Jun 072018
 


Charles Sprague Pearce The Arab jeweler c1882

 

 

There are a lot of industries in our world that wreak outsized amounts of havoc. Think the biggest global banks and oil companies. Think plastics. But there is one field that is much worse than all others: agro-chemicals. At some point, not that long ago, the largest chemical producers, who until then had kept themselves busy producing Agent Orange, nerve agents and chemicals used in concentration camp showers, got the idea to use their products in food production.

While they had started out with fertilizers etc., they figured making crops fully dependent on their chemicals would be much more lucrative. They bought themselves ever more seeds and started manipulating them. And convinced more and more farmers, or rather food agglomerates, that if there were ‘pests’ that threatened their yields, they should simply kill them, rather than use natural methods to control them.

And in monocultures that actually makes sense. It’s the monoculture itself that doesn’t. What works in nature is (bio)diversity. It’s the zenith of cynicism that the food we need to live is now produced by a culture of death. Because that is what Monsanto et al represent: Their solution to whatever problem farmers may face is to kill it with poison. But that will end up killing the entire ecosystem a farmer operates within, and depends on.

However, the Monsantos of the planet produce much more ‘research’ material than anybody else, and it all says that the demise of ecosystems into which their products are introduced, has nothing to do with these products. And by the time anyone can prove the opposite, it will be too late: the damage will have been done through cross-pollination. Monsanto can then sue anyone who has crops that show traces of its genetically altered proprietary seeds, even if the last thing a farmer wants is to include those traces.

Anyway, when reading John Vidal in the Guardian yesterday, I was struck by some numbers. Bayer-Monsanto, soon to be just Bayer, own 60% of proprietary seeds and 70% of agrochemicals in the world. That’s roughly comparable to the numbers of vertebrates and insects that have vanished from the countrysides of Germany, France and England. Life itself is dying. Species extinction is now a bigger threat than climate change. Vidal:

 

Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals?

“Through its many subsidiary companies and research arms, Bayer-Monsanto will have an indirect impact on every consumer and a direct one on most farmers in Britain, the EU and the US. It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits, as well as much of the data about what farmers grow where, and the yields they get.

It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by. But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers.” It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by.

But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers. Backed by governments, and enabled by world trade rules and intellectual property laws, Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta have been allowed to control much of the world’s supply of seeds.

Do note that although Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta may be large companies, Bayer-Monsanto alone own 60% of proprietary seeds and 70% of agrochemicals. Since they ‘only’ own 60% and 70%, they can’t be accused of running a monopoly. But their main product, glyphosate (Roundup) is also produced by Dow, DuPont and Syngenta. So together they do effectively run a monopoly. Just not ‘technically’. These guys have the world’s best and biggest legal, lobbying and PR teams. Because they’re after global control.

[..] because most farmers in rich countries already buy their seeds from the multinationals, opposition has barely been heard. Instead, it is coming from the likes of Debal Deb, an Indian plant researcher who grows forgotten crops and is the antithesis of Bayer and Monsanto. While they concentrate on developing a small number of blockbuster staple crops, Deb grows as many crops as he can and gives the seeds away.

This year he is cultivating an astonishing 1,340 traditional varieties of Indian “folk” rice on land donated to him in West Bengal. More than 7,000 farmers in six states will be given the seeds, on the condition that they also grow them and give some away.

This seed-sharing of “landraces”, or local varieties, is not philanthropy but the extension of an age-old system of mutualised farming that has provided social stability and dietary diversity for millions of people. By continually selecting, crossbreeding and then exchanging their seeds, farmers have developed varieties for their aroma, taste, colour, medicinal properties and resistance to pests, drought and flood.

The battle is between biodiversity and Monsanto, and the latter is winning big. Monsanto-Bayer wants farmers to grow only a few crops, that it has patents on, and to kill off everything else with the chemicals without which these crops will not grow. Monoculture on steroids, raised in sterile environments bereft of life. 75% of insects gone in Europe’s countrysides, 60% of vertebrates, birds and butterflies becoming a rarity.

It is insanity in its purest form. Insanity of individual people, insanity of legal systems, insanity of governance. No-one, and no country, should be obliged to prove that Monsanto’s products are killing off biodiversity. We have an instrument called the precautionary principle, and we must use it. Like Hippocrates’ First Do No Harm. It is not complicated.

But I must admit I sometimes think it’s already too late. Once you kill off 70% of any form of life, in any ecosystem, how is it going to recover? Because mind you, with the Bayer-Monsanto merger being approved worldwide, things are only going to get worse at ever increasing speed. The agro-chemical industry is a culture of death that relies for its profits on a giant die-off, probably worse than whatever it is that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

And the odds that mankind will survive this one are slim to none. Our survival depends one on one on the diversity in the ecosystems we reside in. But yeah, I hear you: intelligent species.

 

 

Here’s something I first published in December 2016. Things have gotten much worse much faster than I could have predicted back then. Kill Monsanto before it kills your children.

 

 

Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity

 


Caters Extremely rare albino elephant, Kruger National Park in South Africa

 

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back …

Springsteen, Atlantic City

“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatium as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”
Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend

 

What drives our economies is waste. Not need, or even demand. Waste. 2nd law of thermodynamics. It drives our lives, period.

First of all, don’t tell me you’re trying to stop the ongoing extinction of nature and wildlife on this planet, or the destruction of life in general. Don’t even tell me you’re trying. Don’t tell me it’s climate change that we should focus on (that’s just a small part of the story), and you’re driving an electric car and you’re separating your trash or things like that. That would only mean you’re attempting to willfully ignore your share of destruction, because if you do it, so will others, and the planet can’t take anymore of your behavior.

This is the big one. And the only ones amongst us who don’t think so are those who don’t want to. Who think it’s easier to argue that some problems are too big for them to tackle, that they should be left to others to solve. But why should we, why should anyone, worry about elections or even wars, when it becomes obvious we’re fast approaching a time when such things don’t matter much anymore?

The latest WWF Living Planet Report shows us that the planet is a whole lot less alive than it used to be. And that we killed that life. That we replaced it with metal, bricks, plastic and concrete. Mass consumption leads to mass extinction. And that is fully predictable, it always was; there’s nothing new there.

We killed 58% of all vertebrate wildlife just between 1970 and 2012, and at a rate of 2% per year we will have massacred close to 70% of it by 2020, just 4 years from now. So what does it matter who’s president of just one of the many countries we invented on this planet? Why don’t we address what’s really crucial to our very survival instead?

 

 

The latest report from the WWF should have us all abandon whatever it is we’re doing, and make acting to prevent further annihilation of our living world the key driver in our everyday lives, every hour of every day, every single one of us. Anything else is just not good enough, and anything else will see us, that self-nominated intelligent species, annihilated in the process.

Granted, there may be a few decrepit and probably halfway mutant specimens of our species left, living in conditions we couldn’t even begin, nor dare, to imagine, with what will be left of their intelligence wondering how our intelligence could have ever let this happen. You’d almost wish they’ll understand as little as we ever did; that some form of ignorance equal to ours will soften their pain.

It’s important to note that the report does not describe a stagnant situation, there’s no state of affairs, not something still, it describes an ongoing and deteriorating process. That is, we don’t get to choose to stop the ongoing wildlife annihilation at 70%; we are witnessing, and indeed we are actively involved in, raising that number by 2% every year that we ‘live’ (can we even call it that anymore, are you alive when you murder all life around you?) in this world.

This is our only home.

 

 

Without the natural world that we were born into, or rather that our species, our ancestors, were born into, we have zero chance of survival. Because it is the natural world that has allowed for, and created, the conditions that made it possible for mankind to emerge and develop in the first place. And we are nowhere near making an earth 2.0; the notion itself is preposterous. A few thousand years of man ‘understanding’ his world is no match for billions of years of evolution. That’s the worst insult to whatever intelligence it is that we do have.

Much has been made through the years of our ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and much of that is just as much hubris as so much of what we tell ourselves, but the big question should be WHY we would volunteer to find out to what extent we can adapt to a world that has sustained the losses we cause it to suffer. Even if we could to a degree adapt to that, why should we want to?

Two thirds of our world is gone, and it’s we who have murdered it, and what’s worse – judging from our lifestyles- we seem to have hardly noticed at all. If we don’t stop what we’ve been doing, this can lead to one outcome only: we will murder ourselves too. Our perhaps biggest problem (even if we have quite a few) in this regard is our ability and propensity to deny this, as we deny any and all -serious, consequential- wrongdoing.

 

 

There are allegedly serious and smart people working on, dreaming of, and getting billions in subsidies for, fantasies of human colonies on Mars. This is advertized as a sign of progress and intelligence. But that can only be true if we can acknowledge that our intelligence and our insanity are identical twins. Because it is insane to destroy the planet on which we depend one-on-one for everything that allows us to live, and at the same time dream of human life on another planet.

While I see no reason to address the likes of King of Subsidies Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking is different. Unfortunately, in Hawking’s case, with all his intelligence, it’s his philosophical capacity that goes missing.

Humanity Will Not Survive Another 1,000 Years If We Don’t Escape Our Planet

Professor Stephen Hawking has warned humanity will not survive another 1,000 years on Earth unless the human race finds another planet to live on. [..] Professor Hawking, 74, reflected on the understanding of the universe garnered from breakthroughs over the past five decades, describing 2016 as a “glorious time to be alive and doing research into theoretical physics”. “Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years and I am happy if I have made a small contribution,“ he went on.

”The fact that we humans, who are ourselves mere fundamental particles of nature, have been able to come this close to understanding the laws that govern us and the universe is certainly a triumph.” Highlighting “ambitious” experiments that will give an even more precise picture of the universe, he continued: “We will map the position of millions of galaxies with the help of [super] computers like Cosmos. We will better understand our place in the universe.”

“But we must also continue to go into space for the future of humanity. I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.”

The tragedy is that we may have gained some knowledge of natural laws and the universe, but we are completely clueless when it comes to keeping ourselves from destroying our world. Mars is an easy cop-out. But Mars doesn’t solve a thing. Because it’s -obviously- not the ‘fragile planet’ earth that is a threat to mankind, it’s mankind itself. How then can escaping to another planet solve its problems?

What exactly is wrong with saying that we will have to make it here on planet earth? Is it that we’ve already broken and murdered so much? And if that’s the reason, what does that say about us, and what does it say about what we would do to a next planet, even provided we could settle on it (we can’t) ? Doesn’t it say that we are our own worst enemies? And doesn’t the very idea of settling the ‘next planet’ imply that we had better settle things right here first? Like sort of a first condition before we go to Mars, if we ever do?

In order to survive, we don’t need to escape our planet, we need to escape ourselves. Not nearly as easy. Much harder than escaping to Mars. Which already is nothing but a pipedream to begin with.

Moreover, if we can accept that settling things here first before going to Mars is a prerequisite for going there in the first place, we wouldn’t need to go anymore, right?

 

 

We treat this entire extinction episode as if it’s something we’re watching from the outside in, as if it’s something we’re not really a part of. I’ve seen various undoubtedly very well-intentioned ‘green people’, ‘sustainable people’, react to the WWF report by pointing to signs that there is still hope, pointing to projects that reverse some of the decline, chinook salmon on the North American Pacific coast, Malawi farmers that no longer use chemical fertilizers, a giant sanctuary in the Antarctic etc.

That, too, is a form of insanity. Because it serves to lull people into a state of complacency that is entirely unwarranted. And that can therefore only serve to make things worse. There is no reversal, there is no turnaround. It’s like saying if a body doesn’t fall straight down in a continuous line, it doesn’t fall down at all.

The role that green, sustainability, conservationist groups play in our societies has shifted dramatically, and we have failed completely to see this change (as have they). These groups have become integral parts of our societies, instead of a force on the outside warning about what happens within.

Conservationist groups today serve as apologists for the havoc mankind unleashes on its world: all people have to do is donate money at Christmas, and conservation will be taken care of. Recycle a few bottles and plastic wrappings and you’re doing your part to save the planet. It is utterly insane. It’s as insane as the destruction itself. It’s denial writ large, and in the flesh.

It’s not advertized that way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not how it works. Saying that ‘it’s not too late’ is not a call to action as many people continue to believe. It’s just dirt poor psychology. It provides people with the impression, which rapidly turns into an excuse, that there is still time left. As almost 70% of all vertebrates, those animals that are closest to us, have disappeared. When would they say time is up? At 80%, 90%?

 

 

We do not understand why, or even that, we are such a tragically destructive species. And perhaps we can’t. Perhaps that is where our intelligence stops, at providing insight into ourselves. Even the most ‘aware’ amongst us will still tend to disparage their own roles in what goes on. Even they will make whatever it is they still do, and that they know is hurtful to the ecosystem, seem smaller than it is.

Even they will search for apologies for their own behavior, tell themselves they must do certain things in order to live in the society they were born in, drive kids to school, yada yada. We all do that. We soothe our consciences by telling ourselves we mean well, and then getting into our cars to go pick up a carton of milk. Or engage in an equally blind act. There’s too many to mention.

Every species that finds a large amount of free energy reacts the same way: proliferation. The unconscious drive is to use up the energy as fast as possible. If only we could understand that. But understanding it would get in the way of the principle itself. The only thing we can do to stop the extinction is for all of us to use a lot less energy. But because energy consumption provides wealth and -more importantly- political power, we will not do that. We instead tell ourselves all we need to do is use different forms of energy.

Our inbuilt talent for denying and lying (to ourselves and others) makes it impossible for us to see that we have an inbuilt talent for denying and lying in the first place. Or, put another way, seeing that we haven’t been able to stop ourselves from putting the planet into the dismal shape it is in now, why should we keep on believing that we will be able to stop ourselves in the future?

Thing is, an apology for our own behavior is also an apology for everyone else’s. As long as you keep buying things wrapped in plastic, you have no right, you lose your right, to blame the industry that produces the plastic.

 

 

We see ourselves as highly intelligent, and -as a consequence- we see ourselves as a species driven by reason. But we are not. Which can be easily demonstrated by a ‘reverse question’: why, if we are so smart, do we find ourselves in the predicament of having destroyed two thirds of our planet?

Do we have a rational argument to execute that destruction? Of course not, we’ll say. But then why do we do it if rationality drives us? This is a question that should forever cure us of the idea that we are driven by reason. But we’re not listening to the answer to that question. We’re denying, we’re even denying the question itself.

It’s the same question, and the same answer, by the way, that will NOT have us ‘abandon whatever it is we do’ when we read today that 70% of all wildlife will be gone by 2020, that 58% was gone by 2012 and we destroy it at a rate of 2% per year. We’re much more likely to worry much more about some report that says returns on our retirement plans will be much lower than we thought. Or about the economic growth that is too low (as if that is possible with 70% of wildlife gone).

After all, if destroying 70% of wildlife is not enough for a call to action, what would be? 80%? 90? 99%? I bet you that would be too late. And no, relying on conservationist groups to take care of it for us is not a viable route. Because that same 70% number spells out loud and clear what miserable failures these groups have turned out to be.

We ‘assume’ we’re intelligent, because that makes us feel good. Well, it doesn’t make the planet feel good. What drives us is not reason. What drives us is the part of our brains that we share in common with amoeba and bacteria and all other more ‘primitive forms of life, that gobbles up excess energy as fast as possible, in order to restore a balance. Our ‘rational’, human, brain serves one function, and one only: to find ‘rational’ excuses for what our primitive brain has just made us do.

We’re all intelligent enough to understand that driving a hybrid car or an electric car does nothing to halt the havoc we do to our world, but there are still millions of these things being sold. So perhaps we could say that we’re at the same time intelligent enough, and we’re not.

We can see ourselves destroying our world, but we can not stop ourselves from continuing the destruction. Here’s something I wrote 5 years ago:

Most. Tragic. Species. Ever.

We have done exactly the same that any primitive life form would do when faced with a surplus, of food, energy, and in our case credit, cheap money. We spent it all as fast as we can. Lest less abundant times arrive. It’s an instinct, it comes from our more primitive brain segments, not our more “rational” frontal cortex. It’s not that we’re in principle, or talent, more devious or malicious than more primitive life forms. It’s that we use our more advanced brains to help us execute the same devastation our primitive brain drives us to, but much much worse.

That’s what makes us the most tragic species imaginable. We’ll fight each other, even our children, over the last few scraps falling off the table, and kill off everything in our path to get there. And when we’re done, we’ll find a way to rationalize to ourselves why we were right to do so. We can be aware of watching ourselves do what we do, but we can’t help ourselves from doing it. Most. Tragic. Species. Ever.

The greatest miracle you will ever see, that you could ever hope to see, is so miraculous you can’t even recognize it for what it is. We don’t know what the word beautiful means anymore. Or the word valuable. We’ve lost all of that, and are well on our way, well over 70% of it, to losing the rest too.

