Dec 212016
 
 December 21, 2016  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Laurits Andersen Ring At Breakfast 1898

Most Expensive Housing Ever: A 1% Mortgage Rate Surge Changes Everything (MH)
This Christmas Americans Will Spend An Average Of $422 Per Child (EC)
Ray Dalio Says Animal Spirits Under Donald Trump Just Getting Started (F.)
Someone Has to Tell The Fed Inflation Is Not Accelerating (CEPR)
Brace Yourself For Italy’s Bankruptcy (Gavekal)
Italy Bank Rescue Won’t Fill $54 Billion Hole in Balance Sheets (BBG)
Top French Banks Sue ECB To Reduce Capital Demands (R.)
Spanish Banks Lose EU Case on Mortgage Interest Repayments (BBG)
India’s Small Businesses Facing ‘Apocalypse’ (G.)
Let The Yuan Fall Or Not? Beijing’s Big Burning Currency Question (SCMP)
Yuan Bears Strike as Capital Outflows Override PBOC (BBG)
To Problems With China’s Financial System, Add the Bond Market (NYT)
China’s Anticorruption Drive Ensnares the Lowly and Rattles Families (WSJ)
Smog Refugees Flee Chinese Cities As ‘Airpocalypse’ Blights Half A Billion (G.)
Obama Invokes 1953 Law To Indefinitely Block Arctic, Atlantic Drilling (CNBC)

 

 

Income vs prices has never been more expensive. There’s much more in Hanson’s article.

Most Expensive Housing Ever: A 1% Mortgage Rate Surge Changes Everything (MH)

BUILDER HOUSES: The average $361k builder house requires nearly $65k in income assuming a 4.5% rate, 20% down, and A-grade credit. Problem is, 20% + A-credit are hard to come by. For buyers with less down or worse credit, far more than $65k is needed. For the past 30-YEARS income required to buy the average priced house has remained relatively consistent, as mortgage rate credit manipulation made houses cheaper. Bottom line: Reversion to the mean can occur through house price declines, credit easing, a mortgage rate plunge to the high 2%’s, or a combination of all three. However, because rates are still historically low and mortgage guidelines historically easy, the path of least resistance is lower house prices.

The following chart compares Bubble 1.0 (2004 and 2006) to Bubble 2.0 on an apples-to-apples basis using the popular loan programs of each era. Bottom line: Builder prices are up 19% from 2006 but the monthly payment is 43% greater and annual income needed to qualify for a mortgage 83% more.

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‘T is the season to be plastic.

This Christmas Americans Will Spend An Average Of $422 Per Child (EC)

For many Americans, the quality of Christmas is determined by the quality of the presents. This is especially true for our children, and some of them literally spend months anticipating their haul on Christmas morning. I know that when I was growing up Christmas was all about the presents. Yes, adults would give lip service to the other elements of Christmas, but all of the other holiday activities could have faded away and it still would have been Christmas as long as presents were under that tree on the morning of December 25th. Perhaps things are different in your family, but it is undeniable that for our society as a whole gifts are the central feature of the holiday season. And that is why so many parents feel such immense pressure to spend a tremendous amount of money on gifts for their children each year.

Of course this pressure that they feel is constantly being reinforced by television ads and big Hollywood movies that continuously hammer home what a “good Christmas” should look like. Once again in 2016, parents will spend far more money than they should because they want to make their children happy. According to a brand new survey from T. Rowe Price, parents in the United States will spend an average of 422 dollars per child this holiday season… “More than half of parents report they aim to get everything on their kids’ wish lists this year, spending an average of $422 per child, according to a new survey from T. Rowe Price.” To me, that seems like a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a single child, but this is apparently what people are doing.

But can most families really afford to be spending so wildly? Of course not. As I have detailed previously, 69% of all Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. That means that about two-thirds of the country is essentially living paycheck to paycheck. So all of this reckless spending brings with it a lot of additional financial pressure. But because we are a “buy now, pay later” society, we do it anyway. We are willing to mortgage a little bit of the future in order to have a nice Christmas now. Another new survey has found that close to half the country feels “pressure to spend more than they can afford during the holiday season”…

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Possible only -beyond short term- with Fed money. Animal spirits sounds cute, but all investors have is money based on ultra cheap rates.

Ray Dalio Says Animal Spirits Under Donald Trump Just Getting Started (F.)

During the dark days of the financial crisis Ray Dalio, head of the world’s largest hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, published papers and YouTube seminars to describe the forces that drive the economy and explain why severe cycles like the credit collapse occur. The effort was intended to guide productive responses to the implosion of Wall Street, which crippled Main Street, and avert policies that could diminish a recovery. With the Dow Jones Industrial Average nearing a record 20,000, unemployment below 5% and the U.S. economy in the seventh year of a recovery, Dalio’s tomes on ‘how the economic machine works’ aren’t as top of mind as they once were. But that’s not to say Dalio, one of Wall Street’s weightiest hedge fund investors, has lost interest in the subject.

On Tuesday morning, Dalio published a monthly update that indicates he believes the U.S. economy is poised for a sudden and dramatic shift under President-elect Donald Trump. If the economic machine is presently churning along in a steady but somewhat muted recovery from the Great Recession, Dalio believes it may kick into overdrive as Trump implements a pro-business agenda that could stimulate the animal spirits of investors and businesses across United States. “[T]he Trump administration could have a much bigger impact on the US economy than one would calculate on the basis of changes in tax and spending policies alone because it could ignite animal spirits and attract productive capital,” Dalio states in a post published to LinkedIn. He adds, “regarding igniting animal spirits, if this administration can spark a virtuous cycle in which people can make money, the move out of cash (that pays them virtually nothing) to risk-on investments could be huge.”

Dalio believes Trump has staffed his administration with business-people who will be inclined to take quick action on perceived drags on the economy, whether that involves taxation, regulation or labor laws. What’s also clear is Dalio believes there are presently major impediments to the economy that need to be lifted. “This new administration hates weak, unproductive, socialist people and policies, and it admires strong, can-do, profit makers,” says Dalio. The Trump administration “wants to, and probably will, shift the environment from one that makes profit makers villains with limited power to one that makes them heroes with significant power,” he adds [..] “A pro-business US with its rule of law, political stability, property rights protections, and (soon to be) favorable corporate taxes offers a uniquely attractive environment for those who make money and/or have money. These policies will also have shocking negative impacts on certain sectors,” Dalio says, without describing in more detail the winners and losers.

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The ongoing confusions about what inflation is. One key rule: if spending doesn’t rise, and by a lot, there will be no inflation. There may be higher prices for some things, but that’s not the same. And where could higher spending come from when 2/3 of Americans don’t even have $1000 saved for an emergency?

Someone Has to Tell The Fed Inflation Is Not Accelerating (CEPR)

The Federal Reserve Board raised interest rates last week and seem poised to do so again in the not distant future. The rationale is that the economy is now near or at full employment and that if job growth continues at its recent pace it will lead to a harmful acceleration in the inflation rate. We have numerous pieces raising serious questions about whether the labor market is really at full employment, noting for example the sharp drop in employment rates (for all groups) from pre-recession levels and the high rate of involuntary part-time employment. But the story of accelerating inflation is also not right. This is particularly important, since John Williams, the president of the San Francisco Fed, cited accelerating inflation as a reason to support last week’s rate hike, and possibly future rate hikes, in an interview in the New York Times.

Williams has been a moderate on inflation, so there are many members of the Fed’s Open Market Committee who are more anxious to raise rates than him. A close look at the data does not provide much evidence of accelerating inflation. The core PCE deflator, the Fed’s main measure of inflation, has risen 1.7% over the last year, which is still under the 2.0% target. This target is an average, which means that the Fed should be prepared to allow the inflation rate to rise somewhat above 2.0%, with the idea that inflation will drop in the next recession. Anyhow, the 1.7% rate is slightly higher than a low of 1.3% reached in the third quarter of 2015, but it is exactly the same as the rate we saw in the third quarter of 2014. In other words, there has been zero acceleration in the rate of inflation over the last two years.

Furthermore, even this modest acceleration has been entirely due to the more rapid increase in rent over the last two years. The inflation rate in the core consumer price index, stripped of its shelter component, actually has been falling slightly over the last year. It now stands at 1.1% over the last year. It is reasonable to pull shelter out of the CPI because rents do not follow the same dynamic as most goods and services. In fact, higher interest rates, by reducing construction, are likely to increase the pace of increase in rents rather than reduce them.

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Italy’s banks are about to do the country in.

Brace Yourself For Italy’s Bankruptcy (Gavekal)

Matteo Renzi has joined a long line of Italian prime ministers who failed to “reform” their country. This is another way of saying that he could not wave a magic wand and make Italy competitive with Germany. The grim reality is that no Italian leader stood a chance of changing their country once the fateful decision was made to peg its currency to Germany’s. At the time of the euro’s launch in 1999, I argued that the risk profile of Italy would change from being an economy where there was a high probability of many currency devaluations to the certain probability of eventual bankruptcy. Sadly, that moment is not so far away.

The chart below tells the story of Italy’s recent economic history in two parts, namely, (i) March 1979 to March 1999, and (ii) March 1999 to the present. Italy joined the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1979 at 443 lira per deutschemark, yet by 1990 frequent devaluations meant that rate had slid to about 750 lira. By the early 1990s, the Bundesbank was overseeing a newly unified German monetary system and in order to fight inflation it had driven real interest rates to 7%. By September 1992 the stresses on the system caused the UK, Sweden and Italy to exit the ERM, which meant another huge currency devaluation, pushing the lira as low as 1250 against the deutschemark, but delivering a huge tourist boom to boot.

Still, from 1979 to 1998 Italian industrial production outpaced that of Germany by more than 10%, while Italian equities outperformed German equivalents by 16% (this indicates that Italian firms were earning a higher return on invested capital than those in Germany). Then came the euro. By 2003 it was clear that Italy was uncompetitive and subsequently, Italian equities have underperformed German equities by -65%, reversing the previous half century’s pattern when Italian equities outperformed on a total return basis. Similarly, since 2003 Italian factory output has lagged Germany’s by 40%.

The diagnosis is simply that Italy has become woefully uncompetitive, and as a result, is not solvent. This much is clear from the perilous state of its banking system, which is always the outcome when banks lend to firms that have been rendered uncompetitive by some reckless central banker. Short of imposing Greek-style slavery on Italy, there is not much hope of solving the problem, but I rather doubt that the Italian electorate will be as patient as its neighbours across the Ionian sea.

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Let Beppe Grillo have a go at this. What does Italy have to lose?

Italy Bank Rescue Won’t Fill $54 Billion Hole in Balance Sheets (BBG)

Italian banks need at least €52 billion ($54 billion) to clean up their balance sheets, much more than the rescue package proposed Monday by the government. The shortfall is an estimate of how much lenders would have to increase loan-loss provisions to allow for the sale of bad debt. It includes the 8 billion euros of provisions UniCredit has said it will add before selling €18 billion of its worst loans and uses that ratio as a proxy for the gap at other banks. The total also includes the 5 billion euros Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena has been struggling to raise in recent months. The Italian government asked parliament this week to increase the public borrowing limit by as much as €20 billion to potentially backstop Monte Paschi and other lenders.

The rescue package needs to be closer to €30 billion to solve Italy’s bad-debt crisis, according to Paola Sabbione at Deutsche Bank. That conclusion assumes UniCredit and some other lenders can raise about €20 billion through capital markets, asset sales and profit retention – leaving the government to fill the rest of the €52 billion hole. “Some of the publicly traded banks can probably raise some of the funds needed for a cleanup, including Monte Paschi,” said Sabbione, who has covered Italian banks for the past decade. “So the government would have to plug in the rest. But still, at this level, it won’t do the full job.” UniCredit, the nation’s largest lender, plans to increase loan-loss provisions to 75% for nonperforming loans with the lowest chances of recovery and 40% for two other categories considered less dire.

The increased writedowns will help the Milan-based lender sell about a third of its bad loans to asset manager Fortress Investment. UniCredit is planning to raise €13 billion of new equity funding to cover the increased provisions as well as other restructuring costs and to improve its capital ratio. The company’s shares have jumped 15% since the Dec. 13 announcement, giving analysts confidence the bank will have little trouble tapping investors for the funds. Italian banks had €356 billion of bad loans at the end of June and €165 billion of provisions against them, according to the latest Bank of Italy data. To get the worst category to 75% provisioning and the rest to 40%, as UniCredit is doing, would take €52 billion.

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French banks in turn are heavily into Italian banks. Just like they were into Greek banks, but they dodged that one when their political clout made the EU shift their burden onto the Greek pople. Will Italy let them do the same?

Top French Banks Sue ECB To Reduce Capital Demands (R.)

France’s top lenders are suing the ECB to get an exemption from holding capital against deposits parked with a state-owned fund, the most high-profile challenge to supervision from Frankfurt to date. As well as providing euro zone banks with funding, the ECB has been their main regulator for the past two years, tasked with ending cozy relationships between the industry and national authorities that contributed to the financial crisis. The Frankfurt-based institution has been sued repeatedly over its bond-buying programs and by smaller banks seeking to escape its supervision. But this is the first case brought by major banks in the euro zone and is a rare confrontation between France’s financial elite and the ECB’s supervisory board, led by the former head of France’s own banking regulator, Daniele Nouy.

The lawsuits have been brought by BNP Paribas, Societe Generale, Credit Agricole, Credit Mutuel, Groupe BPCE and La Banque Postale over the past few weeks, filings with the European Court of Justice show. Sources with direct knowledge of the cases told Reuters the banks are protesting the ECB’s demand that they set aside capital against special deposits they have with state investment institution Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations (CDC). The legal action comes amid heightened tension between banks and the ECB, which is inundating the financial sector with excess cash to try to stimulate growth while charging banks for depositing it with the central bank overnight. “You are seeing banks more and more go to court to challenge the supervisor,” a senior legal source said. “Years ago that was unthinkable.”

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So, Italy, France and Spain too, all have severely troubled banks.

Spanish Banks Lose EU Case on Mortgage Interest Repayments (BBG)

Competition watchdogs won a partial victory at the EU’s top court over their attempt to force Spanish banks to pay back millions of euros in tax breaks for the acquisition of stakes in foreign firms, Bloomberg News reports. Lenders, including Banco Popular Espanol SA and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, may have to give back billions of euros to mortgage customers after a ruling by the court.

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Over 6 weeks later, “India’s Reserve Bank has issued around 1.7 billion new notes, with less than one-third the value of what was removed..”

India’s Small Businesses Facing ‘Apocalypse’ (G.)

India’s vast informal economy has been reeling since 8 November, the morning after India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, announced the sudden voiding of the country’s two most-used bank notes. It is the largest-scale financial experiment in Indian history: gutting 14 trillion rupees – 86% of the currency in circulation – from the most cash-dependent major economy in the world. More than a month on, India’s Reserve Bank has issued around 1.7 billion new notes, with less than one-third the value of what was removed. The sixth-largest economy in the world is running on 60% less currency than before. Lines outside banks continue to stretch, and India’s small business lobby says its members are facing an “apocalypse”. But Modi insists he isn’t done.

Initially intended to flush out the “black money” said to be hoarded by elites and criminals, the government now frames demonetisation as the first step in a “cashless” revolution to shift the billions of transactions undertaken each day in India online – and onto the radar of tax authorities. This week, labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya announced it would soon be mandatory for employers to pay their staff into bank accounts, a hugely ambitious step in a country where as many as 90% of workers are paid in cash. Already struggling, businessmen such as Sharma are dreading the prospect of more enforced digital migration. “How do you think I can pay the workers with a cheque if they don’t have a bank account?” he asks, in a tiny office thick with incense smoke. “And it takes three days to clear a cheque. What will they eat during those days?”

His reasons are not just altruistic. Apart from potentially raising his tax bill – in a country where just 1% pay income tax – paying salaries electronically would mean giving staff Delhi’s mandated minimum wage, currently 9,724 rupees (£114) per month for unskilled workers. “Right now no one pays the minimum wage that the government decides,” Sharma says. “It will only make things expensive: we will charge the customer.” Outside his workers’ earshot, he adds: “If someone is doing the work of Rs.2000, why should we pay them Rs.15,000?” But workers too are wary of the big push online. Tens of millions of Indians have been given zero-deposit bank accounts in the past two years under a government scheme to boost financial inclusion. But even after demonetisation prompted a rush of new deposits, 23% of the accounts still lie empty.

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Stuck. A large depreciation would be too costly, but keeping it high would eat up foreign reserves.

Let The Yuan Fall Or Not? Beijing’s Big Burning Currency Question (SCMP)

As the Chinese yuan keeps weakening against the dollar, a question is becoming acute for Beijing: should China let the market take its course and permit a deep currency fall or should it keep burning its foreign exchange reserves to support the currency’s value? The debate over what Beijing should do about its currency is heating up as regulators’ ambiguity over the question is becoming costly and unsustainable, particularly since the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. Against Beijing’s desire for a “controllable” depreciation, the government is losing control over capital flight, depleting foreign exchange reserve stockpile at an alarming speed, and failing to convince investors that there is “no fundamental basis for the continuous depreciation”.

Yu Yongding, a renowned Chinese economist who sat on the central bank’s monetary policy committee when the yuan was revalued in July 2005, said it was time for Beijing to reconsider the matter. “The fear of the yuan’s depreciation has become a burden for us,” Yu told a forum over the weekend. Yu, who for years has called for liberalizing the yuan’s exchange rate over years, said China should give up foreign exchange interventions and safeguard its foreign exchange reserves so that China will “have sufficient ammunition” for future rainy days. While Yu’s view is not in line with Beijing’s current policy, it is winning academic support. Xu Sitao, the China chief economist at Deloitte, an auditing firm, said “the best strategy is to let the yuan fall in full, and the worst strategy is slowly depleting foreign exchange reserves”.

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“The currency is facing a triple whammy of accelerating capital outflows, faster U.S. interest-rate increases and concerns over domestic financial markets..”

Yuan Bears Strike as Capital Outflows Override PBOC (BBG)

China’s renewed efforts to curb declines in its currency are doing little to dissuade yuan bears. Traders have turned increasingly negative amid tighter liquidity, sending bets for further losses soaring. The gap between forward contracts wagering on the offshore yuan a year from now versus its current level is heading for a record monthly jump, just as the extra cost for options to sell the currency against the dollar hit a six-month high relative to prices for contracts to buy. The currency is facing a triple whammy of accelerating capital outflows, faster U.S. interest-rate increases and concerns over domestic financial markets as liquidity tightens.

Strategists say its weakening, set to be the biggest this year in more than two decades, may accelerate as the government restores the annual quota for citizens to convert yuan holdings into foreign exchange. President-elect Donald Trump has also threatened to slap 45% tariffs on China’s imports to the U.S. “Bears are adding positions because expectations for the yuan to depreciate are getting stronger and stronger,” said Larry Hu, head of China economics at Macquarie Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong. “The pressures will likely continue and could get even worse, considering capital outflows and concerns on the reset of individuals’ conversion quota.”

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..in China, state-run banks are by far the main source of funding. Shadow banks.

To Problems With China’s Financial System, Add the Bond Market (NYT)

Chinese officials cheered on the country’s stock market when it reached heady new highs, offering hope that it could become a new source of money to fix China’s economic problems. Then, last year, the market crashed. Now another fast-growing part of China’s vast and increasingly complicated financial market is showing signs of distress: its $9 trillion bond market. Prices for government and corporate bonds have tumbled over the past week, a sell-off that continued on Tuesday. The situation has spooked investors, prompting the government to temporarily restrain some trading and to make emergency loans to struggling financial institutions. The price drops have resulted in higher borrowing costs at a time when more Chinese companies need the money to cope with slowing economic growth. Yields reached new highs again on Tuesday.

In part, China is reacting to financial shifts across the globe. With the Federal Reserve raising short-term interest rates and many expecting the presidency of Donald J. Trump to lead to heavier government spending, investors worldwide are selling bonds. But China is struggling with its own balancing act. The Chinese bond slump also stems from Beijing’s efforts to wring excess money from its financial system and to stop potential bubbles that may lurk in shadowy, hard-to-track corners of its economy. Should it continue with those efforts, bonds could fall further. “The adjustment has not yet finished,” said Miao Zuoxing, a partner at the FXM Brothers Fund. “It will continue and normalize until money is put where the government can see it.”

[..] China has particular reason to worry. As the world’s second-largest economy, after the United States, it relies on a rickety financial system that is mired in debt and susceptible to hidden stresses. Higher overseas interest rates could also prompt more Chinese investors to move their money out of the country, either to chase higher returns elsewhere or to avoid what some see as China’s growing problems. In the mature financial system of the United States, businesses have plenty of ways to get money. They can borrow from a bank, raise money selling stocks or bonds, or seek funds directly from any number of investors.

But in China, state-run banks are by far the main source of funding. That helped power the country’s economic rise, but it also led to loans going to politically connected borrowers rather than to where the economy needed it most. That is one reason the Chinese economy is now stuck with more steel, glass, cement and auto factories than it needs. Particularly in the past two years, China has taken steps to encourage the development of robust stock and bond markets as well as private lenders, needing a way to ensure the flow of money was being directed by profit-minded investors rather than politicians and their allies at state-owned banks.

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Heavy fisted. It’s all history has taught.

China’s Anticorruption Drive Ensnares the Lowly and Rattles Families (WSJ)

When Liu Chongfu returned home to his pig farm in December 2014 after months in detention, he was haunted by what he had done. Under interrogation, he later told his family, he falsely admitted to bribing government officials. Back home, released without being charged, Mr. Liu had nightmares and splitting headaches. His conscience weighed on him, his family said. So he publicly recanted in March 2015. In a written statement sent to the court, he said interrogators had deprived him of sleep and threatened his family to extract a phony confession that helped send four other men to prison. In his statement, also posted online, he said he lied “because they forced me to where there was no other way than death. I didn’t want to die.”

President Xi Jinping has called his anticorruption campaign, one of the leader’s defining initiatives, a “life or death” matter. It is among the most popular elements of his administration, given how corruption has been endemic in China and how it threatens to undermine confidence in Communist Party control. Since the campaign began in 2013, its reach has allowed Mr. Xi to root out resistance to his rule and secure party control over a society that is more prosperous and demanding. Mr. Liu’s confession and retraction suggest a dark side to Mr. Xi’s efforts. Families around China say overzealous authorities have forced confessions, tortured suspects and made improper convictions.

The farmer tried to retract his confession before, while still in detention. “I cannot violate my conscience to do this,” he told his interrogators, according to his statement, a transcript of a video he made with his lawyer. He knew it would send innocent officials to jail, he said, and that “the real tragedy is still to follow.” The four were convicted anyway.

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“I finally saw the blue sky. It was wonderful!”

Smog Refugees Flee Chinese Cities As ‘Airpocalypse’ Blights Half A Billion (G.)

Tens of thousands of “smog refugees” have reportedly fled China’s pollution-stricken north after the country was hit by its latest “airpocalyse” forcing almost half a billion people to live under a blanket of toxic fumes. Huge swaths of north and central China have been living under a pollution “red alert” since last Friday when a dangerous cocktail of pollutants transformed the skies into a yellow and charcoal-tinted haze. Greenpeace claimed the calamity had affected a population equivalent to those of the United States, Canada and Mexico combined with some 460m people having to breathe either hazardous pollution or heavy levels of smog in recent days.

Lauri Myllyvirta, a Beijing-based Greenpeace activist who has been chronicling the red alert on Twitter, said that in an attempt to shield his lungs he was avoiding going outside and using two air purifiers and an industrial grade dust mask “that makes me look like Darth Vader”. “You just try to insulate yourself from the air as much as possible,” said Myllyvirta, a coal and air pollution expert. Others have simply opted to flee. According to reports in the Chinese media, flights to some pollution-free regions have been packed as a result of the smog. Ctrip, China’s leading online travel agent, said it expected 150,000 travellers to head abroad this month in a bid to outrun the smog. Top destinations include Australia, Indonesia, Japan and the Maldives.

Jiang Aoshuang, one of Beijing’s “smog refugees”, told the state-run Global Times she had skipped town with her husband and 10-year-old son in order to spare their lungs. Jiang’s family made for Chongli, a smog-free ski resort about three hours north-west of the capital, only to find it packed with other fugitives seeking sanctuary from the pollution. “It really felt like a refugee camp,” she was quoted as saying. Yang Xinglin, who also fled to Chongli, said she had requested time off from her job at a state-owned real estate firm so she did not have to inhale the smog. “You ask me why I left Beijing? It’s because I want to live,” Yang, 27, told the Guardian.

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But why in the last few days of an 8-year term?

Obama Invokes 1953 Law To Indefinitely Block Arctic, Atlantic Drilling (CNBC)

President Barack Obama on Tuesday moved to indefinitely block drilling in vast swaths of U.S. waters. The president had been expected to take the action by invoking a provision in a 1953 law that governs offshore leases, as CNBC previously reported. The law allows a president to withdraw any currently unleased lands in the Outer Continental Shelf from future lease sales. There is no provision in the law that allows the executive’s successor to repeal the decision, so President-elect Donald Trump would not be able to easily brush aside the action. Trump has vowed to open more federal land to oil and natural gas production in a bid to boost U.S. output. Obama on Tuesday said he would designate “the bulk of our Arctic water and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean as indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas leasing, though the prospects for drilling in the affected areas in the near future were already questionable.

The lands covered include the bulk of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in the Arctic and 31 underwater canyons in the Atlantic. The United States and Canada also announced they will identify sustainable shipping lanes through their connected Arctic waters. Canada on Tuesday also imposed a five-year ban on all oil and gas drilling licensing in the Canadian Arctic. The moratorium will be reviewed every five years. “These actions, and Canada’s parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth,” Obama said in a statement. “They reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited.”

