Jan 302016
 
 January 30, 2016  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle January 30 2016


William Henry Jackson Steamboat Metamora of Palatka on the Ocklawaha, FL 1902

Bank Of Japan’s Negative Rates Are ‘Economic Kamikaze’ (CNBC)
Negative Rates In The US Are Next (ZH)
The Boxed-In Fed (Tenebrarum)
Central Banks Go to New Lengths to Boost Economies (WSJ)
China Stocks Have Worst.January.Ever (ZH)
China’s ‘Hard Landing’ May Have Already Happened (AFR)
China To Adopt 6.5-7% Growth Target Range For 2016 (Reuters)
Junk Bonds’ Rare Negative Return In January Is Bad News For Stocks (MW)
I Worked On Wall Street. I Am Skeptical Hillary Clinton Will Rein It In (Arnade)
VW Says Defeat Software Legal In Europe (GCR)
Swiss To Vote On Basic Income (DM)
Radioactive Waste Dogs Germany Despite Abandoning Nuclear Power (NS)
Mediterranean Deaths Soar As People-Smugglers Get Crueller: IOM (Reuters)

The essence, as Steve Keen keeps saying, is that negative rates on reserves are madness, because banks can’t lend out their reserves. Something central bankers genuinely don’t seem to grasp, weird as that may seem. Which speaks volumes, and shines a very bleak light, on the field of economics.

Bank Of Japan’s Negative Rates Are ‘Economic Kamikaze’ (CNBC)

The Japanese central bank has only dug the country deeper into a hole by adopting negative interest rates, Lindsey Group chief market analyst Peter Boockvar said Friday. “I think it’s economic kamikaze,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “Let’s tax money and hope things get better. Let’s create higher inflation for the Japanese people, who are barely seeing wage growth. And let’s amp up the currency battles, and hope everything gets better.” The Bank of Japan surprised markets on Friday by pushing interest rates into negative territory for the first time ever. By doing so, the BOJ is essentially charging banks for parking excess funds. The fact that the vote was split shows that BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda got a lot of pushback to advance the policy, Boockvar said. “If this means now that they’re out of bullets with [QE], and this is their last hope, then I think this is a mess,” he said.

In a statement released along with the rate decision, the BOJ said the Japanese economy has recovered modestly with underlying inflation and spending by companies and households ticking up. But the bank warned that increasing uncertainty in emerging markets and commodity-exporting countries may delay an improvement in Japanese business confidence and negatively affect the current inflation trend. The BOJ’s inflation target is 2%. The BOJ now forecasts core inflation to average 0.2 to 1.2% between April 2016 and March 2017. Boockvar said he believes it’s a fallacy that Japan needs inflation to generate growth. “Inflation readings are a symptom of what underlying growth is,” Boockvar said. “For Kuroda to think ‘I need to generate higher inflation to generate growth’ to me is completely backwards, especially when Japanese wage growth is so anemic. You’re basically penalizing the Japanese consumer, and I don’t know what economic theory is behind that.”

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And they will make things worse.

Negative Rates In The US Are Next (ZH)

When stripping away all the philosophy, the pompous rhetoric, and the jawboning, all central banks do, or are supposed to do, is to influence capital allocations and spending behavior by adjusting the liquidity preference of the population by adjusting interest rates and thus the demand for money. To be sure, over the past 7 years central banks around the globe have gone absolutely overboard when it comes to their primary directive and have engaged every possible legal (and in the case of Europe, illegal) policy at their disposal to force consumers away from a “saving” mindset, and into purchasing risk(free) assets or otherwise burning through savings in hopes of stimulating inflation. Today’s action by the Bank of Japan, which is meant to force banks, and consumers, to spend their cash which will now carry a penalty of -0.1% if “inert” was proof of just that.

Ironically, and perversely from a classical economic standpoint, as we showed before in the case of Europe’s NIRP bastions, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland, the more negative rates are, the higher the amount of household savings! This is what Bank of America said back in October: “Yet, household savings rates have also risen. For Switzerland and Sweden this appears to have happened at the tail end of 2013 (before the oil price decline). As the BIS have highlighted, ultra-low rates may perversely be driving a greater propensity for consumers to save as retirement income becomes more uncertain.” Bingo: that is precisely the fatal flaw in all central planning models, one which not a single tenured economist appears capable of grasping yet which even a child could easily understand.

[..] And here is the one chart which in our opinion virtually assures that the Fed will follow in the footsteps of Sweden, Denmark, Europe, Switzerland and now Japan. Since the middle of 2015, US investors have bought a big fat net zero of either bonds or equities (in fact, they have been net sellers of risk) and have parked all incremental cash in money-market funds instead, precisely the inert non-investment that is almost as hated by central banks as gold.

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Lots of good graphs. This one must be the scariest.

The Boxed-In Fed (Tenebrarum)

As we often stress, economics is a social science and therefore simply does not work like physics or other natural sciences. Only economic theory can explain economic laws – while economic history can only be properly interpreted with the aid of sound theory. Here is how we see it: If the authorities had left well enough alone after Hoover’s depression had bottomed out, the economy would have recovered quite nicely on its own. Instead, they decided to intervene all-out. The result was yet another artificial inflationary boom. By 1937 the Fed finally began to worry a bit about the growing risk of run-away inflation, so it took a baby step to make its policy slightly less accommodative.

Once the artificial support propping up an inflationary boom is removed, the underlying economic reality is unmasked. The cause of the 1937 bust was not the Fed’s small step toward tightening. Capital had been malinvested and consumed in the preceding boom, a fact which the bust revealed. Note also that a huge inflow of gold from Europe in the wake of Hitler’s rise to power boosted liquidity in the US enormously in 1935-36, with no offsetting actions taken by the Fed. Moreover, the Supreme Court had just affirmed the legality of several of the worst economic interventions of the crypto-socialist FDR administration, which inter alia led to a collapse in labor productivity as the power of unions was vastly increased, as Jonathan Finegold Catalan points out.

He also notes that bank credit only began to contract after the stock market collapse was already well underway – in other words, the Fed’s tiny hike in the minimum reserve requirement by itself didn’t have any noteworthy effect. On the other hand, if the Fed had implemented the Bernanke doctrine in 1937 and had continued to implement monetary pumping at full blast in order to extend the boom, it would only have succeeded in structurally undermining the economy and currency even more. Inevitably, an even worse bust would eventually have followed.

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There’s not a number left you can trust.

Central Banks Go to New Lengths to Boost Economies (WSJ)

Central banks around the world are going to new lengths to boost their economies, underscoring both the importance and limits of monetary policy in a global economy plagued by paltry growth and unsettled markets. The Bank of Japan on Friday joined a host of European peers in setting its key short-term interest rate below zero. The move, long denied as a possible course by the bank s governor, came a week after the ECB president indicated he was ready to launch additional monetary stimulus in March and days after the Fed expressed new worries over market turbulence and sluggish growth overseas. The latest moves by central banks to rescue the global economy capped a volatile month across financial markets, with U.S. stocks finishing strong Friday but nonetheless posting their worst January since 2009, and major currencies lurching lower against the dollar.

The swings highlighted the fragile mood of investors despite hopes that some economies, particularly the U.S., could lead an exit from crisis-era policies. Fresh data Friday that showed the U.S. economy had sputtered in the final months of 2015 could cloud Fed deliberations over the timing of another round of rate increases. U.S. GDP, the broadest measure of economic output, grew by just 0.7% in the fourth quarter, hit hard by shrinking exports and business investment. Despite growth in consumer spending and clear strength in the job market, the weak performance added to concerns that the sagging global economy could hit the U.S.

Markets around the world were buoyed by Japan s move, extending the earlier assurances delivered by the ECB. Japan s Nikkei Stock Average closed up 2.8% in a volatile session, while the yield on Japanese government bonds fell to historically low levels. The Shanghai Composite Index jumped 3.1% and the Stoxx Europe 600 rose 2.2%. U.S. stocks also rose, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbing nearly 400 points. Despite the day s surge, some investors remained skeptical about the lasting impact of the central banks efforts. People are starting to feel more and more that central bank action is having less and less fire for effect, said Ian Winer, head of equities at Wedbush Securities.

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Lunar New year starts Feb 7. Beijing will be so happy with the week long break.

China Stocks Have Worst.January.Ever (ZH)

Thanks to BoJ’s global “float all boats” NIRP-tard-ness, Chinese stocks avoided the headline of “worst month in 21 years” by rallying above the crucial 2,667 level (for SHCOMP). However, January’s 23% plunge is the worst month since October 2008 and is officially the worst start to a year in the history of Chinese stocks. While Shanghia Composite was ugly, the higher beta Shenzhen and ChiNext indices were a disaster…

Making it the worst January ever…

So February is a buying opportunity?

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4% over past 5 years. Could easily be 2% for 2015.

China’s ‘Hard Landing’ May Have Already Happened (AFR)

It’s the biggest question in the world of finance: how fast is China’s economy growing? And the biggest frustration is: what are the actual numbers? China’s lack of transparency – with murky data releases, opaque policy making and confusing announcements – is notorious among emerging-market watchers. But rarely do research firms or analysts use different figures to the official statistics. Until recently. The Conference Board, a widely respected and often-cited non-profit research group, used an alternate series of Chinese GDP estimates in its latest economic outlook paper. In an effort to adjust for overstated official Chinese data, the Conference Board looked to the work of Harry Wu, an economist at the Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, to adjust its calculations.

This was a footnote of the report: “Growth rates of Chinese industrial GDP are adjusted for mis-reporting bias and non-material services GDP are adjusted for biases in price deflators. This adjustment has important implications for our assessment of the growth rate of the global economy in general and that of the emerging markets in particular – both reflecting a downward adjustment in their recent growth rates.” Macquarie Wealth Management analysts picked up on the change, adding: “We are unaware of any other reputable agency adopting anything other than official numbers as a base case, although clearly there has always been a lot of scenario analysis.” Traditionally, China has used the Soviet system of collecting information through a chain of command, where local officials reported on their states, often misrepresenting their figures to meet designated targets.

Over the past 10 years, China has gradually moved towards the internationally recognised System of National Accounts, which relies on statistical surveys to discover what people are spending their money on and where. But as Macquarie points out, that transition is far from complete. The Wu-Maddison estimates are starkly different to those issued by Chinese authorities. Whereas Chinese authorities have claimed average GDP growth of about 7.7% for the past five years, Wu suggests it is much lower, about 4%. These new figures show a much higher degree of volatility than suggested by the official numbers. While the world frets about the possibility of a “hard landing” for the Chinese economy, the Conference Board observed the new estimates “suggest that the economy has already experienced a significant slowdown over the past four years, beginning in 2011.”

Macquarie echoes this sentiment. “In our view, Wu-Maddison numbers explain the current state of commodity markets and fit into the global deflationary narrative much better than official numbers,” the analysts Macquarie said in a note. But, as the bank points out, if the “hard landing” has already occurred, there will be a range of consequences for productivity growth, overcapacity absorption and financial stress. “If Wu estimates are right, the room for stimulus and investment is more limited and the need to drive productivity [structural reforms] much more urgent. Although by the time China retroactively adjusts its GDP, it would be treated as history. “In the absence of stronger productivity rebound, China would be in danger of getting stuck in the ‘middle-income trap’ and would be unable to inject incremental demand into the global economy. Stay safe.”

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They can target what they want, and so they do. But it’s meaningless.

China Set To Adopt 6.5-7% Growth Target Range For 2016 (Reuters)

China’s leaders are expected to target economic growth in a range of 6.5% to 7% this year, sources familiar with their thinking said, setting a range for the first time because policymakers are uncertain on the economy’s prospects. The proposed range, which would follow a 2015 target of “around 7%” growth, was endorsed by top leaders at the closed-door Central Economic Work Conference in mid-December, according to the sources with knowledge of the meeting outcome. The world’s second-largest economy grew 6.9% in 2015, the weakest in 25 years, although some economists believe real growth is even lower. “They are likely to target economic growth of 6.5-7% this year, with 6.5% as the bottom line,” said one of the sources, a policy adviser.

Policymakers, worried by global uncertainties and the impact on growth of their structural economic reforms, struggled to reach a consensus at the December meeting, the sources said. The State Council Information Office, the public relations arm of the government, had no comment on the growth forecast when contacted by Reuters. The floor of 6.5% reflects the minimum average rate of growth needed over the next five years to meet an existing goal of doubling gross domestic product and per capita income by 2020 from 2010. The 2016 growth target and the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan, a blueprint covering 2016-2020, will be announced at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, the country’s parliament, in early March.

Although the target range was endorsed by the leadership in December, it could still be adjusted before parliament convenes. “The government will not be too nervous about growth this year and will focus more on structural adjustments,” said a government economist. “Growth may still slow in the first and second quarter and people are divided over the third and fourth quarter. The full-year growth could slow to 6.5-6.6%.” A string of cuts in interest rates and bank reserve requirements since November 2014 have failed to put a floor under the slowing economy. Beijing is expected to put more emphasis on fiscal policy to support growth, including tax cuts and running a bigger budget deficit of about 3% of GDP.

China’s leaders have flagged a “new normal” of slower growth as they look to shift the economy to a more sustainable, consumption-led model. About half of China’s 30 provinces and municipalities have lowered their growth targets for 2016, while nearly a third kept targets unchanged from last year, according to local media. Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces have set a growth target of 7-7.5% this year, while Jiangsu and Shandong are aiming for growth of 7.5-8%. In 2015, growth in Chongqing municipality was 11%, the fastest in the country, while growth in Liaoning province in the rustbelt northeast, was 3%, the country’s lowest. For this year, Chongqing is eyeing 10% growth and Liaoning is aiming for 6%.

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Correlation.

Junk Bonds’ Rare Negative Return In January Is Bad News For Stocks (MW)

The U.S. high-yield, or “junk” bond market, has started the year on the back foot, which history suggests could be a very bad sign for the stock market. The asset class is showing negative returns of almost 2% for the year so far, and negative returns of 7.6% for the last six months, according to The Bank of America Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Index. The negative return is especially significant, given that the month of January has recorded positive returns in 25 of the 29 years that the BofA high-yield index has existed, or 86.2% of the time, according to Marty Fridson, chief Investment Officer–Lehmann Livian Fridson, in a report published in LCD. With the S&P 500 index also heading for the biggest monthly decline in nearly six years, stock investors may finally be catching on to the high-yield bond market’s bearish message.

In previous instances in which the high-yield bond market and stocks trended in a different direction, it was the high-yield bond market that proved prescient. The reason stocks have been so late to follow the high-yield market’s bearish trend, may be because of the Federal Reserve’s efforts to prop up asset prices through quantitative easing. The current bearish trend is showing no signs of letting up. The high-yield index’s option-adjusted spread widened to 775 basis points at Thursday’s close from 695 basis points at the end of December, and 526 basis points at the end of July. The OAS is now about 200 basis points wider than its historical average of 576 basis points, according to Fridson. Much of the weakness is still due to the troubled energy sector, which combined with slowing Chinese growth to spark a more than 100 basis-points widening of the BofA US High Yield Index’s option-adjusted spread in the first three weeks of January. That send the spread to a high of 820 basis points on Jan 20.

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Condemnation.

I Worked On Wall Street. I Am Skeptical Hillary Clinton Will Rein It In (Arnade)

I owe almost my entire Wall Street career to the Clintons. I am not alone; most bankers owe their careers, and their wealth, to them. Over the last 25 years they – with the Clintons it is never just Bill or Hillary – implemented policies that placed Wall Street at the center of the Democratic economic agenda, turning it from a party against Wall Street to a party of Wall Street. That is why when I recently went to see Hillary Clinton campaign for president and speak about reforming Wall Street I was skeptical. What I heard hasn’t changed that skepticism. The policies she offers are mid-course corrections. In the Clintons’ world, Wall Street stays at the center, economically and politically. Given Wall Street’s power and influence, that is a dangerous place to leave them.

Salomon Brothers hired me in 1993, seven months after President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. Getting a job had been easy, Wall Street was booming from deregulation that had begun under Reagan and was continuing under Clinton. When Bill Clinton ran for office, he offered up him and Hillary (“Two for the price of one”) as New Democrats, embracing an image of being tough on crime, but not on business. Despite the campaign rhetoric, nobody on the trading floor I joined had voted for the Clintons or trusted them. Few traders on the floor were even Democrats, who as long as anyone could remember were Wall Street’s natural enemy. That view was summarized in the words of my boss: “Republicans let you make money and let you keep it. Democrats don’t let you make money, but if you do, they take it.”

Despite Wall Street’s reticence, key appointments were swinging their way. Robert Rubin, who had been CEO of Goldman Sachs, was appointed to a senior White House job as director of the National Economic Council. The Treasury Department was also being filled with banking friendly economists who saw the markets as a solution, not as a problem. The administration’s economic policy took shape as trickle down, Democratic style. They championed free trade, pushing Nafta. They reformed welfare, buying into the conservative view that poverty was about dependency, not about situation. They threw the old left a few bones, repealing prior tax cuts on the rich, but used the increased revenues mostly on Wall Street’s favorite issue: cutting the debt. Most importantly, when faced with their first financial crisis, they bailed out Wall Street.

That crisis came in January 1995, halfway through the administration’s first term. Mexico, after having boomed from the optimism surrounding Nafta, went bust. It was a huge embarrassment for the administration, given the push they had made for Nafta against a cynical Democratic party. Money was fleeing Mexico, and much of it was coming back through me and my firm. Selling investors’ Mexican bonds was my first job on Wall Street, and now they were trying to sell them back to us. But we hadn’t just sold Mexican bonds to clients, instead we did it using new derivatives product to get around regulatory issues and take advantages of tax rules, and lend the clients money. Given how aggressive we were, and how profitable it was for us, older traders kept expecting to be stopped by regulators from the new administration, but that didn’t happen.

When Mexico started to collapse, the shudders began. Initially our firm lost only tens of millions, a large loss but not catastrophic. The crisis however was worsening, and Mexico was headed towards a default, or closing its border to money flows. We stood to lose hundreds of millions, something we might not have survived. Other Wall Street firms were in worse shape, having done the trade in a much bigger size. The biggest was rumored to be Lehman, which stood to lose billions, a loss they couldn’t have survived. As the crisis unfolded, senior management traveled to DC as part of a group of bankers to meet with Treasury officials. They had hoped to meet with Rubin, who was now Treasury secretary. Instead they met with the undersecretary for international affairs who my boss described as: “Some young egghead academic who likes himself a lot and is wide eyed with a taste of power.” That egghead was Larry Summers who would succeed Rubin as Treasury Secretary.

To the surprise of Wall Street, the administration pushed for a $50bn global bail-out of Mexico, arguing that to not do so would devastate the US and world economy. Unmentioned was that it would have also devastated Wall Street banks.

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New twist.

VW Says Defeat Software Legal In Europe (GCR)

Another week brings more new stories on the diesel-emission cheating scandal that threatens to dig Volkswagen deeper into a ditch of its own making. Following reports in German newspapers late last week suggesting that the “defeat device” software was an “open secret” in VW’s engine group, the company bit back yesterday. VW Group CEO Matthias Müller told reporters at a reception that the sources for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung report “have no idea about the whole matter.” Müller’s statement, as reported by Reuters, “casts doubt” on the newspaper’s report, which it said came from statements by a whistleblower cited in the company’s internal probe of the scandal. The CEO also suggested that the company would not release results of that probe, conducted by U.S. law firm Jones Day, any time before its annual shareholder meeting on April 21.

“Is it really so difficult to accept that we are obliged by stock market law to submit a report to the AGM on April 21,” asked Müller, “and that it is not possible for us to say anything beforehand?” VW Group’s powerful Board of Directors will hold their third meeting in three weeks on the affair this coming Wednesday. Despite PR fallout, VW Group’s German communications unit continues to allege that while the “defeat device” software in its TDI diesels violated U.S. laws, it was entirely legal in Europe. The majority of the 11 million affected vehicles were sold in European countries, helped by policies instituted by some national governments that gave financial advantages to diesel vehicles and their fuel.

In a statement to The New York Times, which published an article on the matter last week, the VW Group wrote that the software “is not a forbidden defeat device” under European rules. As the Times notes, that determination, “which was made by its board, runs counter to regulatory findings in Europe and the United States.” “German regulators said last month that VW did use an illegal defeat device,” the newspaper said, suggesting that the statement reflected VW’s legal approach to the affair. “While it promises to fix affected vehicles wherever they were sold,” it said, “it is prepared to admit wrongdoing only in the United States.” The VW view only underscores the loosely-regulated European emission testing rules, now the subject of a fight in the European Parliament.

Two issues are at stake. The first is the degree to which new and tougher testing rules continue to allow manufacturers to exceed existing emission limits The second is whether European Union authorities can, in some circumstances, overrule the testing bodies of individual countries -namely Germany- which enforce common EU limits within their own borders. And so the saga continues.

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I think that as pensions plans crumble to levels where too many elederly go hungry, basic income will come to the forefront.

Swiss To Vote On Basic Income (DM)

Swiss residents are to vote on a countrywide referendum about a radical plan to pay every single adult a guaranteed income of £425 a week (or £1,700 a month). The plan, proposed by a group of intellectuals, could make the country the first in the world to pay all of its citizens a monthly basic income regardless if they work or not. But the initiative has not gained much traction among politicians from left and right despite the fact that a referendum on it was approved by the federal government for the ballot box on June 5. Under the proposed initiative, each child would also receive 145 francs (£100) a week. The federal government estimates the cost of the proposal at 208 billion francs (£143 billion) a year.

Around 153 billion francs (£105 bn) would have to be levied from taxes, while 55 billion francs (£38 bn) would be transferred from social insurance and social assistance spending. The group proposing the initiative, which includes artists, writers and intellectuals, cited a survey which shows that the majority of Swiss residents would continue working if the guaranteed income proposal was approved. ‘The argument of opponents that a guaranteed income would reduce the incentive of people to work is therefore largely contradicted,’ it said in a statement quoted by The Local. However, a third of the 1,076 people interviewed for the survey by the Demoscope Institute believed that ‘others would stop working’. And more than half of those surveyed (56%) believe the guaranteed income proposal will never see the light of day.

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There will be no money to pay for even temporary storage, and there is no solution for permament.

Radioactive Waste Dogs Germany Despite Abandoning Nuclear Power (NS)

Half a kilometre beneath the forests of northern Germany, in an old salt mine, a nightmare is playing out. A scheme to dig up previously buried nuclear waste is threatening to wreck public support for Germany’s efforts to make a safe transition to a non-nuclear future. Enough plutonium-bearing radioactive waste is stored here to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools. When engineers backfilled the chambers containing 126,000 drums in the 1970s, they thought they had put it out of harm’s way forever. But now, the walls of the Asse mine are collapsing and cracks forming, thanks to pressure from surrounding rocks. So the race is on to dig it all up before radioactive residues are flushed to the surface.

It could take decades to resolve. In the meantime, excavations needed to extract the drums could cause new collapses and make the problem worse. “There were people who said it wasn’t a good idea to put radioactive waste down here, but nobody listened to them,” says Annette Parlitz, spokeswoman for the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS), as we tour the mine. This is just one part of Germany’s nuclear nightmare. The country is also wrestling a growing backlog of spent fuel. And it has to worry about vast volumes of radioactive rubble that will be created as all the country’s 17 nuclear plants are decommissioned by 2022 – a decision taken five years ago, in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima disaster. The final bill for decommissioning power plants and getting rid of the waste is estimated to be at least €36 billion.