 

 

 

PS Please note I could not gather all sources for all pictures here, but I’d be more than happy to add them. It’s not that I don’t recognize the effort that goes into them; it’s an emotional thing.

 

 

Jun 052018
 
 June 5, 2018  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John French Sloan East Entrance, City Hall, Philadelphia 1901

 

Carbon Bubble To Destroy Trillions Of Dollars Of Global Wealth (Ind.)
The Effects Of Trump’s Steel Tariffs On Red State Energy (F.)
US Firms To Pour $2.5 Trillion Into Buybacks, Dividends, M&A This Year (CNBC)
India Central Banker Sees Sudden “Evaporation” Of Dollar Funding (ZH)
China’s Debt Crackdown To Hurt Emerging Markets, Oil, Metals – Fitch (R.)
Italy’s Long, Hot Summer (Carmen Reinhart)
Why The Euro Was Created (ZH)
Toronto’s House Price Bubble Not Fun Anymore (WS)
Why Australia’s Great Banking Boom Has Ended (SMH)
Apple Jams Facebook’s Web-Tracking Tools (BBC)
A West Coast State of Mind (Jim Kunstler)
Edward Snowden: ‘The People Are Still Powerless, But Now They’re Aware’ (G.)
Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals? (Vidal)

 

 

Don’t think it will happen without an overall economic collapse.

Carbon Bubble To Destroy Trillions Of Dollars Of Global Wealth (Ind.)

Trillions of dollars of fossil fuel wealth will be wiped out at some point over the next 17 years even if governments fail to impose binding carbon emissions limits on industry to curb global warming, according to a major new study. Environmentalists and policymakers have long warned of the threat of a “carbon bubble” and “stranded assets” for listed energy companies, based on the possibility they will never be able to realise the value of their vast stores of oil, gas and coal if politicians actually deliver on their decarbonisation promises.

But today a group of scientists and analysts from Cambridge, Nijmegen, Macao and the Open University take that warning a step further by arguing that these assets are destined to be stranded regardless of official policies to discourage the use of fossil fuels because clean energy technologies are now developing so rapidly that those polluting assets will be worthless in any case. “Our analysis suggests that, contrary to investor expectations, the stranding of fossil fuels assets may happen even without new climate policies. This suggests a carbon bubble is forming and it is likely to burst,” said Professor Jorge Viñuales from Cambridge University. If policymakers did deliver on the decarbonisation programmes, the loss for investors would be even more rapid.

The research is at odds with work from the International Energy Agency, which projects steady price rises for fossil fuels until 2040. And Donald Trump’s decision last year to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change has also done nothing to persuade most investors to take the stranded assets warning seriously. But the researchers’ new “simulation-based, energy-economy-carbon-cycle climate” model suggests investing in fossil fuel firms today is likely to prove a disastrous bet, suggesting that between $1 trillion and $4 trillion could be wiped off the value of global fossil fuel assets by 2035.

Read more …

Steel and concrete prices better not rise.

The Effects Of Trump’s Steel Tariffs On Red State Energy (F.)

Electricity production is heavily dependent on materials like steel, concrete, copper and aluminum, for both producing electricity and moving it around to where it’s needed (see figure). Solar and Wind energy take more steel than any other energy source. Natural gas and nuclear take the least. Solar needs 1,600 tons of steel per MW, wind energy needs over 400 tons of steel, while gas and nuclear need only 4 and 40 tons, respectively. Wind and solar also require ten times more transmission, also heavily steel-intensive, since they are usually sited far away from where the energy is used.

The average high-voltage transmission tower includes about 30 tons of steel and transmission wire contains about a ton of steel per mile. Going from our biggest solar array, located in the Mohave Desert, to Los Angeles is almost 300 miles, requiring on the order of 10,000 tons of steel depending on specific design. While we tend to think of renewables as associated with Blue States, they are actually growing faster in Red States. Four of the five states with the most installed wind energy are Texas (20,321 MW), Iowa (6,917 MW), Oklahoma (6,645 MW) and Kansas (4,451 MW). The only Blue State in the top five is California (5,662 MW).

Read more …

Prop up your stock some more.

US Firms To Pour $2.5 Trillion Into Buybacks, Dividends, M&A This Year (CNBC)

Money is pouring into the U.S. economy and in turn helping provide support for the otherwise struggling stock market. If current conditions persist, corporations are likely this year to inject more than $2.5 trillion into what UBS strategists term “flow” — the combination of share buybacks, dividends, and mergers and acquisitions activity. The development comes as companies find themselves awash in cash, thanks primarily to years of stashing away profits plus the benefits of a $1.5 trillion tax break this year that slashed corporate rates and encouraged firms to bring back money idling overseas. Companies have nearly $2.5 trillion in cash parked domestically, according to the Federal Reserve, and as much as $3.5 trillion overseas, various estimates have shown.

When all is said and done for 2018, UBS expects dividend issuance to top $500 billion, buybacks to range from $700 billion to $800 billion, and M&A to constitute about $1.3 trillion. If the numbers pan out, they would equate to about 10% of the S&P 500’s market cap and 12.5% of GDP. “Assuming improving growth and stable rates, we expect the positive positioning/flow backdrop to support US equities, which is important as the daily corporate flow slows from mid-June to mid-July,” UBS strategist Keith Parker said in a note. Parker pointed out that the firm has overweight positions in both tech and health care as the two sectors are leading the buyback boom.

Buybacks specifically have been on a torrid pace and are helping provide a floor to a market that for much of 2018 had looked tired and volatile after a 20% S&P 500 gain the year before. Repurchases are up 83% year to date, far ahead of the 9% gain in dividends, while M&A activity involving U.S. companies has surged 130%, according to UBS. [..] UBS estimates that the combination of buybacks, dividends and demand flows account for some 40% in performance this year. The S&P 500 has nudged 2.6% higher and the Dow industrials are just ahead of breakeven.

Read more …

The Fed retreats and the Treasury issues new debt.

India Central Banker Sees Sudden “Evaporation” Of Dollar Funding (ZH)

In an op-ed published overnight in the FT, a central banker writes that when it comes to the turmoil gripping the world’s Emerging Markets, whether it is the acute, idiosyncratic version observed in Argentina and Turkey, which according to JPM may be doomed, or the more gradual selloffs observed in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Mexico and India, don’t blame the Fed’s rate hike cycle. Instead blame the “double whammy” of the Fed’s shrinking balance sheet coupled with the dollar draining surge in debt issuance by the US Treasury.

That’s the message from the current Reserve Bank of India, Urjit Patel, who writes that “unlike previous turbulence, this episode cannot be attributed to the US Federal Reserve’s moves on interest rates, which have been rising steadily since December 2016 in a calibrated manner.” But does that mean that the Fed is not to blame for what increasingly looks like another budding EM crisis? Not at all: according to Patel, the dollar funding shortage “upheaval” stems from what he sees as the confluence of two significant events of which the Fed’s balance sheet reduction is one, while the second is the dramatic increase in US Treasury issuance to pay for Trump’s tax cuts; what is notable is that both events are drastically soaking up dollar liquidity.

As a result, Patel blames a lack a coordination between the Fed and Treasury on the adverse flow through across global funding markets as a result of this decline in dollar liquidity, and writes that “given the rapid rise in the size of the US deficit, the Fed must respond by slowing plans to shrink its balance sheet. If it does not, Treasuries will absorb such a large share of dollar liquidity that a crisis in the rest of the dollar bond markets is inevitable.” Putting these two parallel processes – which threaten to materially impair dollar funding markets – in context, on one hand there is QT, or the gradual decline in the Fed’s balance sheet which is set to peak at a rate of $50BN/month by October, while at the same time US net Treasury issuance is set to jump to $1.2 trillion in 2018 and 2019 to cover the forecasted budget deficit of $804BN and $981BN in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

And in a curious coincidence, the withdrawal of dollar funding by the Fed in monthly terms, as it reduces its reinvestment of income received, is proceeding at roughly the same pace as that of net issuance of debt by the US government. Furthermore, both processes are open ended which means that over the next few years, the government’s net issuance will stabilize, albeit at a high level, whereas the Fed’s balance-sheet reduction will keep rising. Both are terrible news for Emerging Markets, which are in desperate need of reversing the ongoing dollar outflows; however as long as Trump continues to make America great, and funds said stimulus with excess debt issuance, emerging market turmoil is virtually guaranteed.

Read more …

China retreats, too.

China’s Debt Crackdown To Hurt Emerging Markets, Oil, Metals – Fitch (R.)

China’s debt crackdown is a key risk to the country’s economic growth and will have significant knock-on effects for the global economy, particularly emerging markets with high commodity dependence or close Chinese trade links, Fitch Ratings said. Beijing’s campaign to put a lid on debt could also lead to a sharp slowdown in business investment, Fitch said late on Sunday, forecasting that growth in the world’s second-biggest economy would slow to around 4.5% over the medium term. Fitch said the implications of this scenario for the global economy would be significant but not dramatic, unlike a full-scale hard landing.

One of the most significant effects would be on commodity prices, with Fitch expecting oil and metal prices to fall 5 to 10% from its baseline scenario, reflecting China’s large role as a commodity consumer. In April, a Reuters poll of 72 institutions showed economists expected China’s economic growth to slow to 6.5% this year and 6.3% next year as Beijing extends its crackdown on riskier lending practices. GDP in 2017 expanded 6.9% in real terms and 11.2% in nominal terms. Beijing’s financial crackdown, now in its third year, has slowly pushed up borrowing costs and is choking off alternative, murkier funding sources for companies such as shadow banking.

The ratio of Chinese corporate debt to GDP is already very high by international standards – at 168% in 2017 – and is expected to start rising again as nominal GDP growth declines towards 8% from the unusually high rate of more than 11% in 2017, Fitch said. If the government aims to stabilize its corporate debt ratio by 2022, Fitch said China’s nominal economic growth rate could fall by 1 percentage point a year over the medium term while business investment growth would drop 5percentage points per year.

Read more …

Restructuring Target2. That should be fun.

Italy’s Long, Hot Summer (Carmen Reinhart)

The political upheaval and social unrest fueling the current crisis in Italy should surprise no one. On the contrary, the only uncertainty was when exactly matters would come to a head. Now they have. Italy’s per capita GDP in 2018 is about 8% below its level in 2007, the year before the global financial crisis triggered the Great Recession. And the International Monetary Fund’s projections for 2023 suggest that Italy will still not have fully recovered from the cumulative output losses of the past decade. Among the 11 advanced economies that were hit by severe financial crises in 2007-2009, only Greece has suffered a deeper and more protracted economic depression.

Greece and Italy were the two economies carrying the highest debt burdens at the outset of the crisis (109% and 102% of GDP, respectively), leaving them poorly positioned to cope with major adverse shocks. Since the crisis erupted a decade ago, economic stagnation and costly banking weaknesses have propelled debt burdens higher still, despite a decade of exceptionally low interest rates. Greece has already faced more than one “credit event” and, while Italy has also had a couple of close calls, the spring of 2018 is turning out to be its most tumultuous episode yet. The summer will probably be worse, bringing Italy closer to a sovereign debt crisis. On the surface, general government debt appears to have stabilized since 2013, at around 130% of GDP. However, as I have stressed here and elsewhere, this “stability” is misleading.

General government debt is not the whole story for Italy, even setting aside the private debt loads and the recent renewed upturn in nonperforming bank loans (a daunting legacy of the financial crisis). When evaluating Italy’s sovereign risk, the central bank’s debts (Target2 balances) must be added to those of the general government. As the most recent available data (through March) show, these balances increase the ratio of public-sector debt to GDP by 26%. With many investors pulling out of Italian assets, capital flight in the more recent data is bound to show up as an even bigger Target2 hole. This debt, unlike pre-1999, pre-euro Italian debt, cannot be inflated away. In this regard, it is much like emerging markets’ dollar-denominated debts: it is either repaid or restructured.

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What the euro has meant for Greece and Italy: lower wages, higher unemployment and higher current account deficit.

Why The Euro Was Created (ZH)

[..] we thought it would be a good idea to remind readers why the euro exists in the first place. The briefest possible answer: to make sure the Deutsche Mark does not. As presented in the chart below – which shows the performance for each of the EU12 countries against the German DEM in every decade from the 1950s to the start of the Euro in 1999 – apart from a small revaluation of core countries in the 1990s, every country devalued to Germany in every decade between the 1950s and the start of the Euro. Said otherwise, the Deutsche Mark appreciated in value against all of its European peers for 5 consecutive decades, a condition which if left unchanged, would have led to an economic and trade crisis.

And as a bonus chart, here is same data (with the US and UK added) from the end of the Bretton Woods system in 1971 to the start of the Euro (Lira -82% devaluation to German DM) and during the 1990s (-24% devaluation) – the decade immediately leading up to the Euro start. As can be seen Italy is amongs the weakest performers relative to the German DM over these periods and showed the momentum that existed in the period leading up to the start of the Euro.

And while the fixed exchange of the Euro for European nations allowed the German export industry to go into overdrive, the lack of the possibility for an external, i.e. currency, devaluation, meant that Italy has been forced to do it all by engaging in internal devaluation, i.e., lower wages, higher unemployment and boosting its current account deficit, which however is made virtually impossible given Italy’s deteriorating demographics. This is what DB’s Jim Reid said of Italy’s potential future: Looking forward, Italy will not find it easy to grow out of its problems as its facing one of the worst set of demographics of the G20 countries. Its population size has peaked (according to the UN) and is expected to decline out to 2050. Its working age population (15-64 year olds as a proxy) is set to fall -24% over the same period and is again one of the worst placed in the G20.

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“Home sales plunged 22% in May compared to a year ago..”

Toronto’s House Price Bubble Not Fun Anymore (WS)

Housing in the Greater Toronto Area is, let’s say, retrenching. Canada’s largest housing market has seen an enormous two-decade surge in prices that culminated in utter craziness in April 2017, when the Home Price Index had skyrocketed 32% from a year earlier. But now the hangover has set in and the bubble isn’t fun anymore. Home sales plunged 22% in May compared to a year ago, to 7,834 homes, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB). It affected all types of homes, even the once red-hot condos: • Detached houses -28.5% • Semi-detached houses -29.4% • Townhouses -13.4% • Condos -15.5%.

It was particularly unpleasant at the higher end: Sales of homes costing C$1.5 million or more plummeted by 46% year-over-year to 508 homes in May 2018, according to TREB data. Compared to the April 2017 peak of 1,362 sales in that price range, sales in May collapsed by 63%. But it’s not just at the high end. At the low end too. In May, sales of homes below C$500,000 – about 68% of them were condos – fell by 36% year-over-year to 5,253 homes. The TREB publishes two types of prices – the average price and its proprietary MLS Home Price Index based on a “composite benchmark home.” Both fell in May compared to a year ago.

The average price in May for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) fell 6.6% year-over-year to C$805,320, and is now down 12.3%, or an ear-ringing C$113,000, from the crazy peak in April 2017. There are no perfect measures of home prices in a market. Each has its own drawbacks. Average home prices can be impacted by the mix and by a few large outliers – but over the longer term, it gives a good impression of the direction. The chart below shows thepercentage change in average home prices in the GTA compared to a year earlier:

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Because the boom was a bubble.

Why Australia’s Great Banking Boom Has Ended (SMH)

It doesn’t feel all that long ago that Australian banks were the envy of the world. In March 2009, when stress-testing of US financial institutions drove the final spasm of the previous year’s credit crisis, you could have bought all the shares in Citigroup, Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Barclays with their $US8.4 trillion ($11 trillion) of gross assets for less than you’d pay for the equity of Westpac, with $US347 billion of assets. Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s share price peaked six years later just a sliver south of three times the value of its net assets, an extraordinary level in a business where price-book ratios have struggled to break above one times over the past decade.

With the current Royal Commission inquiring into practices in the country’s financial services industry and a slew of court cases, those high-flyers have come to earth with a bump. CBA on Monday agreed to pay $700 million to settle a money laundering case in which it admitted that a software update allowed about 54,000 reportable transactions to go unreported over a period of almost three years. On Friday, ANZ and local units of Deutsche Bank and Citigroup announced they were facing possible criminal cartel charges over their handling of a $2.5 billion placement of ANZ shares in 2015. Having executives hauled up before government inquiries and paying out hundreds of millions in court settlements isn’t great for headlines, but it would be a mistake to see the declines in Australia’s banking sector as purely a result of this.

When your annual net income is in the region of $10 billion, as CBA’s is, a $700 million charge is more than just a rounding error. But the 1.2 per cent jump in the company’s stock after the settlement was announced Monday is an indication that the cost is worth less to shareholders than the benefit of putting the issue firmly in the past. The greater risk to Australia’s banks lurks not in the papers of regulators and inquisitors, but on the streets of the country’s sprawling suburbs. As we’ve argued before, the most ominous indicator to watch is also a favourite one of the Reserve Bank of Australia. Rents, as measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, have been increasing at less than 1 per cent for nine consecutive quarters , the worst performance for the measure since the housing crash of the early 1990s.

