “He is no longer invincible and the reason why he is no longer invincible is he served his personal friends not the party,” said Michael Thomas Cucek, an adjunct professor at Temple University Japan.

Abe’s standing has been damaged by allegations of favours for two school operators who have links to him. The first scandal centred on a cut-price land deal between the finance ministry and a nationalist school group known as Moritomo Gakuen. The second related to the approval of a veterinary department of a private university headed by his friend, Kotaro Kake. Abe has repeatedly denied personal involvement, but polls showed voters doubted his explanations, especially after leaked education ministry documents mentioned the involvement of “a top-level official of the prime minister’s office” in the vet school story. Abe attempted to show humility in a parliamentary hearing this week by acknowledging it was “natural for the public to sceptically view the issue” because it involved his friend. “I lacked the perspective,” he said. Experts doubt that Abe’s contrition, combined with a planned cabinet reshuffle next week, will do much to reverse his sagging fortunes.

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The limits of the anti-Russia craze.

Brussels To Act ‘Within Days’ If US Sanctions Hurt EU Trade With Russia (RT)

The EU should act “within days” if new sanctions the US plans to impose on Russia prove to be damaging to Europe’s trade ties with Moscow, an internal memo seen by the media says. Retaliatory measures may include limiting US jurisdiction over EU companies. An internal memo seen by the Financial Times and Politico has emerged amid mounting opposition to a US bill seeking to hit Russia with a new round of sanctions. The bill, if signed into law, will also give US lawmakers the power to veto any attempt by the president to lift the sanctions. The document reportedly said European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker was particularly concerned the sanctions would neglect the interests of European companies. Juncker said Brussels “should stand ready to act within days” if sanctions on Russia are “adopted without EU concerns being taken into account,” according to the FT.

The EU memo also warns that “the measures could impact a potentially large number of European companies doing legitimate business under EU measures with Russian entities in the railways, financial, shipping or mining sectors, among others.” Restrictions against Russia come as part of the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act, targeting not only Tehran, but also North Korea. Initially passed by the Senate last month, the measures seek to impose new economic measures on major sectors of the Russian economy. The draft legislation would also introduce individual sanctions for investing in Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, outlining steps to hamper construction of the pipeline and imposing sanctions on European companies which contribute to the project.

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So EU vs US, and EU vs EU. The problem seems to be that US companies could profit from the sanctions, as European ones suffer.

EU Divided On How To Answer New US Sanctions Against Russia (R.)

European Commission preparations to retaliate against proposed new U.S. sanctions on Russia that could affect European firms are likely to face resistance within a bloc divided on how to deal with Moscow, diplomats, officials and experts say. A bill agreed by U.S. Senate and House leaders foresees fines for companies aiding Russia to build energy export pipelines. EU firms involved in Nord Stream 2, a 9.5 billion euro ($11.1 billion) project to carry Russian gas across the Baltic, are likely to be affected. Both the European Union and the United States imposed broad economic sanctions on Russia’s financial, defense and energy sectors in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and its direct support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. But northern EU states in particular have sought to shield the supplies of Russian gas that they rely on.

Markus Beyrer, director of the EU’s main business lobby, Business Europe, urged Washington to “avoid unilateral actions that would mainly hit the EU, its citizens and its companies”. The Commission, the EU executive, will discuss next steps on Wednesday, a day after the U.S. House of Representatives votes on the legislation, knowing that the U.S. move threatens to reopen divisions over the bloc’s own Russia sanctions. Among the European companies involved in Nord Stream 2 are German oil and gas group Wintershall, German energy trading firm Uniper, Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell, Austria’s OMV and France’s Engie. The Commission could demand a formal U.S. promise to exclude EU energy companies; use EU laws to block U.S. measures against European entities; or impose outright bans on doing business with certain U.S. companies, an EU official said.

But if no such promise is offered, punitive sanctions such as limiting the access of U.S. companies to EU banks require unanimity from the 28 EU member states. Ex-Soviet states such as Poland and the Baltic states are unlikely to vote for retaliation to protect a project they have resisted because it would increase EU dependence on Russian gas. An EU official said most member states saw Nord Stream 2 as “contrary or at least not fully in line with European objectives” of reducing reliance on Russian energy. Britain, one of the United States’ closest allies, is also wary of challenging the U.S. Congress as it prepares to leave the EU and seeks a trade deal with Washington. In fact, the EU’s chief executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, has few tools that do not require unanimous support from the bloc’s 28 governments.

The Commission could act alone to file a complaint at the World Trade Organisation. But imposing punitive tariffs on U.S. goods would require detailed proof to be gathered that European companies were being unfairly disadvantaged — a process that would take many months. Diplomatic protests such as cutting EU official visits to Washington are unlikely to have much effect, since requests by EU commissioners for meetings with members of Trump’s administration have gone unanswered, EU aides say.

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Let’s hope they don’t try.

US ‘May Send Arms’ To Ukraine, Says New Envoy (BBC)

The new US special representative for Ukraine says Washington is actively reviewing whether to send weapons to help those fighting against Russian-backed rebels. Kurt Volker told the BBC that arming Ukrainian government forces could change Moscow’s approach. He said he did not think the move would be provocative. Last week, the US State Department urged both sides to observe the fragile ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. “Defensive weapons, ones that would allow Ukraine to defend itself, and to take out tanks for example, would actually to help” to stop Russia threatening Ukraine, Mr Volker said in a BBC interview.

“I’m not again predicting where we go on this, that’s a matter for further discussion and decision, but I think that argument that it would be provocative to Russia or emboldening of Ukraine is just getting it backwards,” he added. He said success in establishing peace in eastern Ukraine would require what he called a new strategic dialogue with Russia.

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Undoubtedly not the last we hear of this.

Tsipras and Varoufakis Go Public With Spat (K.)

The coalition on Monday rejected calls for an investigation to be launched into the first months of the government’s time in power, as a dispute between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and ex-finance minister Yannis Varoufakis over that period in 2015 became public. “The evaluation of this period has to be conducted with political criteria, not myth-making or gossip,” said government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, who accused Varoufakis of trying to advertise his recent book via the “systemic media” he once attacked. Tzanakopoulos’s comments came after Tsipras gave an interview to The Guardian in which he admitted making “big mistakes” in the past and suggested that Varoufakis’s plan for a parallel payment system could not be considered seriously.

“Yanis is trying to write history in a different way,” said Tsipras. “When we got to the point of reading what he presented as his plan B it was so vague, it wasn’t worth the trouble of even talking about. It was simply weak and ineffective.” The former minister immediately responded to the premier’s comments by claiming they displayed a “deep incoherence,” as Varoufakis claims that he had made Tsipras aware of the plan before he came to office yet the SYRIZA leader still chose to appoint him to the cabinet. “Either I was the right choice to spearhead the ‘collision’ with the troika of Greece’s lenders because my plans were convincing, or my plans were not convincing and, thus, I was the wrong choice as his first finance minister,” he wrote in a letter to The Guardian.

New Democracy called for judicial and parliamentary investigations into the claims made by Varoufakis, as well as by former energy minister Panayiotis Lafazanis. The latter claimed in a radio interview on Saturday that he had secured an advance payment from Russia for a gas pipeline to be used to held fund Greece if it left the euro. “Varoufakis and Lafazanis described with clarity the SYRIZA leadership’s plans to take Greece out of the eurozone,” said the conservatives in a statement. “If these plans were seen through to the end, the country would have found itself in a dramatic situation like Venezuela, with unforeseeable social consequences.”

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Makes sense.

Alexis Tsipras’s Mixed Messages Over Appointing Me As Finance Minister (YV)

[..] the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, having admitted to “big mistakes”, was asked if appointing me as his first finance minister was one of them. According to the interviewer, Mr Tsipras said “Varoufakis … was the right choice for an initial strategy of ‘collision politics’, but he dismisses the plan he presented had Greece been forced to make the dramatic move to a new currency as ‘so vague, it wasn’t worth talking about’”. Given that I presented my plans to Mr Tsipras for deterring the troika’s aggression and responding to a potential impasse (and any move by the troika to evict Greece from the eurozone) before we won the election of January 2015, and I was chosen by him as finance minister (one presumes) on the basis of their merit, his answer reflects a deep incoherence.

Either I was the right choice to spearhead the “collision” with the troika of Greece’s lenders because my plans were convincing, or my plans were not convincing and, thus, I was the wrong choice as his first finance minister. Arguing, as Mr Tsipras does, that I was both the right choice for the initial confrontation and that my plan B was so vague it wasn’t worth the trouble of even talking about is disingenuous, albeit insightful, for it reveals the impossibility of maintaining a radical critique of his predecessors while adopting the Tina (There Is No Alternative) doctrine.

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A brand new line of lipstick for farm animals.

Greece Plans Return To Bond Market As Athens Sees End To Austerity (G.)

Athens has outlined plans to return to the financial markets for the first time since 2014, with a plan to sell new five-year bonds to investors. Existing Greek five-year bonds were trading at 3.6% on Monday morning compared with 63% at the height of the Greek financial crisis in 2012 when the finance ministry was unable to pay public sector wages and there were riots in the streets. Following the announcement that Athens would be returning to the market, the yield fell to 3.4%. The Greek finance ministry has set a goal of a 4.2% interest rate on the new bond. But banking sources believe that level will be hard to achieve and say an interest rate of between 4.3% to 4.5% is much more likely. Government sources say valuation will take place on Tuesday 25 July.

The market test is crucial to Greece for not only judging sentiment of the market, from which it has been essentially exiled since the start of its economic crisis, but also for weaning itself off borrowed bailout funds. Speaking after the bond issue was announced, the EU’s economy commissioner, Pierre Moscovici, described the public spending cuts imposed on Greece since it almost went bust as “too tough” but “necessary”, adding there was now “light at the end of austerity”. Reuters reported that Greece had employed six banks – BNP Paribas, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and HSBC – to act as joint lead managers for a five-year euro bond “subject to market conditions”. Greek ministers will provide more details on Monday afternoon about how much it hopes to borrow, and on what terms.

If the issue is successful, it could help Greece, which is still coping with a debt to GDP ratio of 180%, to exit its long cycle of austerity and rescue packages. Late on Friday, S&P upgraded its outlook on Greek government debt from stable to “positive”, thanks partly to renewed hopes that the country’s creditors could finally grant it debt relief.

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And here’s how it’s done.

Greek Spending Cuts Prettify Budget Data (K.)

Delays in the funding of hospitals, social spending cuts and low expenditure on the Public Investments Program served to prettify the picture of the state budget over the first half of the year, producing a primary surplus of 1.93 billion euros, Finance Ministry figures showed on Monday. At the same time budget revenues posted a marginal increase over the target the ministry had set for the January-June period. However, the big challenge for the government starts at the end of this month with the payment of the first tranche of income tax by taxpayers, followed later on by the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) and road tax at the end of the year.

In total the state will have to collect 33 billion euros by the end of the year, which is considerably higher than in the second half of 2016. According to the H1 budget data, the primary surplus amounted to 1.936 billion euros, against a primary surplus of 1.632 billion in the same period last year, and a target for 431 million for the year to end-June. Expenditure missed its target by 1.15 billion euros, amounting to 22.86 billion in the first half. Compared to last year it was down 757 million euros. Hospital funding missed its target by 265 million.

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Jul 092017
 
 July 9, 2017  Posted by at 8:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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Hieronymus Bosch St. John on Patmos 1489

 

The Trump Effect Turns Every Paper Into A Tabloid (G.)
G20 Launches Plan To Fight Poverty In Africa (AFP)
The Russian Economy If You Aren’t Wearing NATO Night-Fighting Goggles (Helmer)
Britain Isn’t Greece, Prime Minister (BBG Ed.)
Baby Boomers Not Financially Prepared For Retirement (MW)
UK Homebuyers Desperate To Know Who Really Owns Their Freehold (G.)
Wall Street Cash Pumps Up Shale Oil Production Even as Prices Sag (WSJ)
Polluted Indian River Reported Dead Despite ‘Living Entity’ Status (G.)

 

 

An inevitable story. And a too-easy trap: the Guardian presumes that it itself escapes this. It doesn’t. Blaming Trump for that is false: he doesn’t write the stories. Every news outlet is responsible for its own journalistic standards. “Trump made me do it” lacks all credibility. And besides, the Guardian, like so many US media, has been trying to put Trump down for a long time. Just like it hammered Jeremy Corbyn as ‘unfit’ and much worse until it did an embarrassing 180. Is Trump right in reacting as agressively as he has and does? Perhaps not, probably not. But is he justified? Perhaps he is. In the end for the media this is about the beam in thine own eye.

The Trump Effect Turns Every Paper Into A Tabloid (G.)

You can find exactly the same fractured dialogue in Britain, too. What did the surprise of the Brexit vote show? Here’s another tidal wave of articles talking about the non-metropolitan forgotten masses. That, briefly, seemed a national call for understanding and change, one inchoately confirmed in the June election. But see how deafness and disdain soon set in. Let’s blame something – Boris, Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre, the BBC – for Brexit. Let’s contemplate the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and press a panic button. The Mail talks about “fake news, the fascist left and the REAL purveyors of hate”. Guardian columnists denounce the “open sewer” of Dacre coverage. Terms like “Tory scum” float from protesters’ posters into the new mass media. Jon Snow, amongst others, gets pasted for his supposed views about modern Conservatism. Irate Leave MPs stomp on the BBC welcome mat.

And every new day seems to bring fresh ingredients. Kensington council seeks to shut journalists out of its crucial meeting. Andrea Leadsom extols a “patriotic” press. There’s a raw edge to the debate now, sharpened after Grenfell Tower by outbreaks of pure and, sometimes, simulated rage. But: “Sit up, though, and look around. You may notice that, amid almost no public outrage whatsoever, we are quite a lot closer than once we were” to losing press freedom, says Hugo Rifkind in the Times. This is politics, and journalism, from the trenches as trust in the media plummets both here and in the US: American trust in the media down to just 38% in the latest Reuters Institute findings, the UK seven points down to 43%. Blame “deep-rooted political polarisation and perceived mainstream media bias”, says Reuters. In short, blame the frenzied state we’re in.

[..] observe how the new nihilism of scum and sewers brings its own narrow benefits. Richard Cohen in the Washington Post arrives clear-eyed. “Circulation is up. Eyeballs are popping. Trump is political pornography – gripping, exciting, lewd, fascinating. He devours adjectives so that, soon, we run out of them. The bizarre becomes ordinary. But he has done his damage. He has normalised contempt for the news media, framing it as a daily tussle between him, the tribune of the people, and us, vile overeducated snobs.”

And Jeet Heer of the New Republic pushes the argument on a notch as he charts the advantage of Trump’s alignment with the likes of the National Enquirer: “The tabloids offer a sordid vision of society, where the mainstream image of celebrities elides their secretly miserable lives (whether because of addiction, ageing, infidelity, or bankruptcy). In this nihilistic world, everyone is corrupt and every public statement is a lie. And if everyone is equally bad and untrustworthy, there’s no reason to hold Trump to any higher standard. This, ultimately, is why Trump and the tabloids were made for each other: They’re both committed to defining deviancy down.”

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And while we’re at it, Guardian, let’s denounce this kind of thing for what it is. The G20 countries are responsible for poverty in Africa, and they’re not now going to solve it too. Just like the Paris agreement is complete nonsense: schemes to get rich.

G20 Launches Plan To Fight Poverty In Africa (AFP)

G20 nations launched an unprecedented initiative Saturday at the group’s summit in Germany to fight poverty in Africa, but critics called the plan half-hearted. Under German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “Investment Compacts”, an initial seven African countries would pledge reforms and receive technical support in order to attract new private investment. More than half of Africans are under 25 years old and the population is set to double by mid-century, making economic growth and jobs essential for the young to stop them from leaving, Merkel has said. Germany’s partner nations are Ghana, Ivory Coast and Tunisia, while Ethiopia, Morocco, Rwanda and Senegal are also taking part. Far poorer nations such as Niger or Somalia are so far not on the list.

“We are ready to help interested African countries and call on other partners to join the initiative,” said the G20 in their final communique. The plan, as well as multinational initiatives on helping girls, rural youths and promoting renewable energy, would help “to address poverty and inequality as root causes of migration”. Some 100,000 people, most of them sub-Saharan Africans, have made the dangerous journey to Europe across the Mediterranean in rickety boats this year as the migration crisis shows no sign of abating. Anti-poverty group ONE said that the investment compacts “promised much, but too many G20 partners missed the memo and failed to contribute. “The flimsy foundations must now be firmed up, follow through and improved, especially for Africa’s more fragile states.”

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“..it is the most self-sufficient and diversified economy in the world.” Which is funny when you hear Putin argue against protectionism.

The Russian Economy If You Aren’t Wearing NATO Night-Fighting Goggles (Helmer)

If your enemy is waging economic war on you, it’s prudent to camouflage how well your farms and factories are doing. Better the attacker thinks you’re on your last legs, and are too exhausted to fight back. A new report on the Russian economy, published by Jon Hellevig, reveals the folly in the enemy’s calculation. Who is the audience for this message? US and NATO warfighters against Russia can summon up more will if they think Russia is in retreat than if they must calculate the cost in their own blood and treasure if the Russians strike back. That’s Russian policy on the Syrian front, where professional soldiers are in charge. On the home front, where the civilians call the shots, Hellevig’s message looks like an encouragement for fight-back – the economic policymaker’s equivalent of a no-fly zone for the US and European Union. It’s also a challenge to the Kremlin policy of appeasement.

Hellevig, a Finnish lawyer and investment analyst, has been directing businesses in Russia since 1992. His Moscow-based consultancy Awara has published its assessment of Russian economic performance since 2014 with the title, “What Does Not Kill You Makes You Stronger.” The maxim was first coined by the `19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He said it in a pep talk for himself. Subsequent readers think of the maxim as an irony. Knowing now what Nietzsche knew about his own prognosis but kept secret at the time, he did too. The headline findings aren’t news to the Kremlin. It has been regularly making the claims at President Vladimir Putin’s semi-annual national talk shows; at businessmen’s conventions like the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF); and in Kremlin-funded propaganda – lowbrow outlets like Russia Today and Sputnik News, and the highbrow Valdai Club.

A charter for a brand-new outlet for the claims, the Russian National Convention Bureau, was agreed at the St. Petersburg forum last month. Government promotion of reciprocal trade and inward investment isn’t exceptional for Russia; it is normal practice throughout the world. The argument of the Hellevig report is that the US and NATO campaign against Russia has failed to do the damage it was aimed to do, and that their propaganda outlets, media and think-tanks are lying to conceal the failure. Small percentage numbers for the decline in Russian GDP and related measures are summed up by Hellevig as “belt-tightening, not much more”. Logically and arithmetically, similarly small numbers in the measurement of the Russian recovery this year ought to mean “belt expanding, not much more.” But like Nietzsche, Hellevig is more optimistic.

Here’s what he concludes:
• “Industrial Production was down merely 0.6%. A handsome recovery is already on its way with an expected growth of 3 to 4% in 2017. In May the industrial production already soared by a promising 5.3%.”
• “Unemployment remained stable all through 2014 – 2016, the hoped-for effect of sanctions causing mass unemployment and social chaos failed to materialize.”
• “GDP was down 2.3% in 2014-2016, expected to more than make up for that in 2017 with 2-3% predicted growth.”
• “The really devastating news for ‘our Western partners’ (as Putin likes to refer to them) must be – which we are the first to report – the extraordinary decrease in the share of oil & gas revenue in Russia’s GDP.”
• “In the years of sanctions, Russia has grown to become an agricultural superpower with the world’s largest wheat exports. Already in the time of the Czars Russia was a big grain exporter, but that was often accompanied with domestic famine. Stalin financed Russia’s industrialization to a large extent by grain exports, but hereby also creating domestic shortages and famine. It is then the first time in Russia’s history when it is under Putin a major grain exporter while ensuring domestic abundance. Russia has made an overall remarkable turnaround in food production and is now virtually self-sufficient.”
• “Russia has the lowest level of imports (as a share of the GDP) of all major countries… Russia’s very low levels of imports in the global comparison obviously signifies that Russia produces domestically a much higher share of all that it consumes (and invests), this in turn means that the economy is superbly diversified contrary to the claims of the failed experts and policymakers. In fact, it is the most self-sufficient and diversified economy in the world.

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Bloomberg argues that austerity is bad for Britain but good for Greece. Blind bats.

Britain Isn’t Greece, Prime Minister (BBG Ed.)

Britain’s government isn’t due to announce a new budget until the autumn, but debate is already raging over public-sector pay. With Brexit bearing down, the embattled prime minister, Theresa May, will have to choose between making another embarrassing U-turn and defending a policy that is both unpopular and unnecessary. Sadly for May, the U-turn makes better sense. For years it was an article of faith among Britain’s Conservatives that the budget deficit had to be eliminated — by 2020, if not yesterday. Some Tories are now ready to abandon that line of thinking; others still hold the principle, if not the timetable, sacrosanct. Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, May came down firmly on the side of austerity: Greece shows you where fiscal indiscipline leads, she argued.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was unmoved. He decried the “low-wage epidemic” and argued that the 1 percent cap on increases in public-sector wages should be removed. Corbyn has a point. Britain’s workers are getting squeezed, especially in the public sector, thanks to rising inflation caused in part by the Brexit-induced fall in sterling. But he’s wrong to look at wages in isolation. Public-sector pay is only one of many claims on the government’s budget. The National Health Service, for instance, is in a state of permanent crisis; spending on care for the elderly and other needs is woefully inadequate. The list of other worthy expenditures is endless. Trying to meet all such claims would indeed be a formula for fiscal collapse. The government has to prioritize.

Where higher wages are needed to recruit and retain workers for essential services, raise them. Where additional public spending is needed to provide vital infrastructure, spur productivity, and support growth, make the investment. In such cases, higher taxes and/or higher public borrowing can be justified. If caps and ceilings are used in a way that makes this necessary flexibility impossible – not as emergency measures, moreover, but as a system of long-term control – they’ll do more harm than good. May’s embrace of blanket austerity, by the way, is bad politics as well as bad economics. Most British voters have forgotten, or never experienced, the ruinous consequences of profligate public spending.

That’s why Corbyn’s expansive promises are more popular than you might expect – and why there’ll be greater support for fiscal control if it’s seen to be smart and discriminating, rather than an act of blind ideological faith. To be sure, the timing for a change of fiscal strategy is hardly propitious. Brexit has alarmed investors, giving the government less room for maneuver. Even so, the government shouldn’t be paralyzed – and shouldn’t argue that cautious flexibility would make the country another Greece. That line won’t fly. Targeted spending to improve vital services and drive future growth is good policy, and Britain’s best buffer against the perils ahead.

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What a surprise. Maybe it’s time to inject some reality.

Baby Boomers Not Financially Prepared For Retirement (MW)

Retirement is right around the corner for baby boomers – if they haven’t already entered it – yet so many are financially unprepared. Baby boomers, or those born between 1946 and 1964, expect they’ll need $658,000 in their defined contribution plans by the time they retire, but the average in those employer-sponsored plans is $263,000, according to a survey of 900 investors by financial services firm Legg Mason. Older boomers, who are 65 to 74, have an average of $300,000. Their asset allocation for all of their investments are also conservative, according to QS Investors, an investment management firm Legg Mason acquired in 2014, with 30% in cash, 24% in equities, 22% in fixed income, 4% in non-traditional assets, 8% in investment real estate, 2% in gold and other precious metals and 8% in other investments.

“They have less than half the assets they hope to have in retirement,” said James Norman, president of QS Investors. “That’s a pretty big miss.” Americans across the country, and all age groups, are drastically under-saved for retirement. Only a third of Americans who have access to a 401(k) plan contribute to it, and previous research suggests the typical middle-aged American couple only has $5,000 saved for the future. Meanwhile, millennials may not be able to picture themselves in retirement at all, though are urged by financial professionals to make a habit of saving, if even only as little as $5. There are a multitude of reasons people may not have enough for retirement, such as having to leave the workforce in between their prime years to care for loved ones, not working long enough to qualify for certain government benefits. or choosing to pay for their childrens’ college tuition instead of saving for their own retirement.

Still, not saving enough was the biggest regret among older Americans, according to a survey of 1,000 participants by personal finance site Bankrate.com. Generation X, or those born between 1965 and 1981, aren’t doing all that much better, though they have the benefit of more time to reach their financial goals. More of them have a defined contribution plan, according to the Legg Mason survey, with an average of $199,000 stashed away for a goal of $541,000 by retirement. They are also investing conservatively, with 25% in cash, 21% in equities, 17% in fixed income, 11% in non-traditional assets, 16% in investment real estate, 7% in gold and other precious metals and 4% in other investments. Conversely, QS Investors suggest their Gen-X aged clients have 80% in equities, which faces more risks from the stock market but could also realize higher returns.

Retirement isn’t the picture-perfect image of lounging on a beach with the idea of a 9-to-5 job long gone. Benefits aren’t the same, either – for example, in 1985, retirees could expect Social Security to cover most of their income and employers typically covered most health-care costs. Retirees 30 years ago also probably didn’t expect to live for decades after resigning at 65, whereas now people are being told to plan to live well into their 80s.

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A medieval society.

UK Homebuyers Desperate To Know Who Really Owns Their Freehold (G.)

Buyers who purchased new properties direct from some of the UK’s biggest builders have been left in the dark as investment companies play pass-the-parcel with the land their homes stand on. Take Joanne Darbyshire, 46, and her husband Mark, 47. They bought a five-bedroom house in Bolton from Taylor Wimpey in 2010, and are among thousands of unfortunate leaseholders put on “doubling” ground rent contracts that in extreme cases have left their properties almost worthless, with mortgage lenders refusing loans to future buyers. The only way to escape the escalating payments is to buy the freehold. But in Darbyshire’s case, Taylor Wimpey sold it to Adriatic Land 2 (GR2) in 2012. In January 2017 that company transferred it to Adriatic Land 1 (GR3), while some of Darbyshire’s neighbours have seen their freeholds transferred from Adriatic Land 2 (GR2) to Abacus Land Ltd.

“You have no idea who owns the land under your feet,” says Darbyshire. “Your dream house is traded from one offshore company to another for tax reasons, or who knows what else?” Paul Griffin (not his real name) bought a property from Morris Homes in Winsford, Cheshire, in November 2014. By last year, when he decided to add a conservatory, his freehold was in the hands of Adriatic Land 3 and managed by its fee-collecting agents HomeGround. Young was horrified to discover he had to pay £108 just to look at his file. Although the conservatory didn’t need local authority planning permission and was not subject to building regulations, HomeGround then demanded £1,200 for a “licence” for the work to go ahead. This was broken down into solicitors fees (£480), surveyors (£360), and its own fee of £360.

On top of this it demanded numerous official documents at Young’s expense totalling about £400. Helen Burke (not her real name) in Ellesmere Port, meanwhile, was shocked to discover that after Bellway sold her freehold to Adriatic, the cost of seeking consent for a small single-storey extension rocketed. Initially, she had applied to Bellway – the freeholder at the time – and it wanted £300. But after putting off the work for a few months she discovered that Bellway had sold the freehold to Adriatic Land 4 (GR1) Ltd. HomeGround then demanded £2,440 for consent. That is not planning permission, which householders must obtain separately from the local authority. It is simply a fee charged without any material services provided.

“It’s daylight robbery,” says Burke. “The most disgusting thing is the developers like Bellway think they are doing nothing wrong selling the freeholds on and state that our T&Cs don’t change. Yes, the lease terms don’t change, but for a permission fee to increase from £300 to £2,440 in a matter of months is disgraceful and it should absolutely be pointed out to new homeowners, up front, that this might happen if they don’t buy the freeholds.” Burke said she was quoted £3,750 to buy the freehold off Bellway, but once it was sold to Adriatic the price quadrupled to £13,000. After a long legal battle she has acquired it for £7,680.

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“..$57 billion Wall Street has injected into the sector over the last 18 months.”

Wall Street Cash Pumps Up Shale Oil Production Even as Prices Sag (WSJ)

Easy Wall Street cash is leading U.S. shale companies to expand drilling, even as most lose money on every barrel of oil they bring to the surface. Despite a 17% plunge in prices since April, drillers are on pace to break the all-time U.S. oil production record, topping 10 million barrels a day by early next year if not sooner, according to government officials and analysts. U.S. crude fell again on Friday, dropping 2.8% to $44.23 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Yet the U.S. oil rig count rose Friday to the highest level in more than two years. Operators have now put more than 100 rigs back to work from Oklahoma to North Dakota in the past three months. Companies have more capital to keep drilling thanks to $57 billion Wall Street has injected into the sector over the last 18 months.