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Oct 262016
 
 October 26, 2016  Posted by at 9:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle October 26 2016
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Dorothea Lange Depression refugee family from Tulsa, Oklahoma 1936

The Euro Has Been A Disaster For Southern European Production (Gefira)
Washington: Don’t Think It’s Over When Trump Loses (Steve Keen)
213 North American Oil Industry Companies Have Now Declared Bankruptcy (FF)
China Tightens Capital Controls Amid Yuan’s Continuing Slide (Nikkei)
London House Prices Forecast to Plunge as Brexit Chokes Market (BBG)
AT&T Is Spying On Americans For Profit (DB)
The US Is Currently Bombing Seven Countries (PF)
Trump Says Clinton Policy On Syria Would Lead To World War Three (R.)
Most Americans Do Not Feel Represented By Democrats Or Republicans (G.)
The Biggest F*ck Ever Recorded In Human History (Michael Moore)
Antarctic Glaciers Are Melting at a ‘Staggering’ Rate (Gizm.)

 

 

Why it has to stop. Or rather, why it will be stopped.

The Euro Has Been A Disaster For Southern European Production (Gefira)

Some say that the common currency prevents less productive economies from cheating by weakening their national currencies and forces them to become more efficient and competitive. Industrial production data shows that it is not the case. Italy, France, Greece and Portugal have not only stopped producing more; they are producing now less than in 1990! The decay started immediately after the introduction of the euro in 2002! The OECD industrial production data analysis leads to the following conclusions: 1. since 1990 industrial production (manufacturing and construction included) has been growing in volume at large, even in the most developed countries; 2. the disproportion between industrial output in Germany and two other biggest euroarea economies, Italy and France, occurred already just after the 2001-2002 crisis; 3. Southern Europe’s economies have lost their ability to rebound in industrial production alongside the adoption of the euro.

1. Industrial output can increase In most of the most developed countries in the world industrial production has grown in volume since 1990, although a great deal of manufacturing capacities have been moved from the West to the emerging markets. Moreover, in countries like the USA, Israel, Switzerland, Austria and Germany the output has surpassed the 2008 pre-crisis levels. However, if we take a look at the euroarea or the Group of Seven (G7), then numbers are still lower than in 2008 but definitely higher than in 1990.

2. The euroarea has a problem A closer look at the European industrial production numbers gives a clear signal: something bad has happened after 2000. Before the introduction of euro, production trends ran more or less in the same direction. Meanwhile after the 2001-2002 crisis, French and Italian output did not rebound, while production in Germany expanded enormously and was able to reach the 2008 level quickly after the last crisis. Industry in France and Italy not only has not rebounded but also has started to curb.

3. Southern Europe will not rebound with the euro
Countries with a sovereign currency can easily build up their economies because of one simple mechanism: depreciation. A relatively strong currency (strong in comparison to the economic condition) would not have to be a problem for Italy or Greece if there still were some capacities for more debt. Then internal consumption could prop up industrial production. But Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal have had neither a weak sovereign currency nor the possibility of incurring more debt.

Industry is very important for the economy, as it creates jobs and innovations. The euroarea in the current form is preventing Southern Europe’s industry from developing because of a different type of economy there. “Roman” economies are not worse than than Germany’s. They just need other tools, so restricting all these various economies in the German fashion will destroy the euro as well as the European unity.

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Steve Keen on which employment numbers are actually relevant. Curious to see how many people think Hillary’s got it in the bag. As an example, here’s a Bloomberg poll that just came out:

Washington: Don’t Think It’s Over When Trump Loses (Steve Keen)

Trump’s fans certainly have their “dark fantasies”, but Washington and Krugman have a “bright fantasy” if they believe that unemployment is genuinely low. My favourite and unimpeachable proof that this is false is an easily-obtained data series: the percentage of Americans aged 25-54 who have a job. While the “Unemployment Rate” is back within half a per cent of its pre-crisis low, the percentage of Americans aged 25-54 who have a job today is 2% lower than it was before the crisis. Perhaps an even more important fact that explains the anger behind Trump (and Sanders too, before he was eliminated by the Democratic Party’s peculiar primary process) is that the employment rate actually peaked in 2000, and even after this recovery, it is still 4% lower than in 2000 (78% today versus 82% in 2000).

What that means in terms of people with jobs is even more telling. The number of people aged 25-54 with a job in the USA peaked at 104.7 million in December 2007. It bottomed at 100.3 million in October 2013, and as of February 2015 (the most recent data) it was 101.2 million. So when Washington is talking about achieving “full employment” again, there are still more than 3 million less people employed today than in 2007. Demographic change has caused this segment of the population to decline since December 2007—from 126 million then to 125 million in February 2015—but that still means 2 million more people are unemployed today than in 2007. So if you look at the unemployment rate, everything is wonderful. That seems to be what Washington insiders—all with well-paying jobs—are doing. But if you look at the employment rate, the economy is still in the doldrums. Which series is telling the truth about the US economy?

The employment to population ratio is telling the truth, because it’s derived by asking employers how many people they have on their payroll. The unemployment rate, on the other hand, lies about the real level of unemployment, because it is derived by asking individuals whether they fulfil a number of criteria, including whether they have looked for a job in the last 4 weeks. The employment ratio accurately tells you the number of people receiving a salary; the unemployment ratio does not accurately tell you who is not receiving one. It’s no comfort to someone not receiving a salary to be told that they are not also unemployed, according to the official definition. Their justified reaction is to tell the “official definition” what to do with itself.

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A few billion here and a few billion there in debt.

213 North American Oil Industry Companies Have Now Declared Bankruptcy (FF)

Fewer and fewer oil exploration and production companies are declaring bankruptcy. But more oilfield service companies are. So far this month, only one North American E&P firm filed for Chapter 11 protection, according to data released on Tuesday by the Dallas law firm Haynes & Boone. That’s down from two in September, three in August and four in July. But it’s been an especially tough few months for service companies. As crude prices began crashing in 2014, drillers started idling rigs. That led to fewer jobs for the companies that make their money helping producers pump oil and gas. Moreover, when producers did hire service companies, they often forced them to heavily discount their rates.

Eight service companies filed this month. Seven filed last month, and eight again the month before. Almost 50 have filed in the last six months, half of the 108 over two years. In total, 213 North American oil and gas companies have now filed for bankruptcy since the start of 2015, listing more than $85 billion in debt. The most recent exploration firm: the private oil and gas company Mountain Divide, based in Montana, filed on Oct. 14, and listed $83 million in debt. On the oilfield services side, Houston-based Key Energy Services filed on Monday, with more than $1 billion in debt. And Basic Energy Services, headquartered in Fort Worth, said Monday it had reached an agreement with debt holders to file by Tuesday.

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While at the same time letting Chinese foreign purchases escalate.

China Tightens Capital Controls Amid Yuan’s Continuing Slide (Nikkei)

China has toughened restrictions on capital flows to prevent a negative feedback loop between a weakening yuan and capital flight. The State Administration of Foreign Exchange has introduced new capital measures in areas such as Shanghai and Guangzhou since the beginning of autumn, asking foreign and regional banks to cap the amount of foreign currency they will sell to customers during 2016. These limits, though ostensibly up to banks’ discretion, are set by negotiation with authorities and so are essentially directed by the government, a financial sector source said. A gag order has been imposed surrounding the measures, the source said. Some banks apparently have set steep exchange rates to pre-emptively curb foreign currency sales, a practice that could pose issues for foreign companies in China trying to repatriate earnings, for example.

China’s trade has flagged in recent months, with exports dropping 10% in September from the year-earlier level in dollar terms. The prospect of an interest rate hike in the U.S., meanwhile, has market players expecting further declines in the yuan’s value. Stashing assets abroad, rather than keeping them in China, is increasingly seen as the safer option. This view has led to further selling of the yuan, giving rise to a downward spiral that capital controls aim to break. Both the foreign exchange regulator and the People’s Bank of China have given banks several directives this year to curb outflows and the currency’s slide. Institutions are asked to report on corporate clients’ plans for buying foreign currency. Large fund transfers that involve foreign currency purchases must be explained by the institutions ahead of time. Individuals traveling overseas are asked to make reservations when exchanging money.

The yuan continues to depreciate despite these efforts. The central bank Tuesday set its daily guidance rate for the Chinese currency at 6.77 yuan to the dollar – just a little shy of the 6.82- to 6.83-to-the-dollar range at which the yuan was fixed for nearly two years following the September 2008 financial crisis. At the time, the goal was to prevent the currency from strengthening to stave off an economic slump. The concern now is that the yuan will become weaker and capital will flow out.

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The best thing to could happen in Britain.

London House Prices Forecast to Plunge as Brexit Chokes Market (BBG)

London property prices are set to fall next year as uncertainty about Britain’s exit from the EU damps the U.K. housing market, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research. London, and especially the priciest areas of the capital’s housing market, will be most affected, with prices dropping 5.6% in 2017, according to the consultancy’s predictions. Across the U.K., while property value growth will accelerate to 6.9% in 2016, it’s set to slow to 2.6% next year. “Nervousness and uncertainty are starting to show,” said Kay Daniel Neufeld, an economist at Cebr. “We expect to see house-price growth across the U.K. slowing considerably in the fourth quarter of 2016, a trend that is set to continue in 2017.”

While the housing market was already facing headwinds from tax changes before June’s EU referendum, investors are becoming increasingly nervous about the possibility of a so-called hard Brexit. That could see the U.K. giving up membership of Europe’s single market for goods and services to secure greater control of immigration. Accelerating inflation, increasing unemployment and slowing business investment are all set to weigh on house prices, while curbs on migration and a retreat from the single market could slow demand from international buyers, the Cebr said.

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Wait till we find out what Google does.

AT&T Is Spying On Americans For Profit (DB)

In 2013, Hemisphere was revealed by The New York Times and described only within a Powerpoint presentation made by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Times described it as a “partnership” between AT&T and the U.S. government; the Justice Department said it was an essential, and prudently deployed, counter-narcotics tool. However, AT&T’s own documentation—reported here by The Daily Beast for the first time—shows Hemisphere was used far beyond the war on drugs to include everything from investigations of homicide to Medicaid fraud. Hemisphere isn’t a “partnership” but rather a product AT&T developed, marketed, and sold at a cost of millions of dollars per year to taxpayers.

No warrant is required to make use of the company’s massive trove of data, according to AT&T documents, only a promise from law enforcement to not disclose Hemisphere if an investigation using it becomes public. These new revelations come as the company seeks to acquire Time Warner in the face of vocal opposition saying the deal would be bad for consumers. Donald Trump told supporters over the weekend he would kill the acquisition if he’s elected president; Hillary Clinton has urged regulators to scrutinize the deal. While telecommunications companies are legally obligated to hand over records, AT&T appears to have gone much further to make the enterprise profitable, according to ACLU technology policy analyst Christopher Soghoian.

“Companies have to give this data to law enforcement upon request, if they have it. AT&T doesn’t have to data-mine its database to help police come up with new numbers to investigate,” Soghoian said. AT&T has a unique power to extract information from its metadata because it retains so much of it. The company owns more than three-quarters of U.S. landline switches, and the second largest share of the nation’s wireless infrastructure and cellphone towers, behind Verizon. AT&T retains its cell tower data going back to July 2008, longer than other providers. Verizon holds records for a year and Sprint for 18 months, according to a 2011 retention schedule obtained by The Daily Beast.

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Just so you know.

The US Is Currently Bombing Seven Countries (PF)

For this fact check, we wondered if the U.S. is bombing seven countries. That at least has been so: In September 2014, PunditFact rated True a bombed-countries claim by Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker. Lizza referred to President George W. Bush and his successor, Barack Obama, in a tweet that said: “Countries bombed: Obama 7, Bush 4.” At the time, the U.S. on Obama’s watch had bombed Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria. When we asked Stein for her backup information, spokeswoman Meleiza Figueroa pointed out various web posts including a September 2014 CNN news story stating that Obama had ordered air strikes in seven countries through the bulk of his eight years in the office.

[..] The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit news service based at City University London, maintains a running list of U.S. military actions in a number of countries. The bureau annotates each incident with links to press reports. When we looked, the bureau’s accounts by country indicated the latest U.S drone strike in Pakistan occurred in May 2016; the latest strike in Somalia was in September 2016; and the latest U.S. strikes in Yemen and Afghanistan were in October 2016. Separately, we noticed, the Department of Defense said in an Oct. 11, 2016, web post that countries including the U.S. battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, have conducted 15,634 air strikes to date – 10,129 in Iraq, 5,505 in Syria – with the U.S. conducting 6,868 in Iraq and 5,227 in Syria. In a Sept. 30, 2016, post, the U.S. Air Force said attacks from the air have affected ISIL’s “ability to fight and conduct operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.”

Too, in August 2016, the New York Times reported the U.S. had “stepped up a new bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Libya, conducting its first armed drone flights from Jordan to strike militant targets” in Libya’s coastal city of Sirte. That news story quoted Obama saying during a news conference that the airstrikes were critical to helping Libya’s fragile United Nations-backed government to drive Islamic State militants out of Sirte, which the group has controlled since June 2015. Obama promised the air campaign would continue as long as necessary to make sure that the extremist group “does not get a stronghold in Libya,” the newspaper said.

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Trump -rightly- mirrors something I said a few days ago in Ungovernability “..her harsh criticism of Putin raised questions about “how she is going to go back and negotiate with this man who she has made to be so evil,” if she wins the presidency.”

Trump Says Clinton Policy On Syria Would Lead To World War Three (R.)

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said on Tuesday that Democrat Hillary Clinton’s plan for Syria would “lead to World War Three,” because of the potential for conflict with military forces from nuclear-armed Russia. In an interview focused largely on foreign policy, Trump said defeating Islamic State is a higher priority than persuading Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, playing down a long-held goal of U.S. policy. Trump questioned how Clinton would negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin after demonizing him; blamed President Barack Obama for a downturn in U.S. relations with the Philippines under its new president, Rodrigo Duterte; bemoaned a lack of Republican unity behind his candidacy, and said he would easily win the election if the party leaders would support him.

“If we had party unity, we couldn’t lose this election to Hillary Clinton,” he said. On Syria’s civil war, Trump said Clinton could drag the United States into a world war with a more aggressive posture toward resolving the conflict. Clinton has called for the establishment of a no-fly zone and “safe zones” on the ground to protect non-combatants. Some analysts fear that protecting those zones could bring the United States into direct conflict with Russian fighter jets. “What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria,” said Trump as he dined on fried eggs and sausage at his Trump National Doral golf resort. “You’re going to end up in World War Three over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton.”

[..] On Russia, Trump again knocked Clinton’s handling of U.S.-Russian relations while secretary of state and said her harsh criticism of Putin raised questions about “how she is going to go back and negotiate with this man who she has made to be so evil,” if she wins the presidency.

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“Less than half the public (43%) say they have a great deal of confidence that their vote will be counted accurately..”

Most Americans Do Not Feel Represented By Democrats Or Republicans (G.)

As they go to the polls in a historic presidential election, more than six in 10 Americans say neither major political party represents their views any longer, a survey has found. Dissatisfaction with both Democrats and Republicans has risen sharply since 1990, when less than half held that neither reflected their opinions, according to research by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). The seventh annual 2016 American Values Survey was carried out throughout September among a random sample of 2,010 adults in all 50 states. Both party establishments have been rattled by the outsider challenges of Donald Trump, who was successful in winning his party’s nomination, and Bernie Sanders, who was not. In a year that seems ripe for third-party candidates, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Jill Stein of the Green party are seeking to capitalise but have fallen back in the polls in recent weeks.

61% of survey respondents say neither political party reflects their opinions today, while 38% disagree. 77% of independents and a majority (54%) of Republicans took this position, while less than half (46%) of Democrats agree. There was virtually no variation across class or race. Both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican standard bearer Trump continue to suffer historically low favourability ratings, with less than half of the public viewing each candidate positively (41% v 33%). Clinton is viewed less favourably than the Democratic party (49%), but Trump’s low rating is more consistent with the Republican party’s own favourability (36%).

The discontent with parties and candidates extends to the electoral process itself, which Trump claims is rigged against him. Less than half the public (43%) say they have a great deal of confidence that their vote will be counted accurately, while 38% have some confidence and 17% have hardly any confidence. [..] The PRRI found that pessimism about the direction of the US is significantly higher today (74%) than it was at this time during the 2012 presidential race, when 57% of the public said the country was on the wrong track.

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Slightly confused: I thought he was pro-Hillary?!

The Biggest F*ck Ever Recorded In Human History (Michael Moore)

I know a lot of people in Michigan that are planning to vote for Trump and they don’t necessarily agree with him. They’re not racist or redneck, they’re actually pretty decent people and so after talking to a number of them I wanted to write this. Donald Trump came to the Detroit Economic Club and stood there in front of Ford Motor executives and said “if you close these factories as you’re planning to do in Detroit and build them in Mexico, I’m going to put a 35% tariff on those cars when you send them back and nobody’s going to buy them.” It was an amazing thing to see. No politician, Republican or Democrat, had ever said anything like that to these executives, and it was music to the ears of people in Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – the “Brexit” states.

You live here in Ohio, you know what I’m talking about. Whether Trump means it or not, is kind of irrelevant because he’s saying the things to people who are hurting, and that’s why every beaten-down, nameless, forgotten working stiff who used to be part of what was called the middle class loves Trump. He is the human Molotov Cocktail that they’ve been waiting for; the human hand grande that they can legally throw into the system that stole their lives from them. And on November 8, although they lost their jobs, although they’ve been foreclose on by the bank, next came the divorce and now the wife and kids are gone, the car’s been repoed, they haven’t had a real vacation in years, they’re stuck with the shitty Obamacare bronze plan where you can’t even get a fucking percocet, they’ve essentially lost everything they had except one thing – the one thing that doesn’t cost them a cent and is guaranteed to them by the American constitution: the right to vote.

They might be penniless, they might be homeless, they might be fucked over and fucked up it doesn’t matter, because it’s equalized on that day – a millionaire has the same number of votes as the person without a job: one. And there’s more of the former middle class than there are in the millionaire class. So on November 8 the dispossessed will walk into the voting booth, be handed a ballot, close the curtain, and take that lever or felt pen or touchscreen and put a big fucking X in the box by the name of the man who has threatened to upend and overturn the very system that has ruined their lives: Donald J Trump.

They see that the elite who ruined their lives hate Trump. Corporate America hates Trump. Wall Street hates Trump. The career politicians hate Trump. The media hates Trump, after they loved him and created him, and now hate. Thank you media: the enemy of my enemy is who I’m voting for on November 8. Yes, on November 8, you Joe Blow, Steve Blow, Bob Blow, Billy Blow, all the Blows get to go and blow up the whole goddamn system because it’s your right. Trump’s election is going to be the biggest fuck ever recorded in human history and it will feel good.

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“.. like ice cubes rising as a soft drink is poured into a glass.”

Antarctic Glaciers Are Melting at a ‘Staggering’ Rate (Gizm.)

Scientists have long viewed the Amundsen sea embayment as the Achilles heel of West Antarctica, with papers in the 1970s and ‘80s describing it as “uniquely vulnerable,” “unstable,” and the “weak underbelly” of the continent. The fear, then and now, was that warm ocean waters lapping against the foot of the glaciers could cause the ice to pop up off of its rocky floor, like ice cubes rising as a soft drink is poured into a glass. When ice detaches from its so-called “grounding line,” it kickstarts a chain reaction that can trigger a lot of melting. “When water gets between ice and land, it moves quickly, bringing lots of heat in, and melting the ice above it more rapidly,” said Thomas Wagner, the director of NASA’s polar science program. “The Amundsen sea embayment is a place where we know this is happening.”

Indeed, satellite and radar data show that two of West Antarctica’s largest glaciers, Pine Island and Thwaites, have seen their grounding line retreat many miles since 2000, causing fresh water to pour off the ice and into the ocean. This process is so effective that glaciologists recently declared the total collapse of the Amundsen sea embayment—whose glaciers contain enough water to raise global sea levels by four feet—to be “unstoppable.” Here’s the rub: We still have no idea how quickly all of that ice will go, meaning we have no idea whether to prepare for a lot more sea level rise in ten years, in a generation, or at the end of the century. A new study, led by glaciologist Ala Khazendar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, points to ice disappearing sooner rather than later.

For years, NASA has been conducting an airborne campaign called Operation Ice Bridge, flying across sections of our planet’s north and south polar ice sheets and using ground-penetrating radar to measure changes beneath the surface. When Khazendar examined Ice Bridge’s datasets for the Amundsen sea embayment, he realized that NASA flew almost exactly the same path in 2009 that it did in 2002. “This presented an excellent opportunity to look at how ice thickness changed,” he said.

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Oct 072016
 
 October 7, 2016  Posted by at 7:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle October 7 2016
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G. G. Bain Katherine Stinson, “the flying schoolgirl,” Sheepshead Bay Speedway, Brooklyn 1918

IMF, Global Finance Leaders Fret Over Populist Backlash (R.)
Donald Trump Makes History With Zero Major Newspaper Endorsements (Yahoo)
The Great Debt Unwind: US Business Bankruptcies Soar 38% (WS)
Pound Falls 10% In ‘Insane’ Asian Trading Mystery (G.)
California Overtakes UK To Become ‘World’s Fifth Largest Economy (Ind.)
China’s Housing Boom Looks a Lot Like Last Year’s Stocks Bubble (BBG)
Deutsche Bank Mismarked 37 Deals Like Monte Dei Paschi’s (BBG)
14 US Senators Call for Criminal Investigation of Wells Fargo (AP)
Liar Loans Surge in Australia’s Red-Hot Housing Bubble (WS)
Risk and Volatility Cannot be Extinguished (CH Smith)
USA’s Day Of Reckoning – Hidden Secrets Of Money 7 (Mike Maloney)
Why Democracy Rewards Bad People (Mises Inst.)
Marine Le Pen Says EU Responsible For “Monstrous Chaos In Syria” (ZH)
Renzi Must Go If He Loses Italy Referendum, Five Star Rival Says (BBG)
This Greek Grandmother Could Win The Nobel Peace Prize (USA Today)
EU Launches Tough Border Force To Curb Refugee Crisis (AFP)

 

 

Bunch of losers.

IMF, Global Finance Leaders Fret Over Populist Backlash (R.)

World finance leaders on Thursday decried a growing populist backlash against globalization and pledged to take steps to ensure trade and economic integration benefited more people currently left behind. Their comments at the start of the IMF and World Bank fall meetings signaled frustration with persistently low growth rates and the surge of public anger over free trade and other pillars of the global economic system. The meetings are the first since Britain voted in June to leave the EU and U.S. billionaire Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination with a campaign that attacked trade deals.

“More and more, people don’t trust their elites. They don’t trust their economic leaders, and they don’t trust their political leaders,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said during an IMF panel discussion in Washington. “In the UK, everyone from the elites told the people, ‘don’t vote for a Brexit.’ But they did.” Schaeuble said Germany was trying to “hold Europe together” in the face of rising nationalism, and failure to do so would bode poorly for global economic cooperation. Last week, the World Trade Organization slashed its global trade volume growth forecast to the slowest pace since 2007, saying it expected it to rise just 1.7% this year, down from the 2.8% it forecast in April.

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Propaganda works. Until it doesn’t.

Donald Trump Makes History With Zero Major Newspaper Endorsements (Yahoo)

With just a little over a month until election day, Donald Trump has racked up zero major newspaper endorsements, a first for any major party nominee in American history. While newspaper endorsements don’t necessarily change voters’ minds, this year’s barrage of anti-Trump endorsements could actually move the needle come November, experts say. “It’s significant,” Jack Pitney, professor of government at California’s Claremont McKenna College, told TheWrap. “The cumulative effect of all these defections could have an impact on moderate Republicans.” Some conservative papers, which have endorsed Republicans for decades, are now breaking with tradition to endorse Hillary Clinton or, at the very least, urge their readers not to vote for Trump.

Several have taken a stand even at the expense of losing subscribers at a time when newspapers are barely staying afloat. Some papers have received death threats. But for a growing number of newspaper editorial boards, staying on the sidelines is no longer an option. The Dallas Morning News, which has endorsed every Republican nominee since 1940, was so appalled by the idea of a President Trump that it introduced its Clinton endorsement with this caveat: “We don’t come to this decision easily. This newspaper has not recommended a Democrat for the nation’s highest office since before World War II — if you’re counting, that’s more than 75 years and nearly 20 elections.”

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But today’s jobs report will be a big ray of sunshine. It’s election time, don’t you know.

The Great Debt Unwind: US Business Bankruptcies Soar 38% (WS)

Something funny happened on the way to the bank: In August, commercial and industrial loans outstanding at all banks in the US fell for the first time month-to-month since October 2010, which had marked the end of the collapse of credit during the Financial Crisis. In October 2008, the absolute peak of the prior credit bubble, there were $1.59 trillion commercial and industrial loans outstanding. As the Great Recession chewed into the economy, C&I loans plunged. Many of them were cleansed from bank balance sheets via charge-offs. But then the Fed decided what the US needed was more debt to fix the problem of too much debt, thus kicking off what would become the greatest credit bubble in US history. By July 2016, C&I loans had surged to $2.064 trillion, 30% above their prior bubble peak.

But in August, something stopped working: C&I loans actually fell 0.3% to $2.058 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. That translates into an annualized decline of 3.8%, after an uninterrupted six-year spree of often double-digit annualized increases. Note that first month-to-month dip since October 2010. [..] The ugliest credit stories in terms of bonds, according to Standard & Poor’s Distress Ratio, are the doom-and-gloom categories of “Energy” and “Metals, Mining, and Steel.” Next down the line are two consumer-facing industries: brick-and-mortar retailers and restaurants.