Some 300,000 cubic metres of low and intermediate-level waste requiring long-term shielding, including what is dug from the Asse mine, is earmarked for final burial at the Konrad iron mine in Lower Saxony. What will happen to the high-level waste, the spent fuel and other highly radioactive waste that must be kept safe for up to a million years is still debated. Later this year, a Final Storage Commission of politicians and scientists will advise on criteria for choosing a site where deep burial or long-term storage should be under way by 2050. But its own chairman, veteran parliamentarian Michael Muller, says that timetable is unlikely to be met. “We all believe deep geology is the best option, but I’m not sure if there is enough [public] trust to get the job done,” he says.

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Is it the smugglers or the EU?

Mediterranean Deaths Soar As People-Smugglers Get Crueller: IOM (Reuters)

More people died crossing the eastern Mediterranean in January than in the first eight months of last year, the International Organization for Migration said on Friday, blaming increased ruthlessness by people-traffickers. As of Jan. 28, 218 had died in the Aegean Sea – a tally not reached on the Greek route until mid-September in 2015. Another 26 died in the central Mediterranean trying to reach Italy. Smugglers were using smaller, less seaworthy boats, and packing them with even more people than before, the IOM said. IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the more reckless methods might be due to “panic in the market that this is not going to last much longer” as traffickers fear European governments may find ways to stem the unprecedented flow of migrants and refugees.

There also appeared to be new gangs controlling the trafficking trade in North Africa, he said. “There was a very pronounced period at the end of the year when boats were not leaving Libya and we heard from our sources in North Africa that it was because of inter-tribal or inter-gang fighting for control of the market,” Millman said. “And now that it’s picking up again and it seems to be more lethal, we wonder: what is the character of these groups that have taken over the trade?” The switch to smaller, more packed boats had also happened on the route from Turkey to Greece, the IOM said, but was unable to explain why.

The increase in deaths in January was not due to more traffic overall. The number of arrivals in Greece and Italy was the lowest for any month since June 2015, with a total of 55,528 people landing there between Jan. 1 and Jan. 28, the IOM said. Last year a record 1 million people made the Mediterranean Sea crossing, five times more than in 2014. During the year, the IOM estimates that 805 died in the eastern Mediterranean and 2,892 died in the central Mediterranean. In the past few months the proportion of children among those making the journey has risen from about a quarter to more than a third, and Millman said children often made up more than half of the occupants of the boats.

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Jan 072016
 
 January 7, 2016  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Harris&Ewing Army Day Parade, Memories of the World War, Washington DC 1939

China Stock Markets Shuttered -Again- After Falling 7% (FT)
China Jolts Markets With Sharply Lower Yuan Fix (CNBC)
Offshore Yuan Rises From Five-Year Low as PBOC Puzzles Markets (BBG)
Global Oil Prices Hit 12-Year Low (Reuters)
Shanghai Fund Manager Dumps All Holdings in ‘Insane’ Market (BBG)
It’s All Bad News for Markets Buckling Under China, Fed, Economy (BBG)
George Soros Sees Crisis in Global Markets That Echoes 2008 (BBG)
Fears Mount Over Rise Of Sovereign-Backed Corporate Debt (FT)
A $500 Car Repair Bill Would Send Most Americans Scrambling (WSJ)
If A Basic Income Works For The Royal Family, It Can Work For Us All (Guardian)
Macy’s To Cut Jobs, Shut Stores Amid Weak Holiday Sales (Reuters)
Note To Joe Stiglitz: Banks Originate, Not Intermediate (Steve Keen)
BIS Says Central Banks’ Stimulus Strategy Is Based On A False Premise (AEP)
One Map That Explains the Dangerous Saudi-Iranian Conflict (Intercept)
Massive US Tax Grab Coming in 2016 at All Levels of Government (FRA)
Deal Paves Way For Thousands Of Cuban Immigrants Heading To US (CNN)
EU Fails to Defuse Passport-Free Clash in Northern Europe (BBG)
Drop In Refugees Due to Weather, Not Turkey’s Crackdown, Germany Says (Reuters)

This won’t stop until everyone who wants to sell, has. That’s the difference between markets and central control.

China Stock Markets Shuttered -Again- After Falling 7% (FT)

China’s entire equity market was shuttered within half an hour of opening after falling 7% on further currency weakness as government rescue efforts failed to deter the tide of sellers. China’s stock market meltdown and currency depreciation have spooked international investors in a replay of last summer’s rout that reverberated around the globe. So far this year — just four days — the bluechip CSI 300 index is down 12%. Newly minted circuit breakers, introduced and first tripped on Monday, kicked in again on Thursday after the CSI 300 fell 7%. Trading was halted for 15 minutes after the index lost 5%, but as stocks continued to fall the full-day closure was triggered. Investors were rattled by further weakening of the renminbi, said Wang Jun at China Securities in Beijing. “It was a panicked response to the forex market,” he said.

“Accelerating exchange-rate depreciation could lead to liquidity problems. Valuations can’t help but take a pounding.” The renminbi fell to its weakest level in nearly five years on Thursday, with capital outflow pressure still heavy even after more than a year of nearly uninterrupted outflows. The renminbi was 0.6% weaker on Thursday morning at 6.5928 per US dollar after falling by roughly the same amount on Wednesday. Policymakers appear uncertain about whether to wade back in to buy stocks with state funds or to stand back. On Tuesday, the “national team” of state-owned financial institutions appeared to re-enter the stock market after remaining on the sidelines since late August. Goldman Sachs estimated in September that the government had spent Rmb1.5tn ($234bn) to support the stock market in July and August, when the main index was down by as much as 45% from its late-June high.

The “national team” owned at least 6% of tradable market capitalisation in the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges at the end of the third quarter. On Wednesday, the stock market had clawed back some lost ground after state media said the securities regulator would extend a ban on share sales by large shareholders. After the trading halt on Thursday, the regulator published new permanent rules restricting share purchases by large shareholders, as well as by corporate management and directors. Starting January 9, large shareholders can sell a maximum of 1% of a company’s shares every three months. They also must disclose stake-cutting plans 15 days in advance. The China Securities Regulatory Commission said the new rules should help to stem panic-selling.

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Christine Lagarde will have to speak out.

China Jolts Markets With Sharply Lower Yuan Fix (CNBC)

China’s central bank guided the yuan lower on Thursday at the fastest pace since its shock devaluation in August, prompting a shuttering of mainland stocks and roiling markets elsewhere. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) set the yuan reference rate at 6.5646 against the dollar, down 0.51% from Wednesday’s fix. That represents the largest daily change in the fix since August 13, according to Reuters data. The yuan had finished at 6.5554 on Wednesday. China’s central bank lets the yuan spot rate rise or fall a maximum of 2% against the dollar, relative to the official fixing rate. Thursday’s fix jolted markets, with the more freely-traded offshore yuan plunging to a record low of 6.7511 against the dollar before recovering to 6.6910 on suspected intervention. The onshore yuan rate fell to as much as 6.5932.

Equity markets in the region tumbled, with Chinese stocks closing for the day after the CSI 300 index fell more than 7%, triggering a circuit breaker. “The PBOC said the fix will be based on the previous day’s close and a softer fix is therefore not inconsistent with market forces,” said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and markets strategy at Mizuho Bank’s Singapore office. “There is a sense in the market that the offshore market is getting carried away though and the PBOC would want to rein in excessively aggressive one-way bets,” he said. The currency moves have revived a litany of concerns in financial markets, from the health of the Chinese economy to the impact of a weaker yuan on capital outflows, which have accelerated in recent months. The more stocks fall on cues from a lower yuan, the more investors may be encouraged to yank funds out of China and park them overseas, in turn exerting further pressure on the yuan.

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Out of their hands.

Offshore Yuan Rises From Five-Year Low as PBOC Puzzles Markets (BBG)

The offshore yuan strengthened the most in two months amid speculation the central bank propped up the exchange rate after setting a weaker fixing that sent it into a tumble. The currency swung from a 0.3% gain to a 0.7% loss and back in the space of about 30 minutes, spurring intervention speculation and creating confusion about what the central bank is trying to achieve. The yuan turmoil sent mainland shares into a spiral, forcing an early trading halt for the second day this week. “China isn’t communicating its policy intentions in a clear manner,” said Sue Trinh at Royal Bank of Canada in Hong Kong. “It is sending confusing signals to the market. And it’s disappointing that their communication policy is less than transparent.”

The offshore yuan advanced 0.44% to 6.6837 a dollar as of 12:10 p.m. in Hong Kong, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, after reaching the weakest level since September 2010. The spot rate in Shanghai plunged 0.57% to a five-year low of 6.5923. The People’s Bank of China reduced its fixing, which restricts onshore moves to a maximum 2% on either side, by 0.51% to 6.5646, the lowest since March 2011. “We saw aggressive intervention in the offshore yuan market,” said Zhou Hao at Commerzbank in Singapore. “We don’t really understand the rationale behind the market movements in the past few days. Obviously, these movements have reminded us of the market rout last year.”

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Article says 11-year low, but reality caught up.

Global Oil Prices Hit 12-Year Low (Reuters)

Brent crude futures fell to a fresh 11-year low on Thursday as a sliding yuan and an emergency halt in China’s stock trading left Asian markets in a turmoil, while a huge supply overhang and near-record output levels also continued to drag on oil prices. China accelerated the devaluation of the yuan on Thursday, sending currencies across the region reeling and domestic stock markets tumbling, as investors feared the Asian giant was kicking off a virtual trade war against its competitors. Trading on its stock markets was suspended for the rest of the day, the second time this week, and China’s securities regulator intervened heavily by issuing rules to restrict share sales by listed companies’ major shareholders.

Tracking the weakness across financial markets, the global benchmark Brent fell to $33.09 per barrel, the weakest since 2004 and below the previous 11-year low from Wednesday. Prices, however, edged back to $33.42 by 0440 GMT. “With oil markets producing 1 million barrels a day in excess (of demand) and very little sign of any rational response from the supply side, it’s little wonder we’re seeing pressure again,” said Michael McCarthy at CMC Markets in Sydney. Global oil prices have crashed 70% since mid-2014 as near-record output from major producers such as OPEC, Russia and North America has left storage tanks brimming with supplies. Exacerbating the oil market woes is a weakening demand, especially in Asia, home to the world’s No.2 oil consumer, China, that is seeing the slowest economic growth in a generation.

“The Chinese economy actually contracted in December and that’s adding fire to fears of a more rapid slowdown in the world’s second biggest economy,” McCarthy said. Financial markets fear the yuan’s rapid depreciation may accelerate, which would mean China’s economy is even weaker than had been imagined. Offshore yuan fell to a fresh record low on Thursday since trading started in 2010. With the global economy looking shaky due to China’s slowdown, analysts said the outlook for oil remains for cheap prices for much of this year. “We think low $30’s (per barrel) is a floor, but once positioning gets so biased anything can happen,” said Virendra Chauhan at Energy Aspects in Singapore.

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China already did pre-empt the stock sale ban that was supposed to expire: “The CSRC capped the size of stakes that major investors are allowed to sell at 1% of a company’s shares for three months effective Jan. 9..”

Shanghai Fund Manager Dumps All Holdings in ‘Insane’ Market (BBG)

A Shanghai fund dumped all its holdings as Chinese shares tumbled and triggered a circuit-breaker that halted trading in the world’s second-biggest stock market. “This is insane,” Chen Gang, CIO at Shanghai Heqi Tongyi Asset Management, said in an interview on Thursday. “We were forced to liquidate all our holdings this morning,” said Chen, whose firm manages about 300 million yuan ($45.5 million). China’s CSI 300 Index plunged 7.2% before trading was halted by automatic circuit-breakers for the second time this week, after a weaker-than-estimated yuan fixing fueled concern that slowing economic growth is prompting authorities to guide the currency lower. Many private funds and hedge funds in China have agreements with investors spelling out mandatory liquidation levels if their holdings drop below a certain value.

Chinese regulators have imposed a limit on the amount of stock major corporate shareholders can sell as authorities move to curb the nation’s market rout. The CSRC capped the size of stakes that major investors are allowed to sell at 1% of a company’s shares for three months effective Jan. 9, the regulator said in a statement on Thursday. The restriction replaces an existing six-month ban on any secondary market stock sales that is due to expire Friday, it said. Chen, who commented before the CSRC announced its new caps, said he “won’t consider getting back into the market until that overhang is gone and CSRC improves its circuit-breaker system, for instance by extending the 15-minute break to half an hour.”

The Shanghai Heqi Tongyi manager, whose fund started mid-year in 2015, regretted the timing of its launch and said it “couldn’t be worse.” Chen isn’t alone in criticizing the circuit-breaker rule introduced Monday, which many say exacerbates a liquidity squeeze as investors rush for the exits before trading halts kick in. Under the new rule, a drop of 5% suspends trading for 15 minutes, while a decline of 7% halts the market for the rest of the day. “A trading break of 15 minutes or even longer wouldn’t ease their nerves or get them a clear picture of the fundamentals,” said Polar Zhang at BOC International. “On the contrary, it’s draining liquidity as everybody tries to get out of the door before the door is closed.”

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Deflation.

It’s All Bad News for Markets Buckling Under China, Fed, Economy (BBG)

New year, same fears. Except now they’re hitting all at once. For U.S. stocks it’s meant the worst start since the financial crisis, while volatility in Europe has exploded to levels not seen in a decade. From China’s weakening currency to the rout in oil to the withdrawal of Fed stimulus and gains in the cost of financing business, things that keep investors up at night are climbing out from under the bed again in 2016. While little of it is new, the persistence is troubling, especially when buffers such as valuations and central bank support are turning against bulls. The result has been one of the fastest retreats from risk ever by investors coming back from New Year’s holiday. Just days into 2016, Wall Street firms from Citigroup to Royal Bank of Canada have already scaled back bullish calls for American equities this year, while single-stock analysts forecast fourth-quarter profits will shrink by more than 6% after predicting an expansion in August.

“The market obviously rises on the wall of fear, but right now the fear is looking a little bit more realistic,” said Brad McMillan at Commonwealth Financial Network. Over three days, more than $2 trillion has been wiped from the value of global equities, volatility in the broadest stock gauges has jumped 13% or more, and more than 8% was shorn from the price of oil. China’s Shanghai Composite Index plunged almost 7% to start the year while everything from junk bonds to cocoa and coffee has tumbled. As has been true before, the proximate cause is China. Data showing weakness in manufacturing this week sparked a tumble in the CSI 300 Index. Markets were roiled Wednesday when the nation’s central bank unexpectedly set the yuan’s daily reference rate at the lowest level since April 2011, fueling concern over the strength of the world’s second-largest economy.

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“Almost $2.5 trillion was wiped from the value of global equities this year through Wednesday, and losses deepened in Asia on Thursday..”

George Soros Sees Crisis in Global Markets That Echoes 2008 (BBG)

Global markets are facing a crisis and investors need to be very cautious, billionaire George Soros told an economic forum in Sri Lanka on Thursday. China is struggling to find a new growth model and its currency devaluation is transferring problems to the rest of the world, Soros said in Colombo. A return to positive interest rates is a challenge for the developing world, he said, adding that the current environment has similarities to 2008. Global currency, stock and commodity markets are under fire in the first week of the new year, with a sinking yuan adding to concern about the strength of China’s economy as it shifts away from investment and manufacturing toward consumption and services.

Almost $2.5 trillion was wiped from the value of global equities this year through Wednesday, and losses deepened in Asia on Thursday as a plunge in Chinese equities halted trade for the rest of the day. “China has a major adjustment problem,” Soros said. “I would say it amounts to a crisis. When I look at the financial markets there is a serious challenge which reminds me of the crisis we had in 2008.”

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Emerging markets will keep plummeting.

Fears Mount Over Rise Of Sovereign-Backed Corporate Debt (FT)

More than $800bn of emerging market sovereign debt is being camouflaged by the growing use of bonds that offer implicit state backing without always appearing on government balance sheets, according to new research. The stock of so-called quasi-sovereign bonds issued in dollars and other hard currencies by emerging markets has risen sharply in the past 12 months to overtake that of all external emerging market sovereign debt by the end of 2015. The growing use of such bonds suggests that developing countries are increasingly transferring debt obligations to third parties that have taken advantage of historically low interest rates to load up with cheap debt. Emerging markets are already under strain as the US dollar strengthens against the renminbi and other emerging market currencies, making the cost of servicing debt denominated in dollars harder to bear.

Although official debt-to-GDP levels of countries such as India, Russia and China remain low by global standards, the growth of less visible debt which they might still have to guarantee in a crisis underlines the potential scale of their liabilities. “This has been a source of worry for some time, in part because it does not always appear on government balance sheets.” said Lee Buchheit, a partner at Cleary Gottlieb and expert on sovereign debt default. “Emerging markets have benefited from interest rates at historic low levels and commodity prices at historic highs,” he said: “In the last year both of these have begun to unwind. If the resulting strains on a country compel a sovereign debt rearrangement of some kind, these contingent liabilities of the sovereign will need to be addressed.”

New figures from JPMorgan and Bond Radar show that issuance of quasi-sovereign bonds outpaced that of sovereign bonds in emerging markets last year, raising the stock of such debt from $710bn in 2014 to a record $839bn by the end of 2015. By comparison, the stock of all external emerging market sovereign debt stood at $750bn at the end of last year, according to JPMorgan. The cost of selling bonds with either an explicit or implicit guarantee of the government is lower than other corporate bonds. Quasi-sovereign borrowers include 100% state-owned entities such as Mexico’s Pemex, local governments in countries such as China, and entities in which the government owns more than 50% of the equity or has more than 50% of the voting rights — a description that encompasses Brazil’s Petrobras.

However, the treatment of such debt is not uniform. Bonds issued by Pemex are included in debt-to-GDP calculations for Mexico, but this is unusual, and only 19 of the 181 quasi-sovereign bonds tracked by JPMorgan carry an explicit sovereign guarantee. [..] Emerging markets’ quasi-sovereign bonds are now suffering from the same diminishing capital flows and rising borrowing costs plaguing the developing world, thanks to the strengthening US dollar, weakening commodity prices and fears of slowing Chinese growth. Poor performance has already hurt the credit ratings of countries that back them. Last year, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, two of the world’s three big credit rating agencies, cut Brazil’s rating to junk in part because of the growing risks associated with Petrobras. “What can really break the dam is the quasi-sovereign element in EM external debt,” says Gary Kleiman of Kleiman International, an emerging market investment consultant. “People have always assumed there is an implicit backing, but that capacity has not been called into question explicitly.”

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Paycheck to paycheck.

A $500 Car Repair Bill Would Send Most Americans Scrambling (WSJ)

An unexpected car repair or medical bill would cause the vast majority of Americans to scramble because they lack the needed funds in their savings accounts. Only 37% of adults have the necessary savings to cover a $500 car repair or a $1,000 emergency room bill, according to a survey Bankrate.com released Wednesday. The finding is little changed from last year, when 38% said they didn’t have the cash on hand, despite a year of steady job creation and the unemployment rate falling to 5%. “Most Americans are ill-prepared for life’s inevitable curveballs,” said Sheyna Steiner, Bankrate.com’s senior investing analyst. She said that’s a concern because more than 40% of families experienced a similar unexpected cost during the past 12 months.

Without the savings, 23% of those surveyed said they would have to cut back on spending elsewhere, and 15% said they would turn to credit cards. The same share said they would have to borrow from friends or family. The data suggests that many households are still on uncertain financial footing more than six years after the recession ended. However, other figures indicate Americans are earning, and saving, more. The personal saving rate was 5.5% in November, the second-highest level since the start of 2013, the Commerce Department said last month. Lower gasoline prices and solid income gains in recent months are supporting savings. Wages increased 2.3% from a year earlier in November, the Labor Department said, even as consumer inflation held near zero.

The Bankrate survey found that preparedness for unexpected expenses varied widely by income level. Just 23% of those earning less than $30,000 annually had the needed savings, while 54% of those earning more than $75,000 annually said they would have the cash on hand.

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“In Britain we’ve already experimented with a system in which one group of people receive a guaranteed income with no obligation to work for it. But what if this was extended beyond the royal family?”

If A Basic Income Works For The Royal Family, It Can Work For Us All (Guardian)

My first response to the notion of a universal basic income (UBI) was: “Well, really. That is never going to happen! I mean, it’s completely unaffordable. I mean, it would be political suicide for any progressive party suggesting it.” And then I may have started to froth at the mouth slightly and ask if it would be paid to refugees. Yet this year will see a UBI paid to residents of Utrecht and 19 other Dutch municipalities. Everyone will get about £150 a week, whether working or not. The unemployed won’t find themselves penalised for finding work, and the hope is that the state will spend less money snooping on benefit claimants, moving on the homeless or locking up those driven to crime. Advocates of this radical idea are keen to quash any notion that recipients of free money will just use it to lie around all day getting stoned.

This is why it is being piloted in Holland. The idea is so refreshingly contrary to the petty conditionality that is killing the welfare state that it began to fill me with optimism that there may be a few people lying in this political gutter still looking at the stars. Once upon a time, universality was the underpinning principle of welfare. Every mother got child benefit; every child got free school milk, until that was snatched away by … Oh, I can’t remember – I’m not one to bear grudges. In Britain we’ve already experimented with a system in which one group of people receive a guaranteed income with no obligation to work for it. But what if this was extended beyond the royal family? Imagine now if everyone in the UK started out with a guaranteed minimal amount of money each week.

All other benefits would be done away with, along with the stigma and entrapment that came with the old system of welfare (and the expense of policing and administering it). The idea of the UBI is so contrary to everything that has been drummed into us about preventing the “something for nothing society”, it’s worth advocating it just to see the Daily Mail and Iain Duncan Smith implode with outrage. The predictable argument that will be rolled out is that it will turn the masses from “strivers into skivers”; it will lead to welfare dependency, a lack of initiative and lots of programmes on Channel 5 called Fat Ugly People Spending Your Money on Crisps and Big Tellies.

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Vanguard for a much bigger trend.

Macy’s To Cut Jobs, Shut Stores Amid Weak Holiday Sales (Reuters)

Macy’s said it will eliminate more than 2,000 jobs and consolidate operations after reporting weak holiday sales, highlighting a downturn in apparel demand that has likely taken a similar toll on other department stores and clothing chains. Macy’s said comparable sales at stores open for more than a year tumbled by 4.7% in November and December, far worse than what it had estimated in November, and it cut its earnings outlook for the second time in two months. Macy’s, which operates the upscale Bloomingdale’s chain as well as its namesake Macy’s department stores, estimated that 80% of the fall was due to unusually warm weather, which discouraged purchases of sweaters, coats and gloves. It also blamed the strong dollar for keeping tourists from visiting the United States and spending money at its flagship stores.

