Apr 262018
 


James McNeill Whistler Miss Ethel Philip Reading 1894

 

Debt-Enabled Asset Bubbles On Crash Course With Demographics (Park)
‘Grotesque’ Leverage and Rising Rates Already Causing Damage – SocGen (BBG)
‘Big Bear Market’ For Stocks Appears To Have Begun (MW)
Market Is Obsessed With 10-Year Yield, Should Be Watching The 2-Year (CNBC)
Deutsche Bank Plans ‘Significant’ Job Cuts After Sharp Drop In Profits (CNBC)
Ford Kills Most US Cars (BBG)
Yield Shock On Wall Street, Conservative Default In Washington (Stockman)
Democrats Have a Plan to Save the Post Office – and Kill Payday Lenders (NYMag)
The Democratic Party Is Paying Millions For Hillary Clinton’s Email List (IC)
Finland Denies Claims Basic Income Experiment Has Fallen Flat (Ind.)
NATO Think-Tank Expert: Russia Is ‘Comfortable’ Using Nuclear Weapons (RT)
North Korea Nuclear Test Site Has Collapsed Beyond Use – Chinese Study (G.)
President Trump Will Personally Review Documents In Cohen Case (ABC)
UK Businesses Make World-First Pact To Ban Single-Use Plastics (Ind.)
Is The World’s Most Drastic Plastic Bag Ban Working? (G.)

 

 

A useful summary fo many things we’ve said many times.

Debt-Enabled Asset Bubbles On Crash Course With Demographics (Park)

If finance had not been able to ‘securitize’ debts (turn them into assets) and sell them to speculators/investors over the past two decades, then debt creation could not have gone to such extremes and consumers would not have been able to borrow and spend themselves so far into financial ruin. If western consumers had not been able to borrow themselves so far into ruin, they would also not have been able to buy so many goods from Asia and other developing nations for a time.

Asia and developing nations would not then have been able to mint so many new millionaires and billionaires in their governments and businesses who then funneled capital into western property markets, and western property markets would not have appreciated so far beyond domestic income gains. If property prices had not increased so far beyond income gains, then households would not have had to borrow so much just to get a roof over their heads or a post-secondary education. If they had not been able to borrow so much, property prices, education and related services would never have been able to rise so much for so long, and become so unaffordable for the masses. But they did.

[..] The old need the young to drive productivity and innovation, pay taxes and support the social safety net. They also need the young to buy their assets (real estate, securities, businesses) when they wish to downsize and raise liquidity. If the young are broke: under-employed, over-indebted and under-saved, they cannot get a footing and the social contract is undone. Twenty years of central bank and government-enabled debt-driven asset bubbles, have broken long-standing laws of financial and social equilibrium. A secular global repricing cycle is necessary to break the impasse and reboot the system. The status quo is unraveling, as it must.

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The same as above.

‘Grotesque’ Leverage and Rising Rates Already Causing Damage – SocGen (BBG)

The fear over 10-year U.S. Treasury yields breaking through 3 percent has been a long time coming, according to Societe Generale. “Interest rates are already doing damage, people just haven’t noticed,” Andrew Lapthorne, the firm’s global head of quantitative strategy, said in an interview Tuesday. “Leverage in the U.S. is grotesque for this stage of the cycle. At the moment you’ve got peak leverage at peak prices. It’s not like you have to dig deep to find a problem.” The number-one conversation Societe Generale’s having with clients right now is about the correlation between bonds and equities. But risks to corporate balance sheets is a bigger problem at the moment, particularly in the U.S. and China.

Lapthorne said he worries about volatility in debt because of the impact it can have on the economy, particularly how it weighs on businesses and the job market. Credit markets may get choppier due to triggers like high-profile bankruptcies, such as Toys ‘R’ Us, or if corporate buybacks drop, Lapthorne said. While Credit Suisse anticipates fewer share repurchases this year, they’re an outlier. JPMorgan Chase estimates they’ll rise to a record $800 billion from $530 billion last year. Bank of America said if the current pace continues there may be as much as $850 billion in 2018, while Goldman Sachs sees buybacks becoming “less constructive” in 2019. [..] He has further concerns about the direction of the markets as well. “Instead of the usual market driver of economic growth, this bull market has been driven by valuation growth,” Lapthorne said, adding that confidence in asset prices is deteriorating as volatility has risen.

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“..a technical indicator using exponential moving averages of closing price data..”

‘Big Bear Market’ For Stocks Appears To Have Begun (MW)

The “big bear market” for stocks that market timer Tom McClellan has been expecting appears to have begun, as Tuesday’s broad selloff turned a key technical indicator down from an already negative position to convey a “promise” of lower lows. McClellan, publisher of the McClellan Market Report, said there could be a pause in the downtrend this week, as his market-timing signals point to a minor top due on Friday. But with his “price oscillator” turning lower following the Dow Jones Industrial Average 425-point drop, and the S&P 500 1.3% slide on Tuesday, he turned bearish for short- and intermediate-term trading styles. He has been bearish for long-term trading styles since Feb. 28.

“I have been looking for a big downturn in late April….We appear to have gotten that downturn now,” McClellan wrote in a note to clients. He said it is possible that the big down move pauses briefly in honor of the minor top signal due Friday, “but it should be a lasting and painful downtrend, heading down toward a bottom due in late August.” His bearishness for all trading styles was a result of the McClellan Price Oscillator, a technical indicator using exponential moving averages of closing price data, turning down after it was already in negative territory, as the chart below shows. “Turning down a Price Oscillator while it is still below zero conveys the promise of a lower closing low on the ensuing move,” McClellan wrote. Since “promise” isn’t the same as a “guarantee,” he said the indication can get revoked if the Price Oscillator turns up right away.

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Central bank control is an illusion. Naked emperors.

Market Is Obsessed With 10-Year Yield, Should Be Watching The 2-Year (CNBC)

The government’s benchmark debt instrument saw its yield pass 3% Tuesday, a four-year high that ostensibly helped to trigger a violent stock market reversal that saw the Dow industrials close lower by about 425 points. The calculus behind fear of the 3% yield seems obvious: With the S&P 500 dividend yield at 1.9%, a risk-free investment like U.S. Treasurys yielding 3% makes more sense in a volatile environment. But that reasoning is weak. The play assumes holding the bond to duration and clipping coupons, and the stock market has never shown inflation-adjusted returns that low over a 10-year period. Absent a major crash and a deep recession it likely won’t over the next decade as well.

The next two years, though? That could be a different story. While everyone on Wall Street is pounding the table over the rising 10-year yield, the 2-year note rose above 2.5% Wednesday, a level it last closed at August 2008, just a month before the financial crisis imploded with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. A risk-free investment with a 2.5% yield over two years? That seems a little more reasonable. Investors who bought the 2-year in mid-2006 would have gotten it at 5%, ahead of a stock market that was about to drop 60%. “As much as every investor knows market timing is very difficult, that’s the sort of case study that resonates just now,” Nick Colas, co-founder of DataTrek Research, said in his daily note Wednesday.

Investors have been testing the waters over the past month, yanking $868 million out of U.S. equity ETFs while pouring $5.2 billion into funds that invest in fixed income with duration of less than three years, Colas said, citing XTF data. The iShares Short Treasury Bond fund, which focuses on fixed income with duration between one and 12 months, alone has pulled in $3.4 billion over the past month, according to FactSet.

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This can’t be good. How much longer?

Deutsche Bank Plans ‘Significant’ Job Cuts After Sharp Drop In Profits (CNBC)

Deutsche Bank posted first-quarter net profits of 120 million euros ($146 million) Thursday, a 79% fall from last year’s figure. The bank announced plans to significantly reduce its workforce through the rest of 2018, particularly in its corporate and investment bank and infrastructure functions. It also aims to scale back operations in bond sales and equities trading, particularly in the United States and Asia.

The net profit number was significantly lower than a Reuters poll prediction of 376 million euros. The Frankfurt-based lender has been under scrutiny from shareholders for posting three consecutive years of losses, including a 497 million euro loss for 2017. Revenues for the quarter were down by 5% on the prior year period at 7 billion euros, pressured by the appreciation of the euro against the dollar and lower corporate and investment bank revenues, which fell 13% year-on-year to 3.8 billion euros. Revenues for all businesses were lower year-on-year.

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Oh, good, everyone will drive a truck. These things are 40x your weight, not just 20x.

Ford Kills Most US Cars (BBG)

Ford Motor is sharpening its knives to cleave another $11.5 billion from spending plans and cut several sedans, including the Fusion and Taurus, from its lineup to more quickly reach an elusive profit target. The automaker expects to save $25.5 billion by 2022, Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks told reporters Wednesday as Ford reported first-quarter earnings per share and revenue that beat estimates. The company now anticipates reaching an 8 percent profit margin by 2020, two years ahead of schedule. The cuts are aimed at kick-starting a turnaround effort almost one year after Ford’s board ousted its chief executive officer.

New CEO Jim Hackett has been trying to convince investors that betting on a rebound is a worthwhile wager by laying out plans to get rid of slow-selling, low-margin car models and refocusing the company around more lucrative sport utility vehicles and trucks. “We’re going to feed the healthy part of our business and deal decisively with areas that destroy value,” Hackett said on an earnings call Wednesday. “We aren’t just exploring partnerships; we’ve now done them. We aren’t just talking about ideas; we’ve made decisions.” Ford finds itself on a road similar to the route Fiat Chrysler followed to pass Ford in North American profitability. Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne now wants to eclipse General Motors before his retirement in 2019.

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“..they have had virtually no role in real governance since the Gipper last nodded in their direction decades ago..”

Yield Shock On Wall Street, Conservative Default In Washington (Stockman)

[..] capitalist prosperity depends upon keeping the state and its central banking branch at bay and out of the way. And once upon a time that pretty much happened because the conservative party in Washington adhered reasonably well to the pillars of sound money, fiscal rectitude, free markets at home and non-intervention abroad. In the last three decades, however, the GOP has either jettisoned these pillars of capitalist prosperity or relegated them to ritual incantation. Either way, they have had virtually no role in real governance since the Gipper last nodded in their direction decades ago. What has happened, instead, is that the neocons hijacked the GOP and turned it into the party of Empire—the very opposite of Robert Taft’s notion of homeland security and non-intervention.

Likewise, the supply siders spread the insidious lie that deficits don’t matter and that you can grow your way out of unfinanced tax cuts. So, too, the devotees of Alan Greenspan and the Wall Street lobbies buried the storied idea of sound money–supplanting it with the new ideology of monetary central planning and stock market bailouts. Stated differently, the GOP in Washington today is essentially useless because it has abandoned the pillars of prosperity and has become an opportunistic gang of neocons, social cons, tax cons and Wall Street hand maidens. As a result, we now have a financial system that is flying blind toward a monumental monetary/fiscal crack-up.

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Makes too much sense.

Democrats Have a Plan to Save the Post Office – and Kill Payday Lenders (NYMag)

Generally speaking, advancing economic justice is neither cheap nor easy. The Democratic Party has assembled a long list of worthwhile economic reforms — almost all of which, for all their considerable virtues, pose either a significant budgetary cost, or policy-design challenge, or political risk (universal child-care costs money; the federal job guarantee is complicated and untested; and Medicare-for-all is disruptive … and complicated, and costs money). But Kirsten Gillibrand’s new plan to establish a public option for banking is an exception to the rule: By requiring the post office to provide basic financial services, Gillibrand’s bill would significantly mitigate the economic exploitation of America’s most vulnerable people, punish predatory lenders — and increase federal revenue — all without requiring policy wonks to navigate uncharted territory, or even break a sweat.

The stagnation of working-class wages in the U.S. combined with the rising cost of housing, and declining value of welfare benefits have left millions of American families dependent on short-term loans to make ends meet. And payday lenders have mined their financial desperation for hefty profits. A parent with a gap in employment and a hungry child is liable to accept a loan no matter how usurious the interest rate. Thus, the average annualized interest rate on a payday loan is 390%. And the average American household that uses alternative forms of credit earns just $25,500 a year — and spends nearly 10% of that meager salary on interest and fees, according to a 2011 KPMG study.

But the post office — with its economies of scale, and freedom from avaricious shareholders — could offer America’s working class access to short-term credit at a fraction of the present cost. Under the current system, billions of dollars move from the pockets of the poor into the coffers of payday lenders each year. Postal banking could redirect those funds — saving low-income borrowers billions on fees and interest, while plowing the (non-usurious) interest payments they do still make into the post office’s trust fund. According to a 2014 study by the Postal Service Inspector General, if just 10% of the money that working Americans currently spend on high-risk financial products were instead spent on loans from the post office, the agency could offer said loans at 90% less than the current market cost — and gain nearly $9 billion in annual revenue in the process.

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This, too, are the Democrats. A deeply troubled party. The power of email lists, reminiscent of Facebook.

The Democratic Party Is Paying Millions For Hillary Clinton’s Email List (IC)

Heading Into The 2018 midterms, with Democrats hoping to take back the House of Representatives and even make a run at the Senate, the party has spent more than $2 million worth of campaign resources on payments to Hillary Clinton’s new group, Onward Together, according to Federal Election Commission filings and interviews with people familiar with the payments. The Democratic National Committee is paying $1.65 million for access to the email list, voter data, and software produced by Hillary for America during the 2016 presidential campaign, Xochitl Hinojosa, a spokesperson for the DNC, told The Intercept. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has paid more than $700,000 to rent the same email list.

Clinton is legally entitled to rent her list to the party, rather than hand it over as a gift, but in 2015, Barack Obama gave his email list, valued at $1,942,640, to the DNC as an in-kind contribution. In 2013 and 2014, OFA had similarly made in-kind contributions exceeding $3.4 million for uses of the list that cycle. Obama’s list was at one point considered to be the most valuable in politics and raised more than twice as much money for the 2012 Obama campaign as Clinton’s did for hers in 2016. The DNC agreement with the Clinton campaign calls on the debt-ridden organization to fork the money over to an entity of Clinton’s choosing, which wound up being Onward Together, the operation she formed after her campaign ceased to exist.

Former DNC Chair Donna Brazile told The Intercept the deal was the result of “tough negotiations between the Clinton campaign and the DNC. I wanted to bring back our assets. I wanted to get as much from them as they got from us,” she said. “Under the terms I worked out, we had to pay quarterly for items that the DNC acquired. The final payment would have been in February of this year.” The DNC announced in April 2017 that Clinton had turned over her email list and related data and tools as an in-kind contribution to the party, with no suggestion that payments would later be made for it. “[P]utting the DNC on a strong footing is something that she’s been very focused on since the campaign, when she set out to leave the DNC in the black and did so,” said Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill at the time.

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The biggest problem is people don’t understand the issue, as illustrated by the original headline, which said universal basic income. That’s not what Finland is doing.

Finland Denies Claims Basic Income Experiment Has Fallen Flat (Ind.)

Finland has denied widespread claims its basic income experiment has fallen flat. A series of media reports said the Finnish government had decided not to expand its trial – a version of events which has been repudiated by officials. Miska Simanainen, a social affairs official, said the trial, where about 2,000 unemployed people aged 25-58 are being paid a tax-free €560 monthly income with no questions asked, was “proceeding as planned.” The €20m programme, which seeks to reform Finland’s social security system, ends in December, at which point Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s centre-right government will assess initial results.

Reports have said the government social affairs agency has requested up to €70m in extra funding this year, something Mr Simanainen says is false. Finland became the first country in Europe to start the basic income experiment in January 2017. Supporters of basic income argue it would help get unemployed people into temporary jobs, rather than forcing them to remain unemployed to qualify for benefits. They say it would provide a safety net, address insecurities associated with workers not having full-time staff contracts, and help boost mobility in the labour market as people would have a source of income between jobs.

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Sheer insanity.

NATO Think-Tank Expert: Russia Is ‘Comfortable’ Using Nuclear Weapons (RT)

Russia is more willing to run the risk of nuclear war than the West and NATO must pour more money into developing new capabilities to deter Moscow’s nuclear aggression, according to Atlantic Council analysts.
In a lengthy discussion on preparing for nuclear war with Russia, analysts from the neocon think tank lobbied for the US and NATO to spend more money on low-yield nuclear weapons and other methods of deterrence in order to dissuade Russia from using a limited nuke strike in order to “de-escalate” a conflict using the scare factor. The panel argued that Russia has adopted a policy of “escalate to de-escalate” which lowers the bar for nuclear weapons use.

Under this policy, Russia would respond to a large-scale conventional military attack by employing a limited nuclear response in order to deter further aggression against itself. Matthew Kroenig, the deputy director for strategy at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, went further by suggesting that Russia is simply “more comfortable using and threatening nuclear weapons” than the West. Russia’s so-called “escalate to de-escalate” policy was even referred to in the latest Nuclear Posture Review from the Trump administration. But while the Atlantic Council and White House are seemingly adamant that Russia is almost looking for excuses to use nuclear weapons, others have argued that the West has actually misunderstood Russia’s policy on nuclear use.

There is weak evidence that Russia has actually dropped its threshold for nuclear use at all. [..] Russia’s 2014 doctrine actually introduced the term “system of non-nuclear deterrence,” which is explained as a focus on preventing aggression “primarily through reliance on conventional (non-nuclear) forces.” It is more than likely that the Atlantic Council and its members are fully aware of this, which leads to the question: are they misleading people on Russia’s intentions in order to lobby for more military spending in Eastern Europe?

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We sort of knew that already. But yeah, makes one wonder what Kin is giving up.

North Korea Nuclear Test Site Has Collapsed Beyond Use – Chinese Study (G.)

North Korea’s main nuclear test site has partially collapsed under the stress of multiple explosions, possibly rendering it unsafe for further testing and leaving it vulnerable to radiation leaks, a study by Chinese geologists has shown. The findings could cast doubt on North Korea’s sincerity in announcing last weekend that it would stop testing nuclear weapons at the site ahead of Friday’s summit between the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in. The test site at Punggye-ri, in a mountainous area in North Korea’s north-east, has been the location for all six of the regime’s nuclear tests since 2006.

The findings, by scientists at the University of Science and Technology of China, suggest the partial collapse of the mountain that contains the testing tunnels, as well as the risk of radiation leaks, have potentially rendered the site unusable. The study was published soon after Kim said his country would stop testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and close down Punggye-ri before his meeting with Moon just south of the countries’ heavily armed border. Nuclear explosions release enormous amounts of heat and energy, and the North’s largest test, in September last year, was believed early on to have rendered the site – a network of tunnels beneath Mount Mantap – unstable.

The Chinese scientists collected collected data for their study following the most powerful of the North’s six nuclear tests, on 3 September. The controlled explosion, which caused an initial magnitude-6.3 tremor, is believed to have triggered four more earthquakes over the following weeks. The study concluded that eight-and-a-half minutes after the test, there was “a near-vertical on-site collapse towards the nuclear test centre”.

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Obvious. But he won’t be the only one.

President Trump Will Personally Review Documents In Cohen Case (ABC)

In a filing Wednesday afternoon, attorneys for President Donald Trump told the federal judge overseeing the investigation of his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, that Trump would, as necessary, personally review documents to ensure that privileged information is not revealed accidentally to the FBI or prosecutors. “…Our client will make himself available, as needed, to aid in our privilege review on his behalf,” wrote attorneys Joanna Hendon, Christopher Dysard and Reed Keefe in their filing. The filing is part of the ongoing effort by Cohen and Trump to get the first crack at reviewing records seized earlier this month from Cohen’s home, hotel and office.

So far, US District Judge Kimba Wood has ruled against Cohen and Trump, though she has said she would be willing to consider their backup request to have an independent third-party review record before prosecutors and agents do. Trump’s attorneys made their submission late Wednesday in advance of a Thursday status meeting in US District Court in Manhattan. The issue of document review arose after the FBI raids and the subsequent public confirmation that Cohen has been under federal investigation for months. The probe is focused both on Cohen’s private business dealings as well as his work for and on behalf of Trump.

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May and her government are behind this? And Windrush at the same time?

UK Businesses Make World-First Pact To Ban Single-Use Plastics (Ind.)

More than 40 major businesses have pledged to eradicate single-use plastics from packaging in an effort to tackle the global pollution crisis. The launch of the UK Plastics Pact comes amid concerns over the impact such waste is having on the environment as it pervades the world’s land, oceans and waterways. With members across major food and non-food brands – including Sainsbury’s, Nestlé and Coca-Cola – the pact’s participants are collectively responsible for more than 80% of the UK’s supermarket plastic packaging. As the first initiative of its kind in the world, it is hoped the pact will serve as a template for other countries and spark a “global movement for change”.

The pact, which was welcomed by government ministers and environmental campaigners, consists of a series of targets that the industry as a whole will aim to meet by 2025. These include the complete elimination of “problematic or unnecessary” single-use plastic packaging by developing new designs and alternative delivery methods. Other targets include all plastic packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable, and ensuring that at least 70% of packaging that is used actually makes it to recycling or composting facilities. There is also a commitment to ensuring 30% of the content of all plastic packaging comes from recycled sources by the target date.

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Contact ourman in Kenya about this: “Yes it happened last year. About 300 factories were shut down, about 6 months notice was given. BUT there is still a black market for low quality black plastic bags amongst smaller vendors in rural areas and small towns.  In the major supermarkets plastic has been entirely phased out, though please note that Kenya has a much lower number and density of supermarkets vs Europe. We’re looking at 120/150 major supermarkets country wide and 300-500 mini marts and mostly thousands of smaller kiosks. 

Also plastic packaging has not been phased out yet. But they are targeting for the conversion of plastic to paper packaging in products. And also to phase out plastic water bottles if a national recycling scheme is not put in place.  They’ve also banned forest logging as the tree cover of the nation is under 6-7%. So we will have to import trees and paper now instead of oil for plastic. [..] There’s been a large number of bans on all sorts of things since last year, we’re in a very weird phase politically. “

Is The World’s Most Drastic Plastic Bag Ban Working? (G.)

Waterways are clearer, the food chain is less contaminated with plastic – and there are fewer “flying toilets”. A year after Kenya announced the world’s toughest ban on plastic bags, and eight months after it was introduced, the authorities are claiming victory – so much so that other east African nations Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan are considering following suit. But it is equally clear that there have been significant knock-on effects on businesses, consumers and even jobs as a result of removing a once-ubiquitous feature of Kenyan life. “Our streets are generally cleaner which has brought with it a general ‘feel-good’ factor,” said David Ong’are, the enforcement director of the National Environment Management Authority.

“You no longer see carrier bags flying around when its windy. Waterways are less obstructed. Fishermen on the coast and Lake Victoria are seeing few bags entangled in their nets.” Ong’are said abattoirs used to find plastic in the guts of roughly three out of every 10 animals taken to slaughter. This has gone down to one. The government is now conducting a proper analysis to measure the overall effect of the measure. The draconian ban came in on 28 August 2017, threatening up to four years’ imprisonment or fines of $40,000 (£31,000) for anyone producing, selling – or even just carrying – a plastic bag.

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Feb 062017
 
 February 6, 2017  Posted by at 10:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Steve Schapiro Robert Kennedy US Presidential Campaign 1968

 

Trump Travel Ban- What Happens Now (BBC)
Trump Faces Uphill Battle To Overcome Court’s Hold On Travel Ban (R.)
President Trump’s Major Asian Breakthrough (CNBC)
Believe It Or Not, Deluded Republicans Have Got It Right On Tax Reform (Chu)
Is America in a Bubble & Will America Ever Return to “Normal” (CH)
Trump Is No Fascist. He Is A Champion For The Forgotten Millions (G.)
India Weighs Up The Return On Basic Income For The Poorest (G.)
Scotland Needs Publicly Funded Bank, Says Thinktank (G.)
Greek Debt Crisis: An Existentialist Drama With No Good End In Sight (G.)
Testing Europe’s Values (NYT)
EU Leaders Back Libyans To Curb New Migrant Wave (R.)
Hunger Strikers At Greek Refugee Camp Keep Minister, Police Out (K.)

 

 

It’ll be hard for any court to claim the ban is legal. The fact that is was obviously hastily slapped together doesn’t help Trump’s case. And there are a variety of additional cases pending.

Trump Travel Ban- What Happens Now (BBC)

The next step is for briefs to be filed by both sides for a formal review of Judge Robart’s suspension on Monday. The Justice Department could have appealed directly to the Supreme Court on an emergency basis, but it chose not to since the appeal court is moving fairly quickly. If the appeals court decides the stay is valid – perhaps as early as next week – then a Supreme Court appeal is almost certain. In the meantime, everything is on hold. US immigration processes continue as they did before Mr Trump issued his executive order. If it looks like this is bogging down, the president might eventually decide to modify the order rather than try to defend its legality. That’s probably the most prudent course, but he’s a stubborn man.

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“I think the court’s going to feel every reason to stay on the sidelines as long as possible..” If there is no swift decision, and it doesn’t look that way, the order will have to be significantly changed, perhaps so much it largely becomes moot.

Trump Faces Uphill Battle To Overcome Court’s Hold On Travel Ban (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump faces an uphill battle to overcome a federal judge’s temporary hold on his travel ban on seven mainly Muslim countries, but the outcome of a ruling on the executive order’s ultimate legality is less certain. Any appeals of decisions by U.S. District Court Judge James Robart in Seattle face a regional court dominated by liberal-leaning judges who might not be sympathetic to Trump’s rationale for the ban, and a currently shorthanded Supreme Court split 4-4 between liberals and conservatives. The temporary restraining order Robart issued on Friday in Seattle, which applies nationwide, gives him time to consider the case in more detail, but also sends a signal that he is likely to impose a more permanent injunction.

The Trump administration has appealed that order. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said late on Saturday that it would not decide whether to lift the judge’s ruling, as requested by the U.S. government, until it receives briefs from both sides, with the administration’s filing due on Monday. Appeals courts are generally leery of upending the status quo, which in this case – for now – is the suspension of the ban. The upheaval prompted by the new Republican administration’s initial announcement of the ban on Jan. 27, with travelers detained at airports upon entering the country, would potentially be kickstarted again if Robart’s stay was lifted. The appeals court might also take into account the fact that there are several other cases around the country challenging the ban.

If it were to overturn the district court’s decision, another judge somewhere else in the United States could impose a new order, setting off a new cascade of court filings. If the appeals court upholds the order, the administration could immediately ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. But the high court is generally reluctant to get involved in cases at a preliminary stage, legal experts said. The high court is short one justice, as it has been for a year, leaving it split between liberals and conservatives. Any emergency request by the administration would need five votes to be granted, meaning at least one of the liberals would have to vote in favor. “I think the court’s going to feel every reason to stay on the sidelines as long as possible,” said Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

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Interesting take on power politics.

President Trump’s Major Asian Breakthrough (CNBC)

On a visit to Tokyo and Seoul last week, the U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (a) reaffirmed security guarantees to Japan and South Korea, (b) set the stage for an integrated American, Japanese and South Korean political, economic and military alliance, (c) opened the way for President Trump to knock heads together in Tokyo and Seoul to set aside their divisive historical grievances if they wanted Washington’s umbrella and (d) told Pyongyang that our nuke operators knew the return address for a swift and devastating response if they ever saw a wrong move on their X-band radar. That is a major breakthrough because no previous administration succeeded in binding these three countries in such a strong and integrated alliance. Japan was repeatedly blamed for scuttling these efforts by its allegedly defiant attitude toward Korean grievances.

Japan also wanted to make money in China while leveraging American protection in its territorial disputes with Beijing. As recently as 2014, a quarter of Japan’s exports and a third of its foreign direct investments were going to the Middle Kingdom. But Tokyo would run for cover in Washington whenever the Chinese navy and air force would challenge Japan’s presence on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea. At the same time, Japan was enjoying annual trade surpluses with the U.S. of $67-$70 billion. And just a week ago, the Japanese were telling Washington that they could not buy American cars because the steering wheel was on the wrong side. [..] That has to stop. And it, apparently, will stop. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is coming to Washington next Friday (Feb. 10) with trade and investment initiatives.

But, true to form, whatever that is will probably fall far short of a trade deal Washington needs to address its excessive and structural trade imbalances with Japan. We have an even worse trade record with South Korea. Since the free-trade agreement became effective in early 2012, our trade deficit with Seoul has nearly doubled to an estimated $30 billion in 2016. Maybe we have to take a look at that, too. Building on last week’s accords, Washington has an opportunity to conclude an appropriate trade arrangement with Japan and South Korea. That would cover nearly 25% of the global economy and would represent by far the world’s largest free-trade area. Such an agreement would attract other Asia-Pacific countries to permanently anchor a decisive American political, economic and security presence in that part of the world. Washington’s bargaining power with China would be greatly strengthened by these events in a negotiating process that is apparently already under way.

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“..the great advantage of this reform is that it would eliminate the incentive for multinational firms to dodge their US corporate taxes through accounting tricks..”

Believe It Or Not, Deluded Republicans Have Got It Right On Tax Reform (Chu)

[..] we find ourselves in the paradoxical situation where a reform being presented by deluded right-wing American politicians as a way of sticking it to cheating foreigners actually represents the world’s best chance for lancing the boil of rampant tax evasion by multinational companies. It is the right thing being pushed for the wrong reasons. To understand why, we need to look at the plan in more detail. The Republican plan would replace the US corporation tax, an annual levy on a firm’s reported profits, with a new levy on a company’s domestic cash flow. It means taxing a company’s domestic sales at a certain rate, probably 20%, after it has subtracted its domestic costs such as workers’ wages and the amount the firm has spent on investment in new factories and equipment.

The objective would be to tax a company’s economic activity in America, which means that it would be able to reduce its tax bill by the value of its exports, while imports would be part of its taxable liability via a “border adjustment tax”. That probably sounds mind-numbingly complicated, but the principle is actually quite simple: it means taxing the firm’s value-adding and substantive economic activity in the country where that activity actually takes place. This is most people’s idea of what a tax on corporate income is supposed to do. Many have objected that US firms that import heavily will be placed at a major tax disadvantage. Yet this impact would be entirely offset by a rise in value of the US dollar, which would follow the implementation of the reform, and which would increase the purchasing power of importers proportionately.

And for all Brady’s rhetoric and the protectionist-sounding border tax, the effect of the reform would actually be neutral on America’s terms of trade with the rest of the world. But the great advantage of this reform is that it would eliminate the incentive for multinational firms to dodge their US corporate taxes through accounting tricks, such as registering profits at subsidiaries abroad and relocating their corporate headquarters to tax havens. No matter where they based their headquarters, multinationals would be liable for a hefty US tax bill if they sold plenty of products and services in America. And if America, the world’s largest economy, were to institute this reform, there would be a powerful incentive for other countries – including Britain – to implement a similar reform.

