Jun 192017
 
 June 19, 2017  Posted by at 9:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Kandinsky Capricious Line 1924

 

Britain’s Brexit jam is Brussels’ Too (Pol.eu)
EU Leaders Fear Fragile State Of Tories Will Lead To Brutal Brexit (G.)
Pain Without Gain: The Truth About British Austerity (G.)
France Gives Macron Big Majority With Little Enthusiasm (EUO)
German Politicians Hammer the ECB, But Only to Get Votes (DQ)
Central Bank Liquidity Is The ‘IV Drip’ Of The Rally (CNBC)
Mueller Has “Not Yet” Decided Whether To Investigate Trump (ZH)
Cold War Deja Vu Deepens as New Russia Sanctions Anger Europe (BBG)
Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road (Grant)
Australia Has The World’s Most Costly Energy Bills (MB)
Australia’s Haunted Housing Market (BW)
Greece Blocks EU Statement On China Human Rights At UN (R.)
Greece Cracks Down On Voucher Misuse By Employers (EurActiv)
Greek Summer Calm Before The Storm (K.)

 

 

The Brexit talks start today. They should not. Theresa May can start, but she won’t be there to finish them.

Britain’s Brexit jam is Brussels’ Too (Pol.eu)

As Brexit talks start Monday, Britain’s back is hard against a wall. And nobody, not even in Brussels, wanted it that way. Elections in the U.K. were supposed to give Prime Minister Theresa May a stronger hand against the EU and naysayers back home. Instead, her negotiating team will hobble into the talks with May in peril, still working to finalize a power-sharing agreement to allow her to form a minority government. The EU’s stance on major Brexit issues has been ironclad for months, backed by the 27 nations in a disciplined display of unity. Second-guessing about May’s approach has intensified since her election setback, so much so that there have been calls for the EU to avert potential disaster by laying out clear paths for the U.K.’s exit.

The view in Brussels, however, is there is no way to help May short of making clear that Britain is welcome to change its mind — a point reiterated by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, among others. While no one realistically expects such a total reversal, there is unease over the lack of clarity on the U.K.’s goals. “Clearly the Brits are not ready yet and it’s a pity,” a senior Commission official said. “Everybody has sympathy for [May] now because she put herself in an impossible situation,” the official said. “How we can help her? Where she is now, nobody can help her. What she said to the backbenchers, in a way made sense, ‘I put you in this mess. I will take you out of this mess.’ But who else can do anything for her? It’s just hell.”

“And all the questions,” the official added, “Withdrawal? No withdrawal? Now? Later? It’s for them to consider. What can Brussels say?” The EU has published and transmitted to the U.K. its position papers on the two issues Brussels insists take precedence: citizens’ rights and the financial settlement. May’s aides said she wanted to make a “big, generous” offer on citizens’ rights, but so far the U.K. has not published any similar documents laying out its positions.

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Brussels wants an orderly destruction of Britain, not a messy one.

EU Leaders Fear Fragile State Of Tories Will Lead To Brutal Brexit (G.)

European leaders fear that Theresa May’s government is too fragile to negotiate viable terms on which to leave the union, meaning the discussions that officially begin on Monday could end in a “brutal Brexit” – under which talks collapse without any deal. As officials began gathering in Brussels on Sunday night, the long-awaited start of negotiations was overshadowed by political chaos back in Westminster, where chancellor Philip Hammond warned that failing to strike a deal would be “a very, very bad outcome”. The EU side fears that, in reality, the British government will struggle to maintain any position without falling apart in the coming months, because, without support from the Democratic Unionist party, May’s negotiating hand is limited. There are also concerns that any DUP backing to give May a majority in the House of Commons would come with strings attached.

Hammond has been urged to publish the cost of any deals made with the DUP to prop up the government. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has raised concerns over reports that the DUP wants to end airport tax on visitors to Northern Ireland, which generated about £90m in 2015/16, according to HMRC estimates. The abolition of air passenger duty is one of the DUP’s key demands, as it pits Northern Ireland unfavourably against the Republic of Ireland, where the duty has been abolished. As well as concern over any terms agreed with the DUP, May will have to assuage fears from Ireland’s new taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, when she meets him in Downing Street on Monday, that Brexit will not infringe on the rights of people in Ireland. The taoiseach will also raise the impact of any Tory-DUP deal on power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

The prime minister has said she is confident of getting the Queen’s speech through the Commons, regardless of whether a deal is reached with the DUP by the time of the state opening of parliament on Wednesday. British Brexit negotiators are hoping to shore up confidence in their hardline approach to the start of talks by making early progress on the vexed question of citizens’ rights. [..] Pierre Vimont, a veteran French diplomat, now at the Carnegie Europe thinktank, said lack of clarity did not matter for the opening, which was more about “a first glimpse into their overall attitude and position” and setting the tone. “It will be atmospherics and the way both sides show a genuine commitment to work ahead. I think that will be the most important. “But the British delegation will need to rather quickly put its house in order and to have a clear idea of where it wants to go.”

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We’ve seen that truth in Grenfell Tower.

Pain Without Gain: The Truth About British Austerity (G.)

There are few people in the developed world who still cling to the maxim that “home life ceases to be free and beautiful as soon as it is founded on borrowing and debt”. hese days we can’t afford to take the same view as Helmer, the husband in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, one of literature’s most cautious budgeters. It’s a nice idea to be free of debt and just spend what you earn. But when a home costs many times the average annual income and life’s running costs often exceed the monthly income, borrowing is not something that can be avoided. The government knows this only too well. This week sees publication of the public borrowing total for May and it is not expected to make pleasant reading.

Together with April’s shocker, when government borrowing was higher than the same month last year, the first two months of this financial year are forecast to show the borrowing requirement for the year is on track to be higher, not lower than last year. When David Cameron and George Osborne were in Downing Street, bringing down the deficit was the main aim of domestic policy. Until just last year, the plan was to cut the deficit to zero by 2020 and start bringing down the debt-to-GDP ratio from this year. The EU referendum vote and Theresa May’s arrival at No 10 changed all that. Once she adopted a hard-Brexit stance, the economy began to turn. Her chancellor, Philip Hammond, was forced to loosen the purse strings. It meant that both of the main political parties went into the election with plans for the deficit to remain at about 2.5%.

Independent forecasts for GDP growth over the next five years are below this figure, meaning that far from cutting the overall debt-to-GDP ratio, both parties were content to push it towards 90% – higher than any government has experienced in 50 years. That’s why so many headlines after the election have declared austerity dead and why the deficit was the dog that didn’t bark when the electorate went to the polls. The pressure on the deficit has only worsened since then. It has become clear to many of May’s advisers and close colleagues that the Tory party might not survive a second election this year without stealing some of Labour’s clothes. There is the possibility she will sanction scrapping, or dramatically reducing tuition fees, to nullify one of Labour’s most popular pledges.

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, hinted that the cap on nurses’ pay might be relaxed, while local authority spending may need to increase after the Grenfell Tower fire. Meanwhile, household debts are on the increase. Credit card, car loan and student debt, and borrowing using that most pernicious of loans, the second mortgage, have all risen sharply in the last couple of years. Making matters worse, the proportion of savings in the economy is at rock-bottom levels. It all adds up to an economy running on empty, with everyone, including ministers, borrowing extra each year just to keep the wheels turning.

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Macron won, but his majority is nowhere near as big as predicted. He was expected to get well over 400 seats, and ended up with 308. See the graphs. Next, he’ll be up against the unions. He’s promised to fire 120,000 public workers. Good luck.

France Gives Macron Big Majority With Little Enthusiasm (EUO)

French president Emmanuel Macron won a three-fifth majority in the lower house in the second round of the legislative elections on Sunday (18 June), but less than half of voters cast a ballot. Macron’s political movement, La Republique en Marche (LRM, The Republic on the Move) won 308 seats in the National Assembly, out of 577, after obtaining 43.06% of the vote. Its centrist ally, the Modem party, got 40 seats (6%). While not as big as expected after the first round, LRM’s majority left other parties behind and completed Macron’s destruction of the old political landscape. The conservative Republicans party will be the main opposition faction, with 113 seats (22.2%), down from 192 in the outgoing assembly.

The party leader, Francois Baroin, said he was happy that the Republicans will be “big enough” to “make its differences with LRM heard”. The Socialist Party (PS), which had been the main party with 270 MPs, was left with 29 seats (5.68%). Several ministers who served under former socialist president Francois Hollande lost out to newcomers. The PS leader, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, who was himself eliminated in the first round, resigned from his position. Some 431 new MPs will enter the assembly and a record 224 of the MPs will be women.

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The ECB has $4.73 trillion in assets. It buys anythng but Greece.

German Politicians Hammer the ECB, But Only to Get Votes (DQ)

These days it’s easy to tell when general elections are approaching in Germany: members of the ruling government begin bewailing, in perfect unison, the ECB’s ultra-loose monetary policy. Leading the charge this time was Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who on Tuesday urged the ECB to change its policy “in a timely manner”, warning that very low interest rates had caused problems in “some parts of the world.” Werner Bahlsen, the head of the economic council of Merkel’s CDU conservatives, was next to take the baton. “The ongoing purchase of government bonds has already cost the European project a great deal of credibility and has damaged it,” he said. “The ECB can only regain trust with the return to a sound monetary policy.” As Schaeuble and Balhsen well know, that is not likely to occur any time soon.

Indeed, like all other Eurozone finance ministers, Schaeuble is benefiting handsomely from the record-low borrowing costs made possible by the ECB’s negative interest rate policy. But by attacking ECB policy he and his peers can make it seem that they take voters’ concerns about low interest rates seriously, while knowing perfectly well that the things they say have very little effect on what the ECB actually does. In short, they are telling their voters what they want to hear. A survey by the CDU’s economic council showed that less than a quarter of its roughly 12,000 members had confidence in the ECB’s current course. 76% said they backed Bundesbank head Jens Weidmann’s monetary policy stance. Herr Weidmann said on Thursday that the ECB is at risk of coming under political pressure because any hint of policy tightening could push yields higher and blow a hole in national budgets.

It’s a probably a bit late in proceedings for such worries, what with the ECB now boasting the largest balance sheet of any central bank on Planet Earth. At last count, it had €4.22 trillion ($4.73 trillion) in assets, which equates to 39% of Eurozone GDP. Many of those assets are sovereign bonds of Eurozone economies like Italy, Spain and Portugal. The ECB’s binge-buying of sovereign and corporate bonds has spawned a mass culture of financial dependence across Europe. In the case of Italy, the sheer scale of the government’s dependence on the ECB for cheap funding is staggering: 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.

It’s not just governments that are dependent on the ECB’s largesse: so, too, are the banks. In total, European banks have approximately €760 billion of funding from long-term lending schemes, the bulk of which comes from the four rounds of the most recent program launched in March 2016. As of the end of April 2017, Italian banks were holding just over €250 billion of the total long-term loans — almost a third of the total. Spain had €173 billion, while French banks had €115 billion and German lenders €95 billion. As the FT reports, the funding appears to play much less of a role in stimulating economic activity through lending, and a much larger role in mitigating the pain that low interest rates — and poor asset quality — can inflict on banks.

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Propping up zombies.

Central Bank Liquidity Is The ‘IV Drip’ Of The Rally (CNBC)

If it weren’t for liquidity right now, the stock market rally could be ripping apart, according to BMO Private Bank’s chief investment officer. “Any sense that this IV drip of liquidity coming into the market is slowing down at all is going to cause some issues,” Jack Ablin said on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” He emphasized that investors have been encouraged to take on risk due to the trillions of dollars being pumped into the financial system by central banks. Ablin’s comments came a day after the Federal Reserve decided to lift short-term interest rate by a quarter%age point. Even though the rate hike was expected, Ablin admits there was some concern tied to the Fed’s statement.

The Fed put in some new wording, saying that it “expects to begin implementing a balance sheet normalization program this year, provided that the economy evolves broadly as anticipated.” That part left Ablin “a little bit taken aback with the timing,” he said. However, “I think the good news here is, ‘Look, this is a potentially contrived crisis.’ This could be the taper tantrum all over again where [The Fed says] ‘OK, look, we don’t want to cause major upset here. We will continue to pump if equity risk taking takes a hit.'” Ablin said he’s “somewhat optimistic” that the rally will continue. He prefers developed and emerging markets over U.S. stocks, arguing that places like Europe could see bigger gains than in the United States because the economy has been surprising experts to the upside.

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This story gets insaner by the day.

Mueller Has “Not Yet” Decided Whether To Investigate Trump (ZH)

In the biggest political story of the past week, one which was timed to coincide with Donald Trump’s Birthday, the WaPo reported citing anonymous sources, that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was investigating President Trump for possible obstruction of justice. Just a few hours later on Thursday night, the DOJ’s Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia probe due to Jeff Sessions recusal, released a stunning announcement which urged Americans to be “skeptical about anonymous allegations” in the media, which many interpreted as being issued in response to the WaPo report. “Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials,’ particularly when they do not identify the country — let alone the branch or agency of government — with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated. Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. The Department of Justice has a long-established policy to neither confirm nor deny such allegations.”

Then on Sunday, the plot thickened further when according to ABC, special counsel Robert Mueller has not yet decided whether to investigate President Trump as part of the Russia probe, suggesting the WaPo report that a probe had already started was inaccurate. “Now, my sources are telling me he’s begun some preliminary planning,” Pierre Thomas, the ABC News senior justice correspondent, said of Mueller on ABC’s “This Week” although he too, like the WaPo, was referring to anonymous sources, so who knows who is telling the truth. “Plans to talk to some people in the administration. But he’s not yet made that momentous decision to go for a full-scale investigation.”On Friday, Trump responded to the Washington Post story by tweeting: “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.” But also on Sunday Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow insisted the president was not literally confirming the investigation but was just referring to the story.

“Let me be clear: the president is not under investigation as James Comey stated in his testimony, that the president was not the target of investigation on three different occasions,” Sekulow said Sunday. “The president is not a subject or target of an investigation.” “Now Mueller faces a huge decision,” Thomas told “This Week” host Martha Raddatz. “Does he believe the president, who says there’s no wrongdoing here, or does he go after the president in the way James Comey wants him to do?” And so, yet another blockbuster media report has been cast into doubt as a result of more “he said, he said” innuendo, which will be resolved only if Mueller steps up and discloses on the record whether he is indeed investiating Trump for obstruction, or any other reason. That however is unlikely to happen, and so the daily ping-ponging media innuendos will continue indefinitely.

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“These two countries are in a very deep hole,” he said. Congress needs to “stop digging.”

Cold War Deja Vu Deepens as New Russia Sanctions Anger Europe (BBG)

Russia on Sunday accused the U.S. of returning to “almost forgotten Cold War rhetoric,” after President Donald Trump’s decision to reinstate some sanctions on Cuba. It could have dropped “forgotten.” There’s been a lively debate among historians and diplomats for years over whether the souring of relations between the U.S. and Russia amounts to a new Cold War, and lately the case has been getting stronger by the day. Trump’s restoration on Friday of some of the Cold War restrictions on Cuba his predecessor, Barack Obama, eased just months ago was only one example. Earlier in the week, the U.S. Senate approved a bill to entrench and toughen sanctions on Russia that includes several vivid flashbacks to before the fall of the Berlin wall.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel added her voice on Friday to rising European condemnation of a proposal in the Senate draft that would penalize companies investing in new Russian energy pipelines. Nord Stream 2, a project to double the supply of Russian natural gas to Germany via the Baltic Sea, would be especially vulnerable. President Ronald Reagan used similar sanctions in an attempt to thwart the joint German-Soviet construction of a natural gas pipeline in the early 1980s, only to drop them amid intense opposition from Europe. Again, Germany led the pushback. The Senate bill would also codify a raft of existing sanctions against Russia, so that Trump would need Congressional approval to lift them. That happened in 1974, too, and the measures proved hard to kill.

The legislation wasn’t repealed until a decade after their target, the U.S.S.R., had ceased to exist. The sense of Cold-War deja vu has been building for some time, according to Robert Legvold, a professor at Columbia University and author of “Return of the Cold War.” There’s a renewed arms race, nuclear saber rattling, the buzzing of ships and planes, proxy wars and disputes over whether missile defense systems count as offense or defense. If the trend continues, said Legvold, it will prevent the strategic cooperation between the U.S. and Russia that’s needed to prevent approaching security challenges from spinning out of control: The rise of China, the race to exploit resources in the Arctic, international terrorism and, above all, a world with nine nuclear powers that’s more complex and unstable than in the 20th century. “These two countries are in a very deep hole,” he said. Congress needs to “stop digging.”

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It’s hard to agree on gold. Always has been.

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road (Grant)

It’s no work at all to make modern money. Since the start of the 2008 financial crisis, the world’s central bankers have materialized the equivalent of $12.25 trillion. Just tap, tap, tap on a computer keypad. “One Nation Under Gold” is a brief against the kind of money you have to dig out of the ground. And you do have to dig. The value of all the gold that’s ever been mined (and which mostly still exists in the form of baubles, coins and ingots), according to the World Gold Council, is a mere $7.4 trillion. Gold anchored the various metallic monetary systems that existed from the 18th century to 1971. They were imperfect, all right, just as James Ledbetter bends over backward to demonstrate. The question is whether the gold standard was any more imperfect than the system in place today.

[..] As if to clinch the case against gold—and, necessarily, the case for the modern-day status quo—Mr. Ledbetter writes: “Of forty economists teaching at America’s most prestigious universities—including many who’ve advised or worked in Republican administrations—exactly zero responded favorably to a gold-standard question asked in 2012.” Perhaps so, but “zero” or thereabouts likewise describes the number of established economists who in 2005, ’06 and ’07 anticipated the coming of the biggest financial event of their professional lives. The economists mean no harm. But if, in unison, they arrive at the conclusion that tomorrow is Monday, a prudent person would check the calendar.

Mr. Ledbetter makes a great deal of today’s gold-standard advocates, more, I think, than those lonely idealists would claim for themselves (or ourselves, as I am one of them). The price of gold peaked as long ago as 2011 (at $1,900, versus $1,250 today), while so-called crypto-currencies like bitcoin have emerged as the favorite alternative to government-issued money. It’s not so obvious that, as Mr. Ledbetter puts it, “we cannot get enough of the metal.” On the contrary, to judge by ultra-low interest rates and sky-high stock prices, we cannot—for now—get enough of our celebrity central bankers.

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Pretty far out.

Australia Has The World’s Most Costly Energy Bills (MB)

In reality, there are three main components of household bills. Whether households actual ultimately pocket these savings will depend on what happens with all three. The first, is the wholesale cost. That’s the cost of actually generating the electricity, be it burning lumps of coal, a gas-fired electricity plant, solar panels, wind turbines or whatever clever ways we may come up with in the future to produce electricity. Today, 77 per cent of Australian electricity comes from mostly brown and black coal, 10 per cent from gas, and 13 per cent from renewable sources. For a long time, this part of the system, of producing the electricity and getting it into the grid, has been going pretty well. Australians have enjoyed a reliable and low-cost supply of wholesale energy.

Basically, we burned ship loads of cheap coal, and to hell with the environment. This is the part of the system that is now utterly falling apart and is in most need of repair – which we’ll get to. The second major component of household electricity bills is the cost of transmission and distribution. The costs involved in building poles and wires and actually getting electricity to your wall sockets makes up about 40 per cent of your total bill. This part of the electricity price equation has been broken for decades, and is the main reason power bills have nearly doubled over the last decade. Power lines are natural monopolies. Traditionally they were all government owned. Jeff Kennett privatised Victorian networks, but until very recently, distribution networks in other states, such as NSW and Queensland, have remained government owned, with regulated pricing.

And basically, they stuffed that up for consumers by deciding to let the networks earn a guaranteed rate of return, based on their costs. That is, the more they spent, the more they earned. …The third and final component of a household’s bill is the margin added by electricity retailers. In theory, anyone can set up a business retailing electricity and there are many suppliers. In reality, pricing structures are so complex consumers do not exercise their power to switch providers, and retail margins remain higher than otherwise.

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Moving towards a very deep black hole.

Australia’s Haunted Housing Market (BW)

Forget all the headlines about the undimmed pace of house price inflation – up 19% in Sydney during March, pushing the median house price in the city to A$1.15 million ($875,000) according to Domain, a property-listings website. House prices, after all, aren’t so much a guide to the state of the housing market as to the 1% or so of homes that bought or sold in a typical year. Even there, they’re less an indicator of supply and demand for housing than of how supply and demand for mortgage credit interact with real estate fundamentals. Splurge on mortgage credit, and even an overbuilt housing market can enjoy price appreciation; cut back on home loans, and the opposite may be the case. That’s why it’s worth looking at the state of rents. Right now, they’re growing at the slowest pace in more than two decades, according to calculations based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

This hasn’t completely escaped notice. Philip Lowe, who took over as Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia in September, has included the same boilerplate reference (with minor cosmetic modifications) in each of the eight monetary policy decision statements he’s put out so far: In the eastern capital cities, a considerable additional supply of apartments is scheduled to come on stream over the next couple of years. Rent increases are the slowest for two decades. As Lowe indicates, the reason for the slowdown in rents isn’t hard to discern. For most of Australia’s recent history, building has struggled to keep pace with household formation. Supply of new homes has kept close to demand, and as a result rents have tended to grow more or less in line with incomes.

Compare the Housing Institute of Australia’s forecasts of housing starts and the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ forecasts of household formation, and the glut really comes into focus: The surplus of homes that Australian cities have built over the past five years, based on those numbers, is equivalent to a whole year’s worth of excess supply. That’s a worrying development for those hoping that Australia’s house price boom is sustainable, especially given the way that the country’s regulators look to be finally attempting to raise credit standards after years of laxity. Still, if Australia manages to deflate the housing bubble without seriously damaging its economy, the heroes and villains will be quite different from the popular perception. While governments and regulators spent years adding to the problem with tax breaks and hostility to macroprudential regulation, it may well be property investors and foreigners who helped ease the crisis.

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The EU should look at its own human rights record.

Greece Blocks EU Statement On China Human Rights At UN (R.)

Greece has blocked a EU statement at the UNs criticizing China’s human rights record, a decision EU diplomats said undermined efforts to confront Beijing’s crackdown on activists and dissidents. The EU, which seeks to promote free speech and end capital punishment around the world, was due to make its statement last week at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, but failed to win the necessary agreement from all 28 EU states. It marked the first time the EU had failed to make its statement at the U.N.’s top rights body, rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said. A Greek foreign ministry official said Athens blocked the statement, calling it “unconstructive criticism of China” and said separate EU talks with China outside the U.N. were a better avenue for discussions. An EU official confirmed the statement had been blocked.

“Greece’s position is that unproductive and in many cases, selective criticism against specific countries does not facilitate the promotion of human rights in these states, nor the development of their relation with the EU,” a Greek foreign ministry spokesperson said on Sunday. Presented three times a year, the statement gives the EU a way to highlight abuses by states around the world on issues that other countries are unwilling to raise. The impasse is the latest blow to the EU’s credentials as a defender of human rights, three diplomats said, and raises questions about the economically powerful EU’s “soft power” that relies on inspiring countries to follow its example by outlawing the death penalty and upholding press freedoms. It also underscores the EU’s awkward ties with China, its second-largest trade partner, diplomats said.

[..] Hungary, another large recipient of Chinese investment, has repeatedly blocked EU statements criticizing China’s rights record under communist President Xi Jinping, diplomats said. One EU diplomat expressed frustration that Greece’s decision to block the statement came at the same time the IMF and EU governments agreed to release funds under Greece’s emergency financial bailout last week in Luxembourg. “It was dishonorable, to say the least,” the diplomat said. The Greek foreign ministry spokesperson said that “during the formulation of the common statement there were also other countries that expressed similar reservations” and that Greece participates on an equal footing in setting up the EU’s common foreign policy.

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Many will claim this is employers seeking illicit profits. But for many it’s the only way not to be forced to fire people, to keep them fed.

Greece Cracks Down On Voucher Misuse By Employers (EurActiv)

The growing trend of distributing vouchers to employees to avoid taxes has raised eyebrows in the Greek government, which has moved to crack down on unprecedented levels of tax evasion in the cash-strapped country. The government says vouchers are allowed only as an extra benefit and not as part of a taxable salary. But according to Greek media reports, more than 200,000 workers, mostly newcomers, receive up to 25% in their salary via vouchers, which they use in supermarkets to buy food. The total amount, according to the reports, reaches €300 million annually. Up to a specific amount, the vouchers are tax-free for businesses, which are also exempt from employer security contributions. A source at the Greek labour ministry told EURACTIV.com that replacing any part of the legal wage of employees with vouchers is illegal.

“Vouchers are only allowed as an extra benefit and in no case can they be a substitution for legally defined earnings,” the source noted, adding that all complaints filed with the Labour Inspectorate are being investigated. As of June, companies are required to pay salaries only to bank accounts in order to put a stop to the practice of avoiding paying salaries altogether or paying only a fragment. “The Labor Inspectorate (SEPE) is in constant collaboration with Greece’s Financial and Crime Unit (SDOE), the financial police and the Independent Public Revenue Authority to address all forms of labour market violations and the coordination of their audit work,” the source said. Vouchers are coupons companies distribute to their employees to improve work, health and safety by supporting proper nutrition.

The rationale behind vouchers is that they process will enhance satisfaction and boost productivity levels while improving the employee living standards. For the government, the proper use of vouchers should also result in more tax revenues. The labour market in Greece has been in turmoil after 7 years of austerity-driven bailout programmes. There are cases of employers who have taken advantage of the “flexible” labour relations to impose unusual working conditions. For many, the use of vouchers is seen as a means to improve the atmosphere at work. Sotiris Zarianopoulos, a non-attached MEP from the Greek Communist Party (KKE), has recently asked the European Commission about these practices. The Greek lawmaker noted that this is only a part of a “jungle labour market” created by EU policies and implemented by the leftist Syriza government.

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On the verge of heading back to Greece, I’m wary of what comes after the calm.

Greek Summer Calm Before The Storm (K.)

Even though Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hailed last week’s Eurogroup deal as step in the right direction, Greece still has many rivers to cross as the agreement secured in Luxembourg fell far short of the goals set by the government. First and foremost, Tsipras will have to deal with dissent emanating from SYRIZA MPs that had agreed to vote through a batch of tough legislation last month with the understanding that, in exchange, Greece will be granted debt relief and access to the ECB’s quantitative easing program. However, contrary to the government’s aims at the Eurogroup, debt relief talks were deferred to 2018, while Greece’s inclusion in the QE seems highly unlikely before that.

Although analysts believe that dissenters may not raise the ante during the summer – due to the tourist season and relief provided by the release of a bailout tranche – the government is expected to come under new pressure in the fall when Tsipras drafts the 2018 budget, which must stipulate a primary surplus of 3.5%. Given the huge difficulties to achieve this target, Athens will find it hard to convince representatives of the country’s creditors that it will able to achieve this target without the need for yet more measures. The Greek PM will also struggle in the fall to clear the hurdles leading to the completion of the country’s third bailout review, which will also involve the IMF. The review’s focus will be on streamlining the Greek public sector, from which SYRIZA has drawn a large chunk of votes in the past and would not like to rock the boat.

Another sticking point could be Tsipras’s promise to bring back growth, when forecasts for 2017 see an anemic rate of 1.5 to 1.8%. According to reports, the left-led coalition is banking on elections taking place in June 2018 at the earliest so that it avoids having to implement pension cuts in 2019, as it had agreed with creditors and passed into law. On the other had, some reports suggest that Tsipras may seek to spring an election surprise this fall or by the end of the year. This, however, will hinge on whether Greece will be given specifics by creditors about what sort of debt relief it can expect after the German elections in September, and on the degree of difficulty it will have to draft the 2018 budget.

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Oct 062016
 
 October 6, 2016  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Lewis Wickes Hine 12-year-old newsie, Hyman Alpert, been selling 3 years, New Haven CT 1909

World Is Swimming In Record $152 Trillion In Debt: IMF (R.)
Australia Private-Sector Debt Rises Faster Than Almost Anywhere Else (Aus.)
One-Third Of European Banks Fail IMF Stress Test: (WSJ)
EU Readies Plan for Derivatives Clearing Crisis, the New Too-Big-to-Fail (BBG)
The Noose Is Tightening Quickly On The Global Economy (Alt-M)
Fed’s Fischer Says Low Neutral Rate A Sign Of Potential Economic Trouble (R.)
Goldman Warns Of “Upward Shock” To Rates, Hints At Trillions In Losses (ZH)
Stiglitz Sees Italy, Others Leaving Euro Zone In Coming Years (R.)
Two Thirds Of Young American Adults Live With Their Parents (ZH)
The Math of Escaping From Syria (R.)
Nearly Half Of All Children In Sub-Saharan Africa Live In Extreme Poverty (G.)

 

 

Never mind public debt. $100 trillion in private debt is the big number.

World Is Swimming In Record $152 Trillion In Debt: IMF (R.)

The world is swimming in a record $152 trillion in debt, the IMF said on Wednesday, even as the institution encourages some countries to spend more to boost flagging growth if they can afford it. Global debt, both public and private, reached 225% of global economic output last year, up from about 200% in 2002, the IMF said in its new Fiscal Monitor report. The IMF said about two thirds of the 2015 total, or about $100 trillion, is owed by private sector borrowers, and noted that rapid increases in private debt often lead to financial crises. While debt profiles vary by country, the report said that the sheer size of the debt could set the stage for an unprecedented private deleveraging that could thwart a still-fragile economic recovery.

“Excessive private debt is a major headwind against the global recovery and a risk to financial stability,” IMF Fiscal Affairs Director Vitor Gaspar told a news conference. “Financial recessions are longer and deeper than normal recessions.” While the United States has de-leveraged since the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the report cited the buildup of private debt in China and Brazil as a significant concern, fueled in part by a long era of low interest rates. The report comes as IMF managing director Christine Lagarde is urging the Fund’s 189 member governments that have “fiscal space” – the ability to sustainably borrow and spend more – to do so to boost persistently weak growth.

The Fund’s call for targeted fiscal support for consumer demand comes is accompanied by calls for continued accommodative monetary policy and accelerated structural reforms aimed at boosting countries’ economic efficiency. If a major deleveraging of private debt were to occur, the IMF report recommends that fiscal policy should include targeted interventions to restructure private debt or repair bank balance sheets to mininize damage to the overall economy.

Read more …

An Australian take on the IMF debt report, which singles out the country along with Canada.

Australia Private-Sector Debt Rises Faster Than Almost Anywhere Else (Aus.)

Private-sector debt is rising faster in Australia than almost anywhere else in the world, according to the IMF, which is concerned record debt globally may be setting the stage for a future downturn. The fund estimates that total debt levels have kept climbing since the global financial crisis, and are now equivalent to 225% of global GDP, up from 200% before the crisis. “Excessive private debt is a major headwind against the global recovery and a risk to financial stability”, said the head of the fund’s fiscal department, Vitor Gaspar, releasing the fund’s latest review of government finances. The IMF says private-sector debt in most advanced countries reached a peak in 2012 and started coming down, with the biggest reductions recorded in countries such as Ireland and Slovenia that entered the financial crisis with elevated debts.

The IMF says private-sector debt in most advanced countries reached a peak in 2012 and started coming down, with the biggest reductions recorded in countries such as Ireland and Slovenia that entered the financial crisis with elevated debts. In some cases, however, private debt has continued to accumulate at a fast pace-notably, Australia, Canada, and Singapore, the fund says. The IMF estimates that, since 2013, private debt has risen as a share of GDP by 15 percentage points, more than in any other advanced nation. Private debt in Australia has risen from 188% of GDP to 225% since the global financial crisis, mostly driven by lending to households. Mr Gaspar said the risk was not just that private debt could revert to the government in a crisis, as occurred when many advanced country governments had to take over banks during the financial crisis.

“Rapid increases in private debt often end up in financial crises and financial recessions are longer and deeper than normal recessions”, he said. The fund says even without a financial crisis, high private-sector debt will hamper growth because highly indebted borrowers eventually cut back their consumption and investment. It says there is no consensus about the threshold at which debt levels start affecting growth, but says the longer that debt keeps rising, the greater becomes the sensitivity of the economy to any unexpected shocks. The IMF report shows that Australia s federal and state government debt remains one of the lowest in the advanced world, projected to peak at 21.6% of GDP in 2018, compared with an average of 80.5% for the advanced countries in the G20.

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Why Draghi said there are too many banks in Europe. M&A can hide a lot of debt, or have taxpayers shoulder it.

One-Third Of European Banks Fail IMF Stress Test: (WSJ)

Historic debt levels and dwindling policy ammunition risk derailing the meager recovery forecast for next year. Anemic global growth is “setting the stage for a vicious feedback loop in which lower growth hampers deleveraging and the debt overhang exacerbates the slowdown,” the emergency lender warned. The IMF lays out three major risks to the financial system. First, European banks are facing a chronic profitability crisis. Many haven’t been able to clear the legacy debt off their balance sheets and investors are increasingly skeptical they’ll be remain profitable based on their current structures. But it’s not just market perceptions. The IMF estimates that the recent plunge in bank equity price could curb lending until 2018.

It also conducted a survey of more than 280 banks covering most of the banking systems in the U.S. and Europe to see if an economic recovery would be enough to propel them into long-term profitability. While a large majority of U.S. banks passed, nearly one-third of Europe’s banking system flunked. “A cyclical recovery helps but is not enough,” Mr. Dattels says. Those banking duds—representing $8.5 trillion in assets—remain weak and unable to generate sustainable profits even if growth picks up in the fund’s stress test. “Banks and policy makers need to tackle substantial structural challenges to survive in this new era.” Banks need to first resolve the massive stock of nonperforming loans. That requires banking authorities to fix their insolvency rules, a problem the IMF has been bugging Europe about for years. If officials could finally resolve that problem, it could turn a net capital cost to European banks of €85 billion to a net gain of €60 billion, the fund estimates.

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One goal in mind: save large financial institutions. Not citizens.

EU Readies Plan for Derivatives Clearing Crisis, the New Too-Big-to-Fail (BBG)

The EU plans to give authorities sweeping powers to tackle ailing derivatives clearinghouses to prevent their failure from wreaking havoc throughout the financial system. Draft EU legislation seen by Bloomberg sets out rules on saving or shuttering clearinghouses that would apply to firms such as London-based LCH. The proposals cover everything from the creation of resolution authorities to the powers they would have when winding a company down, including writing down shares, debt and collateral. Having forced most clearing to go through central counterparties to manage risk in the financial system, the EU will come out with recovery and resolution proposals by year-end. Clearing has come into focus after emerging as a pawn in the post-Brexit battle for London’s financial-services industry.