Money has come from investors in new stock sales and high-yield debt, as well as from private equity funds, which have helped provide lifelines to stronger operators. Flush with cash, virtually all of them launched campaigns to boost drilling at the start of 2017 in the hope that oil prices would rebound. The new wave of crude has again glutted the market. The shale companies are edged even further from profitability, and a few voices have begun to question the wisdom of Wall Street financing the industry’s addiction to growth. “The biggest problem our industry faces today is you guys,” Al Walker, chief executive of Anadarko, told investors at a conference last month.

Wall Street has become an enabler that pushes companies to grow production at any cost, while punishing those that try to live within their means, Mr. Walker said, adding: “It’s kind of like going to AA. You know, we need a partner. We really need the investment community to show discipline.” Even if companies cut back on drilling now, it wouldn’t be enough to stop a new wave of oil from hitting the market in the second half of the year: U.S. shale output typically lags behind new drilling by four to six months, analysts say. “There’s been insufficient discrimination on the part of sources of capital,” said Bill Herbert, an energy analyst with Piper Jaffray’s Simmons. Big shale companies “are able to get what they want and invest what they want.”

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Well, that status was declared dead too. So there. People are next.

Polluted Indian River Reported Dead Despite ‘Living Entity’ Status (G.)

One morning in late March, Brij Khandelwal called the Agra police to report an attempted murder. Days before, the high court in India’s Uttarakhand state had issued a landmark judgment declaring the Yamuna river – and another of India’s holiest waterways, the Ganges – “living entities”. Khandelwal, an activist, followed the logic. “Scientifically speaking, the Yamuna is ecologically dead,” he says. His police report named a series of government officials he wanted charged with attempted poisoning. “If the river is dead, someone has to be responsible for killing it.” In the 16th century, Babur, the first Mughal emperor, described the waters of the Yamuna as “better than nectar”. One of his successors built India’s most famous monument, the Taj Mahal, on its banks.

For the first 250 miles (400km) of its life, starting in the lower Himalayas, the river glistens blue and teems with life. And then it reaches Delhi. In India’s crowded capital, the entire Yamuna is siphoned off for human and industrial use, and replenished with toxic chemicals and sewage from more than 20 drains. Those who enter the water emerge caked in dark, glutinous sludge. For vast stretches only the most resilient bacteria survive. The waterway that has sustained civilisation in Delhi for at least 3,000 years – and the sole source of water for more than 60 million Indians today – has in the past decades become one of the dirtiest rivers on the planet.

“We have water records which show that, until the 1960s, the river was much better quality,” says Himanshu Thakkar, an engineer who coordinates the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, a network of rights groups. “There was much greater biodiversity. Fish were still being caught.” What happened next mirrors a larger Indian story, particularly since the country’s markets were unshackled in the early 1990s: one of runaway economic growth fuelled by vast, unchecked migration into cities; and the metastasising of polluting industries that have soiled many of India’s waterways and made its air the most toxic in the world.

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Jul 082017
 
 July 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Canaletto View of the Churches of the Redentore 1750

 

‘Neither Of Them Wanted To Stop’: Trump And Putin Enjoy Successful ‘First Date’ (G.)
US, Russia Agree To Cease-Fire In Southwest Syria Starting Sunday (AP)
Russia Disputes US Claim Trump “Pressed” Putin on Election Hacking (IC)
Trump Says Trade Deal With UK Will Be Agreed “Very Very Quickly” (BBC)
Why the Next Recession will be a Doozie for Consumers (WS)
U.S. Jobs Growth Picks Up, but Wage Gains Lag Behind (WSJ)
A Multibillion-Dollar Crack In One Of The World’s Largest LNG Projects (CNBC)
Even The IMF Says Austerity Doesn’t Work (G.)
RIvers Do Not Have Same Rights As Humans: India’s Top Court (AFP)
Greek Bankruptcies Grew Fivefold In Last Decade (K.)
War and Violence Drive 80% Of People Fleeing To Europe By Sea (G.)
The US Has Been at War for Over 220 in 241 Years (AHT)

 

 

I tried to find an objective description of the Trump-Puin meeting, but it’s all echo chamber all the way (like this from the Guardian). The world is full of people who seem to have convinced themselves and each other that any one of them would be a better US president than Trump. The problem is, they’re not, and he is. So it’s all about ‘topics’ such as handshakes, and the deeper meaning thereof. Apparently, Trump should have damned Putin to hellfire and threatened him with war, with election hacking accusations he has no proof of. But US intelligence says it’s so! Yeah, and they would never lie, would they, for power political reasons. Maybe they shouldn’t have turned on Trump in the first place.

Meanwhile, I am glad that the two prime world leaders took the time, and then some, to talk to each other. And I hope they will do so again, and regularly. The world is not a better place is they do not. No matter what the echo chamber says.

‘Neither Of Them Wanted To Stop’: Trump And Putin Enjoy Successful ‘First Date’ (G.)

It is a blossoming bromance. In what one US-based critic called a “first Tinder date”, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin talked for two and a quarter hours on Friday instead of their scheduled 30 minutes. “I think there was just such a level of engagement and exchange, and neither one of them wanted to stop,” US secretary of State Rex Tillerson said afterwards. “Several times I had to remind the president, and people were sticking their heads in the door. And they sent in the first lady at one point to see if she could get us out of there, and that didn’t work either.” There were sighs of relief in Washington that Trump, an erratic and volatile president with little foreign policy experience, had avoided a major gaffe. The news website Axios summed it up: “Trump survives the Putin meeting.”

But diplomats and experts said this was hardly cause for celebration. Thomas Countryman, former US acting undersecretary for arms control and international security, commented: “It’s an indication of how rapidly our standards are falling when we’re reasonably pleased that President Trump has not made an obvious error.” Pre-meeting hype had focused on whether Trump would confront Putin over Russia’s interference in the US election. He delivered, according to Tillerson, pressing the issue repeatedly. But Putin denied it and Tillerson later admitted that the two leaders had focused on how to move on from here. There seemed little indication that Trump had held Putin’s feet to the fire.

Trump had accepted Putin’s assurances, Countryman said: “It certainly was the minimum that any US president should have done in this situation. I’m glad he brought it up. What we don’t know – and may never know – is what he replied when Vladimir Putin looked him in the eye and falsely said: ‘It was not us.’” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov claimed Trump had accepted Putin’s assurances, although the US disputed that.

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A good first outcome. Now don’t the US military dare interfere.

US, Russia Agree To Cease-Fire In Southwest Syria Starting Sunday (AP)

The United States and Russia struck an agreement Friday on a cease-fire in southwest Syria, crowning President Donald Trump’s first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is the first U.S.-Russian effort under Trump’s presidency to stem Syria’s six-year civil war. The cease-fire goes into effect Sunday at noon Damascus time, according to U.S. officials and the Jordanian government, which is also involved in the deal. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who accompanied Trump in his meeting with Putin, said the understanding is designed to reduce violence in an area of Syria near Jordan’s border and which is critical to the U.S. ally’s security.

It’s a “very complicated part of the Syrian battlefield,” Tillerson told reporters after the U.S. and Russian leaders met for about 2 hours and 15 minutes on the sidelines of a global summit in Hamburg, Germany. Of the agreement, he said: “I think this is our first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria.” [..] Russia’s top diplomat, who accompanied Putin in the meeting with Trump, said Russian military police will monitor the new truce. All sides will try to ensure aid deliveries to the area, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. The deal marks a new level of involvement for the Trump administration in trying to resolve Syria’s civil war.

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No, Intercept, Lavrov, let alone Russia, has not disputed anything Tillerson said. To dispute something, you need to address it. Lavrov has simply provided his version of what was said.

Russia Disputes US Claim Trump “Pressed” Putin on Election Hacking (IC)

According to two widely divergent witness accounts, Donald Trump either “pressed” Vladimir Putin repeatedly on Friday to admit that Russia helped him get elected president of the United States — by stealing and releasing embarrassing emails from Democrats — or told the Russian leader that he accepted his claim that Russia had nothing to do with the hacking and called concern over the issue “exaggerated.” Those two very different accounts of what was said in the meeting between Trump and Putin in Hamburg, Germany, came in dueling press briefings given after it by the only other senior officials in the room when the conversation took place: Rex Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, and Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister.

“The President opened the meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election,” Tillerson told American reporters, according to audio recorded by PBS Newshour. “Now they had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject,” Tillerson continued. “The President pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement; President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past.” “The two leaders agreed though,” Tillerson added, “that this is a substantial hinderance in the ability of us to move the Russian-U.S. relationship forward, and agreed to exchange further work regarding commitments on non-interference.” The Russians, Tillerson said, also asked to see whatever proof of their role in the hacking American intelligence agencies claim to have.

Lavrov, who is fluent in both Russian and English, offered a very different summary of the conversation. Trump, he told Russian reporters, had raised the issue during a broader conversation about threats posed to society by the internet, including terrorism and child pornography. “President Trump said that in the U.S. there are still some circles who are talking about Russian alleged intrusion and Russian alleged attempts to influence the U.S. election,” Lavrov said, according to translation from Ruptly, a Russian state-owned news agency. “President Trump said that this campaign has already taken on a rather strange character because over the many months that these accusations have been made, not a single fact has been presented,” Lavrov added. “President Trump said that he had heard the clear statements from President Putin about this being untrue, that the Russian leadership did not interfere in the election, and that he accepts these statements.”

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Not possible until UK has left EU.

Trump Says Trade Deal With UK Will Be Agreed “Very Very Quickly” (BBC)

US President Donald Trump has said he expects a “powerful” trade deal with the UK to be completed “very quickly”. Speaking at the G20 summit in Hamburg, he also said he will come to London. The US president is holding one-to-one talks with UK Prime Minister Theresa May to discuss a post-Brexit trade deal. It is one of a series of one-to-one meetings with world leaders which will also see Mrs May hold trade talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Ahead of their meeting, Mr Trump hailed the “very special relationship” he had developed with Mrs May. “There is no country that could possibly be closer than our countries,” he told reporters.

“We have been working on a trade deal which will be a very, very big deal, a very powerful deal, great for both countries and I think we will have that done very, very quickly.” Mr Trump said he “will be going to London”. Asked when, he replied: “We’ll work that out.” But Sir Simon Fraser, a former diplomat who served as a permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, cast doubt on how soon any deal could be reached. “The point is we can’t negotiate with them or anyone else until we’ve left the European Union.”

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Running to stand still. And as Wolf says, these are the good times.

Why the Next Recession will be a Doozie for Consumers (WS)

But here is the thing about employment and recessions: Something big changed since 2000. It can be seen in the employment-population ratio, which tracks people over 16 years of age who have jobs, as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. From the 1960s until 2000, the ratio fell during recessions, but then during the recovery regained all the lost ground plus some, ratcheting up to new records after each recession. Some of this had to do with women entering the work force in large numbers. But since the ratio’s peak in April 2000 at 64.7%, a new pattern has developed. As before, the ratio drops before the official recession begins and keeps dropping until after the recession has ended. But when employment recovers, the ratio ticks up only slowly, recovering only a fraction of the ground lost, before the next recession hits. This has happened over the last two recessions.

For the 2001/2002 recession, the ratio started falling in May 2000 and continued falling until September 2003. During those 3.5 years, it fell 2.7 percentage points from 64.7% to 62%. Over the next three-plus years of the “recovery,” the ratio rose to 63.4% by December 2006, having regained only half of the lost ground, before the next downturn set in. This time, the ratio plunged from 63.4% to 58.2% in November 2010 and again in June and July 2011. It plunged 5.2 percentage points in 4.5 years. During that time, nonfarm payrolls plunged by 8.7 million jobs. Over the seven-plus years of the jobs recovery since then, the economy added 16.7 million jobs (146.4 million nonfarm payrolls, as defined by the BLS). But the employment-population ratio only made it to 60.1%. It regained only 1.9 percentage points, after having plunged 5.2 percentage points. In other words, after seven-plus years of jobs recovery, it has regained less than one-third of what it had lost:

And now the Fed is preparing for the next recession. There are all kinds of factors that move this equation one way or the other. Baby boomers are not retiring to the extent prior generations did. Millennials have fully entered into the working-age population (16 and over by this definition) though many are still in school. And according to Census Bureau estimates, the overall US population has surged by 16.7 million people from April 2010 through “today,” to 325.4 million. Since the bottom of the employment crisis in February 2010, the economy has created 16.7 million jobs as measured by nonfarm payrolls. During the same time, the population has grown by 16.7 million people. Not all of this population growth is working age. But this is the problem that the employment-population ratio depicts: jobs are being created, but not enough for the dual task of absorbing the growth in the working-age population and in putting people back to work who lost their jobs during the recession.

And these are the good times! What happens during the next recession?

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Why don’t you fit my theory? It’s failproof!

U.S. Jobs Growth Picks Up, but Wage Gains Lag Behind (WSJ)

U.S. employers are churning out jobs unabated as the economic expansion enters its ninth year, but the inability to generate more robust wage growth represents a missing piece in a largely complete labor recovery. U.S. employers added a seasonally adjusted 222,000 jobs in June, the Labor Department said Friday, and the unemployment rate rose slightly to 4.4% with more people actively looking for work. The U.S. has added jobs every month since October 2010, a record 81-month stretch that has absorbed roughly 16 million workers and slowly repaired much of the damage from the 2007-09 recession. The unemployment rate touched a 16-year low in May and the number of job openings hit a record earlier this year.

Still, average hourly earnings for private-sector workers rose slightly in June, 2.5% compared with a year earlier, a level little changed since March. As recently as December, the figure was 2.9% and in the months before the recession, wage gains consistently topped 3%. Since mid-2009, when the expansion started, hourly earnings of blue-collar workers—for which long-run data series are available—have grown on average 2.2% a year, much less than the 3% expansion of the 2000s, the 3.2% expansion of the 1990s or the 3.3% expansion of the 1980s. Tepid wage growth is a puzzle because worker incomes should in theory rise faster as employers compete for scarce labor, though some economists say broader economic forces are at work. “With both productivity growth and inflation continuing to prove sluggish, it is not altogether surprising that wage growth has disappointed,” said John E. Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo.

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“..it may suggest Inpex has lost control over costs.”

A Multibillion-Dollar Crack In One Of The World’s Largest LNG Projects (CNBC)

One of the biggest, most expensive liquefied natural gas projects in history may have developed a physical crack — and the managing company isn’t answering questions from investors. They may have reason to worry. The crack, which is believed to be in a floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) unit, could add billions of dollars in upfront costs, and it could delay the project even further, likely costing more down the line as a major competitor plans to swoop in. The floating unit is sitting at a yard in Busan, South Korea, and is set to eventually operate at “Ichthys” — a giant gas and condensate field offshore western Australia led by Japan’s Inpex, with a 30% stake from France’s Total. That project first broke ground in 2012 and is set to be a mega-scale operation that produces about 8.9 million tons of LNG every year if it reaches full capacity.

Inpex said earlier this month that the unit would “soon” sail away to Australia, and the Japanese operator said the unit is undergoing “last-minute preparation work” including commissioning, cleaning and certification work. One person familiar with the project, however, told CNBC that they have firsthand knowledge of an unannounced crack in the equipment, which was driving up costs and delaying the unit’s journey to Australia, previously expected for 2015. An additional three sources said they had been told there was a crack, but could not independently confirm the defect. When CNBC reached out to the company and asked whether the rumored crack is real, Inpex said it “cannot provide details concerning reasons for the delay.” According to one person familiar with the matter, Inpex recently hired as many as 300 welders to fix the damage. Several sources said they believe the damage is the main reason for the delay.

The alleged fault is in the unit’s “turret,” a central part of an FPSO that conveys “almost everything that will enter or leave” the unit, including chemical injection lines and power cables, Ichthys LNG Project Offshore Director Claude Cahuzac said in comments available on Inpex’s website. A fault in a big piece of liquid natural gas equipment isn’t so abnormal, industry analysts told CNBC, with one suggesting LNG projects generally require “lots of trials and errors.” What is less common, they said, is the amount of investor concern being generated by the Ichthys project. Naturally enough, that concern comes down to money. The original budget of the project back in 2008 was around $20 billion. Inpex’s estimate now stands at $37 billion plus an additional amount of spending, Mizuho Securities said following an analyst briefing in May this year.

In fact, one portfolio manager who reviewed the recent spending projections by Inpex said that “with the 2018 capital expenditure guidance increasing by around 50% over the last six months, it may suggest Inpex has lost control over costs.”

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Writing about austerity without addressing Greece is useless, Britain.

Even The IMF Says Austerity Doesn’t Work (G.)

A few weeks on from the general election, and David Cameron has been disinterred to say giving public sector workers pay rises is the height of selfishness – while Theresa May is back to harping on in prime minister’s questions about the debt left by the last Labour government. It’s apparently 2015 all over again. It’s tiresome to have to keep pointing it out, but Dave from PR was wrong then, and he remains wrong now. He was a good salesman, for sure. Pretending that “The Deficit” is a scary monster that will eat us unless we appease it by sacrificing our wages plays into many instinctual beliefs about the virtues of probity and thrift. But if anything, the monster in the room is the prevalence of what economist John Quiggin called “zombie economics” – ideas that are constantly discredited, but insist on shambling back to life and lurching their way through our public discourse.

The supposed justifications for austerity were always, Quiggin writes, “absurd on the face of things”. The theory that government spending crowds out private sector investment never withstood scrutiny. As he points out, “the painfully evident fact that there is already plenty of room for private expansion, in the form of unemployed workers and idle factories, is simply ignored”. The IMF – historically the world’s foremost cheerleader of austerity – admitted that it was based on a false prospectus: these policies do more harm than good. Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford University said that the issue was not whether attempts to reduce the deficit had damaged the economy, but “how much GDP has been lost as a result”. Amartya Sen said that while austerity “deepened Europe’s economic problems, it did not help in the aimed objective of reducing the ratio of debt to GDP to any significant extent”.

[..] With the evidence so prolific that Cameron’s supposed “sound finance” is anything but, and with battalions of respected economists lined up to denounce it, why does this zombie idea keep resurrecting itself? The answer must surely lie in its political utility. The global financial crisis was an opportunity for politicians to practise Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine” capitalism in the west rather than in the developing world. The Conservatives have presented their ideological project of returning us to the early 19th century as being economically necessary, even unavoidable.

Before Jeremy Corbyn’s rise, elements in the Labour party were similarly enamoured with recession as an opportunity to push a culture war over what they saw as a betrayal of “authentic” left politics. Just as austerity economics relies on the demonisation of immigrants and “identity politics” to mask its own crippling impact, so authentocracy relies on a false zero-sum formula where the “white working class” is in a battle with new arrivals for a share of a fixed pot of cash. Its proponents can hide behind discredited economics to claim they are making “hard but necessary choices” about resource allocation which, somehow, never address the actual allocation of said resources.

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In other words: you can’t protect a river, not even if people are at risk by the failure to do so?!

RIvers Do Not Have Same Rights As Humans: India’s Top Court (AFP)

India’s sacred Ganges and Yamuna rivers cannot be considered “living entities”, the country’s top court ruled Friday, suspending an earlier order that granted them the same legal rights as humans. The Supreme Court stayed a March order by a lower body that recognised the Ganges and its tributary the Yamuna as “legal persons” in an attempt to protect the highly polluted rivers from further degradation. The landmark ruling made polluting or damaging the rivers legally comparable to hurting a person, and saw three top government officials appointed as custodians. But the Himalayan state of Uttrakhand, where the Ganges originates, petitioned the top court arguing the legal status to the venerated rivers was “unsustainable in the law”.

In its plea, the state said the ruling was unclear on whether the custodians or the state government was liable to pay damages to those who drown during floods, in case they file damage suits. Petitioner Mohammad Saleem, on whose plea the Uttrakhand High Court bestowed the legal rights to the water bodies, will have the opportunity to appeal the ruling by a bench headed by chief justice J S Khehar. M C Pant, Saleem’s lawyer, said he was “shocked and surprised” over the government’s decision to oppose the status. “We will present our case before the court and convince them,” Pant told AFP. The Ganges is India’s longest and holiest river, but the waters in which pilgrims ritualistically bathe and scatter the ashes of their dead is heavily polluted with untreated sewage and industrial waste.

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Why Greece cannot recover.

Greek Bankruptcies Grew Fivefold In Last Decade (K.)

Corporate bankruptcies in Greece are still a staggering five times what they were in the period before the outbreak of the financial crisis, despite the small 2 percentage point decline recorded so far in 2017, according to international credit insurance company Atradius. The 2% decline is the smallest drop recorded among eurozone member-states, while Greece remains on top of the 22 countries Atradius monitors in Europe and beyond in terms of bankruptcies. While Greece’s rate is currently five times what it was before 2009, in Portugal it is four times as high, in Italy 2.4 times, in Ireland 2.2 times and in Spain it is twice as high.

The business sectors of food and electronics are expected to be among those to enjoy a reduction in their bankruptcy rate, unlike the construction, apparel and machinery sectors, which will continue to see high bankruptcy levels, the survey has found in Greece. The local credit system remains entrapped in the problem of nonperforming loans, which account for 37% of their total portfolios, Atradius says. This hampers lending to the private sector, it adds, calling for the swift enforcement of the recent law for clearing out or selling bad loans.

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As if there was any doubt about this. We need to stop bombing them. That’s the only answer there is.

War and Violence Drive 80% Of People Fleeing To Europe By Sea (G.)

The vast majority of people arriving in Europe by sea are fleeing persecution, war and famine, while less than a fifth are economic migrants, a report published on Friday reveals. More than 80% of an estimated 1,008,616 arrivals in 2015 came from refugee-producing countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and a quarter of that number were children. Researchers say the findings challenge the myth that migrants are coming to Europe for economic reasons. The study is based on 750 questionnaires and more than 100 interviews carried out at reception centres in Greece, Italy and Malta. It highlights the abuse many have faced, with 17% experiencing forced labour. Half of those questioned had been arrested or detained during their journeys.

Professor Brad Blitz, who led the research team, said the findings made it clear that people had complex reasons for coming to Europe. He said: “Governments and certain media organisations perpetuate the myth that the ‘pull’ factors are stronger than the ‘push’ factors with economic reasons being the key catalyst – but we found the opposite. “The overwhelming majority of people we spoke to were coming from desperately poor countries but also places where they were subject to targeted violence or other concerns around family security. They had no other option.” War was the biggest “push”, and given as the reason for leaving their homes by 49% of those questioned in Greece, and 53% of those in Malta. One Syrian said: “I used to live with my wife in Idlib. We had a normal life there until the outbreak of war. Our house was bombed and we lost everything, we hadn’t any option but to leave.”

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“U.S. soldiers gave poisoned cookies to children seeking their help.”

The US Has Been at War for Over 220 in 241 Years (AHT)

The United States presents itself to the world as a beacon of liberty and a proponent of human rights around the world, ready and willing to stand up for and defend the downtrodden. Florida Senator Marco Rubio recently said that the world looks to the U.S. as an example of democracy. This myth is not believed outside of the United States’ borders, and decreasingly within. There is simply too much evidence to the contrary. The U.S. has been at war for over 220 of its 241 year history. During that time, it has shown a complete lack of respect for the human rights of both the citizens of the nations against which it wages war, and its own soldiers. We’ll take a look at examples from recent history, and see how the U.S. continues these barbaric practices today.

During the U.S. war against Viet Nam, which lasted for several years, conservative estimates indicate that at least 2,000,000 men, women and children were killed. Entire villages were burned; soldiers were told to assume that anyone, of an age, was the enemy. U.S. soldiers gave poisoned cookies to children seeking their help. The My Lai massacre, in which between 350 and 500 innocent people were killed, mostly women, children and elderly men, garnered international publicity, but was only one example of U.S. barbarity. U.S. soldiers returned home from this and later wars with severe physical and emotional problems. Veterans’ organizations worked for years to have the effects of ‘Agent Orange’, a chemical defoliant used in Viet Nam that caused birth defects in the children of soldiers who used it, recognized by the government so they could get government assistance.

A generation later, the reality of Gulf War Syndrome was denied for years by the U.S. government. How does this continue in the current environment? When the U.S. invaded Iraq early in the administration of President George Bush, it bombed residential areas in a country where over half the population was under the age of 15. It destroyed government institutions, even as it protected oil lines, leaving millions of people without essential services.

In Yemen, drones have killed at least 6,000 people. In the first drone attack authorized by then President Barack Obama, 34 people were killed. Of these, two were suspected of having ties to so-called terrorist groups. The other 32 were innocent men, women and children. And these atrocities continue to this day. In Syria, the U.S. is supporting radical groups that are causing untold suffering. At least one third of the population of Syria has fled their homes; recently, due to the efforts of the Syrian army and its allies, some have begun to return. The death toll, directly attributable to the actions of the U.S., is at least half a million.

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Jul 062017
 
 July 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Roy Lichtenstein Woman With Flowered Hat 1963

 

The Fed Grows Worried Its Loose Policy Threatens US Financial Stability (CNBC)
Fed Eyes September Announcement on Balance-Sheet Reduction (WSJ)
China’s Debt Binge Threatens Australia (CB)
Australian Housing ‘Bubble’ Fears Overblown, HSBC Economist Says (BBG)
Europe’s Quietly Growing Poor Population Is Getting Louder (Occupy)
German Banks Pose A Threat That Politicians Want To Hide (CNBC)
Saudi Arabia Chief Foreign Promoter Of Islamist Extremism In UK – Report (Ind.)
Theresa May: Austerity Prevents UK From Turning Into Greece (G.)
China’s Electric Cars Are Actually Pretty Dirty (BBG)
After Failure To Prove Trump-Russia Collusion, There’s Pro-Trump Websites (ZH)
Terrorists in Syria to Stage Provocations to Justify US Strikes – Moscow (Sp.)
Hollywood Promotes War On Behalf Of The Pentagon, CIA and NSA (M.)
Report In Sweden Claims Erdogan Orchestrated July 15 Coup In Turkey (SCF)
Three In Four Recent Greek Graduates Work For Less Than €800 A Month (K.)
EU Calls On Members To Aid Migrants Amid Rising Mediterranean Death Toll (G.)
EU Blamed For ‘Soaring’ Migrant, Refugee Death Toll (BBC)

 

 

I think the Fed has known this for a long time.

The Fed Grows Worried Its Loose Policy Threatens US Financial Stability (CNBC)

The Federal Reserve’s most recent interest rate hike came amid worries that keeping policy loose was posing increasing risks to financial stability and the economy. Fed officials indicated a determination to continue raising rates even with muted inflation levels, which they considered to be temporary and likely to rise over the long run to a targeted level of 2%, according to a summary from the June meeting of the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee. The Fed raised its benchmark rate target a quarter point at the meeting and outlined a plan to reduce its $4.5 trillion balance sheet of bond holdings it accrued while trying to stimulate the economy during and after the financial crisis. Meeting minutes released Wednesday indicated that Fed officials believe the balance sheet can be reduced with “limited” disruption to financial markets.

Officials also expressed little concern that low inflation would persist. However, Fed officials were divided on when the balance sheet runoff should begin, and did not release a timetable on when it would happen. Recent readings below the Fed’s 2% goal were attributed to “idiosyncratic factors, including sharp declines in prices of wireless telephone services and prescription drugs, and expected these developments to have little bearing on inflation over the medium run.” The rate hike came as several officials voiced concern over the effect, or lack thereof, that their recent measures were having on financial markets. Rather than causing conditions to tighten, they actually have grown looser since the central bank embarked on a series of hikes.

While the Fed has increased its benchmark rate target four times since December 2015, government bond yields have declined in recent months. Stocks have continued to gain in the second-longest bull market ever recorded, and multiple other measures of financial conditions remain loose. The meeting minutes reflected considerable discussion over why that was happening. Low bond yields, they reasoned, could be the product of “sluggish longer-term economic growth” as well as the Fed’s $4.5 trillion balance sheet of bond holdings.

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It’s time to say goodbye to the Fed and other central banks. They’re too destructive.

Fed Eyes September Announcement on Balance-Sheet Reduction (WSJ)

Federal Reserve officials have indicated there is a strong chance they will announce in September a decision to start shrinking the central bank’s portfolio of bonds and other assets, while putting off until December any further interest-rate increase. The moves would give officials time to assess how markets react to the balance-sheet reductions and to confirm their view that a recent slowdown in inflation will fade. Launching the balance-sheet plan in September also would afford Chairwoman Janet Yellen an opportunity to initiate it well ahead of any potential leadership transition. Her term as chair expires in February, and President Trump hasn’t indicated whether he would nominate her to a second term or replace her. While a final decision on the next Fed moves hasn’t been made, officials will have several opportunities in coming weeks to clarify their thinking.

The central bank releases minutes of the June meeting on Wednesday, and Ms. Yellen testifies before Congress next week. Officials will also gather in Jackson Hole at the end of August for an annual monetary-policy conference that will provide ample opportunities for them to offer further guidance. Earlier this year, some officials indicated they were considering raising interest rates in March, June and September and then starting the portfolio reduction plan in December. They did raise rates in March and June, but are considering the new strategy for several reasons. First, they agreed at their June policy meeting on how they would reduce the $4.5 trillion portfolio, and made that plan public. Some officials now think they might as well get started soon, given the U.S. economic expansion appears steady and global growth is improving.