But these metrics by credit ratings agencies are based on companies that are big enough to be rated by the ratings agencies and that are able to borrow in the capital markets by issuing bonds. The 18.9 million small businesses in the US and many of the 182,000 medium size businesses don’t qualify for that special treatment. They can only borrow from banks and other sources. And they’re not included in those metrics. But when they go bankrupt, they are included in the overall commercial bankruptcy numbers, and those numbers are getting uglier by the month. In September, US commercial bankruptcy filings soared 38% from a year ago to 3,072, the 11th month in a row of year-over-year increases, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute.

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Just a fat finger, or…? Most of the loss has been recuperated.

Pound Falls 10% In ‘Insane’ Asian Trading Mystery (G.)

A “fat finger” error by a trader or computerised chain reaction was thought responsible as the pound plunged to a new three-decade low during “insane” early trading in Asia on Friday – adding to the huge losses sterling had already suffered amid speculation that Britain is heading for a “hard Brexit”. The pound fell almost 10% at one point to US$1.1378, prompting confusion among traders who were struggling to identify any news or market event that could have been to blame. As the currency recovered to around $1.2415 there was speculation a technical glitch or human error had sparked a rash of computer-driven orders.

“What we had was insane – call it flash crash but the move of this magnitude really tells you how low the currency can really go,” said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst of Think Markets, in a note. “Hard Brexit has haunted the sterling.” [..] The pound has fallen 13% against the dollar since Britain voted in late May to leave the EU, with its losses accelerated after Theresa May announced on Sunday that she would trigger Article 50 by next March, a move that would begin Britain’s formal exit from the EU. Sean Callow, senior currency strategist at Westpac, noted that sterling had been “on a precipice” since May’s declaration in a speech at the Conservative party conference. “I think we’ve underestimated how many people had money positions for a very wishy-washy Brexit, or even none,” he said.

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Falling pound meets bragging rights.

California Overtakes UK To Become ‘World’s Fifth Largest Economy (Ind.)

Kevin de Leon, the leader of the California Senate, has said the state of California is now the fifth largest economy in the world after UK’s vote to leave the EU. His comments came a day after the pound sterling hit a new 31-year low against the dollar as on-going fears over the consequences of a “hard” Brexit spooked traders. Speaking at an event celebrating the tenth anniversary of the California Global Warming solution Act, de Leon said: “As of this morning California is officially the 5th largest economy in the world. “We have created more jobs than the other top two job creators in the US, Florida and Texas, combined,” he added.

Economists tend to be wary of comparing the relative size of economies using volatile market exchange rates, generally preferring to use a Purchasing Power Parity measure which adjusts for differences in local purchasing power. However, according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, California’s GDP in 2015 was $2.46 trillion. This compares to a GDP of $2.36 trillion for the UK in 2016, at the current currency exchange rate of $1.27. In June, the state of California’s GDP surpassed France to become the sixth largest in the world on this measure.

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China can only go from bubble to bubble, or the game is up.

China’s Housing Boom Looks a Lot Like Last Year’s Stocks Bubble (BBG)

Tai Hui is experiencing deja vu. China’s surge in home prices reminds JPMorgan Asset Management’s chief Asia market strategist of last year’s stock market mania. Spiraling leverage and implicit state support are among the common denominators, he says. Shanghai property values jumped 31% in August from a year earlier, the latest data show. In 2015, a 60% rally in the city’s equities through June 12 was followed by a $5 trillion rout. Deutsche Bank warned last month that China’s housing market is in a bubble, while Goldman Sachs said this week it sees growing risks across the real estate industry. Home prices started to take off last year in the wake of the stock market crash after the governments eased curbs on property purchases.

In recent days, cities including Shenzhen have started re-imposing restrictions. “It’s similar to the equity market where if you let things loose, it just runs like a stallion,” said Hui. “And then you have to really rein it back, then it’s like an ice bucket challenge. So you go through this extreme heat and cold. That’s not particularly good for the economy because then you’re going through very aggressive investment cycles.” [..] Home prices started to climb after China eased mortgage policies and down-payment requirements in March 2015 to arrest what was then a slide in prices. New curbs, such as higher deposits to limits on the number of homes people can buy, are proving ineffective given the easy access homebuyers have to leverage, said Wee May Ling at Henderson Global Investors.

Medium and long-term new loans, mostly mortgages, totaled 529 billion yuan ($79 billion) in August, while aggregate financing jumped to 1.47 trillion yuan, helping fuel a 39% jump in property sales by value in the first eight months. Private investment in fixed assets, meanwhile, stalled at 2.1% for a second straight month in the January through August period, matching a record low. While HSBC says the overall level of China’s household debt remains low, Deutsche Bank said it sees “clear sign of a bubble” in property – one that will end in a major correction in two years’ time. Just like last year’s equity boom, China is using credit growth to boost the economy, Zhiwei Zhang, chief China economist at Deutsche Bank, wrote in a report on Sept. 28.

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It’s like Tony Soprano is running the banking system.

Deutsche Bank Mismarked 37 Deals Like Monte Dei Paschi’s (BBG)

Deutsche Bank, indicted for colluding with Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena to conceal the Italian lender’s losses, mismarked the transaction and dozens of others on its own books, according to an audit commissioned by Germany’s regulator. Executives at Deutsche Bank arranged 103 similar deals with a total value of €10.5 billion ($11.8 billion) for 30 clients, according to the audit, a copy of which was seen by Bloomberg. The lender, Germany’s largest, adjusted the accounting of 37 of those trades in 2013, in addition to Monte Paschi’s, changing them from loans that had been kept off the books to derivatives, the audit said. The widespread use of a transaction that’s now the subject of a criminal case highlights the lender’s appetite for complexity at a time when the bank was expanding its fixed-income empire.

While Deutsche Bank has since cut risky assets and eliminated thousands of jobs to bolster capital, mounting legal costs have become a source of increasing concern to investors, driving shares to a record low. “Very complex deals prevent the market and regulators from properly understanding the state of a bank’s balance sheet, inhibiting proper regulatory monitoring and distorting market discipline,” said Emilios Avgouleas at the University of Edinburgh. The audit found that while Monte Paschi was the only client that used a transaction to “window dress” its books, Deutsche Bank didn’t correctly account for similar deals with banks from Italy to Indonesia made between 2008 and 2010. The report also said senior executives didn’t properly authorize the Monte Paschi trade, dubbed Santorini, or adequately review the transaction after receiving a subpoena from the U.S. Federal Reserve in 2012.

[..] Deutsche Bank and six current and former managers, including Michele Faissola, who oversaw global rates at the time, and Ivor Dunbar, former co-head of global capital markets, were indicted in a Milan court on Oct. 1 for the 2008 Monte Paschi transaction. Both were top deputies to former Deutsche Bank co-Chief Executive Officer Anshu Jain, and all three have left the company.

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What’s needed is a comprehensive investigation of the whole system. But by all means, start with Wells Fargo and Deutsche.

14 US Senators Call for Criminal Investigation of Wells Fargo (AP)

Fourteen senators are calling on the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation of Wells Fargo executives after revelations that bank employees opened millions of fake banks and credit card accounts. A bank teller who steals bills from a cash drawer is likely to face charges, the senators said in a statement, but “an executive who oversees a massive fraud that implicates thousands of bank employees and costs customers millions of dollars can walk away with a hefty retirement package and millions in the bank.” House and Senate hearings last month with Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf “raised serious questions” that point to possible wrongdoing by Stumpf and other high-ranking executive, said the senators, all but one of them Democrats.

U.S. and California regulators have fined San Francisco-based Wells Fargo $185 million, saying bank employees trying to meet aggressive sales targets opened up to 2 million fake deposit and credit card accounts in customers’ names. Regulators said employees issued and activated debit cards and signed people up for online banking without permission. The abuses are said to have gone on for years, unchecked by senior management. In their letter, the senators urged Attorney General Loretta Lynch to hold Wells Fargo accountable as a corporation and also prosecute individual executives who may have broken the law. “Every time the Department of Justice settles a case of corporate fraud without holding individuals accountable, it reinforces the notion that the wealthy and powerful have purchased a higher class of justice for themselves,” the senators said.

The letter was led by Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and signed by 12 other Democrats, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Warren and Merkley serve on the Senate Banking Committee, while Leahy is senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

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Well, that’s a surprise!

Liar Loans Surge in Australia’s Red-Hot Housing Bubble (WS)

UBS Securities Australia reported today that about 28% of Australian mortgages issued in 2015 and 2016 are what we in the US have come to call “liar loans,” which played a big role in the housing boom and the collapse and subsequent bailout of the global financial system. Reality is the last phase of a housing bubble needs liar loans to keep going because buyers have to reach beyond their limits, and the only way to do this is lie now, or miss out forever on buying a home. Evidence that home buyers are lying about income, assets, expenses, and other things on their mortgage applications has been surfacing for a while, along with fears that this would eventually lead to a “Mortgage Meltdown.” The US-style mortgage fraud would be a “Nuclear Bomb” to Australia’s banks.

Hedge funds are betting on this meltdown by shorting the big four banks. But everyone else wants these bank stocks that dominate the Australian stock exchange to rise. They’re in everyone’s portfolio. And they’re all doing what they can to turn shorting the banks into a widow-maker trade. To get “hard evidence,” UBS Securities Australia and UBS Evidence Lab surveyed 1,228 Australians who’d taken out a residential mortgage in 2015 or 2016. Participants, who remained anonymous, were asked 63 questions. The survey was broad based, covering all states and territories in Australia. Given the size of the sample and broad spread of respondents we believe the results are representative of Australian mortgage borrowers. Conclusions based on the total sample have a potential sampling error of just ±2.71% at a 95% confidence level.

The resulting report, “Mortgages – Time for the Truth?” found that 28% of the respondents admitted that they’d lied on their mortgage application: • 21% claimed their applications were “mostly factual and accurate.” • 5% stated they were “partially factual and accurate”• 2% “would rather not say.” How many of these liar-loan applicants lied on the survey to hide their lies on the mortgage application? We don’t know. But the actual percentage of liar loans could even be higher, given the propensity of liar-loan applicants – just my hunch – to lie on surveys to cover their tracks.

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Fractals, swaps and central banks.

Risk and Volatility Cannot be Extinguished (CH Smith)

[..] while modern portfolio management is statistically based (all those “standard deviations” you always see referenced in quantitative analyses), the markets behave fractally. Fractals are known as the geometry of chaos, for they describe how seemingly stable systems can quickly, and unpredictably, degrade into chaos. But as Mandelbrot explains, “100-year floods” actually occur with startling regularity in all markets. Put another way: you cannot disappear all risk with fancy statistical models and credit default swaps, etc., that offload the risk onto others, i.e. counterparties. In other words, all you’re really doing is masking the risk-you’re not eliminating it. And in hiding the real risk, you are lulling the market participants into a pernicious choice architecture in which their willingness to take riskier and riskier actions is rewarded and encouraged, while caution is punished.

This is the Paradox of Risk: by masking risk behind assurances that the Fed has your back, the Federal Reserve is encouraging unwary investors to increase their exposure to risk without even being aware of the dangers. I covered the perverse consequences of believing risk can be “managed away to near-zero” in my book An Unconventional Guide to Investing in Troubled Times. This is how you get a total systemic collapse of the entire choice architecture. And by this I mean not just the financial markets, but the backstop provided by central banks. In a system that is now highly correlated to central bank policies, the idea that some counterparty will cover your losses is illusory. This is magical thinking: that when the system implodes, the counterparties will magically escape the highly correlated collapse.

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Mike is one of the few people who understands the importance of money velocity -and deflation- the way the Automatic Earth has talked about it for a long time. We’ve been in touch off and on for many years now, lots of mutual respect. I’m not focused so much on the ‘crisis as opportunity’ story though, since in my view it leaves too many people behind.

USA’s Day Of Reckoning – Hidden Secrets Of Money 7 (Mike Maloney)

History shows that once or twice in a generation a global crisis comes along that radically devastates people’s way of life. A fundamental shift so big and drastic and overwhelming that it destroys their standard of living and impacts every area of their lives. We are about to experience one of those events… As Mike Maloney outlines in his brand new episode of the Hidden Secrets of Money, that next major event is deflation. And the culprit will be a relatively obscure monetary term that will impact virtually every area of your life: money velocity. You may not know exactly what money velocity means, but we will all soon experience it firsthand. In fact, money velocity will be the culprit of not just deflation, but the resulting inflation—and maybe hyperinflation—that will immediately follow.

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Not applicable to all forms of democracy, but as I’ve often said, our systems self-select for sociopaths.

Why Democracy Rewards Bad People (Mises Inst.)

One of the most widely accepted propositions among political economists is the following: Every monopoly is bad from the viewpoint of consumers. Monopoly is understood in its classical sense to be an exclusive privilege granted to a single producer of a commodity or service, i.e., as the absence of free entry into a particular line of production. In other words, only one agency, A, may produce a given good, x. Any such monopolist is bad for consumers because, shielded from potential new entrants into his area of production, the price of the monopolist’s product x will be higher and the quality of x lower than otherwise. This elementary truth has frequently been invoked as an argument in favor of democratic government as opposed to classical, monarchical or princely government.

This is because under democracy entry into the governmental apparatus is free – anyone can become prime minister or president – whereas under monarchy it is restricted to the king and his heir. However, this argument in favor of democracy is fatally flawed. Free entry is not always good. Free entry and competition in the production of goods is good, but free competition in the production of bads is not. Free entry into the business of torturing and killing innocents, or free competition in counterfeiting or swindling, for instance, is not good; it is worse than bad. So what sort of “business” is government? Answer: it is not a customary producer of goods sold to voluntary consumers. Rather, it is a “business” engaged in theft and expropriation — by means of taxes and counterfeiting — and the fencing of stolen goods.

Hence, free entry into government does not improve something good. Indeed, it makes matters worse than bad, i.e., it improves evil. Since man is as man is, in every society people who covet others’ property exist. Some people are more afflicted by this sentiment than others, but individuals usually learn not to act on such feelings or even feel ashamed for entertaining them. Generally only a few individuals are unable to successfully suppress their desire for others’ property, and they are treated as criminals by their fellow men and repressed by the threat of physical punishment. Under princely government, only one single person – the prince – can legally act on the desire for another man’s property, and it is this which makes him a potential danger and a “bad.”

However, a prince is restricted in his redistributive desires because all members of society have learned to regard the taking and redistributing of another man’s property as shameful and immoral. Accordingly, they watch a prince’s every action with utmost suspicion. In distinct contrast, by opening entry into government, anyone is permitted to freely express his desire for others’ property. What formerly was regarded as immoral and accordingly was suppressed is now considered a legitimate sentiment. Everyone may openly covet everyone else’s property in the name of democracy; and everyone may act on this desire for another’s property, provided that he finds entrance into government. Hence, under democracy everyone becomes a threat.

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As referenced quite lost here before: it’s an uncomfortable feeling if the far right is the only voice to speak the truth. But make no mistake: it speaks loud and clear to the failure of the entire rest of the political system.

Marine Le Pen Says EU Responsible For “Monstrous Chaos In Syria” (ZH)

With the proxy war in Syria escalating dramatically on a day by day basis, with ideological support for the warring powers split along West vs Russia (and China) lines, one particular outlier in the “western world” emerged overnight when Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front party and the frontrunner for the role of president in near year’s French elections, accused the EU of being responsible for the ongoing chaos in Syria. She added that Europe has been too busy trying to overthrow Assad while Russia was actually fighting terrorists.

“You’ve done everything to bring down the government of Syria, throwing the country into a terrible civil war, while accusing Russia which is actually fighting Islamic State. Your responsibility could not be concealed”, she said speaking at the European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg on Wednesday. “You cannot hide your responsibility […] for plunging this part of the world into an absolutely monstrous chaos,” Le Pen said, alleging that policies advocated by both the United States and the EU had contributed to the state Syria is currently in, as well as neighboring Iraq.

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Brussels is getting very nervous about this: “If he manages to supplant Renzi he plans to hold his own referendum – on Italian membership of the euro area..”

Renzi Must Go If He Loses Italy Referendum, Five Star Rival Says (BBG)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi cannot wriggle out of his pledge to quit if he loses the country’s referendum on constitutional reform, his main rival said. Luigi Di Maio, a leader of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement and deputy-speaker of the lower house, said Italy will have to hold elections “as soon as possible” if Renzi’s plans for reform are rejected by voters on Dec. 4. “I am sure that Italians will ask him to maintain that promise despite the fact he has changed his mind,” Di Maio said in an interview at Bloomberg’s Rome office on Wednesday. “If Italians vote “No,” Renzi must keep the promise.” The premier has repeatedly pledged to step down if he loses the referendum which he says is central to his plans to make Italy work again after years of stagnation.

Still, he has backtracked somewhat in recent interviews as surveys show the “No” camp edging ahead and investors concerns mounting. The 30-year-old from near Naples is already described as “prime minister-in-waiting” by newspapers like Corriere della Sera with Five-Star neck-and-neck with Renzi’s Democratic Party in opinion polls. If he manages to supplant Renzi he plans to hold his own referendum – on Italian membership of the euro area. “I’d also like to see a European referendum on the euro, to see other countries starting to talk about it,” Di Maio said. “I know this is very difficult but I don’t think the Europe we know today will be the one we will face when we’re in government in a couple of years’ time.”

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Bless these people, win or no win. They need no prize, simply do what must be done. And in Greece, there’s so much that must be done.

This Greek Grandmother Could Win The Nobel Peace Prize (USA Today)

Emilia Kamvysi is not the typical Nobel Peace Prize candidate. The 86-year-old is not a politician, activist or lawyer. Her days are simple and slow. Like other Greek retirees on the island of Lesbos off the Turkish coast, she cooks for her children and grandchildren, watches the evening news and sits on the bench with her neighbors gazing at the sea. Then her life changed. Along with two neighbors -aged 89 and 85- Kamvysi was sitting on a bench in February, helping out a Syrian refugee mother by feeding her child with a bottle. The photo went viral, and she and the two other grannies in the photo became symbols of Greek generosity toward the migrants who have fled to Europe in recent years.

Soon after, a group of Greek lawmakers, academics and others nominated the grandmother as well as Greek fisherman Stratis Valiamos and actress Susan Sarandon. A second nomination included the grandmother and local agencies. Both cited their humanitarian efforts for the refugees. This Friday, Kamvysi and her granny-corps will find out whether she’ll become an official laureate. “I wish that Greece wins this prize, not just me,” Kamvysi said, pledging if she wins to give her share of the $1.2 million prize to the decaying Greek healthcare system. She lives well enough now on a $360-per-month farmer’s-pension, she said. “What am I going to do with it anyway?” she asked. “There are many people that helped the refugees — the fishermen, the volunteers. It wasn’t just us. Those poor babies, escaping war and drowning in the waters. It’s such a shame. We’re all crying in the village whenever there’s a shipwreck.”

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The exact opposite of the grandmothers helping refugees. Military force against people fleeing military force.

EU Launches Tough Border Force To Curb Refugee Crisis (AFP)

The EU launched its beefed-up border force Thursday in a rare show of unity by the squabbling bloc as it seeks to tackle its worst migration crisis since World War II. EU officials inaugurated the new task force at the Kapitan Andreevo checkpoint on the Bulgarian-Turkish border, the main land frontier for migrants seeking to enter the bloc and avoid the dangerous Mediterranean sea crossing. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (EBCG) will have at its disposal some 1,500 officers from 19 member states who can be swiftly mobilised in case of an emergency, like a sudden surge of migrants. Brussels hopes the revamped agency will not just increase security, but also help heal the huge rifts that have emerged between member states clashing over the EU’s refugee policies.

The long-term goal is to lift border controls inside the bloc and fully restore the passport-free Schengen Zone. “The new agency is stronger and better equipped to tackle migration and security challenges,” EBCG director Fabrice Leggeri said at the launch. The force will also conduct stress tests at the bloc’s external borders to “identify vulnerabilities before a crisis hits”, he added. EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos hailed the launch as a “historical day for the European Union”. “From now onwards, the external EU border of one member state is the external border of all member states – both legally and operationally,” he said. “Countries like Bulgaria, Greece and Italy are still under pressure, but they are not alone.”

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May 142016
 
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Camp Meade, Maryland 1917

IMF Meddling On Brexit Is Scandalous Skulduggery (AEP)
The Zombies Return: Steel Firms In China Come Back From The Dead (SCMP)
Europe Launches Probe Into Claims China Is Subsidising Steel Producers (Tel.)
China Complains To WTO That US Fails To Implement Tariff Ruling (R.)
China Inc. Misses Best Shot to Repay $430 Billion as Yuan Drops (BBG)
S&P 500 Companies Plan $600 Billion Buybacks In Losing Strategy (CNBC)
US Energy Bankruptcy Wave Surges Despite Recovering Oil Prices (R.)
The Other Fire: Fort McMurray’s Slow Burn (Tyee)
The New Era Of Monopoly Is Here (Stiglitz)
Vicious Feedback Loops in New York Art and European Equities (Dizard)
What If Greece Got Massive Debt Relief But No One Admitted It? – Part 1 (FT)
“I’ll Never Retire”: Americans Break Record for Working Past 65 (BBG)
Retiree To Fly 80 South African Rhinos To Australia (G.)
Merkel’s Deal with Turkey in Danger of Collapse (Spiegel)
EU to Work with African Despot to Keep Refugees Out (Spiegel)

Ambrose strikes. Can’t go wrong with a headline like that. “..the rescue of the euro and the North European banking system in 2010, otherwise known by some cruel twist of language as the Greek bail-out.” And “..take your rotting pile of damp wood elsewhere Madame Lagarde.”

IMF Meddling On Brexit Is Scandalous Skulduggery (AEP)

If the IMF and its co-conspirators in the Treasury wish to deter undecided voters from flirting with Brexit, they have certainly failed in my case. Having listened to their irritating lectures, I am more inclined to opt for defiance, for their mask of objectivity has fallen. There can no longer be any doubt that they are playing politics with the democratic self-determination of this country. The Fund gives the game away in point 8 of its Article IV conclusion on the UK economy. It states that “the cost of insuring against a UK sovereign default has doubled (albeit from a low level)”. Any normal person who does not follow the derivatives markets would interpret this as a grim warning from global investors. Yes, the price of credit default swaps on 5-year UK debt – the proxy we all use – has jumped from 17 to 37 since late last year.

But the IMF neglected to mention that it has risen from 15 to 33 in Switzerland, from 26 to 43 in France, and from 45 to 65 in Korea. The jump has almost nothing to do with Brexit, and the IMF knows this perfectly well. The French have an expression that will be familiar to the IMF’s Christine Lagarde: ils font feu de tout bois. Her own IMF mentor and long-time chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, told me last month that there was no risk whatsoever of a sovereign bond crisis, or a Gilts strike, or a sudden stop of any kind. “Will financing be more difficult after Brexit? Will investors see the British government as more risky? I don’t think so,” he said. Professor Blanchard, who recently stepped down from the Fund and is free to speak his mind, says there may be a price to pay for Brexit but it is impossible to calculate.

“The cost of exiting will not be seamless, and the uncertainty will last for a very long time afterwards. Firms deciding whether to locate a plant in the UK or in the Continent will wait. Investment will drop,” he said. But he also said weaker pound would cushion the effects of falling investment to some degree. So bare this in mind when you comb through today’s Article IV statement with its delicious mix of precision and selective vagueness on the alleged damage of Brexit. The hit ranges from 1.5pc to 9.5pc of GDP. Note the decimal points. The range depends on whether it is “a la Switzerland, a la Norway, or a la WTO,” said Madame Lagarde. Perhaps it is churlish to point out that the IMF completely missed the onset of the global financial crisis, and was blindsided when the US fell into recession in November 2007. The Fund’s staff were still predicting sunlit uplands as far as the eye could see, even when the blackest of black storms was upon them.


The IMF misjudged the fiscal multiplier horribly in Greece

Its forecasts for Greece were wrong every single year following the rescue of the euro and the North European banking system in 2010, otherwise known by some cruel twist of language as the Greek bail-out. They originally said the Greek economy would contract by 2.6pc in 2010 and then recover briskly. What actually happened – as predicted at the time by the Indian member of the IMF board – was the most spectacular collapse of a developed economy in the post-war era. Output ultimately fell by 26pc from peak to trough. To its credit, the IMF later admitted that it had horribly misjudged the fiscal multiplier. Indeed. I don’t wish the denigrate the Fund. It remains a superb institution. I use its research all the time in my work. But on this occasion it has been misused for political purposes.

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Maybe they can pay people to dig a big hole to throw the produced steel in.?!

The Zombies Return: Steel Firms In China Come Back From The Dead (SCMP)

The grey smoke pouring once again into the sky above a rusty steel plant in a town in northern China is seen as a blessing by people who live nearby. One of the plant’s six blast furnaces was put back into operation earlier this month, breathing new life into Dongzhen in Shanxi province. The plant, formally known as Haixin Iron and Steel, was closed two years ago as demand for the metal plunged in China. Steel companies with little hope of turning a profit are among the enterprises known as “zombie firms” in China, many operating in ailing heavy industries that the central government has pledged to cut back as it attempts to create a modern, high-tech and innovation driven economy. Millions of jobs are due to be axed in the steel and coal sectors in the coming years.

But the plant at Dongzhen has been given a lifeline. It has been renamed and taken over by new owners amid signs of a rise in steel prices, plus massive support from the local government. And there is evidence that increasing numbers of other steel plants are also reopening in China, despite the government’s pledges that the industry must be cut back. Local people in Dongzhen, at least, now dare to believe there may still be hope for their beleaguered industry. Restaurants have reopened, new food stalls set up, and even watermelon vendors are driving their carts and trucks nearby to serve the thousands of workers coming in and out of the compound. Uniformed workers in red and blue helmets flow through the foundry gate, heavy trucks and cars blow their horns and there is a renewed sense of dynamism in this dusty town.