“If we are going to rely more on CCPs, we need to have a clear system in place to resolve them if things go wrong,” Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU’s financial-services chief, said last month. Governments around the world were spooked by the damage inflicted by derivatives trades that went awry during the financial crisis. Since then, they’ve taken steps to ensure trading in the contracts is reported and centrally cleared. Clearinghouses stand between the two sides of a derivative wager and hold collateral, known as margin, from both in case a member defaults. Many transactions were previously conducted directly between traders without a third party requiring collateral. Swaps trading, when it was largely unregulated, amplified the 2008 meltdown and prompted a $182 billion U.S. rescue of AIG.

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“The very system they are built around is a corrupt and unsustainable model, and I hold that this is by design.”

The Noose Is Tightening Quickly On The Global Economy (Alt-M)

The supposed “catalyst” for the 2008 crash is primarily attributed to the fall of Lehman Brothers. I highly recommend any of the “bullish” economists out there arguing today that the central banks intend to prolong a stock rally indefinitely examine the statements made in the mainstream about Lehman and by Lehman leading up to their eventual death rattle. Then, absorb and really think on some of the recent statements and tactics used by Deutsche Bank. Specifically, note Lehman’s use of accounting and derivatives gimmicks and the cycling of funds through various accounts in order to make the company appear solvent. Then, take a look at revelations coming out of places like Italy that Deutsche Bank has been using the same model of false accounts and market manipulation, once again, with derivatives as a main tool for fraud.

Also notice the same outright dismissals of all pertinent evidence that Deutsche Bank might be suffering a capital shortfall, as CEO John Cryan blames “speculators” for the companies losses. Lehman’s Dick Fuld and Bear Stearns’ Jimmy Cain both blamed “speculators” and “rumors and conspiracies” for the fall of their companies during the derivatives debacle eight years ago. It would seem that history doesn’t just rhyme, it sometimes repeats exactly. Below is a rather revealing chart from the folks at Zero Hedge comparing the collapse of Lehman Brothers stock value to the steady decline of Deutsche Bank. To be clear, Lehman was no catalyst. It was only a litmus test for a system completely devoid of tangible value and drowning in toxic debt. Lehman was a part of a much larger problem, it was not the cause of the problem. The same is true for Deutsche Bank.

The panic growing around Germany’s second largest financial institution, Commerzbank, as it moves to lay off nearly 10,000 employees and suspend its dividend is another crisis indicator separate from Deutsche Bank. The clear solvency issues in Italy’s major banks, including Monte dei Paschi, are yet another explosive element.

Keep in mind that when these edifices begin to crumble and Europe enters a state of financial emergency, the mainstream media and numerous governments will continue to blame speculators. They will also claim that the entire disaster was set in motion through a “domino effect”; the first domino probably being Deutsche Bank. This will be a lie. There is no line of dominoes. One bank will not be bringing down the other banks — yes, there is terrible interdependency, but the real issue is that ALL of these banks are falling due to their own cancerous behaviors. The very system they are built around is a corrupt and unsustainable model, and I hold that this is by design.

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Wow, he presents what has long been obvious as some sort of epiphany: “We could be stuck in a new longer-run equilibrium characterized by sluggish growth.”

Fed’s Fischer Says Low Neutral Rate A Sign Of Potential Economic Trouble (R.)

Evidence that the so-called natural rate of interest has fallen to low levels could mean the economy is stuck in a low-growth rut that could prove hard to escape, Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer said on Wednesday. Speaking to a central banking seminar in New York, the Fed’s second-in-command said he was concerned that the changes in world savings and investment patterns that may have driven down the natural rate could “prove to be quite persistent…We could be stuck in a new longer-run equilibrium characterized by sluggish growth.” As a result, he said, central bankers may face a future where the short-term interest rates set by policymakers never get far above zero, and the unconventional tools used during the financial crisis become a “recurrent” fact of life.

“Ultralow interest rates may reflect more than just cyclical forces,” Fischer said, but “be yet another indication that the economy’s growth potential may have dimmed considerably.” Fischer’s remarks did not address current Fed policy or interest rate plans. It is not the first time a Fed official has openly expressed concerns about an underlying decline in U.S. economic potential, or fretted that the crisis shifted savings and investment patterns in a damaging way. Over the past year in particular there has been a vigorous debate, backed up by fresh research, about the “natural” rate of interest. Sometimes referred to as a neutral or equilibrium rate, it is in many ways an abstraction – not a rate that is set by the Fed or used in transactions, but an estimate of the underlying rate that would keep the price level stable while the economy grows at potential.

A number of developments have led many at the Fed to conclude that the natural rate is currently very low, and that its decline may reflect a loss of economic potential. There are immediate implications for the Fed: a low natural rate means the Fed could not move its short-term federal funds rate very high before policy becomes too tight.

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Nothing new here either.

Goldman Warns Of “Upward Shock” To Rates, Hints At Trillions In Losses (ZH)

[..] “The total face value of all US bonds, including Treasuries, Federal agency debt, mortgages, corporates, municipals and ABS, is $40 trillion (Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association). The Barclays US aggregate is a smaller number, $17 trillion, as the index excludes some categories of debt, such as money markets, with low duration. To end up with a more palatable number, Goldman uses the Barclays measure of debt outstanding, although it admits this may lead to an understatement of the total loss potential. Using either measure, total debt outstanding has grown by over 60% in real Dollars since 2000.”

[..] Doing the math, and combining a duration estimate of 5.6 years with the SIFMA total estimated notional exposure of $40trn, and current Dollar price of bonds of $105.6, indicates that, to first order, a 100bp shock to interest rates would translate into a market value loss estimate would be $2.4 trillion. That is the part Garzarelli forgot to write about. Which is ironic, because in trying to paint a bullish picture, the Goldman strategist in effect admitted that not just the Fed, but the entire world is trapped: should the global economy continue to contract, global bond yields will continue to sink, with trillions more bonds going negative yield, leading to even more debt issuance, and resulting in a ZIRP (and NIRP) trap from which there is no escape.

On the other hand, if – as Goldman hopes – inflation does materialize, however briefly, the resultant MTM loss will be staggering. Keep in mind that $2.4 trillion is only in the US. Now add tens of trillions of record low yielding global debt, including some $10.5 trillion in negative yield bonds around the globe, and one can make the case that the global MTM hit from an even 1% rise in rates would be somewhere between $5 and $8 trilion dollars! So, according to Goldman, here is the rather unpleasant choice facing the world: continue slowly sinking into a deflationary singularity, coupled with ever greater systemic leverage which makes escape from the ZIRP/NIRP trap impossible as social unrest builds up and ultimately spills over into the streets, or unleash an inflationary impulse, one which crushes countless debt holders, leads to trillions in losses, and requires yet another consolidated bailout…. oh, and also more social unrest.

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If Italy leaves, there’s no EU left.

Stiglitz Sees Italy, Others Leaving Euro Zone In Coming Years (R.)

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz predicted in a interview out on Wednesday that Italy and other countries would leave the euro zone in coming years, and he blamed the euro and German austerity policies for Europe’s economic problems. Europe lacks the decisiveness to undertake needed reforms such as the creation of a banking union involving joint bank deposit guarantees, and also lacks solidarity across national boundaries, Stiglitz was quoted as saying by Die Welt newspaper. “There will still be a euro zone in 10 years, but the question is, what will it look like? It’s very unlikely that it will still have 19 members. It’s difficult to say who will still belong,” the paper quoted Stiglitz as saying. “The people in Italy are increasingly disappointed in the euro.”

“Italians are starting to realize that Italy doesn’t work in the euro,” he added. He said Germany had already accepted that Greece would leave the euro zone, noting that he had advised both Greece and Portugal in the past to exit the single currency. Concerns about the euro zone have escalated in Germany in recent months amid growing concern about a shift away from austerity in southern Europe, the loose money policies of the ECB and the rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany party. Stiglitz told the paper the euro and austerity policies in Germany were at fault for Europe’s economic malaise. The break-up of the single currency or the division into a north euro and a south euro were the only realistic options for reviving Europe’s stalled economy, the paper quoted him as saying.

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‘Target groups’ may be somewhat confusing: one survey looks at 15-29 year-olds, the other at 18-34 year-olds. But the trends are clear enough.

Two Thirds Of Young American Adults Live With Their Parents (ZH)

As part of its periodic report on “Society at a Glance” which looks at how youth across member states are faring in terms of several social indicators, such as employment, poverty, marriage and health, the OECD also provided a unique glimpse into modern household composition, namely the%age of young adults, those aged 15-29, living at home. What it found is that since the Great Recession, there have been significant shifts worldwide in the number of young adults living at home. From 2007 to 2014, the number of youth living at home in countries belonging to the OECD increased by 0.7%, rising to 59.4%.

As expected, the nations hit hardest by the global economic slowdown such as Italy, Slovenia and Greece had the highest%age of youth living at home with their parents, at 80.6%, 76.4% and 76.3%, respectively. In itself, that is hardly surprising, since countries like Greece and Italy were not only among the harfest hit by the recession, and have a culture of young adults living longer at home, but also have some of the highest unemployment rates for young people. In fact, as the chart below shows, some 15% of young adults in OECD countries, or a whopping 40 million, were what the report classifies as NEET: not in employment, education or training, with both Italy and Greece at the very top, just behind Turkey.

On the other end of the spectrum, Canada had the lowest%age of youth living with parents, with just 30% of the country’s youth still living at home. The Nordic countries, including Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway, also had low numbers of young adults living at home. In terms of deterioration, France was by far the leader, with the number of young people cohabitating with their parents rising 12.5% to 53.5% from 2007 to 2014. Report authors attribute the increase in part to the high numbers of young adults in France who are not in the workforce or in education. In France, some 16.6% of young adults were not in a job or education institution in 2015, also a notable an increase over the previous few years.

Cited by US News, Claire Keane, an economist with the OECD’s social policy division said that “we really think this is a crisis story,” In France, she says, many benefits flow through families to reach young people. “They are relying on parents for financial support.” As for the US, there has been a 3.9% increase in the proportion of youth living with their parents from 2007 to 2014, significantly higher than the OECD average. As a result, today, about 66.6% of American 15- to 29 year-olds live with their parents as opposed to on their own or with a roommate, compared to around 62.8% before the crisis.

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Syria was a relatively wealthy country not long ago. So was Libya. Guess what happened?

The Math of Escaping From Syria (R.)

– Duration of Syrian Civil War: 5 years, 6 months, approximately. – Number of refugees through Oct. 1: 302,975. – Number of refugees drowned en route to Europe: 3,502 We’ve seen the pictures. We’ve read the stories. The numbers are stark. A single boat crossing on the Mediterranean cost $2,200 per passenger in the summer of 2015, up from an average $1,500 a year earlier, according to refugees’ accounts. For Syrians, as with most migrants seeking asylum, money is scarce; a report by the Syrian Economic Forum showed average monthly income for a citizen of Aleppo was around $80 last year. So if you’re a refugee, you face the prospect of spending as much as two years of your wages for a journey on which 1 of 87 refugees have drowned.

How bad is the economy you’re leaving behind? Let’s take the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 in the U.S. as a comparison. GDP decreased at an average annual rate of 3.5%. Unemployment reached a high of 10% in Oct. 2009. In that year, 14.3% of the U.S. were living below the poverty line. In Syria, GDP fell 30% in 2013 and another 36% in 2014; 82% of the population lives below the poverty line; unemployment is at 60%. And 2016 looks pretty bleak as well. And that’s leaving aside falling bombs, chemical weapons and woefully inadequate medical care. Also connecting with international aid groups takes time, as many Syrians are located in hard to reach areas.

And let’s not forget you are probably a kid. More than 50% of refugees are under the age of 18 – and haven’t had educational access for years; not to mention the added trauma of witnessing extreme violence. So spending up to two years of your wages and risking your life to get to a safe haven, versus staying in a country where it’s likely you will die a violent death suddenly seems like a remarkably sound decision.

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How many billions have been spent on ending world hunger? Or maybe we should ask how many have been spent on warfare.

Nearly Half Of All Children In Sub-Saharan Africa Live In Extreme Poverty (G.)

Nearly half of all children in sub-Saharan Africa are living in extreme poverty, according to a joint Unicef-World Bank report released on Tuesday, with figures showing that almost 385 million children worldwide survive on less than $1.90 (£1.50) a day, the World Bank international poverty line. Extreme poverty leads to stunted development, limited future productivity as adults, and intergenerational transmission of poverty, the report (pdf) says. The figures – based on data from 89 countries, and representing 84% of the developing world’s population – indicate that much work will be needed to meet the sustainable development goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030.

Children are disproportionately affected by extreme poverty – they make up just a third of the population studied, but comprise half of the extreme poor. They are twice as likely as adults to be living on less than $1.90 a day, the report claims, with 19.5% of children in developing countries living in extremely poor households, compared to just 9.2% of adults. “It’s almost a double blow – firstly, that children are twice as likely as an adult to live in extreme poverty, but also that children are much less likely than an adult to be able to cope with extreme poverty because of stunting, infant mortality, and early childhood development,” said Unicef’s deputy executive director, Justin Forsyth. “Extreme poverty can either kill you, or ruin your potential for the rest of your life.”

Read more …

Aug 222016
 
 August 22, 2016  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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NPC Wilkins-Rogers Milling Co., Washington, DC 1926

Oil Falls As August Price Rally Seen Overblown, China Fuel Exports Soar (R.)
Less Than 5% Of Japan Inc. Think Abe’s Stimulus Will Boost The Economy (R.)
Grim Outlook for the Economy, Stocks: Stephanie Pomboy (Barron’s)
Citi Is About to Relive the 2008 Derivatives Nightmare (MM)
The Brexit Question That Nobody Asked (BBG)
China Is Grappling With Hidden Unemployment (BBG)
Australia’s Unprecedented Collapse In Business Investment, In One Chart (BI)
Australia Central Bank Loses Credibility As Housing Boom Continues (AFR)
American Journalism Is Collapsing Before Our Eyes (Goodwin)
The Clintons Really Do Think They Can Get Away With Anything (WSJ)
Clinton Not In The Clear (Jack Kelly)
The History of Money: Not What You Think (Minskys)
German Government: Citizens Should Store Food, Water And Cash (DWN)
‘Nobody Believes In Anything Anymore’: Greek Crisis is Far From Over (CNBC)
Rescuing Refugees: ‘You Never Get Used To It – And That’s A Good Thing’ (G.)
Inuit Fear Being Overwhelmed As ‘Extinction Tourism’ Descends On Arctic (G.)

 

 

“China’s July exports of diesel and gasoline soared by 181.8% and 145.2% respectively..”

Oil Falls As August Price Rally Seen Overblown, China Fuel Exports Soar (R.)

Oil prices fell on Monday as analysts doubted upcoming producer talks would rein in oversupply, saying that Brent would likely fall back below $50 a barrel as August’s more than 20% crude rally looks overblown. Soaring exports of refined products from China also pressured prices, as this was seen as the latest indicator of an ongoing global fuel glut, traders said. China’s July exports of diesel and gasoline soared by 181.8% and 145.2% respectively compared with the same month last year, to 1.53 million tonnes and 970,000 tonnes each, putting pressure on refined product margins. Brent crude futures were trading at $50.22 per barrel at 0224 GMT, down 66 cents, or 1.3%.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was down 51 cents, or 1.05%, at $48.01 a barrel. Analysts cast doubt on an August price rally, saying that much of it was a result of short-covering and anticipation of upcoming producer talks to discuss means to curb oversupply. “Positioning data seems to confirm our view that the latest oil bounce is more technical and positioning-oriented than fundamental. In fact, new buyers have been mostly absent the past few months,” Morgan Stanley said. Regarding the upcoming producer talks, the bank said a agreement was “highly unlikely” and that there were “too many headwinds and logistical challenges to a meaningful deal”.

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Less than 5% are wrong.

Less Than 5% Of Japan Inc. Think Abe’s Stimulus Will Boost The Economy (R.)

Japanese companies overwhelmingly say the government’s latest stimulus will do little to boost the economy and the Bank of Japan should not ease further, a Reuters poll showed, a setback for policymakers’ efforts to overcome deflation and stagnation. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this month unveiled a 13.5 trillion yen (£102.6 billion) fiscal package of public works projects and other measures, vowing a united front with the BOJ to revive the economy and raising speculation of a surge in government spending essentially financed by the central bank. But less than 5% of companies believe the steps will boost the economy near-term or raise its growth potential, according to the Reuters Corporate Survey, conducted August 1-16.

“It’s disappointing that the stimulus focuses on public works, and it lacks attention to promoting industry and technology that would lead to future growth,” said a manager at a precision-machinery maker. Abe took office 3 1/2 years ago, pledging to reboot the economy with aggressive monetary stimulus, fiscal spending and reform plans. After an early spurt of growth and surging corporate profits, helped by a sharp fall in the yen, the economy is again sputtering and prices are slipping, underscoring the challenge for Japan to beat nearly two decades of deflation and anaemic growth. “Unless drastic steps are taken to fix the root of Japan’s problems – the falling birthrate and working population – solid economic growth won’t return … only public debt would pile up without sustainable growth,” said an electrical machinery firm.

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You would still have to specify those who have nothing left to save; economists miss out on that.

Grim Outlook for the Economy, Stocks: Stephanie Pomboy (Barron’s)

For some time, Stephanie Pomboy, an economist and the founder of MacroMavens, has pushed a provocative theory that a crisis-chastened U.S. consumer would retard global growth. That is why a U.S. recovery has taken so long to take off, and why Japan and Europe look set to embark on more rounds of quantitative easing. An avid reader of Shakespeare, Pomboy appreciates the comic and tragic dimensions of the markets—the giddy optimism for the second half of the year, and the potentially disastrous consequences of excessively low rates. As stocks teetered at new highs, we phoned Pomboy in Vail, Colo., where she lives when not in Manhattan, to hear her latest views. They aren’t rosy: Investors and policy makers are deluding themselves that we will soon return to a pre-financial crisis framework. Things have changed, she says, which means expectations for economic growth in the second half are far too optimistic. And today’s low rates could cause another financial crisis, bankrupting pension plans, putting retirees at risk, and hurting stocks.

Barron’s: You like to focus on the consumer—and plot U.S. consumer spending as a percentage of GDP versus world trade. Why? Pomboy: What ignited and supported the entire era of globalization was the spendthrift U.S. consumer; economies have been totally reliant on trade to U.S. consumers. This once-in-a-generation asset deflation will fundamentally change behavior, just as the Depression changed an entire generation’s attitude about spending and saving. Obviously, the burden of proof is on me, because for 20 years the consumer has reliably borrowed from China to buy their tube socks. Post-crisis, the consumer has clearly pulled back.

How many months did we have disappointing retail sales numbers that no one could explain? They’d say it’s too hot, too cold, there’s Brexit. But what’s really causing this slowdown in spending is that the post-crisis consumer is determined to save, and do it the old-fashioned way. Historically, when rates go down, people save less. In this cycle, things have completely reversed. Over the same stretch of time that the two-year note has gone from 4% to 1%, the savings rate has doubled. There are mountains of evidence to support my thesis. But every Wall Street analyst and the Fed is using the pre-crisis analytical framework to look at an economy that is fundamentally challenged.

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Note the numbers: “Credit Suisse prudently sold $380 billion of derivatives to Citi, thereby reducing its own leverage exposure by $5 billion.”

Citi Is About to Relive the 2008 Derivatives Nightmare (MM)

Deutsche Bank – with its stock now trading at a 30-year low – was recently called the world’s riskiest financial institution by the IMF. Better late than never… In a last-ditch effort to save itself, DB is trying to dump a bucket load of credit derivatives – the murky, risky financial instruments that triggered the 2008 financial crisis. You would think no one would buy these weapons of financial mass destruction… but you’d be wrong. In a staggeringly stupid move, the American bank I’m telling you about today has gone on a derivatives shopping spree, eagerly taking credit default swaps off the hands of failing Eurozone banks like DB and Credit Suisse. That means, of course, another outsize short opportunity for you to take…

Citigroup already nearly destroyed itself with derivatives during the 2008 crisis, requiring the biggest taxpayer bailout in history in order to stay afloat. Strangely, it didn’t learn its lesson the first time its stock fell below $1. As rival banks see the writing on the wall and scramble to get rid of their derivatives, Citi is now cheerfully snapping up billions of dollars’ worth. Several weeks ago, Credit Suisse prudently sold $380 billion of derivatives to Citi, thereby reducing its own leverage exposure by $5 billion. Last year, Deutsche Bank palmed off $250 billion of credit default swaps on (guess who?) Citi, and is in talks to get rid of even more. The result is that Citi now holds the most derivatives of any of its U.S. rivals. That’s a staggering total exposure of nearly $56 trillion, according to the OCC’s latest report, shown here:

[..] our current $650 trillion derivatives market is a nightmare scenario waiting to happen. First problem: the size. It’s 36x the size of the U.S. GDP and over 8x larger than the world GDP – the entire global output of the entire world in a year. While credit default swaps shrank significantly in size since the financial crisis, they remain large enough to constitute a potential time bomb inside the financial system that could blow up any time. Second problem: the interconnectedness. Every derivative contract involves two parties that agree to make certain payments to each other. But if one party is unable or unwilling to live up to its agreement and make those payments, the other party is left holding the bag and nursing a big loss. In a crisis, this can leave a volume of broken contracts that will overwhelm these institutions and render them instantly insolvent.

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Where is the EU heading?

The Brexit Question That Nobody Asked (BBG)

Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England, has written the best article I’ve read on Britain’s exit from the EU. In an essay for the New York Review of Books he makes many excellent points, but one is of surpassing importance. It’s an obvious point, or ought to be, that nonetheless has been almost entirely ignored by other respectable commentators: Whether Britain should stay in the EU depends on where the EU is heading. The EU is plainly in deep trouble with or without the U.K., and its condition as a political project is anything but stable. Judging whether Britain is better off as a member therefore requires a judgment not only about what Britain has gained or lost from membership up to now but also an assessment of the future character of the whole EU enterprise.

Britain’s Remain campaign, expressing the collective opinion of every expert on the subject, has had almost nothing to say about this. As King points out, the EU is structurally unsound. (Joseph Stiglitz in the FT makes the same point.) It has pressed political union both too far and not far enough. That is, it has created half a political union – with a single currency but without a collective fiscal policy or the political apparatus that would be necessary to legitimize it. King: Putting the cart before the horse – setting up a monetary union before a political union – has led the ECB to become more and more vocal about the need to “complete the architecture” of monetary union by proceeding quickly to create a Treasury and finance minister for the entire eurozone.

The ability of such a new ministry to make transfers between member countries of the monetary union would reduce pressure on the ECB to find new ways of holding the monetary union together. But there is no democratic mandate for a new ministry to create such transfers or to have political union – voters do not want either. And voters aren’t the only ones who don’t want it. German officialdom (backed by popular opinion) is viscerally opposed to a “transfer union,” which is Germany’s name for fiscal policy as it operates in any normal country. Germany’s position is understandable, since Germans would give much more than they received in any such arrangement. But that doesn’t alter the conclusion: Not only is the EU structurally unsound, but there’s also little prospect that the structure either can be or will be repaired.

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Color me baffled.

China Is Grappling With Hidden Unemployment (BBG)

Cracks are starting to show in China’s labor market as struggling industrial firms leave millions of workers in flux. While official jobless numbers haven’t budged, the underemployment rate has jumped to more than 5% from near zero in 2010, according to Bai Peiwei, an economics professor at Xiamen University. Bai estimates the rate may be 10% in industries with excess capacity, such as unprofitable steel mills and coal mines that have slashed pay, reduced shifts and required unpaid leave. Many state-owned firms battling overcapacity favor putting workers in a holding pattern to avoid mass layoffs that risk fueling social unrest. While that helps airbrush the appearance of duress, it also slows the shift of workers to services jobs, where labor demand remains more solid in China’s shifting economy.

“Underemployment in overcapacity industries is a drag on the potential improvement of productivity in China, which will lead to a softening wage trend,” said Grace Ng at JPMorgan in Hong Kong. “It would exert pressure on private consumption demand and in turn affect the overall rebalancing of the economy.” Other projections indicate the employment situation is even worse. An indicator of unemployment and underemployment produced by London-based research firm Fathom Consulting has more than tripled since 2012 to 13.2%. The official jobless rate isn’t much help for economists: it’s been virtually unchanged at about 4.1% since 2010 even as the economy slowed. The gauge only counts those who register for unemployment benefits in their home towns, which doesn’t take into account 277 million migrant workers. Total employment is 775 million, National Bureau of Statistics data show.

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Wow. What a chart that is.

Australia’s Unprecedented Collapse In Business Investment, In One Chart (BI)

You’ve probably heard of the “capex cliff”, the term for the collapse in capital expenditure plans by Australian businesses that is an inevitable feature of the economy following the once-in-a-lifetime mining investment boom driven mainly by the surge in Chinese demand over the past two decades. But with Australia’s manufacturing industry having been hollowed out too over the past decade, the capital investment pipeline for both mining and manufacturing are gone. So the fall-off, when measured in terms of a percentage of GDP, is nothing short of spectacular in historical context, as shown in this chart from Macquarie. It’s not hard to see why economists have occasionally mentioned the word “recessionary” in reference to the investment outlook.

Part of what’s driving this is that Australia’s economy is increasingly being driven by much less capital-intensive sectors such as education and tourism, which don’t require huge pieces of machinery and infrastructure like trains, tunnelling machines and factory plant equipment. And on the other side of the ledger, the huge increases in capital investment during the mining boom have laid the foundations for the vast increase in Australia’s commodity export volumes, which have been supporting economic growth since the spending started to fall away. The Macquarie research team notes, however, that “non-mining business capex has yet to meaningfully react to lower interest rates, and that companies are “waiting for clear signs of sustained demand before investing.” Right now, those signs are nowhere to be seen.

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You can make charts just like this one for many countries.

Australia Central Bank Loses Credibility As Housing Boom Continues (AFR)

Australia’s booming housing market has once again head-faked the central bank, which is losing credibility every time it cuts on claims the world’s dearest residential property prices are nothing to worry about. In rationalising its decision to reduce the cash rate to 1.5% in August, the Reserve Bank of Australia alleged that “the likelihood of lower interest rates exacerbating risks in the housing market has diminished”. Yet auction clearance rates in our two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, which account for 47% of the metro population, have subsequently risen back to boom-time levels. CoreLogic reports that 86.4% of Sydney auctions on the weekend resulted in a sale, which is 10 percentage points higher than the equivalent clearance rate 12 months ago and just shy of the 89.7% record set in May last year.

In Melbourne, 76.1% of auctions saw a sale, besting the 74.3% clearance rate in the same week last year. Median clearance rates in Sydney and Melbourne over the four weeks since July 31 have been 78% and 76% respectively, materially above the median levels observed in these cities since the current housing boom commenced in 2013 on the back of the RBA’s stimulus. While the RBA argues that much lower sales volumes in 2016 signal weakness, this is likely more a reflection of a four-year boom exhausting supply. And it does not stack up with unusually strong clearance rates or persistently exuberant capital gains across Sydney and Melbourne.

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I can only fully agree. And no, again, that’s not because I support Trump. Everything and everyone should be scrutinized.

American Journalism Is Collapsing Before Our Eyes (Goodwin)

Donald Trump may or may not fix his campaign, and Hillary Clinton may or may not become the first female president. But something else happening before our eyes is almost as important: the complete collapse of American journalism as we know it. The frenzy to bury Trump is not limited to the Clinton campaign and the Obama White House. They are working hand-in-hand with what was considered the cream of the nation’s news organizations. The shameful display of naked partisanship by the elite media is unlike anything seen in modern America. The largest broadcast networks – CBS, NBC and ABC – and major newspapers like The New York Times and Washington Post have jettisoned all pretense of fair play. Their fierce determination to keep Trump out of the Oval Office has no precedent.

Indeed, no foreign enemy, no terror group, no native criminal gang, suffers the daily beating that Trump does. The mad mullahs of Iran, who call America the Great Satan and vow to wipe Israel off the map, are treated gently by comparison. By torching its remaining credibility in service of Clinton, the mainstream media’s reputations will likely never recover, nor will the standards. No future producer, editor, reporter or anchor can be expected to meet a test of fairness when that standard has been trashed in such willful and blatant fashion. Liberal bias in journalism is often baked into the cake. The traditional ethos of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable leads to demands that government solve every problem. Favoring big government, then, becomes routine among most journalists, especially young ones.

I know because I was one of them. I started at the Times while the Vietnam War and civil-rights movement raged, and was full of certainty about right and wrong. My editors were, too, though in a different way. Our boss of bosses, the legendary Abe Rosenthal, knew his reporters leaned left, so he leaned right to “keep the paper straight.” That meant the Times, except for the opinion pages, was scrubbed free of reporters’ political views, an edict that was enforced by giving the opinion and news operations separate editors. The church-and-state structure was one reason the Times was considered the flagship of journalism. Those days are gone. The Times now is so out of the closet as a Clinton shill that it is giving itself permission to violate any semblance of evenhandedness in its news pages as well as its opinion pages.

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But then you think: well, well, what got into the Wall Street Journal editors? Expect pressure on Clinton Foundation to increase.

The Clintons Really Do Think They Can Get Away With Anything (WSJ)

After years of claiming that the Clinton Foundation poses no ethical conflicts for Bill and Hillary or the U.S. government, Bill Clinton now admits the truth—sort of. If his wife becomes President, he says the Super PAC masquerading as a charity won’t accept foreign or corporate contributions. Bill will also resign from the foundation board, and Chelsea will stop raising money for it. Now they tell us. If such fund-raising poses a problem when she’s President, why didn’t it when she was Secretary of State or while she is running for President? The answer is that it did and does, and they know it, but the foundation was too important to their political futures to give it up until the dynastic couple were headed back to the Oval Office.

Now that Hillary is running ahead of Donald Trump, Bill can graciously accept new restrictions on their pay-to-play politics. Bill must be having a good laugh over this one. The foundation served for years as a conduit for corporate and foreign cash to burnish the Clinton image, pay for their travel expenses for speeches and foreign trips, and employ their coterie in between campaigns or government gigs. Donors could give as much as they wanted because the foundation is a “charity.” President Obama may have banished Sidney Blumenthal from the State Department, but Bill could stash his conspiratorial pal at the foundation, keeping him on the family payroll while Sid flooded Hillary with foreign-policy advice. Her private email server was supposed to hide their email traffic—until that gambit was exposed last year.

But FBI Director James Comey let Hillary off the hook on the emails, and he declined to investigate the foundation, so it looks like they’re home free. By now the corporate and foreign cash has already been delivered, in anticipation that Hillary Clinton could become the next President. So now it’s the better part of political prudence to claim the ethical high ground. If you choose to believe or have a short memory. Readers may recall that the foundation promised the White House when Mrs. Clinton became Secretary of State that the foundation would restrict foreign donations and get approval from the State Department. It turned out the foundation violated that pledge, specifically when accepting $500,000 from Algeria.

The foundation also agreed to disclose donor names but failed to do so for more than 1,000 foreign donors until the failure was exposed by press reports. [..] Far from offering some new clean ethical slate, this latest foundation gambit ought to be a warning about a third Clinton term. Protected by Democrats and a press corps desperate to beat Donald Trump, the Clintons really do think they can get away with anything.

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“.. In 2013, for instance, the Clinton Foundation took in $140 million, but spent just $9 million (6.4%) on direct aid. A typical charity devotes about 75% of receipts to aid.”

Clinton Not In The Clear (Jack Kelly)

Hillary Clinton has little to fear from Donald Trump. But she may be casting nervous glances over her shoulder at Preet Bharara. You may not have heard of Mr. Bharara. Sheldon Silver, former speaker of the New York State Assembly, a Democrat, and Dean Skelos, former majority leader of the New York Senate, a Republican, wish they hadn’t. In May, they were sentenced to 12 years and five years in prison, respectively, for corruption. Preet Bharara is the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Since his appointment in 2009, Mr. Bharara “has launched a one-man crusade against evil-doers, ranging from corrupt politicians to the Mafia,” wrote Alan Chartock, a political science professor who’s a longtime watcher of New York state government.

The Southern District of New York is the lead of three U.S. attorneys’ offices investigating the Clinton Foundation, a recently retired deputy director of the FBI told the Daily Caller. The Clinton Foundation is headquartered in New York. It was begun in Little Rock, Ark., to raise funds for the Clinton library. The office in Washington, D.C., may focus on when Hillary was secretary of state. The Clinton Foundation has received more than $2 billion in contributions. More than 1,000 donors are foreigners. The foundation won’t disclose their names or amounts donated. Few of the funds raised have been spent on charitable works. In 2013, for instance, the Clinton Foundation took in $140 million, but spent just $9 million (6.4%) on direct aid. A typical charity devotes about 75% of receipts to aid.

Much more is spent on pay and benefits for staff, office rent, conferences and travel. Some of the highest-paid staffers are political operatives, such as Huma Abedin, who for a time was on the payrolls of both the Clinton Foundation and the State Department, and Sid Blumenthal, who ran a private intelligence network for Hillary in Libya. The most ballyhooed project, relief for Haiti after a devastating earthquake in 2010, was an example of “Robin Hood in reverse”— robbing the poor for the benefit of the rich, said financial analyst Charles Ortel. The Clinton Foundation is a “charity fraud network,” Mr. Ortel wrote on his blog. “What possesses powerful, wealthy and educated persons to prey on the most desperately poor humans on earth as they posture as philanthropists?”

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Interesting view.

The History of Money: Not What You Think (Minskys)

Most of us have an idea of how money came to be. It goes something like this: People wanted to exchange goods for other goods, but it was difficult to coordinate. So they started exchanging goods for money, and money for goods. This tells us that money is a medium of exchange. It’s a nice and simple story. The problem is that it may not be true. We may be understanding money entirely wrong. The above story assumes that first there was a market, and then people introduced money to make the market work better. But some people find this hard to believe. Those who subscribe to the Chartalist school of thought give a different history. Before money was used in markets, they say, it was used in primitive criminal justice systems.