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Bubbles everywhere.

Is America in a Bubble & Will America Ever Return to “Normal” (CH)

Analysts and talking heads have an awful lot of opinions. Are we in a bubble or aren’t we? Rather than offer another opinion, I’ll offer the relationship of US economic activity (GDP) against the Wilshire 5000 (representing US equities) and the Federal Reserves gauge of American wealth, Z1 Household Net Worth series. These are the preferred establishment gauges, so take a look and then you decide. GDP is a monetary measure of the market value of all final goods and services produced annually in the US. The chart below shows the annual real GDP growth decelerating since 1950.

GDP vs. US Household Net Worth Given the sharp rise in asset values, I thought it worthwhile to view the total increase, as shown by the Fed’s US Household Net Worth data, versus the growth in GDP. The chart below shows US household net worth (all inclusive with real estate, equities, and all asset classes) is fast approaching $92 trillion against US GDP of $18.6 trillion. A simple division of GDP as a % of HHNW (maroon line in the chart below) shows household net worth (asset values) is growing significantly faster than economic activity supporting those valuations.

[..] from 1950–>2000, the average GDP to HHNW ratio was somewhat consistent around 28%…if the HHNW and GDP ratio are to come back to their 50 year norm (before they were warped by long periods of near Zero Interest Rate Policy and actual ZIRP)…there are two basic options: Either, GDP rapidly rises $7 trillion (a 38% increase)… Or, the other option is a 28% decline in HHNW, or a contraction of $25 trillion. A $25 trillion decline in HHNW would equate to an average $200,000 decline in net worth for every household in America.

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Provocative headline for a useful reminder.

Trump Is No Fascist. He Is A Champion For The Forgotten Millions (G.)

For many Americans, Hillary Clinton personified the corruption and self-dealing of the elites. But Trump’s election wasn’t just a rejection of Clinton, it was a rejection of politics as usual. If the media and political establishment see Trump’s first couple of weeks in office as a whirlwind of chaos and incompetence, his supporters see an outsider taking on a sclerotic system that needs to be dismantled. That’s precisely what many Americans thought they were doing eight years ago, when they put a freshman senator from Illinois in the White House. Obama promised a new way of governing – he would be a “post-partisan” president, he would “fundamentally transform” the country, he would look out for the middle class. In the throes of the great recession, that resonated.

Something was clearly wrong with our political system and the American people wanted someone to fix it. After all, the Tea Party didn’t begin as a reaction against Obama’s presidency but that of George W Bush. As far as most Americans were concerned, the financial crisis was brought on by the excesses of Wall Street bankers and the incompetency of our political leaders. Before the Tea Party coalesced into a political movement, the protesters weren’t just traditional conservatives who cared about limited government and the constitution. They were, for the most part, ordinary Americans who felt the system was rigged against them and they wanted change.

But change didn’t come. What they got was more of the same. Obama offered a series of massive government programmes, from an $830bn financial stimulus, to the Affordable Care Act, to Dodd-Frank, none of which did much to assuage the economic anxieties of the middle class. Americans watched as the federal government bailed out the banks, then the auto industry and then passed healthcare reform that transferred billions of taxpayer dollars to major health insurance companies. Meanwhile, premiums went up, economic recovery remained sluggish and millions dropped out of the workforce and turned to food stamps and welfare programmes just to get by. Americans asked themselves: “Where’s my bailout?”

At the same time, they saw the world becoming more unstable. Part of Obama’s appeal was that he promised to end the unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, restore America’s standing in the international community and pursue multilateral agreements that would bring stability. Instead, Americans watched Isis step into the vacuum created by the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. They watched the Syrian civil war trigger a migrant crisis in Europe that many Americans now view as a cautionary tale. At home, Isis-inspired terrorist attacks took their toll, as they did in Europe. And all the while Obama’s White House insisted that everything was going well.

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A basic income where dozens of millions have no access to bank accounts. Curious.

India Weighs Up The Return On Basic Income For The Poorest (G.)

[..] the transformative potential championed by UBI advocates has particular appeal in a country such as India, where one in five people lives below the $1.90 (£1.51) poverty line, 1 million join the workforce each month, and a clunky, corrupt bureaucracy oversees nearly 1,000 separate welfare schemes. There have already been Indian trials. Three years ago, in nine villages in Madhya Pradesh state, 6,000 people were each given a monthly payment of up to 300 rupees an adult, and half that much for every child, over a period of 18 months. Every six months, the impact of the payments was assessed against 12 villages that received no income, just the usual government welfare. “What we saw were huge improvements in nutrition, health, schooling and sanitation,” said Guy Standing, a British economist who helped run the trials.

Results published afterwards showed the consumption of lentils, chickpeas and other pulses increased tenfold. Villagers ate six times more meat and the uptake of fresh vegetables grew 888%. That meant residents of the village were healthier, worked harder and attended school more often. Equity between more socially dominant members of the community – traditionally the gatekeepers to resources – and the less powerful also improved, Standing said. “Women benefited more than men, the disabled benefited more, and scheduled [lowest] castes benefited more than others.” India’s government is clearly enamoured by the idea. Subramanian suggested even Gandhi would approve. He praised the basic income’s potential to reduce poverty “in one fell swoop”, to relieve the grinding stress of hunger, and empower Indians to make their own life choices.

Criticisms – such as the idea people would fritter the money on alcohol or drugs, or drop out of the workforce – he dismissed based on past research. On paper, the sums also add up. Subramanian calculates that the annual income required to enable all but the very poorest Indians to escape penury is about 7,620 rupees (£90) a year. If that sum were given to 75% of India’s billion-plus population, it would cost about 5% of GDP. India’s vast welfare schemes and subsidies for food, petrol and fertilisers are notoriously wasteful and poorly targeted. Cutting them entirely would save about 2% of GDP. Reducing “middle class” subsidies on things such as railway tickets and gold would save another 1%. The rest of the savings might be found in scrapping other government schemes, which altogether cost 3.7% of GDP.

It would be even cheaper if the basic income were targeted at women, for example, or if the wealthy – those who own cars or air conditioners – were excluded, or asked to opt out. Giving Indian women a minimal basic income would cost just over 1% of GDP, but have “large multiplier effects” on the entire society, Subramanian said.

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Good topic to discuss. Get big banks out of your lives. It’s a Wonderful Life.

Scotland Needs Publicly Funded Bank, Says Thinktank (G.)

The Scottish government is under growing pressure to replace its private finance programme with a publicly funded bank to build new schools, roads and hospitals. The Common Weal, a pro-independence thinktank, said it should also replace the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT), the government agency that champions private financing projects such as a new Aberdeen bypass contract, which is worth £1.5bn to the private consortium building it. Common Weal said there was an urgent requirement to set up a Scottish national investment bank that would use £1.35bn in public funding for construction projects and another £2bn from investors to replace more expensive private financing.

The SFT would be replaced by a new publicly owned investment company and the two bodies would fund national infrastructure projects, new low-carbon energy schemes and local council programmes, as well as offering low-cost loans to small businesses, it said. The thinktank’s campaign to push for the changes has the backing of the Unison and Unite unions, the thinktank New Economics Foundation and the London-based campaign Debt Resistance UK. It has won support from Labour MSPs as well as Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader told an audience in Glasgow last month that his party would set up a national investment bank at UK level and regional banks for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They would focus on “fast tracking infrastructure spending to building essential transport and digital links to realise our potential”, he said.

Common Weal’s call for a Scottish national investment bank is to be debated at the SNP’s spring conference in March, an indication of growing unease within the the party about the private finance model being used by Nicola Sturgeon’s government. The motion from an SNP branch in Angus near Dundee says leaving economic growth and environmental protection “solely in the hands of our private banking and financial sector will be detrimental to present and future living standards of our citizens”.

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“The euro’s recent weakness has nothing to do with a deliberate attempt by the Germans to reduce its value..” Wrong. All Germany has to do to keep the euro low is to strangle southern Europe.

Greek Debt Crisis: An Existentialist Drama With No Good End In Sight (G.)

Put three people in a room who can’t get on with each other. Condemn them to stay there for all eternity while they torture each other. Sit and watch as the gruesome story plays out. And what do you have? One answer is the 1944 existentialist play by Jean-Paul Sartre, Huis Clos. Another is the story of the neverending Greek debt crisis in which the three main characters are Alexis Tsipras, Wolfgang Schäuble and Christine Lagarde. [..] Tsipras plays one of the three lead parts in the play. Elected as a leftwing firebrand two years ago, Tsipras has had a rapid fall from grace. He caved in when pressure was put on him by the Europeans in the summer of 2015 and having run for office on an anti-austerity programme eventually agreed to even more draconian bailout terms than the previous centrist governments.

For an increasing number of Greeks, Tsipras is no longer an iconoclast; he is just another man in a suit. With public support waning, Tsipras is once again hanging tough. He aroused the ire of the Europeans by giving a Christmas bonus to pensioners and free school meals to poverty-stricken families. Europe responded by suspending the limited debt relief it has previously granted. Tsipras says Greece has already done enough and will suffer no more. Europe is played by Schäuble, the German finance minister. He too is facing political pressures. The German public thinks enough aid has already been given to Greece, a country it considers is not doing enough to help itself. Opposition to further debt relief is strong and a general election is looming. The third cast member is Lagarde, a former French finance minister and now managing director of the IMF. Under its own rules, the IMF is forbidden from putting money into a bailout if it thinks debt is unsustainable.

There have been reports coming out of Washington that the Fund believes Greece’s debt will rise to 275% of national income by 2060, which would undoubtedly put it into the “unsustainable” category. The latest act in this play takes place in Washington this week when the IMF’s governing executive board discusses Greece. One factor complicating the issue is that time is running out to get matters sorted before the first in a series of European elections kicks off in in the Netherlands in March. A second is that the drama has a new character in the form of Donald Trump. There is little evidence that the US president gives a fig about whether Greece gets debt relief but he may have more than a walk-on role because the US is the biggest shareholder at the Fund and has the power to veto any decision it doesn’t like.

Trump has expressed strong – and not exactly positive – views about the European Union in general and Germany in particular. Causing consternation in Brussels, the new American president has said the EU has become a vehicle for German interests. His trade adviser Peter Navarro has accused Germany of being a currency manipulator, using a ”grossly undervalued” euro to run up a massive current account surplus. Navarro’s specific criticism about currency manipulation is wide of the mark. Germany is part of the eurozone and doesn’t always agree with the monetary policy decisions taken by the ECB. The euro’s recent weakness has nothing to do with a deliberate attempt by the Germans to reduce its value and everything to do with the fact that Europe has been loosening monetary policy at a time when the US has started to raise interest rates.

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Europe has long lost whatever -humanitarian- values it had.

Testing Europe’s Values (NYT)

When the European Union and Turkey reached a deal last year to lessen the flow of refugees into Greece, the priority was on defending borders, not the humanitarian crisis. Sadly, that remains Europe’s priority as it turns its attention to halting the flow of people from Libya to Italy. More than 180,000 people crossed the Mediterranean to arrive in Italy last year, and more than 5,000 died on the journey. The European Council met in Malta on Friday with the urgent task of preventing large numbers of people from setting out from Libya for Italy as soon as the weather improves this spring. The problem is twofold: Thousands risk drowning in rickety smugglers’ boats and another wave of migrants risks putting even more pressure on Italy and other European Union members where anti-immigrant populism is on the rise.

While the European Union is assisting in rescuing migrants at sea and in training the Libyan Coast Guard, its priority remains to “ensure effective control of our external border and stem illegal flows into the E.U.” That effectively means leaving people stranded in Libya, where migrants are subject to rape, beatings and torture in overcrowded camps. Europe hopes to enlist the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations’ refugee agency to ensure that migrants in Libya are detained in humane conditions. But these organizations in a joint statement warned that, given the situation in Libya, “it is not appropriate to consider Libya a safe third country, nor to establish extraterritorial processing of asylum seekers in North Africa.” Europe is also investing in improving conditions in Africa that compel people to flee, but that is a long-term solution that does little to address the immediate crisis.

On Wednesday, Libya’s United Nations-backed prime minister, Fayez Serraj, offered to allow NATO or European Union ships to pursue smugglers in Libyan waters. Putting smugglers out of business is important. But if NATO or the European Union sends migrants back to Libya, it “would violate the law, not to mention basic decency, and betray the values on which the E.U. and its member states were built,” said Judith Sunderland, the associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Ahead of the Malta meeting, the European Council president, Donald Tusk, and Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, warned that, with populism on the rise, the “E.U.’s key values are in danger, if we don’t act now.” But counting on Libya to keep migrants from leaving for Europe also puts those values in danger. The obvious immediate answer to the plight of African migrants is to open more legal channels for people to reach Europe, and to ensure that every member country assumes its fair share of new arrivals so that Italy is not overwhelmed.

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Completely lost.

EU Leaders Back Libyans To Curb New Migrant Wave (R.)

European Union leaders placed a bet on Libya’s fragile government to help them prevent a new wave of African migrants this spring, offering Tripoli more money and other assistance to beef up its frontier controls. Meeting in Malta – in the sea lane to Italy where more than 4,500 people drowned last year – the leaders addressed legal and moral concerns about having Libyan coastguards force people ashore by pledging to improve conditions in migrant camps there. “If the situation stays as is now, in a few weeks we will have a humanitarian crisis and people will start pointing fingers, saying Europe has done nothing,” said Joseph Muscat, the prime minister of Malta, which currently holds the presidency of the bloc. “With this agreement… there is one first decent shot in trying to get a proper management of migration flows across the central Mediterranean.”

Aid groups, however, accused the EU, of abandoning humanitarian values and misrepresenting conditions in Libya, where the U.N.-backed government of Fayez al-Seraj has only a shaky and partial hold on the sprawling desert nation. Medecins Sans Frontieres, which works on the ground, said the summit proved EU leaders were “delusional” about Libya. “Today was not about saving lives; it’s clear that the EU is ready to sacrifice thousands of vulnerable men, women and children in order to stop them reaching European shores.” The chaos in Libya has thwarted any hope of a quick fix in the way that a controversial EU deal with Turkey a year ago led to a virtual halt to a migrant route to Germany via Greece along which more than a million asylum-seekers traveled in 2015.

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How much further must this sink before we call it enough?

Hunger Strikers At Greek Refugee Camp Keep Minister, Police Out (K.)

Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas on Monday visited the state-run reception facility for migrants at Elliniko, south of Athens, amid reports that some of the residents have started a hunger strike against substandard conditions but was prevented from entering the site by protests. Dozens of protesting migrants formed a human chain at the entrance to the site, keeping out police and the minister, as child refugees sat on top of a barbed wire fence, shouting at the officers. The minister, who initially arrived at the site alone, was subsequently allowed to enter by migrants keen to discuss their demands. Migrants launched their hunger strike on Monday morning, calling for improved conditions at the site which authorities have pledged to clear soon to allow for a planned real estate project.

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Nov 202016
 
 November 20, 2016  Posted by at 10:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Wynand Stanley Cadillac touring car at Yosemite in snow 1919

Peak & Decline of International Reserves: Massive Asset Deflation Ahead (SRSR)
“Developed Countries’ Currencies Solely Driven By Politics” (CNBC)
How A Universal Basic Income Would Transform Society (Agnos)
End London’s Role as a Clearing-House for Dirty Money (G.)
Europe’s Leaders To Force Britain Into Hard Brexit (O.)
Italy’s Crisis Turns into a Multi-Headed Hydra (DQ)
Italian Banks ‘Not Necessarily Bankrupt’ But Awfully Close (NYT)
‘Political Amateurs Are Conquering The World’ – Beppe Grillo (EN)
Bruegel Institute Chief: 4th Bailout Seems Inevitable for Greece (GR)
Slovenia Adds Water To Constitution As Fundamental Right For All (AFP)
EU Ministers At Odds Over Immigration, No Compromise In Sight (R.)
Pentagon and Intelligence Chiefs Urge Obama To Remove NSA Chief (WaPo)
Obama Claims He Cannot Pardon Snowden but He Knows That’s Not True (TD)

 

 

Causation and correlation of energy and economics are not nearly as clear as implied here, but the trends are interesting.

Peak & Decline of International Reserves: Massive Asset Deflation Ahead (SRSR)

The world is sitting at the edge of a massive deflationary cliff. Even though Central Banks are desperately trying to keep the world’s financial assets from plunging down into the great depression below, signs suggest they are losing the battle. One critical sign is the peak and decline of International Reserves. Hugo Salinas Price has been keeping an eye on International Reserves for quite some time. In his recent article, A Reversal In The Trend Of International Reserves, he stated the following:

International Reserves peaked on August 1, 2014, at $12.032 Trillion dollars, and as of October 28, 2016 they stood at $11.066 Trillion dollars. International Reserves stood at about $10 Trillion in 2011, but the rate of growth slacked off; the weekly increases in Reserves (which Bloomberg used to publish every Friday) stalled and became smaller, week by week. As mid-2014 came around, the increases were quite small. It was clear that the trend was for ever-smaller increases, and that could only mean that finally there would be no increase, which would be immediately followed by decreases in the total of International Reserves held by Central Banks. That is exactly what took place.

Hugo Salinas Price explains in the article, “that the increases of International Reserves take place when the Reserve Currency issuing countries effect payments to the rest of the world.” Basically, countries such as the United States that run trade deficits, exchange fiat money or Treasuries for goods from other countries. This shows up as an increase in International Reserves. Now, what is important to understand about the chart above is the timing of the PEAK & DECLINE of International Reserves. I had an email exchange with Mr. Salinas on what I believe was the leading factor in why the International Reserves peaked and declined. When I went back and looked at a five-year price chart of a barrel of oil (West Texas), I found a very interesting coincidence:

The price of a barrel of West Texas Crude fell below $100 starting at the beginning of August, 2014…. TO THE DATE. Even though the oil price had traded between $85-$100 over the past three years, it averaged over $95. However, by the end of 2014, it had fallen by more than half. This had a profound impact on International Reserves as the low oil price gutted the energy-commodity-goods producing countries. These are the countries that hold the majority of International Reserves. So, as the price of oil continued to stay below $50 a barrel, these countries had to sell Bonds and acquire cash to fund their own domestic account deficits. Thus, the peak and decline of International Reserves occurred right at the same time, the peak and decline of high oil prices. THIS IS NO COINCIDENCE.

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Free markets still exist in name though…

“Developed Countries’ Currencies Solely Driven By Politics” (CNBC)

The G10 currency market is driven solely by political events, one strategist told CNBC Friday. Dominic Bunning, FX Strategist at HSBC said that whereas a range of events had impacted the performance of G10 currency pairs, now it is only politics. “In G10, everything is driven by politics. We used to think about economics and cyclical stories and structural stories and balance of payments etc but now all we care about is politics,” Bunning said. He explained that if you have a strong political view then you make trading decisions on the basis of that. “If you think the euro zone is going to break up then by all means sell the euro,” Bunning said, while warning that he doesn’t have a strong view on euro.

On sterling however, Bunning said the weakness is likely to continue. “We still think there is a strong weakness in sterling even though it is relatively lower because the political outlook in the UK is very challenging.” The G10 currencies are the U.S. dollar, the euro, the pound, the yen, the Swedish krona, the Norwegian krone, the Australian dollar, the New Zealand dollar, the Swiss franc and the Canadian dollar. A number of these currencies have seen a lot of volatility since the start of the year owing to political uncertainties in their respective countries or on a global level. The biggest events this year have been the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union and the U.S. presidential elections.

While sterling is down more than 16% since the Brexit vote on June 23, the euro has been on its worst losing streak since the currency arrived in 1999. The dollar, meanwhile, has been seeing some strength, rising to a 14-year high against a basket of currencies on the growing perception that the economic policies of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will push up consumer prices. While traders are growing more bullish on the dollar, HSBC’s Bunning warned that it is not great for emerging market currencies. “You need to be selective in terms of your currency choices. I don’t think it’s a dollar bull run against everything but I do think if you look at the outlook for emerging market currencies, particularly the high-yield currencies at the moment, it is very hard to have a positive currency view.”

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Plenty of lofty ideals and ideas out there, but UBI, if it does at all, will happen only out of necessity.

How A Universal Basic Income Would Transform Society (Agnos)

No child’s dream is to make lots of money. We certainly aren’t born with any innate need for money itself. But at some point in our lives, we are introduced to money and the need to earn it. For many, it comes at a time when we are just beginning to learn about the world and what excites us. We start to open the doors to all of life’s possibilities, when the adult in the room says, “It’s really nice that you want to feed people in need, but what are you going to do to earn a living?” “You mean I can’t actually do what I really want to do?” we wonder. With a universal basic income (UBI) – where the government replaces all other forms of monetary assistance with a yearly stipend given to every adult of say, $20,000 per year – this would all change.

For the first time in human history, people would be able to make their childhood wishes a reality, instead of being forced to work in jobs they are aren’t passionate about just to survive. Today, humanity has the ability to create a world of sustainable abundance where everyone has access to everything they need and much of what they desire. But this requires a shift in long held societal views. Changing the view that money is a reward for hard work and private property is an extension of the self will be difficult. A shift in mindset is needed to see everyone as inherently worthy, rather than in terms of their ability to produce. For this reason, it is important to understand the philosophical justification for a UBI, as it reveals some of the deep underlying flaws of our capitalistic economy and the way it views human nature. Given these flaws, how we fund a UBI will go a long way toward the effectiveness of the shift in mindset from an age of ownership to an age of access.

Let us stop and imagine what we might do if we no longer had to work in order to meet our basic needs. Presently, we are all burdened with the stress that comes with knowing that failure to earn a living could result in social isolation. Imagine the psychological shift in knowing that no matter what happened, you would always have a roof over your head and food to eat without having to give away your precious time and energy. How would not having to work to survive change your day to day life? What would you do instead? A UBI has the potential to unleash unimaginable amounts of human time, energy, creativity, and passion that has the potential to radically transform society. Instead of everyone working to survive, people would have the means to pursue their own dreams, and to spend more quality time with their family, friends, and community.

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The Heart of Darkness.

End London’s Role as a Clearing-House for Dirty Money (G.)

The National Crime Agency says up to £90bn is laundered through the UK each year, while an estimated £120bn worth of UK property is owned by offshore shell companies. Some 75% of properties whose owners are under investigation for corruption made use of offshore corporate secrecy to hide their identities. And according to the director of the National Crime Agency, “the London property market has been skewed by laundered money. Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK.” Those assets are far too often being extracted from developing nations desperately in need of tax revenues. A century on from Heart of Darkness, the Democratic Republic of the Congo still ranks near the bottom of the UN Human Development Index, with one in seven children dead before the age of five.

And, as in Conrad’s time, London’s imperial connections are helping to facilitate the exploitation of this asset-rich nation. Diamond and mineral wealth is being extracted by political elites, funnelled via London to old remnants of empire in the overseas territories, then repatriated via Kensington townhouses back to the UK. Our financial, accountancy and property agents are the beneficiaries, the people of the DRC and househunters of London the losers. [..] We are told that much of London’s success is because of its unimpeachable legal system and absence of corruption. But that is no good if, under the banner of the rule of law, we are also aiding and abetting exploitation. In Surrey mansions and Mayfair sit the lost wealth, the never-built hospitals and unopened schools of too many developing nations.

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“.. the only way to deal with Brexit is hard Brexit. Otherwise we would be seen to be giving in to a country that is leaving. That would be fatal.”

Europe’s Leaders To Force Britain Into Hard Brexit (O.)

European leaders have come to a 27-nation consensus that a “hard Brexit” is likely to be the only way to see off future populist insurgencies, which could lead to the break-up of the European Union. The hardening line in EU capitals comes as Nigel Farage warns European leaders that Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, could deliver a political sensation bigger than Brexit and win France’s presidential election next spring – a result that would mean it was “game over” for 60 years of EU integration. According to senior officials at the highest levels of European governments, allowing Britain favourable terms of exit could represent an existential danger to the EU, since it would encourage similar demands from other countries with significant Eurosceptic movements.

One top EU diplomat told the Observer: “If you British are not prepared to compromise on free movement, the only way to deal with Brexit is hard Brexit. Otherwise we would be seen to be giving in to a country that is leaving. That would be fatal.” The latest intervention by Farage will only serve to fuel fears in Europe that anti-EU movements have acquired a dangerous momentum in countries such as France and the Netherlands, following the precedent set by the Brexit vote. Ukip’s interim leader, who predicted both the vote for Brexit and Donald Trump’s US victory, said that while Le Pen was still more likely to be runner-up to an establishment candidate next May, she now had to be taken seriously as a potential head of state. “She will clearly win through to the second round. And after what has happened elsewhere, only a fool would say she would have no chance of winning overall. France is a deeply, deeply unhappy country. If she were to win, it would be game over for the EU.”

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“It’s a banking crisis, an economic crisis, a debt crisis, and a political crisis all rolled into one..”

Italy’s Crisis Turns into a Multi-Headed Hydra (DQ)

Bank stocks have surged just about everywhere since Trump’s election, with one exception: Italy. In the last month only one large Italian bank has seen its shares rise, and that’s the 500-year old bank at the center of Italy’s banking crisis, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, whose nearly worthless shares jumped to €0.24. Shares of Italy’s other large banks have suffered heavy losses. Over the past week alone, shares of Italy’s largest bank, Unicredit, plunged 15%, as did the shares of Banca Popular and UBI Banca. Shares of Italy’s second largest bank, Intesa Sanpaolo, fell just under 10%. The recent losses compound what’s been a miserable year for Italy’s banking stocks. The best performing stock is the investment bank Mediobanca, which is down a mere 24% for 2016. During the same period, Unicredit has shed over 60%, UBI Banca 65%, Banco Popolare 80%, and Monte dei Paschi 85%.

It’s not just banks’ shares that are flashing all the wrong signals. UniCredit’s five-year credit default swap surged to 221.2 basis points on Friday, meaning it now costs €221,200 to insure €10 million of UniCredit’s debt against default over five years. As with all major crises, Italy’s current predicament is a multi-headed hydra. It’s a banking crisis, an economic crisis, a debt crisis, and a political crisis all rolled into one, and all coming to a head at the same time. Italy’s economy has been in reverse ever since it joined the euro 17 years ago. Since 2007, its GDP has shrunk by a staggering 10%. In the meantime its public debt has continued to grow, reaching 135% of GDP today, the highest level of any Eurozone country with the exception of Greece. And now the yield on Italy’s 10-year bond is on the rise, hitting 2.09% on Friday in a NIRP world, its highest point in over 13 months.

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If Renzi loses the referendum next month, how much longer can this can be kicked?

Italian Banks ‘Not Necessarily Bankrupt’ But Awfully Close (NYT)

Victor Massiah has grown weary of talk that the Italian banking system is so threadbare and stuffed with terrible loans that it threatens Europe with another financial crisis. The mansion that serves as local headquarters for the bank he runs, UBI Banca, one of Italy’s largest lenders, does not feel like a place on the verge of running out of money. An inlaid marble fireplace sits in a conference room beneath wooden beams worthy of a castle. A statue of the Greek goddess Athena stands triumphantly over a staircase. “As you can see,” he says, sweeping a hand across the scene, “we’re not necessarily bankrupt.” Among policy makers alert for signs of the next financial disaster, Italy’s mountain of uncollectable bank debt is a subject discussed in tones ordinarily reserved for piles of plutonium.

Its banks seem at once too big to fail and eminently capable of doing so, menacing the global economy. For years, Italian lenders have muddled through, hoping time would cure their afflictions. But Italy’s economy has been terminally weak, not growing at all over a recent 13-year stretch. Bad loans have festered. Good loans have deteriorated. Italy’s problems are Europe’s problems. Nearly one-fifth of all loans in the Italian banking system are classified as troubled, a toll worth €360 billion, at the end of last year, according to the International Monetary Fund. That represents roughly 40% of all the bad loans within the countries sharing the euro. In recent weeks, the world’s focus has shifted to Germany’s largest lender, Deutsche Bank, on fears that it could be forced to seek a rescue.

But if Deutsche has become the crisis of the moment, Italy is the perpetual threat that could, at any moment, present the world with an unpleasant surprise potent enough to send legions of officials descending on Rome to try to contain the damage. The Italian government has sought to spend more money to spur the economy. But European leaders, led by Germany, have enforced rules limiting budget deficits. And Italian banks have held tight to cash and are reluctant to lend, starving an already anemic economy of capital. All of which leaves Italy and Europe, and to some extent the global economy, with a formidable conundrum. Europe may never regain economic vigor so long as Italy’s banks are a slow-motion emergency. But Italy’s banks cannot get healthy without growth. And Italy’s economy can’t grow without healthy banks.

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One of the few thinking men left in Europe.

> ‘Political Amateurs Are Conquering The World’ – Beppe Grillo (EN)

euronews “Beppe Grillo, our meeting takes place at a time that, without undue exaggeration, can be labelled ‘historic’. That’s to say, the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. What’s your take on that?” Beppe Grillo, Leader of the Five Star Movement “It’s an extraordinary turning point. This corn cob – we can also call Trump that in a nice way – doesn’t have particularly outstanding qualities. He was such a target for the media, with such terrifying accusations of sexism and racism, as well as being harassed by the establishment – such as the New York Times – but, in the end, he won. “That is a symbol of the tragedy and the apocalypse of traditional information. The television and newspapers are always late and they relay old information.

They no longer anticipate anything and they’re only just understanding that idiots, the disadvantaged, those who are marginalised – and there are millions of them – use alternative media, such as the Internet, which passes under the radar of television, a medium people no longer use. “With Trump, exactly the same thing has happened as with my Five Star Movement, which was born of the Internet: the media were taken aback and asked us where we were before. We gathered millions of people in public squares and they marvelled. We became the biggest movement in Italy and journalists and philosophers continued to say that we were benefitting from people’s dissatisfaction. We’ll get into government and they’ll ask themselves how we did it.”

euronews “There is a gap between giving populist speeches and governing a nation.” Beppe Grillo “We want to govern, but we don’t want to simply change the power by replacing it with our own. We want a change within civilisation, a change of world vision. “We’re talking about dematerialised industry, an end to working for money, the start of working for other payment, a universal citizens revenue. If our society is founded on work, what will happen if work disappears? What will we do with millions of people in flux? We have to organise and manage all that.”

euronews “Do you think appealing to people’s emotions is enough to get elected? Is that a political project?” Beppe Grillo “This information never ceases to make the rounds: you don’t have a political project, you’re not capable, you’re imbeciles, amateurs… “And yet, the amateurs are the ones conquering the world and I’m rejoicing in it because the professionals are the ones who have reduced the world to this state. Hillary Clinton, Obama and all the rest have destroyed democracy and their international policies. “If that’s the case, it signifies that the experts, economists and intellectuals have completely misunderstood everything, especially if the situation is the way it is. If the EU is what we have today, it means the European dream has evaporated. Brexit and Trump are signs of a huge change. If we manage to understand that, we’ll also get to face it.”