Second, if Ms. Yellen isn’t nominated to a second term as chair, they would prefer not to wait until December and launch the plan shortly before her successor takes charge. Third, inflation remains a puzzle for the Fed. The unemployment rate fell to 4.3% in May, a 16-year low, yet price pressures have diminished in recent months, moving year-over-year inflation gauges further below the central bank’s 2% target. Some Fed officials in recent weeks have said they want to see more proof that such price softness is transitory before resuming rate increases, but haven’t signaled similar qualms about initiating the balance-sheet runoff. “Take the balance sheet, get that started, and position ourselves for a December rate increase,” said Chicago Fed President Charles Evans in an interview last month.

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But.. wasn’t it supposed to make Australia rich?

China’s Debt Binge Threatens Australia (CB)

No country can be indifferent to China’s economy, especially not Australia. We’re more exposed to what goes on in it than just about any other nation. China has long been the biggest market for our commodities, such as iron ore, coal and wool. And now it is the largest foreign buyer of our services, especially education and tourism. The upshot? Many thousands of Australian jobs depend on the health of the Chinese economy. Big Asian economies in our region – China, India and Indonesia – are bound to become even more important to us during this, the Asian Century. Our politicians like to dwell on the opportunities presented by the historic economic transformation to our north. But we’ll also need to be prepared for some nasty bumps along the way. The aftermath of China’s enormous corporate debt bubble could well be one of them.

For some years now China’s economic growth has been underpinned by an explosion in corporate lending. China has accounted for half – yes half – of all new credit created globally since 2005 according to the New York Federal Reserve. That’s a huge share for an economy that now only accounts for about 15% of the global economy. Alarm bells rang last August when the IMF pointed out the trajectory of credit growth in China was eerily similar to countries that experienced painful post-debt boom adjustments in the recent past. This includes Japan in the 1980s, Thailand prior to Asian Financial Crisis and Spain prior to the European debt crisis. The sheer pace of lending growth makes it likely many loans are going to marginal borrowers or unviable projects.

A recent Oxford University study that evaluated 65 major road and rail projects in China concluded just 28% could be considered “genuinely economically productive”. The rapid expansion of China’s less regulated “shadow banking” sector adds to the complexity. The Reserve Bank has described China’s financial system as “increasingly large, leveraged, interconnected, and opaque”. Authorities have recently taken steps to reduce credit growth in China but it continues to expand at a rapid pace. The Reserve’s latest review of financial stability published in April, said the risks continue to build. “The level of debt in China has risen significantly over the past decade to reach very high levels, with particularly strong growth in lending from the less regulated and more opaque parts of China’s financial system,” it said.

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Fire the guy, and all others like him.

Australian Housing ‘Bubble’ Fears Overblown, HSBC Economist Says (BBG)

Soaring home prices in Australia’s biggest cities are driven by strong demand and a lack of supply, rather than indicating a “bubble,” according to HSBC’s local Chief Economist Paul Bloxham. “At a national level, a key reason for rising housing prices has been housing under-supply,” Bloxham wrote in a research note on Thursday. “This also suggests that a significant fall in Australian housing prices, as occurred in the U.S. and Spain during the global financial crisis, is unlikely.” Five years of red-hot growth have left prices in Sydney and Melbourne up 80% and 60% since mid-2012, fueling bubble concerns. In June, Moody’s Investors Service cut the long-term credit ratings of Australia’s four biggest banks, saying surging home prices, rising household debt and sluggish wage growth pose a threat to the lenders.

Bloxham, a former staffer at the Reserve Bank of Australia, said that “fundamental factors” largely explain the price boom and, “as a result, we do not judge it to be a bubble.” Demand for housing in Melbourne and Sydney has been supported by domestic and international migration, foreign investment and a lack of new supply, he said. Price increases have been much smaller in places such as Perth, where demand has been weaker amid the waning of a mining boom. The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority has gradually been ratcheting up restrictions on riskier loans and in recent months the big lenders have all raised interest rates charged on interest-only loans. Bloxham said he believes these regulatory measures will help cool the market, along with lower demand from overseas and increased supply.

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“..more than 240 million people now live on the poverty line..”

Europe’s Quietly Growing Poor Population Is Getting Louder (Occupy)

[..] early last month, financial analysts lauded the explosive growth of the Eurozone, claiming that it had outdone the U.S. The ECB predicted that countries like Germany and France would be able to issue bonds worth over 600 billion euros by the end of the year. By all accounts it would seem that the storm has passed. The E.U. suffered long and hard, endured the departure of one of its most economically sound member-states, and has apparently managed to come out on top, even amid one of the most dire humanitarian crises in recent memory. However, a brief look at some the official reports published by E.U. economists paints a wholly different, less rosy picture. In March 2010, the European Commission published a detailed economic strategy that was intended to rescue the then 80 million citizens of the Eurozone from falling below the poverty line.

In a manner reminiscent of the Soviet Union, the Commission extensively defined “poverty” in as loose a terminology as possible, hoping to reduce the number of that population. It also measured income inequality using the wildly fluctuating per-capita incomes of each member-state. One of the more prevailing definitions used by the European Commission at the time was relative poverty: “People are said to be living in poverty if their income and resources are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living considered acceptable in the society in which they live. Because of their poverty they may experience multiple disadvantage through unemployment, low income, poor housing, inadequate health care and barriers to lifelong learning, culture, sport and recreation. They are often excluded and marginalized from participating in activities (economic, social and cultural) that are the norm for other people and their access to fundamental rights may be restricted.”

The purpose of the strategy was to implement, for lack of a better term, a “glorious 10-year plan” that would lift up the failing economies of the less developed or ailing member-states, encourage mobility within the Union and enable those 80 million citizens to be lifted above the poverty line. In 2017, the strategy was given a new, thorough assessment by Bruegel, a Brussels-based economic think-tank, which revealed that it not only failed to achieve its goal (an understandable outcome under the circumstances) but also increased the number of E.U. citizens risking poverty almost threefold. As of June, the European Commission website stated that more than 240 million people now live on the poverty line (around one-third of the E.U. population), with a full 9% of citizens suffering from deprivation.

That doesn’t factor in the considerable population of refugees and other marginalized communities such as the Roma, or the desperate populations of underdeveloped areas in countries like Romania. So where does all this leave the E.U.’s poor? According to predictions, financial troubles will escalate the already growing trend of social exclusion affecting women, single parents, immigrants and others in the E.U. for years to come. Already, E.U. citizens are choosing to abandon higher education in favor of steady employment. In countries like Greece, Macedonia and other member-states with expansive rural areas, the exodus of able-bodied young people combined with an aging population will lead to a long-term economic drain from which they may never recover.

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Too many banks? Or too much debt?

German Banks Pose A Threat That Politicians Want To Hide (CNBC)

With the Italian banking system in the spotlight, analysts have highlighted that Germany’s lenders are still not out of the woods, saying shipping loans and too many bank branches are some of the very real problems they are currently facing. German officials repeatedly tell EU members from the south of Europe to restructure their banking systems but industry experts believe they have a problem of their own as federal elections approach. “Germany is overbanked, too many banks, very little consolidation has taken place,” Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING Germany, told CNBC via email on Wednesday. There are approximately 2,400 separate banks with more than 45,000 branches throughout the country and over 700,000 employees, according to Commercial Banks Guide, an industry website.

This increases the cost income ratio for banks, Brzeski explained. Meanwhile, the IMF warned last May that cost-to-income and leverage remain high in Germany. “Low profitability reflects structural inefficiencies, persistent crisis legacy issues, provisions for compliance violations, and the need to adjust to the new regulatory environment,” the IMF said in the report last May. Another problem seems to be the reliance on the shipping industry for many banks. “I would point towards some specific issues with asset quality: Shipping is one of the priorities of the single supervisor, the ECB, for next year,” Gildas Surry, senior analyst at Axiom Alternative Investments, told CNBC on Wednesday when citing the biggest problem for the German banking sector.

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As May refuses to make public a government report. Dead end.

Saudi Arabia Chief Foreign Promoter Of Islamist Extremism In UK – Report (Ind.)

Saudi Arabia is the chief foreign promoter of Islamist extremism in the UK, a report has warned. The conservative Henry Jackson Society said there was a “clear and growing link” between Islamist organisations preaching violence and foreign state funding. In a new report entitled “Foreign Funded Islamist Extremism in the UK”, the thinktank calls for a public inquiry into extremism bankrolled by other countries. It suggests several Gulf states and Iran are responsible for much of the foreign funding of extremism in the UK, but that Saudi Arabia in particular had spent millions on exporting its conservative branch of Wahhabi Islam to Muslim communities in the West since the 1960s.

The thinktank, run by controversial journalist and political commentator Douglas Murray, said this typically took the form of endowments to mosques and Islamic educational institutions which host radical preachers and distribute extremist literature. The report calls for a public inquiry in Saudi Arabia’s connections with UK based extremism. The UK’s Saudi Arabian embassy told the BBC the allegations were “categorically false”. But it comes as the Government is facing mounting pressure to release its own report into Saudi funding of extremism. Responding to a parliamentary question on Tuesday, Theresa May said ministers were “considering advice on what is able to be published and will report to Parliament with an update in due course”.

The report, which has been in Ms May’s personal possession for six months, was first commissioned by David Cameron in 2015 following an agreement with the Liberal Democrats to get their support for Syrian air strikes. But last month a spokesman for the Home Office admitted to the Guardian that the report may not be published because its contents were “very sensitive”. Since coming to power in July last year, Ms May has courted the conservative kingdom, which is one of the main buyers of UK-made arms. Earlier this year, the Government approved £3.5bn-worth of arms exports licences to the Gulf state.

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This is getting too absurd. She’s claiming austerity can rescue a nation, but look at Greece. Someone like Steve Keen should set May straight once and for all. Corbyn doesn’t sound terribly clear either.

Theresa May: Austerity Prevents UK From Turning Into Greece (G.)

Theresa May raised the spectre of a Greek-style economic collapse if Britain fails to press ahead with tackling the deficit on Wednesday, as she was challenged repeatedly by Jeremy Corbyn over the public sector pay cap. With intense political pressure on the prime minister – including from her own cabinet colleagues – to ease the strain for cash-strapped public servants, including nurses and teachers, she warned MPs about the risks of loosening the purse strings. “This is not a theoretical issue. Let us look at those countries that failed to deal with it. In Greece, where they have not dealt with the deficit … What did we see with that failure to deal with the deficit? Spending on the health service cut by 36%. That does not help nurses or patients,” she said.

Comparisons with Greece were repeatedly used by George Osborne in 2010 to justify public spending cuts, as riots erupted on the streets of Athens over the stringent bailout conditions imposed by the IMF and the eurozone. But the analogy represented a significant ratcheting up of the pro-austerity argument from May. A Conservative spokesman emphasised remarks afterwards, saying: “There are siren calls from Labour to abandon any kind of fiscal restraint whatsoever. What happens, we’ve seen as a case study, is what happened in Greece.” He added: “I think she was suggesting if Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party got the chance to impose its fiscal policies on the United Kingdom that is a very real threat.”

A spokesman for Corbyn described the claims as “preposterous”. “The situation in Greece is tied up with the eurozone and the management of the eurozone banks – we’re not remotely in that situation. Our manifesto and our pledges were costed, unlike the government’s,” he said.

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Prediction: the Green crowd is not going to listen.

China’s Electric Cars Are Actually Pretty Dirty (BBG)

China has been making great strides toward electrification. Electric vehicle sales are booming: Consumers bought more than 300,000 last year, and more than 5 million are expected to be on the road by 2020. The government just announced bold plans for a wave of big new battery factories. Encouraging as that may be, though, the move away from conventional cars and trucks won’t immediately reduce the country’s carbon emissions. On the contrary, the production and exploitation of electric vehicles in China actually produces more greenhouse gases and consumes more overall energy. In the short run, China’s moves could make greenhouse emissions go up, not down. Electric vehicles seem environmentally benign. They’re lightweight, energy-efficient, and potentially greener than their conventional counterparts.

But the reality is more complex. Their manufacture entails energy-intensive mining of rare elements, such as the lithium required for their batteries. Their fuel efficiency can make up for that in the course of use, but only if the electricity is produced in a relatively clean way. Developed nations get the best results, because they tend to generate electricity using cleaner sources. By one estimate, the average electric car in the U.S. has just half the greenhouse gas impact of a conventional car over its life cycle. It’s even less in the western, southern and northeastern parts of the country, where power plants draw more renewable power. A comprehensive energy model being developed by Argonne National Laboratory produces a similar estimate.

Europe does well, too. Looking at all the processes involved in the manufacture, use, and ultimate disposal of a range of both electrical and conventional vehicles, Norwegian researchers found that electric vehicles offer at least a 10% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (assuming they were driven about 150,000 kilometers). To be sure, electric-vehicle batteries impose a host of other environmental costs linked to the mining of rare metals. But on carbon emissions, electric vehicles win out. The real challenge to reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be in developing nations – especially China, which is likely to dominate the global auto market for decades to come. Unfortunately, the structure of China’s industrial economy will make it difficult. One recent study by Chinese engineers estimated that electric vehicles generate about a 50% increase in both greenhouse gas emissions and total energy consumption over their life cycle. The manufacture of the lithium-ion battery alone accounts for 13% of the energy consumption and 20% of the emissions.

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It’s high time for a reset. The narrative is dead.

After Failure To Prove Trump-Russia Collusion, There’s Pro-Trump Websites (ZH)

Having failed miserably to produce even one single shred of tangible evidence that Trump colluded with Russia to stage a coup in 2016’s presidential election, Democrats, rather than simply admit that their entire crusade to prove a false narrative was nothing more than a charade designed to cover up their embarrassing defeat, have decided to shift the narrative to target “pro-Trump websites.” You know, because a couple of websites sharing stories over Facebook clearly overshadowed the 24/7 Hillary Clinton cheerleading sessions on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, CBS, Washington Post, New York Times… Per The Guardian, this convenient shift in the ‘Russian hacking’ narrative comes just as Trump’s former head of digital media has been summoned to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to answer for his alleged ‘sins:”

“The spread of Russian-made fake news stories aimed at discrediting Hillary Clinton on social media is emerging as an important line of inquiry in multiple investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Investigators are looking into whether Trump supporters and far-right websites coordinated with Moscow over the release of fake news, including stories implicating Clinton in murder or pedophilia, or paid to boost those stories on Facebook.The head of the Trump digital camp, Brad Parscale, has reportedly been summoned to appear before the House intelligence committee looking into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US election. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee carrying out a parallel inquiry, has said that at least 1,000 “paid internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia” were pumping anti-Clinton fake news into social media sites during the campaign.”

Ironically, the same investigators digging into the “Trump collusion” narrative admit that similar media campaigns were used during the Democratic primaries in favor of Bernie Sanders. Oddly, however, there has been no organized effort to figure out whether or not Bernie conspired with Putin to destroy Clinton’s chances at the White House. A huge wave of fake news stories originating from eastern Europe began washing over the presidential election months earlier, at the height of the primary campaign. John Mattes, who was helping run the outline campaign for the Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders from San Diego, said it really took off in March 2016. “In a 30-day period, dozens of full-blown sites appeared overnight, running full level productions posts. It screamed out to me that something strange was going on,” Mattes said. Much of the material was untraceable, but he tracked 40% of the new postings back to eastern Europe.

Four of the Facebook members posting virulent and false stories about Clinton (suggesting, for example, that she had profited personally by arming Islamic State extremists) had the same name, Oliver Mitov. They all had a very small number of Facebook friends, including one which all four had in common. When Mattes tried to friend them and contact them there was no reply.

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Does anyone still notice the lack of evidence?

Terrorists in Syria to Stage Provocations to Justify US Strikes – Moscow (Sp.)

According to information in the possession of Russian Foreign Ministry, terrorists in Syria are planning to stage chemical provocations in order to justify US strikes on government forces, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during her weekly presser on Thursday. Russia believes terrorists in Syria plan to stage chemical attacks in order to justify US airstrikes against the Syrian military, Zakharova said. “According to information available [to us], Syrian terrorist groups plan staged provocative actions with the use of chemical poison gases to justify US strikes against the positions of the Syrian government forces,” Zakharova told a weekly briefing.

Daesh has deployed chemical laboratories and special equipment for creating chemical bombs to Deir ez-Zor from Raqqa in Syria, Zakharova revealed. The relocation of the laboratories from Raqqa speaks to the US-led coalition’s “selective reluctance to see facts” and “aiding insurgents,” according to Zakharova. The spokeswoman reiterated that Russia will seek thorough probe of the April 4 incident in Khan Sheikhoun in addition to other ‘chemical’ provocations against the Syrian authorities. “We will continue to consistently seek the most professionally rigorous and politically impartial investigation into the investigation of both the Khan Sheikhoun chemical incident and other persistent chemical provocations against the legitimate Syrian government,” Zakharova said.

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Setting the social mood. Robert Prechter can tell you a lot about that. But he sees it as a phenomenon that moves itself.

Hollywood Promotes War On Behalf Of The Pentagon, CIA and NSA (M.)

When we first looked at the relationship between politics, film and television at the turn of the 21st century, we accepted the consensus opinion that a small office at the Pentagon had, on request, assisted the production of around 200 movies throughout the history of modern media, with minimal input on the scripts. How ignorant we were. More appropriately, how misled we had been. We have recently acquired 4,000 new pages of documents from the Pentagon and CIA through the Freedom of Information Act. For us, these documents were the final nail in the coffin. These documents for the first time demonstrate that the US government has worked behind the scenes on over 800 major movies and more than 1,000 TV titles.

The previous best estimate, in a dry academic book way back in 2005, was that the Pentagon had worked on less than 600 films and an unspecified handful of television shows. The CIA’s role was assumed to be just a dozen or so productions, until very good books by Tricia Jenkins and Simon Willmetts were published in 2016. But even then, they missed or underplayed important cases, including Charlie Wilson’s War and Meet the Parents. Alongside the massive scale of these operations, our new book National Security Cinema details how US government involvement also includes script rewrites on some of the biggest and most popular films, including James Bond, the Transformers franchise, and movies from the Marvel and DC cinematic universes.

A similar influence is exerted over military-supported TV, which ranges from Hawaii Five-O to America’s Got Talent, Oprah and Jay Leno to Cupcake Wars, along with numerous documentaries by PBS, the History Channel and the BBC. National Security Cinema also reveals how dozens of films and TV shows have been supported and influenced by the CIA, including the James Bond adventure Thunderball, the Tom Clancy thriller Patriot Games and more recent films, including Meet the Parents and Salt. The CIA even helped to make an episode of Top Chef that was hosted at Langley, featuring then-CIA director Leon Panetta who was shown as having to skip dessert to attend to vital business. Was this scene real, or was it a dramatic statement for the cameras?

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Expect Erdogan to be loud and poresent this weekend around the G20.

Report In Sweden Claims Erdogan Orchestrated July 15 Coup In Turkey (SCF)

Last year’s failed coup attempt in Turkey is nothing but a false flag orchestrated by Turkey s autocratic President Recep Tayip Erdogan and his henchmen to create a pretext for a mass persecution of critics and opponents in a state of perpetual emergency, a new detailed study titled ‘July 15: Erdogan’s Coup’ by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) concluded. Based on publicly available data, the coup indictments, testimonials in court trials, private interviews, reviews of military expert opinions and other evidence collected by researchers, SCF is fairly confident that this attempt did not even qualify a coup bid in any sense of military mobilization which was unusually limited in numbers, confined in few cities, poorly managed, defied the established practices, tradition, rules of engagement and standard operating procedures in Turkish military.

This was a continuation of a series of false flags that were uncovered in the last couple of years under the authoritarian rule of Erdoan regime and it was certainly the bloodiest one, said Abdullah Bozkurt, the President of SCF. Erdogan appears to have tapped on widely circulated coup rumors in Turkish capital and staged own show to steal wind and set up his opposition for a persecution, he added. Judging from the results of the coup bid, Erdogan won big time by securing imperial presidency, consolidating his gains, stifle the opposition and even launching cross border military incursion into Syria for which he had been itching for too long. No wonder why he immediately called the attempt ‘a gift from God’. The report was originally published in Turkish. SCF plans to release an English edition soon with new changes and updated data.

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Shock doctrine. What can they do but leave?

Three In Four Recent Greek Graduates Work For Less Than €800 A Month (K.)

Almost three in every four (73%) people who graduated after 2011 in Greece collect no more than 800 euros per month, while one in six gets less than 400 euros per month, if they have a job, according to the findings of a survey the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) presented on Wednesday. That compares with just 24% of pre-2011 graduates who get less than 800 euros per month. In the years of the financial crisis graduates have found it much more difficult to find work, as the unemployment rate among degree-holders soared from 7% in 2009 to 18% in 2016.

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Report after report circles around money. Not people.

EU Calls On Members To Aid Migrants Amid Rising Mediterranean Death Toll (G.)

Brussels will urge European countries to give shelter to more refugees from Africa to ease the pressure on Italy, as record numbers of people attempt the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. The European Union executive wants all member states – including the UK – to contribute to resettling a total of 37,000 vulnerable people from five north African countries by the end of 2018. Interior ministers meeting in Tallinn on Thursday will be called on by Dmitris Avramopoulos, the EU home affairs commissioner, to make voluntary pledges by the middle of September. The appeal came as Amnesty International released a damning 31-page reportlinking “failing EU policies” to the the rising death toll in the Mediterranean, and shocking abuses faced by refugees and migrants in Libyan detention centres.

The EU resettlement plan is focused on children, as well as victims of people smugglers and torture, from Libya, Egypt, Niger, Sudan and Ethiopia. Most people making the perilous sea crossing from north Africa are deemed to be economic migrants not eligible for international protection. But the EU announced a relocation plan for vulnerable people as part of a package of emergency measures to help ease pressure on Italy. “It can be an important safety valve for people with vulnerabilities,” said an EU source. Frans Timmermans, European commission vice president, has made clear Brexit does not exclude the UK from the 2017-2018 programme, although pledges are voluntary. The plan, which has a strong emphasis on returning unwanted migrants, emerged as it was revealed that EU countries have paid in less than half of the funds promised to help African governments manage migration.

The Africa “trust fund” was announced with fanfare in 2015 to win African support for the deportation of unwanted migrants in Europe. Brussels has contributed €2.6bn (£2.3bn) from the EU budget, but officials are frustrated that national capitals are not digging deeper into their state coffers. Only €90bn of a promised €202bn has so far materialised. The UK has paid in €0.6bn of its promised €3bn, far less than Italy, which has paid €32bn. France, Germany and Spain have put in €3bn each, according to the latest data from the European commission.

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The EU will say: but look at all the money we gave! And then blames member states.

EU Blamed For ‘Soaring’ Migrant, Refugee Death Toll (BBC)

Amnesty International has blamed “failing EU policies” for the soaring death toll among refugees and migrants in the central Mediterranean. In a report, it said “cynical deals” with Libya consigned thousands to the risk of drowning, rape and torture. It said the EU was turning a blind eye to abuses in Libyan detention centres, and was mostly leaving it up to sea rescue charities to save migrants. More than 2,000 people have died in 2017 trying to get to Europe, it said. The EU has so far made no public comments on Amnesty’s report. It comes as interior ministers from the 28-member bloc are meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, to discuss the migrant crisis. They will review a $92m (£71m) action plan unveiled by the European Commission to deal with the issue.

The commission proposes to use more than 50% of the funds to boost the Libyan coastguard’s capacity to stop traffickers launching boatloads of migrants out to sea to be rescued. The rest is to help Italy feed, house and process the migrants who get there. “Rather than acting to save lives and offer protection, European ministers… are shamelessly prioritising reckless deals with Libya in a desperate bid to prevent refugees and migrants from reaching Italy,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Europe director. “European states have progressively turned their backs on a search and rescue strategy that was reducing mortality at sea in favour of one that has seen thousands drown and left desperate men, women and children trapped in Libya, exposed to horrific abuses,” he said.

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Jul 052017
 
 July 5, 2017  Posted by at 11:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Fred Lyon Golden Gate Bridge painter 1947

We Have Fixed Issues That Caused Financial Crisis, Says Mark Carney (G.)
David Cameron Says People Who Oppose Austerity Are ‘Selfish’ (Ind.)
Judge To Review Ban On Prosecuting Tony Blair For Iraq War (G.)
The Grenfell Inquiry Will Be A Stitch-Up. Here’s Why (Monbiot)
Foreigners Account for Just 4.7% of Home Sales in Toronto Region (BBG)
China’s $162 Billion of Dealmaker Debt Raises Alarm
China’s Shadow Banking Lacks Sufficient Regulation: Central Bank (R.)
Arab States To Deliver Verdict On Qatar As Compromise Elusive (R.)
Why Do We Think Poor People Are Poor Because Of Their Own Bad Choices? (G.)
Austrian Troops To Control Migrants On Italy Border (R.)

 

 

Oh come on, get real. Heard that a million times before. This is insulting. Are people really stupid enough to believe Carney? Is he? Hell yeah. Well, here’s what Carney’s predecessor at the BOE, Mervyn King, said in 2007.

We Have Fixed Issues That Caused Financial Crisis, Says Mark Carney (G.)

Fundamental reforms undertaken since the US sub-prime mortgage market triggered the deepest global recession since the second world war have created a safer, simpler and fairer financial system, Mark Carney has said. With the 10th anniversary of the financial crisis next month, Carney said the world’s biggest banks were stronger, misconduct was being tackled, and the toxic forms of shadow banking were no longer a threat. Carney, as well as being governor of the Bank of England, is chairman of the Financial Stability Board, a body created by the G20 group of developed and developing nations in 2009 to recommend ways of remedying the flaws in the system highlighted by the crash.

In a letter to G20 leaders before their meeting in Hamburg later this week, Carney said: “A decade after the start of the global financial crisis, G20 reforms are building a safer, simpler and fairer financial system. The largest banks are considerably stronger, more liquid and more focused.” The FSB chairman said there were still issues to be addressed, such as the risks posed by developments in financial technology (fintech) and the increased vulnerability of digital systems to cyber-attack. But at a press conference in London on Monday, Carney said: “We have fixed the issues that caused the last crisis. They were fundamental and deep-seated, which is why it was such a major job.” The financial crisis of 2007 began in the US mortgage market but rapidly went global as it emerged that banks and unregulated shadow banks were massively exposed in the market for derivatives and did not have enough capital when losses started to mount.

Public anger towards the financial system grew when the biggest banks were bailed out by taxpayers because they were deemed “too big to fail”. Carney said in his letter: “The largest banks are required to have as much as 10 times more of the highest quality capital than before the crisis and are subject to greater market discipline as a consequence of globally agreed standards to resolve too-big-to-fail entities. “A decade ago, many large banks were woefully undercapitalised, with complex business models that relied on the goodwill of markets and, ultimately, taxpayers. A decade on, the largest banks have raised more than $1.5tn of capital, and all major internationally active banks meet minimum risk-based capital and leverage ratio requirements well in advance of the deadline.”

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Austerity is not about money, that has nothing to do with it. It’s about power, pure and simple.

David Cameron Says People Who Oppose Austerity Are ‘Selfish’ (Ind.)

David Cameron has intervened in the Cabinet row over easing up on austerity by attacking “selfish” politicians demanding higher spending. The former Prime Minister sided with Chancellor Philip Hammond by arguing it would be wrong to bow to growing public pressure and “let spending and borrowing rip”. A string of senior Tories, including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, have called for the lifting of the one per cent pay cap on awards to millions of public sector workers. But Mr Cameron, speaking to a business conference in South Korea, said: “The opponents of so-called austerity couch their arguments in a way that make them sound generous and compassionate. “They seek to paint the supporters of sound finances as selfish or uncaring. The exact reverse is true. “Giving up on sound finances isn’t being generous, it’s being selfish: spending money today that you may need tomorrow.”

In addition to the row over the pay cap, Education Secretary Justine Greening is pushing for a £1bn cash injection to end school funding cuts. New demands for higher spending added to the pressures on Mr Hammond today, as councils warned they faced a £5.8bn funding gap by the end of the decade. Meanwhile, the Chancellor used a speech to business leaders last night to urge his colleagues to join a “grown-up debate” about how to pay for higher spending. Mr Hammond acknowledged the public was “weary” of austerity, but insisted “we must hold our nerve” and not simply borrow more. Paul Johnson, director of the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, said “political discipline seems to have fallen apart” in the Cabinet. Alistair Darling, the former Labour Chancellor, said the sight of Cabinet ministers publicly criticising the Chancellor over public sector pay made the Government appear “shambolic”.