Money started as—and still is—is a record of debt. It is a way to keep track of what one person owes another. There’s anthropological evidence to back up this view. Work by Innes, and Wray suggest that the origins of money are more like this: In a pre-market, feudal society, there was usually a system to maintain justice in the community. If someone committed a crime, the authority, let’s call him the king, would decide that the criminal owed a fine to the victim. The fine could be a cow, a sheep, three chickens, depending on the crime. Until that cow was brought forward, the criminal was indebted to the victim. The king would record the criminal’s outstanding debt. This system changed over time. Rather than paying fines to the victim, criminals were ordered to pay fines to the king.

This way, resources were being moved to the king, who could coordinate their use for the benefit of the community as a whole. This was useful for the King, and for the development of the society. But the amount of resources coming from a criminal here and there was not impressive. The system had to be expanded to draw more resources to the kingdom. To expand the system, the king created debt-records of his own. You can think of them as pieces of papers that say King-Owes-You. Next, he went to his citizens and demanded they give him the resources he wanted. If a citizen gave their cow to the king, the king would give the citizen some of his King-Owes-You papers. Now, a cow seems more useful than a piece of paper, so it seems silly that a citizen would agree to this.

But the king had thought of a solution. To make sure everyone would want his King-Owes-You papers, he created a use for them. He proclaimed that every so often, all citizens had to come forward to the kingdom. Each citizen would be in big trouble, unless they could provide little pieces of paper that showed the king still owed them. In that case, the king would let the citizen go, and not owe them any longer. The citizen would be free to go off and acquire more King-Owes-You papers, to make sure he would be safe the next time, too.

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Saw this on Reuters and other sites, but they all left out the need to store cash, for some reason, which is in the original directive. So I ran the article through Google Translate and corrected it a little.

A government advising people to store cash is not a minor point, I would think. Not in the days of plastic and a war on cash.

German Government: Citizens Should Store Food, Water And Cash (DWN)

For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the federal government according to a report wants to encourage new stockpiling the population again, so that they, in the case of a disaster or an armed attack temporarily, can take care of themselves. “The population is ‘advised’ to hold a personal supply of food of ten days,” quoted the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung” from a concept for civil defense, which the government is requested to adopt on Wednesday. According to the report, the population should be able to protect themselves in an emergency before calling government action to ensure an adequate supply of food, water, energy and cash. Therefore, the population should also be ‘advised’, to hold, for a period of five days, two liters of drinking water per person per day, it is stated in the text drawn up by the Ministry of the Interior.

According to “FAS” is the first strategy for civil defense since the end of the Cold War in 1989. She had been given in 2012 by the Budget Committee of the Bundestag in order. In the 69-page concept it is stated “that an attack on the territory of Germany, which requires a conventional defense, play” was. Nevertheless, it was necessary, “nevertheless to such sufficiently prepared not fundamentally excluded for the future development of life-threatening”. Interestingly, the FAZ reported in this regard that the Federal Government also worry about their own safety. The newspaper writes that in the paper literally stand “. Precautions are the event the task of the service office to meet in order to relocate the performance of duties of a public authority to another, sheltered place (Emergency Seat) can”

It is not clear whether these preparations related to a possible war. The federal government has recently changed its military strategy and regarded Russia as an enemy. NATO considers Russia an attack on NATO territory possible. Therefore, NATO wants the US and the EU also defend outside their own territory. Reuters writes that in the concept of “the need for a reliable alarm system, a better structural protection of buildings and sufficient capacity discussed in the health system” would. Reuters: “The civilian support of the armed forces should be again a priority. These included modifications to the traffic steering when the Bundeswehr must relocate combat units. “

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Very far from over. Please help me support. Read: Meanwhile in Greece..

‘Nobody Believes In Anything Anymore’: Greek Crisis is Far From Over (CNBC)

With Europe facing pressing crises including the refugee crisis, economic slowdown and political disintegration following the Brexit vote, it’s easy to forget that Greece’s political and economic crisis dominated headlines last summer. One year on and a third bailout worth €86 billion later, arrived at after tortuous negotiations between Greece and its lenders, and the situation in Greece is a game of two halves with many Greeks suffering – and some trying to make something out of a bad situation. Greece’s government has been forced to make widespread spending cuts over the course of its three separate bailout programs, making life harder for most Greeks of ordinary means. The cuts have affected all ages with unemployment rising to the highest level in Europe.

A survey by independent analysis firm DiaNEOsis in June revealed that many Greeks were facing an increasing struggle to get by. Extreme poverty in the Greek population (of 11 million people) had risen from 2.2% in 2009, to 15% in 2015, the public opinion survey of 1,300 people showed, with 1.6 million people now living below in extreme poverty. One resident of the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, Evangelos Kyrimlis, told CNBC that the Greece’s crisis had taken its toll on society, both at a local and national level. “Disillusionment is the first big thing that’s going on,” he noted. “Nobody believes in anything anymore.” “The second big thing is withdrawal. People have retreated to their families and fight only for the family survival. Society has been fragmented,” he said.

Kyrimlis works for his partner’s family firm, having returned to Greece after working for an engineering consultancy in London. Returning to Greece in the midst of the country’s financial breakdown, he said he now noted an increase in animosity between people, saying there was a “widespread hatred not directed to anyone in particular, it’s like all against all.”

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“When they reached the port in Sicily the Italian Red Cross were there, with coffins and flowers for every person who died [..] The tough MSF doctors who have been going from war to war cried because of the flowers..”

Rescuing Refugees: ‘You Never Get Used To It – And That’s A Good Thing’ (G.)

It was the silence of the passengers that Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui first noticed. Usually when the humanitarian rescue boat sees a tiny dinghy bobbing about in the Mediterranean there’s frantic waving and shouting. “When our team approached in smaller boats and everyone was so quiet we realised something was wrong,” she says. “We asked permission to go aboard and that’s when we realised the others had been waiting for rescue for hours with dead bodies in the boat.” Twenty-two bodies were recovered that day (21 of them women) and 209 people were saved by the crew of the Aquarius, a boat run by Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) that patrols the refugee route between Libya and Italy. MSF advocacy manager Hadj-Sahraoui got an idea of how they died from the testimonies of survivors once they were safely on the Aquarius.

A wooden board that had been placed along the bottom of the dinghy broke and water started to come in, mixing with leaking fuel cans. A panic ensued and the 22 people died either in a stampede or drowning in a mix of water and fuel. The people they rescued were in shock. “The priority – it’s sad to say – is with the living,” says Hadj-Sahraoui. “So there’s a very quick medical team, trying to assess needs.” Once the survivors were on the Aquarius they were each given a blanket, water and some food. The people who were soaked in fuel were sent for a shower, because the fuel and sea salt cause nasty burns. Then they registered them. Hadj-Sahraoui speaks Arabic, French and English, a great advantage in her line of work. She asks each person where they are from, how old they are, and if they are travelling alone.

“We don’t wear sunglasses, because we need to have eye contact. It’s about humanity. It’s big smiles saying: ‘You’re now safe. This is where you are. This is what’s going to happen next.’ What surprised me is how polite people are. How they take their time to say thank you.” Once all the survivors were safely on board, and being tended to, the crew of the Aquarius also felt it was right on this occasion to recover the bodies of the women and one man who died. “For several hours we tried to keep the living on one side of the boat. The bodies had spent hours in the water, so we were trying to protect the living from seeing that. The doctor took pictures for identification, because families will never know what happened to their loved ones.” When they reached the port in Sicily the Italian Red Cross were there, with coffins and flowers for every person who died.

“The tough MSF doctors who have been going from war to war cried because of the flowers,” says Hadj-Sahraoui. “I was one of the suckers who cried a lot.” She says that people who do humanitarian work need to learn to take care of themselves, because there’s a lot of emotional burnout. MSF staff have psychological debriefings before and after they go on missions, and after extreme experiences like this one.

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No-one’s going to stop this.

Inuit Fear Being Overwhelmed As ‘Extinction Tourism’ Descends On Arctic (G.)

In a few days, one of the world’s largest cruise ships, the Crystal Serenity, will visit the tiny Inuit village of Ulukhaktok in northern Canada. Hundreds of passengers will be ferried to the little community, more than doubling its population of around 400. The Serenity will then raise anchor and head through the Northwest Passage to visit several more Inuit settlements before sailing to Greenland and finally New York. It will be a massive undertaking, representing an almost tenfold increase in passenger numbers taken through the Arctic on a single vessel – and it has triggered considerable controversy among Arctic experts. Inuit leaders fear that visits by giant cruise ships could overwhelm fragile communities, while others warn that the Arctic ecosystem, already suffering the effects of global warming, could be seriously damaged.

“This is extinction tourism,” said international law expert Professor Michael Byers, of the University of British Columbia. “Making this trip has only become possible because carbon emissions have so warmed the atmosphere that Arctic sea ice in summer is disappearing. The terrible irony is that this ship – which even has a helicopter for sightseeing and a huge staff-to-passenger ratio – has an enormous carbon footprint that is only going to make things even worse in the Arctic.” The Serenity is by far the biggest cruise vessel to traverse the fabled Northwest Passage, whose exploration has claimed the lives of hundreds of seamen. The ship has a crew of 655 and carries 1,070 passengers, who have paid between £19,000 and £120,000 for a voyage that Crystal Cruises says will take them on an “intrepid adventure” from Anchorage in Alaska to New York over 32 days.

For its part, Crystal insists its clients will have to follow a strict code of conduct during shore visits, while the ship’s air, water and rubbish discharges will be tightly controlled. Only low-sulphur fuel will be burned in the Serenity’s engines, said a spokesman. The Serenity will be accompanied by the UK icebreaker the RSS Ernest Shackleton, he added.

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Aug 192016
 
 August 19, 2016  Posted by at 2:25 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Opening of Golden Gate Bridge May 27 1937

This is an absolute must see, and a joy to watch. Longtime friend of the Automatic Earth Steve Keen was on BBC’s Hardtalk over the weekend. I already really liked the 2.30min clip the BBC released earlier this week. Now Steve himself has posted the entire interview, while the BBC only has an audio podcast (for anyone outside the UK).

You can see that Steve came prepared for some ‘hard’ questioning, and the format fits him very well. Kudo’s! Also, kudo’s to the BBC for having him on, perhaps alternative views on economics have become more palatable in Britain post-Brexit? Interviewer Stephen Sackur sound quite typical of what I see in British media almost 2 months after Brexit: fear and uncertainty and the overall notion that leaving the EU is a very bad thing. Time to move on, perhaps?

I’m not sure Steve would join me in professing the term Beautiful Brexit, but our views on the EU are remarkably alike: it’s a dangerous club (and it will end up imploding no matter what). And that is in turn remarkable unlike the view of our friend Yanis Varoufakis, who is seeking to reform the union.

I went to see Yanis’ presentation of his DiEM25 initiative on the island of Aegina, off Athens, last week, and I found far too much idealism there. There were DiEM25 members from France, Italy and Spain, and they all seemed to agree on one thing: “we need” a pan-European organization -of sorts-. But do we? And why? In my view, they ignore those questions far too easily.

Moreover, even if we choose that path, why the EU? For me, as I said to the people I was with last week, reforming the EU is like reforming the mafia: you don’t want to go there, you want to dissolve it and shut it down. What the EU is today is the result of 60+ years of building an anti-democratic structure that involves and feeds tens of thousands of people, and you’re not going to break that down in any kind of short term.

Though it’s politically ‘not done’, I do think Boris Johnson was on to something when he said during the Brexit campaign: “Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods [..] But fundamentally, what is lacking is the eternal problem, which is that there is no underlying loyalty to the idea of Europe. There is no single authority that anybody respects or understands. That is causing this massive democratic void.”

When he said it in May, it was used as campaign fodder by the Remain side, though ironically they never mentioned Napoleon, only Hitler. “How dare you make that comparison!” But Johnson could have mentioned Charlemagne or Charles V, or Julius Ceasar just as well. They all tried to unify Europe, and all with pretty bloody results.

And just like all the idealism I see today in DiEM25, there were plenty idealists at the foundation of the EU, too. But again it’s going awfully wrong. Diversity is what makes Europe beautiful, and trying to rule over it from a centralized place threatens that diversity. European nations have a zillion ways to work together, but a central government and a central bank, plus a one-currency system, that is not going to work.

Still, before I get people proclaiming for instance that Steve Keen is a fan of Boris Johnson, which I’m sure he’s not and neither am I, we’re both fans of Yanis Varoufakis, just not on this issue, but before I make people make that link, I’ll shut up and hand you over to Steve.

But not before reiterating once more that in my view none of this EU talk really matters, because centralization can exist only in times of -economic- growth (or dictatorship), and we’re smack in the middle of a non-growth era kept hidden from us by a veil of gigantesque debt issuance. The future is going to be localization, protectionism, name it what you want; feel free to call it common sense. It will happen regardless of what you call it.

 

 

 

 

Jul 102016
 
 July 10, 2016  Posted by at 8:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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G.G. Bain Political museums, Union Square, New York 1909

Bank Earnings Loom Large As Stocks Near Record on Wall Street (R.)
The Epic Collapse Of The World’s Most Systemically Dangerous Bank (ZH/VC)
Bank of England Considers Curbs On Property Funds (R.)
China June Inflation Eases Further, More Policy Stimulus Anticipated (R.)
China Healthcare Costs Forcing Patients Into Crippling Debt (R.)
Gorbachev: ‘The Next War Will Be the Last’ (Sputnik)
Blair’s Deputy PM Says Iraq Invasion Broke International Law (BBC)
Families Of Soldiers Killed In Iraq Vow To Sue Blair For ‘Every Penny’ (Tel.)
Australia’s Other Great Reef Is Also Screwed (Atlantic)
10,000 Hectares Of Mangroves Die Across Northern Australia (ABC.au)
Global Insect Populations Fall 45% In Past 40 Years (e360)

 

 

Markets are now completely divorced from reality.

Bank Earnings Loom Large As Stocks Near Record on Wall Street (R.)

The focus on Wall Street will shift to corporate earnings next week after a strong June jobs report on Friday gave investors confidence that the U.S. economy was on stable footing and left the S&P 500 within a whisper of a new closing record high. Earnings next week are expected from big banks JPMorgan, Citigroup and Wells Fargo as well as other financial companies such as BlackRock and PNC Financial Services. Earnings for the sector are expected to decline 5.4%. If bank earnings come in better than expected, the S&P 500 is likely to push through its record highs set in May 2015 after several failed attempts, as Friday’s jobs number helped push the benchmark index to less than one point from its closing record high of 2,130.82.

“Banks are definitely in the spotlight,” said Tim Ghriskey, CIO of Solaris Group in Bedford Hills, New York. “There is some trepidation in the market going into this earnings season, the quarter economically was not particularly strong.” Financials have been the worst performing of the 10 major S&P sector groups this year, down nearly 6%, as they were hit by reduced expectations for a U.S. interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve and uncertainty in the wake of “Brexit.” Second-quarter earnings overall are expected to decline 4.7%, according to Thomson Reuters data, the fourth straight quarter of negative earnings, but up slightly from the 5% decline in the first quarter.

Investors will be looking for confirmation this quarter that earnings are starting to turn, with analysts anticipating a return to growth in the back half of the year, starting with expectations for a 1.8% increase in the third quarter.

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Two things still stuck in German media (Google translate for them is awful) as I write this: the chief economist for Deutsche Bank calls for a €150 billion bailout for European banks, and German top-economist Hans-Werner Sinn says Finland will be next to leave EU and first to leave eurozone.

The Epic Collapse Of The World’s Most Systemically Dangerous Bank (ZH/VC)

It’s been almost 10 years in the making, but the fate of one of Europe’s most important financial institutions appears to be sealed. After a hard-hitting sequence of scandals, poor decisions, and unfortunate events,Visual Capitalist’s Jeff Desjardins notes that Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank shares are now down -48% on the year to $12.60, which is a record-setting low. Even more stunning is the long-term view of the German institution’s downward spiral. With a modest $15.8 billion in market capitalization, shares of the 147-year-old company now trade for a paltry 8% of its peak price in May 2007.

If the deaths of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns were quick and painless, the coming demise of Deutsche Bank has been long, drawn out, and painful. In recent times, Deutsche Bank’s investment banking division has been among the largest in the world, comparable in size to Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Bank of America, and Citigroup. However, unlike those other names, Deutsche Bank has been walking wounded since the Financial Crisis, and the German bank has never been able to fully recover. It’s ironic, because in 2009, the company’s CEO Josef Ackermann boldly proclaimed that Deutsche Bank had plenty of capital, and that it was weathering the crisis better than its competitors.

It turned out, however, that the bank was actually hiding $12 billion in losses to avoid a government bailout. Meanwhile, much of the money the bank did make during this turbulent time in the markets stemmed from the manipulation of Libor rates. Those “wins” were short-lived, since the eventual fine to end the Libor probe would be a record-setting $2.5 billion. The bank finally had to admit that it actually needed more capital. In 2013, it raised €3 billion with a rights issue, claiming that no additional funds would be needed. Then in 2014 the bank head-scratchingly proceeded to raise €1.5 billion, and after that, another €8 billion. In recent years, Deutsche Bank has desperately been trying to reinvent itself.

Having gone through multiple CEOs since the Financial Crisis, the latest attempt at reinvention involves a massive overhaul of operations and staff announced by co-CEO John Cryan in October 2015. The bank is now in the process of cutting 9,000 employees and ceasing operations in 10 countries. This is where our timeline of Deutsche Bank’s most recent woes begins – and the last six months, in particular, have been fast and furious. Deutsche Bank started the year by announcing a record-setting loss in 2015 of €6.8 billion. Cryan went on an immediate PR binge, proclaiming that the bank was “rock solid”. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble even went out of his way to say he had “no concerns” about Deutsche Bank. Translation: things are in full-on crisis mode.

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Just in time delivery?!

Bank of England Considers Curbs On Property Funds (R.)

The Bank of England is considering curbs on withdrawals from property investment funds after Britain’s vote to leave the EU roiled the sector, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper said late on Saturday. The paper said it understood that the BoE was considering “enforced notice periods before redemptions, slashing the price for investors who rush to the door, or additional liquidity requirements for funds”. Andrew Bailey, the head of Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority, told a BoE news conference on Tuesday that the structure of open-ended real estate funds needed to be reviewed, as investors rushed to cash in their investments.

The BoE – where Bailey was deputy governor until he moved to the FCA this month – last year expressed concern about funds that invest in assets which can become illiquid in a crisis, but allow investors to withdraw funds without notice. On Friday the FCA issued guidance to property funds to avoid disadvantaging investors who had not sought to redeem funds. The Telegraph said regulators were considering requiring funds to ask investors to give a notice period of 30 days to six months for redemptions, or to hold more liquid assets to meet withdrawals, such as cash or shares and bonds in property-related companies. More than six British property funds suspended withdrawals last week to tackle a tide of redemptions after the June 23 vote to leave the EU unnerved investors who are worried that the uncertainty will hit demand to rent and buy commercial property.

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As I said, China’s entered deflation.

China June Inflation Eases Further, More Policy Stimulus Anticipated (R.)

China’s June consumer inflation grew at its slowest pace since January as increases in food prices eased, while producer prices extended their decline, reinforcing economists’ views that more government stimulus steps will be needed to support the economy. The consumer price index (CPI) rose 1.9% in June from a year earlier, compared with a 2.0% increase in May, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Sunday. Analysts had expected a 1.8% gain, a Reuters poll showed. Consumer inflation has remained low compared with the official target of around 3% for this year, indicating persistently weak demand in the world’s second-largest economy. Food prices were up 4.6% in June, compared with a 5.9% gain in the previous month.

Prices of China’s staple meat pork rose 30.1%, compared with a 33.6% increase in May. But recent flooding in China “is likely to push vegetable and fruit prices higher in the coming months,” ANZ economists Raymond Yeung and Louis Lam wrote in a research note. Non-food prices inched up 1.2% in June versus May’s 1.1% gain. “In our view, while China reiterates the importance of supply-side reform due to debt and overcapacity concerns, the authorities still need to stimulate demand in order to achieve its growth target,” Zhou Hao, senior Asia emerging market economist at Commerzbank in Singapore, said in a note. The People’s Bank of China last cut interest rates on Oct. 23, the seventh time since late 2014, as the government took steps to counter slowing economic growth.

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Hmmm. Which other country does this remind you of? Official data show up to 44% of families pushed into poverty were impoverished by illness. Does that sound like communism to you?

China Healthcare Costs Forcing Patients Into Crippling Debt (R.)

As China’s medical bills rise steeply, outpacing government insurance provision, patients and their families are increasingly turning to loans to pay for healthcare, adding to the country’s growing burden of consumer debt. While public health insurance reaches nearly all of China’s 1.4 billion people, its coverage is basic, leaving patients liable for about half of total healthcare spending, with the proportion rising further for serious or chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes. That is likely to get significantly worse as the personal healthcare bill soars almost fourfold to 12.7 trillion yuan ($1.9 trillion) by 2025, according to Boston Consulting Group estimates. For many, like Li Xinjin, a construction materials trader whose son was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009, that means taking on crippling debt.

Li, from Cangzhou in Hebei province, scoured local papers and websites for small lenders to finance his son’s costly treatment at a specialist hospital in Beijing, running up debts of more than 1.7 million yuan, about 10 times his typical annual income. “At that time, borrowing money and having to make repayments, I was very stressed. Every day I worried about this,” said Li, 47, adding that he and his wife had at times slept rough on the streets near the hospital. “But I couldn’t let my son down. I had to try to save him,” he said. Li’s boy died last year. The debts will weigh him down for a few more years yet. Medical loans are just part of China’s debt mountain – consumer borrowing has tripled since 2010 to nearly 21 trillion yuan, and in eight years household debt relative to the economy has doubled to nearly 40% – but they are growing.

That is luring big companies like Ping An Insurance, as well as small loan firms and P2P platforms, as China’s traditional savings culture proves inadequate to the challenge of such heavy costs. The stress is particularly apparent in lower-tier cities and rural areas where insurance has failed to keep pace with rising costs, said Andrew Chen, Shanghai-based healthcare head for consultancy Parthenon-EY. “It’s a storm waiting to happen where patients from rural areas will have huge financial burdens they didn’t have to face before,” he said, adding people would often take second mortgages on their homes or turn to community finance schemes.

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“..In the current situation…all political, economic, diplomatic and cultural forces should be engaged to pacify the world..”

Gorbachev: ‘The Next War Will Be the Last’ (Sputnik)

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev declared in an interview with radio station Echo Moskvy that if the crisis escalates to another war, this war will be the last. NATO leaders agreed on Friday to deploy military forces to the Baltic states and eastern Poland while increasing air and sea patrols to demonstrate readiness to defend eastern members against the alleged ‘Russian aggression.’ Mikhail Gorbachev reportedly said after the summit that the decisions made at NATO summit in Warsaw should be regarded as a preparation for a hot war with Russia. On Saturday, Gorbachev told Echo Moskvy in an interview that he sticks to what he had said earlier and that he considers NATO decisions short-sighted and dangerous.

“Such steps lead to tension and disruption. Europe is splitting, the world is splitting. This is a wrong path for the global community” He said. “There are too many global and individual crises to abandon cooperation. It is essential to revive the dialogue.” According to the ex Soviet President, by irresponsibly deploying four multinational battalions to Russian borders, “within shooting distance”, the alliance draws closer another Cold War and another Arms Race. “There are still ways to…avoid military action.” Gorbachev stressed. “I would say that UN should be called upon on that matter.” He also called on Moscow not to respond to provocations but to come to the negotiating table. “In the current situation…all political, economic, diplomatic and cultural forces should be engaged to pacify the world. Mind you, the next war will be the last.”

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Closing the net on Tony.

Blair’s Deputy PM Says Iraq Invasion Broke International Law (BBC)

John Prescott, who was deputy prime minister when Britain went to war with Iraq in 2003, says the invasion by UK and US forces was “illegal”. Writing in the Sunday Mirror, he said he would live with the “catastrophic decision” for the rest of his life. Lord Prescott said he now agreed “with great sadness and anger” with former UN secretary general Kofi Annan that the war was illegal. He also praised Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn for apologising on the party’s behalf. Lord Prescott also said Prime Minister Tony Blair’s statement that “I am with you, whatever” in a message to US President George W Bush before the invasion in March 2003, was “devastating”.

“A day doesn’t go by when I don’t think of the decision we made to go to war. Of the British troops who gave their lives or suffered injuries for their country. Of the 175,000 civilians who died from the Pandora’s Box we opened by removing Saddam Hussein,” he went on. Lord Prescott said he was “pleased Jeremy Corbyn has apologised on behalf of the Labour Party to the relatives of those who died and suffered injury”. He also expressed his own “fullest apology”, especially to the families of British personnel who died. The former deputy PM said the Chilcot report had gone into great detail about what went wrong, but he wanted to identify “certain lessons we must learn”.

“My first concern was the way Tony Blair ran Cabinet. We were given too little paper documentation to make decisions,” he wrote. No documentation was provided to justify Attorney-general Lord Goldsmith’s opinion that action against Iraq was legal, he added.

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…and taking all his money too…

Families Of Soldiers Killed In Iraq Vow To Sue Blair For ‘Every Penny’ (Tel.)

Tony Blair will be pursued through the courts for “every penny” of the fortune he has earned since leaving Downing Street, the families of soldiers killed in Iraq vowed. Mr Blair faces a civil law suit over allegations he abused his power as prime minister to wage war in Iraq. The damages, according to legal sources close to the case, are unlimited. A well-placed source told The Telegraph that the Chilcot report appeared to provide grounds for the launch of a lawsuit. “It gives us a lot of threads to pursue and those threads make a powerful rope to catch him,” said the source. So far 29 families of dead soldiers have asked the law firm McCue & Partners to pursue a claim against Mr Blair. Others are expected to come on board.

The firm is looking at bringing a civil case of misfeasance in public office, which would see Mr Blair dragged through the courts for the first time over his decision to take the UK to war. Legal sources say for any case to be successful, lawyers would have to show that Mr Blair “had acted in excess of his powers” and that in doing so “harm has been caused and that the harm could have been predicted”. Sir John Chilcot, in his findings published on Wednesday, said Mr Blair should have seen the problems that resulted from the invasion in 2003 and came as he could to suggesting the military action was illegal.

Mr Blair has earned a fortune estimated at as much as £60 million since resigning as prime minister in 2007, largely through a complex network of companies that offers investment and strategic advice to private companies and international governments. Reg Keys, whose son Tom was one of six Royal Military Police killed at Majar al-Kabir in 2003, said: “Tony Blair has made a lot of money from public office which I believe he misused. He misused the powers of that office and has gone on to make a lot of money after leaving that office, a lot of it from the contacts he made while in Downing Street.”[..] “I would like to see him stripped of every penny he has got. I would like to see him dragged through the civil courts.”

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Runs along the entire south coast of the continent.

Australia’s Other Great Reef Is Also Screwed (Atlantic)

Imagine arriving at a region famed for its forests—the Pyrenees or the Rockies, perhaps—and discovering that all the trees had vanished. Where just a few years ago there were trunks and leaves, now there is only moss. That’s how Thomas Wernberg and Scott Bennett felt in 2013, when they dropped into the waters of Kalbarri, halfway up the western coast of Australia.

They last dived the area in 2010. Then, as in the previous decade, they had swum among vast forests of kelp—a tagliatelle-like seaweed whose meter-tall fronds shelter lush communities of marine life. But just three years later, the kelps had disappeared. The duo searched for days and found no traces of them. They only saw other kinds of seaweed, growing in thin, patchy, and low-lying lawns. “We thought we were in the wrong spot,” says Bennett. “It was like someone had bulldozed the reef. It was like a moonscape underwater—scungy, brown, and empty.”

The culprit—surprise, surprise—is climate change. The waters near western Australia were already among the fastest-warming regions in the oceans before being pummeled by a recent series of extreme heat waves. In the summer of 2011, temperatures rose to highs not seen in 215 years of records, highs far beyond what kelps, which prefer milder conditions, can tolerate. As a result, the kelp forests were destroyed. Before the heat wave, the kelps stretched over 800 kilometers of Australia’s western flank and cover 2,200 square kilometers. After the heat wave, Wernberg and Bennett found that 43% of these forests disappeared, including almost all the kelps from the most northerly 100 kilometers of the range. “It was just heartbreaking,” says Bennett.

“It really brought home to me the impact that climate change can have on these ecosystems, right under our noses.” “They have provided alarming and detailed evidence for one of the most dramatic climate-driven ecosystem shifts ever recorded,” adds Adriana Verges from the University of New South Wales.

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Soon, Australia will have only barren coasts left.

10,000 Hectares Of Mangroves Die Across Northern Australia (ABC.au)

Close to 10,000 hectares of mangroves have died across a stretch of coastline reaching from Queensland to the Northern Territory. International mangroves expert Dr Norm Duke said he had no doubt the “dieback” was related to climate change. “It’s a world-first in terms of the scale of mangrove that have died,” he told the ABC. Dr Duke flew 200 kilometres between the mouths of the Roper and McArthur Rivers in the Northern Territory last month to survey the extent of the dieback. He described the scene as the most “dramatic, pronounced extreme level of dieback that I’ve ever observed”.

Dr Duke is a world expert in mangrove classification and ecosystems, based at James Cook University, and in May received photographs showing vast areas of dead mangroves in the Northern Territory section of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Until that time he and other scientists had been focused on mangrove dieback around Karmuba, Queensland, at the opposite end of the Gulf. “The images were compelling. They were really dramatic, showing severe dieback of mangrove shoreline fringing — areas just extending off into infinity,” Dr Duke said. “Certainly nothing in my experience had prepared me to see images like that.”

Dr Duke said he wanted to discover if the dieback in the two states was related. “We’re talking about 700 kilometres of distance between incidences at that early time,” he said. The area the Northern Territory photos were taken in was so remote the only way to confirm the extent and timing of the mangrove dieback was with specialist satellite imagery. With careful analysis the imagery confirmed the mangrove dieback in both states had happened in the space of a month late last year, coincident with coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. “We’re talking about 10,000 hectares of mangroves were lost across this whole 700 kilometre span,” Dr Duke said.

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It doesn’t get much scarier than this, without insects mankind doesn’t stand a chance: ”..out of 3,623 terrestrial invertebrate species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] Red List, 42% are classified as threatened with extinction.”

Global Insect Populations Fall 45% In Past 40 Years (e360)

Every spring since 1989, entomologists have set up tents in the meadows and woodlands of the Orbroicher Bruch nature reserve and 87 other areas in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The tents act as insect traps and enable the scientists to calculate how many bugs live in an area over a full summer period. Recently, researchers presented the results of their work to parliamentarians from the German Bundestag, and the findings were alarming: The average biomass of insects caught between May and October has steadily decreased from 1.6 kilograms (3.5 pounds) per trap in 1989 to just 300 grams (10.6 ounces) in 2014.


According to global monitoring data for 452 species, there has been a 45% decline in invertebrate populations over the past 40 years.

“The decline is dramatic and depressing and it affects all kinds of insects, including butterflies, wild bees, and hoverflies,” says Martin Sorg, an entomologist from the Krefeld Entomological Association involved in running the monitoring project. Another recent study has added to this concern. Scientists from the Technical University of Munich and the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt have determined that in a nature reserve near the Bavarian city of Regensburg, the number of recorded butterfly and Burnet moth species has declined from 117 in 1840 to 71 in 2013. “Our study reveals, through one detailed example, that even official protection status can’t really prevent dramatic species loss,” says Thomas Schmitt, director of the Senckenberg Entomological Institute.

Declines in insect populations are hardly limited to Germany. A 2014 study in Science documented a steep drop in insect and invertebrate populations worldwide. By combining data from the few comprehensive studies that exist, lead author Rodolfo Dirzo, an ecologist at Stanford University, developed a global index for invertebrate abundance that showed a 45% decline over the last four decades. Dirzo points out that out of 3,623 terrestrial invertebrate species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] Red List, 42% are classified as threatened with extinction.

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May 022016
 
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NPC Walker Hill Dairy, Washington, DC 1921

Japanese Stocks Fall Sharply in the Morning (WSJ)
Asian Economies Stay Sluggish, Stimulus Lacks Traction (R.)
World’s Longest NIRP Experiment Shows Perverse Effects (BBG)
Leaked TTIP Documents Cast Doubt On EU-US Trade Deal (G.)
‘The Fed Is Afraid Of Its Own Shadow’ (CNBC)
Fed May Need More Powers To Support Securities Firms During Crises: Dudley (R.)
Puerto Rico To Default On Government Development Bank Debt Monday (CNBC)
Banks Told To Stop Pushing Own Funds (FT)
Halliburton and Baker Hughes Scrap $34.6 Billion Merger (R.)
Will Australia’s Ever-Growing Debt Pile Peak In Six Years? (BBG)
Europe’s Liberal Illusions Shatter As Greek Tragedy Plays On (G.)
Bank Of England Busy Preparing For Brexit Vote (FT)
Nearly Half Of British Parents Raid Children’s Piggy Banks To Pay Bills (PA)
‘Bitcoin Creator Reveals Identity’ (BBC)
Storm Clouds Gathering Over Kansas Farms (WE)
NATO Moves Ever Closer To Russia’s Borders (RT)
Austria, Germany Press EU To Prolong Border Controls (AFP)
Newborn Baby Among 99 Dead After Shipwrecks In Mediterranean (G.)

The yen keeps rising. Pressure is building. Relentlessly.

Japanese Stocks Fall Sharply in the Morning (WSJ)

Japanese stocks fell sharply early Monday, leading declines in the rest of Asia, on the yen’s surge to a new 1 1/2-year high against the dollar, weak earnings results from several firms and selling after the Bank of Japan’s inaction on Thursday. The Nikkei Stock Average was down 3.6% at the lunch break in Tokyo. Japanese markets were closed on Friday for a national holiday. Australia’s ASX 200 was 1.3% lower, New Zealand’s NZX-50 was down 0.2% and South Korea’s Kospi was 0.5% lower. Many markets in Asia were closed for national holidays, including China, Hong Kong and Singapore. Japanese stocks are extending falls following the BOJ’s decision to keep its policies unchanged despite slowing inflation and previous expectations for a boost for its asset-purchase program, particularly in exchange-traded funds.

The yen’s surge against the dollar is also hitting Japanese exporters. The dollar was at ¥106.48 after falling to as low as ¥106.14, the lowest level since October 2014, according to EBS. “Bad news takes place all at once,” said Katsunori Kitakura, strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank. He said market turbulence around the BOJ policy meetings suggests the central bank’s communication with markets isn’t as smooth as it should be.“Westpac’s miss on headline expectations has set the tone for a nervous market this morning,” CMC Markets chief market analyst Ric Spooner said. He adds while Westpac’s first-half earnings were only marginally below expectations and there doesn’t appear to be anything seriously alarming, investors are concerned it is struggling to get cost growth down. Westpac is down 4.1%.