The company’s shares rose 2.8% to $37.15 in after-hours trading on Wednesday as investors cheered its plan to reduce costs by $400 million by consolidating regions and call-centers. The jobs to be eliminated include 3,000 store workers, though about half of those employees will be put in other positions, as well as hundreds of back-office and senior executive posts, the company said in a press release. “Macy’s is cutting the fat, becoming a leaner organization,” said Lisa Haddock, marketing lecturer at San Diego State University, of why the shares rose. But Haddock said Macy’s, like many other traditional bricks-and mortar retailers, faced an uncertain future as more and more consumer demand shifted online. “Macy’s doesn’t seem to have a unique spot in consumers’ minds,” she said.

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Essential: “..the banks have very good reasons not to “fulfil their purpose” today, because that purpose is not what Joe thinks it is. Banks don’t “intermediate loans”, they “originate loans”..”

Note To Joe Stiglitz: Banks Originate, Not Intermediate (Steve Keen)

I like Joe Stiglitz, both professionally and personally. His Globalization and its Discontents was virtually the only work by a Nobel Laureate economist that I cited favourably in my Debunking Economics, because he had the courage to challenge the professional orthodoxy on the “Washington Consensus”. Far more than most in the economics mainstream—like Ken Rogoff for example—Joe is capable of thinking outside its box. But Joe’s latest public contribution—“The Great Malaise Continues” on Project Syndicate—simply echoes the mainstream on a crucial point that explains why the US economy is at stall speed, which the mainstream simply doesn’t get. Joe correctly notes that “the world faces a deficiency of aggregate demand”, and attributes this to both “growing inequality and a mindless wave of fiscal austerity”, neither of which I dispute. But then he adds that part of the problem is that “our banks … are not fit to fulfill their purpose” because “they have failed in their essential function of intermediation”:

Between long-term savers (for example, sovereign wealth funds and those saving for retirement) and long-term investment in infrastructure stands our short-sighted and dysfunctional financial sector… Former US Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke once said that the world is suffering from a “savings glut.” That might have been the case had the best use of the world’s savings been investing in shoddy homes in the Nevada desert. But in the real world, there is a shortage of funds; even projects with high social returns often can’t get financing.

I’m the last one to defend banks, but here Joe is quite wrong: the banks have very good reasons not to “fulfil their purpose” today, because that purpose is not what Joe thinks it is. Banks don’t “intermediate loans”, they “originate loans”, and they have every reason not to originate right now. In effect, Joe is complaining that banks aren’t doing what economics textbooks say they should do. But those textbooks are profoundly wrong about the actual functioning of banks, and until the economics profession gets its head around this and why it matters, then the economy will be stuck in the Great Malaise that Joe is hoping to lift us out of.

The argument that banks merely intermediate between savers and investors leads the mainstream to a manifestly false conclusion: that the level of private debt today is too low, because too little private debt is being created right now. In reality, the level of private debt is way too high, and that’s why so little lending is occurring. I can make the case empirically for non-economists pretty easily, thanks to an aside that Joe makes in his article. He observes that when WWII ended, many economists feared that there would be a period of stagnation:

Others, harking back to the profound pessimism after the end of World War II, fear that the global economy could slip into depression, or at least into prolonged stagnation.

In fact, the period from 1945 till 1965 is now regarded as the “Golden Age of Capitalism”. There was a severe slump initially as the economy changed from a war footing to a private one, but within 3 years, that transition was over and the US economy prospered—growing by as much as 10% in real terms in some years. The average from 1945 till 1965 was growth at 2.8% a year. In contrast, the average rate of economic growth since 2008 to today is precisely zero.

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“Schumpeterian creative destruction“: “The occurrence of a crisis greatly amplifies the impact of previous misallocations..”

BIS Says Central Banks’ Stimulus Strategy Is Based On A False Premise (AEP)

The world’s monetary watchdog has thrown down the gauntlet. It has challenged the twin assumptions of secular stagnation and the global savings glut that have possessed – some would say corrupted – the Western economic elites. It has implicity indicted the US Federal Reserve and fellow central banks for perverting the machinery of interest policy to conjure demand that may not, in fact, be needed, and ensnaring us in a self-perpetuating “debt-trap” with a diet of ever looser money. The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) – the temple of monetary orthodoxy in Switzerland – has been waiting for this moment, combing through the archives of economic history to mount an unanswerable assault. The BIS believes it has found the smoking gun in a study of recessions in 22 rich countries dating back to the late 1960s.

The evidence suggests that the long malaise of the post-Lehman era – and the strange episode that preceded it – can be explained almost entirely by the destructive effects of boom and bust on productivity growth. Credit bubbles are corrosive. They gobble up resources on the upswing, diverting workers into low-productivity sectors and building booms. In Spain the construction share of GDP reached 16pc at the height of the “burbuja” in 2007, when teenagers abandoned school en masse to earn instant money erecting ghost towns. Parasitical wastage creeps in. “Financial institutions’ high demand for skilled labour may crowd out more productive sectors,” said the paper, acidly. The bubbles leave a long toxic legacy after the bust hits. This takes eight years or so to clear.

“The occurrence of a crisis greatly amplifies the impact of previous misallocations,” said the paper, racily titled “Labour reallocation and productivity dynamics: financial causes, real consequences”. Crippled economies have to make the switch back to healthier sectors against the headwinds of a credit crunch and a broken financial system, and typically amid austerity cuts in public investment. The BIS has long argued that a key reason why the US recovered more quickly than others is because it tackled the bad debts of the banking system early, forcing lenders to raise capital. This averted a long credit squeeze. It cleared the way for Schumpeterian creative destruction. The Europeans dallied, prisoners of their bank lobbies. They let lenders meet tougher rules by slashing credit rather than raising capital.

Europe’s unemployed have paid a high price for this policy failure. Claudio Borio, the paper’s lead author and the BIS’s chief economist, said the “hysteresis” effect of lost productivity is 0.7pc of GDP each year. The cumulative damage from the boom-bust saga over the past decade is 6pc. This more or less accounts for the phenomenon of “secular stagnation”, the term invented by Alvin Hansen in 1938 and revived by former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Loosely, it describes an inter-war Keynesian world of deficient investment and demand. The theory of the global savings glut propagated by former Fed chief Ben Bernanke falls away, and so does the Fed’s central alibi. It can longer be cited as the canonical justification for negative real rates. The alleged surfeit of capital in the world proves a mirage. So does the output gap. If the BIS hypothesis is correct, there is no lack of global demand. The world faces a supply-side problem, impervious to monetary stimulus. The entire strategy of global central banks is based on a false premise.

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“..the Saudi royals would just be some broke 80-year-olds with nothing left but a lot of beard dye and Viagra prescriptions.”

One Map That Explains the Dangerous Saudi-Iranian Conflict (Intercept)

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia executed Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday. Hours later, Iranian protestors set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran. On Sunday, the Saudi government, which considers itself the guardian of Sunni Islam, cut diplomatic ties with Iran, which is a Shiite Muslim theocracy. To explain what’s going on, the New York Times provided a primer on the difference between Sunni and Shiite Islam, informing us that “a schism emerged after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632” – i.e., 1383 years ago. But to the degree that the current crisis has anything to do with religion, it’s much less about whether Abu Bakr or Ali were Muhammad’s rightful successor and much more about who’s going to control something more concrete right now: oil.

In fact, much of the conflict can be explained by a fascinating map created by M.R. Izady, a cartographer and adjunct master professor at the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School/Joint Special Operations University in Florida. What the map shows is that, due to a peculiar correlation of religious history and anaerobic decomposition of plankton, almost all the Persian Gulf’s fossil fuels are located underneath Shiites. This is true even in Sunni Saudi Arabia, where the major oil fields are in the Eastern Province, which has a majority Shiite population. As a result, one of the Saudi royal family’s deepest fears is that one day Saudi Shiites will secede, with their oil, and ally with Shiite Iran.

This fear has only grown since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq overturned Saddam Hussein’s minority Sunni regime, and empowered the pro-Iranian Shiite majority. Nimr himself said in 2009 that Saudi Shiites would call for secession if the Saudi government didn’t improve its treatment of them. As Izady’s map so strikingly demonstrates, essentially all of the Saudi oil wealth is located in a small sliver of its territory whose occupants are predominantly Shiite. (Nimr, for instance, lived in Awamiyya, in the heart of the Saudi oil region just northwest of Bahrain.) If this section of eastern Saudi Arabia were to break away, the Saudi royals would just be some broke 80-year-olds with nothing left but a lot of beard dye and Viagra prescriptions.


Map shows religious populations in the Middle East and proven developed oil and gas reserves. Click to view the full map of the wider region. The dark green areas are predominantly Shiite; light green predominantly Sunni; and purple predominantly Wahhabi/Salafi, a branch of Sunnis. The black and red areas represent oil and gas deposits, respectively. Source: Dr. Michael Izady at Columbia University, Gulf2000, New York

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Detailed and instructive article. Recommended reading.

Massive US Tax Grab Coming in 2016 at All Levels of Government (FRA)

The Financial Repression Authority sees the massive government tax grab already quietly underway accelerating in 2016 in most of the developed economies. This ‘grab’ will be a desperate political act driven by underfunded, and in a significant number of cases, unfunded public pension which will unfold at all three levels of government, Federal, State and City /Local government. It will be disguised by different focal emphasis and appear to evolve in an uncoordinated manner – but it will occur! To spot its telltale fingerprints we should expect the following words to become much more prevalent in the “public narrative” throughout 2016 and to see EACH of these which we explore in this article to increasingly and significantly extract money from taxpayer wallets:

• Capital Gains Tax,
• Property Tax,
• Global Wealth Tax (PFIC, FATCA, GATCA),
• Civil Forfeiture Fines,
• Means Testing,
• Licensing Fees,
• Usage, Tolls & Emergency Services Fees,
• Inspection Fees,
• Processing Fees,
• Fines (Police and Agency)
• Ticketing,
• School Activity, Equipment & Supply Fees,
• Inheritance Tax,
• Social Security Taxation Rate

The Wealth Effect is believed by the government to have pushed up taxpayer US Household Net Worth by $30 Trillion or 55% from the Financial Crisis low. The US government is coming after that money! They see it as a “Honey Pot” that can’t be resisted.

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Build a wall with Cuba?

Deal Paves Way For Thousands Of Cuban Immigrants Heading To US (CNN)

It’s a rare deal at a time when daily sparring over immigration is a worldwide reality. Five Central American countries and Mexico inked an agreement last week that will help thousands of stranded Cuban immigrants make their way to the United States. The group of Cubans, about 8,000 at the latest estimate, had been stuck in Costa Rica for weeks after Nicaragua closed its borders to them. Now a group of Central American countries say the Cubans will be flown to El Salvador, then transported on buses to Mexico. Then they’ll have a chance to cross into the United States. Officials have said they’ll start transporting the group of Cubans on flights this month. The first group of 180 will leave on a flight to El Salvador on Tuesday as part of a pilot program, Costa Rica’s foreign minister said Wednesday. It won’t be a free ride; the immigrants will have to pay about $550 to cover travel and visa costs, officials said.

The idea of 8,000 new immigrants showing up at America’s doorstep sounds like a large number. But experts say it’s in keeping with a trend they’ve observed. The number of Cubans coming to the United States has spiked dramatically, particularly after President Barack Obama’s announcement that relations between the United States and the island nation were on the mend. More than 43,000 Cubans entered the United States at ports of entry in the 2015 fiscal year, according to a recent Pew Research Center report, which cited U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. That represents a 78% increase over the previous year, according to Pew. Several factors are fueling the trend, said Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. immigration policy program at the Migration Policy Institute.

These include the Obama administration’s 2009 decision to ease restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and sending money to families there, Cuba’s move in 2013 to relax exit controls on Cubans seeking to leave the island and – most importantly – the U.S. decision to normalize relations last year. Some fear the immigration policies that have welcomed Cubans into the United States could change now that relations between the countries are warming, Rosenblum said. “There is this concern that Cuba special privileges will be eliminated, so Cubans are trying to get out while the getting’s good,” he said. Not anymore. While the U.S. Coast Guard said last year it was seeing an increase in the number of Cubans trying to reach the United States in rafts, even more are taking a different route.

“Over the last several years, we’ve seen pretty sharp increases in the number of Cubans, especially traveling by land,” Rosenblum said. Until recently, many flew into Ecuador, which didn’t require a visa for Cubans until several months ago. From there, they trekked through Latin America until they reached the United States.

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Clueless.

EU Fails to Defuse Passport-Free Clash in Northern Europe (BBG)

German, Danish, Swedish and European officials blamed each other – and political leaders across the continent – for the refugee overruns that have led to the reintroduction of passport checks in northern Europe. A migration crisis session in Brussels on Wednesday ended with Germany identifying Greece’s lightly policed sea border as the cause of the problem, Denmark telling refugees to go elsewhere, Sweden confessing that it’s swamped and the EU’s head office appealing for “solidarity.” “Our problem at the moment in Europe is that we do not have a functioning border-control system, especially at the Greece-Turkey border,” German deputy interior minister, Ole Schroeder, told reporters afterward.

The latest threat to no-passport travel in much of the 28-nation EU started when Sweden began stopping traffic on its border with Denmark, leading to controls on the Danish-German frontier and prompting the bloc’s home affairs commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, to plead for a “return to normal as soon as possible.” The scale of the challenge was dramatized by data showing that EU governments have rehoused only 272 of a pledged 160,000 refugees, leaving Germany, Sweden, Greece and Italy as the main interim hosts of people fleeing wars in the Middle East. Sweden renewed its call for the equitable distribution of refugees, as required by EU laws passed last year, and invoked the rule – widely seen as broken beyond repair – that refugees apply for asylum in the first EU country they reach.

“We cannot do everything, we have to share responsibility among all member states,” Swedish Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said. The largest movement of people since the dislocations after World War II has stirred tensions among commercially and culturally like-minded countries in Scandinavia. “We don’t wish to be the final destination for thousands and thousands of asylum seekers,” said Danish immigration minister, Inger Stoejberg. She said Denmark is ready “at very short notice” to sanction transport operators for bringing in illegal migrants.

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Still 4,000 a day arriving in Germany every day. Or 1.46 million per year. And that’s in winter.

Drop In Refugees Due to Weather, Not Turkey’s Crackdown, Germany Says (Reuters)


Migrant arrivals in Germany dropped significantly last month, but the reason was rough seas, not efforts by Turkey to crack down on illegal departures to Greece, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Wednesday. His remarks suggest that German efforts to stem the flow of arrivals with help from Turkey are not effective yet, which increases pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose popularity has fallen over her decision to welcome refugees. “Our impression is that the drop (in arrivals) is predominantly linked to the weather, namely a stormy sea in the Mediterranean,” de Maiziere, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), told a news conference.

“We are also seeing efforts by Turkey to reduce the number of illegal migration departure from Turkey,” he said. “But we cannot confirm a sustainable, permanent, and visible reduction because of these activities and based on individual steps in December.” From 2,500 to 4,000 migrants entered Germany through Austria each day in December. That is far less than 10,000 daily arrivals recorded at the height of the crisis in autumn but still not low enough to silence Merkel’s critics. Most migrants reach Europe by making the short voyage from Turkey to Greece. Merkel wants Turkey to stem the flow and take back asylum seekers rejected by Europe.

In exchange, Turkey will get support for faster action on its bid to join the European Union and billions of euros in aid for Syrian refugees in border camps. The chancellor has rejected demands from members of her own conservatives to cap the number of refugees Germany is willing to take each year as well as calls to seal the border with Austria. Her multi-front approach to reducing the number of arrivals also includes providing aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan and distributing asylum seekers across the EU.

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Dec 272015
 
 December 27, 2015  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »


Gordon Parks A scene at the Fulton Fish Market, New York 1943

$1.7 Trillion of Sub-Zero Euro Debt Shows ECB Outlook for 2016 (BBG)
Deutsche Bank Sees Taper Tantrum Echo Ahead for US Treasuries (BBG)
Pound Is ‘Most Overvalued Currency In The World’, Analysts Claim (Telegraph)
In Sweden, a Cash-Free Future Nears (NY Times)
Dutch City Plans To Pay All Citizens A ‘Basic Income’ (Guardian)
The Man Who Exposed The Lie Of The War On Drugs (Observer)
More Than 100,000 Flee El Niño Flooding In South America (Reuters)
Britain Overwhelmed By Widespread ‘Worst in Decades’ Flooding (DM)
Czech President: Migrants Should Be Fighting Isis, Not ‘Invading’ Europe (AFP)
German Navy Says It Rescued Over 10,000 Refugees In 2015 (AFP)
Flow Of Refugees To Greek Islands Continues Over Christmas (Kath.)

A crazy experiment.

$1.7 Trillion of Sub-Zero Euro Debt Shows ECB Outlook for 2016 (BBG)

As the ECB wound down its asset purchases for the year, the amount of euro-region government bonds that yield less than zero was at about $1.68 trillion, indicating investors see the potential for further easing of monetary policy in 2016. With QE acquisitions set to resume on Jan. 4, bonds of governments from Portugal to Germany will be supported again by the €1.5 trillion program, which is scheduled to keep running until at least March 2017. Begun in March this year, the purchases continue to push an increasing number of securities off the table – meaning their yields are so low they’re ineligible for buying. The total issued value of bonds that yield less than the ECB’s minus 0.3% deposit rate, and are thus deemed ineligible for acquisition by the ECB, is about $616 billion of the $6.35 trillion Bloomberg Eurozone Sovereign Bond Index.

A slump in oil prices is supporting economists’ view that the ECB is unlikely to veer from its accommodative policy stance as it struggles to achieve its inflation goal of just under 2%, fulfilling a principal aim of the asset-purchase program. So many sub-zero-yielding securities “indicate that there is a belief that there is no real inflationary pressures evident yet, and the ECB will remain ready to do more if required,” said Owen Callan at Cantor Fitzgerald. German two-year note yields were at minus 0.337% as of the 5 p.m. London close on Dec. 23. The price of the 0% security due in December 2017 was 100.665% of face value. The last time the yield was positive was in August 2014. With oil languishing near an 11-year low and the region’s inflation a long way below the ECB’s goal, Callan said “crude oil is probably the leading indicator as regards to where ECB policy and where bond yields go in the start of 2016. That is what most of the markets are looking at the moment.”

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“The idea is that the Fed’s tightening will look somewhat benign, and then you’ll realize that rates are rising to 1%. That’s a lot of stress” for markets.”

Deutsche Bank Sees Taper Tantrum Echo Ahead for US Treasuries (BBG)

Enjoy the holiday slowdown, bond traders. If analysts at Deutsche Bank are right, the market is going to get a lot more volatile. After the Federal Reserve succeeded in nudging borrowing costs up from near zero last week in its first interest-rate increase since 2006, Treasury yields have hardly moved. Now, traders are betting low inflation and slow global growth will encourage policy makers to raise rates slowly in 2016. The lull won’t last, according to Dominic Konstam, global head of rates research for Deutsche Bank in New York. He predicts the Fed will catch bond traders wrongfooted by raising rates in March. That may prompt a smaller version of the market “tantrum” seen in 2013, when the prospect of an end to Fed bond-buying fueled a sharp selloff in Treasuries.

“We call it a ‘baby tantrum,”’ Konstam said. “The idea is that the Fed’s tightening will look somewhat benign, and then you’ll realize that rates are rising to 1%. That’s a lot of stress” for markets. The warning from Deutsche Bank, which has the second-largest share of the interest-rates trading business in the U.S. behind Goldman Sachs, comes as expectations for Treasury-market volatility are tumbling. The Bank of America Merrill Lynch MOVE Index, which gauges implied volatility through options prices, fell to 66.02 this week, the lowest since December 2014. Early signals from the central bank indicate that policy makers may raise rates more quickly than traders expect.

The median of the Fed’s so-called dot plot – a chart sketching out officials’ projections for where rates will be in the future – calls for them to reach 1.375% next year. That would constitute four 0.25 percentage point increases. On Monday, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart also suggested that the Fed may raise rates four times in 2016. Futures prices show traders don’t buy into the Fed’s timeline. The market continues to expect two rate increases in 2016, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Traders are pricing in a 56% chance that the Fed raises rates at or before its April meeting, based on the assumption that the effective fed funds rate will trade at the middle of the new FOMC target range after the next increase.

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Not a chance. Others are even more overvalued.

Pound Is ‘Most Overvalued Currency In The World’, Analysts Claim (Telegraph)

The pound is one of the most overvalued currencies in the world and will suffer next year as the Government ramps up spending cuts and uncertainty about Britain’s future in the EU weighs on growth. Analysts at Deutsche Bank warned that the Bank of England may not be able to raise interest rates “at all” if Britain’s recovery slows. It believes the pound could fall as low as $1.27 next year and $1.15 in 2017 from about $1.485 today if the US Federal Reserve continues to tighten monetary policy and the Bank of England leaves interest rates on hold. “We have various different ways of looking at currency valuations and what we find is that sterling is the most expensive currency out there at the moment – even including the dollar,” said Oliver Harvey at Deutsche Bank. Earlier this year, the IMF said the pound was between 5pc and 15pc overvalued.

Several Bank policymakers, including Governor Mark Carney and even hawkish rate-setter Martin Weale have played down the prospect of a rate rise in the next few months as a renewed fall in oil prices and weak wage growth keep inflation well below the Bank’s 2pc target. Deutsche Bank said more fiscal consolidation next year relative to this year would make it “challenging” for the Bank of England to raise interest rates if austerity weighed on growth. “[Since November] oil prices have fallen more and the inflation data are showing signs of slowing. So if we don’t have a hiking cycle in the first half of next year, there is a risk that we don’t have a hiking cycle at all.” Markets currently expect the Bank to raise rates in January 2017. Mr Harvey said even if the Bank started to raise rates next year, the path of hikes would be much shallower than in the US, which would push sterling down to at least $1.40 against the dollar by the end of 2016.

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And then someone in some government thinks a 3-4-5% surcharge on all transactions is a good idea.

In Sweden, a Cash-Free Future Nears (NY Times)

Parishioners text tithes to their churches. Homeless street vendors carry mobile credit-card readers. Even the Abba Museum, despite being a shrine to the 1970s pop group that wrote “Money, Money, Money,” considers cash so last-century that it does not accept bills and coins. Few places are tilting toward a cashless future as quickly as Sweden, which has become hooked on the convenience of paying by app and plastic. This tech-forward country, home to the music streaming service Spotify and the maker of the Candy Crush mobile games, has been lured by the innovations that make digital payments easier. It is also a practical matter, as many of the country’s banks no longer accept or dispense cash.

At the Abba Museum, “we don’t want to be behind the times by taking cash while cash is dying out,” said Bjorn Ulvaeus, a former Abba member who has leveraged the band’s legacy into a sprawling business empire, including the museum. Not everyone is cheering. Sweden’s embrace of electronic payments has alarmed consumer organizations and critics who warn of a rising threat to privacy and increased vulnerability to sophisticated Internet crimes. Last year, the number of electronic fraud cases surged to 140,000, more than double the amount a decade ago, according to Sweden’s Ministry of Justice. Older adults and refugees in Sweden who use cash may be marginalized, critics say. And young people who use apps to pay for everything or take out loans via their mobile phones risk falling into debt.