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The spirit of Steve Jobs?!

Apple Jams Facebook’s Web-Tracking Tools (BBC)

Apple will attempt to frustrate tools used by Facebook to automatically track web users, within the next version of its iOS and Mac operating systems. “We’re shutting that down,” declared Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi, at the firm’s developers conference. He added that the web browser Safari would ask owners’ permission before allowing the social network to monitor their activity. The move is likely to add to tensions between the two companies. Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook had previously described Facebook’s practices as being an “invasion of privacy” – an opinion Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg subsequently denounced as being “glib”.

At the WWDC conference – held in San Jose, California – Mr Federighi said that Facebook keeps watch over people in ways they might not be aware of. “We’ve all seen these – these like buttons, and share buttons and these comment fields. “Well it turns out these can be used to track you, whether you click on them or not.” He then pointed to an onscreen alert that asked: “Do you want to allow Facebook.com to use cookies and available data while browsing?” “You can decide to keep your information private.”

One cyber-security expert applauded the move. “Apple is making changes to the core of how the browser works – surprisingly strong changes that should enable greater privacy,” said Kevin Beaumont. “Quite often the changes companies make around privacy are small, incremental, they don’t shake the market up much. “Here Apple is allowing users to see when tracking is enabled on a website – actually being able to visually see that with a prompt is breaking new ground.”

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Building on the Ring of Fire.

A West Coast State of Mind (Jim Kunstler)

It’s only been in the last thirty years that Seattle hoisted up its tombstone cluster of several dozen office and condo towers. That’s what cities do these days to demonstrate their self-regard, and Seattle is perhaps America’s boomingest city, what with Microsoft’s and Amazon’s headquarters there — avatars of the digital economy. A megathrust earthquake there today would produce a scene that even the computer graphics artistes of Hollywood could not match for picturesque chaos. What were the city planners thinking when they signed off on those building plans?

I survived the journey through the Seattle tunnel, dogged by neurotic fantasies, and headed south to California’s Bay Area, another seismic doomer zone. For sure I am not the only casual observer who gets the doomish vibe out there on the Left Coast. Even if you are oblivious to the geology of the place, there’s plenty to suggest a sense of impossibility for business-as-usual continuing much longer. I got that end-of-an-era feeling in California traffic, specifically driving toward San Francisco on the I-80 freeway out in the suburban asteroid belt of Contra Costa County, past the sinister oil refineries of Mococo and the dormitory sprawl of Walnut Creek, Orinda, and Lafayette.

Things go on until they can’t, economist Herb Stein observed, back in the quaint old 20th century, as the USA revved up toward the final blowoff we’ve now entered. The shale oil “miracle” (so-called) has given even thoughtful adults the false impression that the California template for modern living will continue indefinitely. I’d give it less than five years now.

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Snowden deserves as much support as Assange does.

Edward Snowden: ‘The People Are Still Powerless, But Now They’re Aware’ (G.)

Edward Snowden has no regrets five years on from leaking the biggest cache of top-secret documents in history. He is wanted by the US. He is in exile in Russia. But he is satisfied with the way his revelations of mass surveillance have rocked governments, intelligence agencies and major internet companies. In a phone interview to mark the anniversary of the day the Guardian broke the story, he recalled the day his world – and that of many others around the globe – changed for good. He went to sleep in his Hong Kong hotel room and when he woke, the news that the National Security Agency had been vacuuming up the phone data of millions of Americans had been live for several hours.

Snowden knew at that moment his old life was over. “It was scary but it was liberating,” he said. “There was a sense of finality. There was no going back.” What has happened in the five years since? He is one of the most famous fugitives in the world, the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary, a Hollywood movie, and at least a dozen books. The US and UK governments, on the basis of his revelations, have faced court challenges to surveillance laws. New legislation has been passed in both countries. The internet companies, responding to a public backlash over privacy, have made encryption commonplace.

Snowden, weighing up the changes, said some privacy campaigners had expressed disappointment with how things have developed, but he did not share it. “People say nothing has changed: that there is still mass surveillance. That is not how you measure change. Look back before 2013 and look at what has happened since. Everything changed.” The most important change, he said, was public awareness. “The government and corporate sector preyed on our ignorance. But now we know. People are aware now. People are still powerless to stop it but we are trying. The revelations made the fight more even.”

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Bayer-Monsanto: “It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits..”

Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals? (Vidal)

Unless there is a major hiccup in the next few days, an incredibly powerful company will shortly be given a licence to dominate world farming. Following a nod from Donald Trump, powerful lobbying in Europe and a lot of political arm-twisting on several continents, the path has been cleared for Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, to be taken over by Bayer, the second-largest pesticide group, for an estimated $66bn (£50bn). The merger has been called both a “marriage made in hell” and “an important development for food security”.

Through its many subsidiary companies and research arms, Bayer-Monsanto will have an indirect impact on every consumer and a direct one on most farmers in Britain, the EU and the US. It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits, as well as much of the data about what farmers grow where, and the yields they get. It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by. But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers.

Backed by governments, and enabled by world trade rules and intellectual property laws, Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta have been allowed to control much of the world’s supply of seeds. You might think that these mergers would alert the government, but because political parties in Britain are so inward-looking, and because most farmers in rich countries already buy their seeds from the multinationals, opposition has barely been heard.

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 May 31, 2018  Posted by at 9:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh The sower 1888

 

Liquidity Crisis Coming: Here, There, Everywhere (Mish)
The Trump Effect Is Keeping Bull Market Alive – Robert Shiller (CNBC)
Global Growth Too Dependent On Cheap Borrowing – OECD (G.)
The Euro Has To Be Abandoned If Europe Is To Be Saved (Syll)
Italy Crisis: Workers Are Paying For Decisions Made Nearly 30 Years Ago (Clark)
Italy Crisis Dents Greek Hopes Of Returning To Bond Markets (G.)
Eurozone, IMF Seek Last-Minute Deal On Greek Debt Relief At G7 This Week (R.)
Fed Proposes Changes To Rule Limiting Risky Trading On Wall Street (AP)
US To Hit EU With Steel And Aluminum Tariffs (G.)
Abe Slams US Vehicle Tariff Hikes As ‘Unacceptable’ (JT)
George Osborne’s London Evening Standard Sells Its Editorial Independence (OD)
Bayer Wins US Nod For Monsanto Deal To Create Agrochemical Giant (R.)
The British Countryside Is Being Killed By Herbicides And Insecticides (G.)

 

 

Nuts all around.

Liquidity Crisis Coming: Here, There, Everywhere (Mish)

The problem is global. Central bank actions explain most of what you need to know. Italian bonds provide a good example. Despite the recent, massive selloff in Italian bonds, 10-year Italian bonds still trade at roughly the same yield as US 10-year bonds. Is there no default risk? No eurozone exit risk? Of course there is. But those bonds trade where they do because the ECB is engaged in QE to a far greater extent than the the Fed ever did. How nuts is that? 88% of the S&P is with Vanguard, BlackRock, and State Street. How nuts is that? Close to $7 trillion in bonds trade with a negative yield. The figure was close to $10 trillion at one point. How nuts is that?

According to LCD, covenant-lite loan now account for a record 75% of the roughly $970 billion in outstanding U.S leveraged loans. Covenant-lite agreements vary, but they allow things like paying interest with more debt rather than cash or skipping repayments entirely for periods of time. How nuts is that? This is totally nuts, across the board. Puplava calls it “mindless”. I suspect he would be the first to admit that he seriously understated the concern. My “totally nuts” position is also too mild, but I also struggle for the precise words. A global liquidity crisis looms. It is entirely central-bank sponsored. Just don’t expect me, Puplava, or anyone else to tell you precisely when the crisis will hit. But it will. And when it does, don’t fool yourself into believing that you can necessarily escape in time.

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How to keep everything overpriced.

The Trump Effect Is Keeping Bull Market Alive – Robert Shiller (CNBC)

Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller hasn’t been the most optimistic voice on Wall Street, but he isn’t writing off the bull market. His chief reason: President Donald Trump’s pro-business influence. “There is a sort of optimism about the markets under Trump, and that’s continuing. I don’t see a reason for it about to change,” the Yale professor said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Trading Nation.” “There’s something about how the world is reacting to the president. Something about his self-confidence which is gradually lifting our spirits.” Shiller believes the momentum is so powerful, it’s essentially propping up a bull market that is getting long in the tooth.

“We’ve seen an overpriced stock market. We’ve seen concerns about that for years now,” he said. Shiller acknowledged it’s definitely possible the U.S. stock market could generate gains this year, but he warned the Trump effect “is not a very reliable thing.” So, he said the best strategy is to diversify abroad in this environment. “If you have been overexposed to the United States in your portfolio, this is a time to reconsider that,” Shiller said. “Not to pull out, but to balance things … Europe is cheaper than the U.S..”

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These clowns really believe this: “self-sustaining growth”.

Global Growth Too Dependent On Cheap Borrowing – OECD (G.)

Unemployment will drop to its lowest level since 1980 across the world’s richest nations, but global growth remains dependent on cheap borrowing and government spending, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) has warned in its latest global economy health check. The rise of tit-for-tat protectionist trade barriers, the return of volatile financial markets, and soaring oil prices also spell trouble for the global economy as it heads towards the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 banking collapse, the OECD said.

“The economic expansion is set to continue for the coming two years, and the short-term growth outlook is more favourable than it has been for many years,” said Angel Gurría, secretary general of the OECD, the Paris based thinktank for the world’s 35 richest nations, including the US, Britain, Brazil, Mexico and Russia. “However, the current recovery is still being supported by very accommodative monetary policy, and increasingly by fiscal easing. This suggests that strong, self-sustaining growth has not yet been attained.” Central banks in Britain, the eurozone, Japan and the US have kept interest rates low and pumped funds into their economies via quantitative easing to maintain investment and promote growth. Governments have eased back on austerity measures, allowing more state funds for infrastructure projects and welfare payments, especially pensions.

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In the end, people want to keep sovereignty. Which has largely been sold off by their leaders.

The Euro Has To Be Abandoned If Europe Is To Be Saved (Syll)

The euro has taken away the possibility for national governments to manage their economies in a meaningful way – and in Italy, just as in Greece a couple of years ago, the people have had to pay the true costs of its concomitant misguided austerity policies. The unfolding of the repeated economic crises in euroland during the last decade has shown beyond any doubts that the euro is not only an economic project but just as much a political one. What the neoliberal revolution during the 1980s and 1990s didn’t manage to accomplish, the euro shall now force on us.

But do the peoples of Europe really want to deprive themselves of economic autonomy, enforce lower wages and slash social welfare at the slightest sign of economic distress? Is increasing income inequality and a federal Uberstate really the stuff that our dreams are made of? I doubt it. History ought to act as a deterrent. During the 1930s our economies didn’t come out of the depression until the folly of that time, the gold standard, was thrown on the dustbin of history. The euro will hopefully soon join it.

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Countries will be forced to leave.

Italy Crisis: Workers Are Paying For Decisions Made Nearly 30 Years Ago (Clark)

You could say that Italy’s current problems – indeed all of Europe’s economic woes – go back to the early 1990s, when wrong-headed decisions were made by the European elite and enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty – which workers have been paying for ever since. Cuts in public spending have increased unemployment, which in turn has increased the deficit, which has led to more cuts, and so on and so on. Italy‘s National Debt is now 132% of its GDP. Although growth rates are now positive, its average annual rate of growth from 1999-2016 was zero. With 31.7% youth unemployment, La Dolce Vita and Ryan Paris’s catchy song, is a long distance memory.

The tragedy is that it was all so predictable. One man who warned what Europe was letting itself in for in the rush to squeeze as many countries as possible into the Eurozone, was the late Labour politician Peter Shore, the UK’s secretary of state for economic affairs from 1967-69 and trade minister from 1974-6. In the early-to-mid 1990s I was teaching economics in Switzerland and was in correspondence with Shore. He very kindly sent me copies of parliamentary debates where he had railed against the Maastricht Treaty and its imposition of a financial strait-jacket on EEC/EU members – regardless of the state of their economies.

Shore told the House of Commons on March 24, 1993: “The most astonishing omission from the treaty is the fact that it never faces the issue of the counter-recession policy, about which it contains not a word. One lesson that we should have learned from the disasters of the inter-war years was that tendency to go too high in a boom, and too low in recession and slump. “Why is that aspect not written into the protocol? Why does it not say that we must recognise those counter-cyclical problems, and will certainly do so if unemployment grows by X per cent? Instead of having merely 3% and 60% for borrowing and debt, why not have 3, 4 or 5% of the level of unemployment or the fall in GDP?”

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“Events in Italy are changing everything.”

Italy Crisis Dents Greek Hopes Of Returning To Bond Markets (G.)

Greece is watching the unfolding crisis in Italy with growing nervousness. Events in Rome are eliciting a sense of deja vu in Athens, the capital long on the frontline of the eurozone crisis. And nerves are being rattled. “We want a stable, democratic and pro-European Italy,” the country’s foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, told reporters. “We are worried that if there is instability and it has an impact on the financial situation, this could create problems for us.” The turmoil in Italy could not come at a worse time for Greece. After almost a decade of exclusion from international markets, the debt-stricken nation had set its sights on returning to much-needed normality this summer.

Hopes had been high that when it emerged from its third multi-billion EU-funded bailout programme, Athens would regain market access. But on Wednesday government officials, bankers and analysts were decidedly downbeat. All agreed that with political uncertainty raging across the Ionian Sea, and global investors jittery, the prospect of Greece tapping markets any time soon was beginning to resemble a pipe dream. With soaring bond yields – interest rates on government borrowing – it was out of the question the country could afford the interest rates that would allow it to assume the mantle of post-bailout normality.

“What is happening in Italy worries us immensely,” a senior Bank of Greece official said. “The bond markets have gone mad in southern Europe. With such yields it is totally prohibitive that Greece could return to them when the programme ends.” [..] Italy’s financial turmoil has put hopes of “a clean exit,” on the back burner. “The government’s narrative of clean breaks, and going it alone, is over for now,” a well-placed official conceded. “Events in Italy are changing everything.”

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With Italy on the horizon? It amkes little difference, nobody wants to reduce the principal of the debt. And that is what is needed.

Eurozone, IMF Seek Last-Minute Deal On Greek Debt Relief At G7 This Week (R.)

Euro zone policy-makers will seek last-minute backing this week from the IMF for their debt-relief offer to Greece, to ensure it is credible with markets and draws investors back to Greece after it exits its bailout. The talks are to take place on the sidelines of a meeting of in Canada of finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s top seven economies, the G7, in June, officials involved in the negotiations said. The bailout ends on Aug. 20. “This thing has to be done now,” one senior official involved in the talks said. If no deal is agreed by next Monday, the official said, the IMF would most likely not take part in the bailout at all.

After three successive bailouts since Athens lost market access in 2010, euro zone governments are now Greece’s main creditors, with total loans of €230 billion so far. The IMF took part in the first two bailouts, but has refused to join in the third, which began in 2015. It says the euro zone must agree on how to make Greek debt, now at 179% of GDP, sustainable. Euro zone finance ministers have argued they can only give such details towards the end of the three-year bailout. So the IMF has remained only an observer over the past three years. [..] The IMF and the euro zone agree there should be no “haircut” – a reduction in the principal of the debt – but only an extension of maturities and grace periods.

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I smell bailouts.

Fed Proposes Changes To Rule Limiting Risky Trading On Wall Street (AP)

The Federal Reserve is proposing to ease a rule aimed at defusing the kind of risk-taking on Wall Street that helped trigger the 2008 financial meltdown. The Fed under new leadership on Wednesday unveiled proposed changes to the Volcker Rule, which bars banks’ risky trading bets for their own profit with depositors’ money. The high-risk activity is known as proprietary trading. The proposed changes would match the strictest applications of the rule to banks that do the most trading – 18 banks with at least $10bn in trading assets and liabilities. They account for 95% of all US bank trading and include some foreign banks with US operations, Fed officials said.

Less stringent requirements would apply to banks that do less trading. The idea is to make it easier for banks to comply with the Volcker Rule without sacrificing the banks’ safety and soundness, the officials said. “The proposal will address some of the uncertainty and complexity that now make it difficult for firms to know how best to comply, and for supervisors to know that they are in compliance,” Fed chair Jerome Powell said at a meeting of the Fed governors. “Our goal is to replace overly complex and inefficient requirements with a more streamlined set of requirements.”

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The EU is not about to give in.

US To Hit EU With Steel And Aluminum Tariffs (G.)