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There’s only one thing to keep the BAU facade going in China and Japan: debt. And more debt.

Asian Economies Stay Sluggish, Stimulus Lacks Traction (R.)

Japanese manufacturing activity shrank in April at the fastest pace in more than three years as deadly earthquakes disrupted production, while output in China and the rest of Asia remained lukewarm at best. Even the former bright spot of India took a turn for the worse as both domestic and foreign orders dwindled, pulling its industry barometer to a four-month trough. Surveys due later on Monday are expected to show only sluggish activity in Europe and the US as the world’s factories are dogged by insufficient demand and excess supply. “The backdrop remains one of sub-trend growth, inflation that is below target, difficulty in increasing revenue as margins are sacrificed to win modest volume gains, slow wage growth cramping spending and central banks that have used up much of their policy ammunition,” said Alan Oster at National Australia Bank.

That is exactly why the U.S. Federal Reserve has been dragging its feet on a follow-up to its December rate hike, leaving the markets in a sweat in case they move in June. Doubts about policy ammunition mounted last week when the Bank of Japan refrained from offering any hint of more stimulus, sending stocks reeling as the yen surged to 18-month highs. The Nikkei was down another 3.6% on Monday while the yen raced as far as 106.14 to the dollar and squeezed the country’s giant export sector. Industry was already struggling to recover from the April earthquakes that halted production in the southern manufacturing hub of Kumamoto. The impact was all too clear in the Markit/Nikkei Japan Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) which fell to a seasonally adjusted 48.2 in April, from 49.1 in March.

The index stayed below the 50 threshold that separates contraction from expansion for the second straight month. The news was only a little better in China where the official PMI was barely positive at 50.1 in April, a cold shower for those hoping fresh fiscal and monetary stimulus from Beijing would enable a speedy pick up. The findings were “a little bit disappointing”, Zhou Hao, senior emerging market economist at Commerzbank in Singapore, wrote in a note. “To some extent, this hints that recent China enthusiasm has been a bit overpriced and the data improvement in March is short-lived.”

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Negative rates lead to the exact opposite of what they’re allegedly intended for. And that’s predictable.

World’s Longest NIRP Experiment Shows Perverse Effects (BBG)

When interest rates are high, people borrow less and save more. When they’re low, savings go down and borrowing goes up. But what happens when rates stay negative? In Denmark, where rates have been below zero longer than anywhere else on the planet, the private sector is saving more than it did when rates were positive (before 2012). Private investment is down and the economy is in a “low-growth crisis,” to quote Handelsbanken. The latest inflation data show prices have stagnated. As the Danes head even further down their negative-rate tunnel, the experiences of the Scandinavian economy may provide a glimpse of what lies ahead for other countries choosing the lesser known side of zero. Denmark has about $600 billion in pension and investment savings.

The people who help oversee those funds say the logic of cheap money fueling investment doesn’t hold once rates drop below zero. That’s because consumers and businesses interpret such extreme policy as a sign of crisis with no predictable outcome. “Negative rates are counter-productive,” said Kasper Ullegaard at Sampension in Copenhagen. The policy “makes people save more to protect future purchasing power and even opt for less risky assets because there’s so little transparency on future returns and risks.” The macro data bear out the theory. The Danish government estimates that investment in the private sector will be equivalent to 16.1% of GDP this year, compared with 18.1% between 1990 and 2012. Meanwhile, the savings rate in the private sector will reach 26% of GDP this year, versus 21.3% in the roughly two decades until Danish rates went negative, Finance Ministry estimates show.

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From ZH: “..55% of Germans and 53% of Americans thought the TTIP deals was beneficial for the two respective countries as recently as 2014; a recent YouGov poll found that support for the deal had tumbled to just 17% and 15% respectively…”

Leaked TTIP Documents Cast Doubt On EU-US Trade Deal (G.)

Talks for a free trade deal between Europe and the US face a serious impasse with “irreconcilable” differences in some areas, according to leaked negotiating texts. The two sides are also at odds over US demands that would require the EU to break promises it has made on environmental protection. President Obama said last week he was confident a deal could be reached. But the leaked negotiating drafts and internal positions, which were obtained by Greenpeace and seen by the Guardian, paint a very different picture. “Discussions on cosmetics remain very difficult and the scope of common objectives fairly limited,” says one internal note by EU trade negotiators. Because of a European ban on animal testing, “the EU and US approaches remain irreconcilable and EU market access problems will therefore remain,” the note says.

Talks on engineering were also “characterised by continuous reluctance on the part of the US to engage in this sector,” the confidential briefing says. These problems are not mentioned in a separate report on the state of the talks, also leaked, which the European commission has prepared for scrutiny by the European parliament. These outline the positions exchanged between EU and US negotiators between the 12th and the 13th round of TTIP talks, which took place in New York last week. The public document offers a robust defence of the EU’s right to regulate and create a court-like system for disputes, unlike the internal note, which does not mention them.

Jorgo Riss, the director of Greenpeace EU, said: “These leaked documents give us an unparalleled look at the scope of US demands to lower or circumvent EU protections for environment and public health as part of TTIP. The EU position is very bad, and the US position is terrible. The prospect of a TTIP compromising within that range is an awful one. The way is being cleared for a race to the bottom in environmental, consumer protection and public health standards.” US proposals include an obligation on the EU to inform its industries of any planned regulations in advance, and to allow them the same input into EU regulatory processes as European firms.

American firms could influence the content of EU laws at several points along the regulatory line, including through a plethora of proposed technical working groups and committees. “Before the EU could even pass a regulation, it would have to go through a gruelling impact assessment process in which the bloc would have to show interested US parties that no voluntary measures, or less exacting regulatory ones, were possible,” Riss said.

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“In a world that’s already choking on too much debt, the cost of money really isn’t an important variable and it is not a binding constraint on anybody’s decision making.”

‘The Fed Is Afraid Of Its Own Shadow’ (CNBC)

The Federal Reserve surprised few last week when it keep interest rates unchanged, noting that it “continues to closely monitor inflation indicators and global economic and financial developments.” However, one market watcher has a blunt message for Fed chair Janet Yellen: You’re placing your hope in a fairy tale. On a recent CNBC’s “Futures Now,” Lindsey Group chief market analyst Peter Boockvar made the case that the Fed will never get the “perfect” conditions they seek before increasing short-term rates once again. The Fed’s mandate “isn’t to have a perfect world. That only exists in fairy tales, dreams and in your econometric models,” Boockvar said in a recent note to clients. He believes that the Fed’s monetary has been far too accommodative under Yellen as well as under Ben Bernanke.

Boockvar argued that the Fed has been taking cues from shaky international banks, and that doing so will always offer a reason to keep interest rates low. In Wednesday’s statement, the strategist noted new suggestions that the Fed is shifting its focus to concerns over international development. In its March statement, the Fed said that “global economic and financial developments continue to post risks,” a line that does not appear in the more recent language. “It’s been excuse, after excuse, after excuse,” Boockvar said. “This is why, eight years into an expansion, they’ve only raised interest rates once. They’re afraid of their own shadow. They’re in a terrible hole that they’re not going to be able to get out of.”

Whether looking at the Fed, the Bank of Japan, or the European Central Bank, Boockvar sees a landscape littered with policy errors. “They all believe that, by making money cheaper, you can somehow generate faster growth,” Boockvar said. Based on this, Boockvar said that central bankers are losing their credibility and their ability to generate higher asset prices, putting the stock market in a precarious position. “In a world that’s already choking on too much debt, the cost of money really isn’t an important variable and it is not a binding constraint on anybody’s decision making.”

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The Fed wants to hold investors’ hands at the crap table.

Fed May Need More Powers To Support Securities Firms During Crises: Dudley (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve may need more powers to provide emergency funding to securities firms in times of extreme stress in order to deal with a liquidity crunch, New York Federal Reserve President William Dudley said on Sunday. “Providing these firms with access to the discount window might be worth exploring,” Dudley said in prepared remarks at a financial markets conference in Amelia Island, Florida organized by the Atlanta Fed. The discount window is a credit facility through which banks borrow directly from the U.S. central bank in order to cope with liquidity shortages. The Fed currently has limited ability to provide funding to securities firms in such situations, with the discount window only available to depository institutions.

But the transformation of securities firms since the financial crisis, Dudley said, with the major ones now part of bank holding companies and subject to capital and liquidity stress tests, meant the environment has now changed. “To me, this is a more reasonable proposition now than it was prior to the crisis when the major dealers weren’t subject to those safeguards,” he said. Other “significant gaps” remain in the lender-of-last-resort function, Dudley added. On this, he cited work being done on a global level by the Bank of International Settlements, which is studying deficiencies with respect to systemically important firms that operate across countries. Dudley called for greater attention in order to determine which country would be the lender-of-last-resort for such companies during another crisis. “Expectations about who will be the lender-of-last-resort need to be well understood in both the home and host countries,” he said.

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The perhaps most interesting part: How will this spread to other states? Are we seeing a blueprint emerge?

Puerto Rico To Default On Government Development Bank Debt Monday (CNBC)

Puerto Rico will miss a major debt payment due to creditors Monday, registering the largest default to date for the fiscally struggling U.S. territory. Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla announced on Sunday the “very difficult decision” to declare a moratorium on the $389 million debt service payment due to bondholders of the island’s Government Development Bank (GDB), which acts as the island’s primary fiscal agent and lender of last resort. “We would have preferred to have had a legal framework to restructure our debts in an orderly manner,” Gov. Garcia Padilla said via a televised address in Spanish.

“But faced with the inability to meet the demands of our creditors and the needs of our people, I had to make a choice … I decided that essential services for the 3.5 million American citizens in Puerto Rico came first,” he said. This will not be the first default for Puerto Rico — according to Moody’s Investors Services, the government has failed to make about $143 million in debt obligation payments since its historic default in August on subject-to-appropriation bonds issued by the Public Finance Corporation (PFC). The commonwealth will pay the approximately $22 million in interest due on the GDB bonds, as well as the nearly $50 million owed to creditors on a handful of other securities that have payments slated for Monday, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Late on Friday, the bank announced it was able to come to an agreement with credit unions that hold approximately $33 million of the bonds due Monday. Under the deal, these bondholders will swap existing securities with new debt that matures in May, 2017. Gov. Garcia Padilla reiterated his plea to Congress to give the commonwealth the legal tools necessary to address Puerto Rico’s $70 billion debt pile and ensure the sustainability of the island. “Puerto Rico needs Speaker Paul Ryan to exercise his leadership and honor his word…we need this restructuring mechanism now,” he said.

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Stupid games resulting from unconditional TBTF central bank support.

Banks Told To Stop Pushing Own Funds (FT)

Brussels has moved to stamp out the practice of large banks funnelling clients towards poorly performing in-house asset management products under new rules designed to improve investor protection across Europe. Over the past two years, independent asset managers and investor rights groups have raised concerns that bank advisers are increasingly recommending in-house funds to clients when investors might be better off in external products. These concerns have been fuelled by the rapid growth of banks’ asset management divisions. Seven of the 10 bestselling asset management companies in Europe last year were subsidiaries of banks. But under new EU legislation known as Mifid II, bank advisers who want to continue receiving commission payments will have to offer funds from external investment companies.

Guidelines on how the rules will apply, released last month, state that advisers can only receive commissions if they offer a “number of instruments from third-party product providers having no close links with the investment firm”. Commentators said the new rules would be a big change for the market. Sean Tuffy, head of regulatory affairs at BBH, the financial services company, said the additional Mifid II guidelines were “unexpected”. He added: “Asset managers would welcome that provision. One of their biggest concerns is the ever-closed architecture world [where banks only push their own funds].” James Hughes at lobby group Cicero said: “When the new rules come into force in 2018] banks won’t be able to only offer their own products. This will be monitored by national [regulators] through a mixture of mystery shopping tests and customer service panels.”

Under the existing system, many banks solely recommend internal products to investors. This keeps fees and commission payments in-house and boosts the parent company’s profitability. Some banks, such as UBS, say they offer a small number of external funds to clients. Others — including Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley — say they offer a high proportion of external funds to clients, a model known in the industry as “open architecture”. None of the banks mentioned are willing to provide a breakdown of the level of external funds sold versus internal products. The push to make banks recommend more external products can be circumvented if an adviser agrees to assess the suitability of a client’s investments on at least an annual basis.

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“..Baker Hughes, which was valued at $34.6 billion when it was announced in November 2014, and is now worth about $28 billion..”

Halliburton and Baker Hughes Scrap $34.6 Billion Merger (R.)

Oilfield services provider Halliburton and smaller rival Baker Hughes announced the termination of their $28 billion merger deal on Sunday after opposition from U.S. and European antitrust regulators. The tie-up would have brought together the world’s No. 2 and No. 3 oil services companies, raising concerns it would result in higher prices in the sector. It is the latest example of a large merger deal failing to make it to the finish line because of antitrust hurdles. “Challenges in obtaining remaining regulatory approvals and general industry conditions that severely damaged deal economics led to the conclusion that termination is the best course of action,” said Dave Lesar, chief executive of Halliburton.

The contract governing Halliburton’s cash-and-stock acquisition of Baker Hughes, which was valued at $34.6 billion when it was announced in November 2014, and is now worth about $28 billion, expired on Saturday without an agreement by the companies to extend it, Reuters reported earlier on Sunday, citing a person familiar with the matter. Halliburton will pay Baker Hughes a $3.5 billion breakup fee by Wednesday as a result of the deal falling apart. The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit last month to stop the merger, arguing it would leave only two dominant suppliers in 20 business lines in the global well drilling and oil construction services industry, with Schlumberger being the other. “The companies’ decision to abandon this transaction – which would have left many oilfield service markets in the hands of a duopoly – is a victory for the U.S. economy and for all Americans,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement on Sunday.

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One thing only is sure: the debt is growing. All the rest is somewhere between propaganda and wishful thinking. If more debt is projected to provide more votes, what do you think will happen?

Will Australia’s Ever-Growing Debt Pile Peak In Six Years? (BBG)

Australia’s drive to balance the books will see the federal government’s debt pile top out within about five or six years and then start to shrink again, according to Treasurer Scott Morrison. Speaking in Canberra just ahead of his first budget on Tuesday, Morrison said he expects the fiscal deficit to narrow over the government’s four-year forecast horizon and pledged to keep expenditure under control. “To start reducing the debt you’ve got to get the deficit down. To get the deficit down you’ve got to get your spending down,” Morrison said in a Channel Nine television interview on Sunday. “The deficit will decrease over the budget and forward estimates and we will see both gross and net debt peak over about the next five or six years, and then it will start to fall.”

The Australian budget was last in surplus in 2007-08 and attempts to rein in the deficit have been stymied by a slump in revenue as commodity prices fell. Morrison’s challenge is to maintain Australia’s public finances on a sound footing without increasing risks to the economy as it reduces its reliance on mining. He must also contend with the prospect of an upcoming election, which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is expected to call for July 2. Total outstanding federal debt is now more than seven times larger than it was before the 2008 global crisis and net debt is predicted to increase to 18.5% of GDP in 2016-17, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists. The underlying cash deficit is expected to reach A$35 billion ($27 billion) next fiscal year, A$1.3 billion more than the government had forecast in its December fiscal update.

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“It will then be punished further for being unable to do what was impossible in the first place.”

Europe’s Liberal Illusions Shatter As Greek Tragedy Plays On (G.)

Greece is running out of money. The government in Athens is raiding the budgets of the health service and public utilities to pay salaries and pensions. Without fresh financial support it will struggle to make a debt payment due in July. No, this is not a piece from the summer of 2015 reprinted by mistake. Greece, after a spell out of the limelight, is back. Another summer of threats, brinkmanship and all-night summits looms. The problem is a relatively simple one. Greece is bridling at the unrealistic demands of the EC and the IMF to agree to fresh austerity measures when, as the IMF itself accepts, hospitals are running out of syringes and buses don’t run because of a lack of spare parts. Athens has already pushed through a package of austerity measures worth €5.4bn as the price of receiving an €86bn bailout agreed at the culmination of last summer’s protracted crisis and expected the deal to be finalised last October.

Disbursements of the loan have been held up, however, because neither the commission or the IMF believe that Greece will make the promised savings. So they are demanding that Alexis Tsipras’s government legislate for additional “contingency measures” worth €3.6bn to be triggered in the event that Greece fails to meet its fiscal targets. This is almost inevitable, given that the target is for the country to run a primary budget surplus of 3.5% of GDP by 2018 and in every year thereafter. This means that once Greece’s debt payments are excluded, tax receipts have to exceed public spending by 3.5% of GDP. The exceptionally onerous terms are supposed to whittle away Greece’s debt mountain, currently just shy of 200% of GDP. If this all sounds like Alice in Wonderland economics, then that’s because it is.

Greece is being set budgetary targets that the IMF knows are unrealistic and is being set up to fail. It will then be punished further for being unable to do what was impossible in the first place. Predictably enough, the government in Athens is not especially taken with this idea. It has described the idea as outlandish and unconstitutional, but is in a weak position because it desperately needs the bailout loan and threw away its only real bargaining chip last year by making it clear that it would stay in the single currency whatever the price. So Tsipras is doing what he did last year. He is playing for time, hopeful that by hanging tough and threatening another summer of chaos he can force Europe’s leaders to offer him a better deal – less onerous deficit reduction measures coupled with a decent slug of debt relief. For the time being though, the matter is being handled by the eurozone’s finance ministers, who want their full pound of flesh.

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Not preparing to assist people, only banks.

Bank Of England Busy Preparing For Brexit Vote (FT)

The Bank of England is consumed with preparing contingency plans for Britain to leave the EU, with staff across its financial stability, monetary policy and regulatory wings ready to calm any turmoil. In the days leading up to the June 23 poll, the Bank will hold additional auctions of sterling to ensure the banking system has sufficient funds to operate in a potentially chaotic moment. Three exceptional auctions of cash have already been planned for June 14, 21 and 28. But stuffing the banks full of cash will not prevent foreigners and UK households and companies dumping sterling in the event of a Brexit vote. Michael Saunders, the new member of the bank’s Monetary Policy Committee, expects the pound to come under severe pressure.

While still at Citi, he wrote that Brexit risks were “nowhere near priced yet”, adding that Britain should expect a 15 to 20% depreciation of sterling against Britain’s main trading partners. If such a decision to flee sterling leads British banks to become short of foreign currency, the BoE will rapidly offer foreign currency loans to the financial system, using swap lines with other central banks still in existence from the financial crisis. Philip Shaw of Investec said that using such swap lines would be needed only in “fairly extreme circumstances” and the BoE would also need to “make reassuring noises about the soundness of the financial system” to help shore up confidence.

Officials are already pointing to the 2014 stress test of banks, which assumed a reassessment of the health of the UK economy led to a “depreciation of sterling”, to suggest that the banking system would cope. “Unless any UK financial institutions have bet their shirt on an early recovery of sterling it is hard to see what Brexit would do in immediate terms,” said Stephen Wright, a professor at Birkbeck College, London University. The week after the referendum, the Financial Policy Committee will have an opportunity to loosen the requirements for banks to hold capital if there is a financial panic, putting in place the new regime of measures to counter the credit cycle. But even if the BoE could cope with immediate market gyrations from Brexit, it would soon face what Mr Saunders called “a major policy dilemma” over interest rates.

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UK 2016. Lovely. And Cameron’s not done.

Nearly Half Of British Parents Raid Children’s Piggy Banks To Pay Bills (PA)

Nearly half of parents admit to being “piggy bank raiders” who occasionally dip into their children’s cash to cover costs such as parking, takeaways, taxis, school trips and paying the window cleaner. Some 46% of parents of children aged between four and 16 years old said they have taken money from their child’s savings, a survey by Nationwide Building Society has found. The average amount taken over the past year was £21.41, while one in 10 parents had taken £50 or more during that period. Mums are more likely to raid their child’s savings than dads, but dads tend to swipe larger amounts the survey found. The months after Christmas, when many families are getting their finances back on track, also appear to be the time when piggy bank raiders are most prolific.

The survey of 2,000 parents found those in Yorkshire and the Humber, north-east England and south-west England were the most likely to use children’s savings, with those in London, Wales and north-west England the least likely. About 15% of piggy bank raiding parents said they used the cash to pay school lunch money, while the same proportion also use it to pay a bill; 11% used the money for school trips and 11% used it as loose change for parking. One in 12 took the money to tide themselves over as they were broke. A further 12% used the cash for other purposes, including bus fares, hair cuts, petrol costs, takeaways, paying the window cleaner and for the “tooth fairy”.

The vast majority of parents (93%) said they put the money back afterwards – and only 39% of children noticed the money had disappeared. Nearly a third of parents who took money said they had confessed to their child, while 23% sneaked the money back into their child’s piggy bank. One in seven added interest to the amount they had borrowed. Andrew Baddeley-Chappell, Nationwide’s head of savings and mortgage policy, said: “Despite being in charge of instilling a good approach to finance, almost half of parents have been caught in spring raids on their kid’s piggy bank stash. While liberating change for parking or to pay school lunch money could be viewed as excusable, one in 10 parents borrowed more than £50 in the last year, including for paying bills.

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And the media are overflowing with questions.

‘Bitcoin Creator Reveals Identity’ (BBC)

Australian entrepreneur Craig Wright has publicly identified himself as Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto. His admission ends years of speculation about who came up with the original ideas underlying the digital cash system. Mr Wright has provided technical proof to back up his claim using coins known to be owned by Bitcoin’s creator. Prominent members of the Bitcoin community and its core development team have also confirmed Mr Wright’s claim. Mr Wright has revealed his identity to three media organisations – the BBC, the Economist and GQ.

At the meeting with the BBC, Mr Wright digitally signed messages using cryptographic keys created during the early days of Bitcoin’s development. The keys are inextricably linked to blocks of bitcoins known to have been created or “mined” by Satoshi Nakamoto. “These are the blocks used to send 10 bitcoins to Hal Finney in January [2009] as the first bitcoin transaction,” said Mr Wright during his demonstration. Renowned cryptographer Hal Finney was one of the engineers who helped turn Mr Wright’s ideas into the Bitcoin protocol, he said.

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Meanwhile below the radar….

Storm Clouds Gathering Over Kansas Farms (WE)

While the lush green sea of wheat filling Kansas fields will turn gold in a few weeks, beneath the comforting cycle of planting and harvest lies big trouble for the state’s farmers and rural communities. The value of farm ground here and across the country is beginning to fall. That drop can cause havoc for the farmers and ranchers who have borrowed a record amount of debt, as well as the banks that made loans to them and the governments that tax them. It will almost certainly lead to more farm foreclosures and ownership consolidation across Kansas and the country. How much is impossible to know, because it is just starting to unfold. But, so far, no one is saying that a return to the mass foreclosures of the 1980s farm crisis is likely. The state’s farm economy produced about $8.5 billion in 2015, about 6% of the state economy, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

At the moment, farm foreclosures, loan delinquency and debt-to-asset ratios are near record lows, but conditions are eroding. A recent forecast by Mykel Taylor, a farm economist at Kansas State University, calls for a drop of 30 to 50% from the peak as land prices return to their long-term trend. Others are predicting somewhat less of a drop. Brokers say the decline has already started, with the price for prime Kansas crop ground down about 10% from its peak, while marginal crop land has fallen twice or three times that. Pasture land has not fallen yet, although it is expected to. How fast prices deflate will dictate the level of pain, Taylor said. “People keep asking: ‘Is this like the ’80s? Is this like the ’80s?’ ” she said. “I don’t know, but it’s going to be bad.”

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NATO is an increasingly dangerous entity. It’ll take us to war. That’s its reason to exist.

NATO Moves Ever Closer To Russia’s Borders (RT)

NATO is deploying an additional four battalions of 4,000 troops in Poland and the three Baltic States, according to a report citing US Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work. Work confirmed the number of troops to be sent to the border with Russia, the Wall Street Journal reports. He said the reason for the deployment is Russia’s multiple snap military exercises near the Baltics States. “The Russians have been doing a lot of snap exercises right up against the borders, with a lot of troops,” Work said. “From our perspective, we could argue this is extraordinarily provocative behavior.” Although there have already been talks about German troops to be deployed to Lithuania, Berlin is still mulling its participation.

“We are currently reviewing how we can continue or strengthen our engagement on the alliance’s eastern periphery,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, in light of a recent poll from the Bertelsmann Foundation that found only 31% of Germans would welcome the idea of German troops defending Poland and the Baltic States. London has not made its mind either, yet is expected to do so before the upcoming NATO summit in Warsaw in July. Ahead of the deployment, NATO officials are also discussing the possibility of making the battalions multinational, combining troops from different countries under the joint NATO command and control system. Moscow has been unhappy with the NATO military buildup at Russia’s borders for some time now.

“NATO military infrastructure is inching closer and closer to Russia’s borders. But when Russia takes action to ensure its security, we are told that Russia is engaging in dangerous maneuvers near NATO borders. In fact, NATO borders are getting closer to Russia, not the opposite,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter daily. Poland and the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have regularly pressed NATO headquarters to beef up the alliance’s presence on their territory. According to the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, the permanent presence of large NATO formations at the Russian border is prohibited. Yet some voices in Brussels are saying that since the NATO troops stationed next to Russia are going to rotate, this kind of military buildup cannot be regarded as a permanent presence.

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How to kill a union in a few easy steps. They don’t even know that’s what they’re doing.

Austria, Germany Press EU To Prolong Border Controls (AFP)

Austria and Germany said on Saturday they were in talks with the European Union’s executive body to extend temporary border controls brought in last year to help stem the migrant flow. The measures – triggered in case of “a serious threat to public policy or internal security” – are due to expire on May 12. “I can confirm that we are having discussions with the EU Commission and our European partners about this,” Austrian interior ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck told AFP. Member states must “be able to continue carrying out controls on their borders,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in a written statement to AFP. “Even if the situation along the Balkan route is currently calm, we are observing the evolution of the situation on the external borders with worry”.

His Austrian counterpart, Wolfgang Sobotka, said checkpoints along the Hungarian border had been reinforced in late April after “a rise in people-smuggling activity”. “The introduction of a coordinated border management system with our neighbouring countries after the [May 12] deadline expires would be the first step in the direction of a joint European solution,” Sobotka said. The remarks came after German media had reported that several EU states were urging Brussels to extend the temporary controls inside the passport-free Schengen zone for at least six months. The EU allowed bloc members to introduce the restrictions after hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees began trekking up the Balkans from Greece towards western and northern Europe last September.

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany and Sweden have all clamped down on their frontiers as the continent battles its biggest migration crisis since the end of World War II. “We request that you put forward a proposal, which will allow those member states who consider it necessary to either extend or introduce the temporary border controls inside Schengen as of May 13,” the six countries said in a letter addressed to the EU, according to German newspaper Die Welt. A source close to the German government told AFP the letter would be sent on Monday.

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Doesn’t anybody have any decency left? Where is the UN?

Newborn Baby Among 99 Dead After Shipwrecks In Mediterranean (G.)

A newborn baby is among 99 people believed to have drowned in two separate shipwrecks off the Libyan coast this weekend, according to survivors who arrived in Italy. Twenty-six survivors were rescued by a commercial vessel after a rubber dinghy in which they were travelling sank in the Mediterranean on Friday, a few hours after departing from Sabratha in Libya. They were transferred to Italian coastguard ships before being brought ashore in Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The baby was among 84 people still missing on Saturday..

“The dinghy was taking on water, in very bad conditions. Many people had already fallen in the sea and drowned,” said Flavio Di Giacomo, IOM spokesman in Italy. “They are all very shocked,” Di Giacomo said, adding they would receive psychological support in Lampedusa. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said that after taking on water the boat broke into two pieces and 26 people were saved from the sea. Survivors from a second shipwreck arrived in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo on Sunday, after an accident during a search-and-rescue operation the day before. Two bodies were recovered and brought ashore along with eight of about 105 people saved, who were taken to hospital in serious condition.

The shipwrecks are the latest incidents in which hundreds of people have lost their lives in the Mediterranean. Last week, up to 500 people were feared dead after a shipping boat hoping to reach Italy from eastern Libya sank. Forty-one survivors told UNHCR that smugglers had taken them out to sea and tried to move them to a larger, overcrowded boat that then capsized. So far this year, at least 1,360 people have been reported dead or missing after trying to cross the Mediterranean, including the latest two shipwrecks, while more than 182,800 have reached European shores.

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Feb 082016
 
 February 8, 2016  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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DPC City Hall subway station, New York 1904

Deutsche Bank Is Shaking To Its Foundations (SI)
Why A Selloff In European Banks Is So Ominous (MW)
Lending To Emerging Markets Comes To A Halt (FT)
What the Heck is Going On in the Stock Market? (WS)
Dot Com 2.0 – The Sequel Unfolds (St.Cyr)
CEOs, Venture Backers Lose Big As Linkedin, Tableau Shares Tumble (Reuters)
Record Numbers Of Longs And Shorts Are Piling Into Oil (BBG)
Prolonged Slump Sparks 2nd Wave Of Cuts To 2016 Oil Company Budgets (Reuters)
World’s Largest Energy Trader Sees a Decade of Low Oil Prices (BBG)
150 North Sea Oil Rigs Could Be Scrapped In 10 Years (Scotsman)
Iran Wants Euro Payment For New And Outstanding Oil Sales (Reuters)
Fining Bankers, Not Shareholders, for Banks’ Misconduct (Morgenson)
Volkswagen’s Emissions Lies Are Coming Back To Haunt It (BBG)
Moody’s Cuts Rating On Western Australia Iron Ore (WSJ)
British Expat Workers Flood Home As Australia Mining Boom Turns To Dust (Tel.)
Ukraine: A USA-Installed Nazi-Infested Failed State (Lendman)
Through The Past, Darkly, For Europe’s Central Bankers (Münchau)
German, French Central Bankers Call For Eurozone Finance Ministry (Reuters)

Arguably world’s biggest bank. “Deutsche Bank is now trading at less than 50% of the share price it was trading at in July last year. And no, the market isn’t wrong about this one. ..” The market will be going after Deutsche. Which is too vulnerable to save.

Deutsche Bank Is Shaking To Its Foundations (SI)

The earnings season has started, and several major banks in the Eurozone have already reported on how they performed in the fourth quarter of 2015, and the entire financial year. Most results were quite boring, but unfortunately Deutsche Bank once again had some bad news. Just one week before it wanted to release its financial results, it already issued a profit warning to the markets, and the company’s market capitalization has lost in excess of 5B EUR since the profit warning, on top of seeing an additional 18B EUR evaporate since last summer. Deutsche Bank is now trading at less than 50% of the share price it was trading at in July last year. And no, the market isn’t wrong about this one.

The shit is now really hitting the fan at Deutsche Bank after having to confess another multi-billion euro loss in 2015 on the back of some hefty litigation charges (which are expected to persist in the future). And to add to all the gloom and doom, even Deutsche Bank’s CEO said he didn’t really want to be there . Talk about being pessimistic! Right after Germany’s largest bank (and one of the banks that are deemed too big to fail in the Eurozone system) surprised the market with these huge write-downs and high losses, the CDS spread started to increase quite sharply. Back in July of last year, when Deutsche Bank’s share price reached quite a high level, the cost to insure yourself reached a level of approximately 100, but the CDS spread started to increase sharply since the beginning of this year.

It reached a level of approximately 200 in just the past three weeks, indicating the market is becoming increasingly nervous about Deutsche’s chances to weather the current storm. Let’s now take a step back and explain why the problems at Deutsche Bank could have a huge negative impact on the world economy. Deutsche has a huge exposure to the derivatives market, and it’s impossible, and then we mean LITERALLY impossible for any government to bail out Deutsche Bank should things go terribly wrong. Keep in mind the exposure of Deutsche Bank to its derivatives portfolio is a stunning 55T EUR, which is almost 20 times (yes, twenty times) the GDP of Germany and roughly 5 times the GDP of the entire Eurozone! And to put things in perspective, the TOTAL government debt of the US government is less than 1/3rd of Deutsche Bank’s exposure.

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Because it will pop the European finance bubble.

Why A Selloff In European Banks Is So Ominous (MW)

European banks have been caught in a perfect storm of market turmoil, lately. Lackluster profits and negative interest rates, have prompted investors to dump shares in the sector that was touted as one of the best investment ideas just a few months ago. The region’s banking gauge, the Stoxx Europe 600, has logged six straight weeks of declines, its longest weekly losing stretch since 2008, when banks booked 10 weeks of losses, beginning in May, according to FactSet data. “The current environment for European banks is very, very bad. Over a full business cycle, I think it’s very questionable whether banks on average are able to cover their cost of equity. And as a result that makes it an unattractive investment for long-term investors,” warned Peter Garnry at Saxo Bank. The doom-and-gloom outlook for banks comes as the stock market has had an ominous start to the year.

East or west, investors ran for the exit in a market marred by panic over tumbling oil prices and signs of sluggishness in China. But for Europe’s banking sector, the new year has started even worse, sending the bank index down 20% year-to-date, compared with 11% for the broader Stoxx Europe 600 index. So what happened? At the end of last year, banks were singled out as one of the most popular sectors for 2016 because of expected benefits from higher bond yields, rising inflation expectations and improved economic growth. That outlook, however, was before the one-two punch of plunging oil and a slowdown in China sapped investor confidence world-wide. Garnry said the slump in bank shares is “a little bit odd” given the recent growth in the European economy and aggressive easing from the ECB.

Normally, banks benefit from measures such as quantitative easing, but it’s just not doing the trick in Europe. “And its worrisome, because banks are much more important for the credit mechanism in the economy here in Europe than it is in the U.S. There, you have a capital market where it’s easier to issue corporate bonds and get funding outside the commercial banking system. We don’t have that to the same extent in Europe, and therefore [the current weakness] is a little bit scary,” he said. Some of the sector’s collective underperformance comes down to exceptionally bad performances for a number of the bigger banks. Deutsche Bank, for example, has tumbled 32% year to date, amid a painful restructuring. And Credit Suisse is down 31% for the year as it posted a massive fourth-quarter loss.

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Has long since reversed.