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Don’t get your hopes up.

Judge To Review Ban On Prosecuting Tony Blair For Iraq War (G.)

The most senior judge in England and Wales will hear a case attempting to overturn a ban on prosecuting Tony Blair over the Iraq war, the Guardian has learned. A private criminal prosecution against the former Labour prime minister was blocked in 2016 by Westminster magistrates court when it was ruled Blair would have immunity from any criminal charges. But that ruling by the district judge, Michael Snow, will be reviewed on Wednesday before the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and Mr Justice Ouseley. The current attorney general, Jeremy Wright QC, wants the block on proceedings upheld. He will have a barrister in court to try to stop the attempted private prosecution. The hearing follows a decision by the high court in May, which has not previously been reported.

Then a high court judge said those wanting to prosecute Blair could have a hearing to seek permission for a court order allowing their case to go to the next stage. The judge in that case also said the attorney general could formally join in the case. Blair caused controversy when prime minister in deciding to take Britain into the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was led by the US and sparked huge opposition. The private prosecution seeks a war crimes trial in a British court of Blair, the foreign secretary in 2003, Jack Straw, and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general at the time the government was deciding to join the invasion of Iraq. The case seeks their prosecution for the crime of aggression. The attorney general in written submissions for Wednesday’s hearing says such an offence does not exist in English law, a claim which is disputed.

The private prosecution attempt is based on the findings of last year’s Chilcot report into the decision by Blair to join the invasion of Iraq, which is criticised, under the false pretext that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction. After the Chilcot report was released some families of British service personnel who lost their lives in Iraq said they wanted Blair prosecuted in the courts. This attempt at a private prosecution is brought by Gen Abdul-Wahid Shannan ar-Ribat, former chief of staff of the Iraqi army who is now living in exile. His lawyers are Michael Mansfield QC and Imran Khan, who acted for the family of Stephen Lawrence. In November 2016, a British court ruled against an application to bring a private prosecution. A district judge at Westminster magistrates court ruled Blair had immunity from prosecution over the Iraq war and that any case could also “involve details being disclosed under the Official Secrets Act”.

At the hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, lawyers for the attorney general will argue that the crime of aggression, while existing in international law, has never been included into English law by parliament. But the government’s stance appears to be undermined by Goldsmith. In his 2003 memo on the legality of the Iraq war, Goldsmith appeared to concede the key point of those now seeking his prosecution. “Aggression is a crime under customary international law which automatically forms part of domestic law,” he wrote.

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Britain is one scary place. I’m reminded of Travis Bickle: “Someday a real rain will come and wipe this scum off the streets.”

The Grenfell Inquiry Will Be A Stitch-Up. Here’s Why (Monbiot)

We don’t allow defendants in court cases to select the charges on which they will be tried. So why should the government set the terms of a public inquiry into its own failings? We don’t allow criminal suspects to vet the trial judge. Why should the government approve the inquiry’s chair? Even before the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster has begun, it looks like a stitch-up, its initial terms of reference set so narrowly that government policy remains outside the frame. An inquiry that honours the dead would investigate the wider causes of this crime. It would examine a governing ideology that sees torching public protections as a sacred duty. Let me give you an example. On the morning of 14 June, as the tower blazed, an organisation called the Red Tape Initiative convened for its prearranged discussion about building regulations.

One of the organisation’s tasks was to consider whether rules determining the fire resistance of cladding materials should be removed for the sake of construction industry profits. Please bear with me while I explain what this initiative is and who runs it, as it’s a perfect cameo of British politics. It’s a government-backed body, established “to grasp the opportunities” that Brexit offers to cut “red tape” – a disparaging term for public protections. It’s chaired by the Conservative MP Sir Oliver Letwin, who has claimed that “the call to minimise risk is a call for a cowardly society”. It is a forum in which exceedingly wealthy people help decide which protections should be stripped away from lesser beings.

Among the members of its advisory panel are Charles Moore, who was editor of the Daily Telegraph and the chair of an organisation called Policy Exchange. He was also best man at Letwin’s wedding. Sitting beside him is Archie Norman, the former chief executive of Asda and the founder of Policy Exchange. He was once Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells – and was succeeded in that seat by Greg Clark, the minister who now provides government support for the Red Tape Initiative. Until he became environment secretary, Michael Gove was also a member of the Red Tape Initiative panel. Oh, and he was appointed by Norman as the first chairman of Policy Exchange. (He was replaced by Moore.) Policy Exchange also supplied two of Letwin’s staff in the Conservative policy unit that he used to run.

Policy Exchange is a neoliberal lobby group funded by dark money, that seeks to tear down regulations. The Red Tape Initiative’s management board consists of Letwin, Baroness Rock and Lord Marland. Baroness Rock is a childhood friend of the former Tory chancellor George Osborne, and is married to the wealthy financier Caspar Rock. Marland is a multimillionaire businessman who owns a house and four flats in London, “various properties in Salisbury”, three apartments in France and two apartments in Switzerland. In other words, the Red Tape Initiative is a representative cross-section of the British public. In no sense is it a self-serving clique of old chums, insulated from hazard by their extreme wealth, whose role is to decide whether other people (colloquially known as “cowards”) should be exposed to risk.

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“Ontario’s strong housing market is a reflection of our growing economy,” Charles Sousa, the province’s minister of finance, said..

Foreigners Account for Just 4.7% of Home Sales in Toronto Region (BBG)

The Ontario government said overseas buyers accounted for just 4.7% of home purchases in the Toronto area over a recent one-month period. The new data is in line with other surveys, signaling that foreigners haven’t been major drivers of real estate prices in one of Canada’s most expensive markets. Non-residents bought about 860 properties between April 24 to May 26 in the so-called greater golden horseshoe region of Ontario which includes Toronto, Hamilton and Peterborough, the province said in a statement Tuesday. The finance and housing ministries began compiling the figures as part of a new housing plan announced in April meant to make homes more affordable and accessible for Canadian residents. One of the measures included a 15% levy as of April 21 on foreign investors buying residential property in Toronto and nearby cities.

“Ontario’s strong housing market is a reflection of our growing economy,” Charles Sousa, the province’s minister of finance, said in a statement. “While this is great news for the province, the resulting increase in speculative purchases and a spike in home prices created affordability challenges for many and posed a risk to the market.” Toronto is the latest Canadian city to target non-resident buyers, who are often accused of driving up the price of homes by using them as an investments. Prices and sales in the city had been on a tear until early this year, prompting some to point to non-resident factors as a source of the heat. Vancouver last year imposed a 15% foreign buyer tax that preceded a slowdown of sales and price growth, though it was short-lived as the market picks up speed again. Both cities followed the lead by Australia, which forces offshore buyers to purchase through a separate buying program.

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Buying the world with monopoly money.

China’s $162 Billion of Dealmaker Debt Raises Alarm

China struck deal after deal to acquire companies abroad over the last few years. Now the bill is coming due. The nation’s top corporate dealmakers, including HNA and Fosun International, must pay off the equivalent of at least $11.5 billion in bonds and loans by the end of 2018 – a feat now complicated by government efforts to rein in their aggressive rush overseas. That figure represents just a fraction of the total debt of 1.1 trillion yuan ($162 billion) that the Chinese companies have reported as they projected their money and influence around the world with a record number of acquisitions. The size of their obligations – and whether they will be able to shoulder them – has begun to worry global banks and investors now that Beijing has pressed companies to dial back their ambitions abroad.

“Those companies the banking regulator is checking on have very high financing demand for M&A activities,” said Xia Le, chief Asia economist at BBVA in Hong Kong. “But banks will heighten their risk control when lending to them going forward, which could increase their funding costs and hurt the pace of their expansion.” The moves threaten to end an era of easy access to money for the firms. People familiar with the matter said last month that China Banking Regulatory Commission asked some banks to provide information on overseas loans to HNA, Fosun, Anbang Insurance and Dalian Wanda. Yields on some bonds issued by the firms jumped. The CBRC is examining examples of acquisitions gone awry to assess potential risks to the financial sector, people familiar also said. To be sure, the companies, which are among the biggest private-sector firms in China, are sitting on a cash pile that they can tap to meet upcoming debt deadlines. They have more than 400 billion yuan of cash and cash equivalents…

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Too late now, boys.

China’s Shadow Banking Lacks Sufficient Regulation: Central Bank (R.)

China’s central bank said on Tuesday the shadow banking sector lacks sufficient regulation and the bank would give more prominence to financial risk controls. Compared with traditional bank lending, the opaque nature of shadow banking products make it easier for them to bypass regulatory requirements and provide credit to restricted areas, the People’s Bank of China said in its annual China Financial Stability Report released online. The central bank will increase supervision over the rapidly growing asset management industry to curb shadow banking risks, it said. Since the first quarter, the PBOC has included banks’ off-the-balance-sheet wealth management products in its examination of broad credit in its Macro Prudential Assessment (MPA) risk-tool.

The world’s second-largest economy faces major challenges, including excess industrial capacity, sluggish growth, high corporate leverage, mounting local government debt, property bubbles in some regions, and the deterioration of banking assets, the PBOC said in its report. As the economy still faces relatively big downward pressures, the bank pledged to create a favourable monetary and financial environment for the development of the real economy this year. The central bank also said it would strengthen coordination with other financial regulators to fend off systemic financial risks.

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Still can’t help wondering about the timing of this. Why now? What changed?

Arab States To Deliver Verdict On Qatar As Compromise Elusive (R.)

Arab states that have imposed sanctions on Qatar, accusing it of links to terrorism, were due to meet in Cairo on Wednesday to consider Doha’s response to a stiff ultimatum, but settlement of the dispute seemed far off. The editor of the Abu Dhabi government linked al-Ittihad newspaper wrote in an editorial that Qatar was “walking alone in its dreams and illusions, far away from its Gulf Arab brothers”. Foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain will consider whether to escalate, or less likely abandon, the boycott imposed on Qatar last month that has rattled a key oil-producing region and unnerved strategic Western allies. Qatar faces further isolation and possible expulsion from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) if its response to a list of demands made nearly two weeks ago is not deemed satisfactory.

The Arab countries have demanded Qatar curtail its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, shut down the pan-Arab al Jazeera TV channel, close down a Turkish base and downgrade its ties with regional arch-rival Iran. They view Qatar’s independent diplomatic stances and support for 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings as support for terrorism and a dangerous breaking of ranks – charges Doha vigorously denies. Qatar has countered that the Arab countries want to curb free speech and take over its foreign policy, saying their 13 demands are so harsh they were made to be rejected. The gas-rich state had raised its international profile dramatically in recent years, drawing on huge gas revenues, and developed its economy with ambitious infrastructure projects. It is due to host the soccer world cup in 2022.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said at a joint news conference with his German counterpart on Tuesday that its response was “given in goodwill and good initiative for a constructive solution”, but insisted that Doha would not compromise on its sovereignty. Gulf officials have said the demands are not negotiable, signaling more sanctions are possible, including “parting ways” with Doha – a suggestion it may be ejected from the GCC, a regional economic and security cooperation body founded in 1981. “A Gulf national may be obliged to prepare psychologically for his Gulf to be without Qatar,” the editor of the Abu Dhabi al-Ittihad newspaper said.

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The topic deserves better treatment than this.

Why Do We Think Poor People Are Poor Because Of Their Own Bad Choices? (G.)

Cecilia Mo thought she knew all about growing up poor when she began teaching at Thomas Jefferson senior high school in south Los Angeles. As a child, she remembered standing in line, holding a free lunch ticket. But it turned out that Mo could still be shocked by poverty and violence – especially after a 13-year-old student called her in obvious panic. He had just seen his cousin get shot in his front yard. For Mo, hard work and a good education took her to Harvard and Stanford. But when she saw just how much chaos and violence her LA students faced, she recognized how lucky she had been growing up with educated parents and a safe, if financially stretched, home. Now, as an assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, Mo studies how to get upper-class Americans to recognize the advantages they have.

She is among a group of scholars trying to understand how rich and poor alike justify inequality. What these academics are finding is that the American dream is being used to rationalize a national nightmare. It all starts with the psychology concept known as the “fundamental attribution error”. This is a natural tendency to see the behavior of others as being determined by their character – while excusing our own behavior based on circumstances. For example, if an unexpected medical emergency bankrupts you, you view yourself as a victim of bad fortune – while seeing other bankruptcy court clients as spendthrifts who carelessly had too many lattes. Or, if you’re unemployed, you recognize the hard effort you put into seeking work – but view others in the same situation as useless slackers. Their history and circumstances are invisible from your perspective.

Here’s what has gone wrong: hard work and a good education used to be a sure bet for upward mobility in the US – at least among some groups of people. Americans born in the 1940s had a 90% chance of doing better economically than their parents did – but those born in the 1980s have only 50/50 odds of doing so.

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Oh yes, the EU will fail yet.

A comment on Twitter: “The last time Austria had tanks on the Italian border it lost Trent and Trieste.”

Austrian Troops To Control Migrants On Italy Border (R.)

Austria is planning to impose border controls and possibly deploy troops to cut the number of migrants crossing from Italy, defense officials said, drawing a warning from Rome and reigniting a row over Europe’s handling of the refugee crisis. Tensions between European Union countries over how to share the burden of migrants flared in 2015 when hundreds of thousands, many fleeing wars in Africa and the Middle East, began arriving in EU territory, mainly via Greece, and headed for Germany, Austria and other nearby affluent states. Austria took in more than 1 percent of its population in asylum seekers at the time, which helped increase support for the far-right Freedom Party. Keen to avoid another influx, it said it would introduce controls at the busy Brenner Pass border crossing with Italy if one materialized there.

That has not yet happened but Italy recently asked other EU countries to help it cope with a surge in migrants reaching its southern Mediterranean shores from Africa, raising concern in Austria that many will soon show up at its border with Italy. That is a political hot potato in Austria, where a parliamentary election is scheduled in October with immigration shaping up as a central issue. Austrian Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil told the mass-circulation Kronen Zeitung in an interview published on Tuesday that he expected restrictions would be introduced along the Alpine boundary with Italy “very soon”. Other Austrian officials, including Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka, who oversees crossings like Brenner, said there was currently no reason to introduce controls and Austria remained vigilant, a stance Vienna has repeated for the past year.

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Jul 032017
 
 July 3, 2017  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Paul Klee Girl in Mourning 1939

 

Merkel Promises Full Employment In Party Platform (R.)
Theresa May Steps Back From Public Sector Pay Cap Amid Austerity Backlash (Ind.)
Donald Trump May Make ‘Sneak’ Visit To UK Within Fortnight (G.)
Maine, New Jersey Lawmakers Scramble To End Partial Government Shutdowns (R.)
Illinois House Approves Major Income Tax Hike (CTrib)
China Inc’s $7.8 Billion of Dividend Payments Will Stress the Yuan (BBG)
Japan PM Abe’s Party Suffers Historic Defeat In Tokyo Election (R.)
Abe’s Mentor Says BOJ Needs Fresh Face as Kuroda Is Out of Ideas (BBG)
Saudi Arabia, Allies Give Qatar Two More Days To Accept Demands (R.)
The Crash of 1929 (Jesse’s Café/PBS)
Italy Urges EU Ports To Take Migrants As Pressure Builds (AFP)
‘Our Future Is Slavery, The West Gets Everything’ – Congo (RT)

 

 

Note: tomorrow’s a travel day for me. Not sure about a Debt Rattle.

 

 

Plus tax relief. Plus support for young families to build new housing. Now compare that to Greece, where over half of young people are unemployed, and where taxes are being raised all the time and pensions cut. That, too, is a German decision. But Greeks don’t get to vote for or against Merkel.

Merkel Promises Full Employment In Party Platform (R.)

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives will promise to all but eliminate unemployment in Germany by the year 2025 when they announce their 2017 election campaign platform on Monday. Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), will present their platform for the Sept. 24 election on Monday with other already known policies such as income tax cuts worth 15 billion euros per year and promises to build flats. “A major point is that we’d like to achieve full employment,” Horst Seehofer, CSU chairman and state premier in Bavaria, said on Sunday on his way into a meeting of the conservative leadership. The CDU/CSU consider full employment to be a jobless rate of less than 3% – compared to 5.5% now.

Those “Economic Miracle” levels of unemployment have not been seen in the country since the mid-1970s. The two parties also want to add 15,000 police officers in the 16 federal states. The sister parties, however, will not agree on a joint position on refugees. The CSU wants an upper limit of 200,000 per year, which Merkel and the CDU rejects. “We agree to disagree on that,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere (CDU) said in a Bild am Sonntag newspaper interview, referring to the issue that split the two parties badly since some 1 million refugees arrived in late 2015. The CDU/CSU hold a 16%age point lead over the center-left Social Democrats in opinion polls with a 40-24 lead, but would still need a coalition partner. They rule with the SPD and in the past they have ruled with the Free Democrats (FDP).

[..] Earlier on Sunday, CDU Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in a radio interview there could be room to cut taxes by more than the €15 billion already announced. Germany has had balanced budgets since 2014 and the government plans to have no new borrowing in its planning through 2021. Schaeuble told Deutschlandfunk radio he hoped there could be tax relief beyond that already promised €15 billion income tax cut. “We’re planning, all in all, to do more than just correcting the income taxes by €15 billion,” he said, referring to plans to reduce the country’s “cold progression” tax increases – or clandestine tax increases. [..] Schaeuble said aside from fighting “cold progression”, the Christian Democrats want to support young families to build new housing while also supporting research and development for small- to medium-sized companies.

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Messing it up as they go along.

Theresa May Steps Back From Public Sector Pay Cap Amid Austerity Backlash (Ind.)

Tory austerity appeared to be crumbling at the edges today, as Theresa May further distanced herself from a hated public sector pay freeze. Downing Street said the Government would consider potential wage increases for nurses, police officers and firefighters on a “case by case” basis after a string of top cabinet ministers signalled backing for an end to the blanket 1 per cent cap on all public servants. Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the Government should now listen to the recommendations of salary review bodies ignored by ministers for almost ten years. Education Secretary Justine Greening and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt are also both reported to be pushing for new deals for teachers and nurses. The Independent reported last week how the Government faced a first ever strike from the Royal College of Nursing over a crisis in the profession.

There has also been mounting pressure from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour – whose party fought a successful election campaign on an anti-austerity message. A Downing Street spokesman defended the Government’s record, but pointed to potential changes ahead. He said: “Dealing with the economic mess we inherited from Labour has meant hard work and sacrifice, including for public sector workers. That hard work and those tough decisions have helped get our deficit down by three quarters, and public sector pay restraint has helped us protect jobs. “Independent public sector pay review bodies are currently reporting to Government and we are responding to them on a case-by-case basis. While we understand the sacrifice that has been made, we must also ensure we continue to protect jobs and deal with our debts.”

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What is the Queen would be received like this?:

“MPs and trade unions vowed to hold the largest demonstrations in UK history if Donald Trump made a state visit to the UK..”

Donald Trump May Make ‘Sneak’ Visit To UK Within Fortnight (G.)

Anti-Donald Trump protesters are preparing to spring into action at short notice, after it emerged that Downing Street is braced for a snap visit from the US president in the next two weeks. A formal state visit, which was expected to take place over the summer, was postponed last month, amid fears that it could be disrupted by mass protests, despite Theresa May extending the invitation personally when she visited the White House late last year. But Whitehall sources confirmed the government has now been warned that the president could visit Turnberry, his golf resort in Scotland, during his trip to Europe, between attending the G20 summit in Hamburg next weekend and joining celebrations for Bastille Day in France on 14 July.

Trump would be expected to come to Downing Street to meet the prime minister for informal talks as part of any such visit – though final confirmation would be likely to be given with just 24 hours’ notice, to minimise the risk of disruption. May invited Trump to Britain seven days after his inauguration when she became the first foreign leader to visit him in the White House. In February activists, MPs and trade unions vowed to hold the largest demonstrations in UK history if Donald Trump made a state visit to the UK, forming The Stop Trump coalition, even hiring a permanent staff member. In early June, just after the UK general election, it emerged that the US president had told May that he did not want to go ahead with the state visit to Britain until the British public supports his coming, fearing large-scale demonstrations.

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How about you borrow some more, guys? Or, you know, come clean and tell people their pensions are shot.

Maine, New Jersey Lawmakers Scramble To End Partial Government Shutdowns (R.)

Partial government shutdowns in Maine and New Jersey entered a second day on Sunday as lawmakers returned to their respective state capitals in a bid to break budget impasses that have led to the suspension of many nonessential services. In Maine, a bipartisan legislative committee met in Augusta in hopes of breaking a stalemate between Republican Governor Paul LePage and Democratic lawmakers. The shutdown came after LePage threatened to veto a compromise reached by lawmakers in the state’s $7.055 billion, two-year budget. In New Jersey, the legislature was due to reconvene to resolve a political fight over a controversial bill that Governor Chris Christie said must be passed alongside the state’s budget.

After House Republicans in Maine voted to reject a compromise deal on Saturday, the Bangor Daily News reported that Republican Minority Leader Ken Fredette presented a $7.1 billion plan he said could get the governor’s approval, but some Democrats noted that was costlier than the rejected compromise. “The Speaker thinks it is unconscionable that Maine doesn’t have a budget, especially leading into the holiday weekend,” Mary-Erin Casale, a spokeswoman for Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon, said Sunday morning. If the budget committee meeting on Sunday in Augusta agrees on a deal, the measure would go to the full legislature. LePage has insisted on a budget with deeper spending cuts than those contemplated by lawmakers and has promised to veto any spending plan that raises taxes.

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Sign of things to come.

Illinois House Approves Major Income Tax Hike (CTrib)

The Illinois House on Sunday approved a major income tax increase as more than a dozen Republicans broke ranks with Gov. Bruce Rauner amid the intense pressure of a budget impasse that’s entered its third year. The Republican governor immediately vowed to veto the measure, saying Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan was “protecting the special interests and refusing to reform the status quo.” The measure, which needed 71 votes to pass and got 72, is designed to start digging the state out of a morass left by the lengthy stalemate. Madigan, in a statement, praised the action as “a crucial step toward reaching a compromise that ends the budget crisis by passing a fully funded state budget in a bipartisan way.”

The tax hike now heads to the Senate, but whether there will be enough votes to send it to Rauner’s desk is in question. When the Senate approved its own tax hike in late May, no Republicans voted for it and several Democrats voted against it. Senators return to the Capitol on Monday. The crucial vote in the House was the big story Sunday, though. Ultimately, pressure that had built up in districts across the state moved enough Republicans to defy the governor. With state government operating without a budget for two full years, public universities risk losing their accreditation, social service providers are closing their doors and layoffs of road construction workers are imminent.

Adding to lawmakers’ anxiety was a promised downgrade of the state’s credit rating to junk status, which could spike the cost of borrowing at a time when the state has $15 billion in unpaid bills. Left out of the House budget package was a plan for dealing with the unpaid bills, though both sides generally agree that some amount of borrowing will be needed. Rauner, a former private equity specialist from Winnetka, had spent tens of millions of dollars on legislative campaigns and TV ads to prop up the Illinois Republican Party as a counterweight to Madigan and his labor union allies. And Republican lawmakers largely had stuck by their governor — until Sunday. [..] The proposal mirrors a plan the Senate passed earlier this year and calls for raising the personal income tax rate from the current 3.75% to 4.95%, which would generate roughly $4.3 billion. An increase in the corporate income tax rate from 5.25% to 7% would bring in another $460 million.

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Bearish on the dollar? You sure?

China Inc’s $7.8 Billion of Dividend Payments Will Stress the Yuan (BBG)

The yuan’s rebound may be undermined by a seasonal hunt for dollars as Chinese companies prepare to pay dividends to shareholders overseas. Demand for the greenback and other currencies will peak at $7.8 billion in July, a substantial sum considering that local lenders settled an average of $11.8 billion in foreign-exchange for clients in the first five months of 2017. China’s currency reserves have shrunk every July in the last three years, with former regulator Guan Tao saying last week that demand for foreign-exchange surges in this period. China’s exchange rate has turned more volatile in the past two months, climbing the most in more than a year in May and then declining in June before suspected central bank intervention spurred a rally.

Goldman Sachs warned capital outflows have picked up, while recent data suggest the economy is showing signs of slowing as an official deleveraging drive crimps spending. “The need for dividend payouts will pressure the yuan and may pressure a recent increase in China’s foreign reserves,” said Xia Le at BBVA. “The yuan’s advance in the past few days is not sustainable – short-term factors such as dividend payments and long-term ones like capital outflows will work together to push the currency weaker in the coming months.” Offshore-listed Chinese firms need to pay a combined $16 billion of dividends in foreign exchange in the three months through August. That includes $2.4 billion in June and $5.9 billion for August.

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Abe will shuffle his cabinet to deflect attention from himself. But he’s in trouble.

Japan PM Abe’s Party Suffers Historic Defeat In Tokyo Election (R.)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party suffered an historic defeat in an election in the Japanese capital on Sunday, signaling trouble ahead for the premier, who has suffered from slumping support because of a favoritism scandal. On the surface, the Tokyo Metropolitan assembly election was a referendum on Governor Yuriko Koike’s year in office, but the dismal showing for Abe’s party is also a stinging rebuke of his 4-1/2-year-old administration. Koike’s Tokyo Citizens First party and its allies took 79 seats in the 127-seat assembly. The LDP won a mere 23, its worst-ever results, compared with 57 before the election. “We must recognize this as an historic defeat,” former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba was quoted as saying by NHK.

“Rather than a victory for Tokyo Citizens First, this is a defeat for the LDP,” said Ishiba, who is widely seen as an Abe rival within the ruling party. Past Tokyo elections have been bellwethers for national trends. A 2009 Tokyo poll in which the LDP won just 38 seats was followed by its defeat in a general election that year, although this time no lower house poll need be held until late 2018. [..] “We must accept the results humbly,” said Hakubun Shimomura, a close Abe ally and head of the LDP’s Tokyo chapter. “The voters have handed down an extremely severe verdict.” Abe is expected to reshuffle his cabinet in coming months in an effort to repair his damaged ratings, a step often taken by beleaguered leaders but one that can backfire if novice ministers become embroiled in scandals or commit gaffes.

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If Kuroda’s out of ideas, that means Abenomics has failed. And that in turn means Abe should go too.

Abe’s Mentor Says BOJ Needs Fresh Face as Kuroda Is Out of Ideas (BBG)

Haruhiko Kuroda shouldn’t serve another term as governor of the Bank of Japan because the central bank will need fresh ideas as it moves toward exiting years of unprecedented monetary easing, according to an adviser to the prime minister. “An exit will surely come up within the next five years and we need someone who can prepare for it,” said Nobuyuki Nakahara, a former BOJ board member. “He will fall into inertia and struggle to come up with bold new ideas. It’s the same in the private sector when a corporate president stays too long,” he said. Nakahara’s comments come amid growing speculation among private economists that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will reappoint Kuroda, 72, after his five-year term ends in April.

Nakahara, who was close to Abe’s father, Shintaro, has known the prime minister since he was young and has advised him for years. In an interview on June 29, Nakahara, one of the architects of Abenomics, said he didn’t have any replacements for Kuroda in mind. But he said change at the top of the BOJ would be good because the government and central bank should strike a new accord and form a new strategy for the next five years. The current accord, issued in January 2013, says the central bank should aim for price stability at an annual inflation rate of 2%, while the government is responsible for strengthening competitiveness and the nation’s growth potential. More than four years later, the inflation target remains far off.

[..] Kuroda’s propensity to surprise markets with innovative ideas has been waning, according to Nakahara. And the strains of his record easing are particularly evident in the bank’s purchases of exchange-traded funds, which are distorting the market, he said. “They can’t keep holding ETFs forever,” he said. Nakahara offered a possible solution. How about getting companies to buy back their own shares from the BOJ? Or the BOJ could tell companies it plans to sell the shares on the market. If the companies need funding for share buybacks, the central bank could help with a loan-support program. “That’s my secret strategy,” he said.

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Really, close Al Jazeera? What an awful signal that would be. Why not close CNN then?!

Saudi Arabia, Allies Give Qatar Two More Days To Accept Demands (R.)

Four Arab states that accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism agreed to extend until Tuesday a deadline for Doha to comply with a list of demands, as U.S. President Donald Trump voiced concerns about the dispute to both sides. Qatar has called the charges baseless and says the stiff demands – including closing Qatar-based al Jazeera TV and ejecting Turkish troops based there – are so draconian that they appear designed to be rejected. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have raised the possibility of further sanctions against Qatar if it does not comply with the 13 demands presented to Doha through mediator Kuwait. They have not specified what further sanctions they could impose on Doha, but commercial bankers in the region believe that Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini banks might receive official guidance to pull deposits and interbank loans from Qatar.