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Europe’s MO. Keep squeezing.

Bruegel Institute Chief: 4th Bailout Seems Inevitable for Greece (GR)

Bruegel Institute Chief Zsolt Darvas said that there are two possible solutions for Greece’s debt problems following 2018. One is huge debt restructuring or a fourth bailout program for the country. Speaking with Greek daily Ta Nea, the Hungarian economist said that even if Greece has the expected development for 2017-2018, debt will still be at a high rate. He does not believe that Greece will be able to borrow from the markets at a reasonable rate under the current circumstances. Darvas expects to see some form of debt restructuring within a time framework to bond maturation, along with a lowering or freezing of interest rates. He said that this per se may still not be enough for Greece to avoid a fourth bailout program.

Regarding investments, Darvas said that the height of Greece’s debt is not helping draw investors. Another problem is the excessive bureaucracy. The OECD indexes also show Greece’s weaknesses. When asked about U.S. President Barack Obama’s support for debt relief for Greece, Darvas said that he fears that Obama cannot influence European decisions regarding Greece. In the past, there were no results when he or other members of the government called for debt relief. He considers this unlikely to change. He does not believe that there will be any decision regarding debt relief until after the German elections.

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Every country, every society, should make protection of basic needs their number one priority. They are indeed ‘not a market commodity’.

Slovenia Adds Water To Constitution As Fundamental Right For All (AFP)

Slovenia has amended its constitution to make access to drinkable water a fundamental right for all citizens and stop it being commercialised. With 64 votes in favour and none against, the 90-seat parliament added an article to the EU country’s constitution saying “everyone has the right to drinkable water”. The centre-right opposition Slovenian Democratic party (SDS) abstained from the vote saying the amendment was not necessary and only aimed at increasing public support. Slovenia is a mountainous, water-rich country with more than half its territory covered by forest.

“Water resources represent a public good that is managed by the state. Water resources are primary and durably used to supply citizens with potable water and households with water and, in this sense, are not a market commodity,” the article reads. The centre-left prime minister, Miro Cerar, had urged lawmakers to pass the bill saying the country of two million people should “protect water – the 21st century’s liquid gold – at the highest legal level”. “Slovenian water has very good quality and, because of its value, in the future it will certainly be the target of foreign countries and international corporations’ appetites. “As it will gradually become a more valuable commodity in the future, pressure over it will increase and we must not give in,” Cerar said.

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Only Greece and Italy need worry about this now. The rest can sit pretty. It’ll cost them the EU though.

EU Ministers At Odds Over Immigration, No Compromise In Sight (R.)

European Union interior ministers were at odds on Friday over how to handle immigration, with heated discussions between states who want more burden sharing and those who oppose any kind of obligatory relocation. “We are looking for compromises but at the moment they are not there,” said Thomas De Maiziere of Germany, which last year took in about 900,000 migrants and refugees. The ministers disagreed over a proposal by the EU’s current chair Slovakia on reforming the bloc’s asylum system, which collapsed last year as 1.3 million refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa reached Europe and member states quarrelled over how to handle the influx.

Overall, the arrivals have decreased from last year but they continue unabated in Italy and tens of thousands of people are still stuck in Greece and Italy, sometimes in dire conditions. Despite agreeing last year to relocate 160,000 people from Italy and Greece, eastern European countries, including Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, have refused to take any in. “We cannot pretend that the quotas as we know them now are working,” said Robert Kalinak of Slovakia. “The 160,000 is only a very small part of the million that came to Europe last year and we only relocated less than 10,000 people. Even those who were for this system were not successful. We want to come up with a system that would be effective.”

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The mess below the surface.

Pentagon and Intelligence Chiefs Urge Obama To Remove NSA Chief (WaPo)

The heads of the Pentagon and the nation’s intelligence community have recommended to President Obama that the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, be removed. The recommendation, delivered to the White House last month, was made by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., according to several U.S. officials familiar with the matter. Action has been delayed, some administration officials said, because relieving Rogers of his duties is tied to another controversial recommendation: to create separate chains of command at the NSA and the military’s cyberwarfare unit, a recommendation by Clapper and Carter that has been stalled because of other issues.

The news comes as Rogers is being considered by President-elect Donald Trump to be his nominee for director of national intelligence to replace Clapper as the official who oversees all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. In a move apparently unprecedented for a military officer, Rogers, without notifying superiors, traveled to New York to meet with Trump on Thursday at Trump Tower. That caused consternation at senior levels of the administration, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal personnel matters. [..] Carter has concerns with Rogers’s performance, officials said. The driving force for Clapper, meanwhile, was the separation of leadership roles at the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, and his stance that the NSA should be headed by a civilian.

[..] Rogers, 57, took the helm of the NSA and Cyber Command in April 2014 in the wake of revelations by a former intelligence contractor of broad surveillance activities that shook public confidence in the agency. The contractor, Edward Snowden, had secretly downloaded vast amounts of digital documents that he shared with a handful of journalists. His disclosures prompted debate over the proper scale of surveillance and led to some reforms. But they also were a black eye for an agency that prides itself on having the most skilled hackers and cybersecurity professionals in government. Rogers was charged with making sure another insider breach never happened again. Instead, in the past year and a half, officials have discovered two major compromises of sensitive hacking tools by personnel working at the NSA’s premier hacking unit: the Tailored Access Operations. One involved a Booz Allen Hamilton contractor, Harold T. Martin III, who is accused of carrying out the largest theft of classified government material.

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Even if he would pardon Snowden, Manning, Assange, what would their lives look like?

Obama Claims He Cannot Pardon Snowden but He Knows That’s Not True (TD)

In a big interview with the German media outlet Der Spiegel, President Obama was asked about his interest in pardoning Ed Snowden in response to the big campaign to get him pardoned. Obama’s response was that he could not, since Snowden has not been convicted yet: ARD/SPIEGEL : Are you going to pardon Edward Snowden? Obama:” I can’t pardon somebody who hasn’t gone before a court and presented themselves, so that’s not something that I would comment on at this point. I think that Mr. Snowden raised some legitimate concerns. How he did it was something that did not follow the procedures and practices of our intelligence community. If everybody took the approach that I make my own decisions about these issues, then it would be very hard to have an organized government or any kind of national security system.

At the point at which Mr. Snowden wants to present himself before the legal authorities and make his arguments or have his lawyers make his arguments, then I think those issues come into play. Until that time, what I’ve tried to suggest – both to the American people, but also to the world – is that we do have to balance this issue of privacy and security. Those who pretend that there’s no balance that has to be struck and think we can take a 100-percent absolutist approach to protecting privacy don’t recognize that governments are going to be under an enormous burden to prevent the kinds of terrorist acts that not only harm individuals, but also can distort our society and our politics in very dangerous ways. And those who think that security is the only thing and don’t care about privacy also have it wrong.”

This is simply incorrect – as is known to anyone who remembers the fact that Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon before he had been indicted. And it appears that the President knows this. Because, as the Pardon Snowden campaign points out, Obama pardoned three Iranian Americans who had not yet stood trial. That happened this year. So for him to say it’s impossible to pardon someone who hasn’t gone before the court is simply, factually, historically wrong. And there’s a Supreme Court ruling that makes this abundantly clear. 150 years ago, in the ruling on Ex Parte Garland, the Supreme Court stated: “The power of pardon conferred by the Constitution upon the President is unlimited except in cases of impeachment. It extends to every offence known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment. The power is not subject to legislative control.”

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‘Old’ media write their own death warrant.

The Real Fake News List (Liberty Report)

We’ve seen the make-shift “fake news” list created by a leftist feminist professor. Well, another fake news list has been revealed and this one holds a lot more water. This list contains the culprits who told us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and lied us into multiple bogus wars. These are the news sources that told us “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” They told us that Hillary Clinton had a 98% chance of winning the election. They tell us in a never-ending loop that “The economy is in great shape!” This is the real Fake News List (and it’s sourced):

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Aug 262016
 
 August 26, 2016  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


G. G. Bain On beach near Casino, Asbury Park 1911

Japan July Consumer Prices Post Biggest Annual Fall In 3 Years (R.)
Dollar Stores’ Admission: Half Of US Consumers Are In Dire Straits (ZH)
QE Infinity: Are We Heading Into The Unknown? (CNBC)
A Less Weird Time at Jackson Hole? (John Taylor)
There May Not Be Too Many Tricks Left For The ECB and Bank of England (BBG)
China’s Great Divide: A New Cultural Revolution? (CH Smith)
Backlash Against Chinese Investment Abroad Grows Ahead Of G-20 Summit (BBG)
China Has Returned To Reform Mode (BBG)
Australia’s Hunger Games (BBG)
Fannie, Freddie, Regulator Rolls Out Refinance Program For Homeowners (R.)
Eurozone Banks See Net Profit Fall 20% In First Quarter (R.)
Deposits at Bank of Ireland To Face Negative Interest Rates (O’Byrne)
It Was a Union for the Ages, Until Suddenly It Wasn’t. Is Europe Lost? (BBG)
The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire (Whitney)
2000 Finns to Get Basic Income in State Experiment Set to Start 2017 (BBG)
Greece Grapples With More ‘Fugitives’, Seeks To Avoid Tensions With Ankara (K.)

 

 

Might as well give up on Japan. 3 years of horrible policy failure, and Abe’s as popular as ever.

Japan July Consumer Prices Post Biggest Annual Fall In 3 Years (R.)

Japan’s consumer prices fell in July by the most in more than three years as more firms delayed price hikes due to weak consumption, keeping the central bank under pressure to expand an already massive stimulus program. The gloomy data reinforces a dominant market view that premier Shinzo Abe’s stimulus program have failed to dislodge the deflationary mindset prevailing among businesses and consumers. The nationwide core consumer price index, which excludes volatile fresh food prices but includes oil products, fell 0.5% in July from a year earlier, the fifth straight month of declines, data showed on Friday. It exceeded a median forecast for a 0.4% decline and June’s 0.4% drop.

While falling energy costs were mainly behind the slide in consumer prices, rises in imported food prices and hotel room rates moderated in a sign that weak consumption is discouraging firms from passing on rising costs. A strong yen also pushed down import costs, offering few justifications for retailers to raise prices of their goods. “While economic activity is on the mend, the slump in import prices suggests that underlying inflation will continue to fall in coming months,” said Marcel Thieliant, senior Japan economist at Capital Economics. “The Bank of Japan will find it increasingly difficult to blame falling energy prices for the decline in overall consumer prices.”

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Where the propaganda fails.

Dollar Stores’ Admission: Half Of US Consumers Are In Dire Straits (ZH)

Both Dollar General and Dollar Tree said pressures on their core lower-income shoppers contributed to the same-store sales misses that both retailers reported. On today’s conference call, Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos said that he was surprised to admit that while on the surface things are supposed to be getting better, the reality is vastly different for low-income US consumers: “I know that when we look at globally the overall U.S. population, it seems like things are getting better. But when you really start breaking it down and you look at that core consumer that we serve on the lower economic scale that’s out there, that demographic, things have not gotten any better for her, and arguably, they’re worse. And they’re worse, because rents are accelerating, healthcare is accelerating on her at a very, very rapid clip.”

Making matters worse, he added that the company’s core consumers base, 65% of which is comprised of lower-income shoppers, has been impacted by the recent reduction or elimination in foodstamps: “now couple that in upwards of 20 states where they have reduced or eliminated the SNAP benefit, and it has really put a toll on [the core consumer].” He elaborated that the reduction in foodstamps benefits promptly filtered through the entire business model, and culminated with Dollar General being forced to cut prices to remain competitive. This is what he said:

“That SNAP benefit reduction and/or elimination happened in April. That was the kickoff, and you could see it immediately in the numbers. So I believe that those are the things that are affecting her today. Again, our core customer, and by the way, we’ve seen this play out before. If you dial the clock back to October of 2013 and coming into November of 2013, when the last large SNAP benefit reduction happened, it happened almost exactly the same way on our comps and in how we saw traffic. Obviously, we’re up at a little higher level at that time, but rest assured, that our traffic slowed tremendously then, very similar to as it did now.

The difference here is we’re going to take aggressive price action to get that consumer back in the store. She needs a little motivation to get back in. We need to help her stretch her budget for a time period until she figures it out. Our core customer is very resilient. They’ll figure it out over time, but they need a little help as they tend to now try to figure out how to make ends meet with less money during the month.”

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No, we’ve been in the unknown for years. As soon as Bernanke said ‘Uncharted Territory’, we knew we were lost. Of course they’ve acted ever since as if they know what they’re doing, but that is bull.

QE Infinity: Are We Heading Into The Unknown? (CNBC)

Markets are currently riding on the wave of uncertainty and speculation over whether the world’s central banks will continue to pump in more and more cash into the economy though bond-buying programs known as quantitative easing (QE). But as we go deeper into the world of easy money from central banks, there are other areas of the economy that could see a knock-on effect. Alberto Gallo, manager of the Algebris Macro Credit Fund, describes this paradox as “QE infinity,” whereby low rates and seemingly endless rounds of bond-buying programs encourage cheap borrowing, and investment in financial markets – but not in the real economy. “The problem is rising debt and monetary easing comes with many collateral effects. One is the distortion of asset prices, leading to asset bubbles,” Gallo explained.

“Asset price distortion also has a ripple effect on wealth distribution, increasing inequality by benefitting the already-wealthy who are more likely to hold financial assets. Over time, low rates and QE can also encourage misallocation of resources to leverage-sensitive sectors, including real estate and construction.” Gallo further explained that for the global economy to exit this QE infinity trap, government action and reforms to improve productivity are needed. “But many governments are reluctant to accept the need for these measures, often instead implementing policies that win votes but compound the distortions of easy monetary policy e.g. housing affordability programmes, mortgage subsidies.” Without an adequate fiscal response from governments, growing imbalances make it harder to withdraw stimulus, warned Gallo.

“This is the paradox of current monetary policy: On one hand, it is the best possible response available to central bankers. On the other, it has long-term collateral effects which need to be confronted eventually.” Central banks have seen themselves come up with new ways of stimulating the economy ever since the world plunged into financial crisis in September 2008. Data from JPMorgan shows that the top 50 central banks around the world have cut rates 672 times between them since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a figure that translates to an average of one interest rate cut every three trading days. This has also been combined with $24 trillion worth of asset purchases. This raises a big question: Will the global economy ever exit QE Infinity?

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Dream on. All they have left is weird.

A Less Weird Time at Jackson Hole? (John Taylor)

I’m on my way to join the world’s central bankers at Jackson Hole for the 35th annual monetary-policy conference in the Grand Teton Mountains. I attended the first monetary-policy conference there in 1982, and I may be the only person to attend both the 1st and the 35th. I know the Tetons will still be there, but virtually everything else will be different. As the Wall Street Journal front page headline screamed out on Monday, “Central Bank Stimulus Efforts Get Weirder”. I’m looking forward to it. Paul Volcker chaired the Fed in 1982. He went to Jackson Hole, but he was not on the program to give the opening address, and no one was speculating on what he might say. No other Fed governors were there, nor governors of any other central bank. In contrast, this year many central bankers will be there, including from emerging markets.

Only four reporters came in 1982 — William Eaton (LA Times), Jonathan Fuerbringer (New York Times), Ken Bacon (Wall Street Journal) and John Berry (Washington Post). This year there will be scores. And there were no television people to interview central bankers in 1982 (with the awesome Grand Teton as backdrop). It was clear to everyone in 1982 that Volcker had a policy strategy in place, so he didn’t need to use Jackson Hole to announce new interventions or tools. The strategy was to focus on price stability and thereby get inflation down, which would then restore economic growth and reduce unemployment. Some at the meeting, such as Nobel Laureate James Tobin, didn’t like Volcker’s strategy, but others did. I presented a paper at the 1982 conference which supported the strategy. The federal funds rate was over 10.1% in August 1982 down from 19.1% the previous summer.

Today the policy rate is .5% in the U.S. and negative in the Eurozone, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark. There will be lot of discussion about the impact of these unusual central bank policy rates, as well the unusual large scale purchases of corporate bonds and stock, and of course the possibility of helicopter money and other new tools, some of which greatly expand the scope of central banks. I hope there is also a discussion of less weird policy, and in particular about the normalization of policy and the benefits of normalization. In fact, with so many central bankers from around the world at Jackson Hole, it will be an opportunity to discuss the global benefits of recent proposals to return to a rules-based international monetary system along the lines that Paul Volcker has argued for.

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Trapped.

There May Not Be Too Many Tricks Left For The ECB and Bank of England (BBG)

The European Central Bank and the Bank of England may soon find that their most powerful tool for overseeing lenders doesn’t pack the punch it once did. The European Union is overhauling the way supervisors set bank-specific capital levels for current and potential risks that aren’t covered by the minimum requirements in EU law. A proposal from the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, would rein in supervisors and give banks the lead in determining their capital needs. The ECB has already followed directions from the commission in splitting its demands into binding requirements and non-binding guidance, reducing the capital burden on euro-area banks. This decision also made it less likely that banks will face restrictions on the payment of dividends, bonuses and additional Tier 1 bond coupons.

“What this boils down to is a complete disarming of the authorities,” said Christian Stiefmueller, a senior policy analyst at Finance Watch, a Brussels-based watchdog. “It makes it effectively impossible for the supervisor to set capital requirements for any risk except those that have already materialized.” Europe’s banks are starting to get some slack from policy makers after years of aggressive regulation. The Brussels-based commission has opened up the entire financial rule book for review, including contentious issues such as the cap on bankers’ bonuses. Faced with weak banks and an anemic economy, regulators have made clear that global standards will be adapted to suit Europe’s needs.

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Key: “The processes used to inflate the new bubble suffer from diminishing returns.”

China’s Great Divide: A New Cultural Revolution? (CH Smith)

The status quo solution (in China, the U.S., Japan, the E.U., etc.) to a weakening bubble-dependent economy is to inflate another even bigger bubble. If debt reached extremes that imploded, the solution is to expand debt far beyond the levels that triggered the implosion. If fudging the numbers triggered a loss of confidence, the solution is to fudge the numbers even more, so they no longer reflect reality at all. If the masses protest their powerlessness, the solution is to push them further from the centers of power. And so on. This blowing new bubbles to replace the ones that popped works for a while, but at the expense of systemic stability. Each new bubble requires pushing the system to new extremes that increase the risk of instability and collapse.

In other words, the stability of the new bubble is temporary and thus illusory. The processes used to inflate the new bubble suffer from diminishing returns. The nature of stimulus-response is that overuse of the stimulus leads to diminishing responses. This is a structural feature that cannot be massaged away. Goosing public confidence in the status quo with phony statistics and rigged markets works splendidly the first time, less so the second time, and barely at all the third time. Why is this so? The distance between reality and the bubble construct is now so great that the disconnection from reality is self-evident to anyone not marveling at the finery of the Emperor’s non-existent clothing. The system habituates to the higher stimulus. If the drug/debt has lost its effectiveness, a higher dose is needed.

This is the progression of serial bubbles. Then the system habituates to the higher dose/debt, and the next expansion of debt must be even greater. This dynamic can be visualized as The Rising Wedge Model of Breakdown, which builds on the well-known Ratchet Effect: the system is greased for easy expansion of debt, leverage, employees, etc., but it has no mechanism to allow contraction. Any contraction triggers systemic collapse. The only question left for China (and every other debt/bubble-dependent nation) is what socio-political consequences will manifest when the credit bubble finally bursts?

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More diminishing returns?!

Backlash Against Chinese Investment Abroad Grows Ahead Of G-20 Summit (BBG)

Forget about Yankee go home. Now it’s Chinese go home. From Australia blocking a bid for a power network to the U.K.’s review of a proposed Chinese-funded nuclear plant, opposition to China’s outward push is opening a thornier and potentially more treacherous front in the country’s economic tug-of-war with the rest of the world. And it’s coming as China prepares to host a Sept. 4-5 summit of Group of 20 leaders. Unlike festering frictions over trade, the new front is in an area – investment – where the global rules of engagement are more amorphous and where national security interests are more prominent. That raises the risk of a rapid escalation of tensions that can’t be so easily contained. “The implicit accusation when rejecting overseas direct investment is much stronger than trade,” said James Laurenceson, deputy director of the Australia-China Relations Institute in Sydney.

Using a national-security rationale to blocking outbound investment by China “is far more confronting. It suggests that China is untrustworthy and has potentially nefarious intentions. That’s what Beijing objects to.” But it’s not just security concerns that are driving the increased backlash against stepped-up Chinese investment abroad, especially by state-owned companies. It’s also the suspicion that the Communist-led government is trying to game the system by snapping up foreign firms in key areas of the economy while blocking others from doing the same in China. China “remains the most closed to foreign investment of the G-20 countries,” David Dollar, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former U.S. Treasury attache to Beijing, said. “This creates an unfairness in which Chinese firms prosper behind protectionist walls and expand into more open markets such as the U.S.”

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China’s getting desperate to look like it’s in control of its own economy. It’s not.

China Has Returned To Reform Mode (BBG)

China has returned to reform mode. This week, plans have been unveiled to quicken the clean-up of excess capacity in state-backed companies, level the playing field for private and foreign investors with new access to previously off-limit sectors, and take the next step in a long-awaited fiscal shake up. Having stabilized the economy with a mix of fiscal support and easy monetary settings, China’s leaders appear to be reviving a stalled reform push that’s key to long-term growth prospects. The rush of announcements comes ahead of China’s hosting of leaders from the world’s 20 biggest economies in Hangzhou on Sept. 4 and 5, allowing it to show progress to officials from nations such as the U.S. and bodies like the IMF that have called for structural changes.

“The pace of reform had been slower than expected,” said Shen Jianguang at Securities in Hong Kong. “Now, policy makers want to speed it up again. With monetary easing proving less effective in propping up the economy, they have realized that there’s no way out if they don’t push forward on reform.” The People’s Bank of China has been upping its communication in recent weeks, signaling ongoing use of liquidity tools rather than big gun moves such as cuts to benchmark interest rates or the percentage of deposits banks must lock away as reserves. With businesses hoarding cash and reluctant to invest, further easing risks fueling financial risks without spurring a pick up in economic growth.

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More dividend priests liquidating themselves.

Australia’s Hunger Games (BBG)

If economies need animal spirits to thrive, what sort of beast is Australia in the aftermath of its mining boom? Something like a wounded bear that would rather hibernate than go hunting for food, if you listen to Treasurer Scott Morrison.Governments need to work at building an economy that “can coax private capital out of its cave,” he said at an event in Sydney Thursday. “Global capital is sitting dormant. How else do you interpret the absurdity of negative bond yields? “Though Australia’s 25 years without a recession represent a remarkable success story, it’s fair to say the country’s going through a rough patch. Interest rates are at a record-low 1.5%, and local businesses are showing more of a tendency to lick their wounds than search for new investment opportunities.

The huge splurge of capital expenditure that accompanied the mining boom helped cover for a while a fact that’s becoming embarrassingly clear as the resource spending recedes: Take out mining, and investment by Australian businesses has barely increased since the global financial crisis. So where’s the money going? Blame the baby boomers. Self-managed super funds – accounts that are controlled by their owners rather than professional fund managers – make up the biggest share of Australia’s pool of retirement savings.The funds, which have benefited from a range of overly generous tax breaks during the past decade, have an outsized influence on the Australian stock market, according to Hasan Tevfik, director of Australian equities research at Credit Suisse.

Retirees’ desire for a steady income from their investments helps explain why certain types of stocks tend to be overvalued in Australia relative to their performance elsewhere, and why local businesses so often fall over themselves to pay dividends above the levels found in other markets. [..] In the long term, companies that dedicate more of their free cash to shareholders rather than finding new ways of making money are robbing the future to pay the present. Countries where that becomes the predominant mode of corporate behavior are in even greater trouble.

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Everybody’s scared to death of falling home prices, which happen to be the only thing that can make the market somewhat healthier.

Fannie, Freddie, Regulator Rolls Out Refinance Program For Homeowners (R.)

The regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac unveiled on Thursday a program aimed at homeowners who are paying their mortgages on time but whose loan-to-value (LTV) ratios are too high to qualify for traditional refinance programs. To be eligible for this program, which Fannie and Freddie will implement, borrowers must have not missed any mortgage payments in the prior six months; must not have skipped more than one payment in the previous 12 months; must have a source of income and must receive a benefit from the refinance such as a reduction in their monthly loan payment, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said.

“This new offering will give borrowers the opportunity to refinance when rates are low, making their mortgages more affordable and thus reducing credit risk exposure for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,” said FHFA Director Melvin Watt in a statement. Because this program for high LTV borrowers will not be available until October 2017, the agency said it will extend the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) until Sept. 30, 2017 as a bridge to the new high LTV program. HARP was introduced in 2009 to help underwater borrowers following the housing bust. More than 3.4 million homeowners have refinanced their mortgage through the program. More than 300,000 homeowners could still refinance through HARP, FHFA said.

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Portuguese and Italian banks cannot afford this. Many others can’t either. Question is where the next bailout (bail-in) will happen.

Eurozone Banks See Net Profit Fall 20% In First Quarter (R.)

Euro area banks saw their profits fall by a fifth in the first three months of this year as they made less money from trading and most other business areas, European Central Bank data showed on Wednesday. The ECB survey painted a gloomy picture, with all the main sources of profit for banks – lending, trading and fees – down from the year before. Net profit fell by 20% year on year to €18 billion ($20.25 billion). The net result from trading and foreign exchange was one of the main culprits for that drop as it fell by 41% to €10.8 billion. Other income streams – such as net interest on loans, dividends, and fees and commissions – also declined, albeit more modestly.

Banks have blamed the ECB’s policy of ultra-low rates, which includes charging banks for the excess cash they park at the central bank, for eating into their profits. In cash-rich Germany, several banks have responded by charging fees on bank accounts or charging corporate clients a percentage charge on large deposits. The ECB has maintained its policy has done more good than harm but it has acknowledged it comes with side effects.

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This can not end well.

Deposits at Bank of Ireland To Face Negative Interest Rates (O’Byrne)

Deposits at Bank of Ireland are soon to face charges in the form of negative interest rates after it emerged on Friday that the bank is set to become the first Irish bank to charge customers for placing their cash on deposit with the bank. This radical move was expected as the ECB began charging large corporates and financial institutions 0.4% in March for depositing cash with them overnight. Bank of Ireland is set to charge large companies for their deposits from October. The bank said it is to charge companies for company deposits worth over €10 million. The bank was not clear regarding what the new negative interest rate will be but it is believed that a negative interest rate of 0.1% will initially be charged to such deposits by Ireland’s biggest bank.

BOI was identified as one of the most vulnerable banks in Europe in the recent EU stress tests – along with Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS), AIB and Ulster Bank’s parent RBS. All the banks clients, retail, SME and corporates are unsecured creditors of the bank and exposed to the new bail-in regime. Only larger customers will be affected by the charge for now. The bank claims that it has no plans to levy a negative interest rate on either personal or SME customers but negative interest rates seem likely as long as the ECB continues with zero% and negative interest rates. Indeed, they are already being seen in Germany where retail clients are being charged 0.4% to hold their cash in certain banks such as Raiffeisenbank Gmund am Tegernsee.

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Europe is not lost, but the EU sure is.

It Was a Union for the Ages, Until Suddenly It Wasn’t. Is Europe Lost? (BBG)

The U.K.’s vote to quit the EU is the enterprise’s worst setback since it was conceived in the 1950s. Until now, the EU has always grown in scale and ambition. For the first time, Brexit shows that Europe’s manifest destiny—ever closer union—may not be destiny after all. Merely knowing that European integration can be reversed is a threat: It makes the unthinkable thinkable. But this isn’t the only danger. The union is increasingly unpopular not only in the U.K. but also in other European countries. Its political capital is depleted. Working through the mechanics of Brexit may deepen divisions, severely testing the union’s ability to adapt. Brexit could conceivably spur support for the union. But this will demand consensus, flexibility, and farsighted calculation, none of which can be taken for granted.

If governments can’t rise to this challenge, Brexit may be the beginning of the end of the European dream. In one way, today’s discontent is nothing new. There has often been a gap between the grandest designs of Europe’s leaders and the readiness of the continent’s citizens to go along. The EU’s remarkable achievements in securing peace and prosperity in the postwar era required brave, visionary leadership, and voters were rarely up to speed. For years, that was fine. The model was top-down institution-building, followed by good results, then popular backing—in that order. It all worked beautifully. Europe’s postwar political and economic reconstruction was a modern miracle. But now the model is failing. The Brits aren’t the proof. They’ve always been uncomfortable in the EU, late to the party and a nuisance throughout; their vote to quit was a shock, but probably shouldn’t have been.

Lately, though, the disenchantment has spread far more widely. According to one recent poll, the EU is less popular in France—France!—than in the U.K. So what went wrong? [..] Even at the design stage, many economists said the euro’s political underpinnings were too weak. Monetary union, they argued, demanded a commitment to a form of fiscal union. (If currency devaluation with respect to other EU currencies was going to be ruled out, fiscal transfers would be needed to help cushion economies from downturns.) This would require a widely shared sense of common purpose—in effect, a more fully developed European identity. Without it, member states would balk at collective fiscal action. And balk they did: Fiscal union, with the need for fiscal transfers across the union’s internal borders, wasn’t part of the plan.

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Worried about his legacy?