“It might be trendy,” said Bjorn Eriksson, a former director of the Swedish police force and former president of Interpol. “But there are all sorts of risks when a society starts to go cashless.” But advocates like Mr. Ulvaeus cite personal safety as a reason that countries should go cash-free. He switched to using only card and electronic payments after his son’s Stockholm apartment was burglarized twice several years ago. “There was such a feeling of insecurity,” said Mr. Ulvaeus, who carries no cash at all. “It made me think: What would happen if this was a cashless society, and the robbers couldn’t sell what they stole?” Bills and coins now represent just 2% of Sweden’s economy, compared with 7.7% in the United States and 10% in the euro area. This year, only about 20% of all consumer payments in Sweden have been made in cash, compared with an average of 75% in the rest of the world, according to Euromonitor International.

Cards are still king in Sweden — with nearly 2.4 billion credit and debit transactions in 2013, compared with 213 million 15 years earlier. But even plastic is facing competition, as a rising number of Swedes use apps for everyday commerce. At more than half of the branches of the country’s biggest banks, including SEB, Swedbank, Nordea Bank and others, no cash is kept on hand, nor are cash deposits accepted. They say they are saving a significant amount on security by removing the incentive for bank robberies. Last year, Swedish bank vaults held around 3.6 billion kronor in notes and coins, down from 8.7 billion in 2010, according to the Bank for International Settlements. Cash machines, which are controlled by a Swedish bank consortium, are being dismantled by the hundreds, especially in rural areas.

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It’s important to check how ‘pure’ these experiments are. If they’re screwed up from the start, they just serve to ‘prove’ what a bad idea it all is.

Dutch City Plans To Pay All Citizens A ‘Basic Income’ (Guardian)

It’s an idea whose adherents over the centuries have ranged from socialists to libertarians to far-right mavericks. It was first proposed by Thomas Paine in his 1797 pamphlet, Agrarian Justice, as a system in which at the “age of majority” everyone would receive an equal capital grant, a “basic income” handed over by the state to each and all, no questions asked, to do with what they wanted. It might be thought that, in these austere times, no idea could be more politically toxic: literally, a policy of the state handing over something for nothing. But in Utrecht, one of the largest cities in the Netherlands, and 19 other Dutch municipalities, a tentative step towards realising the dream of many a marginal and disappointed political theorist is being made.

The politicians, well aware of a possible backlash, are rather shy of admitting it. “We had to delete mention of basic income from all the documents to get the policy signed off by the council,” confided Lisa Westerveld, a Green councillor for the city of Nijmegen, near the Dutch-German border. “We don’t call it a basic income in Utrecht because people have an idea about it – that it is just free money and people will sit at home and watch TV,” said Heleen de Boer, a Green councillor in that city, which is half an hour south of Amsterdam. Nevertheless, the municipalities are, in the words of de Boer, taking a “small step” towards a basic income for all by allowing small groups of benefit claimants to be paid £660 a month – and keep any earnings they make from work on top of that.

Their monthly pay will not be means-tested. They will instead have the security of that cash every month, and the option to decide whether they want to add to that by finding work. The outcomes will be analysed by eminent economist Loek Groot, a professor at the University of Utrecht. A start date for the scheme has yet to be settled – and only benefit claimants involved in the pilots will receive the cash – but there is no doubting the radical intent. The motivation behind the experiment in Utrecht, according to Nienke Horst, a senior policy adviser to the municipality’s Liberal Democrat leadership, is for claimants to avoid the “poverty trap” – the fact that if they earn, they will lose benefits, and potentially be worse off.

The idea also hopes to target “revolving door clients” – those who are forced into jobs by the system but repeatedly walk out of them. If given a basic income, the thinking goes, these people might find the time and space to look for long-term employment that suits them. But the logic of basic income, according to people to the left of Horst, leads only one way – to the cash sum becoming a universal right. It would be unthinkable for those on benefits to be earning and receiving more than their counterparts off benefits. Horst admitted: “Some municipalities are very into the basic income thing.”

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How the CIA is funded.

The Man Who Exposed The Lie Of The War On Drugs (Observer)

We hear much these days about the pros and cons of legalising drugs, but very little about narco-traffic as political economy. Now, Saviano articulates and demonstrates what many of us who write about mafia have been trying for years to shout from rooftops, only none of us climbed high enough, cried as loud, or crystallised it like he does. Here it is, the lie of any dividing line between legal and illegal. Here it is, laid bare: cartel as corporation, corporation as cartel; cocaine as pure capitalism, capitalism as cocaine, known in its purest form as zero-zero-zero – a wry reference to the name of the best grade of flour, ideal for pasta. Saviano writes in his own distinct style of narrative literary reportage, at once factually informative and impressionistic.

He opens Zero Zero Zero with a scathing tragicomic reflection on who in your life uses cocaine: “If it’s not your mother or father… then the boss does. Or the boss’s secretary… the oncologist… the waiters who will work the wedding… If not them, then the town councillor who just approved the new pedestrian zones.” Within three-score pages he has stripped bare the system whereby – and why – the white powder got up their noses. “Cocaine,” he concludes, applying the logic of business school, “is a safe asset. Cocaine is an anticyclical asset. Cocaine is the asset that fears neither resource shortages nor market inflation.” Of course, cocaine capitalism – as brazenly as any other commodity, possibly more so – has “both feet firmly planted in poverty… [and] unskilled labour, a sea of interchangeable subjects, that perpetuates a system of exploitation of the many and enrichment of the few”.

“Cocaine becomes a product like gold or oil,” he adds in conversation, “but more economically potent than gold or oil. With these other commodities, if you don’t have access to mines or wells, it’s hard to break into the market. With cocaine, no. The territory is farmed by desperate peasants, from whose product you can accumulate huge quantities of capital and cash in very little time. “If you’re selling diamonds, you have to get them authenticated, licensed – cocaine, no. Whatever you have, whatever the quality, you can sell it immediately. You are in perfect synthesis with the everyday life and ethos of the global markets – and the ignorance of politicians in the west to understand this is staggering. The European world, the American world, don’t understand these forces, they don’t have the will to understand narco-traffic.”

In a previous book, soon to be translated, called Vieni Via Con Me – Come Away With Me – Saviano talked about the “ecomafia” for which it is “always fundamental to be looking for terrain and spaces in which to conceal and proliferate itself”, just as a corporation carves out markets. In Zero Zero Zero, he writes about what might be called the genealogy of narco-syndicates, from their paternalistic period of “conservative capitalism” to the lean, mean multinational corporations they have become: buying failing banks, working the credit economy, taking over interbank loans. Permeating the system until they become indistinct from it, until (writes Saviano in Vieni Via Con Me): “democracy is literally in danger”, and we become “all equal, all contaminated… in the machine of mud”.

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That’s a lot more than in Britain.

More Than 100,000 Flee El Niño Flooding In South America (Reuters)

More than 100,000 people evacuated their homes in the bordering areas of Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina due to severe flooding in the wake of heavy summer rains brought on by El Niño, authorities said. The Paraguayan government declared a state of emergency in Asunción and seven regions of the country. Several people were killed by falling trees, local media reported. “[The flooding] was directly influenced by the El Niño phenomenon which has intensified the frequency and intensity of rains,” the national emergencies office said. This year’s El Niño, which is linked to global climate fluctuations, is the worst in more than 15 years, according to the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

“Severe droughts and devastating flooding being experienced throughout the tropics and subtropical zones bear the hallmarks of this El Niño,” said WMO chief Michel Jarraud. In northern Argentina about 20,000 people had to abandon their homes, the government said. “We are going to have a few complicated months, the consequences will be serious,” said Ricardo Colombi, the governor of the Corrientes region, after flying over the worst-affected areas with the national cabinet chief, Marcos Peña. Peña said new president, Mauricio Macri, would visit affected areas and intended to make improving infrastructure to mitigate flooding a priority. In Uruguay more than 9,000 people fled their homes, according to the national emergencies office. At least four people died in Argentina and Uruguay, according to local media reports. One was reported to have drowned while another was electrocuted by a fallen power cable.

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But what happens in Britain, too, is stunning.

Britain Overwhelmed By Widespread Flooding (DM)

Britain was overwhelmed by the most widespread flooding for decades yesterday as the dire weather left a trail of chaos stretching hundreds of miles and affecting 2,000 homes. Huge swathes of the North of England, including parts of Manchester and Leeds and their satellite towns, were under up to 6ft of water after a month’s rain fell in a single day. Thousands of residents were forced to flee their homes and in some cases whole towns were cut off as the misery of flooding spread across Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire, and parts of Scotland and North Wales. And for the first time since the waters started rising a month ago, densely populated urban areas were engulfed.

Last night David Cameron tweeted: “My thoughts are with people whose homes have been flooded. I’ll chair a Cobra [emergency committee] call tomorrow to ensure everything is being done to help.” He will visit affected areas tomorrow. Flood waters were predicted to keep rising last night and police were going door-to-door in Salford, Greater Manchester, urging people to evacuate their homes with just what they could carry. Ominously, a severe flood warning was also issued for Leeds city centre, due to the immediate ‘”risk to life in the area”. It came after a day of extraordinary scenes when rivers and waterways broke their banks and continued downpours caused flooding on already saturated ground.

Two streets in Leeds city centre turned into ‘canals’ after the River Aire reached its highest ever level and burst its banks. Elsewhere astonishing pictures emerged of sunken towns which residents said had begun to resemble ‘mini-Venices’. One West Yorkshire town, Todmorden, was cut off completely. Earlier, rescuers on an inflatable dinghy pulled an elderly man from the sunroof of his Land Rover, which drifted through the Yorkshire town of Mytholmroyd almost completely submerged. He was said to be “seconds from drowning” when saved. As Ministers spoke of unprecedented rainfall, people in the worst hit areas were urged to “flee for their lives”. Flood alerts were issued across Greater Manchester where police chiefs told residents to “protect your property by elevating valuable and sentimental items”.

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We’ll see much more of this kind of loose cannon stuff across Europe next year.

Czech President: Migrants Should Be Fighting Isis, Not ‘Invading’ Europe (AFP)

The Czech president, Milos Zeman, has called the movement of refugees into Europe “an organised invasion” and declared that young men from Syria and Iraq should stay in their countries to “take up arms” against Isis. “I am profoundly convinced that we are facing an organised invasion and not a spontaneous movement of refugees,” said Zeman in his Christmas message to the Czech Republic. Compassion was “possible” for refugees who were old or sick, and for children, he said but not for young men who should be back home fighting against jihadists. “A large majority of the illegal migrants are young men in good health and single. I wonder why these men are not taking up arms to go fight for the freedom of their countries against the Islamic State,” said Zeman, who was elected Czech president in early 2013.

Fleeing their war-torn countries only served to strengthen Isis, he said. The 71-year-old evoked a comparison to the situation of Czechs who left their country when it was under Nazi occupation from 1939 to 1945. It is not the first time Zeman has taken a controversial stance on Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War II. In November the leftwinger attended an anti-Islam rally in Prague in the company of far-right politicians and a paramilitary unit. The country’s prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, who has previously criticised the head of state’s comments, said Zeman’s Christmas message was based “on prejudices and his habitual simplification of things”. Migrants are not the only target of Zeman’s caustic remarks: he said last week that his country should introduce the euro on the first day after indebted Greece’s departure from the common currency, causing Athens to recall its ambassador.

He also said he was “very disappointed” that talks in the summer to eject Greece from the euro did not come to fruition. Both the Czech Republic and Slovakia, former communist countries that joined the European Union in 2004, have rejected the EU’s system of quotas for distributing refugees amid the current migrant wave. More than a million migrants and refugees reached Europe in 2015, mainly fleeing violence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The crisis has strained ties within the European Union, with mostly newer members taking a firm anti-migrant stance and some northern countries like Germany welcoming those fleeing war. Few asylum seekers have chosen to stay in the Czech Republic, a Nato member nation of 10.5 million people. Regardless, a recent survey showed that nearly 70% of Czechs oppose the arrival of migrants and refugees in their country.

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Wonder how many refugees were rescued in total. We kind of know how many were not.

German Navy Says It Rescued Over 10,000 Refugees In 2015 (AFP)

Germany’s navy said Saturday it rescued over 10,000 migrants at sea this year, including more than 500 people off the coast of Libya on Christmas day. “The German navy’s ships rescued 10,528 people since May 7, 2015,” when its fleet launched a rescue operation, the Bundeswehr said on its website. One ship went into action at Christmas on Friday some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Libyan coast, rescuing 539 people on board three inflatable boats and a wooden vessel. A frigate and a patrol boat from Italy as well as a Maltese tanker assisted in the latest rescue operation. Two German ships are taking part in the European Union’s rescue Operation Sophia. The UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said this week more than one million migrants and refugees reached Europe this year, most of them by sea. Nearly 3,700 people drowned or went missing at sea, the IOM said.

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More drownings.

Flow Of Refugees To Greek Islands Continues Over Christmas (Kath.)

The flow of refugees and migrants to and from the Greek islands continued over the Christmas holidays. Some 6,000 people arrived at the port of Piraeus on Christmas Day and Boxing Day on ferries from Lesvos, Chios and Samos. Nevertheless, thousands of refugees and migrants remained on the islands, Lesvos in particular. According to authorities, there were some 6,000 people at the Moria registration camp and another 1,500 at the Kara Tepe camp. Also, on Saturday the International Red Cross opened a new reception center in the area of Eftalou. The center is designed to host around 2,000 people while they wait to leave the island. On Christmas Day, authorities found two drowned migrants, one off Leros and the other near Samos. The coast guard and Frontex also rescued 265 migrants and arrested two suspected traffickers.

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Dec 262015
 
 December 26, 2015  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »


Andreas Feininger Production B-17 heavy bomber at Boeing plant, Seattle Dec 1942

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

Because of Pax Americana. Long expose by Stockman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China Says AIIB Up And Running Early In The New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Deals with deals that are almost a decade old.

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

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

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Ghost town.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dec 062015
 
 December 6, 2015  Posted by at 10:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Yannis Behrakis Iranian immigrant at Greece-FYROM border 2015

Swiss To Vote On Private Banks’ License To Create -Electronic- Money (FT)
Finland Plans To Give Every Citizen An €800 A Month Basic Income (Quartz)
These Ain’t Your Grandfather’s “Jobs” (David Stockman)
ECB Lowered Stimulus Ambitions After Hitting Opposition (Reuters)
Paralysed OPEC Pleads For Allies As Oil Price Crumbles (AEP)
China’s Consumers Have a Long Way to Go (BBG)
Pursuing Transparency, Pope Orders External Audit Of Vatican Assets (Reuters)
Where Uruguay Leads, The Rest Of The World Struggles To Keep Up (Guardian)
US Puts Request For Bigger Turkish Air Role On Hold (Reuters)
Germany ‘Plans To Prevent Sharing Intelligence’ With NATO Ally Turkey (Telegraph)
Greek Government Unveils Plan To Set Up Five Refugee Hotspots (Kath.)
EU Welcomes Greek Request For Border Aid (Kath.)
Witnessing The Migration Crisis (Yannis Behrakis)

101 revisited.

Swiss To Vote On Private Banks’ License To Create -Electronic- Money (FT)

“Stop banks from creating money”? That sounds like killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Aren’t private banks the reason why Switzerland has always been so rich? They don’t mean creating money in that sense. What do they mean then? They mean it literally. That’s not any clearer. Think about it this way. Do private banks have their own money printing presses so that they can mint coins and print banknotes at will? Of course not. That would be counterfeiting. Only the central bank can do that. Right. But you don’t have most of your money in physical cash, do you? No – are you crazy? It could get stolen, or I’d lose it, or my dog would eat it. Most of it is in the bank. Exactly. Most of what we think of as “money” is really a bank deposit, not cash. The UK has £70bn of notes and coins in existence – but more than £1.5tn sitting in deposits.

OK, so most money isn’t physical. Welcome to the modern world. Now are you going to explain what this Swiss initiative is about? It’s all related. As you say, of course banks don’t have their own printing presses. But what if they can create electronic money at will? That would be crazy. Just like physical counterfeiting, except they could forge much more money in much less time. And without getting ink on their fingers. Well, that’s what this Swiss referendum is about. Wait — you’re not trying to tell me banks are actually doing this, are you? That’s just what I’m telling you. Where do you think the deposits come from? Er, I never thought about it. I suppose when people go to the teller and deposit a cheque or a wad of cash, it all adds up over time. A bit hard to make £70bn add up to £1.5tn, even with a lot of time.

I see what you’re saying. So where do the deposits come from? Deposits are created from the loans banks make to customers. You’ve got that the wrong way round, no? Banks lend out the deposits they get. No. No? No. The bank decides whether it wants to make you a loan. If it does, then it simply adds the loan to its balance sheet as an asset and increases the balance in your deposit account by the same amount (that’s a liability for them). Voilà: new electronic money has been created. Just like that, at the stroke of a pen? These days, it’s more with a click of the mouse, but you have the right idea. Well, I never. I obviously realised that when I deposit money in the bank, they don’t store it in their vaults. I mean, I get how fractional reserve banking works — the banks hold deposits that are much larger than what they keep in reserve. But I assumed the amount of deposits customers put in determines how much the banks can lend out.

What do the campaigners want instead? To make electronic money issuance the prerogative of the state, like with physical cash. State e-money. People would keep deposits in the central bank, and private banks would only offer investment products or deposits backed fully by central bank reserves. It’s often called “narrow” or “limited-purpose” banking.

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We’re finally waking up. Basic income gets spent into domestic economy, all stimulus all the way.

Finland Plans To Give Every Citizen An €800 A Month Basic Income (Quartz)

The Finnish government is currently drawing up plans to introduce a national basic income. A final proposal won’t be presented until November 2016, but if all goes to schedule, Finland will scrap all existing benefits and instead hand out 800 euros per month—to everyone. It sounds far-fetched, but it’s looking likely that Finland will carry through with the idea. Whereas several Dutch cities will introduce basic income next year and Switzerland is holding a referendum on the subject, there is strongest political and public support for the idea in Finland. A poll commissioned by the government agency planning the proposal, the Finnish Social Insurance Institution or KELA, showed that 69% support (link in Finnish) a basic income plan.

Prime minister Juha Sipilä is in favor of the idea and he’s backed by most of the major political parties. “For me, a basic income means simplifying the social security system,” he says. But for those outside Finland, the plan raises two obvious questions: Why is this a good idea, and how will it work? It may sound counterintuitive, but the proposal is meant to tackle unemployment. Finland’s unemployment rate rose to 11.8% in May (though it was back down to 8.7% in October) and a basic income would allow people to take on low-paying jobs without personal cost. At the moment, a temporary job results in lower welfare benefits, which can lead to an overall drop in income. Previous experiments have shown that universal basic income can have a positive effect.

Everyone in the Canadian town of Dauphin was given a stipend from 1974 to 1979, and though there was a drop in working hours, this was mainly because men spent more time in school and women took longer maternity leaves. Meanwhile, when thousands of unemployed people in Uganda were given unsupervised grants of twice their monthly income, working hours increased by 17% and earnings increased by 38%. One of the major downsides, of course, is the cost of handing out money to every single citizen. Liisa Hyssälä, director general of Kela, has said that the plan will save the government millions. But, as Bloomberg calculated, giving €800 of basic income to the population of 5.4 million every month would cost €52.2 billion a year. The government expects to have 49.1 billion euros revenue in 2016.

Another serious consideration is that some people may be worse off under the plan. As the proposal hasn’t been published yet, it’s not yet known exactly who will lose out. But those who currently receive housing support or disability benefits could conceivably end up with less under national basic income, since the plan calls for scrapping existing benefits. And as national basic income would only give a monthly allowance to adults, a single mother of three could struggle to support herself compared to, for example, a neighbor with the same government support but no children and a part-time job.

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Excellent graphs from Stockman.

These Ain’t Your Grandfather’s “Jobs” (David Stockman)

This “Jobs Friday” ritual is getting truly absurd. So it can’t be repeated often enough: These artifacts of the BLS’ seasonally maladjusted, trend-cycle modeled, heavily imputed, endlessly crafted and five times revised “jobs” numbers have precious little to do with the real health of the main street economy. Indeed, the six-year run of job gains since early 2010 primarily represents “born-again jobs” and part-time gigs. In economic terms, they do not remotely resemble your grandfather’s industrial era economy when a “job” lasted 40 to 50 hours per week all year round; and most of what the BLS survey counted as “jobs” paid a living wage. Not now. Not even close.

The Wall Street fools who bought the dip still another time on Friday do not have the slightest clue that the US jobs market is actually quite dead. The chart below is also generated by the BLS but it measures actual labor hours employed, not job slots. It self-evidently puts the lie to the establishment survey fiction upon which the robo-machines and day traders are so slavishly focussed.

The fact is, labor hour inputs utilized by the US nonfarm business economy have “grown” at the microscopic annualized rate of 0.08% since the turn of the century. That’s as close as you can get to zero even by the standards of sell-side hair splitters, and it compares to a 2.02% CAGR during the 17 years period to Q3 2000. So let’s see. Prior to the era of full frontal money printing, labor utilization grew 25X faster than it has since the turn of the century. Yet the casino gamblers bought Friday’s more of the same jobs report hand-over-fist—-apparently on the premise that this giant monetary fraud is actually working. Not a chance. The contrast between the two periods shown in the chart could not be more dramatic. Nor do these contrasting trends encompass a mere short-term aberration.

The death of the US jobs market has been underway for a decade and one-half! Even in the establishment survey itself, the evidence of a failing jobs market is there if you separate the gigs and the low-end service jobs from the categories which represent more traditional full-pay, full-time employment. The latter includes energy and mining, construction, manufacturing, the white collar professions like architects, accountants and lawyers and the finance, insurance and real estate sectors. It also includes designers and engineers, information technology, transportation and warehousing and about 11 million full-time government employees outside of the education sector.

We have labeled this as the “breadwinner economy” because the work week averages just under 40 hours in these categories and annualized pay rates average just under $50k. These kinds of family supporting jobs were what the Labor Department bureaucrats had in mind back in the 1930s and 1940s when the current employment surveys and reports were originally fashioned.

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Germany 1 – Italy 0.

ECB Lowered Stimulus Ambitions After Hitting Opposition (Reuters)

Hints by Mario Draghi ahead of last Thursday’s ECB rate meeting that the euro zone may need another big injection of money backfired, stiffening the resolve of more conservative central bankers who criticized him for raising expectations too high, sources familiar with the discussions said. The ECB President and his chief economist Peter Praet stoked expectations with dovish speeches in the weeks before the meeting but the ECB’s Governing Council concluded that markets needed to be disappointed this time because the economic outlook has improved and new inflation forecasts were not as bad as feared, the sources said.

A pending U.S. Federal Reserve rate hike also factored into the decision, though to a lesser extent, as policymakers were concerned that a big move by the ECB would weaken the euro further and possibly force the Fed to delay its own action on rates to prevent a too rapid divergence of policy between the world’s top two central banks. The ECB cut its deposit rate on Thursday and extended its monthly asset buys by six months to boost stubbornly low inflation and lift growth. But the moves were considered by markets to be the bare minimum in the light of the bank’s previous signals.