The fate of the Dongzhen steel plant highlights the dilemma facing many local government across the country: the need for massive economic reforms, weighed against the suffering created by massive job losses and the fear of social unrest. President Xi Jinping has said cutting overcapacity in ailing industries such as steel is an essential part of the government’s “supply-side” economic reforms. An unidentified “authoritative figure” was also quoted in a prominent article in the Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily on Monday renewing calls to terminate “zombie companies”. Haixin, however, is not the only “zombie” steel firming coming back from the dead. As China pumped unprecedented amounts of credit to boost growth in the first quarter, many steel plants are back on stream to take advantage of a rise in steel prices.

Daily steel output on the mainland in March rebounded to a nine-month high and output in April could be even higher, according to analysts, although the steel price rally has started to fizzle away this month. “It’s difficult to take Chinese pledges to address surplus capacity seriously,” said Christopher Balding, an associate professor of economics at Peking University HSBC Business School. “There is a recent track record of talking about the problem and not taking the steps required to solve it: like a dieter who wants to lose weight and still eats chocolate chip cookies.”

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Fighting for a share of a collapsing market.

Europe Launches Probe Into Claims China Is Subsidising Steel Producers (Tel.)

A new front has opened up in the “steel war” between China and Europe after Brussels launched an investigation into whether the Beijing government is subsidising its steel producers. The European Commission said it was starting a probe into a complaint that China is subsiding its producers of hot rolled flat steel – one of the most widely used forms of the alloy. The Commission has already imposed tariffs on some forms of steel being exported into Europe after earlier investigations determined they were being “dumped” – sold at below cost – by Chinese plants, as they get rid of excess production in the wake of a drop in domestic demand. However, the new investigation could tackle the problem at source, by looking into claims China is subsidising its largely state-owned steel industry, damaging European rivals.

If it finds subsidisation is taking place, further duties could be imposed on Chinese imports in an attempt to level the playing field. The announcement comes less than 24 hours after the European Parliament voted with an overwhelming majority against China being given the coveted Market Economy Status. The move follows a complaint from Eurofer, the European steel association, and a spokesman said the group “welcomed the move into unfair subsidisation originating in China”. “Hot rolled flat steel is the bread and butter of the industry, going into everything from cans to cars and by far the most commonly used form of steel,” the spokesman added. “The European steel industry suffers damage from unfair trading practices originating in China.”

The European steel industry is in crisis at the moment as it battles the flood of cheap steel from China, and struggles against tougher environmental controls and higher prices, which are particularly punishing in the UK. More than 5,000 jobs have been lost in Britain’s steel industry in the past year as plants have struggled to compete. In April Tata launched the sale of its loss-making British steel operations based around the massive Port Talbot plant. Gareth Stace, director of trade body UK Steel, said the widening of investigations from dumping into subsidies was a progression of the campaign to fight unfair trade. “This is a welcome and much-needed investigation into Chinese Government subsidies which will run in parallel to its ongoing investigation into dumping of steel into the EU. The significant unfair trading practices carried out by China has been a major cause of the worst steel crisis in over a generation here in the UK.”

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“China’s complaint to the WTO was filed just days after Washington lodged a similar complaint against China..”

China Complains To WTO That US Fails To Implement Tariff Ruling (R.)

In another sign of escalating trade tensions between China and the United States, Beijing told the World Trade Organization on Friday that Washington was failing to implement a WTO ruling against punitive U.S. tariffs on a range of Chinese goods. China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) said it had requested consultations with the United States over the issue, and anti-subsidy duties on products including solar panels, wind towers and steel pipe used in the oil industry. China’s complaint to the WTO was filed just days after Washington lodged a similar complaint against China, accusing it of unfairly continuing punitive duties on U.S. exports of broiler chicken products in violation of WTO rules.

“By disregarding the WTO rules and rulings, the United States has severely impaired the integrity of WTO rules and the interests of Chinese industries,” MOFCOM said in a statement distributed by the Chinese embassy in Washington. The case was first brought before the WTO by China in 2012 against U.S. duties on 15 diverse product categories that also include thermal paper, steel sinks and tow-behind lawn grooming equipment. In December 2014, the WTO’s Appellate Body ruled in favor of Chinese claims that the products subject to duties had not benefited from subsidies from “public bodies” favoring particular manufacturers.

The deadline for implementation of the rulings and recommendations of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, set through binding arbitration, expired on April 1, according to WTO records. A U.S. Trade Representative spokesman said the United States had been “working diligently to comply with the recommendations” and to fully conform with its WTO obligations. He added that the U.S. response to China’s request for consultations would come “in due course.”

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Dollar-denominated debt is the sword of Damocles.

China Inc. Misses Best Shot to Repay $430 Billion as Yuan Drops (BBG)

The best time for China Inc. to repay its dollar debt may be coming to an end. The greenback is rallying after its worst quarter since 2010, threatening to drive up costs for companies seeking to either repay U.S. currency borrowings or hedge exposure. The yuan declined 1% since March 31, following a 2% rally between February and March. Royal Bank of Canada and Credit Suisse see more depreciation. “If corporates haven’t taken advantage of this period of yuan gains, they really only have themselves to blame,” said Sue Trinh, Hong Kong-based head of Asian foreign-exchange strategy at RBC. “The government won’t hold down the exchange rate forever.”

RBC estimates Chinese companies’ outstanding dollar borrowings have now been trimmed to $430 billion, while Daiwa Capital Markets says as much as $3 trillion was borrowed to plow into the higher-yielding yuan, including by individuals and foreign companies. A rush to repay risks accelerating capital outflows and yuan weakness amid China’s slowest economic growth in 25 years. The yuan’s renewed depreciation is a challenge for companies that took advantage of the currency’s gains in the four years through 2013 to borrow dollars offshore, profiting from both an appreciating exchange rate and higher interest rates at home. The one-way bets began to unravel as the currency dropped 2.4% in 2014 and 4.5% last year.

The yuan sank 2.6% in August last year after a shock devaluation, and then rose for the next two months as the People’s Bank of China intervened in the market to support the exchange rate. The authority reiterated in its latest monetary policy implementation report released last week that it wants to keep the currency stable. “The recent yuan stability was artificial and likely helped by consistent verbal intervention from the PBOC that there is no depreciation pressure,” said Koon How Heng at Credit Suisse in Singapore. “However, in the background, there is growing concern of increasing debt issues. We are watching growing incidences of coupon defaults.”

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Pretty damning. But it will continue short term. And a few years down the road, infrastructure will start falling apart.

S&P 500 Companies Plan $600 Billion Buybacks In Losing Strategy (CNBC)

Companies are planning to devote billions to buying back their own stock this year, even though the strategy seems to be losing its bite. Statements accompanying first-quarter earnings indicate corporations are preparing to buy a total of $600 billion in their own shares, according to Goldman Sachs calculations. That comes after a year in which S&P 500 buybacks amounted to $572.2 billion, which itself was a 3,3% increase from 2014 and part of a trend that has seen repurchases amount to more than $2.7 trillion since 2010, data from S&P Dow Jones Indices show. Buybacks slowed in the first part of the year, with TrimTabs reporting a 35% decline over 2015. However, that’s not likely to last as companies struggle to find the best way to spend cash. S&P 500 companies have nearly $1.5 trillion in cash on their balance sheets.

“The main thing that determines that is whether they see their markets pop or not,” said Jim Paulsen, chief market strategist at Wells Capital Management. “One of the things we really haven’t had in this recovery is getting all the economic boats moving north at the same time.” With the lack of sustained economic growth, companies have turned to buybacks and dividends to pick up the slack. However, the effectiveness of returning cash directly to shareholders doesn’t have the same pop it once had. Where buybacks had helped fuel the S&P 500’s meteoric rise and the second longest bull market in history, the market has been volatile but flat over the past year or so. Moreover, companies that have been the biggest movers in buybacks have underperformed significantly.

The PowerShares BuyBack Achievers Portfolio exchange-traded fund tracks companies that have bought back at least 5% of their shares over the past 12 months. The ETF is down about 0.7% in 2016 and off 8.4% over the past year. The fund’s biggest holdings include McDonald’s, Boeing, Qualcomm, Lowes and Mondelez. A big name missing from the top holdings is Apple, which has buyback plans totaling $175 billion for a stock that is down 13.2% year to date and 27.5% over the past year. Yet the buyback and dividend trend continues as companies remain reluctant to hire and invest in equipment and as the deal climate cools after a blistering 2015. Mergers and acquisitions activity plunged 25% in the first quarter, with much of the steam taken out by the collapse of multiple big-ticket deals, the most recent being the $6 billion Staples-Office Depot marriage.

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“..once the hedges roll off you can’t support that debt.”

US Energy Bankruptcy Wave Surges Despite Recovering Oil Prices (R.)

The wave of U.S. oil and gas bankruptcies surged past 60 this week, an ominous sign that the recovery of crude prices to near $50 a barrel is too little, too late for small companies that are running out of money. On Friday, Exco Resources, a Dallas-based company with a star-studded board, said it will evaluate alternatives, including a restructuring in or out of court. Its shares fell 35% to 62 cents each. Exco’s notice capped off one of the heaviest weeks of bankruptcy filings since crude prices nosedived from more than $100 a barrel in mid-2014. Prices have bounced back to $46 a barrel from February lows in the mid-$20s, but the futures market shows investors do not expect U.S. benchmark crude to rise above $50 for more than a year.

That will not help smaller producers built for far higher prices. These companies have largely exhausted funding alternatives after issuing more equity and debt, tapping second-lien loans and shedding assets over the last two years to stay afloat as banks trimmed credit lines. Some companies are in more acute distress, faced with the expiration of derivative contracts that had allowed them to sell oil above market prices. “Everybody was able to hold on for a while,” said Gary Evans, former CEO of Magnum Hunter Resources, which emerged from bankruptcy protection this week. “But once the hedges roll off you can’t support that debt.”

Bankruptcy filers this week included Linn Energy and Penn Virginia. Struggling SandRidge, a former high flyer once led by legendary wildcatter Tom Ward, said it would not be able to file quarterly results on time. The number of U.S. energy bankruptcies is closing in on the staggering 68 filings seen during the depths of the telecommunications sector bust of 2002 and 2003, according to Reuters data, the law firm Haynes & Boone and bankruptcydata.com.

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I would normally shudder at the very thought of anyone quoting Larry Summers or god forbid Jeff Rubin, but this is a topic that warrants attention.

The Other Fire: Fort McMurray’s Slow Burn (Tyee)

At the end of the day the $10-billion wildfire that consumed 2400 homes and buildings in Fort McMurray may be the least of the region’s problems. Although the chaotic evacuation of 80,000 people through walls of flame will likely haunt its brave participants for years, a slow global economic burn has already taken a nasty toll on the region’s workers. That fire began last year when global oil prices crashed by 40% and evaporated billions of investment capital in the tarsands. As the project’s most hight cost producers started to bleed cash, corporations laid off 40,000 engineers, labourers, cleaners, welders, mechanics and trades people with little fanfare and even less thanks. Many of these human “stranded assets” endured home foreclosures and lineups at the food bank.

Worker flights to Red Deer and Kelowna got cancelled and traffic at the city’s new airport declined by 16%. Unemployment in Canada’s so-called economic engine soared to nearly nine%. Despite the high cost of the oil price crash, most residents of Fort McMurray, along with Canada’s politicians, think that oil prices will rebound and things will turn around sooner or later. They’ve seen it all before, they say. But a number of economic trends and analyses suggest that bitumen’s glory days may be over. What resembles a string of bad luck may actually be the unfortunate consequence of rapidly developing a high risk and volatile resource with no real safety net. The first undeniable factor is weakening demand for oil, the engine of global economic growth. China’s economy, the world’s largest oil importer, is faltering as its industrial revolution peaks and fades.

Europe, Japan and the United States are also using less oil, and their economies are stagnating too. The global economy has become so stuck in neutral that famous financial power brokers such as Larry Summers now write depressing articles entitled “The Age of Secular Stagnation,” in Foreign Affairs no less. In such a world, little if any bitumen will be needed in the international market place. In fact economists now trace about 50% of the oil price collapse to evaporating demand. But there are many other potent signs and they have already covered the economic landscape with smoke. Murray Edwards, the billionaire tycoon behind Canadian Natural Resources, one of the largest bitumen extractors, has decamped from Alberta to London, England. Edwards and company slashed $2.4-billion from CNRL’s budget in 2015. Since the oil price crash, by some accounts, Murray’s company has lost 50% of its market value.

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“..the large bonuses paid to banks’ CEOs as they led their firms to ruin and the economy to the brink of collapse are hard to reconcile with the belief that individuals’ pay has anything to do with their social contributions.”

The New Era Of Monopoly Is Here (Stiglitz)

For 200 years, there have been two schools of thought about what determines the distribution of income – and how the economy functions. One, emanating from Adam Smith and 19th-century liberal economists, focuses on competitive markets. The other, cognisant of how Smith’s brand of liberalism leads to rapid concentration of wealth and income, takes as its starting point unfettered markets’ tendency toward monopoly. It is important to understand both, because our views about government policies and existing inequalities are shaped by which of the two schools of thought one believes provides a better description of reality. For the 19th-century liberals and their latter-day acolytes, because markets are competitive, individuals’ returns are related to their social contributions – their “marginal product”, in the language of economists.

Capitalists are rewarded for saving rather than consuming – for their abstinence, in the words of Nassau Senior, one of my predecessors in the Drummond Professorship of Political Economy at Oxford. Differences in income were then related to their ownership of “assets” – human and financial capital. Scholars of inequality thus focused on the determinants of the distribution of assets, including how they are passed on across generations. The second school of thought takes as its starting point “power”, including the ability to exercise monopoly control or, in labour markets, to assert authority over workers. Scholars in this area have focused on what gives rise to power, how it is maintained and strengthened, and other features that may prevent markets from being competitive. Work on exploitation arising from asymmetries of information is an important example.

In the west in the post-second world war era, the liberal school of thought has dominated. Yet, as inequality has widened and concerns about it have grown, the competitive school, viewing individual returns in terms of marginal product, has become increasingly unable to explain how the economy works. So, today, the second school of thought is ascendant. After all, the large bonuses paid to banks’ CEOs as they led their firms to ruin and the economy to the brink of collapse are hard to reconcile with the belief that individuals’ pay has anything to do with their social contributions. Of course, historically, the oppression of large groups – slaves, women, and minorities of various types – are obvious instances where inequalities are the result of power relationships, not marginal returns.

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“The ECB’s requirement for an “investment-grade” rating turns out to be an elastic condition; something you tell the Germans to put them off until the next meeting.”

Vicious Feedback Loops in New York Art and European Equities (Dizard)

The remarkable swing in sentiment, from depression to relief, and, in some cases, euphoria, around the New York art auctions this past week was one of the most astonishing examples of herd mentality I have seen. Back in 1990, we would buy a paper from the newsboy that would describe a decline in the Japanese stock market that had taken place the previous year. Weeks later, bids for Renoirs would dry up, and there would be talk about a correction in the art market. These days, we are all in short-cycle businesses. But I am trying to take the long-term view here, one that might hold up until the US elections in November. So in that spirit of philosophical detachment, I would say it is time to buy euro-denominated high-yield bonds before the other bidders come in next month in response to the ECB’s corporate bond-buying programme.

I understand that most of the quantitative analysis done on art and securities markets tells us that equity prices “cause” art prices to rise or fall, but it seems to me that the present volatility and vicious feedback loops in both markets are being caused by a more general instability. The weak equity markets at the beginning of this year, and the decline in art prices that had set in by early 2015, apparently led collectors to hold off on consigning contemporary works of art to the spring auctions in New York. Then when the Christie’s evening contemporary sale on Tuesday night worked out better than many expected, with 87% of the lots sold, there was suddenly a shortage of works on public offer. This led to more frantic bidding for contemporary art in that market’s equivalent of junk or high yield, the day sales. All within a couple of days.

The same risk-averse sentiment earlier this year led euro-area junk-rated companies to hold off on selling new bond issues. According to Richard Briggs, credit strategist at CreditSights, a fixed income research provider, euro high-yield debt issuance declined to just €12.7bn in the year to date up to May 9, compared with €47.9bn in the same period in 2015. So euro-based investors are even more starved for yield than New York collectors were for contemporary art. Not everyone agrees with me about the relative value of European junk bonds. As Matt King at Citi Research says: “A lot of investors prefer, or have preferred, US high yield. Optically, the yields are higher. Most of that, though, is about duration and credit quality, and you should adjust for those. The US has more CCC credits [the bottom of the non-defaulting junk pile], and when you take that into account, all the US HY advantage disappears.”

[..] The ECB’s bond-buying programme could have an outsized effect. It is targeted specifically at non-financial corporate bonds. The ECB has indicated it will buy €3bn-€5bn of corporate bonds each month, which is about the same rate of non-financial bond purchases as euro-area financial institutions have maintained since 2012. The ECB’s requirement for an “investment-grade” rating turns out to be an elastic condition; something you tell the Germans to put them off until the next meeting. If just one rating agency, including the Canadian DBRS, will give a corporate bond an investment-grade stamp, the ECB will be open to buying it. Mr King calculates that one little tweak will make about 4% of the European junk-bond market eligible for purchase. In a relatively illiquid €310bn market, every little bit helps.

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Intriguing by Matthew Klein. To be continued.

What If Greece Got Massive Debt Relief But No One Admitted It? – Part 1 (FT)

In 2012, the “official sector” lenders realised they needed to do something different. Over the course of the year they made new loans at low interest rates, lowered interest rates on existing loans, gave the Greek government much more time to repay existing loans, remitted profits from the ECB’s holdings of Greek government bonds back to the Greek government, and forced private lenders to accept getting repaid less than originally owed, among other things. The net effect was to sharply reduce the present value of the Greek government’s debt burden. According IMF data, the Greek government spent about €15 billion, or 7.3% of GDP, on debt interest payments in 2011. For perspective, the Italian government was spending 4.4% and the Portuguese government was spending 3.8%.

By 2013, the Greek economy had shrunk by 13%, in nominal euro terms, yet the sovereign debt interest burden was now 4.0% of GDP, against 4.5% for Italy and 4.2% for Portugal. Put another way, the debt modifications in 2012 cut the amount spent by the Greek government on interest payments by more than half. Subsequent debt modifications and the general decline in euro area interest rates have cut the amount the Greek government spends on interest payments by another 12.6%. Interest expense was 3.6% of Greek GDP in 2015, compared to 4.0% in Italy and 4.1% in Portugal. So why didn’t the 2012 modifications end the crisis? My colleague Martin Sandbu puts it well:

“The problem is the chill caused by the uncertainty the debt overhang causes: will the debt service cost at some point increase (perhaps to crippling levels), and will there be another refinancing crisis whenever a large portion of debt is set to mature? It is this uncertainty that must be erased for investment to pick up.”

In other words, investors don’t care about the decline in the interest burden nearly as much as they worry, reasonably, about the headline debt figures. This makes it impossible for the Greek government to fund itself in the markets at reasonable rates, leaving it dependent on the whims of “official sector” creditors to make its small interest payments and roll over its large debts. This is why it matters whether Kazarian is right about the accounting treatment of Greek sovereign obligations. There are plenty of weak economies in the euro area with miserable productivity growth, terrible demographics, and lots of debt. Greece isn’t that different except insofar as it’s excluded from ECB bond-buying and insofar as the markets and ratings companies treat it as a pariah.

So if the Greek government’s actual debt number were far lower than what’s commonly reported, investors would have little reason to charge it more than they demand from Portugal. And that would have big implications for an economy wracked for years by uncertainty about debt default, sky-high capital costs, and outside demands for “structural reform” and budget surpluses. In part 2, we’ll look at why exactly Kazarian thinks the Greek government’s net debt is only 39% of GDP, rather than 177%, as well as some potential objections. In part 3, we’ll imagine what sorts of budget surpluses would have been required to make the Greek government compliant with Maastricht criteria for debt levels by 2020 under different assumptions of the impact of the 2012 modifications, in comparison to what “official sector” creditors actually demanded.

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The US is falling apart in many places.

“I’ll Never Retire”: Americans Break Record for Working Past 65 (BBG)

Almost 20% of Americans 65 and older are now working, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the most older people with a job since the early 1960s, before the U.S. enacted Medicare. Because of the huge baby boom generation that is just now hitting retirement age, the U.S. has the largest number of older workers ever. When asked to describe their plans for retirement, 27% of Americans said they will “keep working as long as possible,” a 2015 Federal Reserve study found. Another 12% said they don’t plan to retire at all. Why are more people putting off retirement? Three in five retirees surveyed by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies said making money or earning benefits was at least one reason they had retired later than they planned to.

Almost half said financial problems were their main reason for working past 65. The financial crisis, and the tech bust before it, devastated many baby boomers’ retirement savings. That’s if they had any to begin with. Today, 60% of U.S. households have no money in a 401(k) or similar retirement account, and the benefits of 401(k)s are skewed toward the wealthiest Americans, a recent report by the Government Accountability Office found. The waning of traditional, defined-benefit pensions could also be delaying retirement, even for wealthier Americans. Instead of getting a monthly check, many retirees end up with a pot of 401(k) assets they’re not sure how they should be spending. The ups and downs of the market can heighten their anxiety and keep them going into the office.

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The sadness is hard to describe.

Retiree To Fly 80 South African Rhinos To Australia (G.)

A retired South African sales executive who emigrated to Australia 30 years ago is hatching a daring plan to airlift 80 rhinos to his adopted country in an attempt to save the species from poachers. Flying each animal on the 11,000-kilometre journey will cost about $A60,500, but Ray Dearlove believes the expense and risk is essential as poaching deaths have soared in recent years. The rhinos will be relocated to a safari park in Australia, which is being kept secret for security reasons, where they will become a “seed bank” to breed future generations. “Our grand plan is to move 80 over a four-year period. We think that will provide the nucleus of a good breeding herd,” Dearlove said while visiting South Africa to organise for the first batch to be flown out.

The Australian Rhino Project, which the 68-year-old founded in 2013, hopes to take six rhinos to their new home before the end of the year. Funding – from private and corporate sources – is nearly in place, and the first rhinos have been selected from animals kept on private reserves in South Africa. “We have got to get this first one right because it’s a big task, it’s expensive, it’s complex,” Dearlove said. When they are settled successfully in Australia, “then we hopefully will go up in gear,” he added. [..] Poachers slaughtered 1,338 rhinos across Africa last year – the highest level since the poaching crisis exploded in 2008, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN, which rates white rhinos as “near threatened” as a species, says that booming demand for horn and the involvement of international criminal syndicates has fuelled the explosion in poaching since 2007.

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A German point of view.

Merkel’s Deal with Turkey in Danger of Collapse (Spiegel)

On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was standing on a stage in Ankara raging against the European Union. “Since when are you controlling Turkey?” he demanded. “Who gave you the order?” He then accused Brussels of dividing his country. “Do you think we don’t know that?” It sounded as though he was laying the groundwork for a break with Europe. Erdogan’s fit of rage is only the most recent escalation in the conflict over German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee deal with Turkey. Thus far, officials in Berlin have been dismissing the Turkish president’s tirades as mere theater. “Erdogan is following the Seehofer playbook,” says one Chancellery official, a reference to the outspoken governor of Bavaria who has been extremely critical of Merkel’s refugee policies.

But things aren’t looking good for the deal, which the chancellor has declared as the only proper way to solve the refugee crisis. Indeed, Merkel’s greatest foreign policy project is on the verge of collapsing. The chancellor still hopes that Erdogan will stick to the refugee deal. A key element of that deal is visa-free travel to the EU for Turkish citizens, and Merkel believes that Erdogan’s popularity would take a hit if that didn’t come to pass. That’s why she believes that Erdogan will come around in the end. But she could be mistaken. After all, no one aside from the German chancellor appears to have much interest in the agreement anymore. Erdogan certainly doesn’t: He does not want to make any concessions on his country’s expansive anti-terror laws, the reform of which is one of a long list of conditions Turkey must meet before the EU will grant visa freedoms.

The Europeans at large, wary of selling out their values to the autocrat in Ankara, are also deeply skeptical. And in Germany, Merkel’s junior coalition partners, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), have seized on the deal as a way to finally score some much needed political points against the powerful chancellor. Even within Merkel’s own conservatives, many are seeing the troubles the deal is facing as an opportunity to break with the chancellor’s disliked refugee policies.

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Brussels and Berlin would make a deal with Hitler if it suited them.

EU to Work with African Despot to Keep Refugees Out (Spiegel)

The ambassadors of the 28 European Union member states had agreed to secrecy. “Under no circumstances” should the public learn what was said at the talks that took place on March 23rd, the European Commission warned during the meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee. A staff member of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini even warned that Europe’s reputation could be at stake. Under the heading “TOP 37: Country fiches,” the leading diplomats that day discussed a plan that the EU member states had agreed to: They would work together with dictatorships around the Horn of Africa in order to stop the refugee flows to Europe – under Germany’s leadership.

When it comes to taking action to counter the root causes of flight in the region, Angela Merkel has said, “I strongly believe that we must improve peoples’ living conditions.” The EU’s new action plan for the Horn of Africa provides the first concrete outlines: For three years, €40 million is to be paid out to eight African countries from the Emergency Trust Fund, including Sudan. Minutes from the March 23 meetings and additional classified documents obtained by SPIEGEL and German public TV station ARD show that the focus of the project is border protection. To that end, equipment is to be provided to the countries in question. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges relating to his alleged role in genocide and crimes against humanity in the Darfur conflict.

Amnesty International also claims that the Sudanese secret service has tortured members of the opposition. And the United States accuses the country of providing financial support to terrorists. Nevertheless, documents relating to the project indicate that Europe want to send cameras, scanners and servers for registering refugees to the Sudanese regime in addition to training their border police and assisting with the construction of two camps with detention rooms for migrants. The German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development has confirmed that action plan is binding, although no concrete decisions have yet been made regarding its implementation. The German development agency GIZ is expected to coordinate the project.