The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire (Whitney)

The main architect of Washington’s plan to rule the world has abandoned the scheme and called for the forging of ties with Russia and China. While Zbigniew Brzezinski’s article in The American Interest titled “Towards a Global Realignment” has largely been ignored by the media, it shows that powerful members of the policymaking establishment no longer believe that Washington will prevail in its quest to extent US hegemony across the Middle East and Asia. Brzezinski, who was the main proponent of this idea and who drew up the blueprint for imperial expansion in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, has done an about-face and called for a dramatic revising of the strategy. Here’s an excerpt from the article in the AI:

“As its era of global dominance ends, the United States needs to take the lead in realigning the global power architecture. Five basic verities regarding the emerging redistribution of global political power and the violent political awakening in the Middle East are signaling the coming of a new global realignment. The first of these verities is that the United States is still the world’s politically, economically, and militarily most powerful entity but, given complex geopolitical shifts in regional balances, it is no longer the globally imperial power.” (Toward a Global Realignment, Zbigniew Brzezinski, The American Interest)

Repeat: The US is “no longer the globally imperial power.” Compare this assessment to a statement Brzezinski made years earlier in Chessboard when he claimed the US was ” the world’s paramount power.” ““…The last decade of the twentieth century has witnessed a tectonic shift in world affairs. For the first time ever, a non-Eurasian power has emerged not only as a key arbiter of Eurasian power relations but also as the world’s paramount power. The defeat and collapse of the Soviet Union was the final step in the rapid ascendance of a Western Hemisphere power, the United States, as the sole and, indeed, the first truly global power.” (“The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives,” Zbigniew Brzezinski, Basic Books, 1997, p. xiii)

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A basic income for just 2000 people seems to miss the whole idea.

2000 Finns to Get Basic Income in State Experiment Set to Start 2017 (BBG)

Finland is pushing ahead with a plan to test the effects of paying a basic income as it seeks to protect state finances and move more people into the labor market. The Social Insurance Institution of Finland, known as Kela, will be responsible for carrying out the experiment that would start in 2017 and include 2,000 randomly selected welfare recipients, according to a statement released Thursday. The level of basic income would be €560 per month, tax free, and mandatory for those picked. “The objective of the legislative proposal is to carry out a basic income experiment in order to assess whether basic income can be used to reform social security, specifically to reduce incentive traps relating to working,” the Social Affairs and Health Ministry said.

To asses the effect of a basic income, the participants will be held up against a control group, the ministry said. The target group won’t include people receiving old-age pension benefits or students. The level of the lowest basic income to be tested will correspond with the level of labor market subsidy and basic daily allowance. The idea of a basic income, or paying everyone a stipend, has gained traction in recent years. It was rejected in a referendum in Switzerland as recently as June, where the suggested amount was 2,500 francs ($2,587) for an adult and a quarter of that sum for a child. It has also drawn interest in Canada and the Netherlands. Finnish authorities were clear on one thing as they embark on their study: “An experiment means that, at this point, basic income will not be paid to the whole population.”

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Whatever the US do, Greece will follow. Unless Berlin decides against it.

Greece Grapples With More ‘Fugitives’, Seeks To Avoid Tensions With Ankara (K.)

As Greece struggles to strike a balance between international law and Turkey’s demand for the extradition of eight Turkish officers, it was confronted with a fresh challenge this week after seven civilians from the neighboring country arrived in Alexandroupoli and Rhodes late Wednesday and are expected to request asylum. The new arrivals have been charged with illegally entering Greece. According to officials, they include a couple, both university professors, and their two children, who arrived in Alexandroupoli, reportedly via the northeastern border, possibly crossing the Evros River by boat. All four were said to be holding Turkish passports, though only the man’s is valid.

The other three individuals – of whom only one has a valid passport – said they are businessmen, but it was not clear how they made it to the southeastern Aegean island. One of the passports has been listed as stolen by Interpol. Initial reports suggested they are possibly supporters of the self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey claims orchestrated the failed coup attempt in July. Their case is set to put yet more strain on already tense relations between the traditional rivals after eight Turkish officers fled to Greece in the aftermath of the attempted coup. Ankara has demanded their immediate extradition to stand trial as “traitors” and coup plotters. Greece has said the decision will lie with its independent court.

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Jul 222016
 


Dorothea Lange ‘OK Family bound for Kingfisher and Lubbock. We’ll be in California yet’ 1938

Basic income is a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while, and while I won’t get anywhere near a comprehensive overview -there are too many uncertainties and untested ideas-, I’m going to try to paint a first chapter in a work of progress. Or, a thought experiment, for me and others.

Of course I’ve read a lot of and about other people’s ideas on the topic, and I’m sure there are many more out there that I haven’t seen yet, but I’m afraid to say that about all of those I did read tend to fall into the same ‘trap’. That is, they project their ideas, which are widely varying, onto -or close to- the economy (economies) and society (societies) as they are today.

Their basic income examples and ideas and theories (as well as criticisms of them) are all built around a perception of the economy as it is, or better still as it once was. And that is probably a bad idea. Because the economy of the future will not be like it is today, or was yesterday, and neither will societies.

And that is not because of the role automation and/or robots will play, a topic that features prominently in many basic income writings; those things are but a minor distraction. What will change our world much more profoundly will be the inevitable demise of the economic system as we know it.

And it’s against that backdrop that the issue of basic income must be viewed. If only because it then becomes something entirely different.

 

 

I started thinking a while back that it would not be robots or inequality that would be the foundation of and driving force behind basic income, but the ruin of our pension systems. Of course one has to be careful with general statements on this, because there are so many different systems and approaches when it comes to pensions and other old-age ‘provisions’ and/or ‘benefits’.

What all have in common today, though, is that they’re woefully underfunded and sliding down further fast due to ultralow interest rates and other ‘policies’, as well as to ageing societies. It seems almost incredulous that until a few years ago most pensions funds were required by law to invest only in AAA-rated assets.

While they may not all suffer from the same afflictions, all these systems, from Social Security to private pension funds, do suffer from the same symptoms. Painting the picture with a broad stroke, it’s safe to say they’re all in essence Ponzi schemes.

While many of the ‘Social Security variety’ depend on the trust in a government to pay out something for which nothing -or very little- has been set aside, those of the variety in which money IS actually paid in are inflicted by the twin impairments of too little return on what is paid in to maintain the fund, and too few newcomers to pay for what ‘oldtimers’ never paid but do want to take out.

A third ‘impairment’ will occur when younger workers figure out they’re paying into something they will never see any benefits of, and refuse to fork over any longer.

Low interest rates and ageing populations are wreaking havoc on -especially- European and Japanese pensions even as we speak, and a brief look at future trendlines makes abundantly clear where things are going.

Pondering all that, it seems obvious that at some point a government with at least a bit of vision would come to the conclusion that a basic income to replace all the faltering old-age provisions schemes -and many others- might make a lot of sense. If only because, once you think about it, ‘free’ money only for older people does not make sense, neither politically nor economically.

 

 

But let’s take a step back; that last bit still doesn’t take sufficiently into account that our economies are about to undergo radical changes because they are collapsing. What I find interesting is that this collapse actually seems to play into the hands of a basic income. For several reasons, as a matter of fact.

I am convinced that a basic income in an economy that’s part of a centralized, even globalized, system, makes no sense. You can’t really have a basic income in a society that imports most of what it uses, but that still is the model of most of our societies. We import much of what’s essential, and export non-essential things.

That is a problem that will more or less solve itself, though we better pay attention and be prepared, or else. We may not know exactly when or how the economic collapse will occur, but that’s not the most important thing. What is, is that centralization can only happen in a growing economy. As soon as growth halts -or even reverses-, economies will of necessity decentralize. Unless perhaps they’re under a dictatorship, but even then.

Setting up a basic income system in a society that, for example, imports its clothes and furniture -and sometimes even food- from China, is a doomed proposition. The number one requirement for a successful basic income is that the money issued stays inside the society it’s being issued in. If not, it would merely speed up bankruptcy.

The money must be spent locally, on local products, as much as possible, because then it will be worth much more to the local economy. This will also go far towards fighting deflation, because the velocity of money will increase. To ensure that as much as possible is spent inside a community/society, the manufacturing base will need to be (re-)built.

Which must happen anyway as the global economy sinks, and the sooner, the better. The worldwide transport lines we know today will not exist for much longer, and it will take time to adapt one’s economy to that.

On the bright side, this decentralization, or relocalization, or ‘protectionism’ if you will, will (re-)create a lot of jobs. Not ones that will pay as much as what we see now, but that’s not necessarily such a bad thing. And besides, it’s not as if we have some kind of free choice. Reality will dictate the terms. We must produce our own essentials once again: food, clothing, housing, furniture etc.

Still on the bright side, the new jobs will make basic income much less costly for a society. Because you can top off what people make on top on whatever the basic income is, and you can do so at a level that everyone can agree to.

 

 

That’s my first take of basic income in a crisis, a crisis I see as set in stone. Which changes the whole issue of a basic income. Plenty people will see this as socialism or something in that vein, I see it as perhaps the only way to make sure you have a functioning society on the way down. With none of the alternatives looking particularly appealing.

When discussing the details of such a program, what would probably be good, if only for the sake of justice, is to combine it with Steve Keen’s notion of a Modern Debt Jubilee, in which debt gets cancelled but those with most debt are obliged to pay -part of it- down, while those who are debt-free get ‘rewarded’ for that status.

What I have always found difficult to envision is how a jubilee would work in modern days. The ones ‘of old’ would typically involve a local ruler and/or landlord to whom subjects owed debts of some sort, which the ruler could declare null and void while still being the ruler- and the richest man around.

Today debts are global, with much of them having been securitized and sold on to large -financial- institutions who may even be anonymous and have shareholders in dozens of different countries. How do you get them to agree to large-scale debt cancellation or reform? I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s not the same thing.

The hardest part of what I laid out above may well be to get people who feel they are owed benefits, pensions or otherwise, to accept that these will be incorporated into a new basic income system. Not many understand to what extent pensions systems are Ponzi’s, and even those who do to an extent may still refuse to give up their slice of the pie.

It should be fairly easy, though, to explain what their slice will look like once the systems collapse, or even simply once nobody pays in anymore. And because younger people have no reason to pay for something they know they will never see the benefits of, and moreover all this can be phased in/out over a certain period of time, it may well unfold faster and easier than one might think at first sight.

 

 

Lastly, some numbers. Greg Ip wrote for the Wall Street Journal last week: Revival of Universal Basic Income Proposal Ignores Needs of Labor Force. Obviously, in my example, i.e. in an economy that’s going down the drain, the term ‘needs of the labor force’ takes on a whole different role and meaning. In his piece, Ip says:

To send every American adult $10,000 a year would cost $2.4 trillion, or 13% of GDP.

And I think that is a misleading way of phrasing things. Because the money doesn’t disappear, so it doesn’t ‘cost’ that; and that’s not only true in my theoretical example. Most of the ‘basic income money’ would circulate inside the economy, and much comes back to the issuing state through various taxes. Crux is don’t let it leave the economy it’s issued in.

Mind you, I don’t see a basic income trial happen in the US, because it’s far too big a country. The EU is too large too. You’d need smaller units. And as I said, a shrinking economy would of necessity make units smaller. In Europe, these units already exist. In countries the size of Finland, Switzerland, Scotland, Wales, perhaps Greece, a basic income trial may well be viable.

That is, provided they shrug off the strangleholds that bind them to centralized systems. But that they will wind up doing regardless. What’s more important is that such a trial is meticulously planned, and not with some pie in the sky idea of where the world economy is headed.

Greg Ip suggests that a $10,000 basic income for all US adults is not realistic, because it would ‘cost’ 13% of GDP. But this graph from the World Economic Forum World Economic Forum on social expenditures as calculated by the OECD, puts things in a different light:

 

In 2014, US social expenditures were at about 20% of GDP, which is 50% more than Ip’s example. And that is the main point behind the basic income question, even if you don’t subscribe to the collapsing economy ‘thesis’: what would happen if you replace all -or almost all- social benefit schemes in a particular society with a basic income? How much money would you save, or how much extra would it cost?

Ip seems to contend that a basic income would be prohibitively expensive. But, even if the OECD numbers fail to include certain items, there’s a lot of leeway between the 13% of GDP a US basic income would cost, and the 20% of GDP America now pays in benefits. About $1.2 trillion in leeway. So the cost picture at the very least is not all that obvious.

By the way, it’s kind of funny that I’ve seen nobody address the perhaps most ironic thing: even if the state would save a lot of money moving to the much simpler basic income from a myriad of other programs, that would make a whole lot of civil servants unemployed all at once. Can’t help wondering why no-one brings that up.

But the US is not the best example, for various reasons. It’s countries that have the right size to hold a trial in, or at least what we can perceive as the right size. Finland, Belgium, Denmark all spend close to 30% of GDP on social expenditures. Portugal, Greece, Slovenia, Luxembourg are at 25%. If a basic income can be had for 13% of GDP, these countries stand to save a fortune…

Unfortunately, you can’t be in the EU and start a basic income trial. And that’s a shame. Because it’s going to be very hard to get this right, and it’ll take some serious time and effort. So much so that not starting today is a risk in itself.

But as long as people keep having faith in the economists, politicians, bankers and reporters who drill the ‘recovery is right around the corner’ meme into them 24/7, and any alternative to that meme just scares the heebees out of them, I’m afraid there’ll be no basic income trial. Yes, there are a few ideas, but they’re all based on the wrong -growth- assumptions, so they’re sure to fail.

Caveat: No, I haven’t gone through all different social benefits plans of all countries I’ve mentioned, so I don’t know what part of GDP each spends at present, or how much they could save or lose. Someone will have to write ‘the book’ on this.

For my thought experiment here I found it sufficient to go with the basic principles, and throw in a few numbers. And the most elementary difference between me and other voices is not there anyway: that is in my putting the basic income issue against the backdrop of economic collapse, and nobody else really doing that whom I’ve read.

Yes, the title is Marquez, of course, THE time of cholera

 

 

Jun 052016
 


Unknown General Patrick’s headquarters, City Point, Virginia 1865

World Faces Pensions Crisis, Warns OECD (Tel.)
The Case For A Super Glass-Steagall (David Stockman)
Payday Loans a Crony Capitalist Target (WSJ)
What Makes this Jobs Report so Truly Ugly (WS)
Americans Not In The Labor Force Soar To Record 94.7 Million (ZH)
Higher Australian Household Debt Mounts To ‘Unsustainable’ Levels (Aus.)
A Guaranteed Income for Every American (WSJ)
Italy And France Are Urging Caution Over Bank Capital (R.)
Self-Harming Taxation, Or The Liquidation Of The Kulaks (Georganas)

The OECD is late to the game, and fails to comprehend the scale and urgency of that crisis.

World Faces Pensions Crisis, Warns OECD (Tel.)

The global pensions crisis has been laid bare by new analysis that shows people retiring today can expect half the income of those who became pensioners at the start of the millennium. The stark findings by the OECD will be presented in a report this week that highlights the impact of ultra-low interest rates on global retirement incomes. It shows that a person buying an annuity today who saved 10pc of their wages into a pension for 40 years can expect just over half the earnings of someone who saved the same amount but retired 15 years ago. The think-tank’s analysis of defined contribution schemes, where the value of pension pots can rise or fall depending on how investments perform, highlights the challenge faced by many pension providers in the current low growth and low inflation environment

Pension funds invest around 40pc of their assets in fixed income securities, according to the OECD, including lower yielding government bonds. “We’ve had more than half a decade of very low interest rates and that means someone who has been putting money into a savings account or into a pension fund – the value of their lifetime retirement is about half the value of someone who retired in 2000,” said Catherine Mann, the OECD’s chief economist. Tom McPhail, head of pensions research at Hargreaves Lansdown, said the OECD’s findings were consistent with its UK research. “Someone that started putting money in a pension in the 1960s was investing at a time when baby boomers were entering the workforce. But the last 16 years and the financial crisis have had an extremely negative impact on asset prices.”

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Sometime down the line, the big banks will be broken up. But it’s not something the politicial system can achieve with a few votes. Because it is owned by those same banks.

The Case For A Super Glass-Steagall (David Stockman)

Donald Trump can instantly get to the left of Hillary with respect to Wall Street and the one percenters by embracing Super Glass-Steagall. The latter would cap U.S. banks at $180 billion in assets (<1% of GDP) if they wished to have access to the Fed’s discount window and have their deposits backed by FDIC insurance. Such Federally privileged institutions would also be prohibited from engaging in trading, underwriting, investment banking, private equity, hedge funds, derivatives and other activities outside of deposit taking and lending. Instead, these latter inherently risky economic functions would be performed on the free market by at-risk banks and financial services companies.

The latter could never get too big to fail or to manage because the market would stop them first or they would be disciplined by the fail-safe institution of bankruptcy. No taxpayer would ever be put in harms’ way of trades like those of the London Whale. By embracing this kind of Super Glass-Steagall Trump would consolidate his base in the flyover zones and reel in some of the Bernie Sanders throng, too. The latter will never forgive Clinton for her Goldman Sachs speech whoring. And that’s to say nothing of her full-throated support for the 2008 bank bailouts and the Fed’s subsequent giant gifts of QE and ZIRP to the Wall Street gamblers. Besides, breaking up the big banks and putting Wall Street back on a free market based level playing field is the right thing to do.

Today’s multi-trillion banks are simply not free enterprise institutions entitled to be let alone. Instead, they are wards of the state dependent upon its subsidies, safety nets, regulatory protections and legal privileges. Consequently, they have gotten far larger, more risky and dangerous to society than could ever happen in an honest, disciplined market. Foremost among these artificial props is the Fed’s discount window. The latter provides cheap, unlimited funding at a moment’s notice with no questions asked. The purpose is to insure banking system liquidity and stability and to thwart contagion, but it also nullifies the essential bank management discipline and prudence that comes from fear of depositor flight.

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The big boys smell big profits.

Payday Loans a Crony Capitalist Target (WSJ)

To voters living comfortably in Cambridge, Mass., or the suburbs of Seattle, the payday lending crackdown sounds just right: Those storefront entrepreneurs of dubious extraction are preying upon the poor. They should be banned. But for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the creation of Dodd-Frank which has been busy demonstrating the dangers of an unrestrained regulatory state, a slogan that polls well with liberal voters is only a starting point. The end result of its new payday rules, like all Obama regulatory endeavors, is to concentrate more power in the hands of Washington lobbyists and politicians and the companies that can afford to pay for them.

CFPB director Richard Corday’s 1,300-page regulatory edict will require payday lenders, an industry largely made up of thousands of storefront operators, to run full credit checks on prospective borrowers (average loan $392) to test their sources of income, need for the loan, and ability to keep financing their living expenses while paying it back. Perversely, this will make it hard or impossible to serve those customers who use the payday lending service most appropriately—who borrow when pinched but then promptly repay and don’t roll over their debt. The industry will become more focused on retaining habitual users, those who take out loans many times a year and get caught in “debt traps,” continually rolling over what are supposed to be short-term, high-margin loans.

The massive record-keeping and data requirements that Mr. Corday is foisting on the industry will have another effect: It will drive out the small, local players who have dominated the industry in favor of big firms and consolidators who can afford the regulatory overhead. It will also favor companies that can substitute big data for local knowledge like, like . . . Well, like LendUp, the Google-backed venture that issued a statement Thursday applauding the CFPB rules. Google’s self-interest has become a recurrent theme in Obama policy making, not surprising considering a study in April that found that 250 Googlers had come or gone from administration employment, and Google lobbyist visits to the Obama White House vastly outnumbered those of any other company.

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“Something has to give – and it’s starting to..”

What Makes this Jobs Report so Truly Ugly (WS)

[..] ..we suspected that the March jobs report, released in early April, would be a debacle. We based this on an analysis of the divergence over time between the reports issued by payroll processing company ADP and the jobs reports issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That divergence had been going on for months. Eventually it reverts to the mean. We postulated that March would be that month. Instead, it happened two months behind schedule, so to speak, as today’s jobs report was precisely that sort of debacle. This is what was “expected”: The Labor Department was expected to report, according to Wall Street economists, a “moderate” gain of 158,000 jobs in May, “moderate” given that the Verizon strike kept 35,000 workers off their jobs. The “whisper number” was around 200,000 jobs.

And this is what we got: The BLS reported that the economy had added 38,000 jobs, the lowest since September 2010. Furthermore, the April job gains of 160,000 were chopped down by 37,000 and the March job gains of 208,000 were chopped down by 22,000. Hence, with 59,000 jobs revised away, and with only 38,000 jobs “created” in May, the net total in today’s report was a net loss of 21,000 jobs. We haven’t seen that since the Financial Crisis. A number of sectors, including manufacturing, shed jobs, and the labor participation rate dropped for the second month in a row, to 62.6%. Just about the only good number was the magic headline unemployment rate, which fell sharply, from 5% in April to 4.7%, the lowest since the Great Recession began, leaving some folks scratching their heads and searching for answers.

[.] Staffing agencies are cutting back because companies no longer need that many workers. Total business sales in the US have been declining since mid-2014. Productivity has been crummy and getting worse. Earnings are down for the fourth quarter in a row. Companies see that demand for their products is faltering, so the expense-cutting has started. The first to go are the hapless temporary workers. This is the reality for businesses: The chart below shows the gaping disconnect between declining total business sales (all businesses, not just the S&P 500 companies) and total nonfarm employment. Something has to give – and it’s starting to:

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Anything else is just noise. Unemployment stats become illusionary.

Americans Not In The Labor Force Soar To Record 94.7 Million (ZH)

So much for that much anticipated rebound in the participation rate. After it had managed to rise for 5 months in a row through March, hitting the highest level in one year, the disenchantment with working has returned, and the labor force participation rate promptly slumped in both April and May, sliding 0.4% in the past two months to 62.60%, just shy of its 35 year low of 62.4% hit last October.

This can be seen in the surge of Americans who are no longer in the labor force, who spiked by 664,000 in May, hitting an all time high of 94.7 million. As a result of this the US labor force shrank by over 400,000 to 158,466K, down from 158,924K a month ago, and helped the unemployment rate tumble to 4.7%, the lowest level since 2007. Adding the number of unemployed workers to the people not in the labor force, there are now over 102 million Americans who are either unemployment or no longer looking for work.

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Cooked.

Higher Australian Household Debt Mounts To ‘Unsustainable’ Levels (Aus.)

‘If something cannot go on forever, it will stop’, said Herbert Stein, economic adviser to presidents Nixon and Ford. Stein was mocking concerns about the “unsustainable” US current account and budget deficits in the late 1980s. He had a point, both grew much larger. Calling things unsustainable is often a cover for expressing disapproval for other reasons. The federal budget has been in surplus in fewer than 20 of the 116 years since Federation, so deficits are clearly sustainable. What isn’t sustainable is a rising stock of public debt (and interest payments) as a share of national income. Both main political parties are rightly and routinely admonished for doing little to stem the rising tide of federal and state government debt, which has tripled to about 34% of GDP over the past 10 years.

But the spectacular ascent of private debt, which has doubled to about 160% of GDP over the past 20 years, hasn’t rated a mention by either side of politics in this election. Public debt peaked above 170% of GDP during the Great Depression but private, and in particular household, debt has never been remotely close to its present proportion. Its previous peak of just over 60% occurred in the 1880s property boom, and we know what happened after that. Almost all the increase in private debt since the 1990s has entailed households borrowing to buy houses to live in and (increasingly) to rent out. Ever lower interest rates and financial deregulation have fuelled a mutually reinforcing explosion of dwelling prices and debt.

Finance textbooks teach that banks lend to businesses, which reinvest the funds in the economy. But the reality is that they lend to households to buy and invest in houses. In the past 20 years the stock of business credit, $852 billion in April, has dropped from half to a third of the total lending. Australian households overtook the Swiss as the world’s most indebted this year, with outstanding debt equivalent to 125% of GDP and no let up in sight. Combined owner-occupier and investor loans outstanding have risen from $1.2 trillion to $1.6 trillion in the past five years. While the national accounts this week showed gross national income shrank 0.4% over the year to March, housing credit increased 7.2%.

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A conversation that must and will be conducted. This from Charles Murray is not all that bad.

A Guaranteed Income for Every American (WSJ)

First, my big caveat: A UBI will do the good things I claim only if it replaces all other transfer payments and the bureaucracies that oversee them. If the guaranteed income is an add-on to the existing system, it will be as destructive as its critics fear. Second, the system has to be designed with certain key features. In my version, every American citizen age 21 and older would get a $13,000 annual grant deposited electronically into a bank account in monthly installments. Three thousand dollars must be used for health insurance (a complicated provision I won’t try to explain here), leaving every adult with $10,000 in disposable annual income for the rest of their lives. People can make up to $30,000 in earned income without losing a penny of the grant.

After $30,000, a graduated surtax reimburses part of the grant, which would drop to $6,500 (but no lower) when an individual reaches $60,000 of earned income. Why should people making good incomes retain any part of the UBI? Because they will be losing Social Security and Medicare, and they need to be compensated. The UBI is to be financed by getting rid of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, housing subsidies, welfare for single women and every other kind of welfare and social-services program, as well as agricultural subsidies and corporate welfare. As of 2014, the annual cost of a UBI would have been about $200 billion cheaper than the current system. By 2020, it would be nearly a trillion dollars cheaper.

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After bringing down Greek banks, they now try to keep their own standing.

Italy And France Are Urging Caution Over Bank Capital (R.)

Excessive capital requirements can backfire, Italy’s economy minister said on Saturday, defending a joint French-Italian proposal to cap the amount of reserves that euro zone banks should have to wipe out before they can be rescued. Rules in force since the beginning of this year require euro zone banks to respect a minimum requirement for their own funds and eligible liabilities (MREL) in order to qualify for access to a bank-financed rescue fund in case of failure, and avoid full liquidation. In a joint paper, seen by Reuters, Paris and Rome raised doubts on the rationale of introducing a floor for MREL and urged instead a cap that should not exceed 8% of banks’ debt. IEconomy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan told an economic conference on Saturday there was a risk banks could be asked to raise too much capital too quickly, which would leave them vulnerable if tough markets made it hard to raise funds.

“Instead of stronger banks we end up with weaker ones,” he said. “The French-Italian initiative at this very delicate stage of the creation of a banking union is a voice calling for caution. We’re all going in the same direction, a stronger banking system, let’s do so at the right pace, let’s not exaggerate please.” Following the euro zone debt and banking crisis, EU countries have designed a banking union meant to strengthen lenders’ financial stability, but have not yet brought the plan to completion. Germany, the dominant power in the euro zone, is dragging its feet on a European bank deposit guarantee scheme, widely regarded as a missing link in the project. “If we don’t accept risk-sharing why are we wasting our time with the euro?,” Padoan said.

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A hilarious example of where EU-induced Greek tax measures can and do lead.

Self-Harming Taxation, Or The Liquidation Of The Kulaks (Georganas)

[..] Even the infamous case of the VAT in Greece (which has risen to be among the highest in the EU) does not yield a clear negative fiscal effect. Of course it’s not enough to show that VAT revenues fell after the rates rose, since at the same time, many other factors changed, harming the Greek economy. It is notoriously hard to isolate the effect of every change, the same way as it’s hard to predict what the effect of smaller fiscal deficits in the middle of a multidimensional crisis will be (by the way that’s the issue at the heart of the whole fiscal multipliers debate, involving the IMF, Greece and the EU).

In the recent Ryanair case though, economic investigators would probably be able to find a smoking gun. Because of a €12 tax per passenger, the no-frills airline recently decided to reduce its flights to Greece. The total damage for the country due to lower visitor numbers is clearly higher than the benefit of the tax revenue. This is an extreme case of a long bureacratic tradition in Greece, agencies taking measures with a. a very narrow own-receipts goal, which is also viewed b. in a very myopic sense, ignoring second-level effects (what we call general equilibrium effects) Typically, an agency or ministry that wants to be able to boast of “results” takes a measure with immediate benefit for itself, that could however be causing a net loss for the country as a whole, or even its own government.

A classic example is the “voluntary exit”: civil servants at government agencies or utilities being let go to lower the salary item on the agency’s budget (as the government has requested), but increasing the burden for pension funds, that again is covered by the same government, often at greater cost. In the tourism sector, the €12 per capita tax is negligible next to the more than €700 that the average European summer visitor spends in the country (that’s why in Hania, for example, hoteliers have allied to subsidize Ryanair’s activity). Even if the government ignores the country’s benefit and only cares about its tax revenues, it seems to be ignoring the €300 of additional VAT and income tax that every tourist brings.

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May 272016
 


Jack Delano Near Shawboro, North Carolina, Florida migrants on way to Cranberry, NJ 1940

Bill Gross Trying to Short Credit to Reverse Four Decades of Instinct (BBG)
“Japan Is Already Doing Helicopter Money” (BBG)
“China’s Economy Resembles A Spinning Top Running Out Of Momentum” (RD)
US-China Economic Poker Game Looms With Market Calm at Stake (BBG)
China Stocks Head for Longest Weekly Losing Streak in Four Years (BBG)
Chinese Buyers Are Losing Interest In Australian Property (BBG)
EU Warns China To Expect New Steel Tariffs (FT)
Japan Fails in Bid to Have G-7 Warn of Global Crisis Risk (BBG)
Corporate Japan Much More Downbeat About Escape From Deflation (R.)
Debt Repayments In Crude Cripple Poorer Oil Producers (R.)
Wells Fargo Launches 3% Down-Payment Mortgage (CNBC)
Universal Basic Income: Money For Nothing (FT)
After 7 Years, UK Workers Still Waiting For Decent Pay Rises (FT)
Cameron Denies Being A “Closet Brexiteer” (R.)
Australia Erased From UN Climate Change Report As Government Intervenes (G.)
‘Disaster in the Making’: The Many Failures of the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal (Sp.)
Up To 80 Dead In Shipwreck Off Libya (MEE)

“I’m an investor that ultimately does believe in the system, but believes that the system itself is at risk.”

What Gross says is that being an investor is no longer any use. Or, as I said quite a while ago, in a market as manipulated as this one, with no price discovery, there are no investors. You’d have to fully redefine the term. For now, there are only people pretending to be investors.

Bill Gross Trying to Short Credit to Reverse Four Decades of Instinct (BBG)

Bill Gross, who built a career and a $1.9 billion personal fortune trading bonds, is trying to go short on credit, a position that he said runs contrary to his instincts and training as an investor. Gross, who manages the $1.3 billion Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, said he is moving to sell credit risk and insurance on market volatility rather than buying long-term debt, because he believes a day of reckoning will come when central banks will no longer be able to prop up asset prices and investors will withdraw from markets. “It’s really hard to change your psychological makeup and to be a hedge manager that is comfortable with being short,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg’s Erik Schatzker. “I’m working on it, because I’m an investor that ultimately does believe in the system, but believes that the system itself is at risk.”