One source with direct knowledge of the situation interpreted Draghi’s public stance ahead of the meeting as trying to pressure the Governing Council to take bigger action. “Draghi raised expectations too high, on purpose, and attempted to paint the Governing Council into a corner,” the source said. “This was problematic and he was criticized for this by several governors in private.” Unlike last year, when opponents of quantitative easing made their stance public before the decision, the hawks mostly worked behind the scenes.

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You first! Nobody can afford to cut production. It’s what happens in deflation.

Paralysed OPEC Pleads For Allies As Oil Price Crumbles (AEP)

The Opec cartel is to continue flooding the world with crude oil despite a chronic glut and the desperate plight of its own members, demanding that Russia, Kazakhstan and other producers join forces before there can be output cuts. Brent prices tumbled almost $2 a barrel to $42.90 as traders tried to make sense of the fractious Opec gathering in Vienna, which ended with no production target and no guidance on policy. It reeked of paralysis. Prices are poised to test lows last seen at the depths of the financial crisis in early 2009. The shares of oil companies plummeted in London, and US shale drillers went into freefall on Wall Street. “Lots of people said Opec was dead. Opec itself has just confirmed it,” said Jamie Webster, head of HIS Energy.

Venezuela’s oil minister, Eulogio del Pino, pushed for a cut in output of 1.5m barrels a day (b/d) to clear the market, describing the failure to act as calamitous. “We are really worried,” he said. Abdallah Salem el-Badri, Opec’s chief, conceded that the cartel’s strategy has been reduced to an impotent waiting game, hoping that the pain of low prices will lure Russia and other global producers to the table. “We are looking for negotiations with non-Opec, and trying to reach a collective effort,” he said. Mr el-Badri said there have been “positive” noises from some but none is yet ready to lock arms and create a sort of super-Opec, able to dictate prices. “Everybody is trying to digest how they can do it,” he said.

The cartel’s 12 members postponed a decision on their next step until next year, once they know how much oil Iran will sell after sanctions are lifted. “The picture is not really clear at this time, and we are going to look one more time in June,” he said. “Everybody is worried about prices. Nobody is happy,” said Iraq’s envoy, Adel Abdul Mahdi. His country has lost 42pc of its fiscal revenues and is effectively bankrupt. Foreign companies are owed billions and have begun to freeze projects. The government cannot afford to pay its own security forces and is cutting vital funding for anti-ISIS militias, raising fears that the political crisis could spin out of control. Helima Croft, from RBC Capital Markets, said four of the frontline states in the fight against ISIS are now being destabilized by the crash in oil prices, including Algeria and Libya.

Opec leaders will now have to grit their teeth and prepare for a long siege, testing their social welfare models to the point of destruction. Even Saudi Arabia is pushing through drastic austerity measures. Deutsche Bank said the fiscal break-even cost needed to balance the budget is roughly $120 for Bahrain, $100 for Saudi Arabia, $90 for Nigeria and Venezuela, and $80 for Russia, based on current exchange rate effects. “It is going to be 12 to 18 months before they see any relief,” David Fyfe, from the oil trading group Gunvor, said. “We think oil stocks will continue to build in the first half of next year and we don’t think they will draw down to normal levels until well into 2017.”

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Not a great article. But the underlying idea is important: China will not be saved by consumers. “According to the World Bank, Chinese household consumption added up to $3.4 trillion in 2013, compared with $11.5 trillion in the U.S. and $10.3 trillion in the European Union.”

China’s Consumers Have a Long Way to Go (BBG)

The Chinese growth miracle of the past few decades has been driven by investing and exporting, not consumer spending. Lately, though, we’re hearing a lot about a “great rebalancing” in which domestic buyers of cars, phones, clothes, health-care and other consumer goods and services come to play a much bigger role in China’s economy. This would be swell – both for China and for a global economy that’s also in need of some balance. Before we all get excited about it, though, it’s important to remember just how unbalanced China’s economy is. In 2011, the latest year for which comparative data is available, [consumption] represented 28% of real GDP, compared with 76% in the United States, 67% in Brazil, 60% in Japan, 59% in Germany, and 52% in India. That’s from “Sold in China: Transitioning to a Consumer Led Economy,” a report released this summer by the Demand Institute, a joint venture of the Conference Board and Nielsen. So is this:

The shrinking of consumption’s share of China’s economy started well before 1999 – in 1952, consumption made up 76% of economic activity. It can’t keep going down forever, and all signs are that its decline has halted since 2011. But the likeliest path forward, again according the Demand Institute, will be one in which consumption stays stuck at a relatively low %age of GDP. That’s based on an examination of economic development in 167 countries from 1950 to 2011, which found that: Countries whose underlying economic characteristics were similar to China’s generally saw consumption remain flat relative to GDP for a considerable period after it stopped falling.

What that translates to, according to yet another Demand Institute report released last month, is a forecast of aggregate consumer spending growth in China of 5.2% a year for the next 10 years. That’s much faster than the growth in consumer demand we’re likely to see in any other major economy during that period – so multinational corporations with stuff to sell will continue to be very interested in the place. But that growth will remain concentrated in a relatively small number of cities, a lot of the money will be spent on domestically produced services and the growth probably won’t be enough for China to serve as a major engine of global consumer demand just yet.

It certainly hasn’t taken on that role this year. Reports Bloomberg News: “China’s trade imbalance with the rest of the world is rising, with the nation’s current-account surplus swelling as a share of the global economy. Much of that has been driven by a rising merchandise trade excess – which is set for a record this year – thanks to sliding imports due in part to commodity-price declines that have walloped natural-resource providers.” Commodity prices will eventually stop declining. Chinese consumers will, barring an economic meltdown, keep increasing their spending. The rebalancing will continue. It just has a long, long way to go before the Chinese economy or the global economy is actually balanced.

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PwC? Really?

Pursuing Transparency, Pope Orders External Audit Of Vatican Assets (Reuters)

The Vatican said on Saturday it had ordered the first external audit of its assets as part of a drive by Pope Francis to bring transparency to its finances where millions of euros have gone unrecorded without any central oversight. Papal spokesman Federico Lombardi said auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers would start work immediately. The pope has promised to overhaul the Vatican’s murky financial management, which have been hit by repeated scandals in recent years, however he has met resistance from Church officials who want to maintain tight control over operations. Lombardi told reporters that the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy had called on PwC, the world’s second-largest audit firm by revenue, to review the Vatican’s consolidated financial statements, which includes assets, income and expenses.

The decision to work with one of the world’s top four auditors continued “the implementation of new financial management policies and practices in line with international standards,” he said. A Vatican financial statement this year revealed that Vatican departments had stashed away €1.1 billion of assets that were not declared on any balance sheet. The head of the economy secretariat, Cardinal George Pell, said last year that departments had “tucked away” millions of euros and followed “long-established patterns” in jealously managing their affairs without reporting to any central accounting office. Pope Francis picked Pell, an outsider from the English-speaking world, to oversee the Vatican’s often muddled finances after decades of control by Italian clergy. Since the pope’s election in March, 2013, the Vatican has enacted major reforms to adhere to international financial standards and prevent money laundering.

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Sunday feel good story.

Where Uruguay Leads, The Rest Of The World Struggles To Keep Up (Guardian)

As the world’s most powerful nations squabbled in Paris over the cost of small cuts to their fossil fuel use, Uruguay grabbed international headlines by announcing that 95% of its electricity already came from renewable energy resources. It had taken less than a decade to make the shift, and prices had fallen in real terms, said the head of climate change policy – a job that doesn’t even exist in many countries. This announcement came on top of a string of other transformations. In 2012 a landmark abortion law made it only the second country in Latin America, after Cuba, to give women access to safe abortions. The following year, gay marriage was approved, and then-president José Mujica shepherded a bill to legalise marijuana through parliament, insisting it was the only way to limit the influence of drug cartels.

What’s more, the country cracked down so strongly on cigarette advertising, in a successful bid to cut smoking rates, that it is now being sued by tobacco giant Philip Morris. Mujica himself became internationally famous for refusing to enjoy the trappings of presidential power – staying in his tiny house rather than moving into the official mansion – and giving away 90% of his salary. To those who have never taken much interest in South America’s second smallest country, Uruguay seems to be quietly reinventing itself as a beacon of innovation and progress. In fact, the changes fit into a long progressive tradition, stretching back over a century and a half, celebrated by Peruvian literary giant Mario Vargas Llosa in a recent tribute to Mujica’s initiatives on gay marriage and marijuana.

In the 1870s, Uruguay pioneered universal, free, secular education, the first Latin American country to make it compulsory for every child to attend school. That focus on education has its echoes in a modern-day policy to give every student a laptop. It was also one of the first countries in the region to give women the right to vote, and legalised divorce in 1907. That was decades ahead of other South American countries, and nearly a century ahead of nearby Chile, which only passed a similar law in 2004. “We must remember that Uruguay, in contrast with most Latin American countries, has a long and solid democratic tradition, to the extent that when it was a young nation it was known as ‘the Switzerland of America’ for the strength of its civil society, deep-rooted rule of law, and for armed forces which are respectful of the constitutional government,” said Vargas Llosa.

He traced many of those traditions back to the rule of early-20th-century president José Batlle y Ordóñez, who fought for workers’ rights and universal suffrage, abolished the death penalty and laid the foundations of the welfare state. The country’s level of education, cultural life and civic mindedness had made it “the envy of all the continent”, he added. Not all of Batlle’s successors were interested in his progressive legacy. The country came under the rule of a military dictatorship from 1973 to 1985, when generals jailed huge numbers of political prisoners and earned Uruguay the nickname “the torture chamber of Latin America”. But this century it has been returning to its political roots, to become a model not just for the region, but for the world.

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Lunacy for Washington to support Erdogan in fighting Kurds. They’re the ones most effective vs ISIS.

US Puts Request For Bigger Turkish Air Role On Hold (Reuters)

Since Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet last week, the United States has quietly put on hold a long-standing request for its NATO ally to play a more active role in the U.S.-led air war against Islamic State. The move, disclosed to Reuters by a U.S. official, is aimed at allowing just enough time for heightened Turkey-Russia tensions to ease. Turkey has not flown any coalition air missions in Syria against Islamic State since the Nov. 24 incident, two U.S. officials said. The pause is the latest complication over Turkey’s role to have tested the patience of U.S. war planners, who want a more assertive Turkish contribution – particularly in securing a section of border with Syria that is seen as a crucial supply route for Islamic State.

As Britain starts strikes in Syria and France ramps up its role in the wake of last month’s attacks on Paris by the extremist group, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter publicly appealed this week for a greater Turkish military role. The top U.S. priority is for Turkey to secure its southern border with Syria, the first official said. U.S. concern is focused on a roughly 60-mile stretch used by Islamic State to shuttle foreign fighters and illicit trade back and forth. But the United States also wants to see more Turkish air strikes devoted to Islamic State, even as Washington firmly supports Ankara’s strikes against Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), viewed by both countries as a terrorist group. Carter told a congressional hearing this week that most Turkish air operations have been targeted at the PKK rather than at Islamic State, but U.S. officials acknowledge some promising signs from Turkey, including moves to secure key border crossings.

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Turkey bombs NATO allies. Well, I’ll be darned…

Germany ‘Plans To Prevent Sharing Intelligence’ With NATO Ally Turkey (Telegraph)

Germany has reportedly drawn up plans to prevent sharing intelligence with its Nato ally Turkey as it prepares to support international air strikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). German Tornado aircraft are to commence reconnaissance flights over Syria and Iraq after the country’s parliament on Friday voted to deploy up to 1,200 military personnel. Highly unsual measures have been ordered to prevent Turkey getting access to intelligence from the flights, according to Spiegel magazine. The aircaft are expected to operate from Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey, and as Nato allies, the two countries would normally expect to share intelligence. But German commanders are concerned Turkey may use surveillance information from the flights to direct attacks against Kurdish forces allied to the West.

Ankara has been carrying out its own air strikes against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in south-east Turkey and Iraq as well as People’s Defence Units (YPG) in Syria. Two German officers have been given the sole task of ensuring no intelligence is shared with Turkey that could be used to target these groups, according to Spiegel. They will seek to ensure that German Tornados are not used for reconnaissance missions near the Turkish border. If the aircaft accidentally stray into the area, they will prevent the data from the flights being passed to Turkey. The German parliament on Friday approved plans to deploy up to 1,200 military personnel in support of the air strikes by 445 votes to 146. Six Tornados will be sent to the region together with a refuelling aircraft and a naval frigate.

The German forces will not take part in combat missions directly but will provide reconnaissance flights and force protection. The frigate is being deployed to support the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which is already in the region. The deployment is a break with Germany’s traditional reluctance to get involved in overseas wars because of its Nazi past. “It’s a question of responsibility for us to take action. We’ve watched for long enough,” Norbert Röttgen of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat party told fellow MPs in the debate before the vote. “Anyone who votes in favour is leading Germany into a war with completely unclear risks of escalation. Instead of combating Isil, you’re strengthening it,” Sahra Wagenknecht, of the opposition Left Party, said.

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Frontex will be the boss.

Greek Government Unveils Plan To Set Up Five Refugee Hotspots (Kath.)

Only days after requesting European Union help in tackling the ongoing migrant and refugee crisis, the Greek government has unveiled plans to set up five so-called hotspots to register and identify arrivals. The decision, which was published early Saturday in the Government Gazette, foresees the creation of screening centers on the eastern Aegean islands of Chios, Kos, Leros, Samos and Lesvos. Their operation will fall under the responsibility of the Southern and Northern Aegean regional authorities and will rely on Defense Ministry technical infrastructure and personnel.

The decision designates the areas which will host the registration centers on Lesvos, Leros and Kos. Details on the Samos and Chios facilities are to be announced in the coming days. Local authorities reacted to the news, saying they had been caught unawares by the government’s decision. In a statement on Saturday, [opposition party] New Democracy’s local organization on Kos said it opposed the creation of a hotspot on the island, describing it as a “catastrophic move for Greece’s fourth biggest tourism destination.”

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All it takes is 15 votes, and you’re occupied: “One option could be not to seek the member-state’s approval for deploying Frontex but activating it by a majority vote among all 28 members..”

EU Welcomes Greek Request For Border Aid (Kath.)

The European Commission on Friday welcomed a decision by the Greek government to request help from European Union-flagged patrols and emergency workers in monitoring its borders and screening asylum seekers fleeing conflict in the Middle East, amid reports that Brussels is mulling the formation of a special force to beef up the Schengen Area. Speaking in Brussels on Friday, Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said that Greece’s decisions to activate the bloc’s Civil Protection Mechanism, to allow EU agency Frontex to help with the registration of migrants on the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), and to trigger the Rapid Border Intervention Teams mechanism (RABIT) for extra patrols in the Aegean were “in the right direction.”

Schinas said that Greece, which is in the front line of Europe’s migration and refugee crisis, has pledged to set up another four so-called hot spots on an equal number of Aegean islands. A first hot spot is already in operation on Lesvos. “We hope to have concrete, tangible progress on the ground” before an EU summit on December 17 where migration will be on the agenda, he added. Greece’s decision came amid reported threats from several EU governments that the country risked being kicked out of the Schengen zone of passport-free travel because of its leaky frontier. The SYRIZA-led government on Friday sought to fend off criticism of foot-dragging, saying it was the EU that failed to meet repeated Greek calls for aid.

“Since May, Greece has persistently been asking for technical, technological and staffing help, and what it has received from Europe is far less than what was asked for,” Alternate Minister for European Affairs Nikos Xydakis told The Associated Press, adding that Greece needed 750 but initially received only 350 staff from Frontex. Xydakis said that about 100 more border guards had arrived in recent days. In comments Friday, European Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos sought to take some of the pressure off Athens, saying that Schengen should be made “part of the solution.” “It is precisely by applying the rules, by using the system, that we ensure the safety of our citizens. We should focus on strengthening and improving Schengen, not breaking it down.”

Meanwhile, reports on Friday said the EU is mulling a measure that would grant a special EU border force powers to step in and guard a member-state’s external frontier to protect Schengen. The EU’s executive is expected to propose the establishment of the unit on December 15. It is unclear if operations would require prior invitation from the member-state in question. “One option could be not to seek the member-state’s approval for deploying Frontex but activating it by a majority vote among all 28 members,” an unidentified EU official told Reuters. But such a move is not expected to sit well among member-states wary of potential sovereignty loss.

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Lovely pictures.

Witnessing The Migration Crisis (Yannis Behrakis)

I have been covering refugees and migrants for over 25 years. The difference this time was that migrants were arriving in my homeland. A couple of boats arrived every night. Everybody aboard was scared as they didn’t know how the police and locals would react. Small dinghies kept on arriving, even when the weather was rough. The Turkish coast was just 4-5 km away. To start with the migrants were scared, unsure. They arrived overnight because they were hiding. Each time they saw a photographer or a local they thought it was the police about to arrest them. Sometimes they got frightened and even “surrendered” occasionally, lifting their arms. I shouted welcome to reassure them. Once on land they started laughing and giving “high fives”. The atmosphere was charged with emotion.

Nobody expected there would be so many of them. The local community wasn’t prepared but most Greeks have some refugee blood and locals realised that these people only wanted to use Greece as a stepping-stone to move north. There were families including children and old women. So people thought, “We need to help them”. At the beginning of a situation like this there is always some mistrust among both migrants and locals. Soon migrants came to realise that people were friendly on the island of Kos and the police wouldn’t arrest them. Gradually they were more open and less fearful.

It was very quiet on the island before the tourist season started. I waited for two or three boats a night. I could hear the engines from the beaches. Moonlit nights can help a little to figure out where the boats are. In the mornings I went to the abandoned Captain Elias Hotel, where most of the migrants and refugees were put up, to take more pictures. The weather was good, so the migrants would camp on the beach, around the port or the town centre. The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR and Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors without Borders, also arrived on the island to help. The migrants queued outside the police station to get temporary documents. Once they had those papers they could then buy a ticket to Athens and continue north.

One day I was photographing a raft in Lesbos. I noticed a movement and thought somebody had jumped overboard. I focused using a long lens and saw the fin of a dolphin. The dolphin jumped almost in front of the raft. It was a truly magic moment. It was as if the dolphin was showing the way and welcoming the people on the raft. [..] The least challenging part of the assignment was taking pictures. The difficulty was the emotional involvement in the story. It was disappointing to see the same thing happening again and again.

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Jun 272015
 


Lewis Wickes Hine Workshop of Sanitary Ice Cream Cone Co., OK City 1917

A Gay-Rights Decision for the Ages (Bloomberg)
An End to the Blackmail (Alexis Tsipras)
Tsipras Calls Referendum on Greek Debt Deal for July 5 (Bloomberg)
An Alternative Version Of How The Greek Crisis Could Have Played Out (Whelan)
“With The Euro, We’ll Forever Have A Noose Around Our Necks” (WSJ)
Creditors To Ringfence Greek Economy If Tsipras Refuses To Give In (Guardian)
Why It Won’t Be a Default If Greece Misses IMF Payment Next Week (Bloomberg)
Is The Greek Crisis Too Big For Europe’s Most Powerful Woman? (Augstein)
Tsipras Rejects Bailout Extension, “Won’t Be Blackmailed” (ZH)
Paul Craig Roberts: Greek Government May Be Assassinated If They Pivot East (KWN)
There Will Be No “Grexit” (Jim Rickards)
Greece Will Survive, But Will The Euro Or The EU? (MarketWatch)
Euro-Area Bank Lending Grows at Fastest Pace Since February 2012 (Bloomberg)
China Politburo Opines On Market Crash: “Black Friday Massacre” (Zero Hedge)
For The First Time Ever, QE Has Officially Failed (Zero Hedge)
Dutch City Utrecht To Try Out Universal, Unconditional ‘Basic Income’ (Ind.)
Half Of Europe’s Electricity Set To Be From Renewables By 2030 (Guardian)

Wow, look at that. Even Bloomberg manages to get it right. Congrats to all my gay friends- happy to say they are plentiful. Big day no matter how you look at it.

A Gay-Rights Decision for the Ages (Bloomberg)

This one is for the ages. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court announcing a right to gay marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges will take its place alongside Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia in the pantheon of great liberal opinions. The only tragic contrast with those landmarks in the history of equality is that both of those were decided unanimously. Friday’s gay-rights opinion went 5-4, with each of the court’s conservative justices writing a dissent of his own. Eventually, legal equality for gay people will seem just as automatic and natural as legal equality for blacks. But history will recall that when decided, Obergefell didn’t reflect national consensus, much less the consensus of the court itself.

Kennedy’s opinion offered two different yet interrelated constitutional rationales, one focused on the institution of marriage, the other on the equality of gay people. First, he made the case that marriage is a fundamental liberty right under the due process clause of the Constitution, which says no one may be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Applying what’s known as “substantive” due process analysis, Kennedy held that the government may not infringe the liberty to marry absent a compelling interest and along narrowly tailored lines to achieve that interest. Because no such interest exists, gay people as well as straight people must have the right to marry. This same approach was used by the court in the Loving case, which struck down laws barring interracial marriage.

It was symbolically important for Kennedy to connect same-sex marriage to marriage between the races. Kennedy’s favorite concept of dignity figured large in the finding that marriage is a fundamental right. “The lifelong union of a man and a woman always has promised nobility and dignity to all persons, without regard to their station in life.” The reference to dignity connected the decision to Kennedy’s earlier gay-rights decisions, which featured the concept centrally. It is now an important part of our constitutional law — no matter that it doesn’t appear in the Constitution. Another crucial feature of the opinion was Kennedy’s recognition that marriage has evolved over time. This acknowledgement counteracted the conservatives’ emphasis on tradition in their dissents.

It also resonated with the doctrine of due process, which looks to evolving tradition to identify the content of protected liberty. When it came to equality, Kennedy avoided announcing that laws burdening gay people would be subject to especially strict scrutiny, like laws burdening racial minorities, or even what’s called intermediate scrutiny, like laws differentially burdening the sexes. Instead, he spoke of the “synergy” between due process and equality. In legal terms, this almost certainly meant that once a fundamental right is invoked, any distinction between people for any reason requires strict scrutiny – a longtime doctrinal norm.

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Integral text. Worth the space.

An End to the Blackmail (Alexis Tsipras)

Televized speech, Athens, June 27, 2015, 1 AM local time. For six months now the Greek government has been waging a battle in conditions of unprecedented economic suffocation to implement the mandate you gave us on January 25. The mandate we were negotiating with our partners was to end the austerity and to allow prosperity and social justice to return to our country. It was a mandate for a sustainable agreement that would respect both democracy and common European rules and lead to the final exit from the crisis. Throughout this period of negotiations, we were asked to implement the agreements concluded by the previous governments with the Memoranda, although they were categorically condemned by the Greek people in the recent elections. However, not for a moment did we think of surrendering, that is to betray your trust.

After five months of hard bargaining, our partners, unfortunately, issued at the Eurogroup the day before yesterday an ultimatum to Greek democracy and to the Greek people. An ultimatum that is contrary to the founding principles and values of Europe, the values of our common European project. They asked the Greek government to accept a proposal that accumulates a new unsustainable burden on the Greek people and undermines the recovery of the Greek economy and society, a proposal that not only perpetuates the state of uncertainty but accentuates social inequalities even more. The proposal of institutions includes: measures leading to further deregulation of the labor market, pension cuts, further reductions in public sector wages and an increase in VAT on food, dining and tourism, while eliminating tax breaks for the Greek islands.