Lending To Emerging Markets Comes To A Halt (FT)

The surge in lending to emerging markets that helped fuel their own — and much of the world’s — growth over the past 15 years has come to a halt, and may now give way to a “vicious circle” of deleveraging, financial market turmoil and a global economic downturn, the Bank for International Settlements has warned. “In the risk-on phase [of the global economic cycle], lending sets off a virtuous circle in financial conditions in which things can look better than they really are,” said Hyun Song Shin, head of research at the BIS, known as the central bank of central banks. “But flows can quickly go into reverse and then it becomes a vicious circle, especially if there is leverage,” he told the FT. That reversal has already taken place, according to BIS data released on Friday.

The total stock of dollar-denominated credit in bonds and bank loans to emerging markets — including that to governments, companies and households but excluding that to banks — was $3.33tn at the end of September 2015, down from $3.36tn at the end of June. It marks the first decline in such lending since the first quarter of 2009, during the global financial crisis, according to the BIS. The BIS data add to a growing pile of evidence pointing to tightening credit conditions in emerging markets and a sharp reversal of international capital flows. On Thursday, The IMF’s Christine Lagarde warned of the threat to global growth of an impending crisis in emerging markets. The Institute of International Finance, an industry body, said last month that emerging markets had seen net capital outflows of an estimated $735bn during 2015, the first year of net outflows since 1988.

In November, the IIF warned of an approaching credit crunch in EMs as bank lending conditions deteriorated sharply. This month, it said a contraction over the past year in the liquidity made available to the world’s financial system by central banks, primarily those in developed markets, now presented more of a threat to global growth than the slowdown in China and falling oil prices. Jaime Caruana, general manager of the BIS, said that recent turmoil on equity markets, disappointing economic growth, large movements in exchange rates and falling commodity prices were not unconnected, exogenous shocks but indicative of maturing financial cycles, particularly in emerging economies, and of shifts in global financial conditions. He noted that, while some advanced economies had reduced leverage after the crisis, debt had continued to build up in many emerging economies.

“Recent events are manifestations of maturing financial cycles in some emerging economies,” he said. The problem was aggravated, Mr Shin added, by the deteriorating quality of the assets financed by the lending boom. He noted that the indebtedness of companies in emerging markets as a%age of GDP had overtaken that of those in developed markets in 2013, just as the profitability of EM companies had fallen below that of DM ones for the first time. Since then, leverage in emerging economies had increased further as profitability had decreased, with exchange rates playing an important role. “Stronger EM currencies fed into more debt and more risk taking. Now that the dollar is strengthening, we have turned into a deleveraging cycle in EMs. So there is a sudden surge in measurable risk; all the weaknesses are suddenly being uncovered.”

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Wolf has another nice list of plunging stocks. Tech bubble.

What the Heck is Going On in the Stock Market? (WS)

Even Moody’s which is always late to the party with its warnings – but when it does warn, it’s a good idea to pay attention – finally warned: “Don’t fall into the trap of believing all is well outside of oil & gas.” What happened on Friday was the culmination of another dreary week in the stock markets, with the Dow down 1.3% for the day and 1.6% for the week, the S&P 500 down 1.8% and 3.1% respectively, and the Nasdaq down 3.2% and 5.4%. The S&P 500 is now nearly 12% off its record close in May, 2015; the Nasdaq nearly 17%. So on the surface, given that the Nasdaq likes to plunge over 70% before crying uncle, not much has happened yet. But beneath the surface, there have been some spectacular fireworks.

Not too long ago, during the bull market many folks still fondly remember and some think is still with us, a company could announce an earnings or revenue debacle but throw in a big share-buyback announcement, and its shares might not drop that much as dip buyers would jump in along with the company that was buying back its own shares, and they’d pump up the price again. Those were the good times, the times of “consensual hallucination,” as we’ve come to call it, because all players tried so hard to be deluded. It was the big strategy that worked. But not anymore. And that’s the sea change. Reality is returning, often suddenly, and in the most painful manner.

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“Don’t wait too long on that “right price.” For if the current value of Alibaba™ is any indication – “right” is becoming more inline with “any” much faster than anyone dared think just a year prior..”

Dot Com 2.0 – The Sequel Unfolds (St.Cyr)

Once high flyers such as the aforementioned Twitter and others are crashing to Earth like the proverbial canary. Companies like Square™, Box™, GoPro™, Pandora™, and now far too many others have watched their stock prices hammered ever lower. Yes, hammered, as in representing one selling round after another with almost no respite. Some have lost 90% of their once lofty high share prices. What’s further disheartening to those still clinging (or praying) to the “meme-dream” is the ever-increasing reputation of the old “Great companies on sale!” chortles from many a next in rotation fund manager on TV, radio, or print. For it seems every round of selling is being met with ever more selling – no buying. And the lower they go with an ever intensifying pressure, so too does the value of the debutantes in waiting: The yet to be IPO’d unicorns.

Valuation after unicorn valuation are getting marked down in one fell swoops such as that from Fidelity™ and others. However, there probably wasn’t a better representation on how little was left to the unicorn myth (and yes I believed/believe all these valuation metrics were myth and fairy-tales) than the very public meme shattering experienced in both the IPO, as well as the subsequent price action of Square. Here it was touted the IPO price was less than the unicorn implied valuation. This was supposedly done as to show “value” for those coming in to be next in line to pin their tails on the newest unicorn of riches. The problem? It sold, and sold, and is still selling – and not in a good way. It seems much like the other company Mr. Dorsey is CEO of (and how anyone with any business acumen argued that was a good idea is still beyond me. But I digress.) this unicorn also can’t fly. And; is in a perilous downward spiral of meeting the ground of reality.

It seems the only interest in buying these once high flyers can garner is wrapped up into any rumor (usually via a Tweet!) that they are to be sold – as in acquired by someone else who might be able to make money with them. Well, at least that would free up the ole CEO dilemma, no? And speaking of CEO dilemma and acquiring – how’s Yahoo!™ doing? Remember when the strategy for success for Yahoo as posited by the very public adoration styled magazine cover girl articles of its current CEO Marisa Mayer was an acquisition spree? This was all but unquestionable (and much digital ink spilled) in its brilliance and vision inspired forward thinking. Well, it seems all that “brilliance” has been eviscerated much like how the workforce still employed there is yet to be.

Let me be blunt: All you needed to know things were amiss both at Yahoo as well as “the Valley” itself was to look at the most recent decision of Ms. Mayer to throw a lavish multi-million dollar costumed theme party mere months ago. As unquestionably foolish as this was – the rationale given by many a Silicon Valley aficionado that it was nothing, after all, “it’s common in the Valley” was ever the more stupefying! Now it seems Yahoo is “cutting its workforce by double-digit%ages.” And: open to the possibility of selling off core assets of its business. Of course – at the right price. However, I’d just offer this advice: Don’t wait too long on that “right price.” For if the current value of Alibaba™ is any indication – “right” is becoming more inline with “any” much faster than anyone dared think just a year prior.

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DotCom 2.0 revisited.

CEOs, Venture Backers Lose Big As Linkedin, Tableau Shares Tumble (Reuters)

LinkedIn Executive Chairman Reid Hoffman lost almost half his $2.8 billion fortune on paper Friday as shares of his social media company suffered their largest drop on record. He was not alone in taking heavy losses. Other executives at LinkedIn, some at business analytics company Tableau Software, and a number of the companies’ venture capital backers also took losses running into tens of millions of dollars as both stocks tumbled on dismal financial outlooks. It was a humbling moment highlighting the personal exposure many technology leaders and venture capitalists face as Wall Street reassesses their value at an uncertain time for the sector. Silicon Valley-based LinkedIn’s shares closed down 43.6% at $108.38 on Friday, after hitting a three-year low, following a sales forecast well short of analysts’ expectations. Shares of Seattle-based Tableau Software, a business analytics tools company, fell 49.4% to $41.33 after cutting its full-year profit outlook.

As a result, LinkedIn’s Hoffman lost $1.2 billion from his value on paper on Friday, slashing his stake to $1.6 billion, based on his holdings detailed in a filing with securities regulators from March, which the company said was the most up-to-date. LinkedIn’s Chief Executive Jeff Weiner saw the value of his stake fall by $70.9 million to $91.5 million. At Tableau, the value of CEO Christian Chabot’s stake was slashed nearly in half to $268 million, based on his holdings in a filing with securities regulators in March. Besides Hoffman and Weiner, several venture capitalists who sit on LinkedIn’s board and own stakes in the company suffered substantial losses. Michael Moritz, the chairman of Sequoia Capital who owns more shares than any individual investor besides Hoffman and Weiner, lost $56 million as his stake’s value shrank to $72.8 million. David Sze at Greylock Partners saw the value of his stake slide to $5 million after losing $3.9 million on Friday.

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“Any commodity market where inventories are at the highest level in more than 85 years is going to be bearish.”

Record Numbers Of Longs And Shorts Are Piling Into Oil (BBG)

Money managers may not agree where oil prices are headed, but they are increasingly eager to place their bets. Total wagers on the price of crude climbed to the highest since the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission began tracking the data in 2006. Speculators’ combined short and long positions in West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, rose to 497,280 futures and options contracts in the week ended Feb. 2. WTI moved more than 1% each day in the past three weeks. U.S. crude stockpiles climbed to the highest level in more than 85 years and Venezuela called for cooperation between OPEC and other oil-exporting countries to stem the drop in prices. The slump has slashed earnings from Royal Dutch Shell to Chevron, while Exxon Mobil reduced its drilling budget to a 10-year low.

“This is a reflection of a lot of conviction on both sides,” said John Kilduff at Again Capital, a hedge fund that focuses on energy. “We’re seeing a battle royal between those who think a bottom has been put in and those who think we have lower to go.” WTI slumped 5% to $29.88 a barrel in the report week on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The March contract added 10 cents, or 0.3%, to $30.99 at 12:18 p.m. Singapore time on Monday. [..] “There’s a difference of opinion about the direction of the market,” said Tim Evans at Citi Futures Perspective in New York. “It looks like some of the high price levels offered an opening for shorts to get back into the market. The shorts were the winners on a net basis.”

In other markets, net bearish wagers on U.S. ultra low sulfur diesel increased 11% to 23,765 contracts. Diesel futures advanced 4.5% in the period. Net bullish bets on Nymex gasoline slipped 18% to 14,328 contracts as futures dropped 4.4%. The risks are weighted to the downside because of the global glut, Citi’s Evans said. U.S. crude stockpiles climbed 7.79 million barrels to 502.7 million in the week ended Jan. 29, the highest since 1930, according to Energy Information Administration. Gasoline supplies climbed 5.94 million barrels to 254.4 million, the highest in weekly records going back to 1990. “The rise in U.S. inventories is confirmation of a larger physical supply surplus,” Evans said. “Any commodity market where inventories are at the highest level in more than 85 years is going to be bearish.”

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Time for the big margin calls?!

Prolonged Slump Sparks 2nd Wave Of Cuts To 2016 Oil Company Budgets (Reuters)

Less than two months into the year, the top U.S. shale oil companies have already cut their budget for 2016 a second time as the relentless drop in oil prices continues to erode their cash flow. With oil prices firmly wedged in the low $30-per-barrel range, oil producers are deferring spending on new wells and projects. “Companies’ language has shifted towards preserving balance sheets and cash, and keeping expenditure within cash-flows, which means that budgets are going to fall further,” said Topeka Capital Markets analyst Gabriele Sorbara. 18 of the top 30 U.S. oil companies by output have so far outlined their spending plans for 2016. They have reduced their budget by 40% on average, steeper than most analysts’ expectations, according to a Reuters analysis. These 30 companies had, on average, lowered their spending plans for 2016 by more than 70% last year.

Some such as Hess Corp and ConocoPhillips, who had already planned to spend less this year than in 2015, have now further cut their capital expenditure targets. Others are expected to follow suit. But, is there room for further cuts? While reduced prices for oilfield services and increased efficiencies have helped companies scale back spending, many industry experts say there may not be room for further cuts. “It’s almost like a 80/20 rule – 80% of the cost reduction has already occurred, another 20% remains,” said Rob Thummel at Tortoise Capital Advisors. Although the reduced spending has not yet impacted shale output, production is expected to start falling by the end of the year. “The capital cuts that the industry is making should result in … a supply shock to the downside,” ConocoPhillips’ chief executive, Ryan Lance, said on Thursday.

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Looking 10 years ahead? Sure.

World’s Largest Energy Trader Sees a Decade of Low Oil Prices (BBG)

Oil prices will stay low for as long as 10 years as Chinese economic growth slows and the U.S. shale industry acts as a cap on any rally, according to the world’s largest independent oil-trading house. “It’s hard to see a dramatic price increase,” Vitol CEO Ian Taylor told Bloomberg in an interview, saying prices were likely to bounce around a band with a mid-point of $50 a barrel for the next decade. “We really do imagine a band, and that band would probably naturally see a $40 to $60 type of band,” he said. “I can see that band lasting for five to ten years. I think it’s fundamentally different.” The lower boundary would imply little price recovery from where Brent crude, the global price benchmark, trades at about $35 a barrel.

The upper limit would put prices back to the level of July 2015, when the oil industry was already taking measures to weather the crisis. The forecast, made as the oil trading community’s annual IP Week gathering starts in London on Monday, would mean oil-rich countries and the energy industry would face the longest stretch of low prices since the the 1986-1999 period, when crude mostly traded between $10 and $20 a barrel. Vitol trades more than five million barrels a day of crude and refined products – enough to cover the needs of Germany, France and Spain together – and its views are closely followed in the oil industry.

Taylor, a 59-year-old trader-cum-executive who started his career at Royal Dutch Shell in the late 1970s, said he was unsure whether prices have already bottomed out, as supply continued to out-pace demand, leading to ever higher global stockpiles. However, he said that prices were likely to recover somewhat in the second half of the year, toward $45 to $50 a barrel. For the foreseeable future, Taylor doubts the oil market would ever see the triple-digit prices that fattened the sovereign wealth funds of Middle East countries and propelled the valuations of companies such as Exxon Mobil and BP. “You have to believe that there is a possibility that you will not necessarily go back above $100, you know, ever,” he said.

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How many will be capped in for good?

150 North Sea Oil Rigs Could Be Scrapped In 10 Years (Scotsman)

Almost 150 oil rigs in UK waters could be scrapped within the next 10 years, according to industry analysts Douglas Westwood, which carries out market research and consultancy work for the energy industry worldwide, said it anticipated that “146 platforms will be removed from the UK during 2019-2026”. The North Sea has been hit hard by plummeting oil prices, with the industry body Oil and Gas UK estimating 65,000 jobs have been lost in the sector since 2014. But Douglas Westwood said that decommissioning could provide an opportunity for the specialist firms involved in the work. Later this month it will publish its decommissioning market forecast for the North Sea – covering Denmark, Germany, Norway and the UK – over the period 2016 to 2040.

Ahead of that a paper on its website predicted that the “UK will dominate decommissioning expenditure”. This is down to the “high number of ageing platforms in the UK, which have an average age of over 20 years and are uneconomic at current commodity prices, as a result of high maintenance costs and the expensive production techniques required for mature fields”. Douglas Westwood said: “The oil price collapse has been bad news for nearly every company involved in the industry, but one group that could actually benefit from it are specialist decommissioning companies. “For these companies there is an opportunity to be part of removing the huge tonnage of infrastructure that exists in the North Sea. With oil prices forecast to remain low, life extension work that has kept many North Sea platforms producing long past their design life no longer makes commercial sense.”

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Some people will try and make a big deal out of this.

Iran Wants Euro Payment For New And Outstanding Oil Sales (Reuters)

Iran wants to recover tens of billions of dollars it is owed by India and other buyers of its oil in euros and is billing new crude sales in euros, too, looking to reduce its dependence on the U.S. dollar following last month’s sanctions relief. A source at state-owned National Iranian Oil told Reuters that Iran will charge in euros for its recently signed oil contracts with firms including French oil and gas major Total, Spanish refiner Cepsa and Litasco, the trading arm of Russia’s Lukoil. “In our invoices we mention a clause that buyers of our oil will have to pay in euros, considering the exchange rate versus the dollar around the time of delivery,” the NIOC source said. Iran has also told its trading partners who owe it billions of dollars that it wants to be paid in euros rather than U.S. dollars.

Iran was allowed to recover some of the funds frozen under U.S.-led sanctions in currencies other than dollars, such as the Omani rial and UAE dhiram. Switching oil sales to euros makes sense as Europe is now one of Iran’s biggest trading partners. “Many European companies are rushing to Iran for business opportunities, so it makes sense to have revenue in euros,” said Robin Mills, CEO of Dubai-based Qamar Energy. Iran has pushed for years to have the euro replace the dollar as the currency for international oil trade. In 2007, Tehran failed to persuade OPEC members to switch away from the dollar, which its then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called a “worthless piece of paper”.

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What are the odds? If not done retroactively, how would it work out?

Fining Bankers, Not Shareholders, for Banks’ Misconduct (Morgenson)

Ho-hum, another week, another multimillion-dollar settlement between regulators and a behemoth bank acting badly. The most recent version involves two such financial institutions, Barclays and Credit Suisse. They agreed last Sunday to pay $154.3 million after regulators contended that their stock trading platforms, advertised as places where investors would not be preyed on by high-frequency traders, were actually precisely the opposite. On both banks’ systems, investors trying to execute their transactions fairly were harmed. As has become all too common in these cases, not one individual was identified as being responsible for the activities. Once again, shareholders are shouldering the costs of unethical behavior they had nothing to do with.

It could not be clearer: Years of tighter rules from legislators and bank regulators have done nothing to fix the toxic, me-first cultures that afflict big financial firms. Regulators are at last awakening to this reality. On Jan. 5, for example, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a top Wall Street cop, announced its regulatory priorities for 2016. Among the main issues in its sights, the regulator said, was the culture at these companies. “Nearly a decade after the financial crisis, some firms continue to experience systemic breakdowns manifested through significant violations due to poor cultures of compliance,” said Richard Ketchum, Finra’s chairman.

“Firms with a strong ethical culture and senior leaders who set the right tone, lead by example and impose consequences on anyone who violates the firm’s cultural norms are essential to restoring investor confidence and trust in the securities industry.” But changing behavior — as opposed, say, to imposing higher capital requirements — is a complex task. And regulators must do more than talk about what banks have to do to address their deficiencies. Andreas Dombret is a member of the executive board of the Deutsche Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, and head of its department of banking and financial supervision. In an interview late last year, he said he was determined to tackle the problem of ethically challenged bankers.

“If behavior doesn’t change, banks will not be trusted and they won’t be efficient in their financing of the real economy,” he said. “A functioning banking system must be based on trust.” Mr. Dombret is a regulator who knows banking from the inside, having held executive positions at J.P. Morgan and Bank of America. Most companies have codes of ethics, Mr. Dombret said, but they often exist only on paper. Regulators could help encourage a more ethical approach by routinely monitoring how a bank cooperates with its overseers, Mr. Dombret said. “How often is the bank the whistle-blower?” he asked. “Not only to get a lesser penalty but also to show that it won’t accept that kind of behavior. We are seeing more of that.”

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What VW didn’t get: the key player is the California Air Resources Board. You don’t want to piss them off. “Use of defeat devices is a civil violation” of the Clean Air Act, Uhlmann said. “Lying about CAA compliance is a criminal violation.”

Volkswagen’s Emissions Lies Are Coming Back To Haunt It (BBG)

No one has died from the emissions-cheating software Volkswagen has admitted it installed in some of its cars, yet the U.S. Justice Department may treat it more harshly than two automakers whose vehicles have killed people. General Motors vehicles were fitted with faulty ignition switches linked to at least 124 deaths. Toyota cars were involved in unintended acceleration responsible for at least four deaths. Neither had to plead guilty in settling criminal allegations, but Volkswagen may be forced to if it’s charged with criminal conduct and also wants to settle, according to attorneys who specialize in environmental law. The German automaker lied to the Environmental Protection Agency and California regulators for almost a year before admitting it created a device to fool emissions tests, Mary D. Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, said in September.

Now the company faces a Justice Department that’s become more willing to push businesses across industries into guilty pleas tied to multibillion-dollar penalties. The U.S. attorney general also made it a priority last year to pursue criminal convictions against corporate executives. “We’ve had difficulty in controlling the automobile industry,” said Daniel Riesel at Sive, Paget & Riesel, a law firm that isn’t involved in the case. “Clearly the government regards this as a very serious environmental dereliction and is making a big deal of it.” [..] The U.S. civil complaint against Volkswagen alleges four violations of the Clean Air Act and cites potential civil fines that could be in the billions of dollars, according to Justice Department officials. If the BP case is a guide, criminal penalties could be less costly.

A criminal claim probably would be based on allegations that Volkswagen lied to government officials, said David Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and former head of the environmental-crimes section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. When confronted about excess emissions by EPA and California regulators in meetings over several months, Volkswagen engineers cited technical issues rather than admitting the engines contained the defeat devices, according to the Justice Department. The company also initially denied in November that it installed software in larger engines to alter emissions, the department said. “Use of defeat devices is a civil violation” of the Clean Air Act, Uhlmann said. “Lying about CAA compliance is a criminal violation.”

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Just getting started.

Moody’s Cuts Rating On Western Australia Iron Ore (WSJ)

Moody’s Investors Service cut its rating on Western Australia, one of the world’s major iron-ore hubs, as a sharp downturn in prices for the steelmaking commodity puts increasing strain on the state’s finances. The ratings agency said on Monday it had downgraded the long-term issuer and senior unsecured debt ratings of the Western Australian Treasury, which issues debt on behalf of the state of Western Australia and state-owned corporations, to Aa2 from Aa1, citing “the ongoing deterioration in Western Australia’s financial and debt metrics and an increasing risk that the state’s debt burden will be higher than indicated.”

Ratings agencies have put many resources-focused companies and countries on watch amid a deep fall in world commodity prices. Last week, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services said it has lowered BHP Billiton credit rating and cautioned it could cut again as early as this month. It also downgraded Glencore’s rating to just one notch above junk status. Moody’s said Western Australia’s reliance on royalty income from miners meant sharp falls in commodity prices, particularly iron-ore prices, was creating considerable pressure on its budget.

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Gives ‘down under’ a new meaning. Watch Perth housing market.

British Expat Workers Flood Home As Australia Mining Boom Turns To Dust (Tel.)

Mining has been the driving force of Australia’s economic growth for longer than anyone cares to remember – helping GDP growth average 3.6pc a year for most of this century – but the global collapse in commodity prices has led to a painful readjustment Australians have heard the warnings before – but this time, it seems, the boom is truly over. The country is repointing its economy for a new reality, and renegotiating its trading partnership with China and the wider Asia-Pacific. Australia’s mining titans – the likes of BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, whose shares have led the FTSE 100 lower in the recent market turmoil – have a huge fight on their hands. Meanwhile the migrants who answered their call for workers are considering their options. Will the mining downturn see Britons packing their bags for home?

“There is no doubt that current operating conditions in the mining sector are tough and companies are taking steps to ensure their long-term survival,” says Dr Gavin Lind, of the Minerals Council of Australia. Slowing demand in China – the world’s largest consumer of raw materials, and the buyer of 54pc of Australia’s resources exports in 2015 – has led to dizzying price falls in coal, iron ore, zinc, nickel, copper and bauxite, all minerals mined Down Under. Instead of cutting production and shoring up the price of their product, miners are taking a counter-intuitive tack, and boosting their output. Closing down mines is an expensive business and companies would rather cling on to their market share than cede ground to their rivals. Yet “the increase in volumes is unlikely to be sufficient to offset the effect of lower commodity prices”, Mark Cully, chief economist at the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, warned in December.

He calculates that Australia’s earnings from mining and energy exports will fall by 4pc to A$166bn (£81bn) this year as lower prices bite. Giant miners such as Rio and BHP believe their low-cost models will enable them to survive while higher-cost competitors go to the wall. However, in common with their peers in the FTSE 100, they have been punished by investors, with their shares tumbling 44pc and 52pc respectively in the last year. While Rio’s balance sheet is regarded as the stronger of the two, both are under pressure to cut their dividends. Analysts expect Rio to unveil a 37pc slump in operating profits when it reports its full-year results this week. BHP, which announces its half-year results on February 23, is facing a 56pc tumble in profits for the year.

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Call a spade a spade.

Ukraine: A USA-Installed Nazi-Infested Failed State (Lendman)

In February 2014, Washington replaced Ukrainian democracy with fascism in Europe’s heartland – illegitimately installed officials waging war on their own people. Fundamental human and civil rights were abolished. Police state viciousness replaced them. Regime critics risk prosecution, sentencing, imprisonment or assassination. Two years after fascists seized power, conditions for ordinary Ukrainians are deplorable. According to Germany’s daily broadsheet Junge Welt, they’re “staggering.” “Since the end of the Yanukovych era, the average income has decreased by 50%,” it reported – on top of 2015’s 44% inflation, nearly reducing purchasing power by half, making it impossible for most Ukrainians to get by. They’re suffering hugely, deeply impoverished, denied fundamental social services, abolished or greatly reduced en route to eliminating them altogether.

Ukraine’s economy is bankrupt, teetering on collapse, sustained by US-controlled IMF loans, violating its longstanding rules, a special dispensation for Ukraine. It loaned billions of dollars to a deadbeat borrower unable to repay them, an unprecedented act, funding its war machine, turning a blind eye to a hugely corrupt regime persecuting its own people. Ukraine’s GDP is in near free-fall, contracting by 12% last year, projected to continue declining sharply this year and beyond. The average pension was cut to €80 monthly, an impossible amount to live on, forcing pensioners to try getting by any way they can, including growing some of their own food in season. US anointed illegitimate oligarch president Petro Poroshenko is widely despised. So are other key regime officials.

They blame dismal economic conditions mainly on ongoing civil war – US-orchestrated and backed naked aggression against Donbass freedom fighters, rejecting fascist rule, wanting fundamental democratic rights, deserving universal praise and support. According to Junge Welt, regime critics call Kiev claims lame excuses. “What matters is (it’s) done little or nothing to prevent corruption and insider trading,” elite interests benefitting at the expense of everyone else, stealing the country blind, grabbing all they can. Complicit regime-connected oligarchs profit hugely in Ukraine, benefitting from grand theft, super-rich Dmitry Firtash apparently not one of them, calling Kiev “politically bankrupt.”

Days earlier, Ukrainian Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius resigned, followed the next day by his first deputy, Yulia Kovaliv, his remaining team, two deputy ministers and Kiev’s trade representative. Parliament speaker Volodymyr Groysman warned of Ukraine “entering a serious political crisis.” Resignations followed nothing done to address vital reforms needed. In his resignation letter, Abromavicius said corrupt officials blocked them, wanting control over state enterprises for their own self-interest, including natural gas company NAK Naftogaz. “Neither I nor my team have any desire to serve as a cover-up for the covert corruption, or become puppets for” regime officials “trying to exercise control over the flow of public funds,” he explained.

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Not a bad thought experiment. But having ‘populist’ Beppe Grillo as an example shows how clueless Münchau is about reality. That sort of talk itself is populist. David Cameron in a much more valid example, for one.

Through The Past, Darkly, For Europe’s Central Bankers (Münchau)

Re-reading John Weitz’s biography of Hjalmar Schacht, Hitler’s Banker , I noted some interesting parallels between the 1930s and now that I had not considered before. It is well known that Hitler relied on Schacht, his central banker, to help fund his rearmament plans. But Weitz also pointed out — and this is potentially relevant to the situation in the eurozone today – that Schacht was only able to pursue his unorthodox policies at the Reichsbank because he had the backing of a dictator. If an extremist leader came to power in a large eurozone country – France or Italy, say – what would happen if they were to appoint a central banker with the acumen of Schacht? And what would be the chances that such a team could succeed in increasing economic growth in the short term? Let me say straightaway that I am not comparing anyone to Hitler – or indeed to Schacht.

My point concerns what an unorthodox central banker can do if he or she has the political support to break with the prevailing orthodoxy. Schacht had two stints as president of the Reichsbank — in the 1920s, when he brought an end to the hyperinflation then crippling Germany, and again from 1933 to 1939. It is hard to identify him with a single economic outlook: in the 1920s he was in favour of the gold standard but then, in the early 1930s, he opposed the consensus that promoted the policies of austerity and deflation. Schacht argued, rightly, that Germany was unable to meet the reparation payments specified in the Young Plan, which was adopted in 1929. On returning to the Reichsbank, Schacht organised a unilateral restructuring of private debt owed by German companies to foreigners.

The German economy had already benefited from withdrawal from the gold standard in 1931, and Schacht piled stimulus upon stimulus. One reason for Hitler’s initial popularity in Germany was the speedy recovery from the depression, which was no doubt helped by a loose fiscal and monetary policy mix. The current policy orthodoxy in Brussels and Frankfurt, which is shared across northern Europe, has some parallels to the deflationary mindset that prevailed in the 1930s. Today’s politicians and central bankers are fixated with fiscal targets and debt reduction. As in the early 1930s, policy orthodoxy has pathological qualities. Whenever they run out of things to say, today’s central bankers refer to “structural reforms”, although they never say what precisely such reforms would achieve.

In principle, the eurozone’s economic problems are not hard to solve: the ECB could hand each citizen a cheque for €10,000. The inflation problem would be solved within days. Or the ECB could issue its own IOUs — which is what Schacht did. Or else the EU could issue debt and the ECB would buy it up. There are lots of ways to print money. They are all magnificent — and illegal.

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“..communal solidarity..” That says it all. More Europe! Not. Going. To. Happen.

German, French Central Bankers Call For Eurozone Finance Ministry (Reuters)

The euro zone needs to press ahead with structural reforms and closer integration, including an euro zone finance ministry, to deliver sustainable growth, the heads of the French and German central banks wrote in a German newspaper on Monday. In a guest article for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung entitled “Europe at a crossroads”, they said the European Central Bank (ECB) was not in a position to create sustainable long-term growth for the 19-country single currency bloc. The ECB has undershot its 2% inflation target for three straight years and is unlikely to return to it to for years to come given low oil prices, lackluster economic growth, weak lending and only modest wage rises in the euro zone.

“Although monetary policy has done a lot for the euro zone economy, it can’t create sustainable economic growth,” Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann and Bank of France Chief Francois Villeroy de Galhau wrote. Instead the euro zone needs a decisive program for structural reforms, an ambitious financing and investment union as well as better economic policy framework, Weidmann and Villeroy de Galhau said. The idea of such a ministry was floated in 2011 to tighten coordination of national policy after the economic crisis had forced the European Union to fund bailouts worth hundreds of billions of euros for Greece, Ireland and Portugal. “The current asymmetry between national sovereignty and communal solidarity is posing a danger for the stability of our currency union,” they wrote.

“Stronger integration appears to be the obvious way to restore trust in the euro zone, for this would favor the development of joint strategies for state finances and reforms so as to promote growth,” they said. Specifically, they called for the creation of a common finance ministry in connection with an independent fiscal council as well as the formation of a stronger political body that can take decisions.

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Oct 252015
 
 October 25, 2015  Posted by at 10:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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NPC Capitol Refining Co. plant, Relee, Alexandria County 1925

Pensioners Prosper, The Young Suffer. UK Social Contract Is Breaking (Willetts)
Putting China’s “6.9% GDP Growth” In Context (Lebowitz)
China Premier Says 7% Growth Goal Never Set In Stone (Reuters)
China Communist Party Paper Says Country Should Join TTIP (Reuters)
Cyber Attacks Bigger Threat To Our Banking System Than Bad Debts (Luyendijk)
The Age Of The Torporation (Economist)
Listen – Is That The Sound Of A Bubble Bursting Down Under? (Steve Keen)
Mortgage Rate Rises Too Little, Too Late For Australia’s Bloated Banks (David)
Portugal Left Vows To Topple Government With No-Confidence Vote (Reuters)
More Syrians Risk Deadly Crossings To Greece In Race Against Winter (Guardian)
Hotspot ‘Solution’ Deepens Europe’s Refugee Crisis (IRIN)
Bodies Of 40 Migrants Wash Ashore In Libya (AP)
Europe Split On Migrant Crisis On Eve Of Brussels Talks (Reuters)
Balkan Countries Threaten To Close Borders If Germany Does (Reuters)
Refugee Crisis Agreement Between Serbia And Croatia (BN.ie)
Tampons, Sterile Cotton, Sanitary Pads Contaminated With Monsanto Glyphosate (RT)

This scenario is playing out across the -western- world. A very big storm brewing.

Pensioners Prosper, The Young Suffer. UK Social Contract Is Breaking (Willetts)

It marks a dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of different generations. Last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated that the median income of pensioners (£394 per week) is now higher than the median income of the rest of the population (£385 per week). In many ways, this is a triumph. Nobody wants to see pensioners struggling in poverty. And we might hope that the forces driving up the incomes of today’s pensioners will similarly boost incomes of the generations coming after. But if we investigate what lies behind the headline figures we see that this is not a simply benign economic and social trend from which we might all expect to benefit. Instead, there are some specific reasons why especially younger pensioners, the boomers who are now retiring, have ended up enjoying spectacular advantages that may not boost incomes of the generations coming after them.

We can get a good idea of how this has come about if we look behind the headline figures. First, they measure incomes left over after deducting housing costs. More and more old people own their homes with the mortgage paid off. They have very low housing costs. Meanwhile, younger generations struggle to get on the housing ladder, with high rents for poor quality property. We simply are not building anything like the number of houses we need. Through the 1950s and 1960s, we were building 300,000 houses a year but now, despite all the government’s efforts, we are only at about half that. Getting more houses built and bringing down the cost of housing is crucial to reducing this gap between the generations. Pensioners are also doing well because of the triple lock protecting their incomes.

This means the state pension is boosted by either inflation or earnings or 2.5% – whichever is highest. This is a ratchet that means whatever the state of the economic cycle the state pension keeps on going up. So even when earnings were not increasing, pensioners kept enjoying increases in their pension because it was linked to prices. Inflation has now dipped below zero but, because earnings are going up by 2.9 %, pensioners are going to do as well as workers next April. Increases in the female state pension age do provide some offset to these costs for the exchequer. Nevertheless, the annual ratchet of the triple lock raises public spending at a time when the government is, for example, planning cash cuts in the incomes of working people on tax credits. One estimate suggests that the triple lock is already costing around £6bn a year, significantly more than the £4.5bn cut to tax credits from next April that is causing so much controversy.

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Nice list.