The Trump administration is reportedly planning to impose import tariffs on European steel and aluminum after finding no satisfaction in its effort to win trading concessions on the issue. An announcement dropping the EU from an exemption to global tariffs of 25% on imported steel, and 10% on aluminum, could come on Thursday, according to the Wall Street Journal. The move is likely to bring retaliatory action from European Union trade regulators who have warned they will target American products as motorcycles, jeans and bourbon if additional US tariffs are imposed.

Signs of increasing friction between the US and Europe over trade came early Wednesday when Wilbur Ross, the US commerce secretary, drew a sharp line with the EU over Chinese trade negotiations, telling counterparts at a trade development panel in Paris that Europe is using tariffs as an “excuse” to refuse trade negotiations. “China are paying their tariffs,” Ross told the panel. “China hasn’t used that as an excuse not to negotiate … It’s only the EU that is insisting we can’t negotiate if there are tariffs,” he added. Ross’s comments were made in response to EU criticism of import tariffs the Trump administration imposed on dozens of trade partners in March. On Tuesday, the White House added $50bn in new tariffs despite telling China the trade dispute was “on hold” while negotiations continued.

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Make Detroit great again.

Abe Slams US Vehicle Tariff Hikes As ‘Unacceptable’ (JT)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s reported move to impose tariffs of up to 25% on imported vehicles as unwarranted and offensive. “If the U.S. slaps Japan, its ally, with tariffs like this, that would be incomprehensible and unacceptable,” Abe told the head of the Democratic Party for the People, Yuichiro Tamaki, during a debate between party leaders in the Diet. The Trump administration recently launched a Section 232 national security probe into whether vehicle and parts imports are harming the U.S.’s domestic auto industry — a step that could provide Trump with the legal basis to institute tariffs.

The move followed yet another surprise announcement by the Trump administration in March that Japan, unlike Washington’s other key allies and partners, wouldn’t be excluded from steel and aluminium tariffs. Tamaki said the hike, if realized, would “deal a severe blow to Japan’s economy.” “Did you get an advance notice on this measure?” Tamaki asked Abe. “You yourself often claim that Japan and the U.S. are 100% together. If there had been no heads-up from the U.S. side on this matter, I’d have to suspect that we may not be seen as their ally.” Abe dodged Tamaki’s question, but stressed he had explained to Trump in their past conversations that Japanese automobile makers are “vastly contributing” to the U.S. economy by creating jobs.

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Why am I not surprised?

George Osborne’s London Evening Standard Sells Its Editorial Independence (OD)

London’s Evening Standard newspaper, edited by the former chancellor George Osborne, has agreed a £3 million deal with six leading commercial companies, including Google and Uber, promising them “money-can’t-buy” positive news and “favourable” comment coverage, openDemocracy can reveal. The project, called London 2020, is being directed by Osborne. It effectively sweeps away the conventional ethical divide between news and advertising inside the Standard – and is set to include “favourable” news coverage of the firms involved, with readers unable to differentiate between “news” that is paid-for and other commercially-branded content.

Leading companies, most operating global businesses, were given detailed sales presentations by Evening Standard executives at the newspaper’s west London offices in an effort to sign them up to the lucrative deal. Among those that have paid half a million pounds each to be involved are international taxi-app firm Uber, which is facing an imminent court appeal against the decision to cancel its licence to operate in London. The Evening Standard has previously come under fire for not declaring Osborne’s £650,000-a-year part time job with the fund managers BlackRock, who hold a £500m stake in Uber.

The global tech giant, Google, still recovering from reputational damage over its low UK tax bills and criticism over its close relationship to the Cameron-Osborne government, has also signed up. Some companies, including Starbucks, walked away from the Evening Standard’s pitch, rejecting the offer of paying to boost their reputations through tailored news and comment. London 2020 is scheduled to start on June 5. Unbranded news stories, expected to be written by staff reporters – but paid for by the new commercial “partners” as part of the 2020 deal – have already been planned for inclusion in the paper’s news pages within a week of the project’s launch.

The London Evening Standard has a circulation of close to 900,000 and distributes more copies within a two-mile radius of Westminster than the Times does across the UK nationally. Many London commuters, who pick up their free copy of the Standard at underground and rail stations, will be unaware that they will be reading paid-for news coverage that is part of a wider commercial deal. An increasing number of British newspapers often carry “native advertising”, essentially paid-for commercials designed to look like independent editorial articles.

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It is a sad day.

Bayer Wins US Nod For Monsanto Deal To Create Agrochemical Giant (R.)

Bayer won U.S. approval for its planned takeover of Monsanto after agreeing to sell about $9 billion in assets, clearing a major hurdle for the $62.5 billion deal that will create by far the largest seeds and pesticides maker. Makan Delrahim, who heads the U.S. Justice Department’s (DoJ) Antitrust Division, said the asset sales agreed to by Bayer were the “largest ever divestiture ever required by the United States.” A Bayer spokesman said the planned sale of businesses with 2.2 billion euros ($2.54 billion) in sales to BASF already agreed to address antitrust concerns, mainly in Europe, were not materially different from the DoJ’s demands. “Receipt of the DOJ’s approval brings us close to our goal of creating a leading company in agriculture,” Bayer CEO Werner Baumann said in a statement.

Bayer’s move to combine its crop chemicals business, the world’s second-largest after Syngenta, with Monsanto’s industry-leading seeds business, is the latest in a series of major agrochemicals tie-ups. U.S. chemicals giants Dow Chemical and DuPont merged in September 2017 and are now in the process of splitting into three units. In other consolidation in the sector, China’s state-owned ChemChina purchased Syngenta and two huge Canadian fertilizer producers merged to form a new company, now called Nutrien. Bayer committed to selling its entire cotton, canola, soybean and vegetable seeds businesses and digital farming business, as well its Liberty herbicide, which competes with Monsanto’s Roundup.

Read more …

As the industry that produces them gets bigger.

The British Countryside Is Being Killed By Herbicides And Insecticides (G.)

In June 2011 I took a long drive up the A1, the Great North Road. At Scotch Corner I turned for Barnard Castle. The villages were well kept, the countryside was green, the fields dotted with sheep. Everything was normal. Or so I thought. Beyond Barnard Castle I took a narrow lane into part of Upper Teesdale and suddenly colours exploded along the roadside. I stopped the car and jumped out. There was a bed of orchids, hundreds of them, and behind that, billowing banks of violet, scarlet, white, yellow and cornflower blue. I had seen alpine meadows, but this took my breath away. Further into the dale I found a footpath that led me down beside a shady brook. There were more orchids of a different species and a grass snake hunting frogs in a pool.

Out in the open again, there was the haunting cry of curlews overhead, then redshanks, plovers and snipe. I spent two days up there, talking to environmentalists and farmers involved in the upland hay meadow project for the North Pennines area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). The landowners were being paid to restrict the use of fertiliser, not employ herbicides, and stop grazing after mid-May. Together with some seeding programmes and careful monitoring, the meadows had become magnificent. When I drove back home, I came down to a countryside where the only flowers were dandelions, watched over by crows. The monotonous green of the rye grass was unbroken. Compared to what I had just experienced, it felt like a desert. I felt cheated. My entire adult life had been spent admiring a shoddy and simplified reproduction, a poor impersonation of a much-loved friend.

[..] Seven years on, the statistics for the British countryside are heartbreaking. Over a quarter of all British birds are under threat, eight species are almost extinct. Three-quarters of all flying insects have disappeared since 1945, including a staggering 60 different moths. Orchid ranges have shrunk by half; two species are gone. The State of Nature 2016 report described Britain as being “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”. [..] 40% of all species are in moderate or steep decline. Over a quarter of the hedgehog population has disappeared in a decade. Toads are down 68% in 30 years, water voles are no longer found in 94% of the places where they once lived. Likewise mountain hares are in steep decline, as are rabbits. Even that great survivor, the fox, has lost over 40% of its population.

Read more …

Apr 052018
 
 April 5, 2018  Posted by at 12:11 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Herbert Ponting Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition, Antarctica 1911

 

Something must be terribly wrong with the world. A few days ago Elizabeth Warren agreed with Trump on China, now Bernie Sanders agrees with him about Amazon. What’s happening?

 

Bernie Sanders Agrees With Trump: Amazon Has Too Much Power

Independent Vermont senator and 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders echoed President Donald Trump in expressing concern about retail giant Amazon. Sanders said that he felt Amazon had gotten too big on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, and added that Amazon’s place in society should be examined.

“And I think this is, look, this is an issue that has got to be looked at. What we are seeing all over this country is the decline in retail. We’re seeing this incredibly large company getting involved in almost every area of commerce. And I think it is important to take a look at the power and influence that Amazon has,” said Sanders.

A backlash against Facebook, a backlash against Amazon. Are these things connected? Actually, yes, they are connected. But not in a way that either Trump or Sanders has clued in to. Someone who has, a for now lone voice, is David Stockman. Here’s what he wrote last week.

 

The Donald’s Blind Squirrel Nails An Acorn

It is said that even a blind squirrel occasionally finds an acorn, and so it goes with the Donald. Banging on his Twitter keyboard in the morning darkness, he drilled Jeff Bezos a new one – or at least that’s what most people would call having their net worth lightened by about $2 billion:

“I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!” You can’t get more accurate than that. Amazon is a monstrous predator enabled by the state, but Amazon’s outrageous postal subsidy – a $1.46 gift card from the USPS stabled on each box – isn’t the half of it.

The real crime here is that Amazon has been exempted from making a profit, and the culprit is the Federal Reserve’s malignant regime of Bubble Finance. The latter has destroyed financial discipline entirely and turned the stock market into the greatest den of speculation in human history. That’s why Bezos can kill established businesses with impunity.

The casino allows him to run a pernicious business model based on “price to destroy”, rather than price for profit and a return on capital. Needless to say, under a regime of sound money and honest capital markets Amazon would be a far more benign economic creature. That’s because no real investors would value AMZN’s money-loosing e-Commerce business at $540 billion – nor even a small fraction of that after 25-years of profitless growth.

The bubble economy, the everything bubble, that we have been forced into, with QE, ultra-low rates, central banks buying trillions in what at least used to be assets, and massive buybacks that allow companies to raise their ‘value’ into the stratosphere, has enabled a company like Amazon to kill off its competition, which consists of many thousands of retailers, that do have to run a profit.

It’s a money scheme that allows many of the most ‘valuable’ tech companies to elbow their way into our lives, in ways that may seem beneficial to us at first, but in reality will only leave us behind with much less choice, far less competition, and many, many fewer jobs. Once it’s done someone will mention ‘scorched earth’. But for now they are everybody’s darlings; they are, don’t you know, the tech giants, the brainchildren of the best that the best among us have to offer.

They don’t all work the exact same way, which may make it harder to recognize what they have in common. For some it’s easier to see than for others. It’s also difficult to list them all. Here’s a few: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google (Alphabet), Tesla, Uber, Airbnb, Monsanto. Let’s go through the list.

 

Apple ? Yes, Apple too. But they make real things! Yes, but just as Apple CEO Tim Cook seeks to distance his company from the likes of Facebook on morals and ethics, he can’t deny that Apple sells a zillion phones to a large extent because everybody uses them to look at Facebook and Alphabet apps until their faces are blue. If data ethics are the only problem Cook sees, he’s in trouble.

Silicon Valley infighting shows that the industry does have an idea what is going wrong, in ways that should have already led to many more pronounced worries and investigations.

 

Silicon Valley Rivals Take Shots At Facebook

Mr. Cook, who has long sought to differentiate Apple on privacy matters, contrasted its focus on selling devices with Facebook and Google’s ad-based businesses that are built on user data. Asked what he would do if he were Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Cook replied: “I wouldn’t be in this situation.”

[..] Days earlier, François Chollet, an artificial intelligence engineer at Google, sought to draw a line between his company and Facebook. He tweeted that Google products like search and Gmail help users “to do more, to know more.” Facebook’s newsfeed, he wrote, “manipulates your worldview and seeks to maximally waste your time.”

[..] In January, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, whose company sells business software services, said that the addictive nature of social media means it should be regulated like a health issue.“I think that you do it exactly the same way that you regulated the cigarette industry,” Mr. Benioff told CNBC when asked how Facebook should be regulated. Some of the most cutting rebukes have come from people who know Facebook well.

In November, Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, said that Facebook executives, including himself, were “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology” by designing a platform built on social validation. Mr. Parker didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Facebook generally hasn’t responded to the criticism, but it did after sharp comments from its former vice president of growth, Chamath Palihapitiya. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works,” Mr. Palihapitiya said at a talk at Stanford University in November.

I would expect to hear a lot more of that sort of thing. Big Tech is changing the world in more ways than one. And spying on people Facebook-style is merely one of a long list of them. So yes, Apple certainly also belongs in that list. Facebook doesn’t build the devices people use to see what their friends had for breakfast, Apple does that. Moreover, Apple profits hugely from stock buybacks, so it fits in Stockman’s bubble finance definition of Amazon, too.

The failure of politics to investigate, and act against, those dopamine-driven feedback loops which exploit a vulnerability in human psychology in order to maximally waste your time and sell you product after product that you never (knew you) wanted is downright bizarre. Politicians only started talking about Facebook when a topic connected to Trump and Russia was linked to it.

 

Amazon: Trump can’t act fast enough on the tax situation and the US Postal deal. Not that that will solve the issue. Amazon, like all the companies on my list, can only be cut down to size if and when the everything bubble is. They are, after all, its children.

The most pernicious aspect of the Amazon ‘business model’, which all these firms share, and all are able to live by thanks to the central banks and the “greatest den of speculation in human history” they have created, is the prospect of world domination in their respective fields. They all hold in front of speculators the promise that they can crush all competition, or nearly all. Scorched earth, flat earth.

 

Facebook: their place in the list is obvious. What is it, 2.5 billion users? And what they don’t have is divvied up between them and Google when they buy up apps like Instagram. Officially competitors, but they have the exact same goals. And, like me, you may think: what’s the problem, just ban them from collecting all that data. Facebook has no reason to know, at least not one that serves us, where you were last Friday, and with whom. And just in case you missed that bit, they do.

But there their connection to the intelligence world comes in. Their platforms are better than anything the NSA has ever been able to develop. So we can say we don’t want Zuckerberg and Alphabet spying on us, but our own spies do want to do just that. That makes any kind of backlash much harder to succeed. And it doesn’t matter if you delete your Facebook account, they’ll find you anyway. Friend of a friend. We all have friends who are on Facebook, rinse and repeat.

The only hope there is, with Facebook as with the other companies, is for investors and speculators to dump their holdings in massive numbers. And that will only happen when the central bank Ponzi collapses. And it will, but by then we have a whole new set of problems.

 

Google: largely the same set of issues that Facebook has. Its tentacles are everywhere. Former CEO Eric Schmidt’s connections to the Pentagon should be really all you need to know. The EU may have issued all sorts of complaints and fines on competition grounds, but that makes no difference.

The one country with an effective response to Google and Facebook is China, that has largely banned both and built its own versions of their products. Which allows Beijing to ban people from boarding planes, buying homes etc., if their ‘social credit’ is deemed too low. If you want to be scared about where Big Tech’s powers can lead, look no further.

 

Tesla: Elon Musk has built a fantasy (and maybe I should put Paypal in this list too) on what everyone thinks must be done to ‘save the planet’ (yeah, build cars…) by grossly overstating the number of cars he can build, and financing his growth on not only speculation, but also on spectacular amounts of government subsidies (politicians want to save the planet, too).

And now he needs additional financing again. He will probably get it, again, but the Amazon backlash might have people take another look. One fine day… Fits David Stockman’s complaint to a t(ee), doesn’t have to make a profit. Musk has perfected that model.

 

Uber and Airbnb: why anyone anywhere would want to send money generated in their community, by renting out cars and apartments in that same community, to a bunch of people in Silicon Valley, is beyond me. Someone should set this up as an international effort that makes it easy for a community, a city etc., to provide this kind of service and make the profits benefit their own cities.

But like Amazon, they are free to run any competition into the ground because no profits are required until they have conquered the world. And then they can go nuts. It may look like a business model, but it isn’t. It’s a soon to be orphaned bubble child..

 

Monsanto: less obvious perhaps as an entry in the Big Tech list, but very much warranting a spot. And of course it stands for the entire chemical-seeds field. From Agent Orange to your children’s dinner plate. Monsanto has more lawyers and lobbyists on its payroll than it has scientists, but then its lofty goals outdo even those of Google or Amazon.

Facebook may focus on your addiction to human contact, but Bayer, DuPont, Syngenta et al have decided to make your food so addicted to their chemicals that they will in the future profit from every bite served on your table. How they will grow that food long term without any insects, bees or birds left is unclear, but they don’t seem to care much. As for profits? Monsanto seeks to rule the world, and for now care as little about profits as they do about insects.