These proposals directly violate the European social and fundamental rights: they show that concerning work, equality and dignity, the aim of some of the partners and institutions is not a viable and beneficial agreement for all parties but the humiliation of the entire Greek people. These proposals mainly highlight the insistence of the IMF in the harsh and punitive austerity and make more timely than ever the need for the leading European powers to seize the opportunity and take initiatives which will finally bring to a definitive end the Greek sovereign debt crisis, a crisis affecting other European countries and threatening the very future of European integration.

Fellow Greeks, right now weighs on our shoulders the historic responsibility towards the struggles and sacrifices of the Greek people for the consolidation of democracy and national sovereignty. Our responsibility for the future of our country. And this responsibility requires us to answer the ultimatum on the basis of the sovereign will of the Greek people. A short while ago at the cabinet meeting I suggested the organization of a referendum, so that the Greek people are able to decide in a sovereign way. The suggestion was unanimously accepted.

Tomorrow the House of Representatives will be urgently convened to ratify the proposal of the cabinet for a referendum next Sunday, July 5 on the question of the acceptance or the rejection of the proposal of institutions. I have already informed about my decision the president of France and the chancellor of Germany, the president of the ECB, and tomorrow my letter will formally ask the EU leaders and institutions to extend for a few days the current program in order for the Greek people to decide, free from any pressure and blackmail, as required by the constitution of our country and the democratic tradition of Europe.

Fellow Greeks, to the blackmailing of the ultimatum that asks us to accept a severe and degrading austerity without end and without any prospect for a social and economic recovery, I ask you to respond in a sovereign and proud way, as the history of the Greek people commands. To authoritarianism and harsh austerity, we will respond with democracy, calmly and decisively. Greece, the birthplace of democracy will send a resounding democratic response to Europe and the world. I am personally committed to respect the outcome of your democratic choice, whatever that is. And I’m absolutely confident that your choice will honor the history of our country and send a message of dignity to the world.

In these critical moments, we all have to remember that Europe is the common home of peoples. That in Europe there are no owners and guests. Greece is and will remain an integral part of Europe and Europe is an integral part of Greece. But without democracy, Europe will be a Europe without identity and without a compass. I invite you all to display national unity and calm in order to take the right decisions. For us, for future generations, for the history of the Greeks. For the sovereignty and dignity of our people.

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Still no debt relief proposed, though troika has knpwn all along that would break any deal. Not in good faith.

Tsipras Calls Referendum on Greek Debt Deal for July 5 (Bloomberg)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called a referendum on the terms offered by creditors for the latest aid package, saying they’re seeking to humiliate the Greek people who must provide a democratic response. The vote will take place on July 5, Tsipras said in a televised address in the early hours of Saturday. A Greek government official said the country’s banks will open as normal on Monday and no capital controls are planned, asking not to be identified in line with policy. Tsipras said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi have been informed of the plan, and he’ll request an extension of Greece’s existing bailout, due to end June 30, by a few days to permit the vote. Further details weren’t immediately clear.

Later on Saturday, European finance ministers were due to discuss details of their latest proposal, which would unlock €15.5 billion and extend Greece’s program through November, in return for a commitment to pension cuts and higher taxes that Tsipras opposes. While German Chancellor Angela Merkel touted the five-month bailout extension as “very generous,” Tsipras compared its terms to an “ultimatum” and “blackmail.” It doesn’t include the debt relief that his government seeks.

Tsipras came to power with a mandate to end the austerity imposed by Greece’s creditors while keeping the country in the euro. By calling a referendum on the latest EU offer, his government “will argue that it does not have the mandate to sign it without consulting the Greek people,” said Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “I am convinced that such a referendum would be comfortably won,” he said. “However, it will be risky as the uncertainty is likely to see deposits flee and deposit controls imposed until the result.” Failure to reach a Greek deal also puts at risk a payment due June 30 to the International Monetary Fund.

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Must read.

An Alternative Version Of How The Greek Crisis Could Have Played Out (Whelan)

The Grexit scenario relies crucially on the Eurozone not having a proper lender of last resort or a functioning banking union. It is easy to imagine an alternative scenario to the current one. Consider the following alternative version of how the Greek crisis could have played out. As tension builds up in Greece prior to the Greek election in early 2015, Mario Draghi assures depositors in Greece that the ECB has fully tested the Greek banks and they do not have capital shortfalls. For this reason, their money is safe. Draghi announces that the ECB will thus provide full support to the Greek banks even if the government defaults on its debts, subject to those banks remaining solvent.

Eurozone governments agree that, should Greek banks require recapitalisation to maintain solvency, the European Stabilisation Mechanism (ESM) will provide the capital in return for an ownership stake in the banks. Provided with assurances of liquidity and solvency support, there is no bank run as Greek citizens believe there banking system is safe even if the government’s negotiations with creditors go badly. The ECB stays out of the negotiations for a new creditor deal for Greece (because they are not a political organisation and are not involved in directly loaning money to the government) and its officials assure everyone that the integrity of the common currency is in no way at stake. There are no legal impediments to this scenario.

Despite the constant blather from ECB officials about how it is constantly constrained by its own persnikety rules, it is well known that the ECB can stretch these rules pretty much as far as it likes. Supporting banks that you have deemed solvent is pretty standard central banking practice. So Draghi’s ECB could have provided full and unequivocal support to the Greek banks if they wished. They just chose not to. Similarly, procedures are in place for the ESM to invest directly in banks so a credible assurance of solvency could have been offered. Why did this not happen? Politics. European governments did not feel like providing assurances to Greek citizens about their banking system at the same time as their government was openly discussing the possibility of not paying back existing loans from European governments. Indeed, the ability to unleash the bank-driven Grexit mechanism has been the ace in the creditors’ pack all along.

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And you children too.

“With The Euro, We’ll Forever Have A Noose Around Our Necks” (WSJ)

CHALKIDA, Greece—This small city once had a major cement plant, timber mill and ironworks. All are gone. It is trying to develop a tourism industry, but there is no money to upgrade hotels or roads. This week, as with most places in Greece, it is waiting for the country’s future to be decided in meeting rooms in Brussels. Many here are urging Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras to stand firm in his battle with Europe. “He’s doing the right thing,” said Yannis Liopides, a retired electrician in a textile factory, sitting in a square on Thursday afternoon. The square abuts a promenade fronting onto a crystalline sea. “If Tsipras doesn’t do anything, the only ones left are Golden Dawn,” he said, referring to the far-right party whose leaders are on trial for allegedly running a criminal organization.

Mr. Tsipras may be isolated in negotiations with his fellow European leaders, but he still has plenty of friends here. Many Greeks—and many well beyond Mr. Tsipras’s coterie on the far left—have adopted a mood of resistance, forged by a perception that the country’s European creditors are pushing their demands too far. Europe and the IMF “want a country that is a colony,” said Thanasis Stratis, a cement-plant worker laid off in September. “They want to squeeze every last drop from it.” Chalkida sits at the neck of a narrow sea channel that separates a long island from the Greek mainland. Outside the city, patchwork fields lead to pine forests and on to rocky mountains. Along the coast is a port and shipyards and the hulking cement plant where Mr. Stratis once worked in the accounting department.

A big wave of industrialization came to Chalkida in the 1970s, said Mayor Christos Pagonis. Deindustrialization began in the 1990s and accelerated. “It has created thousands of unemployed,” said Mr. Pagonis, who puts the unemployment rate at more than 30%. The cement plant shut in spring 2013. The economic crisis had all but stopped construction activity in Greece. The plant was incurring losses, said a spokeswoman for Lafarge SA, which owned the facility. At the time, the company estimated that closure would save it €18 million ($20 million) a year. Prevented by Greek labor law from firing the 236 workers en masse, the French industrial company instead has laid them off in small chunks of a dozen or so each month. Only a few remain on the payroll to guard the now-quiet plant, where dogs nap in the sun and eucalyptus trees flutter in the sharp breeze.

Mr. Stratis and a handful of other plant workers man a kiosk in the city center, where they post the number of days the plant has been closed (821, as of Thursday). The names of the laid-off workers are stapled to the wall on 16 laminated sheets. Elias Koukouras, the union president and one of the few still remaining on the payroll, said Greece should quit the eurozone. “The country needs to be rebuilt. With the euro, we’ll forever have a noose around our necks.”

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Wishful fencing.

Creditors To Ringfence Greek Economy If Tsipras Refuses To Give In (Guardian)

Eurozone finance ministers and Greece’s creditors are to draw up plans for emergency measures to ringfence the country’s financial system unless the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, accepts the creditors’ terms for a five-month extension of Athens’ bailout on Saturday. Greece has its last chance to bow to the lenders’ terms following five months of stalemate at a meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels on Saturday afternoon, the fifth such session in 10 days. Fearing a financial implosion and social unrest in the event of the negotiations collapsing, the ministers are scheduled to draw up plans on Saturday that could involve Greece imposing capital controls, including curbs on ATM withdrawals, to stem a flood of funds out of the ailing Greek financial system.

“Game over”, said senior EU officials engaged in back-to-back meetings and negotiations for the past 10 days, as the brinkmanship in the Greek negotiations reached breaking point. If no deal is agreed at the weekend, Greece will miss a €1.6bn payment due to the International Monetary Fund next Tuesday, along with access to emergency support from the ECB that is keeping the Greek banking system afloat. The creditors have prepared a new funding offer, providing a lifeline to keep Greece afloat until the end of November by extending the bailout by five months and supplying €15.5bn in loans tied to budget cuts and tax rises.

As a two-day EU leaders’ summit ended in Brussels on Friday, several senior officials said Tsipras had to make a choice between accepting the creditors’ ultimatum or embarking on a road that could take Greece out of the euro. The chances of saving Greece were put at 50-50. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who talked privately with the Greek leader in Brussels on Friday morning, urged him to go the “extra step” and accept what she described as “a very generous offer”. She ruled out any more emergency summits on the Greek crisis and delivered a pointed message to Tsipras by stressing how, during the Cyprus bailout two years ago, Cypriot banks had to be closed “for a few days”, forcing the political leaders to come to Brussels to deal with the creditor institutions and the Eurogroup finance ministers in order to resolve the issue.

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The refrendum trumps all this. Let’s see of Lagarde has the guts to get even more political.

Why It Won’t Be a Default If Greece Misses IMF Payment Next Week (Bloomberg)

If Greece fails to pay the $1.7 billion it owes the IMF on Tuesday, it might be worse for the lender than for Greece. There’s a difference between missing a payment to bond investors, and to an official institution such as the IMF. Under the fund’s policy, countries that miss payments are deemed to be in “arrears.” The lender plans to stick to that language, rather than using the term “default,” IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said Thursday. The three major credit-rating companies have also said failure to pay the IMF wouldn’t constitute a formal default. So while the practical consequences for Greece may be temporary and small as long as the nation remains in talks with creditors for an accord, the blow to the IMF’s reputation as the world’s lender of last resort could be longer-lasting, making it tougher for the fund to win support for some future bailouts.

“There’s going to be severe scrutiny of interventions in countries that can either be considered wealthy in their own right or are part of a larger geo-economic structure like the euro zone,” Benn Steil, director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Non-payment would land Greece in a club of countries in arrears that currently includes Zimbabwe, Sudan and Somalia. The three nations have combined overdue payments of about $1.8 billion. The bottom line is that a missed IMF payment probably won’t trigger a wave of defaults on other loans provided by the country’s other official creditors or debt held by private investors. “Non-payment of the IMF is unlikely to cause a catastrophic cascade of other liabilities,” said Zoso Davies, a credit strategist at Barclays Plc in London.

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Good to see some incisive words on the disaster that’s fast enveloping Merkel and her legacy. Can you save that legacy in the next 7 days?

Is The Greek Crisis Too Big For Europe’s Most Powerful Woman? (Augstein)

nngela Merkel has recently been making much use of the old cliche, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. She has rolled it out to Alexis Tsipras and the Greek people, and David Cameron has heard it fall from her lips at least once – because, of course, she knows all too well that a Greek exit from the euro would hardly bolster Britain’s enthusiasm for the EU. The Greek crisis is the biggest challenge Merkel has had to face in the 10 years of her chancellorship. If Greece had to exit the single currency, Merkel would go down in history as the one politician who had the power to stop the EU’s decline but failed to do so. Some experts believe that to a large extent she contributed to the crisis: had she wholeheartedly backed a full bailout in 2010, the collapse of the Greek economy might have been averted.

Instead, Merkel involved the IMF– against the advice of her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. Those well disposed towards the German chancellor say she brought in the IMF to prevent Greece from putting the European commission under too much pressure. But at least as important is the less flattering interpretation: that the most powerful woman in Europe (if not the world) shied away from taking sole responsibility for Greece’s fate because sharing it out among as many players as possible was a way of protecting herself from any blame. Unlike her mentor, the former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, Merkel did not embark on her political career with much instinctive passion for the European project.

During her childhood in the GDR, her mother’s praise of the west coloured Merkel’s view of the world – but the west then was the United States. Realising that the EU is worth every political effort has been something she has had to learn. Added to the reticence with which Merkel approaches any momentous decision, it is easy to see why the German government did so little to nip the Greek crisis in the bud. Acting in unison, the German leader and her finance minister, the IMF, the European commission and the European Central Bank forced an austerity programme on the Greek people based on the principles of neoliberal economics. In the former eastern bloc states such shock therapy had succeeded in returning struggling economies to growth. However, it generated immense hardship and created profound social divisions: the well-off benefited because investments became cheaper, but the bulk of the population suffered.

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“We will not accept the proposal, as we said, we were waiting to bring us another proposal tomorrow.”

Tsipras Rejects Bailout Extension, “Won’t Be Blackmailed” (ZH)

Update: Protothema now says the Greek parliament will meet on Saturday and a referendum will be called as early as next week. Whether this is simply a last minute attempt to put pressure on EU finance ministers ahead of Saturday’s Eurogroup meeting remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: Tsipras is playing a dangerous game with the ECB ahead of a difficult week that could very well see the imposition of capital controls. Update: Protothema is reporting that Tsipras has confided in a fellow EU official that if the country’s creditors insist on sticking to pension and VAT red lines and if Friday’s bailout extension proposal (which the Greek government apparently views as a patronizing stopgap) is the troika’s final offer, he is prepared to call for snap elections. Via Protothema (Google translated):

“The dramatic developments of the last few hours, following the government’s move to reject the proposal of the creditors may conceal preparation for use of the popular verdict, a decision which is expected to be finalized in the next few hours if the lenders do not move from its rigid positions. According secure information protothema.gr, a few hours ago he Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras European leader confided in Eurozone member country adjacent friendly in Greece that the data are up to this moment is ready even to call early elections. This revelation of thought by the Greek prime minister to the foreign leader can be interpreted in two ways: Either Mr. Tsipras is ready for “plan B” if tomorrow the negotiation fails or leaked deliberately in order to exert indirect pressure on lenders to mitigate their requirements.

Upon completion of the meeting Mr. Tsipras with Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, the Greek side revealed that the Prime Minister pointed out to the leaders of Germany and France that he does not understand why the institutions insist on so hard measures. The prime minister insisted his decision to reject the proposal of the creditors for a five-month extension of the existing agreement with a funding of €15.5 billions. “The proposal does not cover us, because the financial part of barely meets the needs for payment of installments to the lenders, not help anywhere else the economy,” emphasized a close associate of Alexis Tsipras and adds: “We will not accept the proposal, as we said, we were waiting to bring us another proposal tomorrow.”

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And then there’s this.

Paul Craig Roberts: Greek Government May Be Assassinated If They Pivot East (KWN)

The Greek people and the Greek government have before them the unique opportunity to prevent World War III. All the Greek government needs to do, if the Greek people will get behind the government, is to default on the loans, resign from the EU and from NATO, and accept the deal that the Russians have offered them This would begin the unraveling of NATO. Very quickly Spain and Italy would follow. So southern Europe would desert NATO and so would Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic. NATO is the mechanism that Washington uses to cause conflict with Russia. So as the EU and NATO unravel, the ability of Washington to produce this conflict disappears. The Greek government understands that what is being imposed on Greece is not workable.

Since the (implementation of) austerity the Greek economy has declined by 27%. That’s a depression. And they keep hoping that the Germans wake up one day and realize that austerity is not the way you cure debt, and that the Greek government cannot agree to conditions that drive the Greek population into the ground. They (the troika) are talking about (a) genocide (of the Greek population). The Russians understand that Greece is being plundered by the West and met with the leader of Greece and offered him a deal. They said: “We’ll finance you. But not to pay off the German and Dutch banks, the New York hedge funds or the IMF”. [..]

The troika has no interest in the facts of the matter. They have another agenda that we already discussed. And the Greek government has to see that there is no interest on the part of the troika to resolve the issue. That does suggest they understand that the real solution is not open to them. That they will not be permitted to leave the EU and NATO and make this deal with the Russians. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have simply been told, ‘You can make a good show of it, but if you leave (the EU,) you are dead.’

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Don’t think this is Jim’s strongest field.

There Will Be No “Grexit” (Jim Rickards)

Let me spend a minute on what I call the game theoretic approach. It will show why this scenario is unlikely. Europe would like to tell Greece to just put up or shut up. And Greece would like to tell Europe that they’re not going to put up with any more austerity. But what you have to do is you have to think two or three moves ahead. You have to say, “What would that actually mean? How will that actually play out? If one side acts that way, what does it mean for their constituency? Or other people — will the rest of the European Union or, for that matter, Austrian, Dutch, or German citizens be on the receiving end of any bad consequences?” Some analysts claim “Greece leaving the euro is no big deal.” I couldn’t disagree more.

Think of such a situation three steps ahead from the Institutions’ perspective. It is true that Greece is not a big part of the world economy. It is true that if Greece’s GDP disappeared, that, by itself, it wouldn’t make that large of an impact on the world. But that’s not the danger. The danger is contagion. The danger is that dominos that start falling. Going back to 2007, 2008, I remember when JPMorgan rescued Bear Stearns in March 2008. Everyone said, “The crisis is over.” Then Fannie and Freddie were rescued in July of 2008, and everybody said, “The crisis is over.” And I kept looking at the situation and saying, “This crisis is not over. These are dominoes that are falling. Each one’s hitting the next one and taking the crisis further. We don’t have resolution.”

As I expected, Lehman Brothers was next, and then AIG behind that. Then we saw how bad things got between October of 2008 and the stock market bottom in March 2009 when investors lost 30 to 50 percent of their net worth on that market decline. Not just stocks, but real estate and other assets across the board. So I see these dominos falling if Greece goes. It’s not about Greece — it’s about Spain, Italy, Portugal, Ireland. It’s about the whole eurozone. It’s about confidence. That doesn’t mean that if Greece quits the euro, that the next day Italy says, “Oh, we’re quitting too.” I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is that markets will do the job for them.

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“This artificial construct foisted on a European public by a political elite far less idealistic than it pretended is wearing out its welcome.”

Greece Will Survive, But Will The Euro Or The EU? (MarketWatch)

Whatever happens with the bailout talks, the one certain thing is that Greece will survive, in or outside the eurozone. One of the most beautiful countries in the world in an incredibly strategic location, it will remain a world-class tourist destination and a sought-after ally. In the past century alone, the country has survived Nazi occupation, civil war, military dictatorship, and decades of a political class riven with corruption. It will survive European Union’s austerity policies, or Grexit, or default. So don’t cry for Greece — the country has been there for millennia and it’s not going anywhere. What is far less certain is whether the euro and the EU will survive. This artificial construct foisted on a European public by a political elite far less idealistic than it pretended is wearing out its welcome.

With its bloated and corrupt bureaucracy in Brussels, the craven submission of its political leaders to a dominant reunified Germany, its increasingly obvious disrespect for democratic principles, the EU has strayed far from the founders’ concept of a free-trade zone designed to contain a defeated Germany. It is not just about Greece — or Portugal, which MarketWatch columnist Matthew Lynn identified as the next country to fall, or Spain, or Italy — but about the whole concept of political and economic integration across the entire continent, the so-called “European project.” It is difficult to see how Britain can retreat from David Cameron’s rejection of the “ever closer union” enshrined in the EU treaties as he seeks to renegotiate the terms of his country’s membership.

And without this goal — or without Britain — how can the EU hope for anything but sliding back into a loose trade confederation? The British are so done with the EU, as the Greek debacle confirms all their worst fears about the ever closer union and the joint currency. Last week, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont celebrated his decision in 1991 to opt out of the euro in an op-ed titled “The euro was doomed from the start.” “The creation of the euro has been an error of historic dimensions and done great harm to the EU,” Lamont wrote in The Telegraph. The early decades of European integration helped bring prosperity to Europe, Lamont continued, as rich and poor countries alike benefited from lower tariffs and increased internal trade.

“Britain is extremely fortunate that it is not at the ‘heart of Europe,’” this Conservative politician wrote, “but it still needs a real, robust renegotiation to make sure it is protected against Europe’s dangerous dreams and visions.” Telegraph columnist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, a longtime opponent of monetary union, was even less measured in his comments on the bullying tactics employed against Greece by the EU, the ECB and the IMF. “Rarely in modern times have we witnessed such a display of petulance and bad judgment by those supposed to be in charge of global financial stability, and by those who set the tone for the Western world,” he railed in a column last week.

He took particular umbrage at the report from the Greek central bank — a component after all of the European System of Central Banks — that undermined the government’s negotiating position by warning that failure to reach a deal could lead to an “uncontrollable crisis.” The report, as it no doubt was intended to do, drove capital flight out of Greece to a new level, an unconscionable act of sabotage, Evans-Pritchard felt, by an institution that is supposed to be a “guardian of financial stability.” “If we want to date the moment when the Atlantic liberal order lost its authority — and when the European Project ceased to be a motivating historic force — this may well be it,” he concluded.

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The new normal doesn’t look very solid. If the recovery must be borrowed, then where are we?

Euro-Area Bank Lending Grows at Fastest Pace Since February 2012 (Bloomberg)

Euro-area banks expanded lending at the fastest pace in more than three years in a sign that credit is starting to support the region’s recovery. Bank loans to companies and households increased 0.5% in May from a year earlier, the most since February 2012, ECB data showed on Friday. Loans posted annual declines every month from May 2012 until February 2015. The ECB has deployed a range of unconventional tools to promote lending, including targeted long-term loans to banks and government-bond purchases that cut market borrowing costs. After deleveraging since the financial crisis, banks are showing an increasing appetite for supplying credit to the region’s fragile recovery.

“The lending aggregates to the real economy still have ample scope to improve in the months ahead, so financial conditions should support growth,” said Colin Bermingham, an economist at BNP Paribas SA in London. In June, euro-area banks took up almost €74 billion of targeted central-bank loans, known as TLTROs, that they can access if they increase lending to companies and households. Since the start of the program last year, the ECB has handed out €384 billion in total. The ECB’s measures have contributed to “more favorable borrowing conditions for firms and households,” ECB President Mario Draghi said in a press conference on June 3. “The effects of these measures are working their way through to the economy and are contributing to economic growth, a reduction in economic slack, and money and credit expansion.”

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Monday will be interesting.