Putting China’s “6.9% GDP Growth” In Context (Lebowitz)

On Friday morning, following Chinese Premiere Li’s comment that growth was still in a “reasonable range”, China’s central bank (PBoC) proceeded to cut interest rates as well as the required deposit reserve ratio for major banks. The language of the Premier and the actions of the PBoC are contradictory. Their actions in conjunction with their words offer even more evidence to believe reported growth is a mirage [..] Before viewing the statistics below take a moment to consider the following: If China’s economy is in fact humming along at a “reasonable” 6.9% pace, then what is the logic and motivation behind aggressively easier monetary policy? Put another way, what don’t we know about the Chinese economy?

Central Bank Actions

  • 1yr Benchmark Lending Rate: Since November 2014 China has cut their 1 year interest rate 6 times. Over this period the rate has been lowered from 5.60% to 4.35%
  • Required Deposit Reserve Ratio for Major Banks (determines amount of leverage banks can take and therefore the amount of loans they can make): Since February 2015 China has lowered it 4 times from 19.50% to 17.50%.
  • Renminbi: Since August China devalued their currency 2.8%

Economic Statistics

  • China export trade: -8.8% year to date
  • China import trade: -17.6% year to date
  • China imports from Australia: -27.3% year over year
  • Industrial output crude steel: -3% year to date
  • Cement output: -3.2% year over year
  • Industrial output electricity: -3.1% year over year
  • China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index: 49.8 (below 50 is contractionary)
  • China Services Purchasing Managers Index: 50.5 (below 50 is contractionary)
  • Railway freight volume: -17.34% year over year
  • Electricity total energy consumption: -.20% year over year
  • Consumer price index (CPI): +1.6% year over year
  • Producer price index (PPI): -5.9% year over year, 43 consecutive months of declines
  • China hot rolled steel price index: -35.5% year to date
  • Fixed asset investment: +10.3% (averaged +23% 2009-2014)
  • Retail sales: +10.9% the slowest growth in 11 years
  • Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index: -30% since June

Are these actions and statistics consistent with a country thought to be growing at 6.90% annually?

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But 6.9% was.

China Premier Says 7% Growth Goal Never Set In Stone (Reuters)

China has never said the economy absolutely must grow seven% this year, Premier Li Keqiang said in comments reported by the government late on Saturday, adding that he had faith in the country’s ability to overcome its economic difficulties. China’s economy in the July-to-September quarter grew 6.9% from a year earlier, data showed last week, dipping below 7% for the first time since the global financial crisis. Speaking at the Central Party School, which trains rising officials, Li said that China’s economic achievements had been not easy to come by and that the difficulties ahead should not be underestimated. Li’s report to the annual meeting of parliament set this year’s GDP growth target at about 7%.

“We have never said that we should defend to the death any goal, but that the economy should operate within a reasonable range,” the central government paraphrased Li as saying in a statement released on its website. China’s economic growth has not been bad over the last year considering the problems in the global economy, he added. There are reasons for optimism going forward, such as rising employment, more spending on tourism and a fast growing service sector, Li said. “The hard work of people up and down the country and the enormous potential of China’s economy gives us more confidence that we can overcome the various difficulties,” he added. China’s central bank cut interest rates on Friday for the sixth time in less than a year, and it again lowered the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves in a bid to jump start growth in its stuttering economy.

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What a great idea.

China Communist Party Paper Says Country Should Join TTIP (Reuters)

China should join at an appropriate time the U.S.-backed regional trade accord the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as its broad aims are in line with China’s own economic reform agenda, an influential Communist Party newspaper said on Sunday. China is not among the 12 Pacific Rim countries who earlier this month agreed the trade pact, the most ambitious in a generation. The accord includes Australia and Japan among economies worth a combined $28 trillion. China’s trade minister has said the country does not feel targeted by it, but will evaluate the likely impact comprehensively. In a commentary, the biweekly Study Times, published by the Central Party School that trains rising officials, admitted there were those in China who viewed the TPP as a “plot” to isolate and restrain the country’s global ambitions.

But the broad aims of the TPP, including reducing things such as administrative approvals and protecting the environment, were what China wants to achieve too, it wrote. China has been trying to shift to a more sustainable, ecologically-sound, consumption-led economic growth model. “The rules of the TPP and the direction of China’s reforms and opening up are in line,” the newspaper said. “China should keep paying close attention and at an appropriate time, in accordance with progress on domestic reform, join the TPP, while limiting the costs associated to the greatest degree,” it added. However, how China’s state-owned industries might be affected by joining the TPP would need careful consideration, as the party has made clear their key role in the economy, the newspaper said.

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Could as easily be talking about the electricity grid: “So there we are, called into a bank to solve a problem. They take us to a greying man sitting in the corner: ‘Please meet Peter, he is the only one left around here who still understands the systems’”

Cyber Attacks Bigger Threat To Our Banking System Than Bad Debts (Luyendijk)

Many IT specialists and financial consultants say megabanks have simply become too big and too complex to manage. This would be fine if they were restaurants or hairdressers, companies that can safely go bust. But as we saw in September 2008, megabanks are also too big to fail. Like generals trying to win the last war, financial regulators today are obsessed with preventing a repetition of that 2008 collapse. It was caused by a combination of ever-thinner capital buffers plus overly complex financial products, which had seemed risk-free until they exploded. Hence regulators’ and lawmakers’ response was to force banks to hold more capital to cushion new shocks, and to make the type of product that exploded far less lucrative.

Bankers and regulators like to point out that almost nobody saw the crash of 2008 coming. It was a so-called black swan event – one considered so unlikely as to be outside the realm of the possible, while having huge and irreversible consequences when it does occur. It makes sense to hunt for another black swan, another complex financial product that could blow up and take the global financial sector with it. Many IT specialists with experience in banks I have interviewed seem genuinely concerned that one day a megabank will be shut out of its own data. What happens to the companies who rely on that bank’s payment system? “It would make the panic during a bank run look innocent,” said one.

He spoke of colleagues who retain paper copies of all their internet banking statements and confirmed a favourite quote from another IT specialist I interviewed: “The generation who built the computer systems when automation took off is now reaching retirement age. So there we are, called into a bank to solve a problem. They take us to a greying man sitting in the corner: ‘Please meet Peter, he is the only one left around here who still understands the systems’.” Much of the debate about banks and the dangers they pose to society has focussed on moral hazard; since bankers know they will be saved anyway there is little incentive to be cautious, especially when shareholders demand ever higher returns. That is the problem of Too Big to Fail.

But listen to IT specialists and you realise that the next big blow-up may result from an entirely different problem with banks today: Too Big and Too Complex to manage. This raises very real risks, both of the kind of meltdowns that specialists fear but also of cyber attacks: if you are a terrorist and you want to hit the West where it genuinely hurts, then the IT systems of a big bank must look like an attractive target. All the more reason to break up the banks and make them smaller so should one go then the entire system is not pulled down with it.

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Stagnation and deflation.

The Age Of The Torporation (Economist)

At the economy-wide level companies’ sales are closely related to nominal GDP growth (which includes inflation). So it should be no shock that firms are struggling given that deflation stalks rich countries and growth is slowing in the emerging world. After two lost decades, Japanese firms’ sales per share are still similar to the level in the 1990s. For Western firms there is also a suspicion that the methods used to crank out profits during the golden era were unsustainable. The unease is compounded by the fact that earnings are high relative to two yardsticks. S&P 500 earnings per share are 28% above their ten-year average. And in America profits are stretched relative to GDP). Since the 1970s American firms have yanked on three big levers to boost profits.

First, multinationals expanded abroad, with foreign earnings supplying a third or so of long-term earnings growth. Today, however, it seems that emerging economies are at the end of their 15-year boom. Second, finance was a crucial prop for profits in the two decades to 2007, with the banking industry expanding rapidly and industrial firms such as GE and General Motors building huge shadow banks. The regulatory clampdown since the financial crisis means this adventure is now over. Third, after 2007-08 firms relied heavily on pushing down the share of their profits that they paid out in wages. But now there are hints that wages are rising. On October 14th Walmart said that higher pay and training costs would lower its profits by $1.5 billion, or just under 10%, in 2017.

A week later Chipotle, a fast-food chain specialising in burritos big enough to ballast a ship, blamed falling margins on labour costs. If the share of domestic gross earnings paid in wages were to rise back to the average level of the 1990s, the profits of American firms would drop by a fifth. Faced with stagnation, the quick fix is share buy-backs, which are running at $600 billion a year in America. They are a legitimate way to return cash to investors but also artificially boost earnings per share. IBM spent $121 billion on buy-backs over the past decade, twice what it forked out on research and development. In the third quarter its sales fell by 14%, or by 1% excluding currency movements and asset disposals. Big Blue should have invested more in its own business. Walmart spent $60 billion on buy-backs even as it fell far behind Amazon in e-commerce.

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The ‘Hair of the Dog’ cure.

Listen – Is That The Sound Of A Bubble Bursting Down Under? (Steve Keen)

In everywhere but Australia, I’m famous for predicting the 2008 crash. In Australia, I’m famous for being wrong about house prices – they rose after the crash, when I expected them to fall. So why should you listen to me about the one thing I got wrong? Partly because I got the cause right, but the direction of the cause wrong. As the Irish know only too well, what really causes house prices to rise rapidly is too much mortgage debt, rising too quickly. House prices exploded here in the “Celtic Tiger” days, only to collapse when the mortgage bubble burst – bringing the economy down with it. Australians avoided this nasty hangover by the classic Antipodean method: they went for the ‘Hair of the Dog’ cure.

Whereas the rest of the world unwound its mortgage debt, Australians piled into it – first in 2008 when the government turbocharged the market by doubling the grant it gave to first-home buyers, and then since 2012 when falling interest rates encouraged Baby Boomers to throw their so-called retirement savings into the housing market casino. The Australian hangover cure worked, but at the expense of mortgaging Australia to the hilt. When the crisis hit in 2008, Australian mortgage debt was already higher than in the USA: mortgage debt peaked at 72pc of GDP in America then, but Australia’s level was 10pc higher again. Today, mortgage debt in the USA has fallen to 53pc of GDP-what wimps! The hard-drinking Australians now have a mortgage debt level of 91pc of GDP and rising.

And therein lies the rub. As any fan of the ‘Hair of the Dog’ cure knows, it only works if you keep drinking. So can Australians maintain their record for insobriety and keep imbibing from the Bar of the Banks? Left to their own devices, I have little doubt that my ex-countrymen could keep knocking back the 4X of mortgage debt forever. But as ‘Hair of the Dog’ devotees also know, one danger of this cure is that the bartender will eventually refuse to serve you. And that seems to be happening in Australia now. Two of the banks have recently put up the interest rate on speculator (sorry, I mean investor) loans, while the policeman (the “Australian Prudential Regulation Authority”) has finally awoken from his slumber, and is now insisting on less alcohol in the brew-otherwise known as a lower loan to valuation ratio.

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At least 5 years too late. More like 10.

Mortgage Rate Rises Too Little, Too Late For Australia’s Bloated Banks (David)

In Australia, the big four banks are joining the mortgage interest rate hike bandwagon to boost additional capital in what is truly a high-risk banking and financial system. Simply put, when it comes to lending, banks are facilitators. On the front end, banks’ assets are generated by providing credit (debt) to homebuyers and charging a specific rate of interest. On the back end, banks have liabilities derived from depositors and wholesale lenders, fetching an interest rate which is lower than that charged to homebuyers. The banks earn the difference in revenue. Australian households owe creditors an unconsolidated $1.97tn as of the second quarter of 2015, comprised primarily of mortgages with a remainder of personal loans.

Relative to GDP, this amounts to 121.5%, and the proportion increased by 150 basis points every quarter over the past year. Given this historically and internationally large stock of household debt, the banks are earning mega dollars via net interest rate margins. Australian banks are raking in record-breaking profits due to the sheer volume of mortgage debt issued to homebuyers and residential property investors. This is the primary reason housing prices in Australia are at record levels, relative to inflation, rents and household income: a housing bubble generated by debt-financed speculation. Today, our banks are more exposed to the risk of a shock to the housing market than in any other moment in Australia’s economic history.

There are various reasons for banks to increase mortgage interest rates without a shift in the cash rate set by the Reserve Bank. In Australia’s case, policymakers and the prudential regulator, Apra, woke up – 17 years too late. They finally realised our banks would not be able to withstand a financial shock based on the colossal stock of mortgage and other debts on their balance sheets relative to the amount of security they have to defend their businesses in the event of a severe economic downturn. [..] This is a pyramid or Ponzi scheme, that puts the speculator at risk of owing more to a bank than their property portfolio is worth (negative equity). This presents a clear and present danger to the banking and financial system, depositors, taxpayers and welfare of millions of Australians who have borrowed on a large scale as residential land prices escalate.

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Where democracy went to die.

Portugal Left Vows To Topple Government With No-Confidence Vote (Reuters)

Portugal’s opposition Socialists have pledged to topple the centre-right minority government with a no-confidence motion, saying the president had created “an unnecessary political crisis” by nominating Pedro Passos Coelho as prime minister. The move could wreck Mr Passos Coelho’s efforts to get his centre-right government’s programme passed in parliament in 10 days’ time, extending the political uncertainty hanging over the country since an inconclusive October 4th election. Mr Coelho was named prime minister on Thursday after his coalition won the most votes in the national election but lost its majority in parliament, which swung to leftist parties.

This set up a confrontation with the main opposition Socialists, who have been trying to form their own coalition government with the hard left Communists and Left Bloc, who all want to end the centre-right’s austerity policies. “The president has created an unnecessary political crisis” by naming Passos Coelho as prime minister,” Socialist leader Antonio Costa said. The Socialists and two leftist parties quickly showed that they control the most votes when parliament reopened on Friday, electing a Socialist speaker of the house and rejecting the centre-right candidate. “This is the first institutional expression of the election results,” Mr Costa said. “In this election of speaker, parliament showed unequivocally the majority will of the Portuguese for a change in our democracy.”

Early Friday, Mr Costa’s party gave its lawmakers a mandate to “present a motion rejecting any government programme” that includes similar policies to the last government. After the national election, Passos Coelho tried to gain support from the Socialists, who instead started negotiating with the Communists and Left Bloc. Antonio Barroso, senior vice president of the Teneo Intelligence consultancy in London, said Mr Costa was likely to threaten any Socialist representative with expulsion if they vote for the centre-right government’s programme. “Therefore, the government is likely to fall, which will put the ball back on the president’s court,” Mr Barroso said in a note.

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“..in the winter there will be winds that will turn boats over, our beaches will be beaches of death..”

More Syrians Risk Deadly Crossings To Greece In Race Against Winter (Guardian)

At a reception centre in the village of Moria there have been riots. Human rights groups say conditions in the barbed-wire enclosure are “inhumane”. “They treated us like animals,” sighed Al Shabai. “The Greeks have been very nice, very good, but in there it’s a wild world, people sleep on the ground, in their own shit, please write that, please let the world know.” Newcomers crammed into its floodlit confines are often forced to wait days before they are registered, fingerprinted and split into groups of those considered genuine refugees and those who are economic migrants. “I think it is clear that Greece has enormous structural difficulties because of the economic situation,” the UN High Commissioner for refugees, António Guterres, told the Guardian recently.

“It didn’t have an adequate asylum system [before the emergency] but despite the financial restrictions there is enormous goodwill and in [leftwing] Syriza, Greece has a government that is taking a humanistic approach,” he said after a recent tour of the island. The UN agency, which more usually operates in war zones, has been compelled to increase its presence dispatching personnel not only to the country’s Aegean isles but northern Balkan borders in a first for an advanced western economy.On Lesbos, officials worry that the situation is bound to get worse before it gets better. Although local people have been generally welcoming – citing their own experience as refugees from Turkey after the 1922 Asia Minor disaster – the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party received unusually high support in September’s general election.

Masked men have been attacking refugee boats. For the newly arrived, relief is frequently replaced by frustration. With the vast majority determined to get to Germany before the winter sets in, few want to linger – often electing to walk a distance longer than the Athens Marathon to get to Moria and off the island. “They are tired and cold, totally exhausted and then we tell them they have to wait because there is no bus service and that’s when you see them collapse and get really frustrated,” said Mona Martinsen, a Norwegian aid worker. “It’s out of control, you see people sleeping in their own faeces, its not right, the world has to send more help.”

In his office overlooking the port capital of Mytilini, the island’s mayor, Spyros Galinos, fears that Europe is dragging its feet and that human tragedy will soon be stalking the shores of Lesbos. Already, he says, the waters have grown rougher, causing shipwrecks off the isle that have left 19 people dead in the past nine days. “Right now, they are coming in on the northerly winds, but in the winter there will be winds that will turn boats over, our beaches will be beaches of death,” he said. Every month the municipality spends more than €200,000, with most allocated to cleaning up the island. “Every day the population of a small town arrives on this island,” he says.

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What the EU is good at.

Hotspot ‘Solution’ Deepens Europe’s Refugee Crisis (IRIN)

An EU initiative to screen and fingerprint all migrants and refugees arriving in Italy and Greece is creating chaos, particularly on the island of Lesvos where the new system is causing further delays in registering new arrivals and thousands of people have been queueing in the open for days. The introduction of “hotspots” – an EU term for key arrival points where more rigorous systems for screening and fingerprinting migrants and refugees will be implemented – is central to a controversial plan to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to other member states over the next two years. The relocation scheme, which was agreed to by EU leaders last month, is still in its infancy with just two hotspots functioning and only 89 Eritreans and Syrians transferred from Italy to Scandinavia so far, but the approach is already coming up against major problems.

Previously, most of the more than 600,000 people who have arrived by sea to Italy and Greece this year avoided being fingerprinted and made their own way to northern Europe. It was no secret that, under the EU’s Dublin Regulation, the country that took their fingerprints was responsible for processing their asylum claim, preventing them from claiming asylum in the country of their choice. For their part, authorities in Italy and Greece, already facing a backlog of asylum claims, did not insist that new arrivals be fingerprinted. But the quid pro quo for the relocation deal is that the two countries comply with the new approach. In Italy, the first hotspot opened in late September on the country’s southernmost island of Lampedusa. A further four hotspots are set to begin operations by the end of November – three in Sicily and another in the mainland Puglia region.

Italian officials say people on Lampedusa are being “verbally convinced” to give their fingerprints (EU human rights laws rule out the use of physical force). “We explain that it’s important [to be identified] to go to the countries where they want to go,” said Mario Morcone, head of the interior ministry’s department for civil liberties and immigration. In reality, those accepted for relocation will not get to choose the country they are sent to, and anyone who refuses to give their fingerprints risks being moved to a closed Centre for Identification and Expulsion (CIE) rather than an open reception facility.

Carlotta Sami, a spokeswoman for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said that so far no one had been transferred to a CIE because everyone had agreed to be fingerprinted. She added that UNHCR backed the new procedure, while emphasising the need for a humanitarian approach. “Everyone should be identified and fingerprinted,” she told IRIN. “It’s very important. A big part of this European refugee crisis is due to a lack of organisation, and the fact that procedures have not been well organised since the beginning. The result is chaos, a further burden on the shoulders of refugees.”

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Europe is synonymous with misery.

Bodies Of 40 Migrants Wash Ashore In Libya (AP)

Libya’s Red Crescent says the bodies of 40 migrants have washed ashore in the Mediterranean country. Red Crescent spokesman Mohamed al-Masrati says 27 of the bodies were found Saturday at the town of Zliten, east of the capital, Tripoli. The rest were found along the shores of Tripoli and the nearby town of Khoms. Al-Masrati says most of the migrants were from sub-Saharan African countries. He says search efforts are underway for another 30 migrants whom they believe were on the boat that capsized. Thousands of migrants seeking a better life in Europe cast off from Libya on rickety boats. The country slid into chaos following the 2011 toppling and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Smugglers have exploited Libya’s turmoil, sending off thousands of desperate migrants from the country’s shores.

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They will never agree.

Europe Split On Migrant Crisis On Eve Of Brussels Talks (Reuters)

European leaders traded threats and reprimands on Saturday as thousands more migrants and refugees streamed into the Balkans on the eve of European Union talks aimed at agreeing on urgent action to tackle the crisis. Concern is growing about hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving in Europe, many from war zones in the Middle East, and camping in western Balkan countries in ever colder conditions as winter approaches. More than 680,000 migrants and refugees have crossed to Europe by sea so far this year, fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, according to the International Organization for Migration. Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania said they would close their borders if Germany or other countries shut the door on refugees, warning they would not let the Balkan region become a “buffer zone” for stranded migrants.

“The three countries, we are standing ready, if Germany and Austria close their borders, not to allow our countries to become buffer zones. We will be ready to close borders,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov told reporters. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has invited the leaders of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia to Sunday’s mini-summit. The aim of the meeting is to agree “common operational conclusions which could be immediately implemented.” German media have reported that Juncker will present a 16-point plan, including an undertaking not to send migrants from one country to another without prior agreement.

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“We carry out our obligations, we are in solidarity with all of Europe,” Ponta said. “But the responsibility cannot be put with just some countries.”

Balkan Countries Threaten To Close Borders If Germany Does (Reuters)

Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania said on Saturday they would close their borders if Germany or other countries do the same to stop refugees coming in, warning they would not allow the Balkan region to become a buffer zone for stranded migrants. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov announced the decision after meeting his Serbian and Romanian counterparts in the capital Sofia ahead of a planned summit of European Union leaders on Sunday. It is an indication of the divisions that have opened up between European Union states over how to deal with an influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants, many fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The three countries, we are standing ready, if Germany and Austria close their borders, not to allow our countries to become buffer zones. We will be ready to close borders,” Borisov told reporters. “We will not expose our countries to the devastating pressure of millions that would come.” Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said this would be the three countries’ common position at an extraordinary meeting of some European leaders on Sunday to tackle the migrant crisis in the western Balkans. Thousands trying to reach Germany are already trapped there in deteriorating conditions. “We carry out our obligations, we are in solidarity with all of Europe,” Ponta said. “But the responsibility cannot be put with just some countries.”

“If there are countries which close their borders, or build fences, then we have the right to defend ourselves in a timely manner.” Romania’s neighbor Hungary has built a fence to keep out migrants and closed its border with Croatia, prompting Slovenia to consider following suit with its own fence. European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has invited to Sunday’s mini-summit the heads of state or government of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia, plus key organizations involved. The aim of the meeting is to agree “common operational conclusions which could be immediately implemented”.

It comes as crowds of refugees and other migrants camp by roads in western Balkan countries in worsening autumn weather after Hungary sealed its borders, causing a chain reaction in other overwhelmed states. “It is important for the people to know that it is not a problem to register (refugees), or build bigger centers, nothing of this is a problem for Serbia,” Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told reporters. “But if someone thinks that we can be the place for two or three million refugees: this is unrealistic.”

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To quicken transport north.

Refugee Crisis Agreement Between Serbia And Croatia (BN.ie)

Serbia and Croatia have agreed to ease the flow of refugees over the border between the countries after thousands of people, including children, were forced to spend the night in near-freezing temperatures along a muddy border passage. The interior ministers of Serbia and Croatia said they will start shipping migrants by train directly from Serbia to Croatia so they will not have to cross on foot, with them often trekking for miles. Refugees will register when they enter Serbia and will be able to cross into Croatia without any delays, which should speed up the process significantly, the ministers said. “We have agreed to stop this torture,” said Croatian interior minister Ranko Ostojic. “There will be no more rain and snow, they will go directly from camp to camp.”

Further west, thousands of migrants aiming to reach northern Europe walked out of refugee camps on the border between Slovenia and Austria on their own, frustrated after waiting long hours in overcrowded facilities. Eager to move on, thousands spread around along railway tracks, highways and mountain roads. Confused and unaware which roads to take to go west, some refugees later turned back and returned to the refugee camps to wait for bus transport to other locations. Tensions have been building after the so-called Balkan route shifted. refugees still cross first from Greece into Macedonia and then Serbia, but now go via Croatia and Slovenia instead of Hungary, which has erected fences along its borders with Serbia and Croatia.

Overwhelmed after nearly 50,000 migrants crossed in just a few days, Slovenia said it has not ruled out erecting a fence of its own along parts of its 400-mile border with Croatia. Prime Minister Miro Cerar was quoted by the state news agency STA as saying Slovenia will consider all options if left to cope on its own with the influx of thousands of people. “Our sights are foremost on finding a European solution,” said Mr Cerar. “But should we lose hope for this … all options are open within what is acceptable.” The country of 2 million people has already deployed 650 army troops to help the police manage the flow and has asked the European Commission for an aid package, including €60 million in financial aid and police gear and personnel.

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Is this a better reason to oppose Monsanto than GMO food?

Tampons, Sterile Cotton, Sanitary Pads Contaminated With Monsanto Glyphosate (RT)

The vast majority, 85%, of tampons, cotton and sanitary products tested in a new Argentinian study contained glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, ruled a likely carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Meanwhile, 62% of the samples tested positive for AMPA, glyphosate’s metabolite, according to the study, which was conducted by researchers at the Socio-Environmental Interaction Space (EMISA) of the University of La Plata in Argentina. All of the raw and sterile cotton gauze analyzed in the study showed evidence of glyphosate, said Dr. Damian Marino, the study’s head researcher. “85% of all samples tested positive for glyphosate and 62% for AMPA, which is the environmental metabolite, but in the case of cotton and sterile cotton gauze the figure was 100%”, Marino told TElam news agency.

The products tested were acquired at local stores in Argentina. “In terms of concentrations, what we saw is that in raw cotton AMPA dominates (39 parts per billion, or PPB, and 13 PPB of glyphosate), while the gauze is absent of AMPA, but contained glyphosate at 17 PPB.” The results of the study were first announced to the public last week at the 3rd National Congress of Doctors for Fumigated Communities in Buenos Aires. “The result of this research is very serious, when you use cotton or gauze to heal wounds or for personal hygiene uses, thinking they are sterilized products, and the results show that they are contaminated with a probably carcinogenic substance”, said Dr. Medardo Avila Vazquez, president of the congress.

“Most of the cotton production in the country is GM [genetically modified] cotton that is resistant to glyphosate. It is sprayed when the bud is open and the glyphosate is condensed and goes straight into the product”, Avila continued. Marino said the original purpose of his research was not to test products for glyphosate, but to see how far the chemical can spread when aircraft sprayed an area, such as cropland. “There is a basic premise in research that when we complete testing on out target we have to contrast it with something ‘clean,’ so we selected sterile gauze for medical use, found in pharmacies,” he said. “So we went and bought sterile gauze, opened the packages, analyzed and there was the huge surprise: We found glyphosate! Our first thought was that we had done something wrong, so we threw it all away and bought new gauze, analyzed them and again found glyphosate.”

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Aug 202015
 
 August 20, 2015  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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NPC “Largest electric locomotive and Congressman John C. Schafer” 1924

China Stocks Slump Again Despite Government Support (Reuters)
China Strengthens Yuan By Most In 2 Months; Massive Liquidity Injection (ZH)
China Central Bank Injects Most Funds Since February (Bloomberg)
Is This The Great Crash Of China? (Steve Keen)
China’s August Scare Is A False Alarm As Fiscal Crunch Fades (AEP)
Should We Be Afraid Of China’s ‘Value Chain’? (CNBC)
Eurozone: The Case Against ‘Cash For Reform’ (Martin Sandbu)
Greece’s First Privatization Deal Since Third Bailout Hits Snag (Bloomberg)
Fresh Doubts Raised Over Privatization Of 14 Greek Airports (Xinhua)
Stiglitz: “Deep-Seatedly Wrong” Economic Thinking Is Killing Greece (Parramore)
Dutch Lambast Greece For Creating ‘Complete Chaos’ (Telegraph)
European Bailout Fund To Disburse First Greek Tranche On Thursday (Reuters)
The Fisherman’s Lament – A Way of Life Drowned by Greece’s Crisis (WSJ)
Get Used To Cheap Oil, Derivatives Markets Say (Reuters)
As Canada’s Oil Debt Soars to Record, an Industry Shakeout Looms (Bloomberg)
Cheap Oil’s Making It Tough for Ethanol to Pay the Bills (Bloomberg)
Banks Have Treated Our Housing Market Like A Ponzi Scheme (David)
Rebels In Ukraine’s Donetsk Plan Referendum On Joining Russia (Xinhua)
China’s Building a Huge Canal in Nicaragua, But We Couldn’t Find It (Bloomberg)
British Police Head To Calais To Stymie Migrant Smuggling Activity (Guardian)
Refugee Chaos in Macedonia: ‘Life-Threatening for Women and Children’ (Spiegel)

Shanghai closed down another 3.42%. Capital is taking the Concorde out of the country.

China Stocks Slump Again Despite Signs Of Government Support (Reuters)

China stocks tumbled again in late trading on Thursday, underscoring fragile investor confidence in the market as worries about the world’s second largest economy persist. Trading volumes were thin, suggesting many investors stayed on the sidelines. Shares were marginally lower in the morning, as statements by a slew of companies that the government had invested in them boosted some counters. But in mid-afternoon, prices began to drop. The CSI300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen fell 3.2%, to 3,761.45, while the Shanghai Composite Index lost 3.4%, to 3,664.29 points.

The SSEC is now down about 7% since China devalued the yuan by nearly 2% on Aug. 11. On Wednesday, the indexes had reversed sharp losses to end higher, as roughly 30 Chinese listed companies, many small caps, disclosed holdings by government-backed investors in an apparent attempt to sooth market panic following the previous session’s 6% tumble. “Even as the government has the will to put a floor under the market, whether it has the ability to do so is in doubt,” said Hou Yingmin, analyst at AJ Securities, citing adversities including an anaemic economy, capital outflows and ugly technical patterns. “Without fresh money inflows, any rebound is not sustainable.”

Most sectors fell, with transport and real estate shares leading the decline. Analysts have said further yuan depreciation would trigger fresh capital outflows, putting pressure on the property market. But investors nevertheless bet on companies with investments from state-backed investor Central Huijin, and state margin lender China Securities Finance Corp (CSFC), which was tasked with propping up share prices during crisis.

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Not looking good for Beijing.

China Strengthens Yuan By Most In 2 Months; Massive Liquidity Injection (ZH)

The PBOC set the Yuan fix 0.08% stronger – the biggest ‘strengthening in 2 months, which is interesting because following The IMF’s confirmation of a delay to Yuan inclusion in the SDR basket to Oct 2016 (pending a year-end decision and asking for more flexibility), Offshore Yuan forwards notably devalued (shifting 350pips higher to 6.65, the highest/weakest Yuan in a week) pricing a 20 handle (or 3%) devaluation by August 2016. Overnight saw another CNY110bn liquidity injection rescue from The PPT in the afternoon session (saving SHCOMP from a close below the 200DMA) and tonight we see promise to recap Ag Bank along with another CNY 120bn reverse repo injection. Shanghai margin debt declined for a 2nd day in a row and Chinese stocks look set to open weaker.

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“Authorities have to walk a thin line between boosting exports and satisfying the IMF’s requirements for the yuan to obtain reserve status, while at the same time ensuring financial stability.”

China Central Bank Injects Most Funds Since February (Bloomberg)

China’s central bank injected the most funds in open-market operations since February as intervention to prop up the yuan strained the supply of cash and drove a key money-market rate to a four-month high. The People’s Bank of China pumped a net 150 billion yuan ($23 billion) into the financial system this week, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That’s the most since before the Chinese New Year holiday, when seasonal demand for cash spikes. The authorities are providing another 170 billion yuan through loans and an auction of deposits. The injections come after China surprised investors by devaluing the yuan last week and shifting to a more market-oriented exchange rate. Under the new system, PBOC intervention has partly replaced the daily reference rate’s role in guiding currency moves.

Yuan purchases risk driving borrowing costs higher at a time of slowing economic growth unless the monetary authority releases additional cash. “Front-end rates have been edging up, likely resulting from tighter liquidity conditions amid intervention,” said Frances Cheung at Societe Generale in Hong Kong. “The PBOC needs to step up its open-market operations to offset the liquidity withdrawal on the foreign-exchange side.” Authorities have to walk a thin line between boosting exports and satisfying the IMF’s requirements for the yuan to obtain reserve status, while at the same time ensuring financial stability. The overnight repurchase rate, a gauge of liquidity in the banking system, rose three basis points to 1.80% as of 1 p.m. in Shanghai, according to a weighted average from the National Interbank Funding Center. That’s the highest since April 23 and reflects increased demand for cash.

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“..it is more heavily indebted than America was when its crisis began—even relying on official statistics which undoubtedly understate the real situation..”

Is This The Great Crash Of China? (Steve Keen)

Banks in the West effectively ignore what the government wants: in the West, the political class is effectively subservient to the financial class. But in China, despite its economic transformation, the political class remains dominant: any Chinese entity that ignores a government directive does so at its peril. Things are not as they were in the 1980s, when every answer to every question that I and my group of touring Australian journalists asked began with “We followed the directives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China”.

But it’s still not good for your health to flout Central Committee policy. So the Chinese banking system and its satellites lent like crazy to any company and many individuals, and one of the biggest credit bubbles in history—possibly the biggest ever—took off. In 2010, the increase in private debt in China was equivalent to 35% of GDP. That dwarfs the rate of growth of credit in both Japan and the USA prior to their crises: Japan topped out at just over 25% per year, and the USA reached a “mere” 15% of GDP per year.

As I have argued for a decade now, crises begin when the rate of growth of credit slows down in heavily indebted countries. China was not heavily indebted in 2008, which is why it could take the credit growth path out of the Global Financial Crisis. But now it is more heavily indebted than America was when its crisis began—even relying on official statistics which undoubtedly understate the real situation—and the momentum of debt may well carry it past the peak level reached by Japan after its Bubble Economy collapsed in the early 1990s.

So China is having its first fully-fledged capitalist crisis. To date its response to it has been to try to sustain the unsustainable: to transfer the bubble from housing to the stockmarket, and to keep the stockmarket rising like some production target for wheat from the bad old days before the fall of the Gang of Four. It can’t be done. At some point, the Chinese government is going to have to make the transition from generating a credit bubble to trying to contain its aftermath.

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Ambrose is the odd one out.

China’s August Scare Is A False Alarm As Fiscal Crunch Fades (AEP)

The situation in China is desperate but not serious, to borrow an old Viennese saying. Countries with a tight exchange controls and state banking systems may come to grief in the long-run, but they do not face the sort of financial collapse seen in the US and Europe in 1931 or 2008. China’s central bank (PBOC) has already warned that it will deploy the coercive might of the Communist regime to stop anybody smuggling money abroad under false pretexts, invoking laws covering “money laundering and terrorist financing.” It said violators will be “severely punished”. They will be sent to the proverbial asbestos mines of Sichuan. This is the sort of liberalisation that Xi Jinping does best. Given the sanctions and given that China has a trade surplus of $600bn or 6pc of GDP – and is therefore accumulating foreign exchange at blistering pace, ceteris paribus – there is no chance whatsoever that reserve losses will spin out of control.