According to a joint statement on Saudi state news agency SPA, the four countries agreed to a request by Kuwait to extend by 48 hours Sunday’s deadline for compliance. Foreign ministers from the four countries will meet in Cairo on Wednesday to discuss Qatar, Egypt said on Sunday. Kuwait state media said its Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah had received a response by Qatar to the demands. It did not elaborate. The four states cut diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting terrorism, meddling in their internal affairs and cosying up to regional adversary Iran, all of which Qatar denies. Mediation efforts, including by the United States, have been fruitless. Trump spoke separately to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in the UAE to discuss his “concerns about the ongoing dispute”, the White House said.

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For history buffs.

The Crash of 1929 (Jesse’s Café/PBS)

“…people believed that everything was going to be great always, always. There was a feeling of optimism in the air that you cannot even describe today.” “There was great hope. America came out of World War I with the economy intact. We were the only strong country in the world. The dollar was king. We had a very popular president in the middle of the decade, Calvin Coolidge, and an even more popular one elected in 1928, Herbert Hoover. So things looked pretty good.” “The economy was changing in this new America. It was the dawn of the consumer revolution. New inventions, mass marketing, factories turning out amazing products like radios, rayon, air conditioners, underarm deodorant…One of the most wondrous inventions of the age was consumer credit. Before 1920, the average worker couldn’t borrow money. By 1929, “buy now, pay later” had become a way of life.”

“Wall Street got the credit for this prosperity and Wall Street was dominated by just a small group of wealthy men. Rarely in the history of this nation had so much raw power been concentrated in the hands of a few businessmen…” “One of the most common tactics was to manipulate the price of a particular stock, a stock like Radio Corporation of America…Wealthy investors would pool their money in a secret agreement to buy a stock, inflate its price and then sell it to an unsuspecting public. Most stocks in the 1920s were regularly manipulated by insiders ” “I would say that practically all the financial journals were on the take. This includes reporters for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Herald-Tribune, you name it. So if you were a pool operator, you’d call your friend at The Times and say, “Look, Charlie, there’s an envelope waiting for you here and we think that perhaps you should write something nice about RCA.”

And Charlie would write something nice about RCA. A publicity man called A. Newton Plummer had canceled checks from practically every major journalist in New York City… Then, they would begin to — what was called “painting the tape” and they would make the stock look exciting. They would trade among themselves and you’d see these big prints on RCA and people will say, “Oh, it looks as though that stock is being accumulated. Now, if they are behind it, you want to join them, so you go out and you buy stock also. Now, what’s happening is the stock goes from 10 to 15 to 20 and now, it’s at 20 and you start buying, other people start buying at 30, 40. The original group, the pool, they’ve stopped buying. They’re selling you the stock. It’s now 50 and they’re out of it. And what happens, of course, is the stock collapses.”

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Prediction: the EU will offer more money. They simply don’t understand that some things are not about money.

Italy Urges EU Ports To Take Migrants As Pressure Builds (AFP)

The French and German interior ministers met with their Italian counterpart Marco Minniti in Paris on Sunday to discuss a “coordinated response” to Italy’s migrant crisis, hours after Minniti had called on other European countries to open their ports to rescue ships. The working dinner at the French interior ministry – also attended by EU Commissioner for Refugees Dimitris Avramopoulos – was aimed at finding “a coordinated and concerted response to the migrant flux in the central Mediterranean (route) and see how to better help the Italians,” a source close the talks said. The four-way talks between Minniti, Thomas de Maiziere of Germany, Gerard Collomb of France and Avramopoulos will also prepare them for EU talks in Tallinn this week. “The talks went off very well,” a member of the Italian delegation told AFP after the Paris meeting, with the “Italian proposals being discussed”.

“We are under enormous pressure,” Minniti had said earlier Sunday in an interview with Il Messaggero. With arrivals in Italy up nearly 19% over the same period last year, Rome has threatened to close its ports to privately-funded aid boats or insist that funding be cut to EU countries which fail to help. “There are NGO ships, Sophia and Frontex boats, Italian coast guard vessels” saving migrants i the Mediterranean, Minniti said, referring to the aid boats as well as vessels deployed under EU border security missions. “They are sailing under the flags of various European countries. If the only ports where refugees are taken to are Italian, something is not working. This is the heart of the question,” he said. “I am a europhile and I would be proud if even one vessel, instead of arriving in Italy, went to another European port. It would not resolve Italy’s problem, but it would be an extraordinary signal” of support, he said.

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I’ve often said that the Congo is perhaps richer in resources than any other country. It should be prosperous, but instead it ranks 227th out of 230 countries for GDP per capita. That’s our doing.

From July 5, see documentary at https://rtd.rt.com/films/congo-my-precious/

‘Our Future Is Slavery, The West Gets Everything’ – Congo (RT)

RT Documentary travels to the vast, landlocked Democratic Republic of Congo, prized for its mineral resources, but plagued by centuries of colonial rule, dictatorship, civil wars and lawlessness, and meets people trying to make a living in one of the most desperate places on Earth. The documentary crew’s key to understanding the country, seven times the size of Germany, was Bernard Kalume Buleri, born in 1960, the same year DRC was granted its independence from Belgium. Buleri served as an interpreter, guide, and finally the hero and symbol of the country, having been a direct participant in some of its bloodiest chapters. “I can’t say that the Congolese, we are in control of our destiny. No, because the ones who benefit from our minerals are not the local population, but Western countries are the ones who are taking everything.

They make themselves rich, while we are getting poorer and poorer,” says Buleri. The country of almost 80 million is one of the world’s largest exporters of diamonds, coltan – essential for electronics – and has massive deposits of copper, tin and cobalt. “I’m afraid even for my children. Because they will continue in this system to be slaves forever. We’ll never be powerful enough to challenge the Western countries. So, the future will be the future of slaves,” Buleri continues. There is plenty of blame to go around for the predicament of what is also a fertile and scenic land. With almost no educated elite, DRC was poorly-prepared for its separation from Belgian rule, now best remembered for the atrocity-filled reign of King Leopold II, which may have killed as many as half of the country’s population.

The vacuum was filled by the archetype-setting African kleptocrat Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled the country for more than three decades, until he was deposed in 1997, plunging Africa into a series of continent-wide conflicts that may have resulted in as many as 5 million deaths through violence, starvation and disease. The country’s below-ground wealth means that it was never left alone for long enough to reform and wean itself off its reliance on metals and gems – the widely-mentioned “mineral curse.” The mines the RT crew passes are now owned by local warlords, chiefs and officials, with exports mostly going to China. [..] Millions of locals – perhaps as many as one-fifth of the adult population – are employed in what is known as artisanal mining, inefficient small-scale prospecting with simple handheld tools, with no safety measures or guaranteed wages. But for a country that ranks 227th out of 230 for GDP per capita, according to World Bank data, any job at all is a matter of survival.

Read more …

May 242017
 
 May 24, 2017  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Henri Matisse Nu Blue IV 1952

 

China Hit by First Moody’s Downgrade Since 1989 on Debt Risk (BBG)
Chinese Banks Are In Big Trouble (ZH)
American Exceptionalism – Population Growth vs Money Growth (Econimica)
Shiller: Stay In The Market, It ‘Could Go Up 50% From Here’ (CNBC)
German Police Search Daimler Facilities In Dieselgate Probe (DW)
Canada Must Deflate Its Housing Bubble (BBG Ed.)
The Violence of Austerity (OD)
IMF Wants More Realism In Eurozone Assumptions On Greece (R.)
QE Remains A Long Shot For Greece (K.)
In Germany, Syrian Man Wins Case Against Deportation To Greece (AP)
Elder Refugees Seeking Asylum in Europe Left Stranded in Greece – HRW (GR)
Tasmania Bans Super Trawlers From Its Waters (AAP)
Fossils Cast Doubt On Human Lineage Originating In Africa (R.)

 

 

Moody’s worries are the local government financing vehicles and state-owned enterprises, which are umbilically linked to the shadow banks.

You can’t run an entire economy from and in the shadows.

China Hit by First Moody’s Downgrade Since 1989 on Debt Risk (BBG)

Moody’s Investors Service cut its rating on China’s debt for the first time since 1989, challenging the view that the nation’s leadership will be able to rein in leverage while maintaining the pace of economic growth. Stocks and the yuan slipped in early trading after Moody’s reduced the rating to A1 from Aa3 on Wednesday, with markets paring losses in the afternoon. Moody’s cited the likelihood of a “material rise” in economy-wide debt and the burden that will place on the state’s finances, while also changing the outlook to stable from negative. It’s “absolutely groundless” for Moody’s to argue that local government financing vehicles and state-owned enterprise debt will swell the government’s contingent liabilities, according to a response released by the Ministry of Finance. The ratings company has underestimated the capability of the government to deepen reform and boost demand, the ministry said.

It wouldn’t be the first time a rating company was behind the curve, nor is such pushback unique – U.S. Treasury officials questioned the credibility of a 2011 downgrade from Standard & Poor’s. Still, the move underscores broader doubts over whether President Xi Jinping’s government can simultaneously cut excessive leverage and steady growth, all with a twice a decade reshuffle of top party posts looming later this year. “It is a psychological blow that China will not take kindly to and absolutely speaks to the rising financial pressures,” said Christopher Balding, an associate professor at the HSBC School of Business at Peking University in Shenzhen. That said, “it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things because so much of Chinese debt is held by state or quasi-state actors and minimal amounts are international investors.”

Total outstanding credit climbed to about 260% of GDP by the end of 2016, up from 160% in 2008. At the same time, China’s external debt is low by international standards, at around 12% of gross domestic product, according to the IMF, meaning that a downgrade isn’t likely to be as disruptive as it would be for nations more reliant on international funding. Overseas institutions’ holdings of onshore bonds dropped to 830 billion yuan ($121 billion) as of the end of March, from 853 billion yuan three months earlier, People’s Bank of China data show. That’s less than 1.5% of 63.7 trillion yuan of outstanding notes. Moody’s last cut China’s sovereign rating in 1989, when it downgraded the sovereign to Baa2 from Baa1, according to spokesperson, Manvela Yeung. Moody’s lowered China’s credit-rating outlook to negative from stable in March 2016, citing rising debt, falling currency reserves and uncertainty over authorities’ ability to carry out reforms.

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Starting to be painful. At some point, Beijing total control will come up empty.

Chinese Banks Are In Big Trouble (ZH)

That’s not supposed to happen… With the crackdown on financial system leverage underway, Chinese banks (and securities firms) are in big trouble. As we noted previously, China’s bond curve is inverted, yields are surging, and Chinese regulatory decisions shutting down various shadow-banking pipelines has crushed securities firms’ stocks. However, as Bloomberg points out, as China’s deleveraging efforts cut into banks’ profit margins, rising base funding costs and interbank credit risk concerns have pushed banks’ cost of borrowing beyond the rate they charge customers for loans for the first time in history. As the chart shows, the one-year Shanghai Interbank Offered Rate has exceeded the Loan Prime Rate, the first time this has happened since the latter was introduced in 2013. “This is probably just the beginning” and interbank funding costs will rise further amid the drive to reduce leverage, said Xu Hanfei at China Merchants Securities in Shanghai.

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Wonderful from Chris Hamilton.

American Exceptionalism – Population Growth vs Money Growth (Econimica)

Since 1971, and the disconnection of the dollar from a finite gold backing, the value of money (the dollar) has been determined by it’s purchasing power versus the inflation of the assets to be purchased. Thus printing more money has not necessarily created “wealth” if the assets to be purchased are rising as fast or faster than the purchasing power of the “money”. The Fed touts it’s dual mandate of full employment and stable prices…but the result in prices; not so stable. The primary global asset purchasable only in US dollars, crude oil, has told a story of wildly gyrating prices. Since the end of Bretton Woods and the subsequent Congressionally dual mandated roles bestowed on the Fed…crude oil prices have gone bezerk, twice climbing nearly 10x’s within a decade. This is the opposite of stable (particularly compared to the price stability from WWII’s end until the Fed took over).

Soooo, theoretically the growth of “money” should be linked to the growth of the population, to ensure an adequate and stable money supply exists for the growing population. In a moment I’ll show you anything but a stable money supply. But first, the chart below shows the total 25-54yr/old US population, those employed among them, and the value in dollars of all publicly traded US stocks (represented by the Wilshire 5000). Something far beyond population growth or employment growth is pushing up the value of dollar based assets, gauging by US stock markets accelerating appreciation.

With that in mind, the chart below shows the growth of M3 money (the broadest measure of US “money”) and the broader 15-64yr/old US population since 1971. The money supply has grown in excess of 20x’s (2,000%) vs. the working age population (15-64yr/olds) which has grown less than 1x (nearly 70% increase).

This results in a rising ratio of “money” on a per capita of the core population basis, as the chart below details. The total amount of “money” rose from approximately $5 thousand dollars per working age adult to todays $65 thousand dollars per adult…an increase of 13x’s (1.300%).

The annual growth of the 15-64yr/old core US population peaked in 2003 and annual core population growth has decelerated by 90% since…while annual M3 growth has doubled over the same time period. [..] The chart below from 2000 into 2017 shows the change in both core population and M3 money supply, showing the year over year change on a monthly basis…and the current fall in core population growth will continue downward, likely turning negative at times over the next year (yet another first for America).

The final chart is the growth in M3 money supply per the growth in the adult, working age population. I’m not an economist or expert on much of anything…but that doesn’t look particularly good to me (something to do with “hyper-monetization” or some such thing). All I can say is the appearance of hockey sticks typically aren’t a good or stable sign but their appearance, just like those of black swans, has become the “new normal”.

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It could also fall by 50%.

Shiller: Stay In The Market, It ‘Could Go Up 50% From Here’ (CNBC)

Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller believes investors should continue to own stocks because the bull market may continue for years. CNBC’s Mike Santoli spoke with Shiller in an exclusive interview for CNBC PRO. Santoli asked Shiller about his market outlook. “I would say have some stocks in your portfolio. It could go up 50% from here. That’s what it did around 2000, after it reached this level, it went up another 50%. So I’m not against investing in the stock market when you consider the alternatives. But I think if one wants to diversify, US is high in its CAPE ratio. You can go practically anywhere else in the world and it’s lower,” Shiller said. “We could even set a new another record high in CAPE, that’s not a forecast.”

Shiller developed the “cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio” (CAPE) market valuation measure, which is calculated using price divided by the index’s average historical 10-year earnings, adjusted for inflation. The economist’s research found future 10-year stock market returns were negatively correlated to high CAPE ratio readings on a relative basis. However, even though the current CAPE ratio is at 29, which is above the 17 historical average, the economist is not calling for a market decline. “I can see it as a real possibility that stocks prices and house prices would both keep going up for years, but I’m not forecasting that by any means,” he added.

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Dragging on.

German Police Search Daimler Facilities In Dieselgate Probe (DW)

German authorities have raided several locations associated with German premium carmaker Daimler. They acted on an initial suspicion of fraud involving misleading information about emission levels. Prosecutors in the southern German city of Stuttgart confirmed Tuesday they had searched about a dozen locations associated with the maker of Mercedes-Benz cars. The raids came as a result of the company being suspected of fraud and misleading advertising in relation to the selling of diesel-powered vehicles. Prosecutors have yet to provide further details on the raids. They only said the raids were carried out by well over 200 investigators across the country, with the focus of the search in progress on locations in the states of Baden-Württemberg, Lower Saxony, Saxony and the the city state of Berlin.

The carmaker said the investigations targeted “known and unknown employees of Daimler over suspicion of fraud related to the possible manipulation of exhaust gas emissions in passenger cars with diesel engines.” Daimler executives said they were not aware of any emissions scandal, adding that they were fully co-operating with investigators. The automaker had earlier agreed with Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority to “voluntarily” recall 247,000 vehicles to remove “potentially problematic technology,” which Daimler said had been installed to prevent engines from being damaged. Daimler has also been in the crosshairs of prosecutors in the US where it faces a number of class-action suits by car owners who have accused the company of not being accurate in stating emissions levels for a number of its diesel-powered models.

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You don’t say.

Canada Must Deflate Its Housing Bubble (BBG Ed.)

Canada’s housing market offers a case study in a contentious economic issue: If a central bank sees a bubble forming, should it act to deflate it? In this instance, the answer should be a resounding yes. A combination of foreign money, local speculation and abundant credit has driven Canadian house prices to levels that even government officials recognize cannot be sustained. In the Toronto area, for example, they were up 32% from a year earlier in April. David Rosenberg, an economist at Canadian investment firm Gluskin Sheff, notes that it would take a decline of more than 40% to restore the historical relationship between prices and household income. Granted, the bubble bears little resemblance to the U.S. subprime boom that triggered the global financial crisis.

Although one specialized lender, Home Capital, has had issues with fraudulent mortgage applications, regulation has largely kept out high-risk products. Homeowners haven’t been withdrawing a lot of equity, and can’t legally walk away from their debts like many Americans can. Banks aren’t sitting on the kinds of structured products that destroyed balance sheets in the U.S. Nearly all mortgage securities and a large portion of loans are guaranteed by the government. That said, the situation presents clear risks. As buyers stretch to afford homes, household debt has risen to 167% of disposable income – the highest among the Group of Seven industrialized nations. This is a serious vulnerability, and a big part of the rationale behind Canadian banks’ recent ratings downgrade. The more indebted people are, the more sensitive their spending becomes to changes in prices and interest rates, potentially allowing an otherwise small shock to result in a deep recession.

What to do? Administrative efforts to curb lending and tax foreign buyers have helped but haven’t solved the problem. That’s largely because extremely low interest rates are still giving people a big incentive to borrow. The Bank of Canada has held its target rate at 1% or lower since 2009, and at 0.5% since 2015, when it eased to counteract the effect of falling oil prices. That’s a very stimulative stance in a country where the neutral rate is estimated to be about 3% or higher. One can’t help but see a parallel with the low U.S. rates and the housing bubble of the early 2000s.

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The Violence of Austerity, edited by Vickie Cooper and David Whyte, is published by Pluto Press.

The Violence of Austerity (OD)

As we move towards the general election, we are paralyzed by what is probably the biggest single issue affecting ordinary people in the country: austerity. We are unable to fully understand both the economic madness of austerity and the true scale of the human cost and death toll that ‘fiscal discipline’ has unleashed. Since coming into power as Prime Minister, Theresa May has made a strategic decision not to use the word ‘austerity’. Instead she has adopted a more palatable language in a vain attempt to distance herself from the Cameron governments before her: “you call it austerity; I call it living within our means.” The experience of countless thousands of people is precisely the opposite: people are actively prevented from living within their means and are cut off from their most basic entitlement to: housing, food, health care, social care and general protection from hardship.

And people are dying as a result of these austerity effects. In February, Jeremy Corbyn made precisely this point when he observed the conclusions of one report that 30,000 people were dying unnecessarily every year because of the cuts to NHS and to local authority social care budgets. But this is really only the tip of the iceberg. The scale of disruption felt by people at the sharp end of these benefit reforms is enormous. Countless thousands of others have died prematurely following work capability assessments: approximately 10,000 according the government’s own figures. People are dying as a result of benefit sanction which has fatal impacts on existing health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. Austerity is about dismantling social protection. The crisis we face in social care is precipitated by cuts to local authority funding.

In the first 5 years of austerity, local authority budgets were cut by 40%, amounting to an estimated £18bn in care provision. A decade of cuts, when added up, also means that some key agencies that protect us, such as the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency will have been decimated by up to 60% of funding cuts. Scaling back on an already paltry funding in these critical areas of regulation will lead to a rise in pollution related illness and disease and will fail to ensure people are safe at work. The economic folly is that austerity will cost society more in the long term. Local authorities are, for example, housing people in very expensive temporary accommodation because the government has disinvested in social housing.

The crisis in homelessness has paradoxically led to a £400 million rise in benefit payments. The future costs of disinvesting in young people will be seismic. Ending austerity would mean restoring our system of social protection and restoring the spending power of local authorities. It would mean, as all the political parties except the Conservatives recognise, taxing the rich, not punishing the poor in order to pay for a problem that has its roots in a global financial system that enriched the elite. It would also mean recognizing that the best way to prevent the worsening violence of austerity and to rebuild the economy is to re-invest in public sector jobs.

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The Greek government is being played for fools. Given how long this has been going on, one might suggest they are.

IMF Wants More Realism In Eurozone Assumptions On Greece (R.)

The IMF needs to see more realistic euro zone assumptions about Greece’s economy and more detail on planned debt relief measures to join a bailout, IMF’s European Department head Poul Thomsen said. Thomsen said the IMF and Greece’s euro zone lenders made progress in talks on Monday, but were not yet quite there. “We still think there is a need for more realism in assumptions and more specificity,” Thomsen said on Tuesday. The euro zone and the IMF agreed on Monday that Greece would have to keep a primary surplus – the budget balance before debt servicing – at 3.5% of GDP for five years after the bailout ends in 2018. But officials said the size of the surplus afterwards was still under discussion and there were also differences on economic growth assumptions, especially that forecasts used for debt relief plans spanned dozens of years. A group of euro zone countries led by Germany wants the IMF to join the Greek bailout, now handled by euro zone governments alone, to increase credibility. The IMF says that it will only join if Greece is granted debt relief.

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Greece will be declared eligible for inclusion in the ECB’s QE only AFTER the central bank says it will taper QE.

QE Remains A Long Shot For Greece (K.)

Greece is nowhere near a swift inclusion in the ECB’s QE program, according to senior officials at domestic banks. They argue that the issue of the national debt, and securing its sustainability in a way that would satisfy the IMF too, constitutes a particularly complex problem that may well be too hard to resolve by next month’s Eurogroup. They therefore consider Greece’s entry into the ECB’s bond-buying program this summer unlikely – instead expecting it to happen after the German election in the fall, either by the end of 2017 or in early 2018. Some go as far as expressing concern as to whether Greece will make it in at all before the program ends.

While there are more and more voices within the ECB speaking in favor of concluding the program earlier, Greece would like enjoy its benefits for more than two years. Greek banks are hoping a formula will be found at the next Eurogroup, on June 15, that will allow the disbursement of the next bailout tranche while putting off any decisions on the debt. The most optimistic observers note there is a chance of Greece entering QE between July and September and next month’s Eurogroup will be crucial to this end. The ECB argues that Greece’s inclusion in the bond-buying program requires the safeguarding of the debt’s sustainability.

In this context political statements or a mere reference to a series of measures will not suffice, as they will have to constitute legally binding pledges, which is highly unlikely before the German election. Goldman Sachs stated in an analysis that this country is not likely to fulfill the terms the ECB has set to join QE before the reduction of the monthly rate of bond purchases is activated. It also highlighted the high rate of bad loans as a point of concern that might also delay the decision for Greece to enjoy the benefits of QE. Similarly, Citi estimates that without an agreement on the easing of the debt, both inclusion in QE and a return to the bond markets would be quite difficult for Greece.

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In one and the same Union, laws and rights are widely divergent. That is not a union.

In Germany, Syrian Man Wins Case Against Deportation To Greece (AP)

Germany’s highest court has upheld a complaint by a Syrian whose asylum claim was rejected because he’d already been granted asylum in Greece. The man, whose name wasn’t released, arrived in Germany in 2015. He told officials he had already been granted protection in Greece but had been living on the street there and received no support from the Greek government. The man’s claim in Germany was rejected, meaning that he risked deportation to Greece. Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court said Tuesday that a lower court had wrongly failed to take account of a lack of welfare payments for refugees in Greece and to check whether there were assurances that the man would be given at least temporary housing. Judges sent the case back to the lower court to reconsider.

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Who cares about human rights declarations when elections are coming up?

Elder Refugees Seeking Asylum in Europe Left Stranded in Greece – HRW (GR)

There are many unnecessary delays and arbitrary barriers which keep older refugees and asylum seekers stranded in Greece, unable to reunite with family members who have legal status in the EU, Human Rights Watch said on Monday. According to their publication on Monday, EU: Older Refugees Stranded in Greece, one of the main issues that older refugees face is that family reunification does not focus on reuniting an entire family, but spouses and parents with minor children who are under the age of 18. Hundreds of older refugees and asylum seekers currently in Greece who have fled war zones and persecution are waiting to learn if they will be allowed to reunite with adult family members who have been granted residency in another EU country. Although EU law provides for family reunification for older people, lack of clarity or explicit provisions governing the process means that they can remain in limbo, far from their family for prolonged periods of time.

“These older people, already victims of conflict and persecution, hoped to find protection in the EU after treacherous journeys to Greece, and to be reunited with their family,” said Bethany Brown, researcher on older people’s rights at Human Rights Watch. “Now they don’t know if they will ever see their relatives again.” While several barriers are common to all asylum seekers, they can have a more significant impact on older people. Older people have been shown, in some contexts, to have significantly higher rates of psychological distress than the general refugee population, and often suffer from health issues, injuries and violence during displacement, and frailty that can be exacerbated by time and uncertainty.

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A little piece of news. But a good one.

Tasmania Bans Super Trawlers From Its Waters (AAP)

Tasmania’s parliament has passed laws banning super trawler fishing vessels from operating in the state’s waters. Legislation was given a green light on Wednesday, with Liberal government MP Mark Shelton confirming that any future attempts to allow freezer trawler vessels would require an act of parliament. “Our bill should give recreational fishers additional comfort that any future attempt to let super trawlers into the small pelagic fishery will be met with parliamentary hurdles,” he said.

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Graecopithecus freybergi.

Fossils Cast Doubt On Human Lineage Originating In Africa (R.)

Fossils from Greece and Bulgaria of an ape-like creature that lived 7.2 million years ago may fundamentally alter the understanding of human origins, casting doubt on the view that the evolutionary lineage that led to people arose in Africa. Scientists said on Monday the creature, known as Graecopithecus freybergi and known only from a lower jawbone and an isolated tooth, may be the oldest-known member of the human lineage that began after an evolutionary split from the line that led to chimpanzees, our closest cousins. The jawbone, which included teeth, was unearthed in 1944 in Athens. The premolar was found in south-central Bulgaria in 2009.

The researchers examined them using sophisticated new techniques including CT scans and established their age by dating the sedimentary rock in which they were found. They found dental root development that possessed telltale human characteristics not seen in chimps and their ancestors, placing Graecopithecus within the human lineage, known as hominins. Until now, the oldest-known hominin was Sahelanthropus, which lived 6-7 million years ago in Chad. The scientific consensus long has been that hominins originated in Africa. Considering the Graecopithecus fossils hail from the Balkans, the eastern Mediterranean may have given rise to the human lineage, the researchers said.

The findings in no way call into question that our species, Homo sapiens, first appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago and later migrated to other parts of the world, the researchers said. “Our species evolved in Africa. Our lineage may not have,” said paleoanthropologist Madelaine Böhme of Germany’s University of Tübingen, adding that the findings “may change radically our understanding of early human/hominin origin.” Homo sapiens is only the latest in a long evolutionary hominin line that began with overwhelmingly ape-like species, followed by a succession of species acquiring more and more human traits over time.

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May 192017
 
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Jean-Michel Basquiat Untitled 1982

 

Swedish Prosecutors Drop Julian Assange Rape Investigation (AP/R.)
Australia Economy Among ‘Walking Dead Of Household Debt’ – Steve Keen (NCA)
US Household Debt Hit Record in First Quarter (WSJ)
Why Government Surpluses Is A Terrible Idea – Steve Keen (Renegade)
How Can The Greeks Save More Money? A Monetary Parable. (Steve Keen)
Greek Parliament Approves More Austerity Measures Amid Protests (DW)
Trump Aims to Balance Budget With Deep Cuts, Bullish Growth Projections (WSJ)
Get Ready for Quantitative Tightening (Rickards)
ECB Tapering to Cause “Disorderly Restructuring” of Italian Debt, Return to Lira (DQ)
Russia-US Relations Have Become ‘Extremely Paranoid’ – Sberbank CEO (CNBC)
Western Democracy – As Represented By The US – Is Crumbling (Global Times)
Secret Plans To ‘Protect’ France In The Event Of Le Pen Victory Emerge (G.)
What Jeremy Corbyn Whispered In My Ear (Ind.)
Study Of Healthcare Quality In 195 Countries Names The Best And Worst (AFP)
50 Years Since Indigenous Australians First ‘Counted’, Little Has Changed (G.)

 

 

Time for legal action against Sweden and the prosecutors.

Swedish Prosecutors Drop Julian Assange Rape Investigation (AP/R.)

Swedish prosecutors said on Friday they would drop a preliminary investigation into an allegation of rape against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, bringing to an end a seven-year legal standoff. “Chief Prosecutor Marianne Ny has today decided to discontinue the preliminary investigation regarding suspected rape concerning Julian Assange,” the prosecutors office said in a statement. Assange, 45, has lived in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, after taking refuge there to avoid extradition to Sweden over the allegation of rape, which he denies. He has refused to travel to Stockholm, saying he fears further extradition to the US over WikiLeaks’ release of 500,000 secret military files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2015 lawyers for Julian Assange have claimed victory after a Swedish prosecutor bowed to pressure from the courts and agreed to break the deadlock in the WikiLeaks founder’s case by interviewing him in London.