China Politburo Opines On Market Crash: “Black Friday Massacre” (Zero Hedge)

[..] as Xinhua reports (via Google Translate): Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets plunged more than 7% today fall 4200, over 1500 stocks daily limit. Will this “roller coaster” market stop there? Will history continue to repeat itself? How much further will it fall after the massacre on the A-share stock market day and after. In this rampant speculation, full of legends of the stock market wealth, wealth and opportunities and risks coexist forever; while everyone wants to share the wealth with this situation in the stock market to make a profit, we hope investors can have more risk awareness!

Local analysts are much more concerned… “It’s a do-or-die moment for all investors,” said Dong Jun, a Shanghai-based hedge fund manager. “If retail investors become skittish now, panic selling will continue next week.” “I think this is a very dangerous moment,” says Anne Stevenson-Yang of J Capital Research, the Beijing-based research firm. She’s right. Not only are there the technical liquidity factors she cites, but anything could further rock confidence. “The tide is going to go out, and there’s going to be a lot of people without their swimming trunks on,” Ewen Cameron Watt, chief investment strategist at BlackRock — which oversees $4.8 trillion as the world’s biggest money manager — said in an interview on Bloomberg Television in London. “We’re seeing it deflating quite rapidly.”

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Unofficially, it has done nothing else.

For The First Time Ever, QE Has Officially Failed (Zero Hedge)

Over two years ago in “Desperately Seeking $11.2 Trillion In Collateral”, Zero Hedge first warned that as a result of relentless central bank monetization of debt, liquidity in bond markets would decline at an ever faster pace even as, paradoxically, these same central banks added “phantom liquidity” (the topic of another post from two years ago) to equity markets in their attempt to artificially inflate stock prices to record levels without fundamental justification. Sure enough, with the usual 2-5 year delay, in 2015 the primary financial topic sweeping the mainstream financial media and all the “serious” pundits, is the collapse in bond market liquidity. Some, the more naive ones, blame regulation.

Others, such as iconic Citigroup credit strategist Matt King strategist explained – once again – that Dodd Frank is a negligible reason for the total plunge in bond market liquidity which is the result of, just as we warned, central bank intervention and the relentless ascent of algorithmic trading. But even as everyone is finally arguing about the cause of the plunging bond market liquidity and has no clue how to resolve this biggest nightmare for what once used to be the deepest and most liquidity of markets (at least not without forcing central banks to sell the trillions in bonds they hold, a step which would free up collateral but also result in the biggest market crash ever), a far more ominous question has reappeared. One which, as usual, we asked nearly three years ago: what happens when central banks soak up too much liquidity.

Our answer, at that point, QE will have officially failed, because instead of lowering bond yields – which as a reminder is the primary QE transmission mechanism, one which forces investor to reach not only for yield but also for risk in other asset classes such as equities – any incremental bond purchases will start raising yields as the adverse impact from the illiquidity “premium” surpasses the price appreciation benefit from frontrun central bank buying. Impossible, you say? Not only not impossible but in one country it just happened. Sweden, and as Bloomberg sarcastically notes, “It’s probably not what the Riksbank expected.”

What is “it”? Precisely what we said would happen three years ago: Quantitative easing is supposed to drive down longer-dated yields. But as investors obsess over market depth, the Riksbank’s bond purchases are undermining liquidity and driving Swedish yields higher. The financial conditions — the currency and the bond yields — are moving in the wrong direction,” Roger Josefsson, chief economist at Danske Bank A/S in Stockholm, said by phone. The assumption is that “the Riksbank wants yields to go down and the krona to weaken, but it’s been the opposite direction recently. That should pose a problem.”

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This should be a huge, widespread project all over Europe. Greece and Italy!

Dutch City Utrecht To Try Out Universal, Unconditional ‘Basic Income’ (Ind.)

The Dutch city of Utrecht will start an experiment which hopes to determine whether society works effectively with universal, unconditional income introduced. The city has paired up with the local university to establish whether the concept of ‘basic income’ can work in real life, and plans to begin the experiment at the end of the summer holidays. Basic income is a universal, unconditional form of payment to individuals, which covers their living costs. The concept is to allow people to choose to work more flexible hours in a less regimented society, allowing more time for care, volunteering and study. University College Utrecht has paired with the city to place people on welfare on a living income, to see if a system of welfare without requirements will be successful.

The Netherlands as a country is no stranger to less traditional work environments – it has the highest proportion of part time workers in the EU, 46.1%. However, Utrecht’s experiment with welfare is expected to be the first of its kind in the country. Alderman for Work and Income Victor Everhardt told DeStad Utrecht: “One group is will have compensation and consideration for an allowance, another group with a basic income without rules and of course a control group which adhere to the current rules.” “Our data shows that less than 1.5% abuse the welfare, but, before we get into all kinds of principled debate about whether we should or should not enter, we need to first examine if basic income even really works. ”

What happens if someone gets a monthly amount without rules and controls? Will someone be sitting passively at home or do people develop themselves and provide a meaningful contribution to our society?” The city is also planning to talk to other municipalities about setting up similar experiments, including Nijmegen, Wageningen, Tilburg and Groningen, awaiting permission from The Hague in order to do so.

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Don’t believe the hype.

Half Of Europe’s Electricity Set To Be From Renewables By 2030 (Guardian)

Europe will likely get more than half of its electricity from renewable sources by the end of the next decade if EU countries meet their climate pledges, according to a draft commission paper. A planned overhaul of the continent’s electricity grids will now need to be sped up, says the leaked text, seen by the Guardian. “Reaching the European Union 2030 energy and climate objectives means the share of renewables is likely to reach 50% of installed electricity capacity,” says the consultation paper, due to be published on 15 July. “This means that changes to the electricity system in favour of decarbonisation will have to come even faster.”

The EU has set itself a goal of cutting emissions 40% on 1990 levels by 2030, and an aspiration for a 27% share for renewables across Europe’s full energy mix, which includes sectors such as transport, agriculture and buildings that do not necessarily rely on electricity. Around a quarter of Europe’s electricity currently comes from renewable sources. Oliver Joy, a spokesman for the European Wind Energy Association welcomed the draft text but noted the 27% goal for 2030 was non-binding, and some countries were looking likely to even miss an earlier goal, for 2020, that is binding. “Even with a binding provision, we are seeing the Netherlands, UK and France potentially missing their 2020 target [to source a fifth of energy provision from renewables].”

Joy called for the commission to deliver a governance system for renewables that prevented slacker states from hiding behind the more fast-moving ones. Downing Street would almost certainly resist more stringent oversight from Brussels on renewable energy. Other measures put up for discussion in the paper could be an anathema to the government’s eurosceptic backbenchers.

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Mar 222015
 
 March 22, 2015  Posted by at 8:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Jack Delano “Untitled” 1940

We’re All Hedge Funds Now (John Rubino)
Why Has Germany Bailed Out A Tiny Bank? (Coppola)
The Perfect Storm For Oil Hits In Two Months (Zero Hedge)
The ‘Natural Interest Rate’ Is Always Positive And Cannot Be Negative (Mises)
The Federal Reserve Bank Must Be Destroyed! (Patrick Barron)
We’re Much Worse Off Than Just Before The Last Economic Crisis (Michael Snyder)
Draghi To Go To Italian Committee But Not Irish Bank Inquiry (Irish Times)
China To Curb Risks From Short-Term Local Debt (Reuters)
Why Do American Weapons End Up In Our Enemies’ Hands? (Ron Paul)
Nazi Extortion: Study Sheds New Light on Forced Greek Loans (Spiegel)
Michael Hudson: Europe Tilts East Towards China (NC/TRRN)
Abe-Kuroda Honeymoon Soured By Fiscal Friction (Reuters)
‘Abandoned’ French Working Class Ready To Punish Left, Vote Le Pen (Guardian)
The Idea of “Basic Income” Takes Root (CP)
Wild Anti-Austerity Strike in Québec (Printemps2015.org)
Moral Hazard: Ukraine New Spy Law Designed As Provocation (RT/RonPaul Inst.)
Russia Urges Germany, France To Safeguard Peace In Ukraine (Reuters)
France Decrees New Rooftops Must Be Covered In Plants Or Solar Panels (Guardian)
Africa Is Centre Of A ‘Wildlife War’ That The World Is Losing (Observer)
Australia PM Tony Abbott Unveils Plan To Save Great Barrier Reef (Guardian)
The Global Extraction Industry: Plunder, Violence And Corruption (Observer)

“Will this time around be any different? Definitely. It will be much worse because the numbers are so much bigger.”

We’re All Hedge Funds Now (John Rubino)

As negative interest rates spread from Switzerland, Japan and Germany to the rest of the developed world, people with money to invest face some life-defining choices. Retirees who need to generate 6% to avoid dipping into principal can’t get there with bank CDs. Pension funds that have promised an 8% return in order to meet obligations to future retirees can’t get anywhere near that with government bonds. Same thing for insurance companies and money market funds, whose business models require positive returns with low risk. What to do? Well, a retiree can either stop being a retiree — that is, go back to work — or invest a lot more aggressively to meet the required 6% return.

That means loading up on equities and junk bonds, either blithely because she doesn’t know what they are (only that they’ve been going up) or with trepidation because she’s aware that every five or so years these things tend to crash. For public companies, building new factories no longer pays as well as borrowing money and using the proceeds to buy back their own common stock. Pension funds, meanwhile, have more options though the end result is the same. They can, like our hypothetical retiree, load up on equities, as Japanese pension funds are reportedly doing…[..] …or they can wander even further into the “alternative” investing universe by hiring hedge funds to generate “alpha.”[..]

In the world of aggressive investing, retirees, corporations and pensions funds are all “dumb money.” They don’t do this kind of thing regularly so they have no institutional or personal experience to draw upon. The result, for pension funds and retirees, is the quintessential beginner strategy of trend following, buying what was hot last year because that’s where the biggest returns are being generated, while public companies are being even dumber, buying stocks on margin (i.e., with borrowed money) without regard for valuation. Similar things happened during the previous bubble, when individuals became real estate speculators, pension funds embraced alternative investments, and corporations ramped up their share repurchase programs. All got creamed in 2008. Will this time around be any different? Definitely. It will be much worse because the numbers are so much bigger.

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Moral hazard?!

Why Has Germany Bailed Out A Tiny Bank? (Coppola)

The first German bank has died from Austrian contagion. Duesseldorfer Hypothekenbank (“Duesselhyp”), a tiny mortgage lender, has been seized by the Bundesverband Deutsche Banken (BDB), Germany’s association of private banks. According to Reuters, The BDB had hammered out a deal over the weekend with financial market watchdog Bafin, the Bundesbank and resolution authority FMSA to provide a guarantee for DuesselHyp’s holdings of around 350 million euros ($370 million) in Heta bonds that are subject to a debt moratorium imposed by Austrian financial regulators.Duesselhyp’s core tier1 (CT1) capital of €233m was not enough to allow it to continue trading after the expected 50% haircut on its holdings of senior unsecured HAA/Heta bonds.

Under German law, Lone Star, the private equity group that owned Duesselhyp, was not obliged to contribute more capital, and the planned sale of Duesselhyp to Attestor Capital could not proceed. The BDB’s seizure of Duesselhyp is therefore understandable: the alternative was disorderly collapse.But it is not immediately clear why the BDB opted to bail out Duesselhyp rather than forcing bail-in of its creditors. After all, Germany has already adopted the European Bank Resolution & Recovery Directive (EBRRD). True, Duesselhyp is tiny: bailing it out could be done entirely from existing funding without recourse to taxpayers. But bailing out a tiny, over-leveraged and under-capitalized bank seems contrary to the spirit if not the law of the EBRRD. So why did the BDB do it?

The reason is the nature of Duesselhyp’s liabilities. Duesselhyp is an issuer of Pfandbriefe, the super-safe covered bonds that are the bedrock of the German financial system. A look at Duesselhyp’s 2014 interim balance sheet shows that Pfandbriefe backed by public sector loans are by far the largest proportion of Duesselhyp’s liabilities: it has issued a rather smaller number of mortgage Pfandbriefe too. The remainder of Duesselhyp’s liabilities are institutional deposits (it has no retail deposits), which are covered by unlimited guarantees from the German deposit fund. In short, almost all of Duesselhyp’s liabilities are covered by explicit or implicit German government guarantees.

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Storage issue once more.

The Perfect Storm For Oil Hits In Two Months (Zero Hedge)

This is what we said back in early March when the BTFDers were hoping WTI in the low $40s would never again be seen: “Come June, when all available on-land storage is exhausted, each incremental barrel will have to be dumped on the market forcing prices lower and inflicting further pain on the entire US shale complex (just as Q1 results are released which will invariably show huge writedowns as companies will no longer be able to hide behind the SEC-mandated accounting trick that made Q4 results appear respectable).”

Since then, as expected, crude tumbled to new post-Lehman lows, confirming the global deflationary wave is raging (for more details please see China), and WTI only posted a rebound on quad-witching Friday as another algo-driven stop hunt spooked all those who were short the energy complex. The problem is that despite the latest “dead oil bounce” we have since had to revise our forecast for full US oil storage, and pulled forward the date when this will happen in the aftermath of the latest API inventory data. Recall that earlier this week API reported, and EIA later confirmed, that for the 10th week in a row there was a “massive 10.5 million barrels (far bigger than the 3.1 million barrel expectation) and a 3 million barrel build at Cushing. If this holds for DOE data tomorrow (and worryingly API has tended to underestimate the build in recent weeks) it will be the biggest weekly build since 2001.”

It also means that at the current rate of record oil production, storage will be exhausted in under two months, some time in mid-May. At that point, with no more storage to buffer the record oil production, the open market dumping begins and prices of WTI will crater as every barrel will have to be sold at any clearing price, since the producers will have no other choice than to, literally, dump the oil. In other words, a perfect storm is shaping up for oil some time in late May, early June.

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Amen.

The ‘Natural Interest Rate’ Is Always Positive And Cannot Be Negative (Mises)

Some economists have been arguing that the “equilibrium real interest rate” (that is the “natural interest rate” or the “originary interest rate”) has become negative, as a “secular stagnation” has allegedly caused a “savings glut.” The idea is that savings exceed investment, and that a negative real interest rate is required for bringing savings in line with investment. From the viewpoint of the Austrian school, the notion of a “negative equilibrium real interest rate” doesn’t make sense at all. To show this, let us develop the case step by step. To start with, one should make a distinction between two types of interest rates: There is the market interest rate, and there is the originary interest rate. The market interest rate is the outcome of the supply of and demand for savings in the market place.

It can be observed, for instance, in the deposit, bond, or loan market for different maturities and credit qualities. The originary interest rate is a category of human action, saying that acting man values goods available at present more highly than goods available in the future. In other words: Future goods trade at a price discount relative to present goods. For instance, 1 US$ available today is preferred over 1 US$ available in one year’s time. If 1 US$ to be received in one year’s time is valued at, say, 0.909 US$, the originary rate of interest is 10%. (1 US$ divided by 0.909 minus 1 gives you 0.10, or 10%, for that matter.) 10% is here the originary interest rate (disregarding any other premia). The originary interest rate is expressive of a value differential, which results from so-called time-preference.

The term time-preference denotes that acting man prefers an earlier satisfaction of wants over a later satisfaction of wants. Time-preference is always and everywhere positive, and so is the originary interest rate. This is, first and foremost, what common sense would tell us. If the originary interest rate was near-zero, it means that you prefer two apples available in, say, 1,000 years over one apple available today. A truly zero originary interest rate implies that the actor’s planning horizon or “period of provision” is infinitely long, which is another way of saying that he would never act at all but would continually push the attainment of his goals into the future. The notion that time-preference and the originary interest rate could be zero, does not only sound absurd, it is also a logical impossibility: Positive time-preference and a positive originary interest rate are logically implied in the irrefutably true “axiom of human action.”

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“Note that there is nothing that a central bank could provide that could not be provided by another private bank.”

The Federal Reserve Bank Must Be Destroyed! (Patrick Barron)

The Fed was founded under false economic premises–to prevent bank runs by providing temporary liquidity to banks which found themselves unable to redeem their certificates and demand deposits for cash and/or specie. The real cause of illiquid banks–fractional reserve banking–was never seriously addressed. It was assumed that banks had the legal right to invest their customers’ demand funds in loans and that runs were caused by over indulging in this practice. But as Murray N. Rothbard explain in What Has Government Done to Our Money?, loaning demand funds instantly places the bank in an insolvent position, for it cannot redeem all of its demand accounts for cash or specie.

Through the process of lending demand funds, the banks have created fiduciary media out of thin air, reducing their reserve ratio below one hundred percent. If the banks do this on a very modest basis, the public may not be aware of the fraud. However, once the rumor starts that the bank is illiquid, there is a literal “run” to the bank to withdraw demand funds. In such a case, even a bank that only modestly lent its demand funds might find itself unable to honor all withdrawal claims and would be forced to close its doors. (NOTE: Central Banking was established to legitimize counterfeiting fraud, aka – Fractional Reserve Banking) The Federal Reserve Bank, as the lender of last resort, was supposed to prevent such occurrences by providing temporary, penalty rate loans to struggling banks.

Note that there is nothing that a central bank could provide that could not be provided by another private bank. In fact the banking panic of 1907 was stemmed by private bank interventions led by J. P. Morgan. However, Morgan realized that such private bailouts were very risky and presented a case of moral hazard; i.e., that bankers, confident of a bailout by the Morgan banking empire, might book riskier, higher yielding loans. So rather than face the real cause of banking crises and lobby to outlaw fractional reserve banking, the Morgans, Rockefellers, etc.–who did not want to forego the financial benefits of lending demand deposits–lobbied instead for government to create a lender of last resort, a central bank, which we named the Federal Reserve Bank.

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Good graphs. Pity Michael doesn’t understand inflation.

We’re Much Worse Off Than Just Before The Last Economic Crisis (Michael Snyder)

If you believe that ignorance is bliss, you might not want to read this article. I am going to dispel the notion that there has been any sort of “economic recovery”, and I am going to show that we are much worse off than we were just prior to the last economic crisis. If you go back to 2007, people were feeling really good about things. Houses were being flipped like crazy, the stock market was booming and unemployment was relatively low. But then the financial crisis of 2008 struck, and for a while it felt like the world was coming to an end. Of course it didn’t come to an end – it was just the first wave of our problems.

The waves that come next are going to be the ones that really wipe us out. Unfortunately, because we have experienced a few years of relative stability, many Americans have become convinced that Barack Obama, Janet Yellen and the rest of the folks in Washington D.C. have fixed whatever problems caused the last crisis. Even though all of the numbers are screaming otherwise, there are millions upon millions of people out there that truly believe that everything is going to be okay somehow. We never seem to learn from the past, and when this next economic downturn strikes it is going to do an astonishing amount of damage because we are already in a significantly weakened state from the last one.

For each of the charts that I am about to share with you, I want you to focus on the last shaded gray bar on each chart which represents the last recession. As you will see, our economic problems are significantly worse than they were just before the financial crisis of 2008. That means that we are far less equipped to handle a major economic crisis than we were the last time.

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Don’t insult the Irish!

Draghi To Go To Italian Committee But Not Irish Bank Inquiry (Irish Times)

The ECB is holding to its position that its president, Mario Draghi, will not go before the Oireachtas banking inquiry in spite of the fact that he will appear at certain committees of the Italian parliament on March 26th. In a statement released to The Irish Times on foot of a question as to why Mr Draghi will not attend the Irish inquiry but will address committees of the Italian parliament, a spokesman said: “The ECB as a European institution is primarily held to account by the European Parliament as the representation of all the union’s citizens. “Therefore, it does not participate in national parliamentary inquiries and will not take part in the proceedings of the inquiry committee of the Irish parliament.”

It added: “Nevertheless, in line with past practice of interaction between the ECB and national parliaments, the ECB is ready to take part in an informal exchange of views on matters within the remit of the ECB’s mandate with the relevant committees of the Irish parliament.” The spokesman reiterated that deputy president Vítor Constâncio “stands ready” to represent the ECB in “such an exchange of views”, adding he was well placed to do so by being the longest-serving member of the executive board who also attended the relevant Eurogroup/Ecofin meetings during the Irish financial crisis. The ECB president has also appeared before committees of the German, French and Spanish parliaments and the ECB spokesman said Mr Draghi would address the budget, finance and European affairs committees of the Italian parliament later this month.

Irish MEP Brian Hayes said it was “totally unsatisfactory” Mr Draghi was not willing to appear before the banking inquiry but addresses national parliaments in certain situations. Inquiry committee member John Paul Phelan wants the ECB to clarify its position: “We know Mr Draghi already attended a German parliamentary finance committee in late October 2012. It now appears he is attending a similar committee in Italy. The ECB needs to clarify its position. On the one hand it says it is not accountable to member state parliaments and so the ECB won’t attend our inquiry. “But without explanation the president of the ECB appears willing to attend Italy’s parliamentary finance committee.”

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They’re going to try and buy out the shadow system?

China To Curb Risks From Short-Term Local Debt (Reuters)

China will take steps to rein in possible risks from short-term local government bonds, including converting such bonds into long-term debt, the country’s vice finance minister, Zhu Guangyao, said on Saturday. On March 8, the ministry announced local governments would be permitted to swap 1 trillion yuan ($161.2 billion) of maturing, high-interest local debt for new official municipal or provincial bonds, to help cut interest costs. Zhu said local governments were burdened by piles of short-term debt, including that raised through trust products. “In accordance with the State Council’s plans, we will turn such short-term financing into long-term financing, and the size for 2015 is 1 trillion yuan,” Zhu told an international conference on China’s development attended by government officials, business leaders and academics. “This will help reduce the funding costs and reduce risks.”

But the authorities must prevent the problem of “moral hazard” in the process, he said, without elaborating. The government will keep economic growth stable this year while pushing forward financial and fiscal reforms, Zhu added. China has been trying to reduce excess factory capacity, local government debt and risks from a cooling property market, which are likely to drag growth to a quarter-century low of around 7% this year from 7.4% in 2014. “The pre-condition for our deleveraging is to maintain relatively stable economic growth,” Zhu said. The central bank has cut interest rates twice since November, on top of a cut in bank reserve requirements in February, amid concerns about growing deflationary risks, and more such moves are expected. In addition, the government plans to run its biggest budget deficit in 2015 since the global crisis to support spending.

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By design?

Why Do American Weapons End Up In Our Enemies’ Hands? (Ron Paul)

It happens so often you wonder whether it is due to total ineptness or a deliberate policy to undermine our efforts overseas. It’s most likely a result of corruption and unintended consequences, combined with a foreign policy that makes it impossible to determine who are our friends are and who are our enemies. One would think that so many failures in arming others to do our bidding in our effort to control an empire would awaken our leaders and the American people and prompt policy changes.

A recent headline in Mother Jones read: “US Weapons Have A Nasty Habit of Going AWOL.” The report was about $500 million worth of military equipment that is unaccounted for in Yemen. Just as in so many other places, our policy of provoking civil strife in Yemen has been a complete failure. At one time it was announced that there was a great victory in a war being won with drones assisting groups that claimed to be on our side in the Yemen Civil War. As usual, we could have expected that these weapons would end up in the hands of the militants not on the side of United States and would never be accounted for.