Central bankers, seeking to stimulate economies, have lowered rates below zero in Europe and Japan, driving down returns on national debt, while investors seeking higher yield have pushed up the value of other credit. Stimulus from central banks worldwide has artificially pushed up values of stocks and credit, which has made Gross cautious on such assets, he said. Eliminating credit as an investment means “not buying stocks, not buying high-yield bonds,” Gross said. “It means going the other way, which comes at a price.” The U.S. Fed Funds target rate is between 0.25% and 0.5%. Eventually, central bankers will have to raise rates to reward individual savers, insurance companies and other investors who depend on fixed-income returns, or the economy and markets will suffer, according to Gross.

The Fed will boost the rate in June and should continue a gradual path of increases, Gross said. Since last week when the Fed released minutes of an April meeting indicating the economy has strengthened enough for a rate increase, the probability of a hike at the June 15 Federal Open Market Committee meeting has climbed to 34%, according to futures information compiled by Bloomberg.

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Shinzo Abe approaches full panic mode. Dangerous.

“Japan Is Already Doing Helicopter Money” (BBG)

Yukio Noguchi, a former Ministry of Finance official whose business books are best sellers, envisages a scenario in which a failure of Japan’s economic stimulus could drive the yen to weaken beyond 300 per dollar. “If these fiscal and monetary policies continue, the yen’s value is at great risk,” the 75-year-old professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University said in an interview on May 11. “If you base your thinking on the efficient-markets hypothesis, you can’t predict a level for the currency. But, if the nation’s economic strength weakens, it is possible the yen could drop to 300, or 500, or 1,000 to the dollar.” Growth has stagnated for a decade despite fiscal and monetary stimulus efforts that left the government with a debt burden that is the highest in the world, at about 2.5 times the value of the nation’s economic output.

Noguchi believes the Bank of Japan is already financing fiscal spending, providing so-called helicopter money. That echoes comments by billionaire bond investor Bill Gross, who said the likely endgame was for the BOJ to forgive sovereign debt. The problem with the extremely cheap money is that it gets channeled into unproductive areas, and allows “zombie companies” to continue to stay in business, said Noguchi, who has a Ph.D. in economics from Yale, and is currently an adviser at Waseda University in Tokyo. Even so, this stimulus hasn’t been effective, and capital investment, wages, and prices aren’t rising, he said. “Japan is already doing helicopter money, as Bernanke describes it,” said Noguchi, whose economics books and life-hacking scheduler have sold millions of copies in Japan. “That’s what’s happening now under the BOJ’s asset purchase policy, with banks buying longer-maturity bonds and immediately selling them to the BOJ.”

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Duncan’s not fooling around.

“China’s Economy Resembles A Spinning Top Running Out Of Momentum” (RD)

Economist and financial author Richard Duncan has published a stark look at China’s economy as it enters a new phase of slower growth, assessing the implications for a global economy that has become reliant on Chinese demand as a driver. Duncan believes that China’s economic boom ended in 2015 and that a protracted slump lies ahead. He has published a series of videos explaining why, in his opinion, China’s economic development model of export-led and investment-driven growth is now in crisis. The South China Morning Post brings you the first video in that series.

“China’s economy resembles a spinning top that is running out of momentum. It is wobbling and gyrating erratically,” Duncan said. A former Hong Kong-based banking analyst, Duncan has also worked as an analyst at the World Bank, and as global head of investment strategy at ABN AMRO Asset Management in London. He has authored three books on the global economic crisis, including The Dollar Crisis: Causes, Consequences, Cures. He is now chief economist at the Singapore-based hedge fund Blackhorse Asset Management.

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Cats in a sack.

US-China Economic Poker Game Looms With Market Calm at Stake (BBG)

As top American and Chinese officials prepare for their annual powwow against the backdrop of a looming Federal Reserve interest-rate increase, the policy actions of the world’s two-biggest economies have never been so closely bound. In what could be likened to a poker game, officials from the world’s two biggest economies will attempt to assess each others’ policy plans – and their potential domestic implications – when they sit down in Beijing June 6-7. China wants to loosen the yuan’s link with the dollar while averting an exodus of capital. The Fed wants to gradually move away from near-zero interest rates, with almost all officials penciling in at least two quarter-point hikes this year.

The past nine months have made clear how the two sides’ goals can conflict, with the withdrawal of U.S. stimulus encouraging Chinese outflows and a surprise August yuan devaluation generating market ructions that put a pause on a Fed rate move. A Fed-induced surge in the U.S. currency would put pressure on the yuan, lighting a match under money outflows that have eased significantly after a record $1 trillion left in 2015. Avoiding another financial conflagration is one task for Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew and other officials when they meet their Chinese counterparts. The gathering will be the eighth and final Strategic and Economic Dialogue since the Obama administration agreed on the annual sessions, which were an extension of a Bush administration initiative.

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Listening to the ‘authorative voice’.

China Stocks Head for Longest Weekly Losing Streak in Four Years (BBG)

China’s stocks headed for their longest stretch of weekly losses since July 2012 amid concern a pick-up in earnings growth is losing steam as the nation’s economy slows. The Shanghai Composite Index was poised for a sixth week of declines after slipping 0.3% on Friday. Industrial, drug and consumer-staples producers were the worst performers this week. China Southern Airlines and Air China slumped more than 6% during the period, hurt by rising fuel prices and a weakening yuan. Data on Friday showed industrial companies’ profit growth slowed to 4.2% in April. Hong Kong stocks halted a three-day advance after Tingyi Cayman Islands reported slumping earnings.

Sentiment toward Chinese stocks turned bearish after March’s pick up in economic indicators didn’t carry over to April and a high-profile warning by the People’s Daily about the nation’s high levels of debt damped hopes for more easing. Adding to the concern this week is the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates spurring capital outflows. Despite dwindling optimism, the Shanghai Composite hasn’t strayed more than 51 points from 2,800 in the past two weeks, with declines limited by suspected buying from state-backed funds aimed at preventing the benchmark from ending below that level. “The market is slowly searching for a bottom and testing investors’ patience,” said Wu Kan at JK Life Insurance in Shanghai. “Stocks are fluctuating in a small range near 2,800 amid waning turnover, as investors cautiously await clarity over issues such as the timing of U.S. rate hikes. Small rebounds, if any, will be followed by declines.”

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Losing interest? Are we sure that’s the only reason?

Chinese Buyers Are Losing Interest In Australian Property (BBG)

Buyers from China, often blamed for the sharp rise in home prices in Sydney and Melbourne, are starting to lose interest. In the first four months of the year, visits by potential buyers from China to realestate.com.au’s listings in New South Wales state, which has Sydney as its capital, declined 25% from the same period last year. Views of properties in Victoria state, whose capital is Melbourne, fell 8.9%, while the mining state of Western Australia saw the biggest drop of 35%, according to the portal, one of the nation’s two biggest property websites.

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At some point China must retaliate.

EU Warns China To Expect New Steel Tariffs (FT)

The EU has warned China that it faces new anti-dumping tariffs on steel, amid growing pressure for the west to block Beijing’s bid for “market economy status” and greater access to world markets. Speaking ahead of the G-7 summit in Japan, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker declared: “If somebody distorts the market, Europe cannot be defenseless.” The issue of Chinese steel exports will be discussed by G-7 leaders on Thursday against the backdrop of a steel crisis in many western countries, including Britain where efforts are under way to save Tata Steel’s UK operations. Draft language prepared for discussions on the G-7 communique, while not mentioning China, expresses concern about the excess supply of steel around the world and says it has distorted the global market.

A Japanese government official said the issue went beyond steel to other commodities as well. Juncker claimed Chinese overcapacity amounted to double the EU’s annual steel production and that it had contributed to the loss of “thousands of jobs since 2008”. “We will step up our trade defense measures,” he said. Juncker also said there would be an impact assessment of Chinese steel exports and detailed discussion on Beijing’s bid for market economy status under WTO rules. China expects to achieve that status in December on the 15th anniversary of its 2001 accession to the WTO, giving it greater access to world markets and making it harder for third parties such as the EU to impose anti-dumping sanctions.

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So it’s G7, but not really, since Juncker and Tusk are also invited, while Putin and Xi are not. You make it up as you go along.

Japan Fails in Bid to Have G-7 Warn of Global Crisis Risk (BBG)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe failed in his bid to have Group of Seven leaders warn of the risk of a global economic crisis in a communique issued as their summit wraps up Friday in central Japan. The final statement declares that G-7 countries “have strengthened the resilience of our economies in order to avoid falling into another crisis.” Japan had pressed G-7 leaders to note “the risk of the global economy exceeding the normal economic cycle and falling into a crisis if we did not take appropriate policy responses in a timely manner.” On Thursday, Abe presented documents to the G-7 indicating there was a danger of the world economy careering into a crisis on the scale of the 2008 Lehman shock.

Abe has frequently said he would proceed with a planned increase in Japan’s sales tax in April 2017 unless there is an event on the scale of Lehman or a major earthquake. He is expected to announce next week he is deferring the tax rise, Japanese media reported. One of the biggest topics at the meeting was China, which is not a member of the G-7. A slowdown in China, alongside a global steel glut, has spurred concerns among developed economies and at times disagreement on how best to spur growth. Abe has advocated greater government spending to back up monetary policy action. The communique urged a coordinated, albeit differentiated, response to storm clouds gathering over the global economy. Leaders pledged to use a mix of tools depending on their circumstances.

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Fast looming gloom: “70% of companies see no decisive escape from deflation for the foreseeable future, up from 48% in January”

Corporate Japan Much More Downbeat About Escape From Deflation (R.)

Japan Inc has become increasingly pessimistic about the country’s ability to beat deflation, with the vast majority of firms now expecting no escape for the foreseeable future, a Reuters poll showed. Most Japanese companies also said they did not think Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s latest growth strategy that centers on lifting the mininum wage and investment in technology would help bring significant improvement to a faltering economy. Abe swept into office three years ago with bold plans to end decades of deflation and bring about sustainable growth. But while unprecedented monetary policy in tandem with fiscal stimulus met with some initial success, any gains in ridding the country of a deflationary mindset look like they could be slipping away.

The Reuters Corporate Survey, conducted May 9-23, found 70% of companies see no decisive escape from deflation for the foreseeable future, up from 48% in January when the same question was asked. “Demand is not on an upward trend, and household spending is not rising because base pay is not rising,” wrote a manager at a chemicals company. “It has become difficult for companies to lift prices.” Japan has only managed very mild inflation since Abe took office and the pace of price gains has been slowing since 2014. Core consumer prices in March fell 0.3% from a year earlier, the fastest decline in three years due to lower oil prices. The survey also found that 79% of companies were worried that consumer prices could return to deflation either this year or next.

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Stunning from earlier in the week. ‘Weaker producers’ are forced to flood the market, but with nothing in return.

Debt Repayments In Crude Cripple Poorer Oil Producers (R.)

Poorer oil-producing countries which took out loans to be repaid in oil when the price was higher are having to send three times as much to respect repayment schedules now prices have fallen. This has crippled the finances of countries such as Angola, Venezuela, Nigeria and Iraq and created a further division within OPEC. Ahead of an OPEC meeting next week, poorer members have continued to push for output cuts to lift prices but wealthier Gulf Arab members such as Saudi Arabia, which are free of such debts, are resisting taking any action despite prices falling 60% in the past 2 years. Angola, Africa’s largest oil producer has borrowed as much as $25 billion from China since 2010, including about $5 billion last December, forcing its state oil firm to channel almost its entire oil output toward debt repayments this year.

This year Angola, Nigeria, Iraq, Venezuela and Kurdistan are due to repay a total of between $30 billion and $50 billion with oil, according to Reuters calculations based on publicly disclosed information and details given by participants in ongoing restructuring talks. Repaying $50 billion required only slightly over 1 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil exports when it was trading at $120 per barrel but with prices of around $40, the same repayment would require exports of over 3 million bpd. “All of those oil nations – Angola, Nigeria, Venezuela – have taken money for survival but haven’t got any money left for investments. “That is very damaging to their long-term growth prospects,” said Amrita Sen from Energy Aspects think-tank.

“People tend to look at current production volumes but if you have committed your entire production to China or other buyers under loans – then you cannot invest to keep growing and won’t benefit from higher prices in the future.” China has also become Venezuela’s top financier via an oil-for-loans program which since 2007 has funneled $50 billion into Venezuelan coffers in exchange for repayment in crude and fuel, including a $5 billion deal last September. While details of the loans have not been made public, analysts from Barclays estimate Caracas owes $7 billion to Beijing this year and needs nearly 800,000 bpd to meet payments, up from 230,000 bpd when oil traded at $100 per barrel.

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But of course. Got to keep them sales going until they don’t.

Wells Fargo Launches 3% Down-Payment Mortgage (CNBC)

First-time buyers and low- to moderate-income buyers have largely been sidelined by today’s housing recovery. The common cry is too-tight credit. Lenders have kept the credit box restrictive because they are gun-shy from the billions of dollars in buy backs and judicial settlements stemming from the mortgage crisis that they still face today. Now, the nation’s largest lender, Wells Fargo, says it is opening that box with a new low down payment loan — a loan it claims is low-risk to the bank. “We are fully underwriting the borrowers, we are partnering with Fannie Mae to originate and sell these loans, we are ensuring the borrowers have an ability to repay and that they’re qualified for home ownership, but we’re simplifying things for the homebuyer,” said Brad Blackwell, executive vice president and portfolio business manager at Wells Fargo.

Branded “yourFirstMortgage,” Wells Fargo’s new product has a minimum down payment of 3% for a fixed-rate conventional mortgage of up to $417,000. Down payment help can come from gifts and community-assistance programs. Customers are not required to complete a homebuyer education course, but if they do, they may earn a 1/8% interest rate reduction. The minimum FICO score for these loans, which are underwritten according to Fannie Mae standards, is 620. Mortgage insurance can either be rolled in to the cost of the loan or purchased separately by the borrower. Blackwell said either way, the monthly payment is less than a government-insured FHA loan. More importantly, it’s simpler than other 3% down payment products already in the market, some of which have specific income and counseling requirements.

“We’ve taken all the complexity of the home mortgage lending process, removed it from the front-line consumer, so that it’s easy for them to understand and Wells Fargo is taking care of all the capital markets and other types of complexities behind the scenes,” added Blackwell. Other 3% down payment products from Bank of America with Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae’s HomeReady program have not been popular because lenders find them bureaucratic and hard to use. “To the extent that Wells is using this product as liberally as they can, that’s a positive for most borrowers,” said Guy Cecala, CEO of Inside Mortgage Finance.

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Sort of like Brexit, a discussion conducted on the wrong terms. It can’t only be about robots taking jobs. That is far too narrow. Economic collapse is a much larger factor.

Universal Basic Income: Money For Nothing (FT)

Switzerland’s traditionally conservative electorate will next month vote on the superficially preposterous idea of handing out an unconditional basic income of SFr30,000 ($30,275) a year to every citizen, regardless of work, wealth or their social contribution. Opinion polls suggest the June 5 referendum will be heavily defeated. And even if some kind of electoral convulsion results in the proposal being unexpectedly approved by voters, it is certain to be shot down by the 26 cantons that would have to implement it. But the very fact that one of the world’s most prosperous countries is holding such a vote highlights how a centuries-old dream of radical thinkers is seeping into the political mainstream.

In countries as diverse as Brazil, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands and India, local and national governments are experimenting with the idea of introducing some form of basic income as they struggle to overhaul inefficient welfare states and manage the social disruption caused by technological change. Daniel Häni, a chirpy Basel entrepreneur who is one of the Swiss initiative’s main supporters, said modern welfare states provide basic social support but are failing to adapt to the needs and values of our times. The trouble is that they are too costly and cumbersome, assume that a citizen’s worth is determined solely by their value as an employee and rely on means testing by an overly intrusive state. “Our social system is 150 years old and is based on Bismarck’s response to Industrialisation 1.0,” he said. “Our idea is simple. We want to render the conditional unconditional. UBI is about shifting power back to the citizen.”

The idea of providing money for nothing to all citizens dates back centuries and was nurtured by a radical cult before resurfacing in recent times. In the 20th century it was championed by thinkers on the left, such as John Kenneth Galbraith and Martin Luther King, as a means of promoting social justice and equal opportunity. But it was also backed by some libertarians and economists on the right, including Milton Friedman, as a way of restricting the coercive state and restoring individual choice and freedom. Incredible as it seems today, President Richard Nixon came very close to implementing a negative income tax (a variant of basic income) across the US in 1970. Nixon’s initiative, part of his Family Assistance Plan, was strongly backed by the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate, where some Democrats considered it unambitious, and several Republicans considered it too bold.

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Something tells me they will get to wait a lot longer.

After 7 Years, UK Workers Still Waiting For Decent Pay Rises (FT)

Britain’s workers have gone seven years without a decent pay rise — and data published on Thursday suggest they will have to wait a while longer. In the three months to the end of April, the busiest month of the year for pay settlements, the median pay settlement dipped from 2% to 1.7%. XpertHR, the company that gathers the data, said almost half the awards were lower than the same group of employees received last year, while only a fifth were higher. Economics textbooks would not have predicted such figures. Wages are meant to rise when unemployment falls since there are fewer jobless people around who are willing to work for low pay. Yet though unemployment has dropped to a pre-crisis low of 5.1%, average wage growth remains stubbornly slow at about 2% a year — roughly half the pace that was typical before the crash.

Adopting the slogan “Britain deserves a pay rise”, the government has tried to force the issue by raising the minimum wage sharply in April but this does not seem to have affected average pay. Britain is not alone: wage growth has weakened across the developed world and economists in Germany and the US, where unemployment is similarly low, are just as puzzled. Employers are less mystified. “We keep referring back to the old world, where full employment meant pay should be rapidly rising but I think the new world we’re in now is [that] we have still got underemployment, low productivity and low inflationary environments, which means there’s no need to raise pay,” said James Hick, managing director of ManpowerGroup Solutions, which supplies 35,000 contractors and temps per week to UK employers.

There are plenty of lower-paid people who would work more hours if they could, said Mr Hick, which lessens the pressure on employers to pay more. The unemployment rate may be the same as it was in 2006 but 14% of part-time workers say they cannot find full-time work, compared with 9% a decade ago. [..] The most important factor in the long term is that Britain has suffered a productivity slowdown since the financial crisis, much like many other countries, including the US. British workers are now 14% less productive than they would have been if the pre-crisis growth trend had continued. Employer lobby groups such as the CBI say wages cannot rise sustainably until workers increase their output per hour.

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Could have fooled me… Why else make such crazy claims?

Cameron Denies Being A “Closet Brexiteer” (R.)

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday he was not a “closet Brexiteer” and that leaving the European Union would hurt Britain’s economic future and complicate trade deals with countries such as Japan. Speaking at a meeting of the G7 industrial powers, Cameron rejected a description by a former aide this week that he secretly supported a vote to leave the EU at a referendum on June 23. “So I have never been a closet Brexiteer,” he told a news conference in Japan. “I am absolutely passionate about getting the right result, getting this reform in Europe and remaining part of it. It’s in Britain’s interests and that’s what it is all about.”

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Almost funny.

Australia Erased From UN Climate Change Report As Government Intervenes (G.)

Every reference to Australia was scrubbed from the final version of a major UN report on climate change after the Australian government intervened, objecting that the information could harm tourism. Guardian Australia can reveal the report “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate”, which Unesco jointly published with the United Nations environment program and the Union of Concerned Scientists on Friday, initially had a key chapter on the Great Barrier Reef, as well as small sections on Kakadu and the Tasmanian forests. But when the Australian Department of Environment saw a draft of the report, it objected, and every mention of Australia was removed by Unesco. Will Steffen, one of the scientific reviewers of the axed section on the reef, said Australia’s move was reminiscent of “the old Soviet Union”.

No sections about any other country were removed from the report. The removals left Australia as the only inhabited continent on the planet with no mentions. Explaining the decision to object to the report, a spokesperson for the environment department told Guardian Australia: “Recent experience in Australia had shown that negative commentary about the status of world heritage properties impacted on tourism.” As a result of climate change combined with weather phenomena, the Great Barrier Reef is in the midst of the worst crisis in recorded history. Unusually warm water has caused 93% of the reefs along the 2,300km site to experience bleaching. In the northern most pristine part, scientists think half the coral might have died. The omission was “frankly astounding,” Steffen said.

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The German view of a doomed deal.

‘Disaster in the Making’: The Many Failures of the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal (Sp.)

It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the claim that Turkey is a safe place for refugees. According to Amnesty International, Turkish authorities have deported hundreds of refugees from Turkey back to Syria in recent months. In early May, Human Rights Watch documented the cases or five Syrian refugees who were shot dead while attempting to enter Turkey, allegedly by Turkish border troops. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 16 deaths at the Syrian-Turkish border between December 2015 and March 2016. The EU has sent 390 migrants from Greece back to Turkey since early April, far fewer than planned. About 8,000 migrants, a third of them Syrians, remain in the Aegean islands. The European Commission now believes that Greek appellate judges may stop one in three deportations of Syrians.

“This strikes at the core of the deal,” said a senior Brussels official. Europe’s goal with the Turkey agreement is deterrence. In recent weeks, a number of migrants have indeed chosen not to leave Turkey for Greece, fearing that they would be sent back. If it now emerges that the Greeks are not deporting migrants nearly as quickly as anticipated, many more refugees could risk the voyage across the sea again soon, predicts Metin Çorabatir, chairman of the Ankara-based Research Center on Asylum and Migration (IGAM). But the camps on the Greek island are already overcrowded. Food is scarce and migrants have set garbage cans on fire to protest conditions in the camps. “We don’t know what we’ll do if even more people arrive,” says an official with the Greek Ministry of Migration. Political consultant Knaus calls it a “disaster in the making.”

Nevertheless, the EU is clinging to the deal, despite the tense climate between Brussels and Ankara. Erdogan has threatened to cancel the agreement altogether if EU refuses to grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel, while Europe has countered that Ankara needs to reform the Turkish anti-terrorism law first, as agreed. The Turkish president hardly misses an opportunity to show that he couldn’t care less about what Europeans think – of his plan, for instance, to revoke the immunity of members of parliamentarians who refuse to toe the line, so that they can then be sidelined with the help of the judiciary. And now that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has been ousted, the EU has lost a level-headed dialog partner in Turkey. His successor, Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim, is seen as an Erdogan acolyte.

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Thousands are being rescued every single day. The idea that you can just stop the flow is a lethal illusion. But still no emergency UN meetings.

Up To 80 Dead In Shipwreck Off Libya (MEE)

Up to 80 people are feared dead after a shipwreck off Libya, while at least 50 refugees and migrants have been rescued from the waves, the EU’s naval force said on Thursday. The wreck comes during a week in which more than 6,000 migrants and refugees have been rescued by Libyan, Italian and other authorities off the coast of Libya. On Thursday, a Luxembourg reconnaissance plane spotted the capsized boat around 64km off the Libyan coast with about 100 refugees and migrants in the water or clinging to the sinking vessel, captain Antonello de Renzis Sonnino, spokesman for the EU’s Sophia military operation to combat people smugglers in the Mediterranean, told AFP. The Spanish frigate Reina Sofia and Italian coast guard raced to the scene and threw life-floats and jackets to those in the water.

“Unfortunately, there were bodies too,” de Renzis Sonnino said, adding that the rescue operation was still ongoing. In photographs released by EUNAVFOR MED on Twitter people could be seen waving their arms for help as they balance perilously on the deck of the boat, already underwater but clearly visible in the limpid aquamarine sea. The shipwreck followed sharply on the heels of a disaster on Wednesday when a migrant boat overturned leaving five people dead, and another sinking on Tuesday which left a baby girl orphaned after both her parents died. Video footage of the incident released by the Italian navy showed people toppling into the sea as the overcrowded vessel capsized. A bout of good weather as summer arrives has kicked off a fresh stream of boats attempting to cross from Libya to Italy. The survivors will be added to the list of nearly 40,000 migrants and refugees to arrive in the country’s southern ports so far this year.

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May 232016
 


Harris&Ewing Hancock’s, the Old Curiosity Shop, 1234 Pennsylvania Avenue 1914

Japan April Imports Fall 23.3%, Exports Drop 10.1% (BBG)
Japan May Factory Activity Shrinks Most In Over Three Years (R.)
Investors Check Out of Europe (WSJ)
US Dollar Will Be The Winner When The EU Volcano Erupts (CNBC)
Saudi Financial Crisis ‘Could Leave Oil At $25’ As Bills Get Paid In IOUs (AEP)
The IMF And Calling Berlin’s Bluff Over Greece (Münchau)
Athens Agrees Fiscal Measures In Exchange For Debt Relief Talks (FT)
China Steps Up War On Banks’ Bad Debt (FT)
We MUST Quit The EU, Says Cameron’s Guru (DM)
Support For EU Falls Sharply In Britain’s Corporate Boardrooms (G.)
Swiss To Vote On $2,500 a Month Basic Income (BBG)
Snowden Calls For Whistleblower Shield After Claims By New Pentagon Source (G.)
R.I.P., GOP: How Trump Is Killing the Republican Party (Taibbi)
Turks Won’t Get EU Visa Waiver Before 2017: Bild (R.)
Greek Police Poised To Evacuate Idomeni Refugee Camp (Kath.)

In praise of Abenomics…

Japan April Imports Fall 23.3%, Exports Drop 10.1% (BBG)

Japan’s exports fell for a seventh consecutive month in April as the yen strengthened, underscoring the growing challenges to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to revive economic growth. Overseas shipments declined 10.1% in April from a year earlier, the Ministry of Finance said on Monday. The median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for a 9.9% drop. Imports fell 23.3%, leaving a trade surplus of 823.5 billion yen ($7.5 billion), the highest since March 2010. Even after coming off an 18-month high earlier this month, the Japanese currency has gained 9% against the dollar this year, eroding the competitiveness of the nation’s products overseas and hurting the earnings of exporters.

Concern about the impact of the yen was on show over the weekend as Finance Minister Taro Aso and his U.S. counterpart disagreed over the seriousness of recent moves in the foreign-exchange market. “Exports are getting a hit from the yen’s gains and weakness in overseas demand, especially in emerging nations,” said Yuichi Kodama at Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance in Tokyo, who added that last month’s earthquakes in Kumamoto also will likely slow exports. “There’s a high chance that Japan’s economy will return to contraction in the April-June period as domestic consumption and exports look weak.”

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Calling Peter Pan!

Japan May Factory Activity Shrinks Most In Over Three Years (R.)

Japanese manufacturing activity contracted at the fastest pace in more than three years in May as new orders slumped, a preliminary survey showed on Monday, putting fresh pressure on the government and central bank to offer additional economic stimulus. The Markit/Nikkei Flash Japan Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) fell to 47.6 in May on a seasonally adjusted basis, from a final 48.2 in April. The index remained below the 50 threshold that separates contraction from expansion for the third month and showed that activity shrank at the fastest since December 2012. The index for new orders fell to a preliminary 44.1 from 45.0 in the previous month, also suggesting the fastest decline since December 2012.

The aftermath of earthquakes in southern Japan in April may still be weighing heavily on some producers, a statement from Markit said, while foreign demand also contracted sharply. Japan escaped a technical recession in the first quarter, GDP data showed last week, but economists warned the underlying trend for consumer spending remains weak. There are also concerns that companies have already started to delay business investment due to uncertainty about overseas economies. Speculation is growing that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will delay a nationwide sales tax hike scheduled for next April to focus on measures that will strengthen domestic demand. Economists also expect the Bank of Japan will ease monetary policy even further by July as a strong yen and still-sluggish economy threaten its ability to meet its ambitious inflation target, a Reuters poll showed.

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“Banks are Europe’s worst-performing sector, having fallen nearly 19%.”

Investors Check Out of Europe (WSJ)

Investors are fleeing Europe. Fund managers are pulling cash out of European equity and debt markets in response to concerns about the continent’s fractious politics, ultralow interest rates and weak banks, and relentless economic malaise. Investors have sold exchange-traded funds tracking European shares for nearly 15 weeks—the longest stretch since 2008—according to UBS. Meanwhile, annual net outflows from eurozone bonds were running at over half a trillion euros as of the end of March, according to a Pictet Wealth Management analysis of data from the ECB. That is happening as investors are turning away from Europe’s growing pool of negative-yielding debt. The money is finding a home in places from U.S. Treasurys to emerging economies, helping to push up prices in those markets.

Just last year, Europe was a top pick by global fund managers as it recovered from the sovereign-debt crisis of 2010 to 2012. The current retreat shows that this rehabilitation has faded, and fast. “It’s a one-way flow out of Europe,” said Ankit Gheedia, equity and derivatives strategist at BNP Paribas SA. “You buy something that doesn’t give you a return, you sell.” Last year, ECB monetary stimulus and a fledgling economic recovery brought investors back to Europe after they fled during the eurozone debt crisis. The Stoxx Europe 600 gained 6.8% in 2015, while the S&P 500 lost almost 1%. Now people are leaving again. In recent weeks, investors have been selling equities around the world over concerns about the global economy. But the selling in Europe has been particularly pronounced.

Funds have sold around $22.6 billion worth of ETFs that track European equity since March, which is equivalent to roughly 9.4% of the total held of these investments, according to Mr. Gheedia. Meanwhile, global fund managers’ allocation to eurozone equities dropped to 17-month lows in May, according to a survey by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. When prospects seemed sunnier last year, a net 55% of fund managers favored the region. This is already taking a toll on European markets. The Stoxx Europe 600 is down nearly 8% this year, compared with a roughly flat S&P 500. Banks are Europe’s worst-performing sector, having fallen nearly 19%.

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And when the China Ponzi bursts.

US Dollar Will Be The Winner When The EU Volcano Erupts (CNBC)

Europe’s apparent inability to secure its monetary union leaves the world without any credible dollar alternatives. Those who were expecting that a legal tender of an economic system nearly matching the size of the American economy would offer an effective instrument of portfolio diversification have to accept a simple reality: The dollar remains an irreplaceable global transactions currency and, by far, the world’s most important reserve asset. The pious hopes of the French President François Mitterrand and the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl that a common currency would bond their countries and the rest of Europe into a peaceful and prosperous union could soon be dashed. Their political offspring has become a symbol of European discord and a cause of seemingly irreconcilable French-German economic and political divisions.

These historical divides are now aggravated by violent street demonstrations and frightening civil war rhetoric in France, where the country’s mainstream politicians are trying to fight off extreme right and left parties, commanding nearly half of the popular vote and demanding an immediate exit from the EU and the euro. Investors would be well advised to take this seriously. Even if relatively moderate French center-right forces were able to keep the anti-EU parties at bay, a long-brewing clash with Germany appears inevitable. For many French politicians of all stripes, Germany has gone too far in bossing the rest of Europe around, and in causing a huge economic, social and political damage to France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece with the imposition of its mean-spirited and misguided fiscal austerity.