The organization, which is a government enterprise, has experience working with authoritarian countries. In Saudi Arabia, for example, German federal police are providing their Saudi colleagues with training in German high-tech border installations. The money for the training comes not directly from the federal budget but rather from GIZ. When it comes to questions of finance, the organization has become a vehicle the government can use to be less transparent, a government official confirms.

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Feb 092016
 
 February 9, 2016  Posted by at 9:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Arthur Rothstein Going to church to pray for rain., Grassy Butte, North Dakota Jul 1936

‘Panic Situation’ As Asia Stocks Tumble Amid Fears Of New Global Recession (G.)
Global Bond Rally Near ‘Panic’ Level With Japan Yield Below Zero (BBG)
Japan’s 10-Year Yield Falls Below Zero for the First Time (BBG)
US Bank Stocks And Bonds Clobbered By Recession Worry (Reuters)
Investors Dump Stocks, Seek Safe Havens As Bank Fears Flare (Reuters)
Banks Bonds Are “The Epicenter Of Growth Concerns Globally” (BBG)
Goldman Sachs Sees Near-Zero Risk Of UK Recession Despite Market Tantrum (AEP)
Chesapeake Energy Plunges On Bankruptcy Fears (Forbes)
150 Oil And Gas Companies “At Risk Of Bankruptcy” As Prices Fall (BBG)
US Oil Industry Woes Grow As Storage Levels Hit ‘Critical Level’ (MW)
Jim Rogers: “The Market Knows It’s Over” (SHTF)
Can Hobbit Tourism Save New Zealand’s Troubled Dairy Farmers? (BBG)
Turkey’s Erdogan Threatened To Flood Europe With Migrants (Reuters)
35 Refugees Die Off Turkish Coast (Guardian)

Panic.

‘Panic Situation’ As Asia Stocks Tumble Amid Fears Of New Global Recession (G.)

Japan’s Nikkei index plummeted more than 950 points on Tuesday, its biggest intraday loss since May 2013, and the yen briefly soared to a 14-month high against the US dollar, as continued fears over the health of the global economy saw a continuation of the previous day’s selloff in Europe and the US. The Nikkei dived 5.1% to 16,132.25 in morning trading and extended losses into the afternoon, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 2.6% to 4,946.70. Markets were also down in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and New Zealand. The MSCI’s index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 1% and might have fallen further had several Asian markets not been closed.

Markets in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea were closed for Lunar New Year holidays. Most markets in the region will re-open from Wednesday, with Chinese markets returning next week. The volatility affecting global markets last month appears set to continue amid concern about Chinese economic growth, falling oil prices and speculation that the US federal reserve could change course with interest rates. “The combination of concerns that the United States could be heading toward a recession and the global stock sell-off is curbing risk appetite and is sending investors to the safe-haven yen,” Takuya Takahashi at Daiwa Securities told Kyodo News.

After hovering around the 117-yen line on Monday, the Japanese currency briefly rose to the upper 114 zone to its strongest level against the dollar since November 2014. Investors regard the yen as a “save haven” currency when global markets are hit by the kind of turmoil witnessed in recent weeks. The yen is expected to make further gains – a trend that eats into the repatriated profits of Japanese auto and other exporters. Three-month dollar/yen implied volatility – which indicates how much currency movement is expected in the months ahead – reached 12.137% its highest since September 2013. Responding to the yen’s rise, Japan’s finance minister, Taro Aso, told reporters: “It is clear that recent moves in the market have been rough. We will continue to carefully monitor developments in the currency market.”

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And more panic.

Global Bond Rally Near ‘Panic’ Level With Japan Yield Below Zero (BBG)

Sovereign bonds surged, sending the Japanese benchmark 10-year yield below zero for the first time, as investors seeking the safest assets gorged on government debt. Treasury yields dropped to a one-year low in the rush to refuge from a worldwide stock rout. Traders pared the odds the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year to 30%, before Chair Janet Yellen begins her two-day testimony to Congress on Wednesday. The yield on the Bank of America Merrill Lynch World Sovereign Bond Index tumbled to 1.29%, the least in data that go back to 2005. “It’s almost like a panic,” said Hideo Shimomura, the chief fund investor in Tokyo at Mitsubishi UFJ Kokusai Asset Management. “The flight to quality is exaggerated.”

The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield tumbled six basis points to 1.69% as of 2:31 p.m. in Tokyo, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader data. The price of the 2.25% security due in November 2025 rose 17/32, or $5.31 per $1,000 face amount, to 105. Japan’s 10-year yield fell to minus 0.01%, an unprecedented low for such a maturity in a Group-of-Seven economy. Australia’s dropped to 2.38%, a level not seen since April. Investors rushed to bonds as the MSCI Asia Pacific Index of stocks slid 2.8% and Japan’s Topix Index plunged 5.7%. “It’s hard to find a reason to short Treasuries,” said Tomohisa Fujiki at BNP Paribas in Tokyo, referring to bets that a security will fall. Turmoil “is now affecting equity markets in developed countries as well — and commodities and emerging markets have not stabilized yet.” BNP is one of the 22 primary dealers that underwrite the U.S. debt.

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BoJ buys them all anyway.

Japan’s 10-Year Yield Falls Below Zero for the First Time (BBG)

The yield on Japan’s benchmark 10-year government bonds fell below zero for the first time, an unprecedented level for a Group-of-Seven economy, as global financial turmoil and the Bank of Japan’s adoption of negative interest rates drive demand for the notes. The 10-year yield has tumbled from 0.22% before the BOJ surprised markets with the decision on Jan. 29 to introduce a minus 0.1% rate on some of the reserves financial institutions park at the central bank. It fell 7 1/2 basis points to a record minus 0.035% as of 3:05 p.m. in Tokyo. Japanese bonds are also climbing as sovereign securities rally worldwide. Global stocks have dropped 10% this year on concern growth is slowing in China, and as slumping oil prices undermine policy makers efforts to revive inflation.

About 29% of the outstanding debt in the Bloomberg Global Sovereign Bond index was yielding less than zero as of 5 p.m. in New York on Monday. Swiss 3% notes due in 2018 were offering the lowest yield in the index, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “It was just a matter of time before 10-year yields went negative, so it wasn’t a surprise,” said Yusuke Ikawa at UBS. Five-year yields dropped seven basis points to minus 0.25%, while two-year yields slid five basis points to minus 0.245%. Both were record lows. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point. The expected price volatility for Japanese debt over a 60-day period soared to 3.13% on Monday, the highest level since June, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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Banks across the globe are under fire.

US Bank Stocks And Bonds Clobbered By Recession Worry (Reuters)

U.S. bank stocks and bonds took a pounding on Monday as recession fears compounded concern about their exposure to the energy sector and expectations that global interest rates are unlikely to rise quickly. The S&P 500 financial index, already the worst performing sector this year, fell 2.6% and now stands more than 20% from its July 2015 high, confirming the sector is in the grip of a bear market. Shares of Morgan Stanley slid 6.9% in their largest one-day drop since November 2012, while rival Goldman Sachs fell 4.6%. Both stocks closed at their lowest since the spring of 2013. Meanwhile, bonds issued by U.S. banks extended their decline, with the yield premium demanded by investors to hold these securities, rather than safer U.S. Treasury debt, climbing to the highest in three-and-a-half years, according to BofA Fixed Income Index data.

“Investors’ attitudes seem to be worsening relative to the likelihood of a global recession. I think that’s what financials are reflecting – that their net interest margins are going to be further compressed under collapsing (sovereign) bond yields,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia. Yields on sovereign bonds from so-called safe-haven issuers such as the United States, Germany and Japan have tumbled recently as investors increasingly doubt central banks in these countries will be able to raise interest rates any time soon. The U.S. Federal Reserve late last year pulled off its first rate increase in nearly a decade, but interest rate futures markets now assign just a 1-in-4 chance of another one this year. And the Bank of Japan last month cut rates into negative territory for some bank reserves.

Monday’s drop in U.S. bank stocks follows concern over stress in the financial sector in Europe, where the cost of insuring the European financial sector’s senior debt against default climbed to its highest level since late 2013. Credit default swaps on several U.S. banks have followed suit. The cost for a five-year CDS contract on Morgan Stanley debt, for instance, has rocketed by more than 27% since last Thursday and now stands at its highest since October 2013, data from Markit shows. Citigroup’s CDS, likewise, is at the highest since June 2013.

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“Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso felt moved enough to warn the yen’s rise was “rough”..”

Investors Dump Stocks, Seek Safe Havens As Bank Fears Flare (Reuters)

Asian share markets were scorched on Tuesday as stability concerns put a torch to European bank stocks and sent investors stampeding to only the safest of safe-haven assets. As fear overwhelmed greed, yields on longer-term Japanese bonds fell below zero for the first time, the yen surged to a 15-month peak and gold reached its most precious since June. Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso felt moved enough to warn the yen’s rise was “rough”, something of an understatement as the Nikkei nosedived 5.4%. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 1.2%, with Australian shares hitting 2-1/2-year closing low, and would have been lower if not for holidays in many centres.

Spread-betters see another weak session in European shares, where German DAX is seen falling 0.7% and Britain’s FTSE 0.5%. S&P 500 e-mini futures fell more than 1% at one point. “Sentiment towards risk assets remained extremely bearish and price action reflected a market that may be capitulating,” said Jo Masters, a senior economist at ANZ. All of which magnified the stakes for U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s testimony this week. “She needs to come across as optimistic without being too hawkish and cautious without being negative,” said Masters. “Hawkishness or dovishness could easily exacerbate the current sell-off, tightening financial conditions further.”

Wall Street pared losses but still ended deep in the red. The Dow lost 1.1%, while the S&P 500 fell 1.42% and the Nasdaq 1.82%. The rout began in Europe on Monday, when the FTSEurofirst 300 index shed 3.4% to its lowest since late 2013, led by a near 6% dive in the banking sector. Deutsche Bank alone sank 9.5% as concerns mounted about its ability to maintain bond payments. Late Monday, the German bank said it has “sufficient” reserves to make due payments this year on AT1 securities. The cost of insuring bank debt against default also climbed to its highest since late 2013. Borrowing costs in Spain, Portugal and Italy jumped as investors demanded a fatter risk premium over safer German paper, where two-year yields hit record lows at minus 52 basis points.

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“..additional Tier 1 bonds..” Sounds solid?!

Banks Bonds Are “The Epicenter Of Growth Concerns Globally” (BBG)

Last year’s sure thing in credit markets is quickly becoming this year’s nightmare for bond investors. The riskiest European bank debt generated returns of about 8% last year, according to BofAML index data, beating every type of credit investment globally. In less than six weeks this year, those gains have been all but wiped out, even after interest payments. Investors are increasingly concerned that weak earnings and a global market rout will make it harder for banks to pay the interest on at least some of these securities, or to buy them back as soon as investors had hoped. The bonds allow banks to skip interest payments without defaulting, and they turn into equity in times of stress. Deutsche Bank may struggle to pay the interest on these securities next year, a report from independent research firm CreditSights earlier on Monday said. The bank took the unusual step of saying that it has enough capacity to pay coupons for the next two years.

“The worries about these bonds represent real fears that the European banking system may be weaker and more vulnerable to slowing growth than a lot of people originally thought,” said Gary Herbert at Brandywine Global Investment Management. “It’s the epicenter of growth concerns globally. And it doesn’t look pretty,” he added. Money managers’ concerns are spreading even to safer bank bonds, underscoring how investors are running away from risk across a broad range of assets now, from stocks to commodities to corporate bonds. The cost of protecting against defaults on safer U.S. and European financial debt known as senior unsecured notes has jumped to the highest level since 2013. European banks are looking less solid since their last earnings reports.

Deutsche Bank for example last month posted its first full-year loss since 2008, and its shares have plunged. Credit Suisse’s shares plunged to their lowest level since 1991 after the Swiss bank posted its biggest quarterly loss since the crisis. Banks have issued about €91 billion of the riskiest notes, called additional Tier 1 bonds, since April 2013. The problem is the securities are untested and if a troubled bank fails to redeem them at the first opportunity or halts coupon payments investors may jump ship, sparking a wider selloff in corporate credit markets. “It’s the first thing that gets cut from portfolios,” said David Butler, a portfolio manager at Rogge Global Partners, which oversees about $35 billion of assets. “When the wider credit market turns, it leaves investors exposed.”

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Feel better now? “For those “brave enough to defy Mr Market’s gloomy prognosis”, this may be an ideal time to jump back into the stock market, said Mr Hatzius.”

Goldman Sachs Sees Near-Zero Risk Of UK Recession Despite Market Tantrum (AEP)

Britain is extremely unlikely to face an economic recession over the next two years and is on safer ground than any other major country in the developed world, according to a new crisis-study by Goldman Sachs. The US investment bank said the global stock market rout and the credit tremors this year are sending off false signals, insisting that underlying indicators of economic health show little sign of a sudden rupture in Europe, the US or across the OECD bloc of rich states. An array of “alarm” indicators – based on the experience of 20 countries since 1970 – suggest that the current business cycle is still in full swing and far from exhaustion, even if risks have been ratcheting up over recent months. Credit ratios are high but they have not been spiking higher in most OECD states, and there is still plenty of slack left in the economy.

This allows central banks to take their time before having to slam on the brakes – the time-honoured cause of recessions. Jan Hatzius, Goldman’s chief US economist, cited a string of episodes where markets were gripped by fear and emotion yet the storm passed without doing much damage. These included the 1987 stock market crash, the 1994 bond rout, Mexico’s Tequila crisis, the failure of the giant hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management and the Asian crisis in 1998, the corporate credit squeeze from 2002-2003 at the onset of the Iraq War and the eurozone sovereign debt crisis. “In each case, at least some financial markets were priced for significant recession risk, if not an outright slump,” he said. Yet Goldman cautioned that it would be a “grave error” to ignore the latest market tantrum altogether.

The US Federal Reserve was able to slash interest rates and flush the international financial system with liquidity to weather the 1987 and 1998 storms, something that would be much harder to pull off today. Mounting worry over China – and its linkages through the commodity nexus – has put everybody’s nerves on edge this time. “Financial markets now signal a high probability of another recession. High-yield spreads are at levels almost never seen outside of recessions,” said Mr Hatzius. “The message from the equity market is less clear-cut, but there are only a few non-recessionary instances over the past three decades in which the S&P 500 (index of US equities) performed as poorly as it did over the past year,” he said. That said, Britain appears rock-solid under the Goldman Sachs model with a mere 3pc risk of losing its footing over the next eight quarters, followed by Sweden, Denmark and South Korea.

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“Basically they’re maxxing out their credit cards before the banks can cut them off.”

Chesapeake Energy Plunges On Bankruptcy Fears (Forbes)

Shares in Chesapeake Energy were halted in mid-morning trading after selling off more than 50% to new lows on a report from Debtwire that the company had hired restructuring specialists Kirkland & Ellis . Seeking to stem the panic, Chesapeake issued a statement saying it “has no plans to pursue bankruptcy” and that Kirkland & Ellis had been one the company’s law firms since 2010. Chesapeake also reportedly hired restructuring specialists Evercore Partners back in December. After trading resumed, shares recovered some of their ground, jumping from $1.50 to $2.25, though still off 27% on the day so far. At these levels, all of Chesapeake’s equity could be had for $1.4 billion. Shares traded above $30 in 2014, and north of $60 in 2008, when natural gas prices hit record highs.

Naturally, holders of Chesapeake debt are shooting first and asking questions later. Its nearest-term bond matures March 15; it traded as high as 95 cents on the dollar late last week, but plunged this morning to 73.75 cents. After the announcement the bonds recovered above 80 cents, according to FINRA data. Investors are concerned that Chesapeake will be unwilling or unable to roll the debt. According to a report this morning from Troubled Company Reporter, some of Chesapeake’s longer dated issues are trading below 30 cents. Chesapeake has been looking for options to improve liquidity. Late last year amended its $4 billion bank revolver, changing it from an unsecured line to secured. It also did a distressed-debt-exchange offer, taking in $3.8 billion in notes in exchange for $2.4 billion in second-lien debt. It recently canceled dividend payments on its preferred stock.

A big problem for Chesapeake and many other exploration and production companies: their oil and gas hedges are rolling off, meaning that the little protection they used to have against low commodity prices is evaporating. As billionaire natural gas trader John Arnold tweeted this morning: “The wave of E&P bankruptcies starts now. CHK alone has nearly $1 billion less in hedging gains in ’16 than ’15 at today’s prices.” I talked to a well-placed banker over the weekend who says restructuring advisors at shops like Lazard and Kirkland & Ellis had been advising his clients to begin drawing down any cash remaining on their bank revolvers in order to maximize liquidity to get them through the next few months. Basically they’re maxxing out their credit cards before the banks can cut them off. That’s exactly what Linn Energy said last week that it had done; with more than $4 billion in credit facilities maxxed. Shares in LINE fell 50% on Friday and are off another 24% today. Linn’s debt is trading below 20 cents.

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“We need to close that gap. And the way that that will happen is the rest of those bankruptcies will go forward.”

150 Oil And Gas Companies “At Risk Of Bankruptcy” As Prices Fall (BBG)

About 150 oil and gas companies tracked by energy consultant IHS Inc. may go bust as a supply glut pressures prices and punishes revenues. The number of companies at risk is more than twice the 60 producers that have already filed for bankruptcy, Bob Fryklund, chief upstream analyst at IHS, said in an interview. A further shake out would help stimulate deals that have been on hold because buyers and sellers have disagreed on asset values, he said. Oil has collapsed about 70% over the past two years as U.S. shale producers boosted output and OPEC flooded the market with crude to drive out higher-cost suppliers. More bankruptcies would be one signal that energy prices have reached a bottom and would help kick off deals for the $230 billion worth of oil and gas assets currently up for sale, according to Fryklund.

“Nobody is buying because there is a mismatch between expectations,” Fryklund said in an interview in Tokyo. “We need to close that gap. And the way that that will happen is the rest of those bankruptcies will go forward.” Companies that plan to make investments are likely to wait for prices to gain for six months because they want to be confident in a recovery, according to Fryklund. “It usually happens as we begin to come back up on price,” he said. “There is always a little lag on timing.” The global oil surplus that fueled crude’s decline to a 12-year low will shift to a deficit as output falls and a new bull market begins before the year is out, Goldman Sachs said in January.

U.S. production will drop by 620,000 barrels a day, or about 7%, from the first quarter to the fourth, according to the Energy Information Administration. Low prices are also spurring greater efficiency, according to IHS. Operating costs on a per barrel basis declined about 35% last year in North America and have dropped about 20% globally, according to the consultant. Crude output from North Dakota rose through most of last year and some producers in the Permian Basin in western Texas can break-even drilling oil at $35 a barrel, he said.

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88% full is about as full as it can get. Tanks at Cushing are used for blending too. Can’t do that if they get even fuller.

US Oil Industry Woes Grow As Storage Levels Hit ‘Critical Level’ (MW)

The storage tanks at Cushing, Okla., the delivery point for the New York Mercantile Exchange crude contract, are edging closer to their limits, raising a new set of problems for an industry that has already suffered from a 70% drop in prices in the past year and a half. Cushing, which represents about 13% of the nation’s oil storage, has a working capacity of about 73.014 million barrels of crude oil, according to data from Sept. 2015, the latest available from the EIA. As of the week ended Jan. 29, there was 64.174 million barrels of oil in storage at Cushing, so it is at about 88% full. “Where inventories count the most—at the Nymex terminal complex in Cushing, Oklahoma—storage is already at a critical level,” said Stephen Schork, in The Schork Report published Monday.

“Approximately 6 out of 7 barrels available storage capacity at the Nymex hub are now full.” The report highlighted an article from Reuters that discussed delays in crude deliveries from storage tanks at Cushing because there wasn’t enough room to drain existing tanks to blend oil to meet West Texas Intermediate crude specifications. Cushing serves as a blending station, where crude oil from the midcontinent is mixed to the specific grades required by different refineries, according to StateImpact Oklahoma. “We soon might be in a situation that we have so much oil, that we don’t have enough of the right kind of oil,” Schork said.

But that’s not the only problem. Richard Hastings, macro strategist at Seaport Global Securities, said building more tanks would take time and there would be questions over how the cost of tanks would be shared across the supply chain. Meanwhile, the market is dealing with a “constant high volume” of crude oil coming from the floating storage at the Gulf Coast, the Canadian crudes coming by rail to the U.S. and domestic production, said Hastings. “If the volumes get too high, then the intermediate delivery steps—moving large volumes from tanks to pipelines—could be difficult if the local hub’s pipeline capacity is constrained,” he said.

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“..no matter how much P.R. or whitewashing they use, the market knows this is over and we’re not going to play this game anymore.”

Jim Rogers: “The Market Knows It’s Over” (SHTF)

Back in the 1970’s as recession gripped the world for a decade, stocks stagnated and commodities crashed, investor Jim Rogers made a fortune. His understanding of markets, capital flows and timing is legendary. As crisis struck in late 2008, he did it again, often recommending gold and silver to those looking for wealth preservation strategies – move that would have paid of multi-fold when precious metals hit all time highs in 2011. He warned that the crash would lead to massive job losses, dependence on government bailouts, and unprecedented central bank printing on a global scale. Now, Rogers says that investors around the world are realizing that the jig is up. Stocks are over bloated and central banks will have little choice but to take action again. But this time, says Rogers in his latest interview with CrushTheStreet.com, there will be no stopping it and people all over the world are going to feel the pain, including in China and the United States.

We’re all going to suffer… I can think of very few places that won’t suffer. But most people are going to suffer the next time around. Central banks will panic. They will do whatever they can to save the markets. It’s artificial… it won’t work… there comes a time when no matter how much money you have, the market has more money. [..] I don’t know if they’ll even call it QE (Quantitative Easing) in the future… who knows what they’ll call it to disguise it… they’re going to try whatever they can… printing more money or lowering interest rates or buying more assets… but unfortunately, no matter how much P.R. or whitewashing they use, the market knows this is over and we’re not going to play this game anymore.

The entire world is about to get hammered and the average person on the street is the one who will pay the price, as is usually the case. We can expect more losses in markets, more losses in jobs and more losses to freedom as governments and central banks point the finger at everyone but themselves.

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If that’s your sole alternative…

Can Hobbit Tourism Save New Zealand’s Troubled Dairy Farmers? (BBG)

New Zealand farmer Ian Diprose used to count on the dairy industry for most of his income. Today, he relies on tourism. As plunging milk prices push dairy farms into the red and hurt rural businesses, Diprose and wife Joy are making more money accommodating tourists than other farmers’ cows. That’s because their grazing property in Waikato, New Zealand’s dairying heartland, is about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from Hobbiton, a life-sized imitation of Bilbo Baggins’ Shire created for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. “A lot of the people who come through here are Hobbiton-crazy,” said Diprose, 73, whose De Preaux Lodge in Matamata offers bed, breakfast, a home-cooked meal and an authentic New Zealand farm experience for NZ$175 ($120) a night. “In our little town, we have something like 30 cafes or places to eat because of the tourists coming through.”

The Diproses started offering accommodation five years ago as a hobby to augment income from agisting cattle. Today, it’s their main business. Four out of five dairy farmers in New Zealand, the world’s biggest dairy exporter, will operate at a loss this season as the global slump in milk prices enters its third year, according to the central bank. That’s curbing farmers’ spending and damping economic growth, even as a tourism boom helps to soften the blow. “I’ve reduced my grazing prices to one of my customers quite drastically because she’s a young farmer and I know she’s struggling,” said Diprose, who has two sons dairying. “The impact it’s having on them is crippling. The financial situation of the dairy farmers, I weigh that up every day in my heart.” As farmers tighten their belts, demand for fertilizer to veterinary services has fallen, and retailers in rural towns are feeling the pinch.

At Giltrap AgriZone, which sells hay balers and tractors at three outlets around Waikato, sales are down 30% from a year ago, said Managing Director Andrew Giltrap. “We’re on a roller coaster and we just have to ride it out,” he said. New Zealand, once known as the country with 10 times more sheep than people, has stepped up investment in dairy farming in the past decade. The nation now boasts 5 million cows, more than its 4.5 million human population, while sheep numbers have declined 26% since 2006 to 29.5 million. The strategy made sense when milk prices surged to a record in 2007 and neared that peak again in 2013. Since then, a global oversupply and waning demand for milk powder from a slumping China have seen prices crash. With plunging oil prices now sapping milk purchases by Russia and other energy-producing nations, dairy prices are approaching the 12-year low they hit in August.

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But they’ll let him, want to bet? Europe’s rudderless. He has a demand or two in Syria as well.

Turkey’s Erdogan Threatened To Flood Europe With Migrants (Reuters)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan threatened in November to flood Europe with migrants if EU leaders did not offer him a better deal to help manage the Middle East refugee crisis, a Greek news website said on Monday. Publishing what it said were minutes of a tense meeting last November, the euro2day.gr financial news website revealed deep mutual irritation and distrust in talks between Erdogan and the EU’s two top officials, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk. The EU officials were trying to enlist Ankara’s help in stemming an influx of Syrian refugees and migrants into Europe. Over a million arrived last year, most crossing the narrow sea gap between Turkey and islands belonging to EU member Greece.

Tusk’s European Council and Juncker’s European Commission declined to confirm or deny the authenticity of the document, and Erdogan’s office in Ankara had no immediate comment. The account of the meeting, in English, was produced in facsimile on the website. It does not state when or where the meeting took place, but it appears to have been on Nov. 16 in Antalya, Turkey, where the three met after a G20 summit there. “We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria anytime and we can put the refugees on buses … So how will you deal with refugees if you don’t get a deal? Kill the refugees?” Erdogan was quoted in the text as telling the EU officials. It also quoted him as demanding €6 billion over two years. When Juncker made clear only half that amount was on offer, he said Turkey didn’t need the EU’s money anyway.