There are numerous examples of how our foreign intervention backfires and actually helps the enemy. Just recently a headline announced: “CIA cash sometimes refills al-Qaeda coffers.” This was a story of our government helping pay ransom to al-Qaeda for the release an Afghan diplomat. However this was a measly $5 million so it was not considered a big deal. Another headline just recently announced that, “Iraqi army downs two UK planes carrying weapons for ISIL.” The Iraqi army is supposed to be on our side, and many people believe the UK is also on our side as well. One thing for sure the American taxpayer pays for all this nonsense.

Building weapons and seeing them end up in the hands of the enemy is almost a routine event and one should expect it to continue to happen under the circumstances of the chaos in the Middle East. This represents a cost to the American taxpayer and is obviously a major contributing factor in what will be the ultimate failure of our plan to remake the Middle East. This is bad enough, and the only people who seem to benefit from it are those who are earning profits in the military-industrial complex. But there is something every bit as bad as our weapons ending up in the hands of the jihadists and being used against us. That is, the fact that our presence there, our weapons, and our bombs, are the best recruiting tool for getting individuals to join the fight against America’s presence in so many conflicts around the world.

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See Looks Like Germany May Have To Pay Up .

Nazi Extortion: Study Sheds New Light on Forced Greek Loans (Spiegel)

Last week in Greek parliament, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras demanded German reparations payments, indirectly linking them to the current situation in Greece. “After the reunification of Germany in 1990, the legal and political conditions were created for this issue to be solved,” Tsipras said. “But since then, German governments chose silence, legal tricks and delay. And I wonder, because there is a lot of talk at the European level these days about moral issues: Is this stance moral?” Tspiras was essentially countering German allegations that Greece lives beyond its means with the biggest counteraccusation possible: German guilt. Leaving aside the connection drawn by Tsipras, which many consider to be inappropriate, there are many arguments to support the Greek view. SPIEGEL itself reported in February that former Chancellor Helmut Kohl used tricks in 1990 in order to avoid having to pay reparations.

A study conducted by the Greek Finance Ministry, commissioned way back in 2012 by a previous government, has now been completed and contains new facts. The 194-page document has been obtained by SPIEGEL. The central question in the report is that of forced loans the Nazi occupiers extorted from the Greek central bank beginning in 1941. Should requests for repayment of those loans be classified as reparation demands – demands that may have been forfeited with the Two-Plus-Four Treaty of 1990? Or is it a genuine loan that must be paid back? The expert commission analyzed contracts and agreements from the time of the occupation as well as receipts, remittance slips and bank statements.

They found that the forced loans do not fit into the category of classical war reparations. The commission calculated the outstanding German “debt” to the Greek central bank and came to a total sum of $12.8 billion as of December 2014, which would amount to about €11 billion. As such, at issue between Germany and Greece is no longer just the question as to whether the 115 million deutsche marks paid to the Greek government from 1961 onwards for its peoples’ suffering during the occupation sufficed as legal compensation for the massacres like those in the villages of Distomo and Kalavrita. Now the key issue is whether the successor to the German Reich, the Federal Republic of Germany, is responsible for paying back loans extorted by the Nazi occupiers. There’s some evidence to indicate that this may be the case.

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Must read/Listen. “..the funding of the World Bank has mainly been to fund infrastructure developments, vastly overpriced, to Third World countries to create money for American engineering firms; also to lend out dollars and to indebt countries to it..”

Michael Hudson: Europe Tilts East Towards China (NC/TRRN)

Real News Network: So, Michael, let’s begin with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The Chinese have established this bank with a $50 billion investment. Now, is this then a serious challenge to the World Bank?

HUDSON: Well, the idea is to make an alternative development philosophy to the World Bank. From the very beginning, the World Bank has been basically an extension of the U.S. Defense Department, from the first president, John J. McCloy, who is assistant secretary of defense, down through Robert McNamara, 1968 to ’81, and then by the neocon cold warrior Paul Wolfowitz, 2005 to ’07, and Larry Summers, the chief economist, along with Bob Zoellick. So you have the purpose of the World Bank lending essentially for plantation export crops, for export crops to make countries avoid producing anything that might compete with American exports, above all grain, although every single mission of the World Bank, country mission, has recommended that countries undertake land reform and agricultural extension to help promote family farming and countries to feed themselves. The World Bank has not made loans for this.

The World Bank, under U.S. congressional pressure, has said, look, we’re not going to finance countries becoming independent of the United States; our function is to make them export more to the United States and to buy from the United States. So the funding of the World Bank has mainly been to fund infrastructure developments, vastly overpriced, to Third World countries to create money for American engineering firms; also to lend out dollars and to indebt countries to it; and worst of all, to promote privatization. And that’s really the big difference between the Chinese Development Bank’s philosophy and the World Bank.

The World Bank is pressured everywhere for privatization of public utilities, of basic infrastructure, and then it will make loans to the governments to develop this infrastructure or the roads and the external economies, and then sell them cheap to American buyers, who essentially will create monopolies and turn infrastructure into a rent extraction to squeeze out interest, dividends, management fees that are all going to be paid to the Americans. And this has been raising the price of basic utilities–communications, transportation, water, and other things throughout the Third World.

And this has made these economies uncompetitive with the United States that has a mixed economy where the government subsidizes infrastructure. So the Chinese Development Bank is to help make other countries get independent of this sort of neocon, neoliberal, right-wing economic philosophy and work government-to-government, help governments develop infrastructure, so that they can provide basic services at a lower cost or a subsidized cost, or even freely to the populations. That’s how the European countries and American economy got rich. And the only way to help repeat this process is to make a clean break from the United States and the World Bank.

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Abenomics has been a failure from day one. Is the blame game finally taking off?

Abe-Kuroda Honeymoon Soured By Fiscal Friction (Reuters)

A rift is emerging between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his hand-picked central bank boss on how to fix Japan’s tattered finances, which could blunt the impact of the “Abenomics” stimulus policies they have worked together to prosecute. Two years into Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s tenure, the cracks are becoming hard to conceal and could affect the timing of any further monetary easing and an eventual end to the massive money-printing program he set in train. Their differences over fiscal policy needed to cut Japan’s staggering public debt, which at 230% of GDP is twice the U.S. figure and about 50 points higher than perilous Greece, have so far been masked by their shared determination to end deflation.

The perception of common purpose is critical to giving businesses, markets and consumers the confidence to change behavior and ensure that the stimulus measures and inflation targets are effective. But the mask began to slip last year when Abe decided to delay a sales tax hike, making Japan’s primary fiscal goal harder to achieve. “The honeymoon days are over,” said Izuru Kato, chief economist at Totan Research. “Kuroda must be frustrated over a lack of progress in structural reform and fiscal consolidation.” A former finance ministry bureaucrat, Kuroda feels Japan cannot afford to delay tax hikes and spending cuts given its dire fiscal state, while Abe prefers to focus more on boosting growth to raise tax revenues.

Last month a key policy panel run by Abe’s right-hand man, Economics Minister Akira Amari, began debating proposals that could water down Japan’s fiscal target of returning to a primary budget surplus, excluding debt servicing costs and income from bond sales, in fiscal 2020. Abe has not resiled from that target, but the panel is laying the ground for him to add other goals that give him more wiggle-room on spending, government officials say.

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Too late to stop this. Hollande has turned into Tony Blair.

‘Abandoned’ French Working Class Ready To Punish Left, Vote Le Pen (Guardian)

At an election meeting just days before France’s regional elections, a Japanese journalist asked Marine Le Pen a question: why was her far-right Front National party tipped to do so well? Polls suggest that the FN vote will reach unprecedented levels, with up to 30% of the vote, just ahead of the opposition Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party and leaving the ruling Socialist party trailing. “The Front National is alone against everyone. The French people have realised for some time now that the Front National’s analysis is right, and the other political parties have failed,” Le Pen responded. The FN had gone from “a party of opposition … to a movement of government” by addressing “the economy, immigration and Islamic fundamentalism”, she added. From Le Pen, a damning analysis of this type might be expected.

But from a member of the leftwing commentariat? A new “state of the nation” tome, L’Insécurité culturelle, by analyst Laurent Bouvet, has caused a storm in Paris salons by suggesting that the country’s working class is ready to vote FN in droves because it has been abandoned by the left and deceived by the country’s Socialist government. Bouvet accuses the left of sparking an identity crisis – “cultural insecurity” – among its core blue-collar electorate, by almost exclusively focusing on the problems of minority groups instead of French society as a whole. This has left the workers feeling cast adrift and alienated, he says. “The economic crisis, unemployment, social problems, globalisation make people afraid, but if it was just about economics we would see these people voting for the radical left, which they are not,” Bouvet told the Observer.

Bouvet is a political science professor and member of the leftwing thinktank the Jean Jaurès Foundation, which advises the Socialist party (PS) and aims to “promote the study of workers’ movements and international socialism and promote democratic and humanist ideas”. He says his latest, decidedly politically incorrect, message is one the left does not want to hear. Bouvet says PC blinkers have prevented the Socialists from addressing working-class anxieties about immigration and the rise of Islam – even in its moderate form – in areas where the so-called Français de souche (born-and-bred French) find themselves outnumbered by those with a different religion and cultural habits. Branded les petits blancs (white trash), and accused of racism or patronised if they express their fears, they have turned en masse to the FN, he says.

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Always a good discussion.

The Idea of “Basic Income” Takes Root (CP)

After years of having relatively few supporters, the idea of Basic Income is now spreading around the world. In Spain – probably “the place on Earth where the debate around Basic Income is most advanced” – after five years of public spending cuts, depressed demand, record unemployment, burgeoning poverty, and a growing public debt now at around 100% of GDP, and after twenty years of discussion in universities, grassroots movements and social networks, Basic Income is finally going mainstream.

Although the new game-changing left-wing political party Podemos has temporarily retreated from its initial Basic Income proposal in favour of “full employment” (more fitting, perhaps, for the welfare states of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s), many party members are Basic Income stalwarts. Other political organisations now proposing it include Equo, Pirata and Bildu (a coalition in the Basque Country) and, in Galicia, Anova, while still more small parties have projects which, while not strictly a Basic Income, come close.

A recent number of the Basic Income Earth Network newsletter gives an idea of the worldwide spread of different versions of Basic Income. In Greece the new ruling party Syriza has declared its aim to establish “a closer link between pension contribution and income… and provide targeted assistance to employees between 50 and 65, including through a Guaranteed Basic Income scheme so as to eliminate the social and political pressure of early retirement which over-burdens the pension funds”. In Finland, 65.5% of 1,642 (out of nearly 2,000) candidates for the parliamentary elections on 19 April publicly support the policy. Cyprus has passed a new law giving low income families a Guaranteed Minimum Income of €480 a month.

In 2013, a grassroots movement in Switzerland called for a Basic Income of 2,500 Swiss francs per month and received over 100,000 signatures needed to force a referendum on the proposal. 90% of the members of Hungary’s Green-Left party Párbeszéd Magyarországért (“Dialogue for Hungary”) have voted for a Basic Income to which all citizens would be entitled, €80 per month for children, €160 for adults and €240 for young mothers. The poverty line in Hungary is estimated at around €200 for a single adult. In Portugal, where Basic Income is relatively unknown and misunderstood, the political party LIVRE has included Basic Income in its draft political programme for the autumn elections this year. Now recognising that inequality and social justice are also “green” issues, the fast-growing Green Party of England and Wales has announced that a Basic Income will be included in its manifesto.

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Announcement from my old stomping grouds for the coming week. Québec has a long history of standing up for the poor, since the French were held down for centuries.

Wild Anti-Austerity Strike in Québec (Printemps2015.org)

Like wolves, humans act collectively and form groups in order to survive and defend our common interests. The idea of community is closely related to survival in the face of adversity and to the well being of society. The preservation of our habitat, of our social rights, and of our future depends on solidarity. Acting together in large numbers makes it much easier to defend our rights and our collective needs. That’s why we propose the creation of an alternative to the isolation and individualism pervasive in society by choosing collective action against the aggressive attacks of governments on our collective wellbeing. Both federal and provincial governments are engaged in attacks on the population.

They now demand that we pay more at the same as they are wantonly slashing everywhere: education and health systems, scientific research, pension funds, the environment, social and community programs, housing, arts and culture, union rights… Faced with the bewildering rate at which cuts and austerity measures are announced, action is urgently needed. The Spring 2015 committee calls for a push towards social change, starting this spring. We envision concrete resistance to austerity uniting students, workers, and society as a whole taking root in Québec. While they reach for the last pennies in our pockets, federal and provincial governments increase military spending, invest in prisons, police, and security measures, and roll out the red carpet for the extractive industries.

People with friends in high places, the rich, large companies, multinationals, banks and lobbying firms are running the show. A small minority is strangling the community. If the interests of the majority do not orient the actions and priorities of the government, it is illusory to continue to speak of this as a democracy. In a just and equitable society, wealth should not be accumulated at the expense of our environment and should be fairly redistributed amongst all. Indigenous peoples, Québecers, and Canadians are neither represented nor respected by governments who do not defend their rights. We will amplify popular discontent and launch a WILD STRIKE.

We call for the pillaging of society to be resisted with a general strike! Let’s disrupt this failed economic order which relegates the interests of society to the bottom of the list. An inclusive strike, a strike by any means: the closure of schools and offices, and cities at a standstill until each and every one of us receives what we are collectively owed. We demand that governments stop privatisation and the sabotage of the common good, end the destruction of the environment, and cease to only favour the rich! Otherwise, we’ll bite. This spring, block austerity! The Spring 2015 committees aim to facilitate the organisation of effective struggles for collective and environmental rights. Everywhere across Québec, let’s join together to massively refuse the ideological project of austerity.

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“..they feel they have the US particularly and the West in general behind them. So they feel they can engage in every moral reckless behavior because there are no consequences..”

Moral Hazard: Ukraine New Spy Law Designed As Provocation (RT/RonPaul Inst.)

If a Ukrainian draft law on intelligence comes into force, we might start seeing assassinations, bomb blasts, and psychological attacks in the Donbass region, says Daniel McAdams of the Ron Paul Institute. Ukraine’s parliament has passed a law allowing its intelligence units to carry out military operations in eastern Ukraine. If the President Petro Poroshenko signs the law, it would allow special services to infiltrate and operate in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk republics.

RT: How does this current move from Kiev correlate with the current peace process in east Ukraine?
Daniel McAdams: I think it’s a provocation and it is designed to be a provocation. The goal is stated clearly from Kiev and it’s echoed in Washington, and to a degree in Berlin, as well, which is that Ukraine needs to be whole again—that is the point they are making including eastern Ukraine and even Crimea. So it is meant to be a provocation. The problem is the government in Kiev is operating with what in finance circles is called “moral hazard”—they feel they have the US particularly and the West in general behind them. So they feel they can engage in every moral reckless behavior because there are no consequences to the actions that they take. But if it does pass, I think it may give us some information, some indication as to what all of the visits from the CIA director to Kiev over the past year and a half were all about. And then we can probably start seeing things like assassinations in Donetsk and Lugansk, bombs going off, provocations, psychological operations. I think it opens the whole can of worms.

RT: The parliament in Kiev also voted on a bill branding some territories in the east as ‘occupied’ including Crimea. What is Kiev trying to achieve here?
DM: Because they can get away with it. The law on autonomy now is going to be granted only after elections take place under Kiev’s rules and laws which definitely goes against the Minsk agreements. They will be supervised by the OSCE which has hardly shown itself to be objective in this case. You’re basically having a de facto taking over of these regions all over again.

RT: What reaction are we expecting internationally, especially from France and Germany who are part of the Normandy Four?
DM: I don’t think they are going to do that much because they have not been willing to speak up and to reprimand their clients in Kiev so far. Yesterday, President Obama had a talk with Chancellor Merkel. And at least, according to the White House’s reading of the conversation, they are in complete agreement about retaining the sanctions on Russia and that the Minsk agreements needed to be fully implemented. So they are simply interpreting the Minsk agreement to suit their ultimate goal, which is the bringing of the regions of the east back under Kiev’s control.

RT: Do you think Washington and Europe are united on this objective?
DM: I wouldn’t say necessarily united but I think over the past year or so we’ve seen that Germany is ready to break. But aside from whisperers in the German intelligence community that basically half of the US generals are bonkers, there has been no real indication that Germany is ready to break. So I think reluctantly they are going along.

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“.. Lavrov said he was concerned Kiev might stage “provocations” to try to persuade the United States that it should aid Kiev by sending it lethal weapons.” He should be.

Russia Urges Germany, France To Safeguard Peace In Ukraine (Reuters)

Russia appealed to Germany and France on Saturday to ensure Kiev does not try to incite violence in east Ukraine to encourage the United States to send Ukrainian forces lethal weapons. Paris and Berlin helped mediate a peace deal in the Belarussian capital Minsk on Feb. 12 to try to end fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine but the truce remains fragile. In an interview with Russian television, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was concerned Kiev might stage “provocations” to try to persuade the United States that it should aid Kiev by sending it lethal weapons.

“Provocateurs in Kiev … could try to ‘whip something up’ in the expectation that this will influence the world public and weapons will flow into Ukraine,” he told the new program Vesti on Saturday with Sergei Brilev. “I am convinced that Berlin and Paris, as the most important players …, should prevent such a turn of events.” Lavrov also repeated Russia’s opposition to United Nations peacekeepers being sent to the east.

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Makes sense.

France Decrees New Rooftops Must Be Covered In Plants Or Solar Panels (Guardian)

Rooftops on new buildings built in commercial zones in France must either be partially covered in plants or solar panels, under a law approved on Thursday. Green roofs have an isolating effect, helping reduce the amount of energy needed to heat a building in winter and cool it in summer. They also retain rainwater, thus helping reduce problems with runoff, while favouring biodiversity and giving birds a place to nest in the urban jungle, ecologists say.

The law approved by parliament was more limited in scope than initial calls by French environmental activists to make green roofs that cover the entire surface mandatory on all new buildings. The Socialist government convinced activists to limit the scope of the law to commercial buildings.The law was also made less onerous for businesses by requiring only part of the roof to be covered with plants, and giving them the choice of installing solar panels to generate electricity instead. Green roofs are popular in Germany and Australia, and Canada’s city of Toronto adopted a by-law in 2009 mandating them in industrial and residential buildings.

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Only the death penalty for all involved will help. Hunters, traders, buyers, the whole lot. No mercy.

Africa Is Centre Of A ‘Wildlife War’ That The World Is Losing (Observer)

The northern white rhino is heading the way of the dinosaurs. With only five left on Earth – three in Kenya, one in America, and one in the Czech Republic – extinction is now inevitable. It survived for millions of years, but could not survive mankind. This is just one subspecies, but soon the planet’s remaining 28,500 rhinos could be under threat from the illegal wildlife trade. Worth up to £12bn a year, it has joined drugs, arms and human trafficking as one of the world’s biggest crime rackets. Ground zero in this “wildlife war” is Africa, and the conservationists are losing as animals are slaughtered on an industrial scale to meet demand for horn and ivory in newly affluent Asian countries.

Urgent solutions will be debated this week in Kasane, Botswana, as politicians and environmentalists gather for a follow-up to last year’s much-trumpeted London conference on the crisis. Hosted by the British government and Princes Charles, William and Harry, 46 countries signed up to a “London declaration” that promised to address corruption, adopt legislation for tougher penalties against poachers and recruit more law enforcement officers. William Hague, then the foreign secretary, announced at the time: “I believe today we have begun to turn the tide.” More than a year later, however, when the Kasane summit reviews whether these commitments have been implemented, it seems likely that some will be found wanting.

Despite a celebrity-led drive to raise awareness in China and Vietnam, where horn is coveted as an ingredient in traditional medicine or as a status symbol, a record 1,215 rhinos were killed last year in South Africa, 20% more than in 2013. At least 220 chimpanzees, 106 orang-utans, 33 bonobos and 15 gorillas have been lost from the wild over the past 14 months, according to estimates by the Great Apes Survival Partnership. Elephants also remain under siege – at least 20,000 were poached annually from 2011 to 2013, according to the UN – although countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have fought back with some measure of success over the past year. “The numbers are still going up and they don’t make us any happier,” said Dr Patrick Bergin, chief executive of the African Wildlife Foundation.

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About the last person on earth you want to handle the issue.

Australia PM Tony Abbott Unveils Plan To Save Great Barrier Reef (Guardian)

Australia has submitted its long-term plan to arrest the decline of the Great Barrier Reef, with Tony Abbott stressing to the international community that the government is “utterly committed” to the reef’s preservation. The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan has been compiled to allay concerns from Unesco over the fading health of the reef, with the organisation’s world heritage committee set to meet in June to decide whether the reef is to be listed as “in danger.” The plan sets a number of targets to reduce pollution running on to the reef, including an 80% reduction in nitrogen and a 50% cut in sediment by 2025.

The final version of the strategy has been re-written to include the policies of Queensland’s new Labor government, which has pledged to ban the dumping of dredged sediment in the reef’s world heritage area and to provide $100m over five years to improve water quality. For its part, the federal government is banning dumping in the reef’s marine park and announced a further $100m in funding for the Reef Trust, a body that will work with landowners to ensure chemicals are not flowing into the coral ecosystem. There will also be a new independent scientific panel, headed by the government’s chief scientist, Ian Chubb, which will oversee the work of the Reef Trust. Abbott said the government was helping to ensure that the reef is “handed on in the best possible condition to our children and grandchildren”.

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Our biggest crime aginst humanity: “African mining scandals, says Baldwin, “have roots in Mayfair”, while “oil deals in London have links to violence in Congo.”

The Global Extraction Industry: Plunder, Violence And Corruption (Observer)

Index on Censorship could not have awarded one of its Freedom of Expression prizes more estimably than to Angolan reporter Rafael Marques de Morais. In doing so, Index prises open Marques’s principal discourse: the prising open of the land itself by those who plunder for profit without heed. Marques’s writing in Angola on the links between diamond mining and government corruption draws attention to the growing causes for concern around the world in relation to the industry of “extraction” and how it behaves financially, politically and morally as it pursues sought-after minerals and commodities to fuel economic growth.

Across the globe, the management of extraction in poor countries rich in resources – by government and the multinationals they invite in – has become hallmarked by scandal, violence, corruption and environmental calamity. Vast international conglomerates are often faced with allegations that they abet the plundering of natural resources, usually in league with local officials and almost always to the detriment of indigenous communities. Only a fraction of the wealth accrued from extraction is left in the host country – to say nothing of the communities often “resettled” – ergo forcibly removed – from the land concerned. This nexus of politics and capitalism leads invariably to violence and death.

Ovid, who wrote around 10BC about the origins of man, accounted for the genesis of warfare in these terms: “The land, which had previously been common to all, like sunlight and breezes, was now divided up far and wide by boundaries, set by cautious surveyors. Nor was it only corn and their due nourishment that men demanded of the rich earth: they explored its very bowels, and dug out the wealth which it had hidden away, close to the Stygian shades; and this wealth was a further incitement to wickedness. By this time iron had been discovered, to the hurt of mankind, and gold, more hurtful still than iron. War made its appearance, using both metals in its conflict, clashing weapons in bloodstained hands.”

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