Jens Nordvig from Nomura says China has $3.65 trillion reserves to cover foreign currency debts of $1.135 trillion, a ratio of 322pc. This a far cry from the East Asia Crisis in 1997-1998 when the ratio was 59pc in Malaysia, 33pc in Thailand, 27pc in Indonesia, and 22pc in Korea. All these countries had current account deficits. China most emphatically does not. “We think the authorities will remain in control of the situation. This may mean that the worst shock effect is behind us, although ultimately the economic data will provide the final verdict,” he said. On cue, the economy is already coming back to life after hitting a brick wall over the winter. Credit growth jumped to a 31-month high in July. The monetary base has grown at a 20pc rate over the last three months, implying an economic spike later this year.

It is worth remembering what has just happened in China. The country is recovering from a ferocious monetary and fiscal shock. The authorities refused to react as falling inflation caused one-year lending rates to ratchet up to 5pc in real terms from zero in late 2011. This was deliberate, of course. Premier Li Keqiang intended to break the back of the property bubble and wean the country off its $26 trillion credit dependency. But pricking bubbles is no easy task. The authorities overshot. The crunch came just as fiscal policy went awry. Budget spending contracted in the first quarter. This was certainly not intended. While details remain murky, it appears that banks refused to roll over short-term loans used by local governments to finance a raft of existing projects.

They feared that these loans were no longer covered by a state guarantee under new rules. “It caused huge disruption,” said Capital Economics. At the same time, the regions saw a sudden-stop in lending for new projects as well. Local governments were prohibited from fresh bank borrowing in January. Under the so-called “debt swap” plan there was supposed to be a seamless transition from loans to bond issuance, but the bond market was not up and running until May. This is why China crashed into a recession in the first half of the year. Wisely or not – depending on your economic religion – the Communist Party has now reverted to stimulus as usual. The local governments issued almost $200bn of bonds over the two months of July and August. Beijing coyly describes its fiscal spending as “proactive”. Turbo-charged would be another way of putting it.

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I’m not.

Should We Be Afraid Of China’s ‘Value Chain’? (CNBC)

The devaluation of the yuan may have a tougher impact on global companies than previously imagined, as China’s drive to produce and consume higher-quality goods intensifies. The shockwaves of the People’s Bank of China’s devaluation of its currency are still resonating around the world’s markets, but in the medium to long-term, it’s manufacturers who may hurt the most. Western companies from Apple to Burberry will face a tough time finding out whether they can rely on their cachet in China even when their goods becoming more expensive. China’s wealth has grown by leaps and bounds since the gradual opening up of its economy began in the 1980s.

Its per capita GDP in 2014 was $12,608.87, when adjusted for purchasing power, more than double what it had been just a decade before. The Chinese leadership’s current five-year economic plan (2011 to 2015) is specifically aimed at moving the economy’s fast-paced growth away from the low-cost manufacturing it had become famous for, towards consumption. Tactics included greater investment in research and development, higher-end manufacturing, and services targeted at the country’s burgeoning middle class.

In May, the Made in China 2025 plan has been billed by Premier Li Keqiang as an attempt to “redouble our efforts to upgrade China from a manufacturer of quantity to one of quality.” He pledged in May to “seek innovation-driven development, apply smart technology, strengthen foundations, pursue green development” – all of which is aimed at avoiding the “middle income trap”, where a country gets stuck at a certain level of economic development. Worryingly for those countries which have done well out of exporting to China in recent years, the plan includes sourcing 70% of key components within China’s borders by 2025.

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“Euro area policymakers have lived on one myth after another..”

Eurozone: The Case Against ‘Cash For Reform’ (Martin Sandbu)

“Euro area policymakers have lived on one myth after another,” says Ashoka Mody, a former deputy director at the International Monetary Fund. “A process of groupthink coalesces around these myths: ‘We know it’s not going to work but we need to make it work and we need to seem supportive’ — and before you know it they start to believe it. And because there is no democratic accountability, they are free to make one error after another in terms of economic and political logic.” The eurozone establishment has largely internalised the idea that “cash for reform” is necessary to keep the euro together.

The most direct challenge to it, from Greece’s Syriza party, was defeated when other countries — most notoriously Germany — made clear they would rather force Greece out of the euro than consider alternatives to offering refinancing in return for control over fiscal and reform policies. The idea that “there is no alternative” also motivates the efforts to “complete” Europe’s economic and monetary union. These efforts at deeper integration, epitomised most recently in the so-called “Five Presidents’ Report” — written by the heads of the most influential eurozone and EU institutions — proceed from the notion that the euro was flawed at birth and needs significant repairs to function properly. [..]

This article examines four widely-held preconceptions about Europe’s single currency. First, that the euro eroded the export competitiveness of the weaker countries. Second, that the resulting debt made official bailouts necessary. Third, that a monetary union can work only in the presence of a “fiscal union” — large budget transfers between countries to insure against downturns. And fourth, that the weaker countries must undergo deep structural reforms to be able to stay in the euro.
Each of these claims has had an outsize influence on policy. The research reported below shows that they should not be taken for granted.

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Fraport is rumored not to have paid its Greek VAT in many years.

Greece’s First Privatization Deal Since Third Bailout Hits Snag (Bloomberg)

Greece’s first privatization agreement since the country’s third bailout hit a snag just one day after the government announced the deal’s approval. A government council overseeing state asset sales said on Tuesday that Fraport AG and a unit of Greece’s Copelouzos Group had won a 40-year concession to operate 14 regional airports for €1.2 billion. Fraport commented afterward that the decision was “not tantamount to the conclusion of a contract but rather offers a basis for the resumption of negotiations.” The Greek government said Wednesday that it had approved the contract based on previous agreements, and that any effort to seek a renegotiation “wouldn’t be limited to the issues raised by the company.”

Fraport is “working toward a positive outcome,” said Joerg Machacek, a company spokesman. The airport deal is meant to be the first in a series of privatizations that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed to undertake in return for the third bailout package worth as much as €86 billion. The most pressing matter is obtaining funding to avoid a default Thursday when Greece must pay €3.2 billion to the ECB. Under the current proposal, Fraport would invest €1.4 billion to upgrade the airports by the end of the concession. The German company would also pay an annual lease of €22.9 million for the airports, which include the holiday islands of Mykonos and Santorini.

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It’s simply a bad bad deal. Strike it.

Fresh Doubts Raised Over Privatization Of 14 Greek Airports (Xinhua)

Fresh doubts were raised on Wednesday after the government finalized a €1.23 billion deal with the German consortium Fraport-Slentel on Tuesday to privatize 14 regional airports in Greece. The sale of the airports’ operation rights for 40 years was the first privatization to be concluded under the third bailout that was ratified by the Greek parliament on Friday. It was also the first privatization to be carried out since the left-led government coalition assumed power after the general elections in January. The announcement sparked mixed reactions in Greece. Some members of opposition parties welcomed the deal as a step towards boosting development. At the same time, they criticized the government for wasting precious time by delaying decisions for months.

Meanwhile, the ruling SYRIZA party’s hardliners denounced the “sell off” in a statement. Left Platform accused the government of “handing a great gift to the German government in return for the new catastrophic bailout.” The president of the Federation of Greek Civil Aviation Workers (OSYPA), Vassilis Alevizopoulos, warned of strike actions and lawsuits in Greek and European courts to “safeguard Greek public interests,” speaking to local VIMA radio station on Wednesday. Critics argued that the funds the German consortium would invest in the upgrade of the airports under the contract were insufficient and the cost will undoubtedly be transferred to travelers. In this climate of prolonged economic and political uncertainty in Greece, the German investors would most likely seek “more guarantees” from the government, Kathimerini reported.

However, Greek government sources stressed that if the consortium should wish to renegotiate the contract, there would be an in-depth dialogue on all issues. The agreement on the concession of the 14 airports that included the airports of Thessaloniki in northern Greece, and airports on islands such as Corfu and Mykonos, was initially scheduled to close in late 2014, but was frozen in the pre-election period. SYRIZA, which initially opposed the entire privatization program since the beginning of Greek bailouts in 2010, had previously said that the terms of the tender would be reviewed. But according to Tuesday’s official announcement, no amendments were made on the finalization of the privatization. [..]Greek ministers argued that privatizations would take place under changed conditions in comparison to the past “to benefit Greek economy and people.”

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“..the MoU is really a “surrender document” that eclipses the country’s economic sovereignty and ensures that Greece’s depression — already deeper than America’s Great Depression — will get worse.”

Stiglitz: “Deep-Seatedly Wrong” Economic Thinking Is Killing Greece (Parramore)

Bad economic ideas inflict untold human suffering. When they come cloaked in a fog of Orwellian obfuscation, their poison and effects can spread with little hindrance. The public is misled. Power plays are hidden from view. In Greece, where suicide rates have risen sharply in the wake of austerity measures, people lose hope. Joseph Stiglitz, who has been following the Greek crisis closely and is recently returned from Athens, sets himself to the task of cutting through the fog. His plain English and fearless use of moral language to expose the ugliness behind economic and political abstractions lend clarity to a situation that is not just bringing a nation to its knees, but threatening to destroy the European project and bring on a future of conflict and hardship.

In discussing Greece’s Third Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and its draconian terms, Stiglitz observes that the MoU is really a “surrender document” that eclipses the country’s economic sovereignty and ensures that Greece’s depression — already deeper than America’s Great Depression — will get worse. An economy that is seeing youth unemployment reaching up to 60% is likely to lose another 5% in GDP. That is over and beyond the 25% plunge in GDP the country has been hit with since the imposition of austerity measures. Socially conservative Germans, Stiglitz warns, are doubling down on the discredited notion that austerity policies help economies recover in times of crisis.

In reality, the insistence on keeping wages down, stripping away bargaining power from workers, forcing small business owners to pay taxes a year in advance, and cutting pensions will only hamper demand and lead to a deepening spiral of debt. (Stiglitz emphasizes that hardly any of the money loaned to Greece has actually gone to help the Greeks themselves, but rather private-sector creditors – namely German and French banks). Reflecting on a recent panel at Columbia University with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble followed by a dinner, Stiglitz said, “My heart goes out to Greece, even more so after meeting Schäuble.”

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The Dutch are clueless. They blame SYRIZA for what’s ailing Greece. For Pete’s sake, get a life.

Dutch Lambast Greece For Creating ‘Complete Chaos’ (Telegraph)

German MPs voted to back a third bail-out for Greece on Wednesday as Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte fought back a no confidence vote over his decision to support the €86bn rescue plan. After a three-hour debate, Berlin’s Bundestag approved a new rescue package for Greece with a majority of 454 votes to 113. Eighteen MPs also abstained, marking Angela Merkel’s biggest insurrection during her decade in office. Of her ruling CDU/CSU parliamentarians, 63 MPs voting against the package, more than the 60 coalition MPs who voted “no” in an initial vote in July. But the approval was enough to secure the disbursement of €13bn from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – the eurozone’s bail-out fund.

However, less than €1bn will go directly to the Greek government and €3.2bn will be used to immediately pay back a maturing bond held by the ECB on Thursday. It is the first injection of rescue cash to the Greek economy since August 2014 after eight months of ill-tempered talks and political crisis in the eurozone. EU policymakers hailed the agreement on Wednesday evening. Pierre Moscovici, the euro’s economics chief, said the deal would mark a “new chapter based on reforms, fairness and shared trust” between Greece and its creditors. Ratification from the German parliament was crucial in securing the deal. Wolfgang Schaeuble, Germany’s finance minister, told lawmakers that a deal was in the “interest of Europe”, but admitted that backing for a third bail-out deal was “not easy” and there was “no guarantee of success”.

“If Greece stands by its obligations and the programme is completely and resolutely implemented, then the Greek economy can grow again,” he said. “The opportunity is there. Whether it will be used, only the Greeks can decide.” Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who is also president of the Eurogroup, said reaching an accord was difficult. “Greece has seen decades of bad policies and six months of complete chaos,” he told his parliament. The Dutch backlash was led by right-wing politician Geert Wilders, who has called for the Netherlands to withdraw from the European Union. “Today we are here to prevent Dutch PM Rutte from indulging in his favorite hobby: sending money to Greece, this time €5bn,” Mr Wilders told the Dutch parliament on Wednesday.

Mr Wilders said Mr Rutte had reneged on a pledge in September 2012 that “enough is enough” and that Greece would get no more financial help from the country. “He’s the Pinocchio of the low countries. This is betrayal,” said Mr Wilders. “We need this money to support health care and the elderly. This government hates the elderly.” Mr Rutte said he took “responsibility” for his comments, but defended the government’s decision to back a bail-out, claiming that “no-one could have foreseen” in 2012 how the situation in Greece would evolve. “The new Greek government has caused great damage,” he said.

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Crucial for Greece: bank recapitalization. The rest is circle jerk only.

European Bailout Fund To Disburse First Greek Tranche On Thursday (Reuters)

The European Stability Mechanism will disburse the first tranche of funds from Greece’s bailout loan on Thursday, the Greek finance ministry said after the ESM board approved a rescue of up to €86 billion on Wednesday. Athens will receive €13 billion on Thursday morning, the ministry said, of which about €12 billion will be used to pay down debt, including an earlier bridge loan and money owed to the ECB. “Nearly one billion euros will be made available to the Greek state, a sum that can be used to pay arrears,” the finance ministry said in a statement.

The new bailout package of up to €86 billion for 32.5 years includes up to €25 billion to recapitalize Greek banks, of which 10 billion will be immediately available, according to the ministry. Athens needed the funds in time to make a €3.2 billion debt payment to the ECB on Thursday. The initial €13 billion tranche will be paid in cash, while the €10 billion euros for the recapitalization of banks will be sent to a segregated account in the form of ESM notes.

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“..economic pain was designed into the Greek rescue. Unable to devalue Greece’s currency, the bailouts’ architects—other eurozone countries and the IMF—tried to push down prices and wages in a process called “internal devaluation.”

The Fisherman’s Lament – A Way of Life Drowned by Greece’s Crisis (WSJ)

Dimitris Stathakis, 75 years old and wearing no shoes, is at work on the aft deck of the North Aegean, a fishing boat docked in the Greek port of Nea Michaniona. The boat’s 14-man crew is prepping for a night at sea. Bags of ice are tossed aboard. Someone brings a delivery of white Styrofoam boxes. It is baking hot. Mr. Stathakis has his shirt on his head to keep the sun off. He is mending nets with flicks of a plastic shuttle and assessing the state of a profession he took up in his teens. “This is the end,” he says. “This is the worst. There is no life anymore.” The fisherman’s lament is as old as the seas. And Greeks have earned a living from fish for eons. It is the country’s second-largest agricultural export, behind fruit and nuts but ahead of olive oil and cheese.

Six years of economic crisis, however, have left this way of life in a shambles. A collapse in household buying power has demolished demand for fish, and with it fishermen’s income. Aquaculture companies, once a shining star in the marine economy, are drowning in debts. Fish processors are struggling with high costs for finance and relentless price pressure among strapped shoppers. Few think the woes will end soon. The Greek government has signed up to a new bailout, with more years of belt-tightening ahead. The first notches came last month, in laws rushed through parliament at the behest of Greece’s creditors: Fishermen face higher pension contributions, while fish processors face new, higher taxes on processed food.

Meantime, Greek banks are only dribbling out cash to customers—further strangling already weak demand. Sales at North Aegean Sea Canneries SA, one of Greece’s largest fish processors, dropped 20% at the beginning of the crisis. The company is facing a long recovery. Nikolaos Tzikas, an owner, says he had hoped to crawl back to 2011 levels this year. “Now,” he says, “I don’t know.” The travails of Greece’s fish industry show how years of crisis and bailouts have left the country’s economy in worse shape than before—and why the next episode may well meet the same fate. In a way, economic pain was designed into the Greek rescue. Unable to devalue Greece’s currency, the bailouts’ architects—other eurozone countries and the IMF—tried to push down prices and wages in a process called “internal devaluation.”

The hope was that lower costs would make Greek industries nimbler and more competitive, juicing a sustained economic recovery. Instead, the loss of income has killed consumption. People are too poor to buy stuff and the banks too weak to give them credit, and the effects ripple up the economic chain. “Internal devaluation did not do any good for the Greek fishing, aquaculture and processing sector,” says Lamprakis Avdelas, a fishing expert at a government-affiliated institute in Athens.

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“..the price of oil in five years’ time has collapsed in recent months.”

Get Used To Cheap Oil, Derivatives Markets Say (Reuters)

Oil prices will stay low for years to come, derivatives markets say, keeping a lid on inflation and helping boost global growth. Oil has more than halved in value over the last year, thanks to huge oversupply, and many oil companies, particularly in the United States, say they may soon have to rein in production, tightening supply, unless the market recovers. That has led many analysts to predict that oil – on average around 5% of companies’ costs – will see price rises later this year or in 2016, pushing up inflation. But oil derivatives tell another story. Contracts for delivery of crude oil in the future on the big commodities markets such as the New York Mercantile Exchange and the InterContinental Exchange show the price of oil in five years’ time has collapsed in recent months.

U.S. crude now costs around $42 a barrel for delivery next month, and only about $20 more for delivery in 2020. Prices of oil for future delivery are usually much more stable than volatile near-term prices, holding their value even when the spot market crashes. But the recent oil-price rout looks different. Prices for all futures months for years to come, also known as the futures price “curve”, have come down sharply. “The curve is saying prices will stay low for some time,” said Amrita Sen, oil analyst at consultancy Energy Aspects.

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All that’ll be left is the lethal tailings ponds.

As Canada’s Oil Debt Soars to Record, an Industry Shakeout Looms (Bloomberg)

Canadian energy companies’ debt loads are the heaviest in at least a decade, boosting concern that some won’t survive the collapse in crude prices. Trican Well Service, Canada’s largest fracking service provider, said last week it may be unable to continue because it’s in danger of breaching the terms of its debt. It’s the latest firm to see crude’s descent to a six-year low sap the cash flow needed to meet financial obligations. Oil’s plunge has pushed a measure of the average debt burden among Canadian energy firms to the highest since at least 2002, and another measure of their ability to make interest payments to the third-lowest level in a decade, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Facing some of the highest production costs in the world and carrying more debt than U.S. peers, the Canadian industry has become ripe for acquisitions. “Your ability to be an ongoing entity is certainly decreased,” said Jason Parker, head of fixed-income research at Bank of Montreal. “You’ll see larger, more financially affluent entities coming in and picking away at those properties.” Energy companies in the Standard & Poor’s/TSX Composite Index had an average of 3.1 times more debt than earnings as of their latest quarterly report, the highest ratio in Bloomberg data going back to the middle of 2002. That measure, a gauge of a firm’s ability to repay its obligations where a higher number indicates greater difficulty, has surged this year amid the global oil glut that’s depressed prices and earnings.

Another ratio, measuring how much greater earnings are than interest expenses, plummeted to the third least in a decade at the end of last year, suggesting there’s less money to service the borrowings. The heavy crude that many Canadian firms pump sells at almost the widest discount in a year relative to the U.S. benchmark. At $24.22 per barrel on Wednesday, the price is below the cost of production for many companies. For James Jung, who rates the debt of Canadian oil companies at DBRS Ltd. in Toronto, that divides the country’s industry into winners and losers, with those who have stronger balance sheets and lots of cash in a position to take advantage as more peers struggle with debt.

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That’s one Ponzi industry I wouldn’t mind seeing killed off.

Cheap Oil’s Making It Tough for Ethanol to Pay the Bills (Bloomberg)

Cheap crude oil may make it hard for ethanol companies to pay their bills on time. The lowest oil prices in six years are hitting biofuel producers two ways: They’re making ethanol less attractive as a blend for gasoline, and emboldening the arguments of petroleum backers who say the U.S. law mandating consumption of the fuel alternative is obsolete, Standard & Poor’s Ratings said in a report Wednesday. “The most noteworthy trend in the energy industry during the past year has been the precipitous decline in commodity prices, and chief among these has been plummeting oil prices,” Michael Ferguson, a credit analyst at S&P, wrote. “The lower oil prices may present a difficult rationale for blending ethanol.”

Crude oil has fallen 57% in the past year to $40.80 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest since March 2009. Gasoline has plunged 42% and ethanol has dropped 31%. Regulatory support has also waned. In May, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed reducing the amount of ethanol required to be mixed with gasoline from statutory levels set in 2007, citing changing driving habits and fuel use since then. That’s not reason enough to abandon the policy, according to Growth Energy, a Washington-based trade group. “Cheap gas and cheap oil is never a certainty, and often it is the exception,” Tom Buis, chief executive officer of the lobby, said in an e-mailed statement.

The Renewable Fuels Association, also a Washington-based trade group, said the S&P report “is really out of step with the realities of the market place today.” Low-priced crude oil lowers gasoline costs and makes ethanol less attractive for blending beyond government mandates. An additive, ethanol is used to boost gasoline supply and lower prices. “Consumers are saying, ‘I’ve already got cheap gas, why do I need this ethanol?’” Ferguson, the report’s author, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

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Australia.

Banks Have Treated Our Housing Market Like A Ponzi Scheme (David)

Australia’s big four banks are among the largest and most profitable financial institutions in the world. Despite this, it is mathematically impossible that these banks, primarily focused on domestic retail operations, could be as big and profitable as they currently are without one of the following taking place: either each of these banks, in their individual capacity, has solved (at the same time, in the same country, and as a first in the history of banking) the ultimate recipe for infinitely profiting from an exponentially-growing stock of private debt; or they are all engaged in activity which is incredibly risky. Looking at the balance sheets of these four banking leviathans they have clearly taken on abnormal sums of risk to invest in a single, all-in, one-way bet on the housing market.

As my colleague Philip Soos and I told the House of Representatives’ economics committee inquiry into home ownership last week, the evidence suggests that on the back of irrational exuberance, Australia is experiencing what can only be described as a classic debt-financed speculative housing bubble with every metric that evidenced the bubble in the US and Ireland present within our economic system today. Between 2002 and 2015, the mortgage books of National Australia Bank, ANZ, Commonwealth Bank and Westpac grew by 388%, 435%, 475% and 554% respectively. Put another way, the big four’s mortgage books escalated from a combined $242bn to a whopping $1.13tn, surging at such a consistent rate it would make Bernie Madoff proud.

What the Australian banking system has developed is an uninterrupted growth model which shares a similar risk profile as a Ponzi or pyramid scheme by lending ever-larger sums of debt to homebuyers and property investors year after year. If this growth model is interrupted, however, and banks cannot expand their mortgage books further, housing price inflation halts and will then plunge.

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Only choice left that will stop the shelling.

Rebels In Ukraine’s Donetsk Plan Referendum On Joining Russia (Xinhua)

Leaders of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” are planning to hold a referendum on seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia, the Donetsk-based Ostrov news agency reported Wednesday. The referendum is scheduled to be held in two to four weeks after the Oct. 18 local elections, said the news agency. The ballot papers for the referendum designed in the colors of the Russian flag have already been printed, it said. Neither the rebel leadership nor the Ukrainian authorities have commented on the report yet.

In July, leaders of pro-independence insurgents in Donetsk region said they would hold local elections on Oct. 18 without Kiev’s supervision as they believed that the Ukrainian government has not fulfilled its obligations under the Minsk peace agreement. Last week, violence in eastern Ukraine has sharply escalated after several weeks of relative calmness. On Sunday night, at least 11 people, including nine civilians, were reportedly killed in Donetsk region, marking the worst casualties in the conflict since early June.

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Hilarious.

China’s Building a Huge Canal in Nicaragua, But We Couldn’t Find It (Bloomberg)

Deep on the southeastern side of Lake Nicaragua, along a bumpy dirt road that climbs gently through lush-green forest, sits the tiny town of El Tule. It is quintessential rural Central America: Chickens roam outside tin-roofed homes while pigs stand tied to trees, awaiting slaughter; the sound of drunk locals singing along to ranchera music greeted visitors on a recent rain-soaked afternoon. The village, if you listen to Nicaraguan officials, is a key point in what will be the biggest infrastructure project the region has ever seen, the construction of a $50 billion canal slated to run 170 miles from the country’s east to west coast. Awarded two years ago by President Daniel Ortega to an obscure Chinese businessman named Wang Jing, the concession calls for El Tule to be ripped up, erased essentially, in order to make way for the canal right before it plunges into the lake and then meets the Pacific Ocean a few miles later.

The idea is that the waterway will attract many of the larger vessels that the Panama Canal — located just 300 miles to the southeast — has historically struggled to accomodate. A construction deadline of 2020 has been set. Yet a four-day tour through El Tule and surrounding areas slated for crucial initial development only seemed to corroborate the belief, harbored by many analysts inside and outside Nicaragua, that this project isn’t going to get done. The townspeople haven’t seen any signs of canal workers in months. And the work that was done was marginal. A handful of Chinese engineers were spotted late last year making field notations on the east side of the lake; early this year, a dirt road was expanded and light posts were upgraded at a spot on the west side where a port is to be built.

Juharling Mendoza, a 32-year-old local entrepreneur, is so convinced that the project won’t proceed that he’s constructing a two-story house with three guest rooms and an attached convenience store just outside of El Tule. He says bluntly: “There isn’t going to be a canal.”

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These people are completely nuts. Sending dogs on refugees says it all.

British Police Head To Calais To Stymie Migrant Smuggling Activity (Guardian)

British police will be deployed to Calais to target people-smuggling gangs as part of a new agreement aimed at alleviating the ongoing migrant crisis at the French port. In the first visit to Calais by a UK government minister since the crisis escalated at the start of the summer, home secretary Theresa May will travel to the town on Thursday to confirm a joint declaration with Bernard Cazeneuve, the French minister of the interior. Their deal will see officers from the UK based in a new command and control centre in Calais alongside their French counterparts and Border Force personnel. The work of the police contingent will be led by two senior commanders – one from the UK and one from France. They will report regularly to May and Cazeneuve on the extent of immigration-related criminal activity on both sides of the Channel.

Officials said the move was aimed at disrupting organised criminals, who attempt to smuggle migrants illegally into northern France and across the Channel into Britain, by ensuring intelligence and enforcement work is more collaborative. Britain and France will also work jointly to ensure networks are dismantled and prosecutions are pursued, sources said. Fresh measures included in the new agreement include: • The deployment of extra French policing units and additional freight search teams, including detection dogs • The investment of UK resources including fencing, CCTV, flood lighting and infrared detection technology to secure the Eurotunnel railhead • The tightening of security within the tunnel itself, with Eurotunnel helping to increase the number of guards protecting the site • The creation of a new “integrated control room” covering the railheads at Coquelles • A security audit to be carried out by specialist French and British police teams to underpin the design of the improvements.

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The moral bankruptcy of Europe.

Refugee Chaos in Macedonia: ‘Life-Threatening for Women and Children’ (Spiegel)

A dangerous bottleneck has formed in the Macedonian border town of Gevgelija, an important hub for refugees traveling to Western Europe. Those trying to reach the trains here face extreme heat, dangerous crowds and police bullying. It’s Monday, earlier this week, and what can be seen unfolding along the route to Macedonia is no less than mass migration, with around 200 people making their way along the Balkans route to Western Europe on this day alone. They have come here from Aleppo, Homs, Kobani, Tartus, Hama and Damascus. Indeed, much of Syria’s population appears to be fleeing at the moment, as they attempt to make their way to safety. The group walks along the railway tracks that lead from the Greek village of Idomeni to the town of Gevgelija in Macedonia.

“Good luck, Kobani!” a family from Damascus calls out as they pass by a group of Syrian Kurds. “Good luck, Damascus,” they respond. But they don’t make it very far. They soon encounter five Macedonian police officers waiting along the tracks on the dusty, trampled earth. They order the people to wait without telling them why or for how long. The Syrians take off their backpacks and set them on the ground. Women and children look for a place in the shade. Over the next five hours, the waiting group swells to around 400 people. Not all are Syrians. A few Iraqis have also made it here. Some are now claiming to be Syrian, which would give them greater chances of success with their asylum applications and expedited procedures. A Syrian man points to eight young men and women from Africa.

“Everyone here is from Syria now, even those people over there,” he says, grinning. The people here all have at least one thing in common: They arrived in Europe during recent days via one of the Greek islands located near the Turkish coast – Kos, Lesbos or Chios. Each day, around 1,000 to 1,500 people arrive on the islands, a greater number than ever seen before. Most want to continue on to Western Europe as quickly as possible. The massive surge of refugees has created a dangerous bottleneck on the main route through the Balkans.

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Jul 272015
 
 July 27, 2015  Posted by at 10:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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DPC Maumee River waterfront, Toledo, OH 1910

China Stocks Suffer Biggest One-Day Loss In Eight Years (Reuters)
China Stocks Post Biggest Plunge Since 2007 (Bloomberg)
Varoufakis Reveals Cloak And Dagger Greece ‘Plan B’, Awaits Treason Charges (AEP)
Tsipras Under Pressure Over Covert Syriza Drachma Plan Reports (Reuters)
Greece Rocked By Alleged Secret Plan To Raid Banks For Drachma Return (Guardian)
The Politics of Coercion in Greece (Zoe Konstantopoulou, Speaker)
The Make Believe World Of Eurozone Rules (Wolfgang Münchau)
Capitalism, Engineered Dependencies and the Eurozone (Urie)
Debt Conundrum To Keep Greek Banks In Months-Long Freeze (Reuters)
Escaping the Greek Debt Trap (Eichengreen et al)
Tsipras’s Paradox Is Six Months of Pain and Enduring Popularity (Bloomberg)
The Greek Warrior: “Molon Labe” (New Yorker)
Troika Technical Teams Return To Athens, New Prior Actions On Agenda (Kath.)
Migrants Left Looking For Shelter As Greece Struggles In Crisis (Reuters)
French Farmers Block Spanish and German Borders In Foreign Food Protest (AFP)
The Italian Job Market Is So Bad That Workers Are Giving Up in Droves
Spain Mayors Spin Tale of Two Cities With Anti-Austerity Stance (Bloomberg)
Draghi Sets Sights On Reviving Economy With Greece On Back Seat (Bloomberg)
What Does Australia Have in Common With Colombia and Russia? (Bloomberg)
Oil Groups Have Shelved $200 Billion In New Projects As Low Prices Bite (FT)

It’s still just the start. If you’re a mom and pop investor in China, the only way to go is out.

China Stocks Suffer Biggest One-Day Loss In Eight Years (Reuters)

Chinese shares tumbled more than 8% on Monday amid renewed fears about the outlook for the world’s No. 2 economy, reviving the specter of a full-blown market crash that prompted unprecedented government intervention earlier this month. Major indexes suffered their largest one-day drop since 2007, shattering a period of relative calm in China’s volatile stock markets since Beijing unleashed a barrage of support measures to arrest a slump that began in mid-June. The CSI300 index .CSI300 of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen plunged 8.6%, to 3,818.73, while the Shanghai Composite Index .SSEC lost 8.5%, to 3,725.56 points. While the falls followed lackluster data on profit at Chinese industrial firms on Monday and a disappointing private factory sector survey on Friday, there was little to explain the scale of the sell-off.

Some analysts said fears that China may hold off from further loosening of monetary policy had contributed to souring investor sentiment. “The recent rebound had been swift and strong, so there’s need for a technical correction,” said Yang Hai, strategist at Kaiyuan Securities. He said the trigger was “a sluggish U.S. market amid stronger expectations of a Fed rate rise in the fourth quarter. That, coupled with China’s rising pork prices, fuels concerns that China would refrain from loosening monetary policies further.” In late June and early July, Chinese authorities cut interest rates, suspended initial public offerings, relaxed margin-lending and collateral rules and enlisted brokerages to buy stocks, backed by central bank cash, to support share prices.

The battery of stabilization measures followed a peak-to-trough slump of more than 30% in China’s benchmark indexes, which had more than doubled over the preceding year. Chinese share markets had recovered around 15% since then, before Monday’s renewed sell-off. Stocks fell across the board on Monday, with 2,247 companies falling, leaving only 77 gainers.

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Blood. Bath.

China Stocks Post Biggest Plunge Since 2007 (Bloomberg)

The biggest slump in Chinese shares in eight years led equities lower worldwide and selling spread to the dollar as the turmoil bolstered the case for keeping U.S. interest rates lower for longer. Stocks fell in Europe for a fifth day after the Shanghai Composite Index tumbled 8.5% as Chinese industrial company profits decreased in June. The dollar weakened 0.8% to $1.1069 per euro at 10:22 a.m. in London while Italian and Spanish bonds pared losses. Gold futures rose the most in a month as the drop in equities spurred haven demand and investors speculated that recent losses have been overdone. “Today’s rout in China poured cold water on investor sentiment,” said Mari Oshidari at Okasan Securities. “This also revealed the market is still too fragile without government support.”

The profit decline is the latest evidence of a deteriorating economic outlook for China, while the slump in stocks will be a blow to policy makers who enacted unprecedented measures to stem a $4 trillion rout. A gauge of Chinese stocks in Hong Kong slumped 3.8% Monday, while the city’s benchmark Hang Seng Index slid 3.1%. The report on industrial profits from the statistics bureau followed data Friday showing a private manufacturing gauge unexpectedly declined in July to a 15-month low. Chinese officials allowed more than 1,400 companies to halt trading, banned major shareholders from selling stakes, restricted short selling and suspended initial public offerings, spurring a 16% rebound on the Shanghai measure through last week from a low on July 8.

The IMF has urged the nation to eventually unwind the support measures, according to a person familiar with the matter.

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“I have a strong suspicion that there will be no deal on August 20..”

Varoufakis Reveals Cloak And Dagger Greece ‘Plan B’, Awaits Treason Charges (AEP)

A secret cell at the Greek finance ministry hacked into the government computers and drew up elaborate plans for a system of parallel payments that could be switched from euros to the drachma at the “flick of a button” . The revelations have caused a political storm in Greece and confirm just how close the country came to drastic measures before premier Alexis Tsipras gave in to demands from Europe’s creditor powers, acknowledging that his own cabinet would not support such a dangerous confrontation.

Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister, told a group of investors in London that a five-man team under his control had been working for months on a contingency plan to create euro liquidity if the ECB cut off emergency funding to the Greek financial system, as it in fact did after talks broke down and Syriza called a referendum. The transcripts were leaked to the Greek newspaper Kathimerini. The telephone call took place a week after he stepped down as finance minister. “The prime minister, before we won the election in January, had given me the green light to come up with a Plan B. And I assembled a very able team, a small team as it had to be because that had to be kept completely under wraps for obvious reasons,” he said.

“The context of all this is that they want to present me as a rogue finance minister, and have me indicted for treason. It is all part of an attempt to annul the first five months of this government and put it in the dustbin of history,” he said. “It totally distorts my purpose for wanting parallel liquidity. I have always been completely against dismantling the euro because we never know what dark forces that might unleash in Europe,” he said. The goal of the computer hacking was to enable the finance ministry to make digital transfers at “the touch of a button”. The payments would be ‘IOUs’ based on an experiment by California after the Lehman crisis. A parallel banking system of this kind would allow the government to create euro liquidity and circumvent what Syriza called “financial strangulation” by the ECB.

“This was very well developed. Very soon we could have extended it, using apps on smartphones, and it could become a functioning parallel system. Of course this would be euro denominated but at the drop of a hat it could be converted to a new drachma,” he said. Mr Varoufakis claimed the cloak and dagger methods were necessary since the Troika had taken charge of the public revenue office within the finance ministry. “It’s like the Inland Revenue in the UK being controlled by Brussels. I am sure as you are hearing these words your hair is standing on end,” he said in the leaked transcripts. Mr Varoufakis said any request for permission would have tipped off the Troika immediately that he was planning a counter-attack.

Mr Varoufakis said that Mr Schauble has made up his mind that Greece must be ejected from the euro, and is merely biding his time, knowing that the latest bail-out plan is doomed to failure. “Everybody knows the IMF does not want to take part in a new programme but Schauble is insisting that it does as a condition for new loans. I have a strong suspicion that there will be no deal on August 20,” he said. He said the EU authorities may have to dip further into the European Commission’s stabilisation fund (EFSM), drawing Britain deeper into the controversy since it is a contributor. By the end of the year it will be clear that tax revenues are falling badly short of targets – he said – and the Greek public ratio will be shooting up towards 210pc of GDP. “Schauble will then say it is yet another failure. He is just stringing us along. he has not given up his plan to push Greece out of the euro,” he said.

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Lafazanis is part of the picture too.

Tsipras Under Pressure Over Covert Syriza Drachma Plan Reports (Reuters)

Some members of Greece’s leftist government wanted to raid central bank reserves and hack taxpayer accounts to prepare a return to the drachma, according to reports on Sunday that highlighted the chaos in the ruling Syriza party. It is not clear how seriously the plans, attributed to former Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis and former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, were considered by the government and both ministers were sacked earlier this month. However the reports have been seized on by opposition parties who have demanded an explanation. The reports came at the end of a week of fevered speculation over what Syriza hardliners had in mind as an alternative to the tough bailout terms that Tsipras reluctantly accepted to keep Greece in the euro.

Around a quarter of the party’s 149 lawmakers rebelled over the plan to pass sweeping austerity measures in exchange for up to €86 billion euros in fresh loans and Tsipras has struggled to hold the divided party together In an interview with Sunday’s edition of the RealNews daily, Panagiotis Lafazanis, the hardline former energy minister who lost his job after rebelling over the bailout plans, said he had urged the government to tap the reserves of the Bank of Greece in defiance of the ECB. Lafazanis, leader of a hardline faction in the ruling Syriza party that has argued for a return to the drachma, said the move would have allowed pensions and public sector wages to be paid if Greece were forced out of the euro.

“The main reason for that was for the Greek economy and Greek people to survive, which is the utmost duty every government has under the constitution,” he said. However he denied a report in the Financial Times that he wanted Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stouranaras to be arrested if he had opposed a move to empty the central bank vaults. In comments to the semi-official Athens News Agency, he called the report a mixture of “lies, fantasy, fear-mongering, speculation and old-fashioned anti-communism”.

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The Guardian seems to be sitting on the fence. Has any western press eevr before referred to Kathimerini as a “conservative newspaper”?

Greece Rocked By Alleged Secret Plan To Raid Banks For Drachma Return (Guardian)

Some members of Greece’s leftist-led government wanted to raid central bank reserves and hack taxpayer accounts to prepare a return to the drachma, according to reports that highlighted the chaos in the ruling Syriza party. It is not clear how seriously the government considered the plans, attributed to former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis and ex-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. Both ministers were sacked earlier this month, however, the revelations have been seized on by opposition parties who are demanding an explanation. The reports on Sunday came at the end of a week of fevered speculation over what Syriza hardliners had in mind as an alternative to the tough bailout terms Tsipras has reluctantly accepted to keep Greece in the eurozone.

About a quarter of the party’s 149 lawmakers rebelled over proposals to pass sweeping austerity measures in exchange for up to €86bn in fresh loans. Tsipras has been struggling to hold the party together. In an interview with Sunday’s edition of the RealNews daily, Lafazanis said he had urged the government to tap the reserves of the Bank of Greece in defiance of the ECB. Lafazanis, the leader of a hardline Syriza faction that has argued for a return to the drachma, said the move would have allowed pensions and public sector wages to be paid if Greece were forced out of the euro. “The main reason for that was for the Greek economy and Greek people to survive, which is the utmost duty every government has under the constitution,” he said.

In a separate report in the conservative Kathimerini newspaper, Varoufakis was quoted as saying that a small team in Syriza had prepared plans to secretly copy online tax codes. It said the “plan b” was devised to allow the government to introduce a parallel payment system if the banks were closed down. In remarks the newspaper said were made at an investors’ conference on 16 July, Varoufakis said passwords used by Greeks to access their online tax accounts were to have been duplicated secretly and used to issue new PIN numbers for every taxpayer to be used in transactions with the state. “This would have created a parallel banking system, which would have given us some breathing space, while the banks would have been shut due to the ECB’s aggressive policy,” Varoufakis was quoted as saying.

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A woman to watch.

The Politics of Coercion in Greece (Zoe Konstantopoulou)

This is a transcript of Speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou’s important July 22nd speech in the Hellenic Parliament.

I confess that the consciously, politically and personally painful moments which we are being called on to experience in parliament during this parliamentary term are multiplying. From my capacity as Speaker of the House, I have just sent a letter to the President, Mr. Prokopis Pavlopoulos and to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras noting that it is my institutional responsibility to emphasize and underline that the conditions this bill is being introduced under allow no guarantees of compliance with the constitution, no protection of the democratic process or the exercise of legislative power of parliament, nor a conscience vote by members of parliament, under conditions of blatant blackmail, which is aimed by foreign government of EU member States at this government and the members of parliament and which is in fact introduced without any possibility of amendment by the parliament as was confessed by the Minister, whom I honor and respect deeply, as he knows, a statute through which a major intervention in the functioning of justice and the exercise of the fundamental rights of the citizens is being attempted, in a manner that tears down both the functioning of Greek democracy as a social state under the rule of law and in which there is a separation of powers according to the constitution, as well as the preservation of the principle of fair trial.

Ministers are being coerced to introduce a legislation whose content they do not agree with, and the statement made by the Justice Minister was characteristic, but who are directly opposed to it and members of parliament are being coerced to vote for it who are also opposed to its content, and the statements made by members of parliament in the two parliamentary groups, which make up the parliamentary majority were also characteristic, every one of them. All this is happening under the direct threat of a disorderly default and reveal that, in truth, this bill which foreign governments and not the Greek government have chosen as a prerequisite, is an attempt at the completion of a dissolution. Because this bill contains a major intervention into the third independent function, which is justice. This bill attempts to undermine the functioning of justice and is lifting basic guarantees to a fair trial and basic and fundamental rights of citizens.

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Münchau wakes up: “If so many important people say it, then surely it must be true, mustn’t it? Actually, as it turns out, there is no such rule.”

The Make Believe World Of Eurozone Rules (Wolfgang Münchau)

Whenever you are in a room with European officials and discuss the euro, there is usually somebody who raises his finger and says: “This is all well and good, but it is ‘against the rules’.” It then gets very quiet. “Against the rules” is a big thing in Europe. Most people do not really know what the rules are. But they do know that rules have to be followed. The situation reminds me of a short story by Franz Kafka, Before the Law, where a man tries to seek entrance to a courthouse. A door keeper tells him that this is possible in principle, but not at the moment. The man spends his entire life in front of the court waiting to be admitted. At the end of his life he was told that he could have gone through the door at any time. That man followed the wrong set of rules — rules of the mind, not of the law.

Rules of the mind is what we are dealing with in the European debate about the single currency. Many of these rules either do not exist, or they constitute some rather far-fetched interpretation of existing rules. During the recent Greek crisis, I came across a completely new rule. I first heard it from Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister. It says that countries are not allowed to default inside the eurozone. But a default was perfectly fine once they leave the euro, on the other hand. I later read that Otmar Issing, the former chief economist of the European Central Bank, used almost exactly the same phrase as Mr Schäuble in an Italian newspaper interview. If so many important people say it, then surely it must be true, mustn’t it? Actually, as it turns out, there is no such rule.

There is only Article 125 of the European Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Article 125 says that countries should not take on the debt of other countries. This is also known as the “no-bailout” clause — though that, as it turns out, is a rather loaded interpretation. In its landmark Pringle ruling — relating to an Irish case in 2012 — the European Court of Justice said bailouts are fine, even under Article 125, as long as the purpose of the bailout is to render the fiscal position of the recipient country sustainable in the long run. In another landmark ruling, from June this year, the ECJ supported Mario Draghi’s promise to do whatever it takes to help a country subject to a speculative attack.

The ECB president’s pledge had previously been challenged by the German constitutional court. In both cases, the ECJ did not support the predominant German legal interpretation. So what then can we infer from the previous ECJ rulings in the absence of an explicit ruling from the court on debt relief? An interesting article by three authors from Bruegel, a European think-tank, concludes that debt relief is almost certainly consistent with current law. The argument goes as follows: in the Pringle case, the court gave the go-ahead for bailouts in principle as long as they are intended to stabilise public finances. In the ruling on the ECB’s backstop, the court accepted the principle that the ECB could incur a loss on its asset purchases, as long as the bank follows its own mandate.

What is really happening is that Germany does not want to grant Greece debt relief for political reasons, and is using European law as a pretext. Likewise, when Mr Schäuble proposes a Greek exit from the euro, ask yourself what rule that is consistent with. The fact is they are making up the rules as they go along to suit their own political purposes.

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View from the left.

Capitalism, Engineered Dependencies and the Eurozone (Urie)

Near-term technological considerations aside, the question that the Greeks and other peoples of the West may wish to ask is why banks and bankers whose livelihoods derive from the public grant to create and allocate money should be allowed to use it to rule the world? The quote from economist Joan Robinson that ‘The only thing worse than being exploited by capitalism is not being exploited by capitalism’ refers to precisely this type of engineered dependency, not to a natural state of the world. Was the intent of the European Union a partnership of equals then Syriza would have been granted a distinctive voice. With its mandate to remain within the union it is but another set of bodies warming the chairs at ‘negotiation’ tables listening to the dictates of the Troika.

The pragmatic difficulties of following the democratic mandate from the July 5th referendum derive from complexities that were sold as simplifications. Instead of multiple currencies the EMU would have only one— a simplification. However, any exit from the currency union will require the rapid constitution / reconstitution of a monetary infrastructure now rendered infinitely more complex through the broader project of joining finance capital’s ways of conducting business. A long-term exit plan assumes that Syriza can either stay in, or regain, power when political control has already been acceded to the Troika through economic control. An unplanned exit that allows the engineered complexity of monetary integration to quickly destroy the Greek economy would most likely find desperation leading to restoration of a compliant Greek government in dramatically worsened economic conditions.

What isn’t being put forward in the present, as best I can determine, is a left vision of possible economic organization either after a well-planned exit from the monetary union has been accomplished or after the broader EMU project has imploded from its own capitalist / banker-friendly design. The Western criticism that the European periphery is destined for permanent second-class status grants primacy to the wholly unsustainable political economy of the Western ‘center’ and to ‘first-world’ capitalism as a habitable form of social organization. Economic complexity is being used as a tool of social repression leaving either simplification or complexity that serves a social purpose as alternatives.

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Real relief in any form is not on the agenda.

Debt Conundrum To Keep Greek Banks In Months-Long Freeze (Reuters)

Greek banks are set to keep broad cash controls in place for months, until fresh money arrives from Europe and with it a sweeping restructuring, officials believe. Rehabilitating the country’s banks poses a difficult question. Should the euro zone take a stake in the lenders, first requiring bondholders and even big depositors to shoulder a loss, or should the bill for fixing the banks instead be added to Greece’s debt mountain? Answering this could hold up agreement on a third bailout deal for Greece that negotiators want to conclude within weeks. The longer it takes, the more critical the banks’ condition becomes as a €420 weekly limit on cash withdrawals chokes the economy and borrowers’ ability to repay loans.

“The banks are in deep freeze but the economy is getting weaker,” said one official, pointing to a steady rise in loans that are not being repaid. This cash ‘freeze’ is unlikely to thaw soon, although capital controls may be slightly softened, such as the loosening on Friday of restrictions on foreign transfers by businesses. “Ultimately, you can only lift the capital controls when the banks are sufficiently capitalized,” said Jens Weidmann, the head of Germany’s Bundesbank, which pushed the ECB to pare back bank funding, leading to their three-week closure. The debate is interlinked with a wrangle over reforms, about Greek sovereignty in the face of European controls and whether the country can recover with ever rising debts that have topped €300 billion, far bigger than its economy.

Were another €25 billion to be piled on top – the amount foreseen for the recapitalization of Greek lenders – it would add to debts that the IMF has argued are excessive. Greek officials, alarmed by a downward spiral in the economy, want an urgent release of funds for their banks. Four big banks dominate Greece. Of those, National Bank of Greece, Eurobank and Piraeus fell short in an ECB health check last year, when their restructuring plans were not taken into account. The situation is now dramatically worse. “We want, if possible, an initial amount to be ready for the first needs of the banks,” said one official at the Greek finance ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “That should be about €10 billion.”

Others, including Germany, however, are lukewarm and could push for losses for large depositors with more than 100,000 euros on their accounts, or bondholders. There are more than €20 billion of such deposits in Greece’s four main banks, dwarfing the roughly €3 billion of bonds the banks have issued. Imposing a loss, something the Greek government has repeatedly denied any planning for, would be controversial, not least because much of this money is held by small Greek companies rather than wealthy individuals. “This is not like Cyprus where you can say these are just Russian oligarchs,” said an insolvency lawyer familiar with Greece. “It’s the very community everyone is hoping will resuscitate Greece, namely the corporates. You’ll end up depriving them of their cash.”

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Eichengreen proves incapable of solving the issues. Writedowns are inevitable. A poorly structured workaround won’t do the trick.

Escaping the Greek Debt Trap (Eichengreen et al)

Greece’s debt is unsustainable. The IMF has said so, and it’s hard to find anyone who disagrees. The Greek government sees structural reform without debt reduction as politically and economically toxic. The main governing party, Syriza, has made debt reduction a central plank of its electoral platform and will find it hard to hold on to power – much less implement painful structural measures – absent this achievement. Moreover, tax increases and spending cuts by themselves will only deepen the Greek slump. Other measures are needed to attract the investment required to jump-start growth. Reducing the debt and its implicit claim on future incomes is an obvious first step. But Wolfgang Schaeuble and Chancellor Angela Merkel refuse to consider any cut in the nominal stock of Greece’s debt to the EU.

They refuse to agree to debt-service reductions without prior structural reforms. In their view, lower interest rates, grace periods and more generous amortization terms should be a reward for prior action on the structural front. If they are offered now, Greece will only be let off the hook. There’s an obvious way of squaring this circle: Greece and the EU should contractually link changes in the terms of the country’s EU loans to milestones in structural reform. Think of the result as structural-reform-indexed (SRI) loans, akin to former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’s gross-domestic- product-indexed bonds. Under the new loan terms, if Greece implements more reforms, future interest payments would be permanently lower and principal payments would be extended indefinitely.

Full implementation of the specified reforms would turn Greece’s debt into the equivalent of zero-coupon, infinitely lived bonds that drain little if anything from the public purse. Greece should welcome this arrangement, because it would receive a guarantee of debt reduction, not just vague reassurances. The German government and other creditors should welcome it as well, because debt reduction would only be conferred if Greece follows through with structural reform. Both sides would appreciate that Greece’s incentive to push ahead with reforms would be heightened insofar as successful reform conferred an additional reward. Even better, Euro-group members could convert their bilateral loans and European Financial Stability Facility/European Stability Mechanism funding for Greece into SRI bonds.

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Pundits don’t understand how Greece works. Tsipras’ popularity is actually growing, but that’s too much for them to report. They go instead for ‘enduring’.

Tsipras’s Paradox Is Six Months of Pain and Enduring Popularity (Bloomberg)

His party is split, government undermined and the economy lies in tatters. Yet in the rubble of Greece, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reigns supreme. In the six months since he became prime minister, Tsipras breezed past challengers at home, new and old, as he followed an election victory with backing for his anti-bailout message in a referendum. After yielding to his European peers, next month he may be signing a third financial rescue that he opposed, while capital controls keeping money in Greece remain. The paradox reflects how punch-drunk Greece has become after years of spending cuts and tax increases by successive governments allied to the euro region’s austerity hawks.

For all his doomed brinkmanship, Tsipras’s popularity is unblemished as Greeks blame Europe for their financial punishment, or others in his Coalition of the Radical Left. “His rhetoric of defiance, resistance and regaining sovereignty flies well with Greek public opinion,” said Wolfango Piccoli, of consulting company Teneo Intelligence “He is by far the most popular politician across the whole spectrum.” A poll by Kapa Research published on July 14 showed 51.5% of Greeks backed the new terms Tsipras agreed to in return for staying in the euro. The blame for the pension cuts and higher taxes rested with the Europeans, 49% said, while 68% said Tsipras should lead the country. For now, he has to deal with the party that he brought to power.

Tsipras, who turns 41 this week, purged his government of dissenters after bringing home the deal that promised the exact opposite of what he pledged to voters in January. Even as he clawed back some supporters in last week’s parliament vote, Syriza officials publicly worried about the chasm growing between dissident leftists and the more pragmatic group Tsipras leads, fearing a breakup of the party. “The question is whether Tsipras will remain the leader of Syriza or he will form his own party with those who support him in Syriza,” said George Tzogopoulos at the Athens-based Hellenic Foundation. “It is probably easier for him to purge Syriza.” For now, the focus is on filling in the outlines of the deal agreed with creditors on July 13. Tsipras could then move to consolidate his position by holding elections. [..]

Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister and face of successive failures to reach an accord with the euro region, garnered the most votes of any party candidate in the Jan. 25 election. He now has a popularity rating of 28%, compared with 59% for Tsipras in the Kapa poll. Comrades causing Tsipras headaches, such as former Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafanzanis and Speaker of Parliament Zoe Konstantopoulou, both polled lower than Varoufakis. “It is more and more a Tsipras government and party,” said Piccoli. “His U-turn has been justified with a narrative that argues that there was no other option.”

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Long portrait.

The Greek Warrior: “Molon Labe” (New Yorker)

After months at the center of a global political spectacle, Varoufakis still carried himself as an outsider: informal, ironic, somehow alone on the stage. This demeanor had sometimes given his tenure the air of a five-month-long TED talk. At the restaurant, Varoufakis’s commentary on the recent tumult, and on the likely catastrophic events to come, sometimes seemed amused almost to the point of blitheness. He asked after Galbraith’s children, then noted that, a few hours earlier, a member of Germany’s parliament had visited his apartment, confessing, “I don’t believe in what we’re doing to you.” The legislator was a Christian Democrat—the party led by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, who had it in her power to ease Greece’s crisis. On departing, the legislator said, “I know you’re an atheist, but I’m going to pray for you.”

Varoufakis made a call. Speaking Greek, he greeted Euclid Tsakalotos, a colleague and friend, as “comrade,” then speculated about Tsipras’s behavior in the event of a “yes” vote: “The wise guys in Maximos”—the Prime Minister’s residence—“have become nicely settled in their seats of power, and they don’t want to leave them.” Varoufakis seemed to be suggesting that Tsipras would not resign after losing the referendum. There would be a “strategic restructuring,” Varoufakis said, and then elections. As for himself, he said, “After tomorrow, I’m going to be riding into the sunset.” He spoke the last four words in English. A Roma boy came to the table, selling roses. “Varoufakis!” he said, amazed. “I saw you on the news.”

Varoufakis allowed himself to be teased for his habit of carrying a backpack, which, he was told, made him look like a schoolboy. He laughed and paid five euros for a rose, which he gave to Stratou. As the boy left, he shouted “Varoufakis! Varoufakis!” at a vender’s volume, and, a few tables away, the minister’s plainclothes security detail—two chic young men who bore a resemblance to George Michael at the time of “Faith”—turned around. Galbraith told Varoufakis that his instinct was wrong about the referendum results. “No” would prevail, despite the bank closures. Many Greeks had nothing left to lose, and many others had hedged their financial assets, perhaps by buying a car. “Maybe,” Varoufakis said.

Stratou glanced at her phone. “Jamie, you might be right,” she said. She showed Varoufakis her screen. A survey was showing “no” with a lead. “Don’t underestimate your countrymen—the most utterly fearless group of people,” Galbraith said. Although a “no” victory would complicate Varoufakis’s immediate political future, he allowed himself to marvel at the Greek electorate’s willingness to accept immediate economic hardship. Syriza had given Greeks no palpable relief since taking power, yet the party’s positions still had popular support. “What the hell is going on?” Varoufakis asked. The waiter brought a metal jug of wine. Galbraith raised his glass and, freighting an old shared joke with new emotion, quoted Che Guevara: “Hasta la victoria siempre?!?” (“Ever onward to victory!”) Varoufakis laughed.

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Think they are capable of discussing actual economics?

Troika Technical Teams Return To Athens, New Prior Actions On Agenda (Kath.)

Technical teams representing Greece’s lenders began arriving in Athens on Sunday, with the aim of talks with the government beginning on Tuesday. The mission heads are not expected in Athens until Wednesday or Thursday. The visiting officials have asked to have access to ministries, ministers and general secretaries. So far, the Greek side has only agreed for the meetings to take place in a hotel and for the visitors to be allowed access to the General State Accounting Office. One of the potential stumbling blocks is that the lenders are expecting the government to draft another bill with prior actions so it can be passed through Parliament in the next two or three weeks, despite already adopting two pieces of legislation with new measures in the past two weeks.

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And still Europe hasn’t acted. Repugnant.

Migrants Left Looking For Shelter As Greece Struggles In Crisis (Reuters)

Aid workers called for emergency accommodation for hundreds of migrants who are camped out in the streets of the Greek capital as it struggles back from the brink of financial collapse. Hundreds of refugees from Afghanistan and Syria have set up temporary camps in central Athens while waiting to move on to what they hope will be a more permanent home in Europe. There are two chemical toilets in the park for the migrants and they wash themselves by using a garden hose attachment at the park’s taps. Stagnant water and human waste attract mosquitoes, and some of the children who walk barefoot in the park are covered in insect bites. Strewn with old clothes, garbage and waste and with summer temperatures reaching as high as 38 degrees Celsius (100.4°F), the sites are unfit for habitation but remain because there is no alternative.

“We need a campus because more and more people are coming so they cannot live like this in the center of the city,” said Nikitas Kanakis, president of the Greek section of medical charity Doctors of the World. “It’s not good for them, it’s not safe for them, and it’s not good for the city,” he said. [..] “It’s a huge problem because there are families with young children in a really bad situation with no water, with no food,” Kanakis said, adding that his organisation tried to provide basic medical care but more was needed. “We need a place, a center where they can stay,” he said. Along with Italy, which has faced a massive influx of African migrants arriving by boat from Libya, Greece is at the front lines of a crisis that has threatened to overwhelm public services already worn down by years of recession.

According to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, migrant arrivals in Greece have leapt almost tenfold in the first six months of the year, jumping from 3,452 in the first six months of 2014 to 31,037 this year. A coordinated response from Europe has been slow in coming however, caught up by wrangling over how to distribute the arrivals among countries where anti-immigration parties have seen a steady rise in support. “This is an emergency for Europe not to tell that they will help, to help. Otherwise, the situation will become worse and worse and we will see in the middle of Athens pictures that the humanitarian doctors have seen back in the east or back in Africa,” Kanakis said.

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TTIP, anyone?

French Farmers Block Spanish and German Borders In Foreign Food Protest (AFP)

French farmers blocked roads from Spain and Germany on Sunday to stop foreign products entering the country, the latest protest against a fall in food prices that has brought them to the brink of bankruptcy. Farmers in the north-eastern Alsace region used tractors to obstruct six routes from Germany in a bid to stop trucks crossing the Rhine carrying agricultural goods, in a blockage that is expected to last until at least Monday afternoon. “We let the cars and everything that comes from France pass,” Franck Sander, president of the local branch of the powerful FDSEA union said, adding that more than a thousand agricultural workers were taking part in the roadblocks. A dozen trucks have been forced to turn back at the border since the blockage started at about 10pm on Sunday night.

Meanwhile, about 100 farmers ransacked dozens of trucks from Spain on a highway in the south-western Haute-Garonne region, threatening to unload any meat or fruit destined for the French market. They used 10 tractors to block the A645 motorway, not far from the Spanish border, causing traffic jams that stretched up to four kilometres, Guillaume Darrouy, secretary general of the Young Farmers of Haute-Garonne, told AFP. The action comes after a week that has seen farmers block cities, roads and tourist sites across France in protest at falling food prices, which they blame on foreign competition, as well as supermarkets and distributors. Farmers have dumped manure in cities, blocked access roads and motorways and hindered tourists from reaching Mont St-Michel in northern France, one of the country’s most visited sites.

Fearful of France’s powerful agricultural lobby, the government on Wednesday unveiled an emergency package worth €600m in tax relief and loan guarantees, but the aid has done little to stop the unrest. “The measures announced by the government … none of them deal with the distortion of competition” with farmers from other countries, said Sander, saying French farmers face higher labour costs and quality standards. A combination of factors, including changing dietary habits, slowing Chinese demand and a Russian embargo on western products over Ukraine, has pushed down prices for staples like beef, pork and milk. Paris has estimated that about 10% of farms in France – approximately 22,000 operations – are on the brink of bankruptcy with a combined debt of €1bn.

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“The problem is that without work you stop living, you can’t start a family, you can’t have kids..”

The Italian Job Market Is So Bad That Workers Are Giving Up in Droves

Seven years of economic setbacks can break one’s spirit. At least that seems to be the case in Italy, where many unemployed are losing hope of finding a job The International Labour Organization gives unemployment status only to people who made at least one job-seeking effort in the last 30 days. According to the European Union’s statistics agency, almost 4.5 million Italians who are willing to work failed to make such an effort in the first quarter. That’s the most since the series started in 1998. For every 100 working Italians there are 15 persons seeking a job and another 20 willing to work but not actively searching, the highest level among the 28 EU countries, according to statistics agency Eurostat.

Driven by survival necessity, Greeks are much more active compared to Italians, with a willing-to-work-but-not-seeking aggregate totaling only 3.1 percent of the extended labor force. That compares with 15 percent of Italians, as shown in the following chart, which covers the first three months of 2015. The main reason pushing up the Italian number seems to be discouragement: after seeking and not finding work, many Italians lose hope of securing a decent occupation and retreat toward family tasks or activities in the informal economy. Italy surpasses formerly communist Bulgaria in this discouragement tendency while Danes are the least discouraged based on numbers for 2014, the most recent figures available for this category.

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Spain is getting set to boil.

Spain Mayors Spin Tale of Two Cities With Anti-Austerity Stance (Bloomberg)

Ruling Madrid and Barcelona is a tale of two cities as their new mayors forge their own styles of government even though both emerged from the same anti-austerity movement as Podemos. In Barcelona, Ada Colau has frozen hotel openings in a bid to prevent the city from becoming overrun by hordes that afflict tourist hot spots like Venice. In Madrid, Manuela Carmena has ruled out a plan put forward by her own finance chief to levy a charge on visitors to the city and has said she welcomes investment in tourism.
Colau and Carmena swept to power in Spain’s two biggest cities in local elections held in May as voters gave their verdict on three years of austerity imposed by the pro-business People’s Party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The way they run their cities will help investors parse the political climate in Spain, with polls showing that Podemos, an ally of Greece’s Syriza, may have a chance to shape national policy after general elections due by the end of the year. “A leader needs to be an example to follow to all,” Ismael Clemente, CEO of Merlin Properties, Spain’s largest real estate trust, said in Madrid. “We met with some of Carmena’s team and they were open minded, ready to listen and reasonable.” Colau, 41, who rose to prominence in Spain leading protests against evictions, won power as head of the Barcelona en Comu movement which includes Podemos. Podemos also backed the Ahora Madrid campaign of Carmena, a 71-year-old labor-rights lawyer, who ended 24 years of rule by Rajoy’s PP in the capital.

With the general election set to redraw Spain’s political map and Greece ravaged by Syriza’s failed attempt to overturn European austerity demands, the paths taken by Madrid and Barcelona may have ramifications for the rest of Europe. Both cities are under scrutiny from voters as the nation prepares to go to the polls, Antonio Barroso at Teneo Intelligence, said by phone. Colau’s decree freezing new investment threatens projects including the conversion for hotel use of the Agbar Tower operated by Hyatt Hotels and Deutsche Bank’s headquarters in the upscale Passeig de Gracia avenue. She said in a June 1 interview with El Pais that she wanted to put a moratorium on new hotels and tourist apartments to stop mass tourism getting out of control.

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Not his job.

Draghi Sets Sights On Reviving Economy With Greece On Back Seat (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi can take a break from being a full-time Greek crisis firefighter and get back to the job of fostering economic recovery across the euro area. Although the 19-nation currency bloc has avoided losing a member and the market upheaval that might have entailed, reports this week will probably show the economy is hardly firing on all cylinders. Three years after Draghi promised to do “whatever it takes” to keep the union together, the ECB has its work cut out to speed up the pace of growth and inflation. A weaker euro and the ECB’s quantitative-easing program are helping the economy find its feet, with the second quarter forecast to show a ninth quarter of expansion. Consumer-price growth remains too low, however, and unemployment, particularly in southern European states, is stubbornly high.

“The Greek issue moves from page 1 to 2 or 3 in the minds of traders and economists,” said Holger Sandte, chief European analyst at Nordea in Copenhagen. “Now attention turns to more classic macro style things.” The euro-area jobless rate was little changed at 11% in June, while inflation held at 0.2% in July, according to surveys of economists before data this week. Economic confidence probably dipped this month, as did Germany’s Ifo business climate index. Due at 10 a.m. Frankfurt time, economists predict it fell to a five-month low of 107.2 from 107.4. The euro-area economy maintained its growth at the start of the third quarter, weathering strains on confidence from the crisis in Greece, judging by a closely watched manufacturing and services index.

Still, that barometer also showed German factory growth weakened, with exports falling for the first time in six months. In France, manufacturing has shrunk in all but one of the last 15 months. “It’s better but not good — we are improving from an extremely low level and have awful lot of catch-up to do,” especially on investment spending, said David Milleker, chief economist at Union Investment Privatfonds GmbH in Frankfurt. The ECB sees the economy growing 1.5% this year, picking up to 1.9% in 2016. Price growth will be almost non-existent this year, at 0.3%, though the ECB expects its bond buying to help push that to 1.5% in 2016.

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Commodity currencies.

What Does Australia Have in Common With Colombia and Russia? (Bloomberg)

Australia’s currency has had one of the most rapid depreciations of its real exchange rate, only beaten by a ragged bunch of troubled economies. Kieran Davies of Barclays Plc estimates that the Aussie’s 16% fall from 2013 to the end of the second quarter is the fastest after Colombia — where growth has halved; Russia, which is in recession; Brazil, which is also in a slump, and Japan. All these economies bar Japan are struggling with plunging oil and commodity prices as China’s economy slows. “Excluding the brief fall at the worst point of the global financial crisis, this is the lowest level since 2007” for the Australian dollar, said Davies, chief economist at Barclays in Australia, who reckons the real exchange rate has fallen a further 3% so far this quarter.

The depreciation should add half a %age point to growth this year and next, he said. Still, Davies, using the Reserve Bank of Australia’s fair value model, estimates the real exchange rate remains 6% overvalued this quarter given the larger fall in commodity prices over the period. The central bank’s own commodity price index has dropped 37% since the start of 2013 in U.S. dollar terms. As a result, he thinks the RBA is unlikely to alter its negative language on the currency. “I think they’d be comfortable with it still going lower,” said Davies, a former Treasury official. “Sometimes the RBA has dropped the reference to the currency drop being necessary and the market’s read too much into it and the RBA has then had to backtrack.”

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TEXT

Oil Groups Have Shelved $200 Billion In New Projects As Low Prices Bite (FT)

The world’s big energy groups have shelved $200bn of spending on new projects in an urgent round of cost-cutting aimed at protecting investors’ dividends as the oil price slumps for a second time this year. The sell-off in oil has been matched by a broader slump in copper, gold and other raw materials, pushing the Bloomberg commodities index to a six-year low over concerns of weaker Chinese growth and rising supplies across the board. The plunge in crude prices since last summer has resulted in the deferral of 46 big oil and gas projects with 20bn barrels of oil equivalent in reserves — more than Mexico’s entire proven holdings — according to consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

Among companies postponing big production plans while they wait for costs to come down are UK-listed BP, Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell, US-based Chevron, Norway’s Statoil, and Australia’s Woodside Petroleum. Research from Rystad Energy, a Norwegian consultancy, found in May that $118bn of projects had been put on hold, but the Wood Mackenzie study shows the toll is now much greater. The decline in Brent crude, which has more than halved in the past year, was triggered by Opec’s decision not to cut output in the face of a US supply glut and weaker than expected demand. After stabilising in March, oil prices have faced renewed pressure, with Brent falling below $55 a barrel this month — a 20% decline from a five-month high reached in early May.

More than half the reserves put on hold lie thousands of feet under the sea, including in the Gulf of Mexico and off west Africa, where the technical demands of extracting crude and earlier inflation have pushed up the cost of projects. Deepwater drilling rigs cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a day to hire and these projects could yet proceed if contractors’ costs fall far enough. Canada is the biggest single region affected, with the development of some 5.6bn barrels of reserves, almost all oil sands, having been deferred.

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