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“Stop making housing into an asset.” “Make housing a place for people to actually live.”

Australia Economy Among ‘Walking Dead Of Household Debt’ – Steve Keen (NCA)

Australia has become the “walking dead of debt” due for a financial reckoning that could shock the housing market “bubble” within months. That’s according to “anti-economist” Professor Steve Keen who defines Australia as a “zombie to be” given soaring personal debt that has created a government-induced property bubble ripe to burst. “Australia has simply delayed its day of reckoning,” he told news.com.au in reference to the global financial crisis that shocked many countries around the world from 2008 but left the lucky country relatively unscathed after a series of government interventions. The Kingston University Professor claims first homeowners grants rolled out by successive governments have artificially kept prices high creating a form of “instant prosperity” that politicians are loath to stop.

“The housing bubble makes the politicians look good because A, people are feeling wealthier, and B … people are borrowing money to spend,” he said. “Then the government runs a balanced budget and looks like it really knows what it’s doing” “It hasn’t got a f***ing clue frankly, because what’s actually happening is the reason it’s making that money is credit is expanding,” he said. “It’s the old classic story, you’re criticising a party because someone’s laced the punchbowl. You try to take the punchbowl away from the party you’re a very unpopular person but you need to because what’s actually happening is people are getting intoxicated with credit”. His latest book, Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? argues Australia, along with Belgium, China, Canada and South Korea, is a “zombie” economy sleepwalking into a crunch that could come between 2017 and 2020.

“Both [Australia and Canada] will suffer a serious economic slowdown in the next few years since the only way they can sustain their current growth rates is for debt to continue growing faster than GDP,” he writes. [..] For Prof Keen, the solution for governments to an overheated housing market is obvious: “Stop making housing into an asset.” “Make housing a place for people to actually live. So you go back to saying ‘what’s desirable is affordable houses’ and affordable means it doesn’t cost a first homebuyer more than three or four years’ income to get a property,” he said. As for those struggling to get on the ladder in the meantime? “The only thing you can do in the middle is say I’m just not going to join in, and if it happens on a collective level …. it’s game over for the bubble because the bubble only works if more people keep taking out more leverage.”

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Wait till house prices start falling.

US Household Debt Hit Record in First Quarter (WSJ)

The total debt held by American households reached a record in early 2017, exceeding its 2008 peak after years of retrenchment against a backdrop of financial crisis, recession and modest economic growth. Much has changed over the past 8.5 years. The economy is larger, lending standards are tighter and less debt is delinquent. Mortgages remain the largest form of household borrowing but have become a smaller share of total debt as consumers take on more automotive and student loans. “The debt and its borrowers look quite different today,” New York Fed economist Donghoon Lee said. He added: “This record debt level is neither a reason to celebrate nor a cause for alarm.” The total-debt milestone, announced Wednesday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, was a long time coming.

Americans reduced their debts during and after the 2007-09 recession to an unusual extent: a 12% decline from the peak in the third quarter of 2008 to the trough in the second quarter of 2013. New York Fed researchers, looking at data back to the end of World War II, described the drop as “an aberration from what had been a 63-year upward trend reflecting the depth, duration and aftermath of the Great Recession.” In the first quarter, total debt was up about 14% from that low point as steady job gains, falling unemployment and continued economic growth boosted households’ income and willingness to borrow. The New York Fed report said total household debt rose by $149 billion in the first three months of 2017 compared with the prior quarter to a total of $12.725 trillion.

The pace of new lending slowed from the strong fourth quarter. Mortgage balances rose from the final three months of 2016, while home-equity lines of credit were down. Automotive loans rose, as did student loans, but credit-card debt fell along with other types of debt. The data weren’t adjusted for inflation, and household debt remains below past levels in relation to the size of the overall U.S. economy. In the first quarter, total debt was about 67% of nominal gross domestic product versus roughly 85% of GDP in the third quarter of 2008. Balance sheets look different now, with less housing-related debt and more student and auto loans. As of the first quarter, about 68% of total household debt was in the form of mortgages; in the third quarter of 2008, mortgages were roughly 73% of total debt. Student loans rose from about 5% to around 11% of total indebtedness, and auto loans went from roughly 6% to about 9%.

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Can we finally try to understand this, all of us?

Why Government Surpluses Is A Terrible Idea – Steve Keen (Renegade)

In this Renegade Short, Professor Steve Keen explains why the government isn’t supposed to balance its accounts like a household.

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TomDickHaria.

How Can The Greeks Save More Money? A Monetary Parable. (Steve Keen)

The EU’s “Stability and Growth Pact” has as one of its primary rules that “The Member States undertake to abide by the medium-term budgetary objective of positions close to balance or in surplus…” I explore what this objective implies in the context of a model of the economy of “TomDickHaria”: what happens to its collective GDP where one member tries to achieve the surplus goal set out in the “Stability and Growth Pact?

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The Troika makes sure Greece will keep drowning.

Greek Parliament Approves More Austerity Measures Amid Protests (DW)

All 153 lawmakers in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ governing coalition backed the legislation that includes new pension cuts and lower tax breaks, which are expected to save Greece €4.9 billion ($5.4 billion) until 2021. All opposition lawmakers present in the 300-seat chamber rejected the package required by international lenders before the release of more aid. Athens needs the bailout funds to repay €7.5 billion of debt maturing in July this year. Relief measures will only kick in if Greece meets fiscal targets stipulated by its creditors. “Our country is being turned into an austerity colony,” leading opposition conservative Kyriakos Mitsotakis said during debate on the bill, describing added cuts as a “nightmare” for low-earners.

Tsipras countered that its passage would enable Greece from summer next year to stand on its own feet, without the intervention of creditors such as the IMF. He accused the opposition of constantly warning of a catastrophe that “hasn’t come.” Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told Skai TV that Greek creditors the IMF and Germany were “in the final stretch of very tough negotiations” over a compromise that should allow Greece to return to bond markets in 2018. Thursday’s austerity package lowers the income tax exception from €8,600 down to about €5,700 but increases benefits for low-income tenants, parents with children and subsidies for child care. Public stakes are to be reduced through sales of holdings in Greece’s PPC electricity utility, railways, Athens’ international airport and the Thessaloniki port.

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Same as it ever was. Fantasy numbers have ruled the day for many years.

Trump Aims to Balance Budget With Deep Cuts, Bullish Growth Projections (WSJ)

President Donald Trump next week will propose the U.S. can balance the federal budget over 10 years with substantial cuts to safety-net programs such as food stamps and other anti-poverty efforts, combined with a tax and regulatory overhaul that speeds up the nation’s economic growth rate, a senior White House budget official said. The president’s budget, due for release Tuesday, will spare the two largest drivers of future spending—Medicare and Social Security—leaving trillions in cuts from other programs. That includes discretionary spending cuts to education, housing, environment programs and foreign aid already laid out by the administration, in addition to new proposed reductions to nondiscretionary spending like food stamps, Medicaid and federal employee-benefit programs.

The budget release, which will be unveiled while Mr. Trump is visiting Europe and the Middle East, shows how his economic policy team is trying to forge ahead on his agenda even as distracting political controversies, such as the recent firing of FBI director James Comey, swirl around Washington. On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified on Capitol Hill, his first such appearance since his February confirmation, where he expressed confidence Congress could advance a revamp of the tax code this year. House Republicans held their first hearing on the proposed tax overhaul, following a series of meetings between lawmakers and top administration officials Wednesday.

The White House’s budget proposal next week builds upon an earlier outline in March that called for a nearly 10% boost in defense funding next year, offset by around $54 billion in cuts for nondefense programs. [..] Among the more controversial elements of the budget will be the administration’s growth forecasts. The White House projects the nation’s economic growth rate will rise to 3% by 2021, compared with the 1.9% forecast under current policy by the Congressional Budget Office. It’s unusual to see the White House’s growth forecasts differ from the CBO and other blue-chip projections by such a large margin over such a long stretch of the 10-year budget window.

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Another crazy experiment by the Fed bookworms.

Get Ready for Quantitative Tightening (Rickards)

Despite yesterday’s market sell-off, the Fed is still on track to raise interest rates in June. Wednesday’s action is no more than a speed bump for the Fed. It will not stop the Fed from moving forward with another 0.25% rate increase. The Fed is embarking on a new path, a path that started several years with QE (quantitative easing). QE is the name for the method the Fed uses to ease monetary conditions when interest rates are already zero. Conventional monetary policy calls for interest rate cuts to stimulate growth and inflate asset prices when the economy is in a recession. What does a central bank do when interest rates are already at zero and you can’t cut them anymore? One solution is negative interest rates, although the evidence from Japan and Europe indicates that negative rates do not have the same effect as rate cuts from positive levels. The second solution is to print money! The Fed does this by buying bonds from the big banks.

The banks deliver the bonds to the Fed, and the Fed pays for them with money from thin air. The popular name for this is quantitative easing, or QE, although the Fed’s technical name is long-term asset purchases. The Fed did QE in three rounds from 2008 to 2013. They gradually tapered new purchases down to zero by 2014. Since then, the Fed has been stuck with $4.5 trillion of bonds that it bought with the printed money. When the bonds mature, the Fed buys new ones to maintain the size of its balance sheet. But now the Fed wants to “normalize” its balance sheet and get back down to about $2 trillion. They could just sell the bonds, but that would destroy the bond market. Instead, the Fed will let the old bonds mature, and not buy new ones. That way the money just disappears and the balance sheet shrinks. The new name for this is “quantitative tightening,” or QT. You’ll be hearing a lot about QT in the months ahead.

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Tapering, QT, it’s all just more ‘uncharted territory’.

ECB Tapering to Cause “Disorderly Restructuring” of Italian Debt, Return to Lira (DQ)

Here’s the staggering scale of the Italian government’s dependence on the ECB’s bond purchases, according to a new report by Astellon Capital: Since 2008, 88% of government debt net issuance has been acquired by the ECB and Italian Banks. At current government debt net issuance rates and announced QE levels, the ECB will have been responsible for financing 100% of Italy’s deficits from 2014 to 2019. But now there’s a snag. Last month, the size of the balance sheet of the ECB surpassed that of any other central bank: At €4.17 trillion, the ECB’s assets have soared to 38.8% of Eurozone GDP. The ECB has already reduced the rate of purchases to €60 billion a month. And it plans to further withdraw from the super-expansionary monetary policy. To do this, according to Der Spiegel, it wants to spread more optimistic messages about the economic situation and gradually reduce borrowing.

[..] By the halfway point of 2018 the ECB would have completed tapering and it would then use the second half of the year to move away from negative interest rates. So far, most current ECB members have shown scant enthusiasm for withdrawing the punch bowl. The reason most frequently cited for not tapering more just yet is their lingering concern about the long-term sustainability of the Eurozone’s recent economic turnaround. The ECB’s binge-buying of sovereign and corporate bonds has spawned a mass culture of financial dependence across Europe, while merely serving to paper over the cracks that began forming — or at least became visible — in some Eurozone economies during the sovereign debt crisis. In many places the cracks are even bigger than they were back then. This is the elephant in the ECB’s room, and by now it’s too big to ignore.

In one country alone, the cracks are so large that they could end up fracturing the entire single currency project. That country is Italy. Astellon Capital’s report on Italy’s dependence on ECB bond purchases poses the question: If the ECB tapers its purchase of Italian bonds further, who would pick up the slack? The Italian banks, which are themselves deep in crisis mode and whose balance sheets are already filled to the gills with Italian bonds? Hardly. When QE ends, the banks are more likely to become net sellers, rather than net buyers, of Italian debt. The only way for the game to continue is if over the next six years non-banks increase their purchase activity up to seven times that of the past nine years. In other words, the very same investors who have used QE as the perfect opportunity to offload the immense risk of holding Italian liabilities onto the Bank of Italy’s, and then onto the Eurosystem’s, would need to step back into the market in a massive way, just at a time that the country in question is on the verge of a full-blown banking crisis.

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No kidding.

Russia-US Relations Have Become ‘Extremely Paranoid’ – Sberbank CEO (CNBC)

Diplomatic relations between America and Russia have deteriorated to such an extent that contacts between the two countries have become extremely paranoid of one another, the chief executive of Russia’s largest bank has told CNBC. “From what we see here in Russia and from the programs we see from the U.S., the unfolding situation is fairly complex. And there are certain signs of a certain… paranoid attitude to Russia and to every single contact with Russia real or imagined,” Herman Gref, Sberbank CEO, said via a translator. [..] When asked whether Gref harbored any concerns about the consequences of having met with Trump in the past, he replied, “I think the situation has become extremely paranoid for one to suspect that these sort of contacts could lead to political consequences.”

Speaking in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Sberbank’s CEO had predicted the Trump administration could re-establish close ties with the Kremlin and expressed his hope the newly-elected U.S. president could mark a “new beginning” for the two countries. On Friday, Gref suggested it was still too early to judge the success of Trump’s presidency however conceded that, for the time-being at least, relations between American and Russia were unlikely to change for the better. Moscow is currently enduring the sharp end of tough international sanctions from Washington[..] . “Well, I have to say that this has had an effect on us in the last two years… The inability to access international markets is painful for us,” Gref said. “You know, sanctions were put in place for political reasons and most likely their removal will also be motivated by politics…

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China’s official government paper.

Western Democracy – As Represented By The US – Is Crumbling (Global Times)

The American elite still refuse to accept Trump after his 100 days in the Oval Office. He is at odds with the mainstream media; insiders have constantly leaked information to the media. Now some commentators have compared the exposure of the Comey memo to the Watergate scandal. As Congress is under Republican control, few believe there will be a move to impeach the president, but these latest revelations will certainly further erode Trump’s presidential authority. At the beginning of the corruption scandal, few believed that South Korean president Park Geun-hye would be impeached either. Could this be a reference for Trump’s case? But evidence of Park’s illegal activities was solid, while it will be more complicated to make determinations over whether Trump obstructed justice and leaked classified intelligence.

To impeach Trump will need more evidence from further investigation. To completely discredit Trump among voters, the present scandal is not enough as it does not add to the negative image of Trump. Many just think Trump often speaks off the cuff, which ends up in silly blunders. If there is a major substantive scandal over and above him speaking out of turn then that will be another thing. But this is not the case at the moment. Every country has its own troubles. The US model represents Western democracy, but it is crumbling, and the resulting social division has become more and more serious. The US Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to oversee the investigation into link between Russia and the 2016 US presidential election and related matters on Wednesday.

More juicy details will continue to appear and the rifts may become wider. Trump will become one of the most frequently accused Americans. The US won’t be engulfed by chaos if its president is caught in a lawsuit. Someone has pointed out that no matter how chaotic the White House and Capitol Hill are, the overall operation of the US will not be a major problem as long as the enterprises and social organizations in the country are stable. This is seen as an advantage of the American system. Although American society is relatively stable, the political tumult can’t be taken as an advantage of the US system. The fact is that US politics is in trouble, and the benefits brought by its system are being squandered.

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Democracy as a threat to the state.

Secret Plans To ‘Protect’ France In The Event Of Le Pen Victory Emerge (G.)

It was never written down and never given a name, but France had a detailed plan to “protect the Republic” if far right leader Marine Le Pen was elected president, French media have reported. “It was like a multi-stage rocket,” an unnamed senior official told l’Obs magazine. “The philosophy, and the absolute imperative, was to keep the peace, while also respecting our constitutional rules.” [..] L’Obs cited three anonymous sources with knowledge of the emergency plan that would have been put into effect had Le Pen reached the Elysée palace, saying it was devised by a small group of ministers, chiefs of staff and top civil servants. The magazine said the plan was aimed mainly at preventing serious civil unrest and “freezing” the political situation by convening parliament in emergency session and maintaining the outgoing prime minister in office.

Police and intelligence services were particularly concerned by the threat of “extreme violence” from mainly far left protesters in the event of a Le Pen victory as the country would have found itself “on the brink of chaos”. Even before the first round of voting on 23 April, a confidential note drawn up by the intelligence services announced that “without exception, every local public safety directorate has expressed its concern”, Le Parisien reported. Regional police chiefs were asked on 21 April to detail their crowd control and deployment plans, l’Obs said. Under France’s ongoing state of emergency, more than 50,000 police and gendarmes and 7,000 soldiers were already on duty. On 5 May, two days before the second round that Macron won by 66% to Le Pen’s 34%, the national public safety directorate warned in another note that protesters were ready to use “fireworks, mortars and incendiary bombs”.

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“If you do what you believe in, you’re strong. It’s when you don’t do what you believe in that you’re weak. And we are strong.”

What Jeremy Corbyn Whispered In My Ear (Ind.)

When I shook his hand, I told him that I work for a charity and freelance as a journalist, writing on politics and social justice issues. I expressed my disappointment that Labour (and particularly Corbyn himself) doesn’t get a fair hearing from many news outlets. He spoke in my ear: “If you do what you believe in, you’re strong. It’s when you don’t do what you believe in that you’re weak. And we are strong.” The unveiling of Labour’s manifesto today was a display of strength. Labour is promising a Britain that works for everyone, where whole swathes of society aren’t left behind. The transformative manifesto will take the financial burden from the shoulders of those who can least afford to carry it, and place it upon the top 5% of earners and arrogantly tax-dodging corporations.

The Britain we currently live in is untenable for young people, university students, teachers, NHS workers, policemen, the disabled, people with long-term illnesses, people who can’t find work, first-time buyers, and those living in rented accommodation. Britain is working for a wealthy few, and Labour’s manifesto highlights the fact, often forgotten, that this is not inevitable. At Bradford University, a huge cheer went up when Corbyn promised to scrap tuition fees and end hospital parking charges. The scandal of zero hours contracts would be a thing of the past under Labour, as will NHS cuts and rises in VAT and income tax for 95% of earners. The manifesto is a document filled with long-overdue, common sense policies.

It addresses the important questions that accompany the Brexit process, including concerns about the protection of jobs and hard-won workers’ rights. It puts children and young people first, promising to invest in them through a National Education Service rather than rely on the failed academies experiment or a ridiculous and divisive reintroduction of grammar schools. In-work poverty is unacceptable. My partner and I both work two jobs and we struggle to make ends meet. We don’t indulge in avocado toast but finding enough for a deposit on a mortgage is sadly out of reach. The pledge to build one million new homes and introduce a £10 living wage by 2020 is crucial for young couples and for anyone working in poorly paid or part-time jobs, notably in care work and service industry roles. If Labour’s manifesto and the promise of more public ownership will transport us to the 1970s, where do we currently live? 1870, perhaps?

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Single payer rules. Supreme.

Study Of Healthcare Quality In 195 Countries Names The Best And Worst (AFP)

Neither Canada nor Japan cracked the top 10, and the United States finished a dismal 35th, according to a much anticipated ranking of healthcare quality in 195 countries, released Friday. Among nations with more than a million souls, top honours for 2015 went to Switzerland, followed by Sweden and Norway, though the healthcare gold standard remains tiny Andorra, a postage stamp of a country nestled between Spain (No. 8) and France (No. 15). Iceland (No. 2), Australia (No. 6), Finland (No. 7), the Netherlands (No. 9) and financial and banking centre Luxembourg rounded out the first 10 finishers, according to a comprehensive study published in the medical journal The Lancet.

Of the 20 countries heading up the list, all but Australia and Japan (No. 11) are in western Europe, where virtually every nation boasts some form of universal health coverage. The United States – where a Republican Congress wants to peel back reforms that gave millions of people access to health insurance for the first time – ranked below Britain, which placed 30th. The Healthcare Access and Quality Index, based on death rates for 32 diseases that can be avoided or effectively treated with proper medical care, also tracked progress in each nation compared to the benchmark year of 1990.

Virtually all countries improved over that period, but many – especially in Africa and Oceania – fell further behind others in providing basic care for their citizens. With the exceptions of Afghanistan, Haiti and Yemen, the 30 countries at the bottom of the ranking were all in sub-Saharan Africa, with the Central African Republic suffering the worst standards of all. “Despite improvements in healthcare quality and access over 25 years, inequality between the best and worst performing countries has grown,” said Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, and leader of a consortium of hundreds of contributing experts.

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“Dogs and cats and pigs and sheep were counted in Australia before Aboriginal people”

50 Years Since Indigenous Australians First ‘Counted’, Little Has Changed (G.)

Sol Bellear, a former rugby league player for South Sydney Rabbitohs and Aboriginal rights activist, sits in the soft autumn sunshine at a cafe intersecting Redfern Park and the oval that remains the spiritual home of his beloved club. He sips a Red Bull “heart starter” and English breakfast tea. And he shakes his head while contemplating the anniversaries of what ought to have been transformative moments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – starting with the 1967 “citizenship” referendum that first made their existence in Australia “official”. “Things should be so much better for Aboriginal people. I think the country saw 1967 as the end of the fight,” Bellear says.

“Before 1967, we weren’t counted in the census or anything as people. Dogs and cats and pigs and sheep were counted in Australia before Aboriginal people.” Indigenous people had never previously been officially included among the Australian citizenry, nor counted in the Commonwealth census – so the federal government could not legislate for them. But on 27 May 1967, more than 90% of the Australian electorate voted at the “citizenship” referendum to effectively bring Indigenous people into the Commonwealth. “After the referendum, though, it was like the work was done for the rest of the country and governments – when it was actually just the bloody beginning,” Bellear says. “Every little thing we’ve won since, we’ve had to fight for.”

2017 is also the 25th anniversary of two more critical moments in the story: the Mabo decision – a High Court ruling that led to native title land rights, and former prime minister Paul Keating’s landmark “Redfern speech” (“We committed the murders – we took the children from their mothers”). It was Bellear who introduced Keating at Redfern Park. This was the first time an Australian prime minister had frankly, without qualification, acknowledged the violence, sickness, dispossession and ongoing oppression that colonialism had imposed on Indigenous people. Yet a quarter of a century on, Bellear says his country remains deaf to all the non-government reports into Indigenous lives – and to the savage critiques of Commonwealth policies that purported to make them better.

[..] Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders constitute some 3% of the country’s overall population – yet in 1991, they comprised 14% of Australia’s prisoners. A quarter of a century later, that figure was up to 27% – while more than 150 Indigenous people had died in custody in the intervening 25 years. In some parts of Australia, many more young Indigenous men complete prison terms than high school. The Indigenous rate of imprisonment is 15 times the age-standardised non-Indigenous rate. As Thalia Anthony pointed out in her 2015 book Indigenous People, Crime and Punishment, rates of Indigenous incarceration in Australia today match those of black imprisonment in apartheid South Africa.

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May 122017
 
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Robert Doisneau Le Baiser Blotto, Paris 1953

 

Human Beings Are Not Efficiency Seeking Machines (Radford)
Stockman: Trump’s Tax Plan Never Had a Chance (DR)
Is China Really Deleveraging? (Balding)
China Stocks Are Tumbling Again. Unlike 2015, World Doesn’t Care (BBG)
China Has the World’s Biggest Productivity Problem (BBG)
No Evidence of Russian Intrusion in US Political System (Ron Paul)
Canada’s Home Capital Seeks New Funding Sources, Uncertain Of Future (BBG)
Open Letter to Theresa May: Annul The Phoney Negotiations! (Varoufakis)
Pound Stumbles As Bank Of England Releases Gloomy Economic Report (Pol.)
Macron Spells the End to the Global Baby-Boomer Rule (BBG)
European Monotony (K.)
Anxiety Mounts As Italy Moves To Get More Migrants Out (AFP)
G7 Finance Chiefs Can’t Agree On Trade, So They Talk About Greece (BBG)
Greek Economy to Grow Over 2% in 2017 – Economy and Development Minister (BBG)
European Commission Slashes Greece’s Economic Forecasts (GR)
Schaeuble Says Greece Needs Reforms, Defends 2015 ‘Timeout’ Idea (K.)
One In Six Greek Businesses Are Late Payers – Central Bank Chief (Amna)
Somebody’s Going To Suffer: Greece’s New Austerity Measures (Michael Hudson)

 

 

Wonderful: “..if your goal is to understand real economies replete with real humans, modern economics is a waste of time.”

Human Beings Are Not Efficiency Seeking Machines (Radford)

I don’t understand why people get upset when I say that economics is a waste of time. I suppose it’s because I don’t make a clear enough difference between economics as a general topic and economics as a formal, mainstream, body of knowledge. It’s the latter that is a waste of time. The former is wonderfully interesting. At its heart economics is a study of human behavior, where that behavior is specific to certain activities. It is thus deeply rooted in psychology, so it is more closely associated with biology than physics. This is not a new idea: some of the greatest economists of the past have argued as much. Trying to transfer in ideas from physics, even metaphorically, therefore tends to lead to dead ends.

Like the notion of efficiency. That’s something of great interest to engineers, but has little to do with economics. You can have an efficient physical system. You cannot have an efficient social system. There’s just too much we don’t know and can never know. Still economists all over the world are obsessed with efficiency. So what do they do? They start to abstract and simplify. They model and fine tune. They test and re-test. And still their ideas run afoul of reality: human beings are not efficiency seeking machines, and so any system filled with humans is likely to be darned near impossible to steer towards efficient outcomes. Nothing daunted economists press on. If humans are unlikely to be efficient the logical next step is to construct a theory to exclude actual humans.

That’s what’s happened in economics: the faulty decision to root economics in a physics-like setting rather than in a biology like-setting forced subsequent generations of economists to “refine” their thinking and, eventually, to force real people out of their theoretical world. Voila! Modern economics ends up as a wonderful edifice with extravagant claims as to its ability to understand human behavior precisely by eliminating all contact with humanity. Weird. Ergo, if your goal is to understand real economies replete with real humans, modern economics is a waste of time.

Go study something else. You can learn a great deal about real economies by reading psychology literature. Behavioral economics — which despite all the press it gets has had only a marginal impact on the mainstream and on textbook economics — is an attempt to do that. The behavioral economics project is in its infancy. Go get involved. By the way: anything that refers to strategic behavior is also useful. Real humans are constantly trying to outwit each other. That’s when they’re not cooperating, which is another human characteristic economics determinedly overlooks. Humans are complicated. Too complicated for an economics built on an exclusive belief in relentless rationality.

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“This rosy scenario, which is the current ten-year baseline, assumes 30% more nominal GDP and wage growth per year than we’ve actually had in the past ten years.”

Stockman: Trump’s Tax Plan Never Had a Chance (DR)

David Stockman joined Fox Business and Maria Bartiromo on Mornings with Maria to discuss President Trump’s tax plan efforts and what he viewed as a massive calamity unfolding in Washington. The Fox Business host began the conversation by asking what he thought on the Trump tax plan proposal. Stockman pressed, “I think it is a one page, $7.5 trillion wish list that has no chance of being enacted and is pretty irresponsible this late in the game.” The host then fired back by asking how the former Reagan budget director placed a price tag on the plan without a score from the Congressional Budget Office. The author fired back, “The corporate is at 15%, the pass through rate on all unincorporated business is at 15% and that will cost roughly $4 trillion. Doubling the standard deduction will cost over $1 trillion. Getting rid of the alternative minimum will cost nearly $1 trillion.”

Then when referencing the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (which Stockman is a Board Member of) the author highlighted, “The gross cost is $7.5 trillion and that perhaps the government could earn back $2 trillion through loophole closing and base broadening. My argument is, after ruling out charitable contributions, home mortgages and a Congress that says they won’t touch a health care exclusion… when you go through the math there is no $2 trillion that this Congress and Republican party will even remotely be able to put together.” When asked about the assumption from Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Senior Economic Advisor Cohn that new economic growth would pay for the budget Stockman pressed on the facts as he saw them:

“Growth always helps, but what they’re failing to realize, and what I learned in the 1980’s is that there is more growth built into the baseline forecast from the CBO than you’re ever going to achieve in the real world.” “This rosy scenario, which is the current ten-year baseline, assumes 30% more nominal GDP and wage growth per year than we’ve actually had in the past ten years.” When asked about the conditions in Congress and how else the government could raise revenue he directed, “We have to look at the numbers. There’s $10 trillion of new deficits built in over the next ten years, within the current policy, with rosy scenario economics. If you are going to try to push $2-$6 billion in tax cuts on top of that with $1 trillion of defense increases, $1 trillion for infrastructure in addition to Veteran spending and more – we’re headed for a fiscal calamity.

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Christopher Balding and crazy numbers.

Is China Really Deleveraging? (Balding)

There’s growing evidence that China is finally scaling back its epic borrowing binge. That’s important for a lot of reasons, not least for reducing risk and avoiding a financial crisis. The question is whether the government can sustain the pain. Regulators in Beijing are well aware of the risks that excessive leverage poses, and have tried many times over the years to crack down. Yet they routinely fail to rein in local government officials who get promoted by boosting economic growth, regardless of what systemic risks they may be incurring by binging on debt. To adapt a Chinese proverb: Growth is high and the banking regulator is far away. Evidence is mounting that this time is different. Lending to banks from the People’s Bank of China, which surged by 243% from December 2015 to January 2017, has declined by 12% in the past two months.