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It’s a bout the dollar peg, again. Said ages ago it would be untenable.

Saudi Financial Crisis ‘Could Leave Oil At $25’ As Bills Get Paid In IOUs (AEP)

Saudi Arabia faces a vicious liquidity squeeze as capital continues to leak out the country, with a sharp contraction of the money supply and mounting stress in the banking system. Three-month interbank offered rates in Riyadh have suddenly begun to spiral upwards, reaching the highest since the Lehman crisis in 2008. Reports that the Saudi government is to pay contractors with tradable IOUs show how acute the situation is becoming. The debt-crippled bin Laden group is laying off 50,000 construction workers as austerity bites in earnest. Societe Generale’s currency team has advised clients to short the Saudi riyal, betting that the country will be forced to ditch its long-standing dollar peg, a move that could set off a cut-throat battle for global share in the oil markets.

Francisco Blanch, from Bank of America, said a rupture of the peg is this year’s number one “black swan event” and would cause oil prices to collapse to $25 a barrel. Saudi Arabia’s foreign reserves are still falling by $10bn (£6.9bn) a month, despite a switch to bond sales and syndicated loans to help plug the huge budget deficit. The country’s remaining reserves of $582bn are in theory ample – if they are really liquid – but that is not the immediate issue. The problem for the Saudi central bank (SAMA) is that reserve depletion automatically tightens monetary policy. Bank deposits are contracting. So is the M2 money supply. Domestic bond sales do not help because they crowd out Saudi Arabia’s wafer-thin capital markets and squeeze liquidity. Riyadh now plans a global bond issue.

While crude prices have rallied 80pc to almost $50 a barrel since mid-February, this has not yet been enough to ease Saudi Arabia’s financial crunch. The rebound in crude is increasingly fragile in any case as tough talk from the US Federal Reserve sends the dollar soaring, and Canada prepares to restore 1.2m barrels a day (b/d) of lost output. “We feel that markets have moved too high, too far, too soon. We still face a large inventory overhang and supply outages are reversible,” said BNP Paribas. Total chief Patrick Pouyanne told the French senate last week that prices could deflate as fast as they rose. “The market won’t come back into balance until the end of the year,” he said.

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Germany is blowing up the EU, step by step. There is no other way out of this. Berlin has become the schoolyard bully. And not everyone bends over for the bully.

The IMF And Calling Berlin’s Bluff Over Greece (Münchau)

At one level, the recurring Greek crises fit the idea from Karl Marx of history repeating itself, first as tragedy then as farce. Greece came close to a eurozone exit last summer. While it will probably come close this year, it is unlikely to leave. But prepare for some tense moments in the next few weeks and months as Greece and its creditors struggle to agree the first review of last year’s bailout. The IMF has concluded that Greek public debt, at 180% of GDP is unsustainable; as is the agreed annual primary budget surplus, before interest payments, of 3.5% of GDP. The fund insists on debt relief, but Germany resists. A year ago Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble, her finance minister, sold the Greek bailout to their party and parliament as a loan only. They argued that once you accept a debt writedown, you turn a loan into a transfer.

And once you accept the principle of a one-off transfer to Greece, you are on a slippery road to what the Germans call a transfer union, one where they pay and others receive. In private, senior German government officials agree that Athens needs debt relief. They are not blind. But they are trapped in the lie that Greece is solvent, which is what their own backbenchers were told. Without that lie, Greece would no longer be a eurozone member. But the lie cannot be sustained. IMF insistence on debt relief is what could expose this lie. Christine Lagarde, managing director, last year set debt relief talks as a condition for the fund’s participation in a bailout. Mr Schäuble reluctantly agreed yet managed to insert the words “if needed”, which give him wriggle room. But Berlin imposed another condition: the IMF must participate in the bailout, too. This is what makes the German position vulnerable.

We know IMF staff are steadfast in their opposition to being involved in a bailout without an agreement on debt relief. The trouble is that the policies are not determined by the staff but by the IMF shareholders. The Europeans and the US are the dominant shareholders so the outcome of this battle will depend to a large extent on the view taken by Washington. To get himself out of a hole, Mr Schäuble recently made a counterproposal: Germany accepts debt talks in principle but only from 2018. The date was chosen with care. It is well after the next federal elections. It is not clear whether he will still be finance minister or indeed in government. I suspect the Christian Democratic Union, his party, will lead the next government; the electoral arithmetic makes other constellations improbable. Nevertheless, he is proposing to commit any successor to this course of action. Such a commitment has no credibility.

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Why Tsipras keeps doing these things is hard to fathom.

Athens Agrees Fiscal Measures In Exchange For Debt Relief Talks (FT)

Alexis Tsipras has defended his leftwing government’s adoption of new fiscal measures in return for talks on debt relief, saying Greece was “turning a page” after an unprecedented six-year recession “Spring may be almost over but we are looking forward to an economic spring and a return to growth this year,” the prime minister told parliament, wrapping up a two-day debate on a €1.8bn package of indirect tax increases. As expected, all 153 legislators from the premier’s Syriza party and its coalition partner, the rightwing Independent Greeks, backed the bill, while 145 opposition deputies voted against. There were two abstentions. The latest measures complete a €5.4bn package of fiscal reforms aimed at ensuring a primary budget surplus, before payments of principal and interest on debt, amounting to 3.5% of national output by 2018.

But the legislation also included a provision for “contingency” measures, including wage and pension cuts, that would take effect automatically if budget targets were derailed next year. An upbeat Mr Tsipras insisted that budget projections would be outperformed, saying: “Greece has shown it keeps its promises..I’m certain [contingency] measures will not have to be put into effect.” A senior Greek official said after the vote he was confident that eurozone finance ministers would unlock up to €11bn from Greece’s €86bn third bailout at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday. The funding, to be disbursed in several tranches linked to implementing the reforms, would enable Athens to meet sovereign debt repayments for the remainder of the year and also channel funds to public services such as the healthcare system.

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This is getting weird. It’s like Beijing is reinventing finance. The government is paying off debt to the shadow banks.

China Steps Up War On Banks’ Bad Debt (FT)

Beijing has stepped up its battle against bad debt in China’s banking system, with a state-led debt-for-equity scheme surging in value by about $100bn in the past two months alone. The government-led programme, which forces banks to write off bad debt in exchange for equity in ailing companies, soared in value to hit more than $220bn by the end of April, up from about $120bn at the start of March, according to data from Wind Information. Industry watchers have fiercely debated how far Beijing will go to recapitalise the financial system, with bad loans taking up an ever higher percentage of banks’ balance sheets — as much as 19% by some estimates. The latest figures for the debt-to-equity swap, and a debt-to-bonds swap initiated last year, show a subtle bailout is already under way.

“One can argue the government-led recapitalisation is already happening in an atypical way and thus reducing the need for recapitalisation in its written sense,” said Liao Qiang at S&P Global Ratings in Beijing. Chinese media reported that up to Rmb4tn ($612bn) had been approved in 2015 for the debt-to-bonds swap, which has seen state-controlled banks trade short-term loans to companies connected to local governments in exchange for bonds with much longer maturities. That programme has been hailed a success in that it relieved the pressure on local governments that were forced to take out bank loans to proceed with public works projects in the absence of municipal bond markets.

The debt-to-equity project has received far less enthusiasm from analysts, who say that coercing banks to become stakeholders in companies that could not pay back loans will further weigh down profits this year. Instead of underpinning stability at banks, Mr Liao says the efforts undermine it. The programmes are just two fronts in Beijing’s battle against bad debt. The state-controlled asset management companies that bailed out the country’s four national commercial banks 15 years ago have become increasingly active over the past two years in buying up portfolios of bad debt. Regional asset managers run by provincial governments are doing the same business on a local level. The government is also reopening the market for securitising bad debt with two deals worth Rmb534m due this month.

The efforts have even gone online, with debt managers hawking off bad loans on China’s biggest online retail site. The average rate of non-performing loans at China’s commercial banks hit an official 1.75% at the end of March, according to the banking regulator. That marks the 11th straight quarter that the government-approved figures have risen. But the official data does not include a much larger stockpile of so-called zombie loans that some analysts say could in future require a more formal bailout for the banks. Francis Cheung, analyst at CLSA, estimates that bad debt accounted for 15-19% of banks’ loan books at the end of last year and that the government may have to add Rmb10.6tn of new capital to the banking system, or 15.6% of GDP.

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“As I say to my American friends who don’t really get what the EU is: ‘All you need to know is that it has three presidents, none of whom is elected.’”

We MUST Quit The EU, Says Cameron’s Guru (DM)

David Cameron’s closest friend in politics today breaks ranks to say Britain must leave the ‘arrogant and unaccountable’ EU. In a shattering blow to the Prime Minister, Steve Hilton claims the UK is ‘literally ungovernable’ as a democracy while it remains in a club that has been ‘corruptly captured’ by a self-serving elite. And in an attack on Project Fear, the former No 10 adviser dismisses claims by Mr Cameron, the IMF and the Bank of England that being in the EU makes us more secure. In an exclusive Daily Mail article, Mr Hilton – who persuaded Mr Cameron to stand for Tory leader – also delivers a devastating assessment of the PM’s referendum deal. He says Mr Cameron made only ‘modest’ demands of Brussels – and that even these were swatted contemptuously aside.

He also warns that Brussels will take revenge on Britain for the referendum if it votes to stay, by imposing fresh diktats. Mr Hilton concludes: ‘A decision to leave the EU is not without risk. But I believe it is the ideal and idealistic choice for our times: taking back power from arrogant, unaccountable, hubristic elites and putting it where it belongs – in people’s hands.’ His declaration for Brexit with exactly a month to go until polling day will send tremors through No 10. Along with Michael Gove, he provided the intellectual heft behind Mr Cameron’s rise to power. Both men now argue that the PM is wrong to urge voters to remain in what Mr Hilton condemns as the ‘grotesquely unaccountable’ Brussels club.

[..] Mr Hilton, who remains close to the Prime Minister, had previously declined to be drawn into what is already a bitter ‘blue on blue’ row. But today he claims the key issue for him is that Britain cannot make its own laws and control its own destiny from inside the EU. Mr Hilton says Brussels directives have crept into every corner of Whitehall and that less than a third of the Government’s workload is the result of trying to fulfil its own promises and policies. The rest is generated either by the ‘anti-market, innovation-stifling’ EU or a civil service dancing to the tune of Brussels, he says. Mr Hilton continues: ‘It’s become so complicated, so secretive, so impenetrable that it’s way beyond the ability of any British government to make it work to our advantage.

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The vote is not done yet.

Support For EU Falls Sharply In Britain’s Corporate Boardrooms (G.)

The number of FTSE 350 company boards that believe EU membership is good for their business has dropped significantly over the past six months, with just over a third now saying the EU has a positive impact. The biannual FT-ICSA boardroom bellwether survey, which canvasses the views of the FTSE 350, reported a substantial fall in the number who believe their company benefits from EU membership to 37%, down from 61% in December 2015. It found many were indifferent to a Brexit, with barely half (49%) of boards having considered the implications of the UK leaving the EU. Approximately 43% said they believe a UK exit from Europe would be potentially damaging. Respondents from the FTSE 100 regarded EU membership more favourably than the 250, with more than twice as many (55%) of FTSE 100 companies believing that EU membership has a positive impact.

This compared with 24% of the FTSE 250. John Longworth, chairman of the Vote Leave business council, said the survey findings showed that the remain camp’s economic argument was failing. “The remain camp’s concerted campaign to do down the economy has failed. In fact it has had the opposite effect as the EU supporters have failed to make a positive case for continuing to hand Brussels more control of our economy, our democracy and our borders. He added: “Business recognises it is possible for Britain to continue trading across Europe, part of the free trade zone that exists from Iceland to Turkey, without handing Brussels £350m a week and EU judges ultimate power over our laws. On 23 June the safe option is to take back control.”

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Switzerland is notoriously expensive to live in.

Swiss To Vote On $2,500 a Month Basic Income (BBG)

The Swiss are discussing paying people $2,500 a month for doing nothing. The country will vote June 5 on whether the government should introduce an unconditional basic income to replace various welfare benefits. Although the initiators of the plan haven’t stipulated how large the payout should be, they’ve suggested the sum of 2,500 francs ($2,500) for an adult and a quarter of that for a child. It sounds good, but — two things. It would barely get you over the poverty line, typically defined as 60 percent of the national median disposable income, in what’s one of the world’s most expensive countries. More importantly, it’s probably not going to happen anyway. Plebiscites are a common part of Switzerland’s direct democracy, with multiple votes every year. The basic income initiative is taking place after the proposal gathered the required 100,000 signatures, though current polls suggest it won’t get any further.

The idea of paying everyone a stipend has also piqued interest in other countries, such as Canada, the Netherlands and Finland, where an initial study began last year. The initiators say the sum they’ve mentioned would allow for a “decent existence.” Still, on an annual basis, it would provide only 30,000 francs — just above the 2014 poverty line of 29,501 francs. Nearly one in eight people in Switzerland were below the level in that year, according to the statistics office. That’s more than in France, Denmark and Norway. Among those over 65, one in five were at risk of being poor. “It’s not like you see abject poverty in Switzerland,” said Andreas Ladner, professor of political science at the University of Lausanne. “But there are a few people who don’t have enough money, and there are some people who work and don’t earn enough.”

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But it won’t materialize.

Snowden Calls For Whistleblower Shield After Claims By New Pentagon Source (G.)

Edward Snowden has called for a complete overhaul of US whistleblower protections after a new source from deep inside the Pentagon came forward with a startling account of how the system became a “trap” for those seeking to expose wrongdoing. The account of John Crane, a former senior Pentagon investigator, appears to undermine Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other major establishment figures who argue that there were established routes for Snowden other than leaking to the media. Crane, a longtime assistant inspector general at the Pentagon, has accused his old office of retaliating against a major surveillance whistleblower, Thomas Drake, in an episode that helps explain Snowden’s 2013 National Security Agency disclosures. Not only did Pentagon officials provide Drake’s name to criminal investigators, Crane told the Guardian, they destroyed documents relevant to his defence.

Snowden, responding to Crane’s revelations, said he had tried to raise his concerns with colleagues, supervisors and lawyers and been told by all of them: “You’re playing with fire.” He told the Guardian: “We need iron-clad, enforceable protections for whistleblowers, and we need a public record of success stories. Protect the people who go to members of Congress with oversight roles, and if their efforts lead to a positive change in policy – recognize them for their efforts. There are no incentives for people to stand up against an agency on the wrong side of the law today, and that’s got to change.” Snowden continued: “The sad reality of today’s policies is that going to the inspector general with evidence of truly serious wrongdoing is often a mistake. Going to the press involves serious risks, but at least you’ve got a chance.”

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Excellent Taibbi, once again.

R.I.P., GOP: How Trump Is Killing the Republican Party (Taibbi)

If this isn’t the end for the Republican Party, it’ll be a shame. They dominated American political life for 50 years and were never anything but monsters. They bred in their voters the incredible attitude that Republicans were the only people within our borders who raised children, loved their country, died in battle or paid taxes. They even sullied the word “American” by insisting they were the only real ones. They preferred Lubbock to Paris, and their idea of an intellectual was Newt Gingrich. Their leaders, from Ralph Reed to Bill Frist to Tom DeLay to Rick Santorum to Romney and Ryan, were an interminable assembly line of shrieking, witch-hunting celibates, all with the same haircut – the kind of people who thought Iran-Contra was nothing, but would grind the affairs of state to a halt over a blow job or Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube.

A century ago, the small-town American was Gary Cooper: tough, silent, upright and confident. The modern Republican Party changed that person into a haranguing neurotic who couldn’t make it through a dinner without quizzing you about your politics. They destroyed the American character. No hell is hot enough for them. And when Trump came along, they rolled over like the weaklings they’ve always been, bowing more or less instantly to his parodic show of strength. In the weeks surrounding Cruz’s cat-fart of a surrender in Indiana, party luminaries began the predictably Soviet process of coalescing around the once-despised new ruler. Trump endorsements of varying degrees of sincerity spilled in from the likes of Dick Cheney, Bob Dole, Mitch McConnell and even John McCain.

Having not recently suffered a revolution or a foreign-military occupation, Americans haven’t seen this phenomenon much, but the effortless treason of top-tier Republicans once Trump locked up the nomination was the most predictable part of this story. Politicians, particularly this group, are like crackheads: You can get them to debase themselves completely for whatever’s in your pocket, even if it’s just lint.

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Greece should brace itself for a huge new influx of refugees.

Turks Won’t Get EU Visa Waiver Before 2017: Bild (R.)

The German government does not expect Turks to get visa-free entry into the European Union before 2017 because Ankara will not fulfil the conditions for that by the end of this year, newspaper Bild cited sources in Berlin as saying on Monday. Turkey and the EU have been discussing visa liberalisation since 2013 and agreed in March to press ahead with it as part of a deal to stop the flow of illegal migrants from Turkey to the EU. EU officials and diplomats say the EU is set to miss an end-June deadline due to a dispute over Turkish anti-terrorism law. [..] Turkey’s government says it has already met the EU’s criteria for visa-free travel.

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Another thing Tsipras should simply refuse to do.

Greek Police Poised To Evacuate Idomeni Refugee Camp (Kath.)

It appears that Greek authorities are poised to put into action a plan to evacuate the refugee camp in Idomeni, on the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. According to sources, nine squads of riot police received orders on Monday to travel from Athens to Kilkis so they can take part in the operation if their contribution is needed. Authorities will attempt to move the refugees from the unofficial camp to other sites that have been made ready in various parts of northern Greece. Police sources told Kathimerini that the plan to remove people from Idomeni would be put into action in the coming days, although no decision has been as to exactly when the operation will take place. One source said that it is most likely the orders will be given on Wednesday.

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Mar 302016
 
 March 30, 2016  Posted by at 8:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


William Henry Jackson Tamasopo River Canyon, San Luis Potosi, Mexico 1890

Yellen Is Worried About Global Growth – And Wall Street Loves It (MW)
Yellen Says Caution in Raising Rates Is ‘Especially Warranted’ (BBG)
The US Is in for Much Greater Civil Unrest Ahead (Dent)
Steel Industry Dealt Hammer Blow As Tata Withdraws From UK (Tel.)
Bonfire of the Commodities Writedowns is Just Starting (BBG)
Japan Industrial Output Drops 6.2% In February, Most Since 2011 (BBG)
China’s True Demand For Copper Is Only Half as Much as You Think (BBG)
China’s Large Banks Wary on Beijing’s Plan for Bad Debt to Equity Swaps (BBG)
Eurozone ‘Flying On One Engine’: S&P (CNBC)
Europe’s Bond Shortage Means Draghi Is About to Shock the Market (BBG)
Oil Explorers Face Challenge to Secure Financing as Oil Prices Fall (WSJ)
The Rise and Fall of Goldman’s Big Man in Malaysia (BBG)
New Student Loans Targeted Straight at Mom and Dad (WSJ)
Free Lunch: Basic Welfare Policy (Sandhu)
Always Attack the Wrong Country (Dmitry Orlov)
European Border Crackdown Kickstarts Migrant-Smuggling Business (WSJ)
UN Chief Urges All Countries To Resettle Syrian Refugees (Reuters)

The price we all will pay for this lousy piece of theater rises by the day.

Yellen Is Worried About Global Growth – And Wall Street Loves It (MW)

Janet Yellen offered up her best impression of a dove Tuesday. In other words, the Federal Reserve chairwoman stressed her intent to gradually lift benchmark interest rates off ultralow levels. Unsurprisingly, Wall Street cheered the prospect of an ever slower approach to raising interest rates as she spoke at a highly anticipated speech at the Economic Club of New York. The Dow Jones and the S&P 500 both posted their highest settlements of 2016. The dollar turned south and yields for rate-sensitive Treasurys touched one-month lows. What is worth taking note of is Yellen’s increased focus on forces outside of the U.S. as she outlines a plan to gingerly normalize interest rates, reiterating an updated March policy statement and the Fed’s reduced expectations for rate increases in 2016 (two versus an earlier projection for four).

In a note, Deutsche Bank chief international economist Torsten Slok pointed out that Yellen & Co. have been more influenced by events in the rest of the world since late May. Mentions of China, the dollar and the term “global” have been more readily used by the Yellen as the emergence of negative interest rates in Japan and Europe have underscored consternation about the state of the world economy and. in particular, a slowdown by the world’s second-largest economy: China. Slok’s bar graph below illustrates the point. The Fed’s mandate, as Yellen reiterated Tuesday, is centered on the twin goals of maximum employment and stable prices, the latter of which the Fed defines as inflation at or near its 2% target level. But lately, fears that storms brewing abroad could wash ashore in the U.S. have come into greater focus, as the excerpt from Yellen’s Tuesday comments show:

“One concern pertains to the pace of global growth, which is importantly influenced by developments in China. There is a consensus that China’s economy will slow in the coming years as it transitions away from investment toward consumption and from exports toward domestic sources of growth. There is much uncertainty, however, about how smoothly this transition will proceed and about the policy framework in place to manage any financial disruptions that might accompany it. These uncertainties were heightened by market confusion earlier this year over China’s exchange rate policy.”

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How this is any different from interpreting the incoherent utterances of an oracle intoxicated by fumes, I don’t know.

Yellen Says Caution in Raising Rates Is ‘Especially Warranted’ (BBG)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said it is appropriate for U.S. central bankers to “proceed cautiously” in raising interest rates because the global economy presents heightened risks. The speech to the Economic Club of New York made a strong case for running the economy hot to push away from the zero boundary for the Federal Open Market Committee’s target rate. “I consider it appropriate for the committee to proceed cautiously in adjusting policy,” Yellen said Tuesday. “This caution is especially warranted because, with the federal funds rate so low, the FOMC’s ability to use conventional monetary policy to respond to economic disturbances is asymmetric.” Fed officials left their benchmark lending rate target unchanged this month at 0.25% to 0.5% while revising down their median estimate for the number of rate increases that will be warranted this year to two hikes, from four projected in December.

U.S. Treasuries advanced following her remarks, while the dollar weakened and U.S. stocks erased earlier losses. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was up 0.5% to 2,046.90 at 1:52 p.m. in New York, after falling as much as 0.4%. “Yellen has doubled down on the dovishness from the March statement and press conference,” said Neil Dutta at Renaissance Macro Research. “Global economic developments are cited very prominently.” Yellen said the FOMC “would still have considerable scope” to ease policy if rates hit zero again, pointing to forward guidance on interest rates and increases in the “size or duration of our holdings of long-term securities.”

“While these tools may entail some risks and costs that do not apply to the federal funds rate, we used them effectively to strengthen the recovery from the Great Recession, and we would do so again if needed,” she said. Fed officials’ quarterly economic forecasts for the U.S. didn’t change much in March, while Yellen stressed in a post-FOMC meeting press conference on March 16 that their sense of risks from global economic and financial developments had mounted. Yellen mentioned two risks in her New York speech. Growth in China is slowing, she noted, and there is some uncertainty about how the nation will handle the transition from exports to domestic sources of growth. A second risk is the outlook for commodity prices, and oil in particular. Further declines in oil prices could have “adverse” effects on the global economy, she said.

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“The politics are more polarized than even the Depression and more like the Civil War – and we have over 300 million guns in this country.”

The US Is in for Much Greater Civil Unrest Ahead (Dent)

I made a confession to our Boom & Bust subscribers last month. While I generally advise against owning most real estate, I have a secluded property in the Caribbean. It’s the only property I own (I rent my home in Tampa) and I know for a fact that its value will likely depreciate in the great real estate shakeout I see ahead, although likely by half as much as a high-end property in Florida. The reason I own this property is because I see rising chances for civil unrest in the inevitable downturn ahead, especially in the U.S. I want a place to go if things get really bad, and it looks increasingly likely that they will. The evidence for that is piling up in this year’s presidential race… What we have now, surprising to most political analysts, is a genuine voter revolt against the rich and the establishment.

Trump is taking over the Republican Party, and Sanders is threatening Clinton beyond what almost anyone would have forecast a year ago, even if he can’t quite seem to win. And it doesn’t matter if Trump can back up most of his statements with facts, or if Sanders’ policies have any chance of being viable economically. They understand what the pundits don’t. The people are angry and they want change. When the U.S. came out of World War II, it emerged with the strongest and most successful middle class in the decades that followed. Never before had there been such a middle class emerge in all of history. We had a vibrant workforce with higher wages… a baby boom… startling innovation… But now we have led the decline of that middle class, with wage competition from Asia, Mexico and other emerging countries, and the rapid rise of the professional and speculative classes.

Meanwhile, many higher-paid manufacturing jobs have moved overseas, and even service jobs like call centers have moved to places like India. More immigrants have come in and competed as well. That’s why a silent “near” majority of Americans are anti-immigrant and free trade… Duh! But here’s the real rub. Higher incomes help you survive at a better standard of living, and real wages have only been declining since 2000. They’ve barely risen even back to 1970s levels. That’s enough to be mad about. The ability to live as you want, to retire longer term, and to have power in society comes more from wealth – and that is way more skewed towards the upper class. And that’s where the middle class in America has lost the most ground. Look at this chart from a recent study by Credit Suisse of the share of wealth held by the middle class. Look at how we compare to the rest of the top countries.

The U.S. is the worst! No wonder the middle class here feels the most dis-empowered! It explains why America’s electorate either wants to nominate a political outsider who talks tough and promises to restore our power in the world… or an avowed socialist to combat income and wealth inequality by attacking Wall Street and the top 1%. I have said for a long time that the two countries I most expect to have the worst potential for civil unrest are China… and the U.S. China because it created the greatest over-expansion and urbanization bubble in modern history. Now, it has 250 million unregistered migrant urban workers from rural areas that will be stuck without jobs (and nowhere to go) after they can’t keep building infrastructures for no one. But the U.S. has the most polarized politics of any major country, and the greatest income and wealth inequality in the developed world. The politics are more polarized than even the Depression and more like the Civil War – and we have over 300 million guns in this country.

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A minister mentioned temp government ownership of the steel industry this morning. Like China, I guess?!

Steel Industry Dealt Hammer Blow As Tata Withdraws From UK (Tel.)

The steel industry was dealt a hammer blow on Tuesday as it emerged that Tata plans to completely withdraw from its British operation, putting thousands of jobs at risk. The Indian conglomerate’s board decided to pull out of the UK after rejecting a turnaround plan for Port Talbot, the nation’s biggest steelworks. The South Wales plant employs around 4,000 who face an uncertain future as Tata now seeks a buyer for its British steel assets. Steelworks in South Yorkshire, Northamptonshire and County Durham are also set to be put up for sale. A Tata spokesman said: “The Tata Steel Board came to a unanimous conclusion that the [turnaround] plan is unaffordable… the assumptions behind it are inherently very risky, and its likelihood of delivery is highly uncertain.”

Tata said it had ordered its European steel subsidiary to “explore all options for portfolio restructuring including the potential divestment of Tata Steel UK, in whole or in parts”. The decision by Tata placed the Government under pressure to step in to save Britain’s steel industry. Anna Soubry, the industry minister, has said that “in the words of the Prime Minister, we are unequivocal in saying that steel is a vital industry”. As Tata’s decision emerged from Mumbai, officials were looking at options to secure the survival of British steel making under new owners. It is understood they could include similar measures to those taken by the Scottish government to facilitate the acquisition of two former Tata mills by the commodities investor Liberty House. Taxpayers footed the bill to keep workers on standby and the plants were even temporarily nationalised while the deal was finalised.

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“For energy companies, the price-book ratio is about 31% below its 10-year average, while the discount for miners is 44%.”

Bonfire of the Commodities Writedowns is Just Starting (BBG)

What does $13 billion of burning money smell like? Commodity investors are getting a nose for it. Japanese trading houses Mitsui, Mitsubishi, and Sumitomo have announced 767 billion yen ($6.8 billion) of writedowns on assets this year, including copper, nickel, iron-ore and natural-gas projects. PetroChina wrote 25 billion yuan ($3.8 billion) off the value of oil and gas fields that have “no hope” of making a profit at current prices, President Wang Dongjin said last week, while Citic posted a HK$12.5 billion ($1.6 billion) impairment on an Australian iron-ore mine. Cnooc’s annual results last Thursday count as a good news story against that backdrop, with impairments of 2.75 billion yuan that were lower than the previous year’s.

Investors might hope after all this that we’d be reaching the level where mining and energy assets have been written back to normal levels, allowing companies to start the hard work of rebuilding. It doesn’t look that way. There’s certainly been a reality check of late. The balance sheets of major mining and energy companies have shrunk by $856 billion over the past 12 months, putting the value of their total assets at their lowest level since 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That looks dramatic until you compare it to the performance of the Bloomberg Commodities index. Companies are still more asset-rich than they were in 2011, which was the peak of a once-in-a-generation commodities boom. This delayed response to lower prices isn’t surprising.

Non-financial companies should have a high bar for reassessing their asset values to prevent manipulation of earnings (revaluations upward count as income, just as writedowns count against profit). That means a degree of inertia: after the 2008 financial crisis, the value of assets in the S&P 500 index didn’t bottom out until June 2010. Even if you blame weak-kneed accountants for that delay, an analogous pattern can be seen in the real economy. Default rates in the U.S. tend to peak well after economic slowdowns begin. To some extent, equity investors are already taking this in their stride. Price-to-book ratios of the Bloomberg World Energy Index and the Bloomberg World Mining Index are at their lowest levels since at least 2003, suggesting the market doesn’t believe companies’ balance sheets are worth as much as they appear on paper. For energy companies, the price-book ratio is about 31% below its 10-year average, while the discount for miners is 44%.

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And projections for elections indicate Abe could get a 2/3 majority. How weird is that?

Japan Industrial Output Drops 6.2% In February, Most Since 2011 (BBG)

Japan’s industrial production dropped the most since the March 2011 earthquake as falling exports sapped demand and a steel-mill explosion halted domestic car production at Toyota. Output slumped 6.2% in February after rising in January, the trade ministry said on Wednesday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had forecast a 5.9% drop. The government projects output will expand 3.9% this month. The data underscores the weakness of Japan’s recovery from last quarter’s contraction, with overseas shipments dropping for the last five months and sluggish domestic demand. With pressure building on policy makers to bolster growth, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday that the government would front load spending after parliament passed a record budget for the 12 months starting April 1. He resisted calls for a supplementary fiscal package.