The EU eventually agreed a €3 billion fund to improve conditions for refugees in Turkey, revive Ankara’s long-stalled accession talks and accelerate visa-free travel for Turks in exchange for Ankara curbing the numbers of migrants pouring into neighboring Greece. In heated exchanges, Erdogan often interrupted Juncker and Tusk, the purported minutes show, accusing the EU of deceiving Turkey and Juncker personally of being disrespectful to him.The Turkish leader was also quoted as telling Juncker, a former prime minister of tiny Luxembourg, to show more respect to the 80-million-strong Turkey. “Luxembourg is just like a little town in Turkey,” he was quoted as saying.The tense dialogue highlighted the depth of mutual suspicion at a time when the EU is banking on Turkish help to alleviate its worst migration crisis since World War Two.

The EU says the flow of people from Turkey, which hosts more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees, has not decreased in any significant way since the bloc’s joint summit with Ankara in November, when they had agreed the fund for refugees there.The report prompted a member of the European Parliament from the Greek centrist party To Potami to ask the European Commission to confirm the purported talks.”If the relevant dialogues between the EU officials and the Turkish President are true, it seems that there are aspects of the deal between Ankara and the EU which were concealed on purpose,” Miltos Kyrkos said in the question he submitted to the Commission. “We want immediately an answer on whether these revelations are true and where the Commission’s legitimacy to negotiate, using Turkey’s accession course as a trump card, is coming from,” Kyrkos said.

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Sweet Jesus.

35 Refugees Die Off Turkish Coast (Guardian)

At least 35 people have died after two boats carrying refugees sank off Turkey’s Aegean coast, according to reports. The Turkish coastguard said 24 drowned when a boat capsized in the Bay of Edremit, near the Greek island of Lesbos, while the Dogan news agency reported that the bodies of 11 people were found after a separate accident further south, near the Aegean resort of Dikili. The deaths came as Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, met the Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, for more talks on reducing the influx of refugees to Europe.

Turkey is central to Merkel s diplomatic efforts to reduce the flow. Germany saw an unprecedented 1.1 million asylum seekers arrive last year, many of them fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. In her weekly video message on Saturday, Merkel said European Union countries agree that the bloc needs to protect its external borders better, and that that is why she is seeking a solution with Turkey. She added that, if Europe wants to prevent smuggling, “we must be prepared to take in quotas of refugees legally and bear our part of the task”. “I don t think Europe can keep itself completely out of this”, Merkel said.

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Dec 262015
 
 December 26, 2015  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Andreas Feininger Production B-17 heavy bomber at Boeing plant, Seattle Dec 1942

Christmas 2015 – Why There Is No Peace On Earth (Stockman)
China State Firms’ Profits Down 9.5% Year-on-Year In January-November (Reuters)
China Says AIIB Up And Running Early In The New Year
US Oil Bankruptcies Reach Highest Quarterly Level Since Recession (BBG)
Why Not People’s Quantitative Easing? (Steve Keen on Keiser Report)
Commerzbank Sues BNY Mellon, Wells Fargo, HSBC Over Mortgage Losses (Reuters)
Huge Leap In Number Of People Cashing In And Moving Out Of London In 2015 (G.)
The Sneaky Way Austerity Got Sold to the Public Like Snake Oil (Lynn Parramore)
Beijing Raises Smog Alert -Again- as Airport Cancels 227 Departures (BBG)
Pope Condemns ‘Monstrous Evil’ Fuelling Refugee Crisis (Guardian)
Remember That Christmas Is A Story Of Middle Eastern Refugees (Quartz)
Two Dead As Hundreds Of Migrants Storm Spanish Enclave in Morocco (AFP)

Because of Pax Americana. Long expose by Stockman.

Christmas 2015 – Why There Is No Peace On Earth (Stockman)

After the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 and the death of the Soviet Union was confirmed two years later when Boris Yeltsin courageously stood down the red army tanks in front of Moscow’s White House, a dark era in human history came to an end. The world had descended into what had been a 77-year global war, incepting with the mobilization of the armies of old Europe in August 1914. If you want to count bodies, 150 million were killed by all the depredations which germinated in the Great War, its foolish aftermath at Versailles, and the march of history into the world war and cold war which followed inexorably thereupon. To wit, upwards of 8% of the human race was wiped-out during that span.

The toll encompassed the madness of trench warfare during 1914-1918; the murderous regimes of Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism that rose from the ashes of the Great War and Versailles; and then the carnage of WWII and all the lesser (unnecessary) wars and invasions of the Cold War including Korea and Vietnam. I have elaborated more fully on this proposition in “The Epochal Consequences Of Woodrow Wilson’s War“, but the seminal point cannot be gainsaid. The end of the cold war meant world peace was finally at hand, yet 25 years later there is still no peace because Imperial Washington confounds it.

In fact, the War Party entrenched in the nation’s capital is dedicated to economic interests and ideological perversions that guarantee perpetual war; they ensure endless waste on armaments and the inestimable death and human suffering that stems from 21st century high tech warfare and the terrorist blowback it inherently generates among those upon which the War Party inflicts its violent hegemony. So there was a virulent threat to peace still lurking on the Potomac after the 77-year war ended. The great general and president, Dwight Eisenhower, had called it the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address, but that memorable phrase had been abbreviated by his speechwriters, who deleted the word “congressional” in a gesture of comity to the legislative branch.

So restore Ike’s deleted reference to the pork barrels and Sunday afternoon warriors of Capitol Hill and toss in the legions of beltway busybodies that constituted the civilian branches of the cold war armada (CIA, State, AID etc.) and the circle would have been complete. It constituted the most awesome machine of warfare and imperial hegemony since the Roman legions bestrode most of the civilized world. In a word, the real threat to peace circa 1990 was that Pax Americana would not go away quietly in the night.

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With numbers like those, statements like these are ludicrous: “The government has been struggling to reach its economic growth target of around 7% this year..”

China State Firms’ Profits Down 9.5% Year-on-Year In January-November (Reuters)

Profits at China’s state firms dipped 9.5% in the first 11 months of 2015 from a year earlier, after a 9.8% drop in the first 10 months, the Ministry of Finance said on Friday. Combined profits of state-owned enterprises totaled 2.04 trillion yuan ($315.18 billion) in the January-November period, the ministry said in a statement on its website. “The downward pressure on economic operations remains relatively big, although there are signs of warming up in some indicators,” the ministry said.

Excluding financial firms, combined revenues of state-owned firms fell 6.1% in the first 11 months from a year earlier to 40.66 trillion yuan, the ministry said. Companies in transportation, chemical and power sectors reported a rise in profit in the January-November period, while firms in oil, petrochemicals and building materials saw a drop in earnings. Firms in steel, coal and non-ferrous metal sectors continued to suffer losses. The government has been struggling to reach its economic growth target of around 7% this year, which would be the weakest pace in a quarter of a century.

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A foreign policy success is not the same as a financial success.

China Says AIIB Up And Running Early In The New Year

The China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has been formally established and is expected to be operational early next year, the official Xinhua news agency said on Friday. The bank’s establishment came after 17 funding members of the AIIB, which account for just over 50% of its share capital, ratified an agreement on the bank, state television quoted Finance Minister Lou Jiwei as saying. The bank will hold its opening ceremony in mid-January and formally elect its president, state television said. The bank will initially focus on financing projects in power, transportation, and urban infrastructure in Asia, the television quoted the bank’s president-elect, Jin Liqun, as saying. First proposed by President Xi Jinping less than two years ago, the bank has become one of China’s biggest foreign policy successes. Despite the opposition of Washington, major U.S. allies such as Australia, Britain, Germany, Italy, the Philippines and South Korea have joined.

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You ain’t seen nothing yet. On January 1, all previous bets are off.

US Oil Bankruptcies Reach Highest Quarterly Level Since Recession (BBG)

Bankruptcies among oil and gas companies have reached quarterly levels last seen in the Great Recession, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. At least nine U.S. oil and gas companies that accounted for more than $2 billion in debt have filed for bankruptcy in the fourth quarter, the bank said Wednesday in its energy economic update for the final three months of the year. “Lower oil prices have taken a significant financial toll on U.S. oil and gas producers, in part because many face higher costs of production than their international counterparts do,” according to the note written by Navi Dhaliwal, a research assistant, and Martin Stuermer, a research economist. “If bankruptcies continue at this rate, more may follow in 2016.” Since peaking in October 2014, U.S. oil and gas employment has fallen by 70,000 jobs, the analysts wrote in the report.

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Bit confusing at the start on differences between people’s QE and basic income. And the entire topic already confuses people with all the varying definitions. But it’s good to get the discussion going. And Steve’s Modern Debt Jubilee is still the most sensible thing out there.

Why Not People’s Quantitative Easing? (Steve Keen on Keiser Report)

In this special Winter Why Not? episode of the Keiser Report, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert talk to Professor Steve Keen about solutions to our unpayable debts, including: basic income, a People’s Quantitative Easing and a global debt jubilee. Professor Keen explains why a modern debt jubilee could please both debtors and creditors, savers and spenders.

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Deals with deals that are almost a decade old.

Commerzbank Sues BNY Mellon, Wells Fargo, HSBC Over Mortgage Losses (Reuters)

Commerzbank has sued four banks in the United States, claiming that they failed to properly monitor billions of dollars in toxic mortgage-backed securities acquired by the German lender before the 2008 financial crisis. Bank of New York Mellon and units of Deutsche Bank, Wells Fargo and HSBC were named in the lawsuits filed on Wednesday and Thursday in Manhattan federal court. BNY Mellon was the trustee for over $1 billion in mortgage-backed securities bought by Commerzbank and $1.3 billion of investments tied to a collateralized debt obligation, Millstone II CDO, court documents showed. BNY Mellon “abandoned its obligations to protect the rights of investors” and did nothing to protect the collateral underlying the CDO, Commerzbank said, noting that it suffered $750 million in losses. Commerzbank made similar claims involving mortgage-backed securities of $640 million in the Deutsche Bank case; $290 million for Wells Fargo; and $204 million for HSBC.

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Ghost town.

Huge Leap In Number Of People Cashing In And Moving Out Of London In 2015 (G.)

The number of people selling up and moving out of London rose by two-thirds in 2015, figures showed on Saturday, as homeowners cashed in on the capital’s high house prices or escaped to more affordable parts of the country. More Londoners bought homes outside the capital than at any point since 2007, according to the property firm Hamptons International, purchasing 63,000 properties during the year. Almost nine out of 10 bought elsewhere in the south of England, but the Midlands saw a 165% increase in the number of Londoners moving into the area. Throughout 2014 house price growth in London outstripped that in other parts of the country, and although it has been less rapid this year, the gap between prices in the capital and outside is wider than ever. Johnny Morris, head of research at Hamptons International, said homeowners were taking advantage of this.

“As the gap between prices in London and the south-east has grown, so has the temptation for Londoners to cash in on record house prices and move out of the capital,” he said. “With expectations of future house price growth in London easing, many have chosen 2015 to make their move out of London.” High costs in London where, according to the Office for National Statistics, the average price of a home is now above half a million pounds, have also forced first-time buyers and those looking for more space to move out. The Hamptons research, based on figures from the UK’s largest estate agency, Countrywide, which it owns, found that the number of people moving out to buy their first home was up by 70%, or 11,000, over 2014’s figure. The most recent data from Nationwide building society on first-time buyer affordability shows that relative to earnings a home in London is at a record 9.6 times average pay.

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“Austerity is so powerful today because it feeds off of itself. It makes people uncertain about their lives, their debts, and their jobs. They become afraid. It’s a strong disciplinary mechanism.”

The Sneaky Way Austerity Got Sold to the Public Like Snake Oil (Lynn Parramore)

Orsola Costantini, Senior Economist at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, is the author of a new paper, “The Cyclically Adjusted Budget: History and Exegesis of a Fateful Estimate,” which exposes the fascinating — and disturbing — history of how a budget approach cloaked in a scientific and technical aura became a tool to manipulate public opinion and serve the interests of the powerful. In the following conversation, she reveals how austerity has been sold to the public through a process that damages the lives of ordinary people, consolidates knowledge and power at the top, and compromises democracy. As economic inequality reaches new heights and austerity programs are debated around the world (most recently, in Spain and Portugal), understanding how a lie becomes political and economic “truth” has never been more critical.

Lynn Parramore: Your recent work deals with something called the “cyclically adjusted budget.” What is it and what does it mean in the lives of ordinary people?

Orsola Costantini: The Cyclically Adjusted Budget (CAB) is a statistical estimate that aids government officials when they decide what to spend money on and how much they’re going to tax you. It is mostly federal governments that use it, but also international institutions like the IMF. Economists will tell you this tool is imprecise. Yet national and international institutions still rely on it to justify important decisions about government spending and taxation. But there’s something the experts aren’t telling you: the cyclically adjusted budget can be easily maneuvered depending on which way the political winds are blowing. And it appears technical and obscure enough so that regular people tend to look at it as objective and undisputable. That’s where the trouble comes in.

Politicians and government officials using the CAB can limit the range of political choices that appear viable to a community. Policymakers can avoid the hassle of taking political responsibility for these choices, too. We had to do it! The budget says so! Look at what happened all over Europe in 2008: It’s one thing to say to students in the streets that their education and economic wellbeing are not a priority for the government while saving banks is. It’s quite another to say that politics has nothing to do with it and the economy requires taking certain actions, sometimes painful.

LP: You indicate that this approach to budgeting was invented as a way of making the New Deal acceptable to the business community. How did that work? Over time, who has benefitted from it? Who has lost?

OC: Back in the 1940s, workers were fighting for their rights, class struggle was heating up, and soldiers would soon be returning from the fronts. At that point, a new business organization, the Committee for Economic Development (CED), came together. Led by Beardsley Ruml and other influential business figures, the CED played a crucial role in developing a conservative approach to Keynesian economics that helped make policies that would help put all Americans to work acceptable to the business community.
The idea was that more consumers would translate into more profits — which is good for business. After all, the economic experts and budget technicians said so, not just the politicians. And the business leaders were told that economic growth and price stability would go along with this, which they liked.

But things changed progressively over the 1970s and early 1980s. Firms went global. They became financialized. The balance of power between workers and owners started to shift more towards the owners, the capitalists. People were told they needed to sacrifice, to accept cuts to social spending and fewer rights and benefits on the job — all in the name of economic science and capitalism. The CAB was turned into a tool for preventing excessive spending — or justifying selected cuts. Middle class folks were afraid that inflation would erode their savings, so they were more keen to approve draconian measures to cut wages and reduce public budgets. People on the lower rungs of the economic ladder felt the pain first. But eventually the middle class fell on the wrong side of the fence, too. Most of them became relatively poorer. I suppose this shows the limits of democracy when information, knowledge, and ultimately power are unequally distributed.

LP: You’re really talking about birth of austerity and the way lies about public spending and budgets have been sold to the public. Why is austerity such a powerful idea and why do politicians still win elections promoting it?

OC: Austerity is so powerful today because it feeds off of itself. It makes people uncertain about their lives, their debts, and their jobs. They become afraid. It’s a strong disciplinary mechanism. People stop joining forces and the political status quo gets locked down. Even the name of this tool, the “cyclically adjusted budget,” carries an aura of respect. It diverts our attention. We don’t question it. It creates a barrier between the individual and the political realm: it undermines democratic participation itself. This obscure theory validates, with its authority, a big economic mistake that sounds like common sense but is actually snake oil — the notion that the federal government budget is like a household budget. Actually, it isn’t. Your household doesn’t collect taxes. It doesn’t print money. It works very differently, yet the nonsense that it should behave exactly like a household budget gets repeated by politicians and policymakers who really just want to squeeze ordinary people.

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Beijing has closed down thousands of companies. But how long can it do that for?

Beijing Raises Smog Alert -Again- as Airport Cancels 227 Departures (BBG)

Beijing issued an alert for severe air pollution Friday, warning children and the elderly to avoid outdoor activities as limited visibility from the thick smog forced the airport to cancel 227 departures. Officials in the capital raised their air pollution alert to orange, the second-highest on the city’s four-grade scale. The concentration of PM2.5 – the particles that pose the greatest health risks – was 503 micrograms per cubic meter near Tiananmen Square at 2 p.m. after reaching 647 in the morning, according to the municipal air-monitoring website. The World Health Organization recommends PM2.5 exposure of no more than 25 over 24-hours.

Beijing Capital International Airport, the world’s second-busiest by passengers, reported the cancellations on its website Friday and said another 12 departures were delayed as of 4 p.m. local time because of poor visibility. The canceled flights accounted for about 12% of scheduled departures Friday, according to the site. The chronic air pollution has renewed calls for the government to make better forecasts and act faster to help clear the skies over the city of 21.5 million. Beijing this year has imposed two red alerts, the highest on the scale, prompting measures including school closures, traffic restrictions and factory operation limits. The latest ended Tuesday. Smog also blanketed China’s eastern and central regions Friday.

PM2.5 levels were as high as 260 micrograms per cubic meter in Zibo and 322 in Jinan of Shandong province, data from the China National Environment Monitoring Center showed. The readings were 277 in Wuhan and 255 in Huanggang of Hubei province. Shanghai issued a yellow alert for air pollution, the third-highest of four levels. Children and the elderly were warned to avoid outdoor activities, with the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center reporting PM2.5 levels of 154 micrograms per cubic meter as of 2 p.m. About 50 cities in northern and eastern China have issued air pollution alerts, the China Daily reported on Friday. Smog across the eastern, northern and central parts of the country will weaken or disperse from north to south from Saturday, the China Meteorological Administration said.

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If “Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil..”, are we off the hook?

Pope Condemns ‘Monstrous Evil’ Fuelling Refugee Crisis (Guardian)

Pope Francis has praised the generosity of countries which have accepted Syrian refugees and condemned the “monstrous evil” which has forced increasing numbers of people to flee their homes in the Middle East. Delivering his Christmas Day homily at St Peter’s in Rome amid heavy security, the pontiff said he was praying for an end to human suffering in a world afflicted by war, poverty and extremist attacks. Francis referred to “brutal acts of terrorism” in Paris in November as well as conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine. “Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst,” he told worshippers gathered in St Peter’s Square.

Thousands of people underwent airport-style security screening as they entered St Peter’s Square. Police armed with machine guns discreetly patrolled the area. Security around the Vatican has stepped up since the terrorist attacks in Paris last month. At the end of a year in which more than a million people have sought sanctuary in Europe, Francis asked God to “repay all those, both individuals and states, who generously work to provide assistance and welcome to the numerous migrants and refugees”. The pope called for “encouragement … to all those fleeing extreme poverty or war, travelling all too often in inhumane conditions and not infrequently at the risk of their lives”. He praised those who are helping migrants “to build a dignified future for themselves and for their dear ones, and to be integrated in the societies which receive them”.

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“..the responsibility to offer refuge is ours until the least of us have shelter.”

Remember That Christmas Is A Story Of Middle Eastern Refugees (Quartz)

As your social media contacts must have reminded you by now, Christmas truly is the story of a Middle Eastern family seeking refuge. Recent forensic research suggests that Jesus looked very much like the men that so many in the predominantly Christian Western world are frightened to let into their countries. Even in photos of the refugees, there are striking echoes of biblical iconography. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel. “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” This is at the very core of Christian values: love your neighbor as yourself—and as your god.

And yet Westerners are, by and large, keeping refugees at bay, bargaining their quotas down, as if the world’s 2.2 billion Christians had never been taught the story of Joseph and Mary being refused accommodation because they were poor strangers. Perhaps instead we can show mercy for mothers breastfeeding their children on a cold beach, for men who nearly drown trying to swim to shore, for children who have no choice but to follow their parents in chasing a future—any future, anywhere. These people are the real-life versions of the icons that Christians have come to associate with the passion of god as a human. Let us recognize them as such. Let us acknowledge, once and for all, that being a refugee—of war, poverty, or discrimination—is a sheer function of luck, and we did nothing to deserve our better fate. Whenever and wherever humanity is suffering, we are involved, and the responsibility to offer refuge is ours until the least of us have shelter.

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Contradictory reports in the media. Some say everyone swam, or that Ceuta is an island.

Two Dead As Hundreds Of Migrants Storm Spanish Enclave in Morocco (AFP)

Two migrants drowned and 12 others were injured Friday when they tried to enter into the tiny Spanish territory of Ceuta in North Africa by swimming from Morocco or scaling a barbed-wire fence, officials in both nations said. Just before 4:00 am (0300 GMT) a group of over 300 migrants tried to get into the Spanish city which borders Morocco and is located across the Strait of Gibraltar from mainland Spain, the Spanish government authority in Ceuta said in a statement. Moroccan forces intercepted over 120 migrants but 182 others managed to get into Ceuta by climbing over the fence or swimming into the territory, it said. “Three of them needed to be reanimated by Spanish police officers who rescued them from the sea.”

Twelve migrants were taken to hospital by the Red Cross to be treated for various injuries, it added. Two people were recovering from near-drowning, one had an open leg fracture and the rest had deep cuts, some requiring stitches, the Red Cross said. Morocco recovered two bodies in the waters near the border post, local officials told Moroccan state news service MAP. The would-be migrants threw stones and used sticks against police, injuring several officers, they added. The Spanish Red Cross said it gave clothes and shoes to the migrants before they were taken to a temporary detention centre in Ceuta. It published photos of Red Cross volunteers helping and feeding migrants, many of them covered in blankets.

Ceuta along with Melilla to the east are two Spanish territories on the northern coast of Morocco that together form the European Union’s only land borders with Africa. Spain fortified fences in the two territories last year in response to a rise in the number of migrants trying to jump over the barriers from neighbouring Morocco. Last year 15 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean after dozens tried to enter Ceuta by swimming from a nearby beach. Human rights groups and migrants said the Spanish police tried to keep them from crossing into Spanish territory by firing rubber bullets and spraying them with tear gas. Madrid has since said that its guards are now banned from using rubber bullets to repel migrants.

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Jan 012015
 
 January 1, 2015  Posted by at 12:37 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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DPC Gillender Building, corner of Nassau and Wall Streets, built 1897, wrecked 1910 1900

Third Of Listed UK Oil And Gas Drillers Face Bankruptcy (Telegraph)
Occam’s Oil (Alhambra)
AAA Says Motorists May Save $75 Billion on Gasoline in 2015 (Bloomberg)
Bottom On Oil’s Plunge Unknown (CNBC)
US Eases Oil Export Ban In Shot At OPEC As Crude Price Slumps (Telegraph)
Even $20 Oil Will Struggle To Save Self–Harming Eurozone (Telegraph)
ECB’s Draghi Says Eurozone Must ‘Complete’ Monetary Union (Reuters)
Greek Expulsion From The Euro Would Demolish EMU’s Contagion Firewall (AEP)
Europe’s Shadow Budget Venture Could Lead To Spiralling Debt (Sinn)
Implications for the ECB and Its Preparation for Sovereign QE (Elga Bartsch)
Seven Shocking Events Of 2014 (Ugo Bardi)
For the Wealthiest Political Donors, It Was a Very Good Year (Bloomberg)
Pension Funds Triple Stake In Reinsurance Business to $59 Billion (NY Times)
Inside Obama’s Secret Outreach to Russia (Bloomberg)
Italian President to Resign, Posing Challenge for Renzi (Bloomberg)
Rousseff Begins Second Term as Brazil Economic Malaise Hits Home
Eyes On Saudi Succession After King Hospitalized (CNBC)
Saudi Succession Plan About Continuity (CNBC)
Sony Hackers Threaten US News Media Organization (Intercept)
Next Year’s Ebola Crisis (Bloomberg ed.)

“.. 70% of the UK’s publicly listed oil exploration and production companies are now unprofitable..” We can all see what that means for the global industry.

Third Of Listed UK Oil And Gas Drillers Face Bankruptcy (Telegraph)

A third of Britain’s listed oil and gas companies are in danger of running out of working capital and even going bankrupt amid a slump in the value of crude, according to new research. Financial risk management group Company Watch believes that 70% of the UK’s publicly listed oil exploration and production companies are now unprofitable, racking up significant losses in the region of £1.8bn. Such is the extent of the financial pressure now bearing down on highly leveraged drillers in the UK that Company Watch estimates that a third of the 126 quoted oil and gas companies on AIM and the London Stock Exchange are generating no revenues. The findings are the latest warning to hit the oil and gas industry since a slump in the price of crude accelerated in November when the OPEC decided to keep its output levels unchanged.

The decision has caused carnage in oil markets with a barrel of Brent crude falling 45% since June to around $60 per barrel. The low cost of crude has added to the financial pressure on many UK listed drillers which are operating in offshore areas such as the North Sea where oil is more expensive to produce and discover. Ewan Mitchell, head of analytics at Company Watch, said: “Many of the smaller quoted oil and gas companies were set up specifically to take advantage of historically high and rising commodity prices. The recent large falls in the price of oil and gas could leave the weaker companies in difficulties, especially the ones that need to raise funds to keep exploring.” Losses are expected to be much deeper among privately-owned oil and gas explorers, which traditionally have more debt.

Company Watch has warned that almost 90% in the UK are loss making with accounts that show a £12bn accumulated black hole in their finances. Mr Mitchell said: “Investors in this sector need to focus primarily on the strength and structure of the balance sheet. A critical question is whether the balance sheet is sufficiently robust to keep the company in business until revenues are expected to flow and, crucially are they likely to be able to rely on existing funding lines while they wait? “Our fear is sustained low oil and gas prices will put an intolerable financial burden on the weaker companies, jeopardising many livelihoods.”

The findings of the Company Watch research are the latest downbeat analysis to hit the industry, which is preparing itself for oil prices to fall below current levels of $60 per barrel. Sir Ian Wood, founder of the oil and gas services giant Wood Group, warned earlier this month that the North Sea oil industry could lose 15,000 jobs in Scotland alone and that production could fall by 10% as drillers cut back. According to energy consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie, around £55bn of oil and gas projects in the North Sea and Europe could be shelved should prices fall below their current levels. Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s recently flagged its concern of some of Europe’s biggest oil and gas groups such as Royal Dutch Shell, BP and BG Group. Its primary worry is debt levels which it says have jumped from a combined $162.9bn (£105bn) for the five largest European companies in the sector at the end of 2008 to an estimated $240bn in 2014.