 

Zuckerberg may claim that he only wants to improve Facebook’s service, but when that is done through for instance the 2012 so-called Transmission of Anger experiment in which the company tried to alter their users’ emotional states -and succeeded-, by manipulating their friends’ postings, that claim becomes pure ridicule. Selling off user data to scores of developers doesn’t help either. But do you see Congress tackling him in any serious way next week? Neither do I.

Because there’s one huge catch to the scenario that David Stockman -and I- painted, of the whole tech bubble collapsing when the financial bubble does. It is the links tech companies have built to intelligence. A group of Google employees wrote a letter to their CEO Sundar Pichai to protest the company’s involvement in “weaponized AI”, in the shape of Project Maven, a military surveillance engine to-be.

These people undoubtedly mean well, but they’re far too late. They will have to leave the “don’t be evil” company to actually not be evil. Because it’s not a big step from weaponized AI to killer robots. Microsoft is also part of the project, and Amazon is. If you work there and don’t want to be evil, you know what to do.

Yeah, it’s about our safety, and security, and political and military and economic power. But it’s also about spying on people, in even worse ways than Facebook does. So even as the central bank bubble, and the tech bubble, go poof, some of these companies may be saved by their military ties.

That sound you hear is George Orwell turning in his grave.

 

 

Mar 262018
 


Dorothea Lange Gravestone St. George, Utah 1953

 

There are numerous ways to define the Precautionary Principle. It’s something we can all intuitively understand, but which many parties seek ways to confuse since it has the potential to stand in the way of profits. Still, in the end it should all be about proof, not profits. That is exactly what the Principle addresses. Because if you first need to deliver scientific proof that some action or product can be harmful to mankind and/or the natural world, you run the risk of inflicting irreversible damage before that proof can be delivered.

In one of many definitions, the 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle says: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

Needless to say, that doesn’t easily fly in our age of science and money. Cigarette makers, car manufacturers and oil companies, just to name a few among a huge number of industries, are all literally making a killing while the Precautionary Principle is being ignored. Even as it is being cited in many international treaties. Lip service “R” us. Are these industries to blame when they sell us our products, or are we for buying them? That’s where governments must come in to educate us about risks. Which they obviously do not.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb -of Black Swan and Antifragile fame- has made the case, in his usual strong fashion, for applying the Precautionary Principle when it comes to GMOs. His argument is that allowing genetically modified organisms in our eco- and foodsystems carries unknown risks that we have no way of overseeing, and that these risks may cause irreversible damage to the very systems mankind relies on for survival.

Taleb is not popular among GMO producers. Who all insist there is no evidence that their products cause harm. But that is not the point. The Precautionary Principle, if it is to be applied, must turn the burden of proof on its head. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Monsanto et al must prove that their products do no harm. They can not. Which is why they have, and need, huge lobbying, PR and legal departments.

 

But I didn’t want to talk about GMOs today, and not about Precautionary Principle alone. I wanted to talk about this: Paragraph 2 of article 191 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty (2009) states that:

“Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.”

In other words, the EU has committed itself to the Precautionary Principle. Well, on paper, that is. However, then we get to a whole series of reports on wildlife in Europe, and they indicate all sorts of things, but not that Brussels cares even one bit about adhering to the Precautionary Principle, either for its people or its living environment. One voice below calls it a “state of denial”, but I would use some other choice words. Let’s start with the Guardian this morning, because they have an interesting perspective:

Most Britons remain blithely unaware that since the Beatles broke up, we have wiped out half our wildlife…

since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the number of flying insects on nature reserves in Germany had dropped by at least 76% – more than three-quarters…

Things like ‘since you were born’, ‘since man landed on the moon’, ‘since the wall came down’ or ‘since 9/11’ may be a bit clearer than 100 years, or 25 years. Moreover, I read somewhere that since Columbus landed in 1492, America has lost on third of all its biodiversity, but that doesn’t yet explain the rate of acceleration that is taking place.

In October last year, the Guardian had this:

 

Three-Quarters Of Flying Insects In Germany Have Vanished In 25 Years

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years , according to a new study that has shocked scientists. Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said. The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research. “Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life , and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

[..] When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak. Previous reports of insect declines have been limited to particular insects, such European grassland butterflies, which have fallen by 50% in recent decades. But the new research captured all flying insects, including wasps and flies which are rarely studied, making it a much stronger indicator of decline.

Then last week from AFP:

 

France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects

Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said. Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France. “The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies. “Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,” he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.

The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century. A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%. The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.

“There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize. Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years. Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to EU figures. “What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.

Not that it’s just Europe, mind you. Still ‘ove’ this one from Gretchen Vogel in ScienceMag, about a year ago, on a phenomenon most of you stateside will have noticed too:

 

Where Have All The Insects Gone?

Entomologists call it the windshield phenomenon. “If you talk to people, they have a gut feeling. They remember how insects used to smash on your windscreen,” says Wolfgang Wägele, director of the Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity in Bonn, Germany. Today, drivers spend less time scraping and scrubbing. “I’m a very data-driven person,” says Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon. “But it is a visceral reaction when you realize you don’t see that mess anymore.”

Some people argue that cars today are more aerodynamic and therefore less deadly to insects. But Black says his pride and joy as a teenager in Nebraska was his 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1—with some pretty sleek lines. “I used to have to wash my car all the time. It was always covered with insects.” Lately, Martin Sorg, an entomologist here, has seen the opposite: “I drive a Land Rover, with the aerodynamics of a refrigerator, and these days it stays clean.”

Though observations about splattered bugs aren’t scientific, few reliable data exist on the fate of important insect species. Scientists have tracked alarming declines in domesticated honey bees, monarch butterflies, and lightning bugs. But few have paid attention to the moths, hover flies, beetles, and countless other insects that buzz and flitter through the warm months. “We have a pretty good track record of ignoring most noncharismatic species,” which most insects are, says Joe Nocera, an ecologist at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.

After all those numbers, and before they get worse -which they will, it’s already baked in the cake-, you would expect the EU to remember the Precautionary Principle all its member nations signed on to for the Lisbon Treaty. You would expect wrong. Instead Brussels vows to continue with the exact same policies that have led to its mind-boggling biodiversity losses.

 

EU In ‘State Of Denial’ Over Destructive Impact Of Farming On Wildlife

Europe’s crisis of collapsing bird and insect numbers will worsen further over the next decade because the EU is in a “state of denial” over destructive farming practices, environmental groups are warning. European agriculture ministers are pushing for a new common agriculture policy (CAP) from 2021 to 2028 which maintains generous subsidies for big farmers and ineffectual or even “fake” environmental or “greening” measures, they say. In a week when two new studies revealed drastic declines in French farmland birds – a pattern repeated across Europe – the EU presidency claimed that the CAP continued to provide safe food while defending farmers and “protecting the environment”.

“The whole system is in a state of denial,” said Ariel Brunner, head of policy at Birdlife Europe. “Most agriculture ministers across Europe are just pushing for business as usual. The message is, keep the subsidies flowing.” Farm subsidies devour 38% of the EU budget and 80% of the subsidies go to just 20% of farmers , via “basic payments” which hand European landowners £39bn each year.

Because these payments are simply related to land area, big farmers receive more, can invest in more efficient food production – removing hedgerows to enlarge fields for instance – and put smaller, less intensive farmers out of business. France lost a quarter of its farm labourers in the first decade of the 21st century, while its average farm size continues to rise.

A smaller portion – £14.22bn annually – of EU farm subsidies support “greening” measures but basic payment rules work against wildlife-friendly farming: in Britain, farmers can’t receive basic payments for land featuring ponds, wide hedges, salt marsh or regenerating woodland. Signals from within the EU suggest that the next decade’s CAP [..] will continue to pay farmers a no-strings subsidy, while cash for “greening”, or wildlife-friendly farming, may even be cut. Birdlife Europe said the “greening” was mostly “fake environmental spending” and wildlife-friendly measures had been “shredded” by “loophole upon loophole” introduced by member states.

[..] This week studies revealed that the abundance of farmland birds in France had fallen by a third in 15 years – with population falls intensifying in the last two years. It’s a pattern repeated across Europe: farmland bird abundance in 28 European countries has fallen by 55% over three decades, according to the European Bird Census Council. Conservationists say it’s indicative of a wider crisis – particularly the decimation of insect life linked to neonicotinoid pesticides.

20% of farmers work 80% of the land in Europe. That is used as an argument to single them out to pay them billions in subsidies. But it simply means these 20% use the most detrimental farming methods, most pesticides, most chemicals. The subsidies policy guarantees further deterioration of an already disastrous situation. The polluter doesn’t pay, as the Lisbon Treaty demands, but the polluter gets paid.

And even that is apparently still not enough for the fast growing bureaucracy. In a move perhaps more characteristic of the EU than anything else, it approved something last week that a million people had vehemently protested: the Bayer-Monsanto merger. The European parliament may have thrown out all Monsanto lobbyists recently, and voted to ban Roundup, but the die has been cast.

A million citizens can protest in writing, many millions in France and Germany and elsewhere may do the same on the street, none of it matters. The people who brought you WWII nerve gases and Agent Orange can now come together to take over your food supply.

 

EU Approves Buyout Of Monsanto By German Chemical Firm Bayer

German conglomerate Bayer won EU antitrust approval on Wednesday for its $62.5bn (£44.5bn) buy of US peer Monsanto, the latest in a trio of mega mergers that will reshape the agrochemicals industry. The tie-up is set to create a company with control of more than a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticides market. Driven by shifting weather patterns, competition in grain exports and a faltering global farm economy, Dow and Dupont, and ChemChina and Syngenta had earlier led a wave of consolidation in the sector. Both deals secured EU approval only after the companies offered substantial asset sales to boost rivals.

Environmental and farming groups have opposed all three deals, worried about their power and their advantage in digital farming data, which can tell farmers how and when to till, sow, spray, fertilise and pick crops based on algorithms. The European Commission said Bayer addressed its concerns with its offer to sell a swathe of assets to boost rival BASF [..] “Our decision ensures that there will be effective competition and innovation in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture markets also after this merger,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “In particular, we have made sure that the number of global players actively competing in these markets stays the same.”

[..] Vestager said the Commission, which received more than a million petitions concerning the deal, had been thorough by examining more than 2,000 different product markets and 2.7 million internal documents to produce a 1,285-page ruling. [..] Online campaigns group Avaaz criticised the EU approval. “This is a marriage made in hell. The Commission ignored a million people who called on them to block this deal, and caved in to lobbying to create a mega-corporation which will dominate our food supply,” Avaaz legal director Nick Flynn said.

Dow-Dupont, ChemChina and Bayer Monsanto have a lot more political influence than a million Europeans, or ten million Americans. They have even convinced numerous, if not most, people that without their products the world would starve. That their chemicals are needed to feed a growing human population. Farming based on algorythms.

They are not ‘seed companies’. They are ‘seeds-that-need-our-chemicals-to-grow’ companies. And they are out to conquer the entire world. A 100-times worse version of Facebook. And our governments subsidize the use of their products. As we not-so-slowly see our living world be massacred by those products.

We don’t know how bad GMOs will turn out to be. Which is in itself a very good reason to ban them. Since once they spread, they can’t be stopped anymore. Then the chemical boys will own all of our food. But we do know how bad the pesticides and other chemicals they produce are. And we’re not even banning those. We just eat all that sh*t and shut up.

It’s a failure to understand what science is: that you must proof harm first before banning stuff. The only real science is the one that has adopted the Precautionary Principle. Because science is supposed to be smart, and there’s nothing smart about destroying your own world. Because science should never be used to hurt people or nature. Science can only be good if it benefits us. Not our wallets, but our heads and hearts and forests, and our children. Do no harm.

Yeah, I know, who am I fooling, right?

 

 

Mar 222018
 
 March 22, 2018  Posted by at 10:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Hopper The Circle Theater, New York 1936

 

US Democrats Plan Crackdown On Booming Stock Buybacks (CNN)
‘Mother Of All Yield Shocks’ Is About To Crush Stocks – Stockman (MW)
Forget The Fed, Libor Is The Story Of The Year (ZH)
Fed’s Powell: Some Asset Prices Elevated, Overall Vulnerabilities ‘Moderate’ (MW)
Federal Reserve Raises Interest Rates Again Amid ‘Strong’ Jobs Market (G.)
Mark Zuckerberg Says He’s ‘Really Sorry’ (CNBC)
Facebook Shareholders Sue As Share Price Tumbles (Ind.)
App Developer Kogan Calls Facebook’s Side Of The Story A “Fabrication” (BBG)
Austrian Lawyer Took on Facebook in Europe. He’s Ready to Do It Again (BBG)
Dutch Referendum On Spy Agency Tapping Powers Result Too Close To Call (R.)
‘Scary’ That Boris Johnson Represents A Nuclear Power – Russia (RT)
Scale Of UK Problem Debt At ‘Epidemic Levels’ – Archbishop Of Canterbury (Ind.)
EU Approves Buyout Of Monsanto By German Chemical Firm Bayer (R.)

 

 

There goes the S&P 500.

US Democrats Plan Crackdown On Booming Stock Buybacks (CNN)

Democrats in Congress want to rain on Wall Street’s buyback parade. Senator Tammy Baldwin plans to introduce a bill on Thursday that would prohibit companies from repurchasing their shares on the open market, Baldwin told CNNMoney. While the legislation faces an uphill battle getting through Republican-controlled Congress, it demonstrates a growing backlash against companies using extra cash to reward shareholders instead of sharing it with workers. Buybacks, which boost stock prices by making shares scarcer, have exploded in 2018 thanks to the huge windfall created by President Trump’s new tax law. American companies like Pepsi and Cisco have announced a total of $229 billion of buybacks so far this year, according to research firm TrimTabs.

Companies are on track to buy back the largest number of shares in at least a decade. Critics say this trend is deepening the chasm between America’s rich and poor because affluent families own the vast majority of the stocks. They argue the money would be better spent by investing in the future, paying workers more or offering better benefits and retraining programs. “I fear that if we don’t act, the impact on our economy and growth is going to be horrendous,” Baldwin told CNNMoney Wednesday. “This very partisan corporate tax bill has fueled a surge in stock buybacks that is hurting economic growth and shared prosperity for workers.” The bill, which is co-sponsored by Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Brian Schatz, would explicitly “prohibit public companies from repurchasing their shares on the open market.”

It would also repeal a 1982 SEC rule that gave companies the green light to buy back vast amounts of their own stock. Since 2008, US companies have spent $5.1 trillion to buy back their own stock, according to Birinyi Associates. Between 2007 and 2016, companies in the S&P 500 devoted 54% of their profits to stock buybacks, according to research by University of Massachusetts Lowell professor William Lazonick, who advised Baldwin’s office on the legislation. “This was not good for the US economy,” said Lazonick. He called Baldwin’s proposed crackdown “hugely positive,” even for long-term shareholders who will benefit from companies investing in something “instead of simply propping up the stock price.”

Read more …

And Libor.

‘Mother Of All Yield Shocks’ Is About To Crush Stocks – Stockman (MW)

David Stockman, the so-called “Father of Reaganomics,” hasn’t been shy — or close to right — about his frantically bearish calls in recent years Just last summer, he warned of a “horrendous storm” that could take the S&P 500 index all the way down to 1,600. From there, he took it up a notch in September, saying stocks are headed for a retreat of up to 70%. Well, it’s still up at 2,700. But the market’s volatile behavior of late has emboldened some bears to refresh and even ramp up their doomsday scenarios. Stockman is one of them. “There is not a snowball’s chance in the hot place that the mother of all yield shocks can be avoided,” Stockman wrote on his blog this week.

He explains that we’re in a uniquely dangerous position, one that really couldn’t have even happened under previous administrations. “Had Lyndon Johnson, Tricky Dick, Jimmy Carter or even Ronald Reagan suggested that the Federal Reserve buy government debt at rates which exceeded annual issuance by the U.S. Treasury, as was the case during the peak years of QE, they would have been severely attacked — if not subjected to impeachment — for advocating rank financial fraud,” Stockman claimed. He said ever since former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan “commenced the age of monetary central planning,” Wall Street has used deficits as a tool in Washington’s kit of “whatever it takes,” instead of something to be feared.

“Anything that could fuel even the appearance of short-term economic growth was embraced unthinkingly,” he said, “because ‘growth’ of any shape, form or quality became the predicate for endless increases in the stock market averages.” That’s a recipe for disaster, says Stockman.

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Whack-a-mole central bank style.

Forget The Fed, Libor Is The Story Of The Year (ZH)

We’ve been saying it for over a month: the most important, if widely underappreciated, factor for risk assets has been the surge in Libor and the blow out in the Libor-OIS spread, or short-term funding costs, which impacts everything from bank lending costs to the marginal cost of trillions in floating rate debt. Yesterday, Citi’s Matt King confirmed as much in a lengthy note explaining why the blowing out Libor, and Libor-OIS spread, are sending increasingly ominous signals: LIBOR is still the reference point for the majority of leveraged loans, interest-rate swaps and some mortgages. In addition to that direct effect, higher money market rates and weakness in risk assets are the two conditions most likely to contribute towards mutual fund outflows.