“The slump in industrial output in February suggests that manufacturing activity will contract this quarter,” Marcel Thieliant, senior Japan economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note. This means there is a growing risk that the economy won’t expand this quarter after the contraction in the final three months of last year, Thieliant wrote. Junichi Makino, chief economist at SMBC Nikko Securities, was more upbeat about the outlook. Production plans for March and April are strong, and there are signs of stronger demand for cars, electrical equipment and machinery, he said in a note. The size of the drop in February was due to both the fall in production at Toyota and the lunar new year, according to Makino.

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“For years, traders on the mainland have used copper as collateral to finance trades in which they borrowed foreign currencies and invested the proceeds in higher-yielding assets denominated in renminbi.”

China’s True Demand For Copper Is Only Half as Much as You Think (BBG)

Virtually every aspect of the commodities bust has a China angle. Forecasts for China’s consumption of raw materials have proved wildly optimistic, while domestic production of certain resources have resulted in particularly severe gluts in commodities such as steel and coal. But in one respect, China has been putting an artificial degree of upward pressure on a select resource—copper—sparing it from the worst of the rout in commodities. For years, traders on the mainland have used copper as collateral to finance trades in which they borrowed foreign currencies and invested the proceeds in higher-yielding assets denominated in renminbi. This carry trade with Chinese characteristics allowed them to net a tidy profit.

(As an aside, however, the devaluation of yuan in August prompted analysts to wonder whether this trade has reached its best-before date—something that would have implications for the future global demand for copper, if true. Meanwhile, there have been persistent rumors of regulators cracking down on such trades.) This practice of warehousing copper to help engage in financial arbitrage “inflated demand, kept prices higher, and led miners to raise output,” according to Bloomberg Intelligence Analysts Kenneth Hoffman and Sean Gilmartin, who sought to identify the extent to which demand for copper has been buoyed by its use as collateral for such trades. The decline in Chinese copper demand for household appliances and electronics since 2011 doesn’t jibe with the headline demand statistics, the analysts note, which show the country’s total copper demand increased of 45% from 2011 to 2015.

Moreover, when benchmarked against cement—another material widely used for construction purposes—copper’s rapid rise in China looks particularly suspicious. While cement intensity, or percentage used per square meter, rose 11% in the time period, copper intensity surged an astounding 117%. Putting all this together, Hoffman and Gilmartin conclude that “real Chinese demand may be 54% lower than anticipated” after stripping out the demand for copper tied to the carry trade. That amounts to nearly 7 million metric tonnes of copper procured for use as collateral in 2015 alone, according to the pair’s calculations—equal to the mass of more than 30,000 Statues of Liberty.

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The banks will be stuck with the smelly bits. Lots of them.

China’s Large Banks Wary on Beijing’s Plan for Bad Debt to Equity Swaps (BBG)

China’s proposal to deal with a potential bad-loan crisis by having banks convert their soured debt into equity is meeting with unexpected resistance from some of the biggest potential beneficiaries of the plan – the country’s large banks. Asked about the plan at the Boao Forum last week, China Construction Bank Chairman Wang Hongzhang said he needs to think of his shareholders and wouldn’t want to see a plan that simply converted “bad debt into bad equity.” China Citic Bank’s Vice President Sun Deshun said at a press conference last week that any compulsory conversion of debt into equity would have to be capped. And Bank of China Chairman Tian Guoli said in Boao that it’s “hard to evaluate” how effective debt-equity swaps will be, as so much has changed in China since the tool was used to bail out the banking system during a previous crisis in the late 1990s.

Behind the caution is a lack of clarity about how exactly the government will proceed with the conversion of up to 1.27 trillion yuan ($195 billion) of bad debt owed to the banks mostly by the country’s lumbering state-owned enterprises, and – crucially – about the level of support that will be available from the state. Bank of Communications, the first of China’s large banks to report 2015 earnings, said Tuesday it nearly doubled its bad-debt provisions in the fourth quarter of last year to 7.5 billion yuan. Without backing from the government, in the form of cash injections or easier capital rules for the banks, any debt-equity swaps would simply shift the bad-loan problem from the SOEs to the banks, with potentially disastrous consequences for the stability of the nation’s lenders. On the other hand it will be politically impossible to repeat the approach used in 1999 and again in 2004, when Chinese taxpayers effectively underwrote the bailouts, leaving the banks unscathed.

“You can’t kill three birds with one stone,” said Mu Hua at Guangfa Securities, referring to the need to balance the need to fix bank and SOE bad loans while protecting the interests of Chinese taxpayers. “Voluntary swaps won’t scale up unless the government offers enough incentive, such as lowering the risk weighting or setting up a platform for banks to dump the stakes.” The discussion of debt-equity swaps comes as China’s policymakers scramble for ways to cut corporate leverage that has climbed to a record high, and to clean up the mounting tally of bad loans on the banks’ books. Premier Li Keqiang said at the National People’s Congress earlier this month that the country may use the swaps to cut the leverage ratio of Chinese companies and to mitigate financial risks.

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Growth comes from household debt.

Eurozone ‘Flying On One Engine’: S&P (CNBC)

The euro zone economy is “flying on one engine,” according to the chief European economist at ratings agency Standard and Poor’s, which trimmed its growth and inflation forecasts for the euro zone. In his latest report on Wednesday, S&P’s Chief European Economist Jean-Michel Six likened the 19-country euro zone to a plane “flying on one engine” and “fighting for altitude” and said that while there are reasons to hope that the economy will pick up altitude, a “pre-crisis flight path” of robust growth is not likely. Since the start of the year, Six noted that global market turmoil had caused a “nosedive in financial conditions…(which) had taken some wind out of the euro zone economy” and although regional conditions had since improved – particularly due to what he called a “well-received” set of more accommodative measures from the ECB – the eurozone relied too much on domestic consumption for growth.

While the euro zone had seen its recovery “gathering momentum” over the last two years, Six warned that the “the current upswing in the euro zone has been a one-engine, consumer recovery.” To illustrate his point, Six noted that consumption represents 55% of the region’s GDP and has accounted for a “whopping” 72% of economic growth since 2014. That dependence on consumption entailed risks, he said, although the euro zone might well get away with it. “A recovery that mainly relies on one cylinder is by definition suspicious: It could quickly grind to a halt, as it did in the previous cycle in 2010-2011. Or, it could be a flash in the pan, caused simply by a one-off drop in household energy bills.”

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ECB leaves nothing for others to invest in.

Europe’s Bond Shortage Means Draghi Is About to Shock the Market (BBG)

As ECB Governor Mario Draghi prepares to increase and broaden his bond-buying program, the shrunken market might be in for a shock. While policy makers will expand their asset-purchase plan by €20 billion a month at the start of April, corporate debt won’t be included until later in the quarter. That’s leaving investors to face even higher demand for government bonds with supply unable to keep up and some of Europe’s biggest banks are predicting yields are headed for even more record lows. “All of that is going to be in covered bonds, in govvies, in agencies,” Vincent Chaigneau at Societe Generale in London said in an interview. “That’s going to create a shock on supply-demand in Europe.”

The prospect of increased largess from the ECB has pushed government bonds higher, with the yield on German 10-year bunds headed for their biggest quarterly slide in almost five years. They dropped to 0.15% on Tuesday, half where they were when the ECB announced an increase to its quantitative-easing program on March 10. French bank Societe Generale predicts the bund yield will slide not only to the record low of 0.049% posted in April 2015, but to negative 0.05% by the end of the next quarter. The ECB cut its main interest rates, announced the increase to QE and revealed a new targeted-loan program earlier this month as it ramped up efforts to boost inflation in the 19-member currency bloc. A report on Thursday will show consumer prices in the currency zone probably fell for a second month in March, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

The rate hasn’t touched policy makers’ near-2% goal since 2013.The ECB has said it’s confident it has an “adequate” universe of assets to buy. But even when corporate debt purchases start, some investors are skeptical the ECB will be able to purchase sufficient quantities to alleviate pressure on government securities. Peter Schaffrik at Royal Bank of Canada in London said the consensus is that officials will be able to buy about €5 billion of company bonds, leaving an additional €15 billion of government and agency securities to be acquired each month.

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The defaults are delayed not because of energy firms, but because of their lenders.

Oil Explorers Face Challenge to Secure Financing as Oil Prices Fall (WSJ)

Just a few years ago, when oil sold for about $100 a barrel, banks [in London] were lining up to give international oil explorers access to billions of dollars to finance new drilling and projects. But as oil prices stay mired in a funk, the money is drying up. Senior executives from companies such as Tullow Oil and Cairn Energy have been meeting with their bankers for a biannual review of the loans that allow them to keep drilling and building out projects. For many European companies, it has been a nail-biting experience, as banks worry about the growing pile of debt taken on by oil companies with little or no profits. Several companies said they expect their ability to tap credit lines to be diminished after the reviews. Some lenders have brought in teams that specialize in corporate restructuring to scrutinize companies’ balance sheets, spending and assets, though not at Tullow or Cairn.

In the past, the reviews were generally conducted solely by banks’ energy specialists. The new scrutiny in Europe comes as oil-company debt emerges as an issue across the world with prices for crude near $40 a barrel—down more than 60% from June 2014. Globally, the net debt of publicly listed oil and gas companies has nearly tripled over the past decade to $549 billion in 2015, excluding state-owned oil companies, according to Wood Mackenzie, the energy consultancy. Reviews of these loans have high stakes. If a bank decides a company has already borrowed more than it can afford, the reviews could trigger a repayment, more cost cuts or even a fire sale of assets to raise cash. “There isn’t anyone in the oil independent sector that will be very relaxed at the moment,” said Thomas Bethel at Herbert Smith Freehills.

Oil companies are facing a similar set of biannual reviews in the U.S., where many small and midsize companies borrowed heavily to expand during the shale boom. The number of energy loans deemed in danger of default is on course to breach 50% at several major U.S. banks, The WSJ reported last week. But some American firms have been able to raise cash by issuing new stock or selling new debt, while in recent years Europe-based explorers have come to rely more on bank lending as investors that once pumped up the industry are fleeing in droves. In Europe, the focus is on a specialized type of borrowing known as reserves-based lending that has mushroomed in recent years. Europe’s top 10 non-state-owned oil companies have taken on over $12 billion in such loans, which are particularly exposed to energy prices as they are secured against the value of a company’s petroleum reserves and future production.

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What happens when you plant Goldman’s MO in fertile ground.

The Rise and Fall of Goldman’s Big Man in Malaysia (BBG)

The prime minister of Malaysia had a message for the crowd at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco in September 2013. “We cannot have an egalitarian society – it’s impossible to have an egalitarian society,” Najib Razak said. “But certainly we can achieve a more equitable society.” Tim Leissner, one of Goldman Sachs’s star bankers, enjoyed the festivities that night with model Kimora Lee Simmons, who’s now his wife. In snapshots she posted to Twitter, she’s sitting next to Najib’s wife, and then standing between him and Leissner. Everyone smiled. The good times didn’t last. At least $681 million landed in the prime minister’s personal bank accounts that year, money his government has said was a gift from the Saudi royal family. The windfall triggered turmoil for him, investigations into the state fund he oversees and trouble for Goldman Sachs, which helped it raise $6.5 billion.

Leissner, the firm’s Southeast Asia chairman, left last month after questions about the fund, his work on an Indonesian mining deal and an allegedly inaccurate reference letter. Few corporations have mastered the mix of money and power like New York-based Goldman Sachs, whose alumni have become U.S. lawmakers, Treasury secretaries and central bankers. Leissner’s rise and fall shows how lucrative and fraught it can be when the bank exports that recipe worldwide. In 2002, when the firm made him head of investment banking in Singapore, it had just cleaned up a mess there after offending powerful families. It took only a few years before the networking maestro was helping the bank soar in Southeast Asia – culminating in billion-dollar deals with state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., also known as 1MDB. But if his links to the rich and powerful fueled his Goldman career, they also helped end it.

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How to kill an entire education system in a few easy steps.

New Student Loans Targeted Straight at Mom and Dad (WSJ)

As rising tuition costs pile ever-higher debts on students, lenders and colleges are pushing for an alternative: Heap more on their parents. An increasing number of private student lenders are rolling out parent loans, which allow borrowers to get funds to pay for their children’s education without putting the students on the hook. The loans mimic a similar federal program but don’t charge the hefty upfront fee levied by the government, which could make them cheaper and encourage more use. SLM Corp., the largest U.S. private student lender by loan originations and better known as Sallie Mae, will introduce its version of the loan next month. Parents will be able to borrow at interest rates ranging from about 3.75% to 13%, with 10 years to pay it off.

“There’s an opportunity to expand our reach,” said Charles Rocha, chief marketing officer at Sallie Mae. The lender joins banks like Citizens Financial Group, which started offering a similar loan last year. Online lender Social Finance, or SoFi, first rolled one out in 2014 at the request of Stanford University. Stanford spokesman Brad Hayward said the university initiated discussions about the loan to help parents who were looking for more financing options. Colleges including Stanford, Boston College and Carnegie Mellon University are referring parents to the loans through emails or by putting them on lists of preferred loan options. An official at Boston College also said the school approached lenders to create the loans.

Lenders see the new products as an area of growth in an otherwise sluggish lending environment. Colleges are helping push them in part because of a quirk in federal calculations. Unlike ordinary federal student loans, the parent loans don’t count on a scorecard in which the U.S. Education Department discloses universities’ median student debt at graduation. That can ease the pressure to keep tuition increases in check at a time when heavy student debt has become a political issue.

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“..basic income could remove the need for a welfare state that is patronising and humiliating..”

Free Lunch: Basic Welfare Policy (Sandhu)

There are ideas that refuse to die no matter how many times they are rejected. One such idea is Universal Basic Income. Basic income is the proposal to pay all citizens an unconditional regular amount sufficient for basic needs, and then leave them to seek their fortune as best they can in the market. Few trials have been held and those have not led to large-scale adoption, but the proposal keeps recurring in social policy debates. That is largely because it is an excellent idea. In the past century the attraction for thinkers on the left and the right has been that basic income could remove the need for a welfare state that is patronising and humiliating, creates perverse incentives against working, and whose complexity means it often fails to reach those truly in need of help while subsidising the middle class.

Today, with deepening anxiety that we will all be put out of work (or, alternatively, be enslaved) by robots, the appeal of basic income has returned to its roots. More than 200 years ago, Thomas Paine advocated it as a way to fairly distribute the “ground rent” generated by concentrated landholdings to the landless — the idea being that the earth was humanity’s common property. If technological change today means markets tilt the distribution of income towards capital owners and away from workers, a similar argument can be made for the redistribution of “rent” due to humanity’s technological ingenuity equally among every citizen.

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“The reason to want to make problems worse is that problems are profitable..”

Always Attack the Wrong Country (Dmitry Orlov)

There are numerous tactics available to those who aim to make problems worse while pretending to solve them, but misdirection is always a favorite. The reason to want to make problems worse is that problems are profitable—for someone. And the reason to pretend to be solving them is that causing problems, then making them worse, makes those who profit from them look bad. In the international arena, this type of misdirection tends to take on a farcical aspect. The ones profiting from the world’s problems are the members of the US foreign policy and military establishments, the defense contractors and the politicians around the world, and especially in the EU, who have been bought off by them. Their tactic of misdirection is conditioned by a certain quirk of the American public, which is that it doesn’t concern itself too much with the rest of the world.

The average member of the American public has no idea where various countries are, can’t tell Sweden from Switzerland, thinks that Iran is full of Arabs and can’t distinguish any of the countries that end in -stan. And so a handy trick has evolved, which amounts to the following dictum: “Always attack the wrong country.” Need some examples? After 9/11, which, according to the official story (which is probably nonsense) was carried out by “suicide bombers” (some of them, amusingly, still alive today) who were mostly from Saudi Arabia, the US chose to retaliate by attacking Saudi Arabia Afghanistan and Iraq. When Arab Spring erupted (because a heat wave in Russia drove up wheat prices) the obvious place to concentrate efforts, to avoid a seriously bad outcome for the region, was Egypt—the most populous Arab country and an anchor for the entire region. And so the US and NATO decided to attack Egypt Libya.

When things went south in the Ukraine, whose vacillating government couldn’t make up its mind whether it wanted to remain within the Customs Union with Russia, its traditional trading partner, or to gamble on signing an agreement with the EU based on vague (and since then broken) promises of economic cooperation, the obvious place to go and try to fix things was the Ukraine. And so the US and the EU decided fix the Ukraine Russia, even though Russia is not particularly broken. Russia was not amused; nor is it a country to be trifled with, and so in response the Russians inflicted some serious pain on the Washington establishment farmers within the EU.

Who was at fault exceedingly [became] clear once the Ukrainians that managed to get into power (including some very nasty neo-Nazis) started to violate the rights of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking majority, including staging some massacres, in turn causing a large chunk of it to hold referendums and vote to secede. (Perhaps you didn’t know this, but the majority of the people in the Ukraine are Russian-speakers, and there is just one city of any size—Lvov—that is mostly Ukrainian-speaking. Mind you, I find Ukrainian to be very cute and it makes me smile whenever I hear it. I don’t bother speaking it, though, because any Ukrainian with an IQ above bathwater temperature understands Russian.) And so the US and the EU decided to fix things by continuing to put pressure on the Ukraine Russia.

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The exact opposite of what they -pretend to- want.

European Border Crackdown Kickstarts Migrant-Smuggling Business (WSJ)

ATHENS—The leaders of 15 human-smuggling networks gathered behind the closed curtains of an Afghan restaurant here in late February, the air fragrant from grilled lamb and hookahs. It was time to celebrate a boost to their business, people present recall. Police in Macedonia had just stopped letting Afghans cross the border from Greece. Today, the entire human highway to Europe’s north, traveled by nearly a million refugees and other migrants last year, has been closed. The crackdown, complete with razor-wire fences guarded by riot police, has stranded about 50,000 migrants in Greece. Many are desperate to get out but too afraid to turn back. For those with cash left, smugglers are now the best hope.

The combination of closed borders and unrestrained migration has turned Athens’s Victoria Square and the nearby port city of Piraeus into the center of a barely disguised human-trafficking business. In grimy cafes, cheap hotels and dark alleys, business is booming for smugglers who arrange transit around closed borders and into relative safety. They say they even offer a money-back guarantee—most of the time. “If you stay here even for five minutes, you will see it. A human bazaar is taking place,” said Orestis Papadopoulos, owner of a kiosk on Victoria Square that sells cigarettes and magazines. “And when the police clear the square, they just go around the corner and come back minutes later.” One recent afternoon, Ali, who wouldn’t provide his last name, walked into the restaurant that hosted the February celebration. He said he is 33 years old, was born in Afghanistan and lives in Athens. He specializes in smuggling Afghans and Iraqis.

Followed by three associates, Ali grinned broadly, exposing a missing tooth. Then he hugged other men in the restaurant, including a passport forger. Thirty Afghan clients had just reached Germany, meaning Ali’s smuggling syndicate would get about €54,000 ($60,280). “I’m very happy today,” he said. Ali’s smartphone rang as he ate lamb with rice. A prospective customer wanted to reach Germany by plane, using a false passport. “It costs €4,700,” Ali said. He left the noisy restaurant to haggle. When Europe’s refugee crisis exploded last year, demand for smugglers fizzled once migrants had successfully crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey. German Chancellor Angela Merkel ’s open-door policy for refugees largely made Ali and his rivals obsolete.

Since then, the Balkans and the EUhave clamped down on migration from Greece into the rest of the continent, threatening to turn the country into a giant, open-air refugee camp. The problem will likely be exacerbated by last week’s terrorist attacks in Brussels, which immediately led to toughened security at airports, train stations and borders. Europe is now even less likely to reopen its borders to legal transit for refugees and migrants. For smugglers, the job could get harder, but they can always push the prices they charge higher.

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“If Europe were to welcome the same percentage of refugees as Lebanon in comparison to its population, it would have to take in 100 million refugees.”

UN Chief Urges All Countries To Resettle Syrian Refugees (Reuters)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all countries on Wednesday to show solidarity and accept nearly half a million Syrian refugees for resettlement over the next three years. Ban, kicking off a ministerial conference hosted by the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR in Geneva, said: “This demands an exponential increase in global solidarity.” The United Nations is aiming to re-settle some 480,000 refugees, about 10% of those now in neighboring countries, by the end of 2018, but has conceded it needs to overcome widespread fear and political manipulation. Ban urged countries to pledge new and additional pathways for admitting Syrian refugees, adding: “These pathways can include resettlement or humanitarian admission, family reunions, as well as labor or study opportunities.”

Filippo Grandi, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said the refugees were facing increasing obstacles to find safety. “We must find a way to manage this crisis in a more humane, equitable and organized manner. It is only possible if the international community is united and in agreement on how to move forward,” Grandi said. The five-year conflict has killed at least 250,000 and driven nearly 5 million refugees abroad, mostly to neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Grandi said: “If Europe were to welcome the same percentage of refugees as Lebanon in comparison to its population, it would have to take in 100 million refugees.” Ban, referring to U.N.-led efforts to end the war, said: “We have a cessation of hostilities, by and large holding for over a month, but the parties must consolidate and expand it into a ceasefire, and ultimately to a political solution through dialogue.”

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Mar 082016
 
 March 8, 2016  Posted by at 10:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


NPC Communist Party Young Communist League, Washington, DC 1925

China Exports Crash 25.4%, Imports Down 13.8% (ZH)
Conflicting China Policy Objectives Put Reform at Risk (Moody’s)
Despite Slowdown, China’s Oil Imports Surge (WSJ)
China’s Velocity Of Money Is Now The Lowest In The Entire World (ZH)
Central Banks Are Fixing To Ambush The Casino (David Stockman)
Brussels Seeks Further Reform To Seal Greek Bailout (FT)
Greece Clears Bailout Hurdle With Debt Relief Pledge (AFP)
ECB Solutions Create More Problems (CNBC)
Ontario Plans To Trial Universal Basic Income (Ind.)
Canada Prepares To Fight Inequality (BBG)
Mistakes Were Made (Jim Kunstler)
Germany Once Again Finds Itself In An Age Of Dislocation (MW)
Merkel Ally Fuchs: Syria, Libya Key To Solving Refugee Crisis (CNBC)
Turkey Makes Last-Minute Demands Over Refugees (FT)
EU And Turkey Close In On Refugee Deal (BBC)
EU Defies International Law To Push Back Refugees To Turkey (Mason)
Europe Must Share Refugee Burden With Turkey, Says UNHCR Chief (Reuters)
EU Making ‘Big Mistake’ in Turkey Deal, Kurdish Leader Warns (BBG)
Crisis-Hit Greeks Put Own Woes Aside To Help Refugees (AFP)

Yeah, the New Year break has an impact, but even on an annual basis exports fell 13.1%.

China Exports Crash 25.4%, Imports Down 13.8% (ZH)

Worse than expected is an understatement. Things are not getting better in China as Exports crashed 25.4% YoY (the 3rd largest drop in history), almost double the 14.5% expectation and Imports tumbled 13.8%, the 16th month of YoY decline – the longest ever. Altogether this sent the trade surplus down to $32.6bn (missing expectations of $51bn) to 11-month lows.

 

 

So much for that whole "devalue yourself to export growth" idea…

 

As Bloomberg notes,

China’s exports in yuan terms fell 20.6% year on year in February, down from a 6.6% drop in January, and missing expectations of an 11.3% fall. Imports were down 8.0%, an improvement from January’s 14.4% drop. The trade surplus came in at 209.5 billion yuan ($32 billion), down from 406.2 billion yuan.

The Chinese New Year holiday, which fell at the start of February in 2016 and in the middle of February in 2015, distorts the data in unpredictable ways. Holiday effects mean the outsize drop in February exports overstates the weakness in China’s factory sector. Even so, looking at a year-to-date figure for the first two months of the year, the picture is only slightly less gloomy. In the year through February, exports are down 13.1%.

The policy response has already been announced. The National People’s Congress set a target for 13% growth in money supply in 2016, up from 12% in 2015, and a 3% of GDP fiscal deficit, up from 2.3%. In other words: more lending and more public spending to provide a boost to demand. In the short term, that shores up confidence in the growth outlook. Medium term, of course, there is a price to be paid.

Stocks are mounting a modest rebound on this terrible data (moar stimulus hopes) but after $1 trillion of new credit in 2 months, is there seriously anyone left who thinks moar will help?

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“The depreciation of the RMB can therefore only be avoided by stepping back from the commitment to a more open capital account..”

Conflicting China Policy Objectives Put Reform at Risk (Moody’s)

Moody’s Investors Service says that China’s (Aa3, negative) policy makers appear to have set themselves three main policy objectives: maintaining reasonably high rates of GDP growth, reforming and rebalancing the economy, and ensuring financial and economic — and thereby social — stability. The Government Work Report delivered to the National People’s Congress on 5 March made explicit reference to each of these policy objectives. “However, against the backdrop of China’s slower economic growth, capital outflows and rising corporate stress, it will be increasingly difficult for these policy objectives to be achieved in unison,” says Michael Taylor, a Moody’s Managing Director and Chief Credit Officer for Asia Pacific.

“With the government having now given a strong commitment to a growth target of between 6.5%-7.0%, it seems unavoidable that one of the other policy objectives will assume lesser priority. The most likely near-term casualty is reform momentum.” “We believe that achieving even the lower end of the growth target for 2016 is likely to require further substantial monetary and fiscal stimulus, as evidenced by the 50-basis-point cut to the required reserve ratio in February and the government’s announcement of a 3% fiscal deficit for this year”, adds Taylor. “This level of policy support is likely to frustrate the government’s ability to achieve at least one of its other objectives.” Moody’s analysis is contained in its just-released report titled “China Credit: Conflicts Between Policy Objectives Raise Risk That Momentum on Reform Will Slow”.

Moody’s report points out that it will be difficult even to implement two of the three objectives at any one time. If the authorities choose to prioritize reform while trying to maintain a growth target of in excess of 6.5%, the consequence will be to sacrifice some degree of financial stability, and accept a larger level of RMB depreciation, more widespread defaults, and perhaps even some failures in the banking system. Alternatively, a combination of growth and stability is also achievable, at least for some time, but such a strategy will leave unaddressed the deep imbalances in China’s economy, such as elevated system leverage and excess capacity. The risk is that the support necessary to achieve 6.5% growth instead postpones the restructuring of the SOE sector by creating artificially favorable demand and maintaining accommodative financing conditions for loss-making, as well as viable SOEs.

In addition, the implementation of the accommodative monetary policy needed to support growth would lead to further downward pressure on the RMB and would likely delay much-needed deleveraging. The depreciation of the RMB can therefore only be avoided by stepping back from the commitment to a more open capital account, thereby substantially slowing the pace at which this and related reforms, such as more market-based credit allocation, would be enacted.

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Where would imports numbers be without this?

Despite Slowdown, China’s Oil Imports Surge (WSJ)

China imported 31.80 million metric tons of crude oil in February, equivalent to 8.0 million barrels a day, preliminary data from the General Administration of Customs showed Tuesday. Imports were 24.5% higher than the 25.55 million tons of crude shipped in during the month a year earlier and was up about 19% from 26.69 million tons in January. BMI Research analyst Peter Lee said the rise was likely due to robust crude imports in the beginning of February by local refineries in preparation for expected higher demand during the Lunar New Year holiday. Despite its economic slowdown, China remains a strong importer of crude, driven by the rise of independent refineries. Government efforts to fill the strategic petroleum reserves are also pushing China to import more foreign crude as domestic production is likely to slide by 1.5% this year, according to research firm ICIS.

According to the Chinese government’s forecast, the country’s reliance on foreign crude will likely rise to 62% this year. However, many analysts have said that as China moves to a more consumption and services-oriented economy, China’s oil demand will likely continue on a downtrend. Investment firm CLSA estimates that China’s crude imports will rise about 6% this year, lower than the 8.8% growth in the previous year when China shipped in a total of 336 million tons. The firm also expects the country’s oil demand to reach 2.5% this year. “A low single-digit growth might be the new norm for China’s oil demand,” said Nelson Wang, a CLSA China energy analyst. Refined oil product imports totaled 2.64 million tons, while exports totaled 2.99 million tons, the data showed.

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Here comes deflation.

China’s Velocity Of Money Is Now The Lowest In The Entire World (ZH)

[..] here, courtesy of Macquarie’s Viktor Shvets, is the best encapsulation of the predicament the world finds itself in. From volume 52 of “What Caught My Eye”

Rising leverage levels (whilst positive initially) eventually turn to “poison”, as incremental benefit diminishes and in order to maintain growth rates, economies require an ever increasing infusion of credit and ever declining cost of capital.

Although not perfect there is a well-defined relationship between the overall level of debt and velocity of money. Each economy is different (both in term of structure and efficiency) and therefore the degree of tolerance to rising debt levels and associated volatility also differs; nevertheless, as a generalization, the higher debt levels and the faster pace of debt accumulation tends to coincide with lower (and declining) velocity of money.

Then, after showing the declining velocity of money in all developed markets as leverage exploded higher, Shvets focuses on China:

The massive rise in China’s financial leverage is in a class of its own. As China embarked on a highly capital intensive growth strategy, its debt levels accelerated, driving velocity of money down. As can be seen below, China’s estimated debt burden has increased from US$1.5 trillion in 2000 to US$5.8 trillion in 2007 and exploded to over US$28 trillion by 2014 (and should have reached US$30-31 trillion in 2015).

The punchline: China’s velocity of money is now the lowest in the entire world, a world in which China provided 40% of the entire credit impulse since 2008!

In the last seven years, China has accounted for around ~40% of entire global incremental debt creation. Such a rapid accumulation of debt in less than a decade, when combined with the capital-intensive nature of the economy and a less sophisticated financial sector, drove China’s velocity of money to one of the lowest levels globally (~0.5x, i.e. below that of Japan).

 

And while we agree with the BIS and all those others who suddenly had an epiphany and confirmed what we have been saying for years about China’s debt load, the question remains: just who will propel the global debt-creation growth dynamo if China is taken out of the picture, and if 25% of the world is covered in debt-demand destroying NIRP?

We hope to get some answers just as soon as the massive short squeeze acorss global markets, the biggest in history, is over.

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“Markets are therefore unhinged from any connection to fundamental economic and financial reality, meaning that they are capable of an extended period of spasmodic deadcat bounces that will have only one end result.”