Loans to non-financial corporations are up a relatively moderate 7.3% from March 2016, which is a slower rate than nominal growth in gross domestic product. Although this clampdown followed an enormous surge of credit in the first half of last year, it does suggest real progress. Another good sign is that the government is starting to rein in shadow banking. Issuance of risky wealth-management products declined by 18% in April from March, as banks and insurance companies have been pressured to rely on them less. Because the sector is so enormous – with more than $4 trillion outstanding – getting it under control is a crucial prerequisite for any serious deleveraging. Predictably, though, these reforms have pushed down asset prices. Stocks, bonds, commodities and real estate have all turned strongly negative.

Interest rates have been inching up, inflicting losses on bond investors. Allocations of stocks and commodities in wealth-management products are at their lowest levels in almost a year, depressing prices further. This will probably get worse. Industrial capacity is widely up while demand growth is flat. Steel rebar prices have dropped by only 8% from their highs this year, and remain up by an amazing 91% since December 2015. Yet even this small dip has had a major effect. In March, when prices peaked, 85% of Hebei steel makers reported being profitable. Now that figure stands at 66%. If an 8% drop in prices results in a 19 percentage-point decline in the number of profitable steel mills, more serious price drops could well push the industry to the brink.

For a sector in which listed firms have suffered operational losses of 5.1 billion yuan since 2010 – during one of the largest building booms the world has ever seen – a sustained deleveraging effort may well spell disaster. The property market could also be in for a rough ride. Chinese consumers take the ability to buy an apartment as a birthright, and prices have risen in response to demand. Mortgage lending has grown by 31% since March 2016. But as cities place more restrictions on purchases and banking regulators get tougher about slowing mortgage growth, the resulting pressure on prices could be an unpleasant surprise for homeowners and indebted developers.

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Don’t worry, the world will care yet.

China Stocks Are Tumbling Again. Unlike 2015, World Doesn’t Care (BBG)

Global investors are still shaking off a rout that’s erased more than $560 billion from the value of Chinese equities, making them the world’s worst performers since mid-April. Below are four charts showing just how deep the pain has spread in China’s mainland. Outside of the nation’s borders, investors are indifferent to the weakness in the second-largest equity market after the U.S. The MSCI All-Country World Index is near a record and the VIX Index, the so-called fear gauge for U.S. stocks, is close to its lowest level since 1993. The ChiNext small-cap gauge, seen as a barometer for Chinese stock-market sentiment, has taken quite the hit this year, down 9.7% and close to its lowest level since February 2015. The selloff erased all that was left of a rebound from a low later that year, after a bubble in China’s markets burst.

A technical indicator suggests the Shanghai Composite Index has fallen too far, too fast. The gauge’s relative strength index dipped further below the 30 level that signals to some traders an asset is oversold, and is close to levels not seen since 2013. Chart watchers are still waiting for that rebound. The benchmark for yuan-denominated shares has lost 6.9% in the past month, while global stocks are up 2.8%. That divergence means the Shanghai measure is trailing the rest of the world by the most since 2014.

Chinese stocks now make up less than 9% of the world’s equity market, the smallest slice since June last year. The value of global equities is near a record $73 trillion reached earlier this month.

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Quite shocking: “..each employed worker in China generated only 19% of the amount of GDP an American worker did.” Workers in India generate just 13%.

China Has the World’s Biggest Productivity Problem (BBG)

Just about everybody assumes that China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s indispensable economy. One factor, however, could slow its seemingly relentless march and cast doubt on China’s prospects for becoming an advanced economy: faltering productivity. Sure, China is advancing daily in wealth, technology and expertise. But nothing is inevitable in economics. As costs rise and the labor force shrinks due to Beijing’s decades-long “one-child” policy, China will need to squeeze a lot more out of each remaining worker to keep incomes growing. If not, China could succumb to a sluggish trajectory that threatens both its future and that of the entire global economy. Despite China’s reputation as a paragon of authoritarian efficiency, the country isn’t immune to the global trend of dwindling productivity gains.

The Conference Board, using adjusted economic growth estimates, figures that Chinese labor productivity rose 3.7% in 2015, a precipitous plunge from an average of 8.1% annually between 2007 and 2013. (Official Chinese statistics also show productivity growth falling off, although settling at higher rates.) Of course, even that reduced clip looks drool-worthy to policymakers elsewhere. Labor productivity inched upwards by a mere 0.7% in the U.S. and 0.6% in the euro zone in 2015. But the smaller increases in China are a big problem, because it has so much catching up to do. Chinese workers are miserably unproductive compared to their U.S. counterparts. The Conference Board calculates that in 2015 each employed worker in China generated only 19% of the amount of GDP an American worker did.

That’s not a whole lot better than Indian workers, who created 13%. China, like other economies in Asia, is facing the consequences of its past success. The region’s economies achieved eye-popping growth rates by tossing their poor and primarily agrarian workers into industry and global supply chains. That unleashed a torrent of productivity gains, as peasant farmers started making everything from teddy bears to iPhones. In other words, China propelled its rapid development by shifting underutilized labor and capital into a modern capitalist economy. (That’s why Paul Krugman once argued that there was nothing particularly miraculous about the Asian “miracle.”) Inevitably, though, such low-hanging, productivity-enhancing fruit gets picked as the economy advances. Then the bang you get for every buck of new inputs starts to taper off.

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It’s time for proof on all aleegations concerning Russia. Either that or a full stop. I was just talking to someone who said he ‘believes’ the Russians downed MH17. But belief doesn’t cut it, we need facts and proof.

No Evidence of Russian Intrusion in US Political System (Ron Paul)

RT: Sergey Lavrov says President Trump wants productive relations with Moscow after the previous administration soured them. Can they be improved considering the storm over the alleged ties between the Trump team and Russia?

Ron Paul: Absolutely. And I think that has been. What is going on right now is an improvement. I think what is going on in Syria with these de-escalation zones; I think that is good. They are talking to each other. I just don’t understand why sometimes there is an impression that we shouldn’t be having diplomatic conversations … All the tough rhetoric doesn’t do any good. Trump’s statement to me sounded pretty good. I think the whole thing about the elections, putting that aside would be a wise thing because the evidence is not there for any intrusion in our election by the Russians. I think this is good progress, and there will be plenty individuals in this country who complain about it because it just seems like they are very content to keep the aggravation going. Right now, the relationship from my viewpoint has greatly improved. I think that is good.

RT: During the media conference, some journalists again raised the question of possible Russian involvement in US politics. How is it possible for such a great nation to think this way?

RP: If it is a fact, we should hear about it, but we haven’t. And those individuals who are trying to stir up trouble like that, they haven’t come up with any facts. Nobody wants anybody’s elections interfered with. But the facts aren’t there, so why dwell on that? Why use that as an excuse to prevent something that we think is positive and that is better relations with Russia. I think what is happening with this conversation is very beneficial.

RT: According to Lavrov, Trump also expressed his support for creating safe zones in Syria. Will this pave the way for co-operation between the two coalitions?

RP: With Assad and Russia working together and getting more security for the country, at the same time the US is now talking with Russia. I think this is good. But just the acceptance of the idea that we should be talking and practicing diplomacy rather than threats and intimidation. There are obviously a lot of problems that we have to work out, but I think in the last week and the last couple of days very positive things have been happening.

RT: The meeting came after the firing of the FBI director James Comey. What do you make of the timing?

RP: I don’t think that firing had anything to do with the so-called investigation. I think it has to do with the credibility of Comey as such, where he was involved too politically in the issues. First, it looked like he was supporting Hillary, then the next time he was supporting Trump, and he should not have been out in front on either one of those issues; that should have been done more privately on these charges made that were unconfirmed. I think this represents poor judgment on Comey’s part and certainly, the president had the authority to fire him. It will be politicized now, and the question will be whether there will be a special prosecutor, but if there are no problems, then a special prosecutor in my estimation is unnecessary.

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Stick a fork in it and turn it over.

Canada’s Home Capital Seeks New Funding Sources, Uncertain Of Future (BBG)

Home Capital said it’s seeking new sources of funding after a run on deposits sparked by a regulatory investigation raised concerns about the Canadian mortgage lender’s ability to stay in business. “Material uncertainty exists regarding the company’s future funding capabilities as a result of reputational concerns that may cast significant doubt” about continued operations, Home Capital said in a statement late Thursday. “Management’s focus is on finding more sources of funding in the near term so we can be more active serving our customers, and on seeking longer-term solutions that put the business back on track.” Home Capital’s troubles are being closely watched by investors concerned about possible contagion to other lenders and to the red-hot real estate markets in Toronto and Vancouver.

The Canadian dollar has slumped, and is the worst performing currency among Group of 10 nations this year. Moody’s Investors Service late Wednesday cut the credit ratings on six Canadian banks, citing rising household debt and soaring real estate prices that make the banks more vulnerable to losses. Home Capital, accused by regulators last month of misleading investors over fraudulent mortgage loan applications, has lost almost C$1.8 billion ($1.2 billion) in high-interest deposits in five weeks, draining the Toronto-based company of funds used to finance mortgages. The company said it’s facing liquidity issues because of reputational concerns raised by the Ontario Securities Commission allegations, as well as a class action lawsuit announced earlier this year. The lack of a chief executive officer and chief financial officer is also hurting, the company said.

High-interest savings plummeted to C$134 million as of May 9 from $1.9 billion at March 31, the company said. Home Capital also lost C$344 million in cashable GICs, or guaranteed investment certificates. Tightening lending criteria and broker incentive programs will lead to a decline in originations and renewals going forward, the company said. The lender’s liquid assets are about C$1.01 billion as of May 10, it said in a separate statement Thursday. It had drawn C$1.4 billion of a C$2 billion rescue loan from an Ontario pension fund that carries an effective interest rate of 22.5%, the firm disclosed. The company also sold a C$154 million portfolio of preferred shares to raise cash.

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Brussels is a cesspit obsessed with power politics, not with representing Europeans.

Open Letter to Theresa May: Annul The Phoney Negotiations! (Varoufakis)

Dear Mrs May [..] While the clock is ticking away, and your country is caught up in pre-election fever, there are two potential mistakes I wish to warn against: First, the belief that a strong mandate on June 8 will enhance your ability to negotiate. Second, that meaningful negotiations are possible within the less than two years left after the triggering of Article 50. Your mandate will, I believe, enrage Brussels in proportion to its magnitude and steel their preordained determination to frustrate the negotiations in order to procure a mutually disadvantageous outcome. Why would they pursue mutual disadvantage? Because faced with a choice between an agreement that is to the advantage of the peoples of Europe and one that bolsters their own power within the EU institutions at the expense of Europe’s social economies, the Brussels establishment, and the powerful politicians behind them, will choose the latter every time.

In 2015 the proposals I was tabling, of a moderate Greek public debt restructure, lower tax rates and deep reforms, would have allowed the EU to reclaim more of European taxpayers’ loans to Greece. Except that getting back their taxpayers’ money was lower on their list of priorities than signalling to the Spaniards, the Irish, the Italians etc. that if they dared to elect a government promising to challenge the EU’s authority, they would be crushed. Thankfully, Britain is too rich to crush. Alas, Britain is not too big to be pushed into a disadvantageous form of Brexit as a deterrent to other Europeans voting against the edicts of the Brussels apparatchiks. The political utility to the Brussels establishment of leading the UK-EU negotiations to impasse is greater than any disutility they might experience from watching European people and businesses lose out.

If I am right, negotiations will be an exercise in futility and frustration. Barnier’s two-phase negotiation announcement amounts to a rejection of the principle of … negotiation. He is, effectively, saying to you: First you give me everything I am asking for unconditionally (Phase 1) and only then will I hear what you want (Phase 2). This is nothing short of a declaration of hostilities and, moreover, of his lack of a mandate to negotiate with you in good faith. Moreover, if you try to bypass Brussels, in order to communicate directly with, say, Angela Merkel, you will be given the EU runaround (i.e. Merkel refers you to Juncker, who refers you to Barnier who suggests you go back to Merkel, and so on ad infinitum). Meanwhile, the leaks about your ministers’ “lack of preparedness” will be flooding out of the meeting rooms as part of a propaganda war of attrition.

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As long as the UK is as splintered as it is now, its economy will be in danger.

Pound Stumbles As Bank Of England Releases Gloomy Economic Report (Pol.)

Less than a month ahead of the U.K. general election, the Bank of England published a gloomy report indicating British families’ finances are being squeezed that sent sterling tumbling. The BoE’s latest quarterly inflation report, published Thursday, points to a stronger-than-expected squeeze in real incomes which would translate into decreased household spending. The report also shows inflation continuing to climb above the central bank’s 2% target, and is expected to hit close to 3% by December, as the fall in the value of sterling has raised import prices and started to feed through to the real economy. Economic growth in the first quarter of this year was also weaker than expected, the BoE said.

Sterling fell sharply against the dollar after the report was released, losing half a cent to $1.288. In a warning to the British government, the central bank said, “The outlook for U.K. growth will continue to be influenced by the response of households, companies and financial market participants to the prospect of the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU including their assumptions about the nature and timing of post-Brexit trading arrangements. The Bank of England also Thursday decided to leave interest rates and the levels of monetary stimulus untouched. Its monetary policy committee voted seven to one to maintain the BoE’s benchmark rate at 0.25%, while unanimously backing the level of U.K. government bond purchases at £435 billion, and corporate bond buying at up to £10 billion.

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Fun with numbers.

Macron Spells the End to the Global Baby-Boomer Rule (BBG)

President-elect Emmanuel Macron will still be seven months short of his 40th birthday when he takes power on Sunday, putting him within a year of France’s median age. While voters often pick experience over youth, France chose a political rookie to chart a new course after successive baby-boomers from the establishment parties oversaw a decade of stagnation. The country’s youngest head of state since Napoleon Bonaparte is also the only leader from the old Group of Eight nations who can claim to be the same age as his people – 70-year-old Donald Trump has the biggest gap at 32 years older than the median American. Macron will get to compare notes with his G-7 peers later this month in Italy.

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Yes, Le Pen was right. Merkel rules France.

European Monotony (K.)

When Alexis Tsipras became prime minister in 2015 he raised the hopes of the radical left across Europe. But after six months, the turnaround of the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks coalition government was complete, as it adapted to the European order of things. The conclusion is that guerrilla talk is good for coffee shops and that politics and policy are formed and enforced elsewhere. One might say that this sort of situation is confined to decadent and incoherent Greece, or that it occurred because of leftist adventurism. But possibly not. Because we all saw what happened in France. It was basic restraint that saved all those who were not enthralled by the rise of the extreme right.

At the end of the day, the only thing that Marine Le Pen achieved was to secure a little more than a third of the support of French voters, doubling the percentage received by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002, and to lift the National Front from the fringe and turn it into a political force. But we have better things to preoccupy ourselves with. During the election campaign, Emmanuel Macron projected himself as someone who will save France from the specter of the far right, but also as someone who aimed to change the profile of Europe. And immediately after his election, he proposed a way out of Europe’s dead end, but that was immediately rejected by Germany.

Manfred Weber from Bavaria, who pummeled Tsipras in the European Parliament, said that Macron can talk about reforming Europe only when he has proved himself capable of implementing reforms in France. More condescendingly, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Macron’s proposals were impossible to implement. Given this, there is a danger that Le Pen will be vindicated in her prediction that if she was not elected president, then France would be run by another woman, Angela Merkel. The most likely outcome is that Macron will realize that talk of changing Europe is alright for the legendary La Rotonde brasserie in Paris’s 6th arrondissement, where he celebrated his victory in the first round of the elections. Something similar happened to Tsipras on the other side of the political spectrum. Because, at the moment, Europe is Germany and everyone else.

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High time for safe zones in Syria, Libya and beyond. But that would hurt arms sales.

Anxiety Mounts As Italy Moves To Get More Migrants Out (AFP)

Behind the high fences of the repatriation centre at Ponte Galeria, just down the road from Rome’s Fiumicino airport, dozens of women sit outside, waiting for word on whether they will have to leave Italy. But as the government steps up its efforts to send more migrants home, many who pinned their hopes on asylum appeals are growing increasingly worried. This week an official decree paved the way for the creation of 11 more repatriation centres capable of housing 1,600 people pending deportation, on top of the four currently in operation. At Ponte Galeria, in courtyards easily mistaken for cages, Khadigia Shabbi, 47, can barely hold back her tears. “Here we are dying,” the former Libyan university lecturer says. Arrested in Palermo at the end of 2015 and convicted of inciting terrorism, Shabbi protests her innocence and has requested asylum.

She is not alone. Half of the 63 women at Ponte Galeria, which AFP was able to visit, have made similar requests. Several are from Nigeria, having crossed Libya to reach Italy. But there are also Ukrainians and Chinese. The country is sheltering more than 176,000 asylum-seekers, with about 45,000 migrants arriving since January 1 – a 40% rise on the same period last year – and officials are bracing for another summer of record arrivals. To cope with the influx – and to deter others from coming – Interior Minister Marco Minniti pushed through parliament last month a plan to increase migrant housing and provide new resources for expelling those who have come only to seek work. The plan includes creating fast-track asylum appeal courts for the roughly 60% of migrants who have their initial requests denied, in order to reach a binding decision that gets them out of the country sooner.

Between January and April, Italy expelled 6,242 people who did not have the right to stay, an increase of 24% on the same period last year. But the figures include more than just people rescued from the overcrowded boats coming daily from Libya who have failed in their asylum requests. Many were sent home directly because of repatriation agreements, such as those with Tunisia, Egypt or Morocco, while others were expelled after overstaying their student or tourism visas. But despite Italy’s new efforts to deter migrant arrivals, many say they won’t give up trying. “If they expel me, I’ll come back afterwards. I say this honestly — there is nothing for me back there,” said one woman at Ponte Galeria.

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US pressure may be the only way out for Greece.

G7 Finance Chiefs Can’t Agree On Trade, So They Talk About Greece (BBG)

Group of Seven finance chiefs don’t see eye-to-eye on trade, so they’re reverting to a default issue in economic diplomacy: Greece. Officials arriving on Thursday for talks in the Southern Italian port of Bari – a crossroads of commerce for more than two millenia – downplayed any focus on their festering disagreement after two abortive Group of 20 discussions this year suggested the Trump administration won’t sign up to the long-existing global consensus on free trade. That leaves sideline talks on Greece as the most fruitful arena for talks for now. On Wednesday, a senior U.S. Treasury official said they are looking for Europe to take the lead in solving the country’s debt problem. Informal talks on Greece were held on Thursday night, according to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

His nation, together with Italy, France, the IMF and the ECB make up the so-called Washington Group. “Trade is explicitly off the table – they’re not going to clinch anything at all,” said Isabelle Mateos y Lago at BlackRock. But on Greece, “this is the right grouping within which to reach an agreement on some of the more political aspects.” Talks on easing Greece’s debt load have been picking up steam amid hopes of striking a deal later this month, with officials targeting the May 22 meeting in euro-area finance ministers in Brussels. Among the preferred options is the use of leftovers from the country’s latest euro-area-backed bailout to repay about €12.4 billion of IMF loans to Greece outstanding, according to EU officials. “We’ll carry on working on this debt relief package,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on Friday. “We certainly hope that the Europeans will be far more specific in terms of debt relief which is also an imperative.”

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That so-called ‘Growth’ is achieved because Greece raises taxes and cuts pensions for its poorest, and sells its assets for pennies on the drachma. But that is not growth. That is scorched earth.

Greek Economy to Grow Over 2% in 2017 – Economy and Development Minister (BBG)

Greece is confident that the country’s economic output will exceed 2% in 2017 boosted by investments, privatizations and exports, Economy and Development Minister Dimitri Papadimitriou said. This year will be “the year of real growth in Greece,” Papadimitriou said in a May 10 interview in Nicosia, Cyprus, at the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. With the exception of 2014, Greece’s economy shrank every year since 2008. The IMF in April cut its forecast for 2017 Greek economic growth to 2.2% from 2.8%. The European Commission revised earlier today its estimate for the Greek growth rate to 2.1% from 2.7%. Papadimitriou cited committed investments for 2017 of €300 million by Philip Morris International and €500 million by Hellenic Telecommunication as well as applications to make investments worth €1.9 billion following the introduction of new legislation that provides incentives to investors. He also highlighted higher industrial production, increased exports and a rise in employment.

Greece will also complete in 2017 an “ambitious” privatization program worth over €2 billion that mainly comprises regional airports, the country’s second-largest port of Thessaloniki, the national railroad operator Trainose and units of state-controlled Public Power Corp., the largest electricity supplier, Papadimitriou said. With almost one-quarter of Greeks without work in the fourth quarter of 2016, or 23.6%, the highest in the EU, Greece is targeting a fall in the unemployment rate by 2020/21 to the euro-area average of 12% through targeted programs for job creation, Papadimitriou said. The final conclusion of the review of Greece’s bailout program with the country’s international creditors will see the nation’s sovereign bonds included in the ECB’s asset purchase program that will mean Greece will be like “a normal country and every other member of the euro zone,” Papadimitriou said.

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Growth, you said? Both sides are making up numbers that suit their book. And in the end, Greece loses.

European Commission Slashes Greece’s Economic Forecasts (GR)

The European Commission forecast for Greece’s economic figures is not as optimistic as the one presented by Athens. Specifically, the European Commission sees growth of 2.1% of GDP in 2017 and 2.5% in 2018 (compared with 2.7% and 3.1% respectively as the Greek government projected). The government deficit is projected to fall to 1.2% of GDP in 2017 and to a surplus of 0.6% in 2018. In the Commission’s winter forecast, the deficit was slightly lower for 2017 (1.1%) and the surplus slightly higher for 2018 (0.7%). Regarding the sovereign debt, the forecasts for the decline of the state debt are also more conservative than the Commission’s winter forecasts.

It is estimated to drop from 179% of GDP in 2016 to 178.8% in 2017 (177.2% in winter forecasts) and 174.6% of GDP in 2018 (170.6% in winter forecasts). At the same time, unemployment numbers differ, as it is estimated that from 23.6% in 2016 it will fall to 22.8% in 2017 (compared with 22% in the winter forecasts) and 21.6% in 2018 (compared to 20.3% in winter forecasts). Inflation is expected to be 1.2% in 2017 and 1.1% in 2018. Finally, estimates of investment growth are also mitigated by lower growth. Specifically, investment growth is projected to increase by 6.3% in 2017 (compared with 12% in the winter forecasts) and 10.8% in 2018 (compared with 14.2% in winter forecasts).

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Schaeuble blames Greece for not exiting the Eurozone in 2015. Like the EU would have let them. The world on its head.

Schaeuble Says Greece Needs Reforms, Defends 2015 ‘Timeout’ Idea (K.)

Structural reforms are key to membership of the euro area, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has said while defending his 2015 offer of a Greek euro “timeout.” “If a country does not want to leave [the euro], then it has to make structural reforms – like Greece has,” Schaeuble said in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica published Thursday. “With the euro, the time is over when some countries could increase their competitiveness through currency devaluation. This is a political short-cut,” he said. Asked about his proposal for a temporary Greek exit from the eurozone, put forward in the dramatic summer of 2015, the German finance minister defended his idea. “You know what [Italian Economy Minister] Pier Carlo Padoan said in public: an overwhelming majority of finance ministers were convinced that it would be better if Greece were temporarily out of the euro,” Schaeuble said. “It was Greece that decided otherwise. We are now making an effort to make sure that the third aid package is a success,” he said.

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Remember 40% of Greek businesses don’t expect to survive 2017.

One In Six Greek Businesses Are Late Payers – Central Bank Chief (Amna)

About one in six businesses in Greece has the characteristics of a late payer, Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras said on Thursday, addressing an audience at the Federation of Industries of Northern Greece (FING) in Thessaloniki. Stournaras said it is urgent to address the problem of non-performing loans (NPLs), saying it should be a priority among the reforms discussed between Greece and its lenders, as it is a very significant obstacle to economic recovery. “This is the biggest challenge facing today, not just the banking system but the Greek economy,” he said, adding that according to a conservative estimate based on a sample of 13,000 businesses with loans over one million euros, an average of one in six has the characteristics of a bad payer.

He said there are indications that the analogy is significantly higher for smaller businesses and households. “But this will change in the immediate future with a series of initiatives that have already underway to address the aforementioned causes and which have hindered banks’ efforts to resolve the problem for years,” he said. Stournaras also expressed confidence that the approval of the prior actions by the parliament agreed during the second program review will open the way for the disbursement of the next loan tranche from the Eurogroup on May 22. “The financial markets are already expecting this result,” he said.

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“Somebody’s going to suffer. Should it the wealthy billionaires and the bankers, or should it be the Greek workers? Well, the Greek workers are not the IMF’s constituency.”

Somebody’s Going To Suffer: Greece’s New Austerity Measures (Michael Hudson)

Michael Hudson: I wouldn’t call it a negotiation. Greece is simply being dictated to. There is no negotiation at all. It’s been told that its economy has shrunk so far by 20%, but has to shrink another 5% making it even worse than the depression. Its wages have fallen and must be cut by another 10%. Its pensions have to be cut back. Probably 5 to 10% of its population of working age will have to immigrate. The intention is to cut the domestic tax revenues (not raise them), because labor won’t be paying taxes and businesses are going out of business. So we have to assume that the deliberate intention is to lower the government’s revenues by so much that Greece will have to sell off even more of its public domain to foreign creditors. Basically it’s a smash and grab exercise, and the role of Tsipras is not to represent the Greeks because the Troika have said, “The election doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what the people vote for. Either you do what we say or we will smash your banking system.” Tsipras’s job is to say, “Yes I will do whatever you want. I want to stay in power rather than falling in election.”

Sharmini Peries: Right. Michael you dedicated almost three chapters in your book “Killing the Host” to how the IMF jjunkeconeconomists actually knew that Greece will not be able to pay back its foreign debt, but yet it went ahead and made these huge loans to Greece. It’s starting to sound like the mortgage fraud scandal where banks were lending people money to buy houses when they knew they couldn’t pay it back. Is it similar?

Michael Hudson: The basic principle is indeed the same. If a creditor makes a loan to a country or a home buyer knowing that there’s no way in which the person can pay, who should bear the responsibility for this? Should the bad lender or irresponsible bondholder have to pay, or should the Greek people have to pay? IMF economists said that Greece can’t pay, and under the IMF rules it is not allowed to make loans to countries that have no chance of repaying in the foreseeable future. The then-head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, introduced a new rule – the “systemic problem” rule.

It said that if Greece doesn’t repay, this will cause problems for the economic system – defined as the international bankers, bondholder’s and European Union budget – then the IMF can make the loan. This poses a question on international law. If the problem is systemic, not Greek, and if it’s the system that’s being rescued, why should Greek workers have to dismantle their economy? Why should Greece, a sovereign nation, have to dismantle its economy in order to rescue a banking system that is guaranteed to continue to cause more and more austerity, guaranteed to turn the Eurozone into a dead zone? Why should Greece be blamed for the bad malstructured European rules? That’s the moral principle that’s at stake in all this.

[..] Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister under Syriza, said that every time he talked to the IMF’s Christine Lagarde and others two years ago, they were sympathetic. They said, “I am terribly sorry we have to destroy your economy. I feel your pain, but we are indeed going to destroy your economy. There is nothing we can do about it. We are only following orders.” The orders were coming from Wall Street, from the Eurozone and from investors who bought or guaranteed Greek bonds. Being sympathetic, feeling their pain doesn’t really mean anything if the IMF says, “Oh, we know it is a disaster. We are going to screw you anyway, because that’s our job. We are the IMF, after all. Our job is to impose austerity. Our job is to shrink economies, not help them grow. Our constituency is the bondholders and banks.” Somebody’s going to suffer. Should it the wealthy billionaires and the bankers, or should it be the Greek workers? Well, the Greek workers are not the IMF’s constituency. It says: “We feel your pain, but we’d rather you suffer than our constituency.”

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May 032017
 
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Leonardo da Vinci A Copse of Trees 1508

 

Trump: US “Needs A Good Shutdown In September To Fix This Mess” (ZH)
Home Capital Fails to Draw Buyout Interest From Canada Banks (BBG)
Hot Air Hisses Out of US Auto Bubble (WS)
May’s Election Fighting Talk Fuels Brexit War of Words With EU (BBG)
Le Pen Wants A French National Currency Within Two Years After Election (R.)
Macron Victory Could Mark The Start Of Political Upheaval For France (CNBC)
Italy Is Europe’s Next Big Problem (BBG)
Soros At it Again – Trying to Overthrow Polish Government? (Martin Armstrong)
In Tense Encounter, Merkel Tells Putin Sanctions Must Remain (BBG)
‘It’s Very Important We Hear What Putin Has To Say’ – Oliver Stone (RT)
Adults in the Room – One Of The Greatest Political Memoirs Ever (Mason)
Greece, Creditors To Discuss Options For Debt Restructuring (CNBC)
Greece Will Avoid Default After Bailout Deal – But Faces More Austerity (G.)
Greek Poverty Deepens During Seven Years Of Austerity (AP)

 

 

September’s a long way away.