If those in turn created a further sell-off in markets, the negative impact on the economy through wealth effects could be greater even than the direct effect from interest rates. Now, another bank has joined the growing chorus of warnings over the soaring Libor and Libor-OIS. Jonathan Garner, Morgan Stanley’s Chief Strategist for Asia and Emerging Markets, told Bloomberg that the rising Libor rates is a bigger concern right now than a more hawkish Federal Reserve, and in fact, is “the story of the year.” As we have documented nearly daily, most recently yesterday, Libor has been rising since Feb. 7 for 31 consecutive sessions, reaching 2.2711% this morning, the highest since 2008. Meanwhile, its gap over risk-free rates, known as the Libor-OIS spread, has more than doubled since the end of January to 55.6 basis points, a level unseen since 2009.

“That’s a key reason why markets have struggled. The acceleration in the private borrowing market is the story of the year, not the Fed,” Garner told BloombergQuint. “What I think is really interesting is that in the private, LIBOR markets, the USD Libor has already moved far more aggressively than Fed Funds, so if you look at 6M USD Libor, it’s actually reached 2.375% whereas the Fed is likely to raise Fed Funds by a quarter of a point to 1.75%, so we’ve actually already for the interest rate that really determines corporate costs are experiencing a very significant increase in interest rates. So unless the Fed is in some ways super dovish, I think we’re already looking at a significant tightening of monetary policy in the US and in addition China is tightening monetary policy at the same time and this joint tightening is a key reason why we are so cautious on markets.”

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Jay Powell was hired to bore everyone to tears.

Fed’s Powell: Some Asset Prices Elevated, Overall Vulnerabilities ‘Moderate’ (MW)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Wednesday said some asset prices are elevated but said there weren’t many risks from it to the financial system. While some asset prices are elevated, particularly “some” equity prices and pockets of commercial real estate, financial vulnerabilities are still not at extreme levels, Powell said. He didn’t identify where specifically in the stock market he saw elevated prices. “The current view of the [FOMC] is that financial stability vulnerabilities are moderate,” Powell said during his first press conference, in answer to a question from MarketWatch. It was “key,” Powell said, that the housing sector is not in bubble territory.

Powell said he was not worried about excess leverage in the financial sector. The banking sector and household balance sheets are in good shape, he said. While there are “relatively elevated levels of borrowing” in nonfinancial corporations, “nothing… suggests serious risks.” “Overall, if you put all that into a pie, what you have is moderate vulnerabilities in our view,” he added. Powell said the Fed had “some tools” to combat financial instability “and I think we certainly use them.”

Read more …

Time to quit Fed watching.

Federal Reserve Raises Interest Rates Again Amid ‘Strong’ Jobs Market (G.)

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates again on Wednesday, arguing that the US jobs market was “strong” and signalled it may accelerate the pace of increases next year. The quarter percentage point rise to a range of 1.5% to 1.75% was the sixth such increase since 2015 and comes as the Fed appears to be moving, slightly, more quickly to end an era of historically low interest rates that began during the last recession. The announcement came as the Fed chair, Jerome “Jay” Powell, gave his first press conference in the role he took over from his predecessor Janet Yellen in February. His surprise-free performance left US financial markets barely changed.

“The economic outlook has strengthened in recent months,” the Fed said in a statement. “Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in January indicates that the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been rising at a moderate rate,” the Fed said in a statement. The rise, which was unanimously approved, comes after Congress passed two major bills that may spur the economy. In January Donald Trump signed off on a $1.5tn tax cut that reduces corporate and income tax rates. In February Congress agreed to a $300bn two-year increase in federal funding.

The Trump administration has claimed the tax cuts will fuel US economic growth above 3% next year, significantly above the 2.5% growth it achieved last year, but Powell said the Fed did not expect growth above 3% in the near future. “We have been through many years of growth rate around 2%,” said Powell. While there are elements in the tax cuts that could boost growth “we don’t know how big those effects will be”.

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Must have been some long sessions with the legal team. And people were asking “where’s Mark?”.

Mark Zuckerberg Says He’s ‘Really Sorry’ (CNBC)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has explicitly apologized forthe Cambridge Analytica data scandal that’s been making headlines over the last several days. “This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry that this happened,” Zuckerberg said on CNN Wednesday evening, elaborating on the statement he posted to his Facebook page earlier in the day. People had criticized Zuckerberg on social media for not explicitly apologizing in his earlier post. Zuckerberg was addressing bombshell reports by The Observer and The New York Times published over the weekend alleged that London-based firm Cambridge Analytica improperly gained access to the personal data of more than 50 million users.

Since the news broke, Facebook’s stock price has plummeted, U.K. officials have opened a probe, and U.S. lawmakers have called for Zuckerberg to appear before a panel to address its handling of user data. Zuckerberg told CNN that he would be willing to testify before Congress, though he avoided committing himself to an appearance. “What we try to do is send the person at Facebook who will have the most knowledge,” Zuckerberg said. “If that’s me, then I am happy to go.” One of the issues at the heart of the incident is whether or not Facebook has done enough to safeguard users’ personal information.

In 2013, Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan created an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” that harvested Facebook information from the roughly 300,000 people who used it as well as from their friends. Facebook changed its policies in 2014 to limit the data third-party apps could receive, but there were still tens of millions of people who would have had no idea that Kogan’s app had collected their data in the first place, or that it had ultimately been passed to Cambridge Analytica.

Read more …

If this ever comes before a real court, you get Pandora’s box. Expect Facebook to pay before a court date. And that will lower the shareholders’ shares even more.

Facebook Shareholders Sue As Share Price Tumbles (Ind.)

Facebook is being sued by US investors over the company’s tumbling share price after allegations that millions of users’ profile data had been harvested. A class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday after Facebook shares fell as much as 5.2% on Monday. By Wednesday the shares had crashed by 11%, wiping more than $57bn (£41bn) off the company’s value as it deals with the erupting privacy scandal. The undisclosed number of Facebook shareholders, led by Fan Yuan, say that they suffered losses after a whistleblower told The Observer that UK-based data company Cambridge Analytica had harvested and improperly used profile data of 50 million Facebook users.

“As a result of [Facebook’s] wrongful acts and omissions, and the precipitous decline in the market value of the company’s common shares, plaintiff and other class members have suffered significant losses and damages,” the lawsuit said. The legal action represents investors who bought Facebook shares between 3 February 2017 and 19 March 2018 – two days after news of the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. It alleges that throughout the period, Facebook made “materially false and misleading statements regarding the company’s business, operational and compliance policies”.

Read more …

Not even that part of the narrative is true.

App Developer Kogan Calls Facebook’s Side Of The Story A “Fabrication” (BBG)

The app developer who surreptitiously gathered and shared 50 million Facebook user profiles says the company was officially notified of his actions but failed to stop it. Aleksandr Kogan, a research associate in the department of psychology at the University of Cambridge, turned over his Facebook-generated personality research to the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. In an email to university colleagues he called Facebook’s side of the story a “fabrication.” He said that in 2014 he used an official Facebook Inc. platform for developers to change the terms and conditions of his app from “research” to “commercial use,” and that at no point then did the social media company object.

Kogan’s position contradicts Facebook’s stance that Kogan violated the company’s terms and services and then lied about it. “We clearly stated that the users were granting us the right to use the data in broad scope, including selling and licensing the data,” Kogan wrote in a March 18 email obtained by Bloomberg. “These changes were all made on the Facebook app platform and thus they had full ability to review the nature of the app and raise issues.” [..] Kogan’s interpretation of events is potentially critical in better understanding what Facebook knew and when. [..] In the email, Kogan says that he hadn’t been interviewed by the FBI or any other law enforcement agencies, but would have no problem doing so.

He wrote that his app originally started as an academic project but turned to a commercial venture after being approached by the U.K. affiliate of Cambridge Analytica, SCL Group, around 2013. He then formed a company called Global Science Research Ltd, and changed the name of his app to GSRApp, while also modifying the privacy terms from academic to commercial.

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Sue the intelligence community. Much more effective.

Austrian Lawyer Took on Facebook in Europe. He’s Ready to Do It Again (BBG)

Seven years ago, Max Schrems took on Facebook, ultimately winning a court order that led to stricter rules on international data transfers for the social network and other American tech giants. If your company has any contact with residents of Europe, he has this message: You could be next. Regulatory changes coming this spring “open unprecedented doors,” says Schrems, a 30-year-old lawyer from Austria. “Companies looking to make extra money with people’s data are on my target list.” The EU measure, called the General Data Protection Regulation, permits mass lawsuits similar to class actions in the U.S., he says, allowing him to increase pressure on companies to protect consumer data.

Schrems founded a group called noyb—for none of your business—that he aims to use as a vehicle for lawsuits he’ll start filing as soon as the rules kick in on May 25. He set up a crowdfunding campaign for noyb that has raised more than €300,000 ($370,000) from 2,500 contributors as well as the city of Vienna, labor unions, and small tech companies—and he already has a stack of potential complaints sitting on his desk in the small office he’s rented around the corner from Vienna’s opera house. “We will look for the bigger cases, where we’ll have the greatest impact,” he says.

[..] Schrems examined how Facebook treats customer data and says he discovered that the company didn’t fully purge information users had deleted. Although he never submitted the assignment, his research became the core of 22 complaints to data protection authorities in Ireland, Facebook’s European base. Schrems created a website called europe-v-facebook.org—but insists he bears no grudge against the social network. The company is “more of a test case,” he says. “I thought I’d write up a few complaints. I never thought it would create such a media storm.”

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Almost half of them voted to be spied on.

Dutch Referendum On Spy Agency Tapping Powers Result Too Close To Call (R.)

Dutch voters were on track to narrowly reject a nonbinding referendum granting spy agencies the power to install bulk taps on Internet traffic. With 83% of the vote counted in the early hours of Thursday, the “no” vote was 48.9%, against 47.2% “yes.” An exit poll by national broadcaster NOS had showed the yes camp narrowly winning. Though the referendum is nonbinding, Prime Minister Mark Rutte had vowed to take the result seriously, without committing to abide by the result. The tapping law has already been approved by both houses of parliament.

Dubbed the “trawling law” by opponents, the legislation will let spy agencies install taps targeting an entire geographic region or avenue of communication, store information for up to three years, and share it with allied spy agencies. Digital rights group Bits of Freedom, which had advised a “No” vote, said the law is not all bad, given that taps must be approved beforehand by an independent panel. But the group said it still fears privacy violations and urged that the law be reconsidered. Before the vote, Rutte said the law was needed to prevent terrorist attacks. “It’s not that our country is unsafe, it’s that this law will make it safer,” he said.

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You don’t compare the country that suffered most in WWII, to those who caused that suffering.

‘Scary’ That Boris Johnson Represents A Nuclear Power – Russia (RT)

British foreign minister Boris Johnson is poisoned with hatred and anger so it is scary that he represents a nuclear power, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Wednesday. Maria Zakharova was commenting on Johnson’s earlier statement that compared Russia’s hosting of this year’s World Cup to the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. “Any such parallels and comparisons between our country, that lost millions of lives in the fight against Nazism, fought with an enemy on its own territory, and then liberated Europe [and Nazi Germany] are absolutely unacceptable,” she said, in a statement published on Facebook.

The Russian ministry spokeswoman then added that such statements are “unworthy of a head of a European state’s diplomatic service … It is clear that [Boris Johnson] is poisoned with hatred and anger,” she said, also denouncing his words as “unprofessional” and “rude.” It is “scary” that “this man is a representative of a nuclear power that bears a special responsibility for its actions in the international arena as well as for the preservation of international peace,” Zakharova said. Now “it is beyond the shadow of a doubt that all London’s actions … were aimed at setting up a spectre of an enemy out of Russia, using any, even the most absurd reasons,” Zakharova said. She then added that British politicians are now apparently seeking to fully boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Earlier on Wednesday, Johnson once again blatantly accused Russia of being behind the poisoning of the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, as he was being quizzed by the Commons foreign affairs committee. He also said he believes the comparison between the World Cup and the 1936 Olympics “is certainly right” just because the sporting event would somehow “glorify” Putin, from his point of view.

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How will Britain not be like Greece in a few years time?

Scale Of UK Problem Debt At ‘Epidemic Levels’ – Archbishop Of Canterbury (Ind.)

The scale of problem debt is at “epidemic levels”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said. The Most Rev Justin Welby made the comments in the foreword of a report compiled by debt help charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP). The report said, on average, CAP clients’ outstanding debt equates to 96% of annual household income when they seek help. Mr Welby, the charity’s patron, says in the report: “In 2017 we have seen warnings from many of our financial institutions about the scale of consumer borrowing. “Achieving economic stability together with economic justice for all is too easily overlooked.” He continues: “The scale of problem debt in our country is at epidemic levels.

“Jesus calls us to be hope-bringers and peace-givers. Where there are still lives filled with an oppressive hopelessness, where darkness has a grip, our mission is not done.” In 2013, the archbishop voiced concerns about energy price hikes and he also said in that year that the Church of England wanted to drive payday lenders out of business through the creation of credit unions. [..] The CAP report said that for people in severe financial hardship, a home may not be a place of refuge but rather a place without food in the cupboard, without heating, hot water or working household essentials. More than 1,000 CAP clients were asked about life before they got help from the charity. The research found nearly four in 10 (37%) clients were afraid to leave the home, 60% were afraid to answer the door and 73% were too scared to answer the phone.

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One day after the report about disappearing insects and birds in France, Brussels votes for more pesticides and GMOs. Nobody wants them.

EU Approves Buyout Of Monsanto By German Chemical Firm Bayer (R.)

German conglomerate Bayer won EU antitrust approval on Wednesday for its $62.5bn (£44.5bn) buy of US peer Monsanto, the latest in a trio of mega mergers that will reshape the agrochemicals industry. The tie-up is set to create a company with control of more than a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticides market. Driven by shifting weather patterns, competition in grain exports and a faltering global farm economy, Dow and Dupont, and ChemChina and Syngenta had earlier led a wave of consolidation in the sector. Both deals secured EU approval only after the companies offered substantial asset sales to boost rivals.

Environmental and farming groups have opposed all three deals, worried about their power and their advantage in digital farming data, which can tell farmers how and when to till, sow, spray, fertilise and pick crops based on algorithms. The European Commission said Bayer addressed its concerns with its offer to sell a swathe of assets to boost rival BASF [..] “Our decision ensures that there will be effective competition and innovation in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture markets also after this merger,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “In particular, we have made sure that the number of global players actively competing in these markets stays the same.”

[..] Vestager said the Commission, which received more than a million petitions concerning the deal, had been thorough by examining more than 2,000 different product markets and 2.7 million internal documents to produce a 1,285-page ruling. [..] Online campaigns group Avaaz criticised the EU approval. “This is a marriage made in hell. The Commission ignored a million people who called on them to block this deal, and caved in to lobbying to create a mega-corporation which will dominate our food supply,” Avaaz legal director Nick Flynn said.

Read more …

Jul 172016
 
 July 17, 2016  Posted by at 4:08 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ben Shahn Daughter of Virgil Thaxton, farmer, near Mechanicsburg, Ohio 1938

Recently, I posted a two-tear old article on facebook.com/TheAutomaticEarth that was shared so many times it seems to make sense to use it for an Automatic Earth article as well. The article asks how toxic the wheat we eat is – or Americans, more specifically-, and why that is.

But first I would like to touch on a closely connected issue, which is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s ‘war’ on GMOs. Taleb, of Black Swans fame, has been at it for a while, but he’s stepped up his efforts off late.

In 2014, with co-authors Rupert Read, Raphael Douady, Joseph Norman and Yaneer Bar-Yam, he published The Precautionary Principle (with Application to the Genetic Modification of Organisms), an attempt to look at GMOs through a ‘solidly scientific’ prism of probability and complex systems. From the abstract:

The precautionary principle (PP) states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing severe harm to the public domain (affecting general health or the environment globally), the action should not be taken in the absence of scientific near-certainty about its safety. Under these conditions, the burden of proof about absence of harm falls on those proposing an action, not those opposing it. PP is intended to deal with uncertainty and risk in cases where the absence of evidence and the incompleteness of scientific knowledge carries profound implications and in the presence of risks of “black swans”, unforeseen and unforeseable events of extreme consequence.

[..] We believe that the PP should be evoked only in extreme situations: when the potential harm is systemic (rather than localized) and the consequences can involve total irreversible ruin, such as the extinction of human beings or all life on the planet. The aim of this paper is to place the concept of precaution within a formal statistical and risk-analysis structure, grounding it in probability theory and the properties of complex systems. Our aim is to allow decision makers to discern which circumstances require the use of the PP and in which cases evoking the PP is inappropriate.