Central Banks Are Fixing To Ambush The Casino (David Stockman)

The casino is incorrigible. After a monumental short squeeze that has lifted the averages right into the jaws of danger, Goldman Sachs has the temerity to print the following: “Our model suggests SPX calls are more attractive than at any time over the past 20 years”. There must have been a mullets’ breeding frenzy awhile back because it’s hard to fathom how Goldman has any real customers left. Then again, its current preposterous call is just indicative of the horrible threat heading menacingly toward what remains of main street’s 401k investments. To wit, the Fed and other central banks have thoroughly falsified financial market prices and destroyed all of the ordinary mechanisms of financial discipline. Foremost among these are short sellers and a meaningfully positive cost of carry trades.

Markets are therefore unhinged from any connection to fundamental economic and financial reality, meaning that they are capable of an extended period of spasmodic deadcat bounces that will have only one end result. Namely, the naïve and desperate among main street investors who still, unaccountably, frequent the casino will presently be taken out back and shot yet another time. The market technicians are pleased to call this “distribution”. Would that someone on Wall Street man-up and amend the phrase to read ”distribution…….of losses to the mullets” and be done with the charade. The S&P 500 is heading through 1300 from above long before it ever again penetrates from below its old May 2015 high of 2130. And now that 97% of Q4 results are in, there is a single number that proves the case.

Reported LTM profits as of year-end 2015 stood at just $86.46 per S&P 500 share. That particular number is a flat-out bull killer. At a plausible PE multiple of 15X, it does indeed imply 1300 on the S&P 500 index. It also represents an 18% decline from peak S&P 500 reported earnings of $106 per share back in September 2014. And more importantly, it means that the robo-machines and hedge fund gamblers have traded the market back up to 23.1X earnings. That’s off the charts…….except for when recession has already arrived unannounced by the hockey stick factories of Wall Street. But here’s the thing with respect to the scarlet 23.1X numerals now painted on the casino’s front entrance. It comes at a time when the so-called historical average PE ratios are way too high for present realities. That is, in a world sliding into a prolonged deflationary decline, capitalization rates should be falling into the sub-basement of history.

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The Troika’s back in Athens.

Brussels Seeks Further Reform To Seal Greek Bailout (FT)

Eurozone finance ministers have moved to break a deadlock between Greece’s warring creditors by sending bailout negotiators back to Athens to agree a new set of economic reforms. Despite continued disagreement over how long the list of reforms must be, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chaired the eurogroup meeting of his 16 counterparts, insisted there was “enough common ground” between the EU and the IMF to restart the negotiations. He said mission chiefs from the bailout monitors could arrive as early as Tuesday. “More work will have to be done in Athens,” Mr Dijsselbloem said after the Monday evening eurogroup meeting in Brussels. “It’s not going to be easy, we’re very much aware of that.”

Officials acknowledged that the IMF and the EU had not reached an agreement on how thorough the reforms must be, essentially putting off a final fight over the future of Greece’s third, €86bn rescue for at least another month. The IMF has hinted it is willing to walk away from the bailout if it deems the reforms inadequate, a move that would plunge Greece back into economic uncertainty. Without the IMF, a German-led group of creditor countries have said they would be unable to secure parliamentary approval for their participation in the EU’s rescue, potentially scuppering the deal. “An interim solution without the IMF would be very difficult for a number of countries, including my own,” Alex Stubb, the Finnish finance minister, said.

Euclid Tsakalotos, the Greek finance minister, acknowledged the talks would restart “despite certain differences”, which he hoped could be overcome in the negotiations. “I’m sure sensible people when they get across the table will come to sensible conclusions,” Mr Tsakalotos said as he left the eurogroup meeting. Under the terms of the new bailout, Greece must pass measures designed to take government finances to a primary budget surplus of 3.5% of economic output by 2018. A country’s primary balance is its revenues minus expenses excluding debt payments.

The IMF and the EU are at loggerheads over both the stringency of the new reform measures and how many of them must be adopted to hit the 3.5% target. Officials said the differences would only be sorted out at a later date. The IMF believes the reform measures on the table are insufficient and has pushed for more concrete and deeper cuts. Athens has caved in to an ultimatum from its creditors and agreed to rush through long-resisted economic reforms in return for a third bailout. Further reading Mr Dijsselbloem appeared to side with the IMF’s tough line, saying “the package of measures needs to become even more solid, needs to go even deeper than what’s been put on the table so far” — though when pressed whether he backed the IMF’s view, he insisted, “I’m not in anyone’s camp.”

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The big words are back.

Greece Clears Bailout Hurdle With Debt Relief Pledge (AFP)

Greece cleared a crucial hurdle in its massive bailout programme on Monday as eurozone ministers promised to consider debt relief to Athens, which is already under pressure from the refugee crisis. Bailout monitors from the EU and IMF will return to Greece as soon as Tuesday in an effort to complete a long-delayed review of the programme that could unlock rescue cash, European Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said. “I am very happy that mission chiefs are going to Athens as soon as tomorrow,” Moscovici said after a meeting of the eurozone’s 19 finance ministers in Brussels, taking place in parallel to an EU-Turkey summit on the refugee crisis. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras secured Greece’s third bailout, worth a staggering 86 billion euros ($95 billion), last July after six months of bruising negotiations that shook the EU and nearly saw Athens thrown out of the single currency.

Along with its debt crisis the Greek state is now overwhelmed by the arrival of around a million migrants in a year. As refugees trek across Europe seeking new lives in Germany and elsewhere, the fresh crisis has increased the pressure on Athens’ eurozone partners to soften their demands of Greek austerity. Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who last year was one of Greece’s harshest critics, said eurozone ministers would now address debt relief, meeting a key demand of the Greek government that has been resisted by its pro-austerity partners. The EU forecasts that Greece’s debt will soar to 185% of GDP in 2016 – a level generally understood to be unsustainable. “We have a longstanding promise that if the Greek government fulfils its commitments … we will do what is necessary to make debt service manageable,” said Dijsselbloem. “Today… we made explicit that the discussion is on our table,” the Dutch finance minister said.

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They have absolutely no idea where their policies will lead. That’s a very thin premise to throw trillions around on.

ECB Solutions Create More Problems (CNBC)

What a difference a few weeks make. Market sentiment seems to have improved and the fears of imminent recession now appear a touch hasty. But the question of where markets head next continues to depend on policymakers’ ability to deliver bold and decisive action. Step forward “Super” Mario Draghi, the President of the ECB, who is widely expected to tinker with the euro zone’s financial plumbing this week in the face of weaker-than-expected inflation and six weeks of volatility weighing on business sentiment. Once again, with the market already pricing aggressive action, there’s a risk of disappointment just as there was in December 2015. Analyst expectations include a 10-20 basis point cut in the deposit rate, taking it further in to negative territory, an increase of €10 -20 billion in monthly asset purchases, more longer-term cash available for borrowing and even a further extension in the maturity of the programme.

The problem for the ECB is that all the available options come with complications. The most immediate of those hazards applies to negative deposit rates and the impact on bank profitability and consumer behaviour, as the Bank for International Settlements highlighted this past weekend. The BIS warned that it was impossible to predict how borrowers or savers would react to the increasing possibility of negative rates for an extended period of time. A negative deposit rate means that ordinary banks have to actually pay the ECB to deposit money, rather than receiving money as they would in a normal environment. The hope is that, instead of paying up, the banks will decide to lend the money instead. If they don’t lend, they have the choice of passing on the costs to depositors or suffer what is an effect tax on their business. And that’s at a time when profits are tough to come by.

A further complication is that it’s not just the euro zone that has resorted to negative rates, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and most recently Japan are all applying this monetary policy tool. Mohamed el-Erian told CNBC last week that the ‘system is not equipped to deal with negative rates all across the world.’ So while broader sentiment in the market recovers, I think it’s worth asking why the Stoxx Europe banks Index is still down 15% this year. Is this a sign that investors are growing increasingly concerned that the ECB has reached its limits and policy may now be doing more harm than good? And more importantly how cautious are the ECB?

Executive Board Member Benoit Cœuré noted in a speech on 2 March that the ECB is well aware of the issue but pointed out that ‘many (banks) have overcome negative central bank rates and the ECB’s commitment to price stability has actually supported banking profitability. A green light for more action there, I think. No one has been more reticent about further stimulus than the Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, who told me this month that the ECB was not a miracle-worker. And more is needed for euro zone policymakers. Yet even the German central banker drew a distinction between longer-term risks and support for the economy in the short term.

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Right on the US doorstep.

Ontario Plans To Trial Universal Basic Income (Ind.)

Ontario has announced it could soon be sending a monthly cheque to its residents as it plans to launch an experiment testing the basic income concept. While officials in the Canadian province are yet to release any specific details of the project – including how much will be given to residents who participate – the finance ministry has published a report confirming the government’s intention to roll out the experiment. The general concept of basic income involves a government handing out a flat-rate income to every single citizen within a country, either by replacing existing benefits or to top them up. Proponents of the idea say it would save on welfare administration costs, reduce the poverty traps of traditional welfare states, be fair to people who have jobs, and give people more autonomy in general.

In Britain, the think tank Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce has proposed a system of universal income that would give a basic amount to fit, working-age people that it believes would still give a strong incentive to these people to work. It suggests providing an income of £3,692 for all qualifying citizens between 25 and 65, or £308 per month. “As Ontario’s economy grows, the government remains committed to leaving no one behind. Maintaining an effective social safety net is one part of the government’s broader efforts to reduce poverty and ensure inclusion in communities and the economy,” Ontario’s budget statement said.

It added: “The pilot project will test a growing view at home and abroad that basic income could build on the success of minimum wage policies and increases in child benefits by providing more consistent and predictable support in the context of today’s dynamic labour market. “The pilot would also test whether a basic income would provide a more efficient way of delivering income support, strengthen the attachment to the labour force, and achieve savings in other areas such as health care and housing supports. The government will work with communities, researchers and other stakeholders in 2016 to determine how best to implement a Basic Income pilot.”

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Interesting.

Canada Prepares To Fight Inequality (BBG)

[..] Canada is about to embark on an experiment whose outcome ought to matter deeply to U.S. Democrats and Republicans alike as they consider how to respond to Donald Trump’s angry coalition of the downwardly mobile. At issue is this: How far can a market-oriented country, if it were temporarily freed from short-term concerns about politics and budget deficits, push the fight against inequality – without sparking public alienation, a decline in work, a rash of tax avoidance, an exodus of talent or wealth, or some other unpleasant consequence? In other words, what are the practical limits of the inequality agenda? And how much can be done within those limits to satisfy, or at least mollify, the furies of economic insecurity?

Canada is perhaps the ideal setting for that experiment. Despite its image as a North American outpost of Scandinavian social values, the country has experienced a divergence in high and middle incomes similar to the U.S.’s, if not quite as severe. Unlike the U.S., Canada has already done the obvious things to remedy that: Its residents enjoy universal health care, reasonably generous social programs, paid family leave, a relatively high minimum wage, and college tuition that averages less than $5,000 a year. Yet that hasn’t been enough to reverse the trend (interrupted by the recession) toward ever-greater inequality. So the lingering question for progressives in both countries is this: What more is there to do? The short answer: quite a bit. In December, the Liberal government increased the tax rate on income above Canadian $200,000 ($150,800) and cut taxes on the middle class.

The Liberals have said their budget, to be introduced later this month, will introduce benefits to low- and middle-income families of C$6,400 a year ($4,825) for each child under 6, and slightly less for children ages 6 to 17. They also promise to reduce contribution limits for tax-free savings accounts and prevent single-income couples from splitting that income for tax purposes, reversing policies that disproportionately benefit the wealthy; increase monthly payments to low-income seniors (think of top-up payments to Social Security); fund the construction of more affordable housing; and make it easier for workers to form unions. In case that’s not enough, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau has asked Duclos to develop a national poverty-reduction strategy. Duclos has even mused publicly about introducing a guaranteed minimum income.

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“..if there is just a little more trouble in banking and financial markets before November 8, we can’t even be certain of holding the general election.”

Mistakes Were Made (Jim Kunstler)

[..] the US Department of Justice did nothing under six-plus years of Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute criminal misconduct in banking. And then President Obama, who is ultimately responsible, did absolutely nothing to prompt that Attorney General into action or replace him with somebody who would act. Obama’s lame excuse back in the days when informed people were still wondering about this, was that the bankers had done nothing patently illegal enough to warrant investigation — a claim that was absurd on its face. Obama didn’t do any better with the regulating agencies that are supposed to make criminal referrals to the Department of Justice, especially the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged with keeping financial markets honest.

There was nothing that difficult about those criminal matters now fading in the nation’s memory: for instance, the bundled bonds (CDOs) of “non-performing” mortgages designed to pay off the issuers handsomely when they failed. A child of ten could have unpacked the Goldman Sachs Timberwolf bond caper. Eventually Goldman and others were slapped with mere fines that could be (and were) written off as the cost of doing business. What a difference it would have made if Lloyd Blankfein and a few hundred other bank executives were personally held accountable and sent to cool their heels in federal prison. As the politicians are fond of saying, make no mistake: this was Barack Obama’s failure to act. Likewise, regarding the Citizens United Supreme Court’s decision that equated arrant corporate bribery of public officials with “free speech;”

Mr. Obama (a constitutional lawyer by training) had a range of remedies at his disposal, foremostly working with the then-majority Democratic congressional leadership to legislate a new and clearer definition of so-far-alleged corporate “personhood,” its duties, obligations, and responsibilities to the public interest — and its limits! Not only did Mr. Obama fail to act then, but nobody in his own party even coughed into his-or-her sleeve when he so failed. And now, of course, nobody remembers any of that. The effects of all this fundamental dishonesty have thundered through our national life to the degree that American society is now divided into the swindlers and the swindled, loosing the monster of collective Id known as Trump on the public. This is what comes of attempting to divorce truth from reality, which has been the principal business of American life for several decades now. When truth and reality become de-linked, a society literally doesn’t know what it is doing.

With that goes the collective sense of purpose, replaced with bromides and platitudes such as Trump’s “make America great again,” and Hillary’s “In America, every family should feel like they belong.” Unbeknownst to the cable news hustlers, events are in the driver’s seat, not the personalities of the puppets and muppets in the spotlight. Come July, there may not be anything that could be called the Republican Party. And Hillary is the first leading contender for the highest office with a possible indictment looming over her. Yes, it’s really there percolating on the FBI’s front burner. Even if the machinery of justice trips over itself again on that, imagine how the questions behind it will color the final battle for the general election. We also fail to appreciate how, if there is just a little more trouble in banking and financial markets before November 8, we can’t even be certain of holding the general election.

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Back to the pre-Nazi era.

Germany Once Again Finds Itself In An Age Of Dislocation (MW)

“Germany is not an island. No country is in the same degree woven actively or passively into the world’s destiny. Germany’s geographical position, its lack of natural borders, condemn it to this role. The Germans, more than anyone, must think politically and economically well beyond their borders. Everything that happens afar sweeps through to the heart of Germany.” So wrote Oswald Spengler, a German writer-philosopher of the Weimar republic and the early-Nazi period, whose gloomy 1920s and 1930s prognostications made him a symbol of that age of dislocation. I first became aware of Spengler’s writings during the build-up to German unification. A mass exodus from East Germany into the Federal Republic from autumn 1989 onwards, a product of relaxation of Soviet control over eastern Europe and the realization that Marxism-Leninism was a bust, brought 300,000 people into the western part of the country.

Reunification followed in October 1990. During 1989, the population rose by 800,000 as a result of immigration from the eastern part of the country and the developing world. Germany was again at the epicenter of far-reaching geopolitical and migration upheavals. It’s not so different today. Germany took more than a million immigrants last year, with more on the way. Soviet uncertainties have been replaced by Russian ones. The European Union will either be dismantled or head for more centralization. Soul searching under Chancellor Angela Merkel has reached Spenglerian proportions. Here are four examples of how Spengler’s painful tales of wrenching interdependence are striking home.

• Real-life events have eclipsed Germany’s vision of leading the EU into a fresh wave of liberal democracy, efficient markets and economic prosperity. The euro has sown European division. Populist anti-European parties are on the march. If Britain leaves the EU — the vote in June is still astonishingly wide open — then no nation will be more negatively affected than Germany.

• Assembling enormous annual current account surpluses — a product of an undervalued currency and concentrating German resources on exports and savings — will not safeguard Germany’s future. The country has built up unrepayable claims on foreign countries that will be written off.

• Germany’s need for European solidarity over the migration crisis — which Merkel has made worse by overdoing the welcome — has exposed it to blackmail. Turkey, shifting daily to more authoritarianism, is asking for ever more money to keep refugees on Turkish soil. Greece, facing thousands hemmed in between the hemorrhaging south and an increasingly sealed-off north, is suffering a national emergency. So no one can press Athens into completing IMF-ordained reforms.

• To revive euro-area inflation, the European Central Bank will almost certainly cut negative interest rates further on March 10. The Bundesbank will acquiesce. This will have counterproductive consequences. The euro will be weak, exacerbating the German current account surplus; and European banks’ profitability (especially in peripheral countries) will come under fresh pressure, delaying recovery.

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But nothing is done about this.

Merkel Ally Fuchs: Syria, Libya Key To Solving Migrant Crisis (CNBC)

Germany is seeking a longer-term solution to the migrant crisis, a key ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel told CNBC, as European Union (EU) leaders came to a tentative deal with Turkey to stem the flow of people into Europe. Michael Fuchs, vice chairman of Merkel’s central-right party, the Christian Democratic Union, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that a solution to the crisis needed to be found at the source of the human influx. “We need to have a solution which is including Syria and also Libya because both countries are still filled with refugees which are trying to enter either via Turkey into Europe or directly from Libya into Italy,” Fuchs said. But he admitted that working with migrants’ home countries could be difficult. “One of the problems is, for instance in Libya, to whom to talk. There are three different groups fighting each other: who to talk to? They don’t have a foreign minister to talk to,” Fuchs said.

The comments came after the European Union and Turkey agreed on Monday night local time the outlines of a deal designed to stem the tide of migrants that has flowed into Europe over the past six months. Turkey agreed to take back migrants who crossed into Europe from its soil. In return, the EU may increase the €3 billion of aid already set for Turkey to deal with the migrant crisis; it could also ease visa requirements for Turks traveling to Europe, as well as potentially expedite Turkey’s talks to join the EU. Speaking in Hong Kong, where he was set to deliver a speech at the Asia Society, Fuchs underlined the need for a speedy resolution to the issue. “We have over a million refugees already in Germany, which is quite a lot,” he said. Those figures are likely related to the number of asylum seekers in the country. “We have to find solutions because it cannot be double or three times more, because then it’s coming to a difficult situation.”

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What a mess this is becoming.

Turkey Makes Last-Minute Demands Over Migrants (FT)

Turkey has made a host of last-minute funding and political demands that threaten to derail a controversial EU-Turkey deal to dramatically reduce migrant flows to Europe. Ahead of crunch summit between EU leaders and the Turkish prime minister on Monday, Ankara has called for a an increase to the €3bn in aid previously promised by Brussels, faster access to Schengen visas for Turkish citizens and accelerated progress in its EU membership bid. Although talks remain fluid, the wishlist represents the new price demanded by Ankara to help the EU handle the migrant crisis by facilitating the systematic return of non-Syrian migrants from Greek islands to Turkey. A deal of some kind is still expected at the end of the summit. But four diplomats involved in the talks said that Turkey’s revised demands would be extremely challenging and could blow apart a fragile EU consensus on the sweeteners offered to Ankara.

A deal with Turkey is crucial for reducing the flow of people entering Europe, according to EU officials. This has overridden concerns about the country s asylum system and human rights record. Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the proposed deal demonstrated how indispensable the EU is for Turkey and Turkey for the EU. Speaking before the meeting, Mr Davutoglu added: “The whole future of Europe is on the table”. Last week Mr Davutoglu privately signalled to EU negotiators that Turkey would be willing to accept the systematic return of non-Syrian migrants to Turkey. In the final stages of the negotiation, however, Turkey made clear it would expect its EU agreement on migration to be improved. This includes moving forward a recommendation to grant visa privileges to Turkish citizens, which was expected in the autumn.

Turkey has yet to meet some of the most difficult conditions for visa access, including the recognition of Cyprus. Ankara also wants an increase in the EU’s proposed €3bn in funding, so that it covers municipal infrastructure costs as well as health, education and material support for Syrian refugees in Turkey. On top of these concessions, Turkey wants to speed up the already fast-tracked process of opening several new chapters in its EU membership bid. Cyprus in particular is also loath to make further concessions to Ankara in membership talks. One diplomat said the additional demands could make for a’ train wreck’. Another compared the haggling to a Turkish bazaar. According to draft conclusions for the meetings, EU leaders will declare that the western Balkans route used by more than 1m people to enter Europe has been “closed”, despite opposition from Berlin over such wording.

In Berlin’s view, the statement cannot say the Balkan route is closed when hundreds of people are still arriving via the Balkans in Germany every day. The dispute illustrates the split at the highest levels of the EU over how to cope with the migration crisis. While some such as European Council president Donald Tusk have advocated tough rhetoric to deter people from making the trip, other leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel have called for a softer approach. Leaders will also discuss whether to push on with a plan to resettle refugees directly from Turkey into the EU. Turkey, which hosts 2.5m Syrian refugees, has long argued that such an agreement is vital if it is to cut down on the number of people heading to Greece. Ms Merkel, who has been the most vocal proponent of this plan, held late-night talks with the Turkish prime minister in Brussels on Sunday night. Despite pressure from Berlin, other member states have been unwilling to back such a scheme.

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ALL refugees will be forced back to Turkey. Imagine what scenes that will cause on the Greek islands.

EU And Turkey Close In On Refugee Deal (BBC)

The EU and Turkey say they have agreed the broad principles of a plan to ease the migration crisis at a summit in Brussels, but delayed a final decision. European Council President Donald Tusk said all irregular migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey would be returned. For each Syrian returned, Turkey wants the EU to accept a recognised Syrian refugee, and offer more funding and progress on EU integration. Talks on the plan will continue ahead of an EU meeting on 17-18 March. Europe is facing its biggest refugee crisis since World War Two. Most migrants come via Turkey, which is already sheltering more than 2.7 million refugees from the civil war in neighbouring Syria. Turkey tabled new proposals ahead of the EU summit on Monday, and there was uncertainty on whether any agreement would be possible.

However, European Council President Donald Tusk said leaders had made a “breakthrough”, and he was hopeful of concluding a deal next week. He said the progress sent “a very clear message that the days of irregular migration to Europe are over”. In a statement, EU leaders said they broadly supported a deal that included:
• the return of all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands with the costs covered by the EU
• the resettlement of one Syrian from Turkey to the EU for every Syrian readmitted by Turkey from Greece
• speeding up of plans to allow Turks visa-free travel in Europe, with a view to lifting visa requirements by June 2016
• speeding up the payment of €3bn promised in October, and a decision on additional funding to help Turkey deal with the crisis. Turkey reportedly asked for EU aid to be increased to €6bn.
• preparations for a decision on the opening of new chapters in talks on EU membership for Turkey

Speaking at a news conference after the summit, Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey had made a “bold decision to accept all irregular illegal migrants… based on the assumption that for every one Syrian readmitted by Turkey from the Greek islands another Syrian will be resettled by Europe.” But he said it was important to see the refugee deal as a package, to include progress on Turkish integration within the EU. The BBC’s Chris Morris in Brussels says that, although this new initiative is bold, it could spark fierce argument and its implementation will not be easy. But, he says, the EU clearly needs Turkey’s co-operation if it is to begin coping with the migration crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the proposals could be a major step forward if realised, stressing that “irregular migration” needed to be turned into “regular migration”.

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Faustian deal.

EU Defies International Law To Push Back Refugees To Turkey (Mason)

It is waging war on an ethnic minority, its riot police just stormed the offices of a major newspaper, its secret service faces allegations of arming Isis, its military shot down a Russian bomber and yet Turkey wants to join the European Union. The country s swift descent into despotism poses yet another existential problem for the west. The sight of Europe’s leaders kowtowing to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the hope he would switch off the flood of refugees to Greece, was sickening. After the Turkish courts authorised police to seize the Zaman newspaper, tear-gassing its employees and sacking the editors, the new bosses immediately placed Erdogan’s smiling picture on the front page. He has a lot to smile about.

Erdogan’s mass support in Turkey is real. To the conservative heartlands, where Islam was suppressed for decades by one secular military regime after another, he initially seemed to have achieved an ideal stasis. The liberal, networked, progressive part of Turkey would leave the reactionary, religious, patriarchal part in peace, and vice versa. The Kurds would renounce guerilla warfare in favour of parliamentary opposition. Erdogan would lead the country towards EU accession, at a pace slow enough to allow the obvious failings in democracy to be ignored. But it has all gone wrong, and for the same fundamental reason that Assad’s regime in Syria collapsed: the unwillingness of educated youth to be ruled by simpletons running a “benign” police state.

The revolts that swept Turkey’s cities in June 2013 were triggered by the inability of Erdogan and his old-man’s form of Islam to tolerate the basic microfreedoms that the younger generation want: the right to drink alcohol on campus, the right to uncensored social media, the right to protest peacefully about the same things European kids protest about in the case of Gezi Park, the bulldozing of green space for a shopping mall. Since then, Erdogan has overcome all obstacles. The protest was suppressed by the simple method of firing US-made tear gas canisters into the crowd and laying waste to the urban areas of the Kurdish minority, who had joined the struggle.

Then Erdogan got himself made president. And having narrowly lost his parliamentary majority in June 2015, he regained it late last year after a campaign that left the offices of the pro-Kurdish HDP party burned out in several cities. Simultaneously, the Turkish military provoked an end to a three-year ceasefire with the Kurdish PKK, unleashing the army into the Kurdish towns of southern Turkey on a scale that has left some the mirror image of burned-out Syrian towns just across the border.

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The UN should speak out a lot louder and clearer. It’s UN laws that are being violated here.

Europe Must Share Refugee Burden With Turkey, Says UNHCR Chief (Reuters)

The United Nations refugee chief said on Monday he was “very concerned” about what solution European leaders were debating and called for countries to share the burden with Turkey by taking in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told an event at the Geneva Graduate Institute: “In the joint action plan, the most important thing is to help Turkey bear the burden, responsibility by taking people … not in the thousands or tens of thousands but in the hundreds of thousands.” Turkey offered the European Union greater help on Monday to stem a flood of migrants into Europe but raised the stakes by demanding more money, accelerated membership talks and faster visa-free travel for its citizens in return.

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“The world has gone very silent on what’s happening in Turkey, and that’s saddening and also short-sighted. If the war in Turkey continues like this, you’re also going to have refugees from Turkey.”

EU Making ‘Big Mistake’ in Turkey Deal, Kurdish Leader Warns (BBG)

The EEU is making an historic mistake in its haste to conclude a refugee deal with Turkey, overlooking human rights violations that risk plunging the bloc’s largest membership candidate into civil war, said Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the nation’s most prominent pro-Kurdish party. The EU is turning a blind eye to an opposition crackdown in Turkey that’s polarizing society and complicating efforts to find a political solution to the nation’s Kurdish conflict, Demirtas said in an impromptu interview en route to Brussels. European leaders are expected to ink an agreement with Turkey on Monday that will offer faster EU membership negotiations and visa-free travel in exchange for stopping refugees from crossing the country to enter Europe. “The EU is trying so hard not to upset Erdogan, and that’s a big mistake,” Demirtas said.

“The world has gone very silent on what’s happening in Turkey, and that’s saddening and also short-sighted. If the war in Turkey continues like this, you’re also going to have refugees from Turkey.” Demirtas’s own experience show how fast things are changing. Less than a year ago, he was celebrating a momentous electoral result that marked him as a rising political star, dealing a blow to Erdogan’s attempts to concentrate more power in his office. But on Sunday night, sitting alone on the front row of a Turkish Airlines flight, Demirtas had a possible jail sentence on his mind. Erdogan has called on parliament to strip HDP lawmakers of their immunity to try them for their links to the Kurdish PKK, considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. and EU. PKK gunmen resumed their 30-year-old insurgency after the collapse of the political peace process last year.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Sunday that parliament would take up the subject after budget talks. “There’s a very high risk it will happen,” said Demirtas, with a copy of “Remaking Society” by decentralization advocate Murray Bookchin perched on his armrest. “I don’t see this as a big risk for me personally. But for the country, it is.” Demirtas was speaking two days after Turkish government trustees took over one of Turkey’s primary opposition newspapers in a dramatic raid that sparked clashes between protesters and police. The seizure reflects a broader intolerance of dissent that has also undermined the HDP, who are now largely excluded from mainstream media coverage. “Of course this affects us,” Demirtas said. “We were a party on the rise, and now we can only try to protect our position.”

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“..A friend of mine says that we stopped being human as soon as we became citizens ourselves..”

Crisis-Hit Greeks Put Own Woes Aside To Help Refugees (AFP)

Their own wages and pensions have been slashed by the debt crisis, but thousands of Greeks are putting their economic woes aside to help desperate refugees trapped in the country by the Balkan border blockade. People old and young, from couples with babies to pensioners and teenagers, came to Athens’ Syntagma Square on Sunday loaded with bottles of water, medicine, pasta, nappies and clothes. Panayiotis, a 32-year-old accountant, was just one of those determined to help. “Greek people know what it is to be a refugee,” said Panayiotis, a volunteer with the Red Cross at the Sunday donation organized by a social solidarity network.

“My grandmother came from Turkey in the 1920s. She had to leave everything there and she arrived in Thessaloniki with nothing. A lot of people in Greece have grandparents who experienced this exodus. This is maybe why we are helping those people,” he said. With Greek state services overwhelmed by the arrival of around a million people in a year – most en route to countries in northern Europe – the support of volunteers and private donations has been invaluable in helping aid groups manage the crisis. Like Panayiotis, many donors say they are motivated by the suffering of family relatives who became refugees themselves in the 20th century when Turkey progressively expelled a sizeable Greek minority from Istanbul and Asia Minor.

Giorgos and his wife have came to Syntagma Square with bags of food and clothes after seeing television images of migrants stuck at Idomeni on the Greek side of the Greek border with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) where over 13,000 people are camping in miserable conditions waiting to cross. FYROM is only allowing a few hundred people through every day, while thousands more continue to arrive from Turkey. “The only thing we want is to help those people. We saw them on TV in Idomeni. A friend of mine says that we stopped being human as soon as we became citizens ourselves,” said the 70-year-old pensioner.

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