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It’s about demand, not supply.

Occam’s Oil (Alhambra)

As my colleague Joe Calhoun continually reminds us, everything that happens has happened before. The ongoing “struggle” to define what is driving crude oil prices lower is perhaps another instance of a past “cycle” being reborn. With oil prices now heading much closer to the $40’s than the $60’s, consistent commentary is increasingly swept aside. The move in crude these past six months is now nothing short of astounding. At about $52 current prices (which will probably move in either direction significantly by the time this is posted) the collapse from the recent peak now equals only past, significant global recessions under the oil regime that began in the mid-1980’s.

That comparison includes the 1997-98 Asian “flu” episode where the mainstream convention was also totally convinced of only massive oversupply defining price action. This was incorporated even into the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) estimates of oil inventories, as described shortly thereafter by certain incredulous oil observers:

Fourteen months have passed since the International Energy Agency’s oil analysts alerted the world to the mystery of the “missing barrels.” This new term referred to the discrepancy between the “well-documented” imbalance between supply and demand for oil and the lack of any stock build in the industrialized world’s petroleum supply. In April last year [1998], the IEA’s “missing supply” totaled only 170 million barrels. At the time, the IEA described this odd situation an “arithmetic mystery,” but assured us that these missing barrels would soon show up. As months passed by, stock revisions occasionally too place, but often in the wrong direction. Rather than shrink, the amount of “missing barrels” grew by epochal proportions.

By the publication date of the IEA’s April 1999 Oil Market Report, the unaccounted for crude needed to confirm the IEA’s extremely bearish views of massive oversupply of oil throughout 1997 and 1998 ballooned to an astonishing 647 million barrels of oil. Two months later, the IEA’s June report still presumes that 510 million barrels of oil is still “missing”, and the IEA has officially opined that it all resides in the un-traded storage facilities in the developing countries of the world.

As the author of that analysis points out in another piece, those “un-traded storage facilities” being blamed were sometimes ridiculous notions, such as “slow-steaming tankers”, South African coal mines or even Swedish salt domes. In other words, the idea that there was this massive oversupply of oil production driving the almost 60% collapse in global crude prices in 1997 and 1998 was total bunk. Instead, what was driving prices lower was the simple fact of supply and demand balancing to achieve a physical clearing price. That meant, in the broader context far and away from Swedish salt domes, the price of oil was really trading on the collapse in global demand for it. The Asian “flu” was not simply a financial panic among “unimportant”, far-flung isolated economies of tiny nations, but rather a global slowdown across nearly every economy – which sharply lower oil prices simply confirmed.

[..] today, the Saudis are supposedly up to the same tricks, now trying to drive US shale production out of business. The fact that all those increased marginal suppliers more than survived the Asia flu tells you everything you need to know about this wild assertion of “intentional” Saudi action. It is a convoluted rumor that survives solely because it is convenient to those economists and commentators that refuse to accept these more basic connections.

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“We’re buying more of it from ourselves, which is a great economic multiplier.” Well, until you start losing 1000s of jobs.

AAA Says Motorists May Save $75 Billion on Gasoline in 2015 (Bloomberg)

Drivers in the U.S. may save as much as $75 billion at gasoline pumps in 2015 after a yearlong rout in crude oil sent prices tumbling, AAA said today. Americans already saved $14 billion on the motor fuel this year, according to Heathrow, Florida-based AAA, the country’s largest motoring group. Pump prices have dropped a record 97 consecutive days to a national average $2.26 a gallon today, the lowest since May 12, 2009, AAA said by e-mail. A global glut of crude oil and a standoff between U.S. producers and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries over market share has been a boon for consumers. U.S. production climbed this year to the highest in three decades amid a surge in output from shale deposits.

Oil is heading for its biggest annual decline since the 2008 financial crisis. “Next year promises to provide much bigger savings to consumers as long as crude oil remains relatively cheap,” Avery Ash, an AAA spokesman, said by e-mail today. “It would not be surprising for U.S. consumers to save $50-$75 billion on gasoline in 2015 if prices remain low.” U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude dropped 46% this year while Brent oil, the international benchmark that contributes to the price of gasoline imports, fell 49%. “It’s getting lower because what happened? We drilled in the United States,” Peyton Feltus, president of Randolph Risk Management in Dallas, said today in a telephone interview.

“We’re buying more of it from ourselves, which is a great economic multiplier.” There is “significant uncertainty” over the cost of crude next year as lower prices may force companies to curb production and may also lead to instability in other oil-producing countries, the motoring group said. Gasoline futures fell 48% this year to close at $1.4353 a gallon today on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The average U.S. household will save about $550 on gasoline costs next year, with spending on track to reach the lowest in 11 years, the Energy Information Administration said Dec. 16. “They’ve got more disposable income and they’re going to have even more in the coming months,” Feltus said. “Gasoline prices are going to go lower than anybody thought they could.”

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“It’s similar to 2008 when we knew oil at $120, $130 and $140 made no sense, but high prices became the reason for higher prices. It’s the same thing in reverse.”

Bottom On Oil’s Plunge Unknown (CNBC)

Oil’s massive price drop continues to befuddle industry experts. “We’re at the stupid range,” Stephen Schork, editor and founder of The Schork Report, said in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” Schork added this situation is similar to oil’s price spike in 2008 in terms of its uncertainty. “We don’t know how much lower oil can go,” Schork said. “It’s similar to 2008 when we knew oil at $120, $130 and $140 made no sense, but high prices became the reason for higher prices. It’s the same thing in reverse.” Schork also said oil’s price plunge is attracting many investors. “Bets for oil below $30 by June traded over 46,000 contracts over the past two weeks,” he said.

Also on “Squawk Box,” Boris Schlossberg, founding partner of B.K. Asset Management, said an entire year of oil selling at $50 per barrel will create problems for Russia. “Russia is in very serious trouble if oil just stays low,” he said. “We had a bounce in the ruble, and it sort of stabilized right now, but if you have oil staying at $54 for a whole year, it’s really going to create problems over there.” Schlossberg added that this could lead to more capital leaving Russia for other currencies, including the Swiss franc. “There’s a lot of money being moved into the Swiss franc as a safety trade,” he said.

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“The move could signal that a full opening of the export ban, which has existed since the oil shock of the 1970s, is imminent.”

US Eases Oil Export Ban In Shot At OPEC As Crude Price Slumps (Telegraph)

President Barack Obama has fired a shot at the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in the war to control global oil markets by quietly sanctioning the easing of America’s 40-year ban on exporting crude. The US government has reportedly told oil companies they can begin to export shipments of condensate – a high-grade crude produced as a by-product of gas – without going through the formal approval process. The move could signal that a full opening of the export ban, which has existed since the oil shock of the 1970s, is imminent. Brent crude fell sharply on the news, first reported by Reuters. The global benchmark opened down almost 2% in London at $56.85 per barrel as it closes in on its biggest annual drop since the financial crisis in 2008. Brent has lost 50% of its value since reaching its year-long high in June. The ending of America’s self-imposed embargo on oil exports would mark a serious escalation in the unfolding oil price war with OPEC led by Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom has made it clear that it is willing to watch the price of oil fall lower in order to protect its share of the global market. OPEC share has fallen to about a third of world supply, down from about half 20 years ago as the flood in shale oil drilling in the US and new supplies from Russia and South America have created a global glut. Meanwhile, the sharp fall in the value of oil is placing economies in major producing nations such as Venezuela and Russia under extreme strain. Venezuela – also a member of OPEC – has fallen into recession after its economy contracted for the first three quarters of the year, while inflation topped 63% in the 12 months to November. The South American oil giant’s economy shrank 2.3% in the third quarter, after contracting 4.8% in the first quarter and 4.9% in the second, the central bank has said.

Recession also looms in Russia, where the economy has fallen into decline for the first time in five years, according to official figures, which show that GDP contracted by 0.5% in the year to November. Falling oil prices are helping the US to exert pressure on the Kremlin over President Vladimir Putin’s support for separatists in Ukraine. Oil also came under pressure on the final day of the year after new data showed that China may miss its growth target for 2014. China manufacturing PMI fell to 49.6, down from final 50.0 in November. This is the first time in the second half of the year that China’s factory sector has contracted and has increased the possibility that 2014 GDP will miss the official 7.5% target. “Weak Chinese manufacturing data also damaged demand sentiment around oil as Brent breached the $57 handle,” said Peter Rosenstreich, head of market strategy at Swissquote.

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“When the future arrives, prices will still be low, confounding those who have bought forward.”

Even $20 Oil Will Struggle To Save Self–Harming Eurozone (Telegraph)

Revisiting the past year’s predictions is, for most columnists – yours truly included – a frequently humbling experience. The howlers tend to far outweigh the successes. Yet, for a change, I can genuinely claim to have got my main call for markets – that oil would sink to $80 a barrel or less – spot on, and for the right reasons, too. Just in case you think I’m making it up, this is what I said 12 months ago: “My big prediction is for $80 oil, from which much of the rest of my outlook for the coming year flows. It’s hard to overstate the significance of a much lower oil price – Brent at, say, $80 a barrel, or perhaps lower still – yet this is a surprisingly likely prospect, the implications of which have been largely missed by mainstream economic forecasters.” If on to a good thing, you might as well stick with it; so for the coming year, I’m doubling up on this forecast.

Far from bouncing back to the post crisis “normal” of something over $100 a barrel, as many oil traders seem to expect, my view is that the oil price will remain low for a long time, sinking to perhaps as little as $20 a barrel over the coming year before recovering a little. I’ve used the word “normal” to describe $100 oil, but in fact such prices are in historic terms something of an aberration. The long term, 20–year average is, in today’s money (adjusting for inflation), more like $60. It wasn’t that long ago that OPEC was targeting $25 oil, which back then seemed a comparatively high price. Be that as it may, for 15 years prior to the turn of the century Brent traded at around the $20 mark in nominal terms. Oil at $20 is a much more “normal” price than $100. The assumption of much higher prices is in truth a very modern phenomenon, born of explosive emerging market demand. For the time being, this seems to be over. Chinese growth is slowing and becoming less energy intensive.

By the by, however, the relatively high prices of the past 10 years have incentivised both a giant leap in supply – in the shape of American shale and other once marginal sources – and continued paring back of existing demand, as consumers, under additional pressure from environmental objectives, seek greater efficiency. Lots of new technologies have been developed to further these aims. Personally, I wouldn’t read much into the present deep “contango” in markets – an unusual alignment whereby futures prices are a lot higher than present spot prices. Some cite this as evidence that the price will shortly rebound. I’d say it’s just a leftover from the old “peak oil” mindset of permanently high prices. When the future arrives, prices will still be low, confounding those who have bought forward. In any case, for now we are faced with an oil glut, and there is no reason to believe that this mismatch between supply and demand is going to close any time soon.

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Draghi must leave.

ECB’s Draghi Says Eurozone Must ‘Complete’ Monetary Union (Reuters)

Euro zone countries must “complete” their monetary union by integrating economic policies further and working towards a capital markets union, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said. In an article for Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore on Wednesday, Draghi said structural reforms were needed to “ensure that each country is better off permanently belonging to the euro area”. He said the lack of reforms “raises the threat of an exit (from the euro) whose consequences would ultimately hit all members”, adding the ECB’s monetary policy, whose goal is price stability, could not react to shocks in individual countries.

He said an economic union would make markets more confident about future growth prospects – essential for reducing high debt levels – and so less likely to react negatively to setbacks such as a temporary increase in budget deficits. “This means governing together, going from co-ordination to a common decisional process, from rules to institutions.” Unifying capital markets to follow this year’s banking union would also make the bloc more resilient. “How risks are shared is connected to the depth of capital markets, in particular stock markets. As a consequence, we must proceed swiftly towards a capital markets union,” Draghi wrote.

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“An army of critics retort that the underlying picture is turning blacker by the day. Europe’s rescue apparatus is not what it seems. The banking union belies its name. It is merely a supervision union.”

Greek Expulsion From The Euro Would Demolish EMU’s Contagion Firewall (AEP)

We know from memoirs and a torrent of leaks that Europe’s creditor bloc came frighteningly close to ejecting Greece from the euro in early 2012, and would have done so with relish. Former US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has described the mood at a G7 conclave in Canada in February of that year all too vividly. “The Europeans came into that meeting basically saying: ‘We’re going to teach the Greeks a lesson. They are really terrible. They lied to us, and we’re going to crush them,’” he said. “I just made very clear right then: if you want to be tough on them, that’s fine, but you have to make sure that you’re not going to allow the crisis to spread beyond Greece.” German chancellor Angela Merkel did later retreat but only once it was clear from stress in the bond markets that Italy and Spain would be swept away in the ensuing panic, setting off an EMU-wide systemic crisis.

The prevailing view in Berlin and even Brussels is that no such risk exists today: Europe has since created a ring of firewalls; debtor states have been knocked into shape by their EMU drill sergeants. The democratic drama unfolding in Greece this month is therefore a local matter. If Syriza rebels win power on January 25 and carry out threats to repudiate the EU-IMF Troika Memorandum from their “first day in office”, Greece alone will suffer the consequences. “I believe that monetary union can today handle a Greek exit,” said Michael Hüther, head of Germany’s IW institute. “The knock-on effects would be limited. There has been institutional progress such as the banking union. Europe is far less easily blackmailed than it was three years ago.” This loosely is the “German view”, summed up pithily by Berenberg’s Holger Schmieding: “We’re looking at a Greece problem, the euro crisis is over. I do not expect markets to seriously contest the contagion defences of Europe.”

It sounds plausible. Bond yields in Italy, Spain and Portugal touched a record low this week. Yet it rests on the overarching assumption that the Merkel plan of austerity and “internal devaluation” has succeeded. An army of critics retort that the underlying picture is turning blacker by the day. Europe’s rescue apparatus is not what it seems. The banking union belies its name. It is merely a supervision union. Each EMU state bears the burden for rescuing its own lenders. Europe’s leaders never delivered on their promise to “break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns”. The political facts on the ground are that the anti-euro Front National is leading in France, the neo-Marxist Podemos movement is leading in Spain, and all three opposition parties in Italy are now hostile to monetary union.

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Creative accounting intended to fool the German court system(s). Good luck with that.

Europe’s Shadow Budget Venture Could Lead To Spiralling Debt (Sinn)

More details about the European commission’s €315bn (£247bn) investment plan for 2015-17 have finally come to light. The programme, announced in November by the commission’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker,amounts to a huge shadow budget – twice as large as the EU’s annual official budget – that will finance public investment projects and ultimately help governments circumvent debt limits established in the stability and growth pact. The borrowing will be arranged through the new European fund for strategic investment, operating under the umbrella of the European Investment Bank. The EFSI will be equipped with €5bn in start-up capital, produced through the revaluation of existing EIB assets, and will be backed by €16bn in guarantees from the European commission. The fund is expected to leverage this to acquire roughly €63bn in loans, with private investors subsequently contributing around €5 for every €1 lent – bringing total investment to the €315bn target.

Though EU countries will not contribute any actual funds, they will provide implicit and explicit guarantees for the private investors, in an arrangement that looks suspiciously like the joint liability embodied by Eurobonds. Faced with Angela Merkel’s categorical rejection of Eurobonds, the EU engaged a horde of financial specialists to find a creative way to circumvent it. They came up with the EFSI. Though the fund will not be operational until mid-2015, EU member countries have already proposed projects for the European commission’s consideration. By early December, all 28 EU governments had submitted applications – and they are still coming. An assessment of the application documents conducted by the Ifo Institute for Economic Research found that the nearly 2,000 potential projects would cost a total of €1.3tr, with about €500bn spent before the end of 2017. Some 53% of those costs correspond to public projects; 15% to public-private partnerships (PPPs); 21% to private projects; and just over 10% to projects that could not be classified.

The public projects will presumably involve EFSI financing, with governments assuming the interest payments and amortisation. The PPPs will entail mixed financing, with private entities taking on a share of the risk and the return. The private projects will include the provision of infrastructure, the cost of which is to be repaid through tolls or user fees collected by a private operator. Unlike some other critics, I do not expect the programme to fail to bolster demand in the European economy. After all, the €315bn that is expected to be distributed over three years amounts to 2.3% of the EU’s annual GDP. Such a sizeable level of investment is bound to have an impact. But the programme remains legally dubious, as it creates a large shadow budget financed by borrowing that will operate parallel to the EU and national budgets, thereby placing a substantial risk-sharing burden on taxpayers.

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A note from Morgan Stanley h/t Durden.

Implications for the ECB and Its Preparation for Sovereign QE (Elga Bartsch)

Even though my colleagues, Daniele Antonucci and Paolo Batori, do not expect the ECB and the National Central Banks (NCBs) to be subject to haircuts in the event of a Syriza-led debt restructuring, this is unlikely to be clear-cut for some time to come. As a result, the Greek political turmoil complicates matters for the ECB and its preparation of a sovereign QE programme. In my view, a sovereign default in the eurozone and the prospect of the ECB potentially incurring severe financial losses is likely to intensify the debate on the Governing Council, where purchases of government bonds remain highly controversial. This could make a detailed announcement and the start of a buying programme already at the January 22 meeting look even more ambitious than it seemed. The spectre of default does not only make the issue of sovereign QE less certain again than the market believes, it also could create new limitations in its implementation.

One of the decisions that the Governing Council will need to take is whether to include the two programme countries (Greece and Cyprus), the only ones that are not investment grade at the moment, in its sovereign QE. In our view, it is unlikely that the ECB will deviate from the conditions imposed in the context of the ABSPP and CBPP3, i.e. the countries need to have under a troika programme (and the programme needs to be broadly on track). This would mean though that for some eurozone countries, sovereign QE would become conditional – just as OMT was. If governments across the eurozone and the financial constructs they are backing with off-balance sheet guarantees are being haircut and the resulting losses start to show up in national budgets, the political opposition to sovereign QE might increase materially.

In fact, elected politicians in creditor countries might have a preference for the ECB taking a hit as well given that the Bank has considerable risk provisioning that could absorb these losses which national budgets don’t have. This debate could also materially influence how a sovereign QE programme by the ECB is structured, notably on whether the risks associated with such a programme should be shared by all NCBs. Even ahead of the latest developments in Greece, the Bundesbank was already pushing for there not being risk-sharing in a sovereign QE programme. This position is unlikely to only relate to Greece though, I think. It is much more likely to relate to the concerns voiced by the German Constitutional Court regarding the implicit fiscal transfers between countries in the event of purchases of government bonds. In the view of Court, this could amount to establishing a fiscal transfer mechanism that is outside the ECB’s mandate.

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Ugo!

Seven Shocking Events Of 2014 (Ugo Bardi)

Being involved with peak oil studies should make one somewhat prepared for the future. Indeed, for years, we have been claiming that the arrival of peak oil would bring turmoil and big changes in the world and we are seeing them, this year. However, the way in which these changes manifest themselves turns out to be shocking and unexpected. This 2014 has been an especially shocking year; so many things have happened. Let me list my personal shocks in no particular order

1. The collapse of oil prices. Price oscillations were expected to occur near the oil production peak, but I expected a repetition of the events of 2008, when the price crash was preceded by a financial crash. But in 2014 the price collapse came out of the blue, all by itself. Likely, a major financial crisis is in the making, but that we will see that next year.

2. The ungreening of Europe. My trip to Brussels for a hearing of the European parliament was a shocking experience for me. The Europe I knew was peaceful and dedicated to sustainability and harmonic development. What I found was that the European Parliament had become a den of warmongers hell bent on fighting Russia and on drilling for oil and gas in Europe. Not my Europe any more. Whose Europe is this?

3. The year propaganda came of age. I take this expression from Ilargi on “The Automatic Earth”. Propaganda is actually much older than 2014, but surely in this year it became much more shrill and invasive than it had usually been. It is shocking to see how fast and how easily propaganda plunged us into a new cold war against Russia. Also shocking it was to see how propaganda could convince so many people (including European MPs) that drilling more and “fracking” was the solution for all our problems.

4. The Ukraine disaster. It was a shock to see how easy it was for a European country to plunge from relative normalcy into a civil war of militias fighting each other and where citizens were routinely shelled and forced to take refuge in basements. It shows how really fragile are those entities we call “states”. For whom is the Ukraine bell tolling?

5. The economic collapse of Italy. What is most shocking, even frightening, is how it is taking place in absolute quiet and silence. It is like a slow motion nightmare. The government seems to be unable to act in any other way than inventing ever more creative ways to raise taxes to squeeze out as much as possible from already exhausted and impoverished citizens. People seem to be unable to react, even to understand what is going on – at most they engage in a little blame game, faulting politicians, immigrants, communists, gypsies, the Euro, and the great world conspiracy for everything that is befalling on them. A similar situation exists in other Southern European countries. How long the quiet can last is all to be seen.

6. The loss of hope of stopping climate change. 2014 was the year in which the publication of the IPCC 5th assessment report was completed. It left absolutely no ripple in the debate. People seem to think that the best weapon we have against climate change is to declare that it doesn’t exist. They repeat over and over the comforting mantra that “temperatures have not increased during the past 15 years”, and that despite 2014 turning out to be the hottest year on record.

7. The killing of a bear, in Italy, was a small manifestation of wanton cruelty in a year that has seen much worse. But it was a paradigmatic event that shows how difficult – even impossible – it is for humans to live in peace with what surrounds them – be it human or beast.

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“Our democracy just isn’t going to survive in this type of atmosphere ..”

For the Wealthiest Political Donors, It Was a Very Good Year (Bloomberg)

Here’s a bit of perspective on the ever-rising cost of elections, and the big-money donors who finance them: Three of the country’s wealthiest political contributors each saw their net worth grow in 2014 by more than $3.7 billion, the entire cost of the midterm elections. And as the 2016 presidential election approaches, almost all of those donors have even more cash to burn. The only top political donor who lost money in 2014, Sheldon Adelson, still has a fortune greater than the annual gross domestic product of Zambia, so playing in U.S. politics remains well within his financial range. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index tracks the daily gains and losses in the net worth of the financial elite, and with the final hours of trading for this year ticking away, we’ve reviewed the bottom line for 2014 for the politically active super-wealthy. In total, 11 of the donors that Bloomberg tracks added a combined $33 billion to their wealth in a single year. (The index does not include Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP.)

The tab for the House and Senate elections came to $3.7 billion, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison, and Laurene Powell Jobs each could have covered all of that with the wealth they accumulated in the past 12 months. James Simons and George Soros would have come pretty close. Some of that wealth, combined with loosening campaign-finance restrictions and a political class growing ever more comfortable with the new world of virtually unlimited donations, could start flowing to campaigns in the next few months as candidates prepare for the 2016 presidential race. Wealthy donors will have even more giving options after Congress voted to raise the limits on how much individuals can give to political parties, creating a political landscape that horrifies some good-government groups.

They point to a reality: A wealthy donor can now almost singlehandedly bankroll a candidate, as Adelson did for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 2012, raising questions about whether these financial commitments ultimately will influence future policy. “Our democracy just isn’t going to survive in this type of atmosphere,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, a group that advocates for stricter campaign-finance limits. “The United States, throughout history, has worked on a very delicate balance between capitalism in the economic sphere and democracy in the political sphere. We no longer have that balance. The economic sphere is going to smother and overwhelm the political sphere.”

David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, a group that argues the limits on political spending are arbitrary, sees it differently. “Big money in politics can actually make the electorate better informed,” he said. Besides, he added, there are enough billionaires to go around. For example, “you’ve got billionaires funding gun control and billionaires paying for groups that oppose gun control. It’s all pretty much a wash.” The sheer amount of money some donors made on paper in 2014 rewrites the context of “big” money in politics. For a political race, a $1 million cash infusion could change the outcome. For America’s big-money clique, it’s a fraction of what some billionaires can make or lose in a single day.

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That’s your money.

Pension Funds Triple Stake In Reinsurance Business to $59 Billion (NY Times)

Billions of dollars from pension funds and other nontraditional players have been moving into the reinsurance business in recent years, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Treasury Department. The report did not identify individual pension funds or other providers of what it called “alternative capital” for reinsurance. But it found that such newcomers had put about $59 billion into the $570 billion global reinsurance market as of June 30. That was more than three times their stake in 2007. The report also said that more than half the capital standing behind reinsurance innovations now comes from “pension funds, endowments and sovereign wealth funds, generally through specialized insurance-linked investment funds.” By contrast, hedge funds and private equity firms now provide about one-fourth of the money for such investments.

The report said that alternative reinsurance arrangements were increasingly being pitched to investors as “mainstream products” and said that “exposure to such risks could be problematic for unsophisticated investors.” The purpose of the Treasury report was not to assess risks or spotlight potential problems but to describe the overall state of the reinsurance industry, which is familiar to experts but almost unknown to everyone else. In fact, the report stressed that reinsurance brings many benefits and that some reinsurance programs are operated by the states, like Florida’s Hurricane Catastrophe Fund and California’s Earthquake Authority. The report was issued by the Federal Insurance Office, an arm of the Treasury established in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Normally the states regulate insurance, but the Federal Insurance Office has been looking at parts of the industry that extend beyond state regulators’ reach. Reinsurance frequently transfers risks offshore, for example, to jurisdictions where the states’ capital and other requirements do not apply. Increasingly, some states have been creating alternative regulatory frameworks to attract some of the offshore reinsurance business back to the United States. That can bring investment and jobs to those states, but it has also raised concerns that a poorly understood and risky “shadow insurance” sector is taking shape. “Regulatory concerns about this widespread practice continue to receive attention within the national and international insurance supervisory community,” the report said.