This puts into perspective the claims made by Monsanto et al that since no harm has ever been proven to arise from the use of GMOs, they should therefore be considered safe. Which is the approach largely taken over by American politics, and increasingly also in Europe and other parts of the world. In their paper, Taleb et al say the approach does not meet proper scientific standards.

This is very close to my personal opinion, expressed in many articles in the past, that GMOs pose such risks on such a wide scale to the food supply of every human being on earth -as well as a much wider selection of organisms- that they should not be legalized before perhaps 100 years of tests have been done by large and independent teams of specialists.

Note that if you, as an individual farmer, as a community or even as a nation, want to ban GMOs but your neighbors do not, you will in the case of many crops not stand a chance of keeping your plants GMO free. For which you can subsequently be sued by the ‘owner’ of the genetically altered plants and seeds.

Also, I think it is irresponsibly dangerous to give a handful of companies (Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont, Syngenta), who all happen to be chemical giants dating back to the 20th century interbellum, and all with questionable pasts, a quasi-monopoly over the -future of- world’s food. Because that is where things will go unless proper principles are applied, both scientific and legal.

One of the main arguments proponents of GMOs use is that through thousand of years mankind has altered crops through selection ‘anyway’, so talking about anything ‘pure’ or ‘natural’ in this regard is not relevant. Taleb put the difference between altering a staple through this ‘generational’ selection on the one hand and the modifying of genes in a lab into a sketch:

The sketch was later annotated by Rahul Goswami, approved and shared by Taleb:

I think it is obvious that ‘generational’ selection through breeding is localized, can be rejected by nature. Genetic modification is something completely different, it takes a much bigger step (a giant leap) and forces itself -as a more or less alien body- onto a much larger eco-system.

It’s not about trying to figure out what works, but about forcing itself upon the world and its inhabitants regardless of the consequences. The precautionary principle is missing where it is most needed.

A few examples of Taleb’s tweets on the topic in the past few days make his stance abundantly clear.

“GMO issue is ignorance of the properties of complex systems/fattails (Monsanto’s 107 Nobels, 80 y.o. are 50 y behind)”

“Anyone pro-GMOs on “scientific” grounds is 50 years behind, ignorant of complexity, or just stupid”

“Monsanto pulled no stop trying to discredit me: 1000 mails to Univ (!),>1000 shill posts. Nada. F***you money works.”

Then, on to the article I started talking about above. As I said, it was written some two years ago by Sarah at the Healthy Home Economist. From the reactions to my posting it on Facebook -a huge number of shares- I surmise that many people A) had no idea that what Sarah describes is common practice, and B) have a profound interest in the topic.

Note: while a fair number of people said they had never heard of this, and/or doubted it was true at all, quite a few confirmed it as common where they live, and not just stateside, but in Scotland, Argentina etc.

Let’s see how we get through this. I don’t want to just post the whole thing, but I’ll need large portions of it.

The Real Reason Wheat is Toxic

The stories became far too frequent to ignore. Emails from folks with allergic or digestive issues to wheat in the United States experienced no symptoms whatsoever when they tried eating pasta on vacation in Italy. Confused parents wondering why wheat consumption sometimes triggered autoimmune reactions in their children but not at other times.

In my own home, I’ve long pondered why my husband can eat the wheat I prepare at home, but he experiences negative digestive effects eating even a single roll in a restaurant. There is clearly something going on with wheat that is not well known by the general public. It goes far and beyond organic versus nonorganic, gluten or hybridization because even conventional wheat triggers no symptoms for some who eat wheat in other parts of the world.

What indeed is going on with wheat? For quite some time, I secretly harbored the notion that wheat in the United States must, in fact, be genetically modified. GMO wheat secretly invading the North American food supply seemed the only thing that made sense and could account for the varied experiences I was hearing about. I reasoned that it couldn’t be the gluten or wheat hybridization. Gluten and wheat hybrids have been consumed for thousands of years.

It just didn’t make sense that this could be the reason for so many people suddenly having problems with wheat and gluten in general in the past 5-10 years.

Finally, the answer came over dinner a couple of months ago with a friend who was well versed in the wheat production process. I started researching the issue for myself, and was, quite frankly, horrified at what I discovered. The good news is that the reason wheat has become so toxic in the United States is not because it is secretly GMO as I had feared (thank goodness!).

The bad news is that the problem lies with the manner in which wheat is grown and harvested by conventional wheat farmers. You’re going to want to sit down for this one. I’ve had some folks burst into tears in horror when I passed along this information before.

Common wheat harvest protocol in the United States is to drench the wheat fields with Roundup several days before the combine harvesters work through the fields as the practice allows for an earlier, easier and bigger harvest

Pre-harvest application of the herbicide Roundup or other herbicides containing the deadly active ingredient glyphosate to wheat and barley as a desiccant was suggested as early as 1980. It has since become routine over the past 15 years and is used as a drying agent 7-10 days before harvest within the conventional farming community.USDA pesticides applied to wheat.

According to Dr. Stephanie Seneff of MIT who has studied the issue in depth and who I recently saw present on the subject at a nutritional Conference in Indianapolis, desiccating non-organic wheat crops with glyphosate just before harvest came into vogue late in the 1990’s with the result that most of the non-organic wheat in the United States is now contaminated with it.

Seneff explains that when you expose wheat to a toxic chemical like glyphosate, it actually releases more seeds resulting in a slightly greater yield: “It ‘goes to seed’ as it dies. At its last gasp, it releases the seed” says Dr. Seneff. According to the US Department of Agriculture, as of 2012, 99% of durum wheat, 97% of spring wheat, and 61% of winter wheat has been treated with herbicides. This is an increase from 88% for durum wheat, 91% for spring wheat and 47% for winter wheat since 1998.

Wheat farmer Keith Lewis: “I have been a wheat farmer for 50 yrs and one wheat production practice that is very common is applying the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) just prior to harvest. Roundup is licensed for preharvest weed control. Monsanto, the manufacturer of Roundup claims that application to plants at over 30% kernel moisture result in roundup uptake by the plant into the kernels. Farmers like this practice because Roundup kills the wheat plant allowing an earlier harvest.

A wheat field often ripens unevenly, thus applying Roundup preharvest evens up the greener parts of the field with the more mature. The result is on the less mature areas Roundup is translocated into the kernels and eventually harvested as such. This practice is not licensed. Farmers mistakenly call it “dessication.”

Consumers eating products made from wheat flour are undoubtedly consuming minute amounts of Roundup. An interesting aside, malt barley which is made into beer is not acceptable in the marketplace if it has been sprayed with preharvest Roundup. Lentils and peas are not accepted in the market place if it was sprayed with preharvest roundup….. but wheat is ok.. This farming practice greatly concerns me and it should further concern consumers of wheat products.”

This practice is not just widespread in the United States either. The Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom reports that use of Roundup as a wheat desiccant results in glyphosate residues regularly showing up in bread samples. Other European countries are waking up to to the danger, however. In the Netherlands, use of Roundup is completely banned with France likely soon to follow.

Using Roundup on wheat crops throughout the entire growing season and even as a desiccant just prior to harvest may save the farmer money and increase profits, but it is devastating to the health of the consumer who ultimately consumes the glyphosate residue laden wheat kernels.

The chart below of skyrocketing applications of glyphosate to US wheat crops since 1990 and the incidence of celiac disease is from a December 2013 study published in the Journal Interdisciplinary Toxicology examining glyphosate pathways to autoimmune disease. Remember that wheat is not currently GMO or “Roundup Ready” meaning it is not resistant to its withering effects like GMO corn or GMO soy, so application of glyphosate to wheat would actually kill it.

While the herbicide industry maintains that glyphosate is minimally toxic to humans, research published in the Journal Entropy strongly argues otherwise by shedding light on exactly how glyphosate disrupts mammalian physiology. Authored by Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff of MIT, the paper investigates glyphosate’s inhibition of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes, an overlooked component of lethal toxicity to mammals.

The currently accepted view is that glyphosate is not harmful to humans or any mammals. This flawed view is so pervasive in the conventional farming community that Roundup salesmen have been known to foolishly drink it during presentations! However, just because Roundup doesn’t kill you immediately doesn’t make it nontoxic. In fact, the active ingredient in Roundup lethally disrupts the all important shikimate pathway found in beneficial gut microbes which is responsible for synthesis of critical amino acids.

Friendly gut bacteria, also called probiotics, play a critical role in human health. Gut bacteria aid digestion, prevent permeability of the gastrointestinal tract (which discourages the development of autoimmune disease), synthesize vitamins and provide the foundation for robust immunity. In essence:

Roundup significantly disrupts the functioning of beneficial bacteria in the gut and contributes to permeability of the intestinal wall and consequent expression of autoimmune disease symptoms

In synergy with disruption of the biosynthesis of important amino acids via the shikimate pathway, glyphosate inhibits the cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes produced by the gut microbiome. CYP enzymes are critical to human biology because they detoxify the multitude of foreign chemical compounds, xenobiotics, that we are exposed to in our modern environment today.

As a result, humans exposed to glyphosate through use of Roundup in their community or through ingestion of its residues on industrialized food products become even more vulnerable to the damaging effects of other chemicals and environmental toxins they encounter! What’s worse is that the negative impact of glyphosate exposure is slow and insidious over months and years as inflammation gradually gains a foothold in the cellular systems of the body.

The consequences of this systemic inflammation are most of the diseases and conditions associated with the Western lifestyle: Gastrointestinal disorders, Obesity ,Diabetes, Heart Disease, Depression, Autism, Infertility, Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, etc.

In a nutshell, Dr. Seneff’s study of Roundup’s ghastly glyphosate which the wheat crop in the United States is doused with uncovers the manner in which this lethal toxin harms the human body by decimating beneficial gut microbes with the tragic end result of disease, degeneration, and widespread suffering

[..] The bottom line is that avoidance of conventional wheat in the United States is absolutely imperative even if you don’t currently have a gluten allergy or wheat sensitivity. The increase in the amount of glyphosate applied to wheat closely correlates with the rise of celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

Dr. Seneff points out that the increases in these diseases are not just genetic in nature, but also have an environmental cause as not all patient symptoms are alleviated by eliminating gluten from the diet. The effects of deadly glyphosate on your biology are so insidious that lack of symptoms today means literally nothing. If you don’t have problems with wheat now, you will in the future if you keep eating conventionally produced, toxic wheat!

I guess we can leave it at that for now. Do go to the original article for more. Whether you look at it from a scientific viewpoint, as Taleb et al do, or from a common sense one, as Sarah does, the common thread seems obvious: Monsanto and other rich chemical giants seek to be the sole providers -even owners- of the world’s food, handed to us for free by nature and generations of our ancestors.

And to achieve that magnitude of power -and riches- they are more than willing to literally drive over sick and dead bodies. Once again, Taleb:

The precautionary principle (PP) states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing severe harm to the public domain (affecting general health or the environment globally), the action should not be taken in the absence of scientific near-certainty about its safety. Under these conditions, the burden of proof about absence of harm falls on those proposing an action, not those opposing it.

That is not what’s happening, and there’s not much time left to start applying it before it’s too late. Because GMOs, once they’ve been introduced in a large enough environment, are near impossible to get rid of.

To end on a somewhat happier note, Taleb thinks that Monsanto is doing quite poorly these days, financially. Then again, that’s why Bayer wants to buy them, and that would only mean a continuation or even increase of the present practices.

What we need is decision makers who understand the science of complex systems, probability and the precautionary principle. And I don’t know about you, but when I look at who’s vying to be the leaders of the US, UK and many other nations, I think we’re a long way away from that.

Only Putin seems to get it. His stated goal is to make Russia the largest producer of organic food in the world. So maybe there is still hope.

May 202016
 
 May 20, 2016  Posted by at 8:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


John Vachon Window in home of unemployed steelworker. Ambridge, PA 1941

Lacking New Ideas, G7 To Agree On ‘Go-Your-Own-Way’ Approach (R.)
Japan And US Are Headed For A Showdown Over Currency Manipulation (MW)
Kuroda Stresses Readiness to Act if Yen Rise Threatens Inflation Goal (WSJ)
US Business Loan Delinquencies Spike to Lehman Moment Level (WS)
China Steelmakers Attack US 522% Tariff Move; Say Need More Time (R.)
The Iron Mountain on China’s Doorstep Tops 100 Million Tons (BBG)
Big Chinese Banks Issue New Yuan-Denominated Debt In US (WSJ)
Mass Layoffs Are Looming in South Korea (BBG)
‘Central Banks Can Do Nothing’: Steen Jakobsen (Saxo)
Making Things Matters. This Is What Britain Forgot (Chang)
Germany Strives to Avoid Housing Bubble (BBG)
Bayer Eyes $42 Billion Monsanto in Quest for Seeds Dominance (BBG)
Bayer’s Mega Monsanto Deal Faces Mega Backlash in Germany (BBG)
EU Declines To Renew Glyphosate Licence (EUO)
Ai Weiwei Says EU’s Refugee Deal With Turkey Is Immoral (G.)

In a strong sign of how fast the crisis is deepening, and in between the usual blah blah, the G7 is falling apart.

Lacking New Ideas, G7 To Agree On ‘Go-Your-Own-Way’ Approach (R.)

A rift on fiscal policy and currencies is likely to set the stage for G7 advanced economies to agree on a “go-your-own-way” response to address risks hindering global economic growth at their finance leaders’ gathering on Friday. As years of aggressive money printing stretch the limits of monetary policy, the G7 policy response to anemic inflation and subdued growth has become increasingly splintered. Finance leaders gathering in Sendai, northeast Japan, sought advice from prominent academics, including Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller, on ways to boost growth in an informal symposium ahead of an official G7 meeting on Friday.

Participants of the symposium agreed that instead of relying on short-term fiscal stimulus or monetary policy, structural reforms combined with appropriate investment are solutions to achieving sustainable growth, a G7 source said. If so, that would dash Japan’s hopes to garner an agreement on the need for coordinated fiscal action to spur global demand. Germany showed no signs of responding to calls from Japan and the United States to boost fiscal stimulus, instead warning of the dangers of excessive monetary loosening. “There is high nervousness in financial markets” fostered by huge government debt and excess liquidity around the globe, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Thursday.

But G7 officials have signaled that they would not object if Japan were to call for stronger action using monetary, fiscal tools and structural reforms – catered to each country’s individual needs. That means the G7 finance leaders, while fretting about risks to outlook, may be unable to agree on concrete steps to bolster stagnant global growth. “I expect there to be a frank exchange of views on how to achieve price stability and growth using monetary, fiscal and structural policies reflecting each country’s needs,” Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda told reporters on Thursday.

Read more …

The interests are too different to reconcile, and it’s by no means just Japan and the US that are involved in the showdown.

Japan And US Are Headed For A Showdown Over Currency Manipulation (MW)

Investors will be watching for signs of tension between Japanese and U.S. powers this weekend, when central bankers and finance chiefs face off in Sendai, a city northeast of Tokyo, for the latest Group of 7 summit. The two countries have sparred over the dollar-yen exchange rate in the months since the Japanese currency began a prolonged rise against the dollar. The yen has lost nearly 9% of its value relative to the dollar since the beginning of the year. Last week, Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso spoke publicly about the continuing disagreement between U.S. and Japanese policy makers over whether the rise in the yen seen since the beginning of the year has been severe enough to warrant an intervention.

Japan might favor a weaker currency primarily because it makes the country’s exports more attractive. “We’ve have often been arguing over the phone,” Aso said, according to The Wall Street Journal. He also reiterated that Japanese officials wouldn’t hesitate to intervene in the market if the currency continued its sharp moves. Plus, he said, the Treasury Department’s decision to put Japan on a currency manipulation monitoring list “won’t constrain” the country’s currency policy. The Treasury published the list for the first time this year, including it as part of a semiannual report on currency practices released late last month. Japan was joined on the list by China, Germany, Taiwan and Korea.

To be included on the Treasury’s watch list, a country must meet at least two of three criteria: A trade surplus with the U.S. larger than $20 billion, a current-account surplus larger than 3% of its GDP—or it must engage in persistent one-sided intervention in the currency market, which the Treasury qualifies as repeated purchases of foreign currency amounting to more than 2% of a country’s GDP over the course of a year.

Read more …

And so are all other central bankers.

Kuroda Stresses Readiness to Act if Yen Rise Threatens Inflation Goal (WSJ)

Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda said he would act quickly if the yen’s rise threatens his inflation goal, highlighting his caution over exchange rates ahead of a major international convention. “Be it exchange rates or anything, if it has negative effects on our efforts to achieve our price-stability target, and from that perspective if we figure that action is necessary, we will undertake additional easing measures,” Mr. Kuroda told reporters Thursday. The remarks by Mr. Kuroda come at a time of tension between the U.S. and Japan over whether the yen’s appreciation seen earlier this year is sharp enough to warrant intervention by authorities. Investors are closely watching whether Tokyo and Washington will continue to clash over yen policy during a meeting in northern Japan Friday and Saturday of finance chiefs from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations.