Trump: US “Needs A Good Shutdown In September To Fix This Mess” (ZH)

With Congress poised this week to approve a deal to fund the government through September, the first major bipartisan legislation of Trump’s presidency, after lengthy negotiations (which have appeared to signal numerous ‘folds’ by President Trump), apparently frustrated by the lack of tryannical powers that a simple majority grants him, President Trump has lashed out this morning at disagreeable Democrats, and in particular Senate Democrats. As a reminder, the proposed government funding deal does not include funding for Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border or include language stripping federal money from so-called sanctuary cities, both of which the White House demanded at the outset of negotiations. In fact, as we reported yesterday, the bill has been seen widely as a victory for Democrats, something which has been panned by the conservative press.

While the White House also backed off a threat to withhold ObamaCare subsidy payments to insurance companies, Trump did secure increased military spending in the 2017 budget deal. According to the Hill, the comments are likely irk top Republican lawmakers, who have been frustrated by Trump’s repeated attempts to intervene in the legislative process. The businessman-turned-president, in turn, has vented frustration with the slow pace of work on Capitol Hill. “I’m disappointed that it doesn’t go quicker,” Trump told Fox News last week when asked about the Republican effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare. Commenting on Trump’s tweets, Citi asks rhetorically whether “this could be a case of cutting one’s nose to spit one’s face? – Potentially problematic when the nose in question is attached to the current administration… It seems counterintuitive that a sitting president would want a shutdown, unless he was to blame it on the opposition in order to force through reform/encourage a voter backlash.”

Bloomberg reports that “The message appeared to encourage the Republican-controlled Senate to change rules that now require 60 votes to end a filibuster of legislation. Republicans reduced the threshold to 51 votes for Supreme Court nominees this year and could do the same for legislation with a simple majority vote.” USD does not seem to have reacted to the President’s tweet (it can’t every time, after all), which may just be more political manoeuvring rather than a signal of intent. In any case, we’re not so sure there is such a thing as a “good” shutdown of the US government – and with what will be over $20 trillion in debt and a declining GDP by that time, one wonders which ratings agency will have the balls to downgrade the world’s reserve currency this time?

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“Someone will buy it for a dollar because they want to get the loan book [..] it goes for a lot less than it’s trading at today.”

Home Capital Fails to Draw Buyout Interest From Canada Banks (BBG)

Canadian banks and financial firms are so far showing little interest in buying Home Capital, vindicating short-sellers who say the embattled mortgage lender could be sold off piecemeal, driving the stock down further. “People in the industry would rather see these guys go out of business because the loans aren’t worth the risk, and they’re so leveraged,” said Marc Cohodes, a private investor and part-time chicken farmer in California who has been shorting the stock, or betting on declines, for more than two years. Home Capital’s rival Equitable joined a list of companies that have said they aren’t interested in taking over the struggling mortgage lender, which hired investment banks last week for a possible sale after the stock plunged by two-thirds amid a regulatory probe.

“The bottom line is no,” Equitable Chief Executive Officer Andrew Moor said on Monday. “We have some concerns based on what we’ve read about how they underwrote their loans and their internal controls.” Other banks have indicated that they aren’t interested. Canadian Western Bank CEO Chris Fowler said his Edmonton, Alberta-based lender, which has an alternative mortgage business, would not be a buyer for all of Home Capital. He added the bank will consider “selectively” acquiring loan portfolios. A Laurentian Bank of Canada spokeswoman said that for the lender to be interested in an acquisition it needs to be financially sound and a good strategic fit. Laurentian is active in the alternative lending space.

Canada’s biggest commercial banks, meanwhile, are unlikely to be interested because Home Capital’s mortgages are with customers who wouldn’t qualify for a loan with them, said Sumit Malhotra, an analyst at Bank of Nova Scotia, in a research note. They might be interested in the loan book, he added. [,,] Other short sellers agree with Cohodes. Jerome Hass at Lightwater in Toronto, said he wonders why anybody would buy Home Capital when they could just pick up the mortgages. “It’s got all this litigation against it, it’s going to have all these liabilities against it, so why not just take their loan book off their hands?” Hass said in an interview. “Someone will buy it for a dollar because they want to get the loan book, but I don’t see it going for much, and it goes for a lot less than it’s trading at today.”

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No purchasing power.

Hot Air Hisses out of US Auto Bubble (WS)

A 4.7% drop in sales, bad as it is, wouldn’t qualify for #carmageddon. These things happen. But here’s the thing: Automakers had shelled out $3,465 in incentives per new vehicle sold, on average, according to TrueCar estimates. A record for the month of April. It beat the prior record of $3,393, set in April 2009. It amounts to about 10% of suggested retail price, similar to March. The last period when incentive spending was at this level of MSRP was in 2009 as the industry and sales were collapsing. The #carmageddon point to watch: despite the 13.4% year-over-year surge in incentive spending to nearly $5 billion, total vehicle sales fell 4.7%! When these massive incentives fail to even slow the sales decline, serious problems lurk beneath the surface. This table shows the largest automakers, their year-over-year sales performance – the sea of red ink – along with average per-unit incentive spending and total incentive spending:

GM shelled out the most incentives on average per vehicle, in total $1.23 billion. In March, it had spent about $1.3 billion. At this rate, GM is spending just under $4 billion per quarter in incentives. By comparison, in its Q1 earnings, GM reported “North America” revenue of $29.3 billion. At this rate, it is spending about 13% of its North American revenues on US incentives. But it’s just not working out. Total sales dropped nearly 5.9%, to 244,200 units, with car sales plunging 12.5% and even truck sales falling 3.2%. A gruesome detail: Silverado-C/K pickup sales plunged 20% to 40,154 units. Total retail sales (not including fleet sales) fell 4% to 191,911 vehicles. GM ended the month with 100 days’ supply, up from the nail-biter level of 98 days at the end of March.

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The UK is so divided along multiple fault lines that May has nothing, unless she’s prepared to walk away.

May’s Election Fighting Talk Fuels Brexit War of Words With EU (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May vowed she won’t be pushed around in Brexit talks with the European Union as her war of words with Brussels escalates before negotiations even begin. The premier said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is learning she can be “bloody difficult” after leaked details of a dinner meeting between the leaders alleged he was shocked by her approach to negotiating Brexit. May won a measure of support from several European government officials, who distanced themselves from Juncker’s apparent skepticism about the chances of a Brexit deal. The row blew up after details of the allegedly disastrous meal Juncker attended at May’s London residence last week were reported by a German newspaper.

“What we’ve seen recently is that at times these negotiations are going to be tough,” May told BBC television in an interview Tuesday. “During the Conservative Party leadership campaign, I was described by one of my colleagues as a bloody difficult woman. And I said at the time the next person to find that out will be Jean-Claude Juncker.” The clash between London and the European Commission comes as May seeks re-election on June 8 in a campaign defined by Brexit, and the argument won’t necessarily hurt her chances. While EU officials are concerned about such a public dispute ahead of negotiations, it could help May’s Tories convince voters the U.K. needs what she calls her “strong and stable leadership” for the Brexit talks.

May claims her main rival for power, opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, would be too “weak” to succeed at the negotiating table. Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper said on Sunday that Juncker left a dinner on April 26 “10 times more skeptical” of reaching a Brexit deal. In her interview on the campaign trail, May told the BBC she hopes to agree an accord that works for the U.K. and the EU, saying there’s “a lot of similarity” between her proposals and the bloc’s negotiating guidelines.

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Can a national currency exist alongside a European one?

Le Pen Wants A French National Currency Within Two Years After Election (R.)

Far-right presidential challenger Marine Le Pen said capital controls could be used if she won the election and there was a run on banks as she negotiated France’s exit from the European Union, but stressed they were unlikely to be needed. In an interview with Reuters ahead of Sunday’s decisive second round, Le Pen reaffirmed she wanted to take France out of the euro and said she hoped the French people would have a national currency in their pockets within two years. Le Pen said she wanted to replace the EU single currency with another, looser type of cooperation in the form of the ECU basket of currencies that preceded the euro. That would exist alongside a national currency.

“The objective is to transform the euro ‘single currency’ into a euro ‘common currency’, going back to the ancestor of the euro, the ECU, which was an accounting unit that did not stop each country from having each its own currency,” Le Pen said. Calling the euro a deadweight on the French economy, the National Front candidate said a new national currency would better protect French people’s savings. She accused the “establishment” of wanting to “frighten” voters into thinking otherwise. “I am convinced there won’t be any banking crisis,” Le Pen said when asked if French negotiations to quit the EU could trigger a run on French banks.

Asked if she would impose capital controls if savers nevertheless did rush to take their money out of banks, she said: “If there’s a run on banks, we could very well imagine such a solution for a few days, but I’m telling you it won’t happen.” Le Pen said she would launch negotiations over reforms of the EU immediately after winning, saying this would allow France to regain national sovereignty. The talks would include ditching the euro as well as regaining control of France’s borders and being able to decide French legislation alone, she said. Those negotiations could last six to eight months, she said, after which France would hold a referendum on its EU membership.

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Whatever happens in Sunday’s 2nd round, a mess is certain.

Macron Victory Could Mark The Start Of Political Upheaval For France (CNBC)

France’s political course is likely to remain far from certain even with a win for presumed victor Emmanuel Macron, as his inability to form a parliamentary majority threatens to undermine his authority both domestically and across Europe, political analysts have suggested. Sunday’s second round runoff will mark the start of a period of tension for the country as the successful candidate waits to see if they can garner a large enough parliamentary majority in June’s legislative election to enact change, Dominique Reynié, professor of political science at the Sciences Po institute in Paris, told CNBC Tuesday. “I’m not worried about Macron’s ability to win, but the question surrounds what kind of turnout he will achieve and what his ability to gain a majority in the June election will be,” explained Reynié.

Polls are currently pitching centrist Macron to gain anywhere from a 59% to a 64% lead on his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen. However, this lead will do little to boost Macron’s authority in government, Reynié suggests. The independent will have to gain significant support from other parties if he is to form a majority when France once again heads to the polls on June 11 and June 18 to elect the 577 members of its National Assembly. “It will all depend on his margin of victory. A 55 to 45% win for Macron would be a disaster. Even 60 to 40 is not at all a triumph; a 20% margin would be very difficult. “It would be a crisis. It is not normal and would be a problem both on the streets of France and for Europe,” said Reynié.

In the first round of voting, Macron’s En Marche!, or Onwards! party, achieved a majority in 240 constituencies versus Le Pen’s 216. However, Reynié says this is simply not enough. “The smaller Macron’s majority the harder it will be for him to win the general election in June. He needs support; it is not possible to have power as President without support. “This could cause parliament to be largely fragmented like in the first round, with discussions taking place in fractured groups. Macron will have to negotiate with MPs and will be fragile and unpopular.”

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Has been for years.

Italy Is Europe’s Next Big Problem (BBG)

Emmanuel Macron looks on course to become France’s new president, ending the threat of a euroskeptic at the Elysee. Even if Macron wins, though, it’ll be too soon to celebrate a new phase of stability in the euro zone. Across the Alps, an economic and political storm is brewing – and there’s no sign anyone can stop it. Italy’s economic problems are in many ways worse than France’s. Public debt stands at nearly 133% of gross domestic product; in France, it’s 96%. The last time Italy grew faster than France was in 1995. Both countries have struggled to stay competitive internationally – but French productivity has risen by roughly 15% since 2001, whereas Italy’s has stagnated.

Meanwhile Italian politics goes from bad to worse. The Five Star Movement, a populist force that wants to hold a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro system, is riding high in the polls and currently neck and neck with the center-left Democratic Party. The general election, scheduled for next spring, is unlikely to produce a clear winner – and there’s even a small chance it may result in a Eurosceptic government, if the Five Stars were to win enough votes and form an alliance with the fiercely anti-euro Northern League. Europhiles in Italy are busily looking for an Italian Macron – someone who could offer a liberal remedy for Italy’s economic woes while fighting off the threat of “It-exit.” Investors would like that. In the autumn, the European Central Bank looks set to slow its purchases of government debt. The prospect of political instability in Rome could spook investors, raising doubts over the sustainability of Italy’s debt.

In many ways, Matteo Renzi, Italy’s former prime minister, who resigned after a heavy defeat in December’s constitutional referendum, would be the obvious choice. At 42, he is only three years older than Macron. He too has sought to modernize the left, even though he preferred to climb through the ranks of his party, rather than set up a new one as Macron did. The trouble is that Renzi looks increasingly like a spent force. He has just obtained a fresh mandate as party leader, but many Italians doubt his promises because he reneged on a pledge to quit politics if he lost the referendum. His message has also become muddled. He claims to be pro-EU, but never misses a chance to bash Brussels – for imposing fiscal austerity, especially. Why should voters opt for Renzi’s half-hearted euroskepticism when they can have the real thing?

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“Money does not give you the right to fund revolutions to recast the world in your image.”

Soros At it Again – Trying to Overthrow Polish Government? (Martin Armstrong)

QUESTION: Mr. Armstrong, I attended your March 1999 conference in Tokyo when I worked for ___ bank. I remember you called out Soros and crew and said they were trying to manipulate the yen for fiscal year end. You warned the Japanese how to defeat the Club. If I remember, he and his crew lost $1 billion when everyone in Tokyo followed your advice. Many assumed what they did to you 6 months later was retribution. Now he is at it in Poland funneling money he made from such trading in through Norway to create political unrest. What is it with this guy? Why does he play God?

ANSWER: Oh yes. I remember that event very clearly. That’s why they started calling me Mr. Yen because it was me and our clients against the Club and the Club lost. They were trying to push the yen down for the fiscal year-end roll of March 31st and then run it up into April 1st. They had our clients lock it in and that forced the manipulators out. That was a wild day – 3 big figures in a single day in an outside-reversal was a big move back then. I know the rumor was that Soros was in on that and the Club lost $1 billion. Not sure how much they lost on that one. It was the good-old fun days of confrontations. The Polish government wants to stop the distribution of Norwegian money flowing into Poland coming from Soros’ funded Batory Foundation, which manages over 800 million euros with a target of overthrowing the Polish government by 2020.

Since 2014, the Batory Foundation has distributed some 130 million zlotys (around 31.7 million euros) to various associations and organizations within Poland to change the government. According to Bloomberg, this includes organizations for the promotion of parliamentary democracy , but only if it agrees with Soros agenda. Effectively, Soros is trying to defeat ‘Catholic values’ in Poland which are supported by the population and government. [..] Soros has publicly stated he does not believe in God. Many who worked for him said they think he believes he is a god with the right to reshape the world in his image. So have many throughout history and they are responsible for the murder of countless millions. Money does not give you the right to fund revolutions to recast the world in your image.

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Merkel knows Putin can’t give in on Ukraine. Useless rhetoric.

In Tense Encounter, Merkel Tells Putin Sanctions Must Remain (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told President Vladimir Putin that EU sanctions will have to remain on Russia as the two leaders clashed over Ukraine, human rights and election meddling at a chilly encounter in the Black Sea city of Sochi. Addressing a joint press conference with Putin after about two hours of talks on Tuesday, Merkel raised concerns about the rights of homosexuals in Chechnya and Russia’s role in the war in Syria. She devoted much of her time to the lack of progress in resolving the three-year-old conflict in Ukraine. While Putin sought to lay the blame on the Ukrainian government, the chancellor said that a cease-fire is required as part of the “arduous” so-called Minsk process for restoring peace in eastern Ukraine and appealed to him to make it happen.

“My goal remains to get to the point where we can lift EU sanctions, but there’s a link here,” Merkel told reporters on her first visit to Russia since May 2015. The peace process is “moving very slowly, we only make progress in small steps and constantly have setbacks.” Merkel, who met with President Donald Trump at the White House in March, is visiting Putin in her capacity as holder of the presidency of the Group of 20 nations. As well as Ukraine, Merkel and Putin discussed the civil war in Syria and the G-20 summit in Hamburg in July, when the Russian and U.S. presidents are scheduled to meet for the first time. Ukraine was the main flashpoint, with Putin reiterating his stance that the Russian-backed breakaway regions in southeastern Ukraine split off because of a “coup d’etat, an unconstitutional change of power in Kiev.”

Merkel noted the two leaders’ “different opinions” about the origins of the conflict in Ukraine, which spiraled after protests over a scrapped accord with the EU triggered the downfall of the Russian-backed government in 2014. “We don’t share this view,” Merkel said in the briefing, which dispensed with the usual pleasantries or leaders’ banter. “We think that the Ukrainian government came to power through democratic means.” Although she’s among Putin’s sternest critics, Merkel has sought to keep a channel open to the Russian leader even as she holds the line on EU sanctions, which are a response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and backing for Ukrainian separatists. Hours before Putin was scheduled to speak by phone with Trump on Tuesday, he responded again to allegations of electoral interference, saying “we never interfere in the political life of other countries.”

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There are people with less bias on Putin. Just not in US or EU politics.

‘It’s Very Important We Hear What Putin Has To Say’ – Oliver Stone (RT)

The man behind three films about American presidents, Oliver Stone, says his upcoming feature about Russian President Vladimir Putin “opens up a whole viewpoint that we as Americans haven’t heard,” and could help prevent “a dangerous situation – on the brink of war.” Academy Award-winning director and revered documentary filmmaker Stone said in interview with the Sydney Morning Herald that his new film about Putin will be released soon. “It’s not a documentary as much as a question and answer session,” he said. “Mr. Putin is one of the most important leaders in the world and in so far as the United States has declared him an enemy – a great enemy – I think it’s very important we hear what he has to say.” The film will present Putin’s viewpoint of political events since he was first elected president of Russia in March 2000.

“It opens up a whole viewpoint that we as Americans haven’t heard,” Stone told the newspaper, adding that his crew went to see the indefatigable Russian leader four times over the course of two years. “I talked to him originally about the Snowden affair, which is in the film. And out of that grew, I think, a trust that he knew that I would not edit it so much,” he said, adding that Putin “talks pretty straight.” “I think we did him the justice of putting [his comments] into a Western narrative that could explain their viewpoint in the hopes that it will prevent continued misunderstanding and a dangerous situation – on the brink of war.” The 70-year-old director also commented the accusations of Russian influence on the US presidential elections.

“That’s a path that leads nowhere to my mind. That’s an internal war of politics in the US in which the Democratic Party has taken a suicide pact or something to blow him up; in other words, to completely de-legitimize him and in so doing blow up the US essentially. “What they’re doing is destroying the trust that exists between people and government. It’s a very dangerous position to make accusations you cannot prove,” he added. Stone also said he does not believe claims circulating in the mainstream media that Moscow allegedly passed some classified documents to WikiLeaks in a bid to influence the November US elections. “I hold Assange [WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange] in high regard in many issues of state. I take very seriously his statement that he received no information from Russia or any state actors,” Stone said.

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“.. it is French and German taxpayers who will pay the price when the Greek debt is inevitably written off.”

I should get the book later this week.

Adults in the Room – One Of The Greatest Political Memoirs Ever (Mason)

Varoufakis began on the outside – both of elite politics and the Greek far left – swerved to the inside, and then abruptly abandoned it, after he was sacked by his former ally, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, in July 2015. He dramatises his intent throughout the crisis with a telling anecdote. He’s in Washington for a meeting with Larry Summers, the former US treasury secretary and Obama confidant. Summers asks him point blank: do you want to be on the inside or the outside? “Outsiders prioritise their freedom to speak their version of the truth. The price is that they are ignored by the insiders, who make the important decisions,” Summers warns. Elected politicians have little power; Wall Street and a network of hedge funds, billionaires and media owners have the real power, and the art of being in politics is to recognise this as a fact of life and achieve what you can without disrupting the system.

That was the offer. Varoufakis not only rejected it – by describing it in frank detail now, he is arming us against the stupidity of the left’s occasional fantasies that the system built by neoliberalism can somehow bend or compromise to our desire for social justice. In this book, then, Varoufakis gives one of the most accurate and detailed descriptions of modern power ever written – an achievement that outweighs his desire for self-justification during the Greek crisis. He explains, with a weariness born of nights in soulless hotels and harsh-lit briefing rooms, how the modern power network is built. Aris gets a loan from Zorba’s bank; Zorba writes off the loan but Zorba’s construction company gets a contract from Aris’s ministry. Aris’s son gets a job at Zorba’s TV station, which for some reason is always bankrupt and so can never pay tax – and so on.

“The key to such power networks is exclusion and opacity,” Varoufakis writes. As sensitive information is bartered, “two-person alliances forge links with other such alliances … involving conspirators who conspire de facto without being conscious conspirators”. In the process of telling this story, Varoufakis not only spills the beans but beans of the kind the Greeks call gigantes – fat ones, full of juice. The first revelation is that not only was Greece bankrupt in 2010 when the EU bailed it out, and that the bailout was designed to save the French and German banks, but that Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy knew this; and they knew it would be a disaster.

This charge is not new – it was levelled at the financial elite at the time by leftwing activists and rightwing economists. But Varoufakis substantiates it with quotes – some gleaned from the tapes of conversations and phone calls he was, unbeknown to the participants, making at the time. Even now, two years after the last Greek election, this is of more than academic interest. Greece remains burdened by billions of euros of debt it cannot pay. Because of the actions taken in 2010-11 – saving private banks by saddling north European states with massive debts – it is French and German taxpayers who will pay the price when the Greek debt is inevitably written off.

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Not going to happen until after the German fall election.

Greece, Creditors To Discuss Options For Debt Restructuring (CNBC)

Greece and its creditors are expected to discuss ways to restructure the country’s debt ahead of a meeting of euro zone finance ministers on May 22, a European official told CNBC on Tuesday. Athens agreed on Tuesday to introduce new laws on labor, energy reforms, pension cuts, and tax rises. This paves the way for a fresh disbursement of money from creditors in mid-June, but above all it allows Greece, its European creditors, and the IMF to consider how they will restructure the country’s debt. A European official who follows the bailout talks told CNBC that there isn’t a specific date for a solution to Greece’s debt but the first discussions on this issue will start soon. “From now until the Eurogroup meeting of May 22 there will be discussions to consider options for debt relief,” the official said.

Greece has to legislate the new reforms within two weeks. However, these new laws won’t take effect until 2019 and 2020 and will be dependent on the country’s economic performance. For example, among the new measures is the promise to cut pensions in 2019 and cut the tax-free threshold in 2020 to produce savings worth 2% of GDP. But if Athens exceeds its targets, it is allowed to offset the austerity measures and reduce taxes. During the first stages of talks on debt restructuring, the European Stability Mechanism, which is the euro zone’s permanent bailout fund, will produce a new debt sustainability analysis. Current economic forecasts indicate that Greece’s public debt stood at about 180% of GDP in 2016. The IMF will also be doing its debt sustainability analysis to include the recently-agreed measures.

The Fund wants an agreement on measures to make Greece’s debt more sustainable before deciding whether it is participating with its own money in the Greek bailout program. Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, spokesperson to the Greek government told reporters last month, that the IMF will make a “small” funding contribution that will not last for more than one year, so it ends at the same time as the current European program, which runs out in August of 2018. The IMF’s participation in the third bailout program to Greece is key for many euro countries, which perceive the fund’s involvement as giving credibility to the reform process in Greece. One of these countries is Germany, but the upcoming federal election might reduce Berlin’s room to restructure Greece’s debt.

“We will get some IMF participation, but no significant number,” Johannes Mayr, head of economic research at Bayern LB ,told CNBC via email. On the debt issue, “we need a compromise between the IMF and the EU/ESM (European Stability Mechanism), he said, “and this is realistic only after the German elections.” Neil Dwane, global strategist at Allianz Global Investors, added: “National governments, like Germany, would lose popularity if they wrote off Greek debt.” “I would expect more extend and pretend from the EU and the IMF,” he said via email.

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No Greek default, but nothing else either: again, until after the German fall election. And even then.

Greece Will Avoid Default After Bailout Deal – But Faces More Austerity (G.)

The long road to Greece emerging from its worst financial crisis in modern times reached another milestone on Tuesday as the country concluded a crucial compliance review that will allow it to avert default in July. At the cost of yet more painful austerity – in the form of extra pension cuts and tax increases – international creditors agreed to disburse €7.5bn (£6.3bn) in emergency loans to enable Athens to honour maturing debt repayments. More importantly, lenders accepted to set talks in motion on making Greece’s debt mountain more manageable – vital if the country is to gain access to the capital markets from which it has been almost completely exiled since 2009. [..] The deal ends more than six months of intense wrangling over the fiscal and structural reforms that Athens must implement in exchange for loans from its third, €86bn bailout programme.

Although the programme was outlined in 2015 when Greece came closest to crashing out of the eurozone and reverting to the drachma, the conditions attached to the lifeline remained open to negotiation. Discord most recently had focused on labour reforms and pensions – two issues that Tsakalotos, a British-trained Marxist economics professor, had felt especially strongly about. Under the agreement, the leftist-led government undertook to further slash pensions by 18% as of 2019. Pension payments have now been reduced 12 times since the start of the crisis, and cut by 40% in the past six years. With poorer out-of-work families often depending on them, news of a further drop was met with fury by union leaders, who immediately announced industrial action.

The two-party coalition led by the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, also agreed to broaden the tax-free threshold by effectively dispensing with tax breaks as of 2020. Both measures are expected to produce savings worth €3.6bn or 2% of GDP. “It will be a very hot spring,” Odysseus Trivalas, acting president of the union of public sector employees, told the Guardian. “We have yet to see the details of this agreement but what we know is that it will mean further cuts. There will be a lot of strikes and a general 24-hour lockdown when the measures are brought to parliament for vote.”

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“On a corner of Monastiraki Square full of tourists and passers-by, a group of volunteers from the soup kitchen O Allos Anthropos (The Fellow Man) cook chicken with rice. In less than 20 minutes, 230 hot meals are delivered to people who waited more than an hour to get them.”

Greek Poverty Deepens During Seven Years Of Austerity (AP)

Over the past seven years, austerity has left visible scars in Greece’s capital. A walk around Athens reveals more homeless people than ever despite some signs of a rosier economic outlook. Thousands of shops, mostly small businesses, are shuttered here and across the country. In what used to be a busy shopping arcade, closed stores are padlocked against a backdrop of hanging Greek flags. Whole families can be seen lining up for free meals at a growing number of soup kitchens. “Every day we feed 400 to 500 people, and this number has increased even more in the past two years,” says Evangelia Konsta, organizer and sponsor of the meals offered by the Church of Greece in a run-down neighborhood in central Athens.

Yesterday, IMF and European negotiators bailout negotiators reached an agreement with Greece’s government to continue rescue funding in return for a painful new round of cuts and higher taxes over the next three years. High unemployment and a steady decline of living standards for most Greeks for seven consecutive years have had lasting effects. Greece has survived on international rescue loans since 2010, granted by the IMF and other countries using the euro currency in exchange for drastic cuts in public spending and benefits. Greece is now in its third bailout. A few steps away from the Church-run soup kitchen is a homeless shelter also run by the Church. Guests in its tiny rooms include one family with their young children and a retired nurse suffering from cancer who is still waiting to get her pension application approved.

Another shelter, the “Shelter of Love and Solidarity,” has a great view of the ancient Acropolis that’s barely noticed by the hundreds of homeless and poor who come twice a week to wash their clothes and take a hot bath. “The shelter is the best option for us because the government doesn’t really do anything for us,” says Ilias Kosmidis, 38, who has been sleeping on the street for the past two years. While waiting to wash their clothes, people at the shelter have developed friendships, and catch up on the news, including the French presidential election. Sofia Vitalaki and her husband Costas, both retired civil servants, have run the shelter since 1991. “It’s not just the food,” she says. “Most people want their dignity back and here we try to support them.”

On a corner of Monastiraki Square full of tourists and passers-by, a group of volunteers from the soup kitchen O Allos Anthropos (The Fellow Man) cook chicken with rice. In less than 20 minutes, 230 hot meals are delivered to people who waited more than an hour to get them. At the end of every month, it’s become a familiar sight outside banks: pensioners waiting in huge lines to collect their monthly checks. Few know how to use ATMs. While in line, they fret over how to make ends meet after years of cuts to their earnings, worrying about more austerity being planned. They won’t have long to wait till the next round of cuts. The government on Tuesday finalized its agreement with bailout lenders to ax pensions further, starting on January 1, 2019.

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