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Whatever anybody says, the Russians feel deeply betrayed by the west. That’s what drives their actions.

Inside Obama’s Secret Outreach to Russia (Bloomberg)

President Barack Obama’s administration has been working behind the scenes for months to forge a new working relationship with Russia, despite the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown little interest in repairing relations with Washington or halting his aggression in neighboring Ukraine. This month, Obama’s National Security Council finished an extensive and comprehensive review of U.S policy toward Russia that included dozens of meetings and input from the State Department, Defense Department and several other agencies, according to three senior administration officials. At the end of the sometimes-contentious process, Obama made a decision to continue to look for ways to work with Russia on a host of bilateral and international issues while also offering Putin a way out of the stalemate over the crisis in Ukraine.

“I don’t think that anybody at this point is under the impression that a wholesale reset of our relationship is possible at this time, but we might as well test out what they are actually willing to do,” a senior administration official told me. “Our theory of this all along has been, let’s see what’s there. Regardless of the likelihood of success.” Leading the charge has been Secretary of State John Kerry. This fall, Kerry even proposed going to Moscow and meeting with Putin directly. The negotiations over Kerry’s trip got to the point of scheduling, but ultimately were scuttled because there was little prospect of demonstrable progress.

In a separate attempt at outreach, the White House turned to an old friend of Putin’s for help. The White House called on former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to discuss having him call Putin directly, according to two officials. It’s unclear whether Kissinger actually made the call. The White House and Kissinger both refused to comment for this column. Kerry has been the point man on dealing with Russia because his close relationship with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov represents the last remaining functional diplomatic channel between Washington and Moscow. They meet often, often without any staff members present, and talk on the phone regularly. Obama and Putin, on the other hand, are known to have an intense dislike for each other and very rarely speak.

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Draghi for president!

Italian President to Resign, Posing Challenge for Renzi (Bloomberg)

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said he’ll resign “soon,” setting up a challenge for Premier Matteo Renzi, who will now need to form alliances among lawmakers to push through his own candidate for the job. “It’s my duty not to underestimate the signs of fatigue,” Napolitano, 89, said in his traditional Dec. 31 end-of-year speech, giving his age among the reasons for his resignation. He also cited the need to “return to constitutional normalcy” putting an end to his prolonged term. He gave no exact date for his resignation in the televised address. Napolitano, who took office in 2006, reluctantly accepted a second term in April 2013 after inconclusive elections led to a hung parliament which failed to strike a deal on his successor for days. The president had signaled from the start that he wouldn’t serve a full seven-year term.

Now Renzi, 39, will have to find a name appealing enough to at least half of an over 1000-member electoral college in order to push through a candidate of his liking. While Italy’s head of state is largely a ceremonial figure, the role and powers are enhanced at times of political crisis as the president has the power to dissolve parliament and designate prime minister candidates. Napolitano picked Renzi to lead a new government in February and his efforts to guarantee political stability have supported the prime minister’s reform package aimed at lifting Italy out of recession. After Napolitano steps down, Senate Speaker Pietro Grasso will act as caretaker head of state until his successor is elected.

National lawmakers and 58 regional delegates make up the electoral college of more than 1,000 members that will vote for the new president. The procedure can take several days as just two rounds of voting are held each day by secret ballot. To win in any of the first three rounds, a candidate must secure two-thirds of the vote, whereas from the fourth round a simple majority suffices. [..] Names circulated for the post so far in the Italian press include European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan, and Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco. Napolitano, a former communist, known for once praising the Soviet Union’s crushing of the 1956 reformist movement in Hungary, is credited with helping restore market confidence in Italy during Europe’s 2011 debt crisis.

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Can she save her ass from the Petrobras scandal? She headed the company for years, for Pete’s sake.

Rousseff Begins Second Term as Brazil Economic Malaise Hits Home

Dilma Rousseff will be sworn in today for her second term as Brazil’s president as a corruption scandal involving the country’s biggest company, above-target inflation and the slowest economic expansion in five years undermine her support. Since Rousseff took over from her mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva four years ago, the budget deficit has more than doubled to 5.8% of gross domestic product and economic growth has come to a standstill from 7.5% growth in 2010. Inflation has remained above the center of the target range throughout her first term. Rousseff, who won an Oct. 26 runoff election by the narrowest margin of any president since at least 1945, has appointed a new economic team and announced spending cuts.

The central bank increased the key lending rate twice since the election to contain consumer price increases. While such measures are a first step to prevent a credit rating downgrade, the question is whether Rousseff will have the political support to hold the course, said Rafael Cortez, political analyst at Tendencias, a Sao Paulo-based consulting firm. “The economic malaise will spread to consumers and the corruption scandal will impose a negative legislative agenda,” Cortez said in a phone interview. “In a best-case scenario, she’ll manage to recover some investor credibility and pave the wave for moderate growth; the worst case is that we’ll have a lame duck president in a year or two.”

Rousseff is scheduled to be sworn in today and address Congress in Brasilia this afternoon. Designated Finance Minister Joaquim Levy pledges to pursue a budget surplus before interest payments of 1.2% of gross domestic product this year and at least 2% of GDP in 2016 and 2017, after Brazil’s credit rating in 2014 suffered a downgrade for the first time in more than a decade. The primary budget balance turned to a deficit of 0.18% of GDP in the 12 months through November, the first such annual shortfall on record. On Dec. 29 the government announced cuts to pension and unemployment benefits that will save an estimated 18 billion reais ($6.8 billion). Authorities also have increased the long-term lending rate for loans granted by the state development bank BNDES to 5.5% from 5%.

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A 79-year old crown prince. And millions of unemployed 16 to 24-year old testosterone bombs. Nice contrast.

Eyes On Saudi Succession After King Hospitalized (CNBC)

The Saudi stock market fell after King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was hospitalized Wednesday, but any succession for the throne would likely be smooth for the country. The Saudi royal family announced in March that 79-year-old Crown Prince Salman would succeed the king, and experts said those plans have eased most concerns about an impending transition. In fact, Saudi watchers told CNBC that the country’s oil, domestic and geopolitical policies should remain virtually unchanged when Salman takes over. “This is very predictable,” Bilal Saab, senior fellow for Middle East security at the Atlantic Council, said of the transition. Still, he reflected, “the markets just react in unpredictable ways.” Although King Abdullah has been perceived as a champion of domestic reform, his departure would not signal the reversal of any of his (relatively) progressive policies, Saab said.

Salman, who has assumed many state duties while currently serving as deputy prime minister and minister of defense, is relatively well-liked by regional neighbors and in Washington, according to Karen Elliott House, author of “On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines—and Future.” Given that the transition of duties has partially begun, experts said that there would likely be little political drama when Salman takes the throne. Still, the issue of his successor could prove a contentious moment for the perpetually stable kingdom. The royal family officially announced in March that Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, the youngest surviving half brother of the king and Salman, would be given the role of deputy crown prince – in effect naming him the successor to Salman.

House said that could provide a moment of tension for the royal family: A successor has traditionally been picked by an ascending king, and some family members were reportedly less than pleased about Muqrin’s appointment. Still, those concerns pale in comparison to the current succession worries in Oman, Saab said. That country’s sultan, Qaboos bin Said Al Said, has no formal successor plan, and political chaos after his death could be problematic for the region, he said. “This is someone who has a much more influential role, not just in his country, but in the region with the Iranians,” Saab said. “The concerns over succession are much more pronounced in Oman than in Saudi Arabia”

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A bit of infighting among the family’s scores of princes would be funny. Whatever happens in the family, the House of Saud faces domestic turmoil.

Saudi Succession Plan About Continuity (CNBC)

Oil investors are closely watching the health of Saudi Arabia’s king, who was hospitalized Wednesday. However, while some wonder about how an eventual change in leadership might impact the global oil markets, two Middle East experts told CNBC they don’t expect much difference in how a new monarch would govern. “They’ll pursue the same security arrangements with the United States. They’ll maintain Saudi Arabia’s commitment to fight the Islamic State. They’ll also be pumping oil because there are broader strategic interests the kingdom is pursuing,” David Phillips, former senior advisor to the State Department and a CNBC contributor, said in an interview with “Street Signs.”

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, thought to be 91, was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday for medical tests, according to state media, citing a royal court statement. A source told Reuters he had been suffering from breathing difficulties, but was feeling better and in stable condition. The news sent the Saudi stock exchange down as much as 5%, before it recovered slightly to close almost 3% lower. The king has “been in bad health for the past several years,” and the government has been anticipating his passing for some time, said Phillips, now the director of the Peace-building and Human Rights Program at Columbia University. “There are policies and personalities in place in order to maintain continuity,” he added.

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From Glenn Greenwald’s people.

Sony Hackers Threaten US News Media Organization (Intercept)

The hackers who infiltrated Sony Pictures Entertainment’s computer servers have threatened to attack an American news media organization, according to an FBI bulletin obtained by The Intercept. The threat against the unnamed news organization by the Guardians of Peace, the hacker group that has claimed credit for the Sony attack, “may extend to other such organizations in the near future,” according to a Joint Intelligence Bulletin of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security obtained by The Intercept. Referring to Sony only as “USPER1”and the news organization as “USPER2,” the Joint Intelligence Bulletin, dated Dec. 24 and marked For Official Use Only, states that its purpose is “to provide information on the late-November 2014 cyber intrusion targeting USPER1 and related threats concerning the planned release of the movie, ‘The Interview.’ Additionally, these threats have extended to USPER2 —a news media organization—and may extend to other such organizations in the near future.”

In the bulletin, titled “November 2014 Cyber Intrusion on USPER1 and Related Threats,” The Guardians of Peace threatened to attack other targets on the day after the FBI announcement. “On 20 December,” the bulletin reads, “the [Guardians of Peace] GOP posted Pastebin messages that specifically taunted the FBI and USPER2 for the ‘quality’ of their investigations and implied an additional threat. No specific consequence was mentioned in the posting.” Pastebin is a Web tool that enables users to upload text anonymously for anyone to read. It is commonly used to share source code and sometimes used by hackers to post stolen information. The Dec. 20 Pastebin message from Guardians of Peace links to a YouTube video featuring dancing cartoon figures repeatedly saying, “you’re an idiot.”

No mention of a specific news outlet could be found by The Intercept in any of the GOP postings from that date still available online or quoted in news reports. “While it’s hard to tell how legitimate the threat is, if a news organization is attacked in the same manner Sony was, it could put countless sensitive sources in danger of being exposed—or worse,” Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told The Intercept. Timm points out, however, that media are already commonly targeted by state-sponsored hackers.“This FBI bulletin is just the latest example that digital security is now a critical press freedom issue, and why news organizations need to make ubiquitous encryption a high priority,” he said.

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“Consider, first, how a competent response to Ebola might have played out ..”

Next Year’s Ebola Crisis (Bloomberg ed.)

One of the many ways the world failed to distinguish itself in 2014 was with its response to the Ebola crisis. It cannot afford to be so late, slow and fatally inadequate next year — with Ebola, which continues to kill people in West Africa, or with the next global pandemic. Consider, first, how a competent response to Ebola might have played out: A year ago, the health workers in Guinea who saw the first cases would have had the training to recognize it and the equipment to treat it without infecting themselves and others. They didn’t, and the disease spread quickly to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Ideally, then, doctors there would have diagnosed Ebola, and traced and quarantined everyone who had contact with the victims. Crucially, they would have alerted the World Health Organization. As it happened, the WHO wasn’t told of the outbreak until March.

At that point, in a best-case scenario, with local health-care systems overwhelmed, the WHO would have intervened with a team of well-equipped doctors and nurses. Such a team didn’t exist, and it took the WHO until August even to declare a public-health emergency, and several weeks beyond that to come up with a response plan. And so the total number of infections is now more than 12,000, with some 7,700 dead. This might-have-been story reveals how countries and the WHO need to change before the next outbreak – of Ebola, SARS, bird flu or whatever it turns out to be. Every country needs hospitals and laboratories capable of diagnosing, safely treating and monitoring disease. The WHO needs improved surveillance and reporting systems, as well as the capacity to send medical teams when needed. The World Health Assembly, the international body that sets policy for the WHO, cannot waste any time seeing that these changes are made.

What’s frustrating is that world leaders have long recognized the need to be ready for outbreaks of infectious disease. In 1969, they signed a pact known as the International Health Regulations, meant to make sure preparations would be in place. The most recent update to this accord – in 2005, after the SARS epidemic – called for all 196 countries to have the laboratories, hospitals and medical expertise to detect, treat and monitor epidemics. One glaring weakness in this framework, however, is that countries have been allowed to monitor their own readiness. An outside body – either the WHO or an independent organization – must be appointed to keep track of their progress toward building sturdy medical infrastructure. And at least until all 196 countries are up to snuff, the WHO needs to have the authority to step in.

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Nov 232014
 
 November 23, 2014  Posted by at 8:42 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Arthur Siegel Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyards, Baltimore, MD May 1943

A lot of people these days vent their opinions on what’s happening with the Chinese economy, and the opinions are so all over the place they could hardly be more different. Which is interesting, to say the least. Apparently it’s still very hard to understand what does happen ‘over there’.

And I don’t at all mean to suggest that I would know better than Morgan Stanley’s former Asia go-to-man Stephen Roach, or hedge funder Hugh Hendry, or Bob Davis, who just spent 4 years in the country for the Wall Street Journal, or Gwynn Guilford at Quartz, or local Reuters correspondents. It’s just that between them, they disagree so vastly you’d think they’re playing a game with your mind.

Me, personally, I think China’s official economic data should be trusted even less – if possible – than those of most other nations, including Japan, EU+ and the US. And therefore the rate cut last week, and the ones that look to be in the offing soon, constitute neither an act of confidence nor an confident act. China may well already be doing a lot worse than we think.

So where are we right now with all this, what DO we know? The best approach seems to be, as always, to follow the money. Let’s start with Reuters today:

China Ready To Cut Rates Again On Fears Of Deflation

China’s leadership and central bank are ready to cut interest rates again and also loosen lending restrictions, concerned that falling prices could trigger a surge in debt defaults, business failures and job losses, said sources involved in policy-making. Friday’s surprise cut in rates, the first in more than two years, reflects a change of course by Beijing and the central bank, which had persisted with modest stimulus measures before finally deciding last week that a bold monetary policy step was required to stabilize the world’s second-largest economy.

Economic growth has slowed to 7.3% in the third quarter and policymakers feared it was on the verge of dipping below 7% – a rate not seen since the global financial crisis. Producer prices, charged at the factory gate, have been falling for almost three years, piling pressure on manufacturers, and consumer inflation is also weak. “Top leaders have changed their views,” said a senior economist at a government think-tank involved in internal policy discussions.

The economist, who declined to be named, said the People’s Bank of China had shifted its focus toward broad-based stimulus and were open to more rate cuts as well as a cut to the banking industry’s reserve requirement ratio (RRR), which effectively restricts the amount of capital available to fund loans. China cut the RRR for some banks this year but has not announced a banking-wide reduction in the ratio since May 2012. “Further interest rate cuts should be in the pipeline as we have entered into a rate-cut cycle and RRR cuts are also likely,” the think-tank’s economist said.

Friday’s move, which cut one-year benchmark lending rates by 40 basis points to 5.6%, also arose from concerns that local governments are struggling to manage high debt burdens amidst reforms to their funding arrangements, the sources said. Top leaders had been resisting a rate cut, fearing it could fuel debt and property bubbles and dent their reformist credentials, but were eventually swayed by signs of deteriorating growth as the property sector cooled.

This suggests a certain level of control on the part of China, but certainly not a full swagger. And yes, they’re at 5.6%, and so there seems to be a lot of leeway left if you look at the near zero rates we see all over the world.. But then again, China wants, or should we by now say pretends to want, a 7% growth level. The fact that they’re ready to cut more doesn’t bode well for that growth number, even as they pretend to boost growth with those exact same cuts.

We saw China’s largest corporate bankruptcy last week, of the Haixin Iron & Steel Group, and that is not a good sign. China has been borrowing beyond the pale, a process in which the shadow banking system has played a major role, to ‘invest’ in commodities with an eye to much more growth even than the 7% Beijing claims to aim for. The problem with that is that this overbuying has been a substantial part of that same growth number.

And we know the story, certainly after the Qingdao warehouse tale this spring, where nobody could figure out anymore who actually owned what piles of aluminum, copper and iron because they were all used as collateral for multiple loans. In that bleak light, that one of the principal iron and steel companies goes belly up can hardly be seen as a positive message. China may be buying a whole lot less metal. And a whole lot less oil too. Which may drive down global market prices a lot, because everybody’s last hope was China.

Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley fame, however, think Beijing has it all down. Full control. If they say 7%, 7% it is. Now, I know Roach spent a lot of time over there, but perhaps that was in the days when 10% GDP growth was still a realistic number. And that may not have had much to do with Beijing control.

Now that growth is gone everywhere, other than in stock markets and private banks’ reserves at central banks, where would China get even a 7% number from? And to what extent would Beijing have any control over that at all? Roach has little doubt that whatever number Xi and Li Call will be the correct one:

China Cut Pegs Growth Floor At 7%,: Stephen Roach

After unexpectedly cutting interest rates for the first time in two years, Chinese leaders have revealed their floor for economic growth is around 7%, said Stephen Roach[..] In a surprise announcement Friday, the People’s Bank of China said it was cutting one-year benchmark lending rates by 40 basis points to 5.6%. It also lowered one-year benchmark deposit rates by 25 basis points. [..] The hyperbole about China being an ever-ticking debt bomb stacked with excesses and nonperforming loans is based on emotion rather than empirical data, he said.

Hugh Hendry arrives at a similar conclusion through different means, namely the central bank omnipotence theory. And sure enough, central banks can do a lot, spend a lot, and fake a lot. But if there’s one thing the present global deflation threat tells us they can’t do, it’s to make people spend money. Not in Japan, not in Europe, not stateside, and not in China. It would seem advisable to keep that in mind.

Hugh Hendry: “A Bet Against China Is A Bet Against Central Bank Omnipotence”

Merryn Somerset Webb: But you’re assuming that the correct policy will be followed [in China].

Hugh Hendry: Well, it has been to date. That they haven’t panicked and gone into that crazy splurge in 2009-2011, they haven’t done that. Then the other point with China it’s a bit like the US. It’s had its excess. The problem in the US was it was felt intently with the private banking system which went bankrupt. But, and this is not counter-factual, what if you owned, what if the state is the banking sector? Does it have a Minsky moment? I’d say it doesn’t. So the whole game with Fed QE was to underwrite the collateral values, to keep the credit system moving. So it aimed its fire at mortgage obligations more than Treasuries.

The whole deal with LTROs in Europe has been again when investors at volume banks at 40%-60% discounts to asset volume, the central bank’s coming in and saying, “Actually we’ll buy it from you at full value or something higher. So we are going to endorse the collateral of your assets.” In China it’s the same deal. They’re fiat currency and they can get away with this. So to bet against China or Chinese equities, or the Chinese currency is to bet against the omnipotence of central banks. One day that will be the right trade, just not ready or sure that that is the right trade today.

Gwynn Guilford at Quartz suspects that Beijing if not so much in control as it is freaking out, and that that’s why they’ve cut rates and are publicly suggesting they’ll do it again.

China’s Surprise Rate Cut Shows How Freaked Out The Government Is By The Slowdown

Earlier [this week], the People’s Bank of China slashed the benchmark lending rate by 40 basis points, to 5.6%, and pushed down the 12-month deposit rate 25 basis points, to 2.75%. Few analysts expected this. The PBoC – which, unlike many central banks, is very much controlled by the central government – generally cuts rates only as a last resort to boost growth.

The government has been rigorously using less broad-based ways of lowering borrowing costs (e.g. cutting reserve requirement ratios at small banks, and re-lending to certain sectors). The fact that the government finally cut rates suggests that these more “targeted” measures haven’t succeeded in easing funding costs for Chinese firms. The push that came to shove might have been the grim October data, which showed industrial output, investment, exports, and retail sales all slowing fast.

Those data suggest it will be much harder to get anywhere close to the government’s 2014 target of 7.5% GDP growth, given that the economy grew only 7.3% in the third quarter, its slowest pace in more than five years. But wait. Isn’t the Chinese economy supposed to be losing steam? Yes. The Chinese government has acknowledged many times that in order to introduce the market-based reforms needed to sustain long-term growth and stop piling on more corporate debt, it has to start ceding its control over China’s financial sector.

[..] But clearly, the economy’s not supposed to be decelerating as fast as it is. Tellingly, it’s been more than two years since the central bank last cut rates, when the economic picture darkened abruptly in mid-2012, the critical year that the Hu Jintao administration was to hand over power to Xi Jinping. The all-out push to boost growth that followed made the 2013 boom, but also freighted corporate balance sheets with dangerous levels of debt. But this could only last so long; things started looking ugly again in 2014.[..]

What hasn’t been mentioned yet, and that’s undoubtedly a huge oversight, whether you’re talking about the theoretical Beijing political control over growth numbers, or the nitty gritty of actual numbers in the real economy, is the power, both political and financial, of the Chinese shadow banking industry.

The guys who’ve been making a killing off loans to local officials who couldn’t get state bank loans but were still rewarded for achievements in their constituencies that would have been impossible without loans. Where would China be without shadow banking? What is it today, a third of the economy, half?

And the Xi-Li gang seeks to break its power, for a multitude of reasons. The shadow set-up only works as long as things are great, and the sky’s the limit. When that diminishes, not so much. You can borrow all the way to nowhere when you’re doing great, but when you go broke, all you’re left with is the debt.

That’s the reality a lot of Chinese officials and entrepreneurs find themselves in today. Which is why the next article below says ” .. city officials reminded residents that it is illegal to jump off the tops of buildings ..” They don’t just own money, they own it to the wrong people too. Not that I presume there’s right people to be indebted to in China, but those who volunteer to re-arrange your physical appearance must be last on the list.

Bob Davis spent a few recent years in China for the Wall Street Journal, and he has this to say:

The End of China’s Economic Miracle?

When I arrived, China’s GDP was growing at nearly 10% a year, as it had been for almost 30 years – a feat unmatched in modern economic history. But growth is now decelerating toward 7%. Western business people and international economists in China warn that the government’s GDP statistics are accurate only as an indication of direction, and the direction of the Chinese economy is plainly downward. The big questions are how far and how fast. My own reporting suggests that we are witnessing the end of the Chinese economic miracle.

We are seeing just how much of China’s success depended on a debt-powered housing bubble and corruption-laced spending. The construction crane isn’t necessarily a symbol of economic vitality; it can also be a symbol of an economy run amok. Most of the Chinese cities I visited are ringed by vast, empty apartment complexes whose outlines are visible at night only by the blinking lights on their top floors.

I was particularly aware of this on trips to the so-called third- and fourth-tier cities—the 200 or so cities with populations ranging from 500,000 to several million, which Westerners rarely visit but which account for 70% of China’s residential property sales. From my hotel window in the northeastern Chinese city of Yingkou, for example, I could see empty apartment buildings stretching for miles, with just a handful of cars driving by. It made me think of the aftermath of a neutron-bomb detonation—the structures left standing but no people in sight.

The situation has become so bad in Handan, a steel center about 300 miles south of Beijing, that a middle-aged investor, fearing that a local developer wouldn’t be able to make his promised interest payments, threatened to commit suicide in dramatic fashion last summer. After hearing similar stories of desperation, city officials reminded residents that it is illegal to jump off the tops of buildings, local investors said.

[..] In the late 1990s, the party finally allowed urban Chinese to own their own homes, and the economy soared. People poured their life savings into real estate. Related industries like steel, glass and home electronics grew until real estate accounted for one-fourth of China’s GDP, maybe more.

Debt paid for the boom, including borrowing by governments, developers and all manner of industries. This summer, the IMF noted that over the past 50 years, only four countries have experienced as rapid a buildup of debt as China during the past five years. All four – Brazil, Ireland, Spain and Sweden – faced banking crises within three years of their supercharged credit growth.

[..] China’s immense scale has now become a limitation. As the world’s largest exporter, how much more growth can it count on from trade with the U.S. and especially Europe? [..] Will Mr. Xi’s campaign reverse China’s slowdown or at least limit it? Perhaps. It follows the standard recipe of Chinese reformers: remake the financial system so that it encourages risk-taking, break up monopolies to create a bigger role for private enterprise, rely more on domestic consumption.

But even powerful Chinese leaders have trouble enforcing their will. I reported earlier this year on the government’s plan to handle one straightforward problem: reducing excess steel production in Hebei, the province that surrounds Beijing. Hebei alone produces twice as much crude steel as the U.S., but China no longer needs so much steel, to say nothing of the emissions that darken the skies over Beijing.

It’s hard to say anything definitive about the Chinese economy and the official government numbers, for anyone but the rulers, because those numbers are clad in a murky veil. But what we do know from our experience here in the west is that the murkiness of numbers is invariably used by our ‘leaders’ to make things look better than they are. If anything, it seems reasonable to presume Beijing exaggerates its ‘achievements’ even more than our own clowns.

And in that light, I don’t see how or why the $30 oil I talked about yesterday would be all that far-fetched, given that China has driven most of the world’s growth expectations over the past decade or so, and that it seems to have very little chance of living up to those expectations. Even if for no other reason than because the rest of the world stopped growing.

And that seems to me to be where China’s growth fairy tale has stopped, and must have: ‘consumer spending’ (ugly term) across the world is falling. After all, that’s were all the lowflation and deflation comes from. And central banks can’t force their people to spend. Not in China and not in the west. They only need to look at Japan to see why that is true and how it plays out.

Growth in Japan is gone, and no QE can revive it. In Europe, it’s beyond life support. In the US, things look a little different on the surface, but the US can’t withdraw and do well in the present economic system if Japan and Europe don’t.

And that’s China’s story too. No growth anywhere to be seen, and they’re supposed to have 7%? It’s simply not possible. At least that we know.