Mr. Kuroda defended his policy stance, saying it is no different from that of central banks abroad. He also reiterated that the BOJ has kept in place massive stimulus to achieve its target of 2% inflation, not to guide the yen lower. Mr. Kuroda said that while he is watching how the bank’s negative-rates policy affects the economy, “this doesn’t mean that we will sit idly by until trickle-down effects become clear.” The BOJ will review the need for fresh steps “at every policy meeting,” he added. Speaking of risks facing Japan’s economy, Mr. Kuroda acknowledged that he is “paying close attention” to the coming British referendum to decide whether to leave the European Union.

Read more …

“Business loan delinquencies are a leading indicator of big economic trouble.”

US Business Loan Delinquencies Spike to Lehman Moment Level (WS)

This could not have come at a more perfect time, with the Fed once again flip-flopping about raising rates. After appearing to wipe rate hikes off the table earlier this year, the Fed put them back on the table, perhaps as soon as June, according to the Fed minutes. A coterie of Fed heads was paraded in front of the media today and yesterday to make sure everyone got that point, pending further flip-flopping. Drowned out by this hullabaloo, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve released its delinquency and charge-off data for all commercial banks in the first quarter – very sobering data. So here a few nuggets. Consumer loans and credit card loans have been hanging in there so far.

Credit card delinquencies rose in the second half of 2015, but in Q1 2016, they ticked down a little. And mortgage delinquencies are low and falling. When home prices are soaring, no one defaults for long; you can sell the home and pay off your mortgage. Mortgage delinquencies rise after home prices have been falling for a while. They’re a lagging indicator. But on the business side, delinquencies are spiking! Delinquencies of commercial and industrial loans at all banks, after hitting a low point in Q4 2014 of $11.7 billion, have begun to balloon (they’re delinquent when they’re 30 days or more past due). Initially, this was due to the oil & gas fiasco, but increasingly it’s due to trouble in many other sectors, including retail.

Between Q4 2014 and Q1 2016, delinquencies spiked 137% to $27.8 billion. They’re halfway toward to the all-time peak during the Financial Crisis in Q3 2009 of $53.7 billion. And they’re higher than they’d been in Q3 2008, just as Lehman Brothers had its moment. Note how, in this chart by the Board of Governors of the Fed, delinquencies of C&I loans start rising before recessions (shaded areas). I added the red marks to point out where we stand in relationship to the Lehman moment:

Business loan delinquencies are a leading indicator of big economic trouble. They begin to rise at the end of the credit cycle, on loans that were made in good times by over-eager loan officers with the encouragement of the Fed. But suddenly, the weight of this debt poses a major problem for borrowers whose sales, instead of soaring as projected during good times, may be shrinking, and whose expenses may be rising, and there’s no money left to service the loan.

Read more …

Hadn’t seen this claim before: “..local steelmakers are more efficient (and enjoy far lower costs) than their international counterparts.”

China Steelmakers Attack US 522% Tariff Move; Say Need More Time (R.)

Chinese steelmakers attacked new U.S. import duties on the country’s steel products as “trade protectionism” on Thursday, saying the world’s biggest producer needs time to address its excess capacity. “There’s too much trade friction and it’s not good for the market,” Liu Zhenjiang, secretary general of the China Iron and Steel Association told Reuters when asked if China will appeal U.S. anti-dumping duties at the WTO. China said it will continue its tax rebates to steel exporters to support the sector’s painful restructuring after the United States said on Tuesday it would impose duties of 522% on Chinese cold-rolled flat steel. China, which accounts for half the world’s steel output, is under fire after its exports hit a record 112 million tonnes last year, with rivals claiming that Chinese steelmakers have been undercutting them in their home markets.

In the four months to April, China’s steel exports have risen nearly 7.6% to 36.9 million tonnes. “It’s not just China’s problem to tackle overcapacity. Everyone should play a part. China needs time,” Liu told an industry conference. “Trade protectionism hurts consumers, (it’s) against free trade and competition,” he added. China’s Commerce Ministry said on Wednesday the United States had employed “unfair methods” during an anti-dumping investigation into Chinese cold-rolled steel products. While a flood of cheap Chinese steel has been blamed for putting some overseas producers out of business, China denies its mills have been dumping their products on foreign markets, stressing that local steelmakers are more efficient and enjoy far lower costs than their international counterparts.

Read more …

All we got to do is wait till they run out of space to store it.

The Iron Mountain on China’s Doorstep Tops 100 Million Tons (BBG)

There’s a mountain of iron ore sat right on China’s doorstep. Stockpiles at ports have climbed above 100 million metric tons, offering fresh evidence of increased supplies in the world’s top user that may hurt prices. The inventories swelled 1.6% to 100.45 million tons this week, the highest level since March 2015, according to data from Shanghai Steelhome Information Technology. The holdings, which feed the world’s largest steel industry, have expanded 7.9% this year, and are now large enough to cover more than five weeks’ of imports. Iron ore has traced a boom-bust path over the past two months after investors in China piled into raw-material futures, then changed course after regulators clamped down.

While mills in China churned out record daily output in April to take advantage of a steel price surge, production in the first four months was 2.3% lower than a year earlier. Port inventories in China may continue to increase, BHP Billiton forecast this week. “There’s a lot of optimism actually that steel demand in China will increase,” Ralph Leszczynski at shipbroker Banchero Costa , said by phone. “It’s a bit of an ‘if’ as the economy is still quite fragile,” he said, calling the rise in port stocks “probably excessive.” The raw material with 62% content sank 5.8% to $53.47 a dry ton on Thursday, according to Metal Bulletin Ltd. Prices have tumbled 24% since peaking at more than $70 a ton in April, paring the gain so far in 2016 to 23%.

Read more …

A stronger dollar makes this a huge gamble.

Big Chinese Banks Issue New Yuan-Denominated Debt In US (WSJ)

Two of China’s largest banks are issuing new local currency debt in the U.S., offering attractive yields for investors willing to take some currency risk. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world’s largest bank by assets, said it plans on Friday to raise 500 million yuan ($76 million) through 31-day certificates of deposit in the U.S. that will yield 2.6%. Agricultural Bank of China, the third-largest bank in the world, this week sold a 117 million yuan one-year bill that yields 3.35%. Both issues came at a significant premium to the 0.621% yield on the one-year U.S. Treasury bill. But the yuan-denominated debt could pay out less if the currency falls in value. Fed officials last month discussed the possibility of raising interest rates at their June policy meeting, according to minutes from the April meeting released on Wednesday.

A rate increase could cause the yuan to weaken against the dollar. China’s 3% devaluation in August sparked a selloff in yuan-denominated bonds, driving up interest rates in the offshore market, also known as the dim sum market. The new offerings will test demand for Chinese debt in local currency, the first issued by any Chinese bank in the U.S. since last year. China’s one-month interbank rate is currently 2.84%, which means some Chinese banks can borrow at better rates in the U.S. and other foreign markets than at home. The debt also promotes the use of the yuan abroad, one of the conditions set by the IMF when it said last year it would add the Chinese currency to its basket of reserve currencies. The IMF’s inclusion of the yuan is a step toward making the currency fully convertible.

Read more …

Take that, G7.

Mass Layoffs Are Looming in South Korea (BBG)

The South Korean government’s push to restructure debt-laden companies is set to cost tens of thousands of workers their jobs in an economy where social security is limited and a rigid labor market reduces the likelihood of getting rehired in a full-time position. Many of the layoffs will be in industrial hubs along the southeast coastline, where shipyards and ports dominate the landscape. These heavy industries, which helped propel South Korea’s growth in previous decades, have seen losses amid a slowdown in global growth, overcapacity and rising competition from China. As a condition of financial support, creditor banks and the government are pushing companies to cut back on staff and sell unprofitable assets. In Korea, losing a permanent, full-time job often means sliding toward poverty, one reason why labor unions stage strikes that at times lead to violent confrontations with employers and police.

A preference for hiring and training young employees, rather than recruiting experienced hands, means that many workers who get laid off drift into day labor or low-wage, temporary contracts that lack insurance and pension benefits, according to Lee Jun Hyup, a research fellow for Hyundai Research Institute. “The possibility of me getting a new job that offers similar income and benefits is about 1%,” said one of about 2,600 employees to be laid off following a previous restructure, of Ssangyong Motor in 2009. The 45-year-old worker, who asked only to be identified by the surname Kim as he tries to get rehired, initially delivered newspapers and worked construction after losing his permanent job. He’s now on a temporary contract at a retailer and taking night shifts as a driver to get by. Despite having these two jobs, his income has been halved. Being fired was “like being pushed into a desert with no water,” Kim said.

Read more …

Jakobsen’s always interesting. This is quite a long piece.

‘Central Banks Can Do Nothing’: Steen Jakobsen (Saxo)

TradingFloor.com: The “new nothingness” thesis was based on zero rates, zero growth, zero reforms. But you hinted that all of this nothingness has spilled over into culture and politics as well… do these macro facts hinder peoples’ imagination, or their ability to deal with the problem?

Steen Jakobsen: Yes, I think so. This year, we see a growing gap between the central banks’ narrative – which is that you have a trickle-down impact from lower rates – and [the situation on the ground]. People understand that zero interest rates are a reflection of zero growth, zero inflation, zero hope for changes, and zero reforms. In my opinion as an economist and a market observer, people are smarter than central banks. And because they are smarter, they can live with policy mistakes for a while because the narrative is very strong and because people like (ECB head Mario) Draghi and (Fed chief Janet) Yellen have these platforms from which they not only talk but occasionally shout, and they are deemed to be “credible”, scare quotes mine…

We see [this gap] in the Brexit debate as well, where the elite and the academics talk down to the average voter. By doing that, of course, they alienate the voters from their representatives. That’s what we see globally, that’s why Brazil is going to change presidents, why Ireland could not get its government re-elected with 6% growth. It’s not about the top line, but about the average person seeing that we need real, fundamental change.

TF: Earlier this year, you said that the social contract – the agreement between rulers and the ruled – is broken. It made me think of this year’s Davos meeting, which showed a leadership class terrified of slowing jobs growth and enamoured with the idea that population movements might be used to address this. Given the current unpopularity of globalisation and its effects, would you say that there are some things it is impossible for 21st century leaders and the led to agree upon? Is a social contract impossible?

SJ: No, it could be re-established, but it needs to be established on terra firma. Right now, we have a panacea in the form of low rates and the idea that things will somehow improve in six months. This has led to buyback programmes, a lack of motivation [and all the rest]. We as a society have to recognise that productivity comes from raising the average education level. People forget that all the revolutionary trends, the changes we’ve seen in history, have come from basic research. I don’t mean research driven by profit, but by an individual’s particular interest in one very minute area of a specific topic. This is what creates new inventions.

The second thing we often forget is that the military has been behind a lot of the industrial revolution. Mobile telephony, for example, had nothing to do with private citizens or companies – instead, it had a lot to do with the US military. The key thing here is that we need to be more productive. If everyone has a job, there is no need to renegotiate the social contract. The world has become elitist in every way. Before, you could start a company and build a small franchise; now, you have to be global, you have to have a billion users (if you’re an IT company), and [the pursuit of this] does not necessarily provide the best technologies, but only the biggest ones, the ones backed by [the firms with] the deepest pockets and largest web of connections.

Read more …

It’s what many countries ‘forgot’.

Making Things Matters. This Is What Britain Forgot (Chang)

It’s being blamed on the Brexit jitters. But the weakness in the UK economy that the latest figures reveal is actually a symptom of a much deeper malaise. Britain has never properly recovered from the 2008 financial crisis. At the end of 2015, inflation-adjusted income per capita in the UK was only 0.2% higher than its 2007 peak. This translates into an annual growth rate of 0.025% per year. How pathetic this performance is can be put into perspective by recalling that Japan’s per capita income during its so-called “lost two decades” between 1990 and 2010 grew at 1% a year. At the root of this inability to stage a real recovery is the serious imbalance that has developed in the past few decades – namely, the over-development of the UK financial sector and the atrophy of manufacturing.

Right after the 2008 financial crisis there was a widespread recognition that the ballooning financial sector needed to be reined in. Even George Osborne talked excitedly for a while about the “march of the makers”. That march never materialised, however, and manufacturing’s share of GDP has stagnated at around 10%. This is remarkable, given that the value of sterling has fallen by around 30% since the crisis. In any other country a currency devaluation of this magnitude would have generated an export boom in manufactured goods, leading to an expansion of the sector. Unfortunately manufacturing had been so weakened since the 1980s that it didn’t have a hope of staging any such revival. Even with a massive devaluation, the UK’s trade balance in manufacturing goods (that is, manufacturing exports minus imports) as a proportion of GDP has hardly budged.

The weakness of manufacturing is the main reason for the UK’s ever-growing deficit, which stood at 5.2% of GDP in 2015. Some play down the concerns: the UK, we hear, is still the seventh or eighth largest manufacturing nation in the world – after the US, China, Japan, Germany, South Korea, France and Italy. But it only gets this ranking because it has a large population. In terms of per capita output, it ranks somewhere between 20th and 25th. In other words, saying that we need not worry about the UK’s manufacturing sector because it is still one of the largest is like saying that a poor family with lots of its members working at low wages need not worry about money because their total income is bigger than that of another family with fewer, high-earning members.

Read more …

Just keep rates low enough for long enough and you’ll screw up any economy.

Germany Strives to Avoid Housing Bubble (BBG)

The German government, after years of warnings, is about to clamp down on rising home prices and mortgage lending. The government is preparing to implement measures to prevent real estate bubbles, the Finance Ministry said in an e-mail late on Wednesday. These policies may include capping borrowers’ loan-to-income ratio in order to reduce the probability of default, Handelsblatt reported on Thursday. The government continues to study the consequences of low interest rates on financial stability, a finance ministry spokesman said in the e-mail. However, there are currently no signs that German residential real estate lending is causing acute risks, he said.

With mortgage rates at record lows and savings accounts earnings almost nothing – thanks to a string of ECB rate cuts – Germans are buying homes at the fastest rate in decades. That’s pushed prices in cities including Berlin, Hamburg and Munich up by more than 30% in five years. New mortgages jumped by 22% in 2015 after five years of rising at 3% or less, according to the Bundesbank. In March, Bundesbank board member Andreas Dombret said he sees “clouds gathering on the horizon” and that the central bank is keeping a close eye on mortgages. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who has been critical of the ECB’s policy of pushing growth with cheap cash, in December said the hunt for yield could lead to the “formation of bubbles and excessive asset values.”

Read more …

Don’t think I can say in public what I think should happen to companies like Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta et al. The people who brought you Agent Orange, Zyklon B and chemical warfare are coming for your food, all of it. A start might be to figure out who holds shares in these things. Your money fund, your pension fund? This is the industry of death, as much as arms manufactureers are.

Bayer Eyes $42 Billion Monsanto in Quest for Seeds Dominance (BBG)

Bayer made an unsolicited takeover offer for Monsanto Co. in a bold attempt by the German company to snatch the last independent global seeds producer and become the world’s biggest supplier of farm chemicals. The St. Louis-based company, with a market value of $42 billion, said it’s reviewing the offer in a statement Thursday. It didn’t disclose the terms of the proposal. Bayer, confirming the bid, said the combination would bolster its position as a life sciences company. Shares of Bayer plunged amid concern that a large purchase would weigh on its credit rating and force the company to sell more stock. The proposal by Werner Baumann, who’s been at Bayer’s helm for less than a month, follows Monsanto’s failed attempt to buy Syngenta and the proposed merger of Dow Chemical and DuPont.

To help finance its quest to buy the world’s largest seed maker, Bayer is considering asset disposals and a share sale, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because discussions are private. The German company is exploring the potential disposal of its animal-health business and the remaining 69% stake in plastics business Covestro, the people said. Animal health could fetch $5 billion to $6 billion, according to one of the people, and the Covestro holding is worth about €4.9 billion. If Bayer buys Monsanto, it could be the biggest acquisition globally this year and the largest German deal ever, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. A takeover of Monsanto would require an enterprise value of as much as €65 billionß, according to analysts at Citigroup.

[..]Merging Monsanto with the company that invented aspirin would bring together brands such as Roundup, Monsanto’s blockbuster herbicide, and Sivanto, a new Bayer insecticide. Monsanto is particularly vulnerable to a takeover after piling up a mountain of problems this year. The company has cut its earnings forecast, clashed with some of the world’s largest commodity-trading companies and become locked in disputes with the governments of Argentina and India. Shares are down 19% in the past 12 months. “It’s a relentless string of bad news,” Jonas Oxgaard, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein in New York, said. “It’s almost like they forgot to sacrifice a goat to the gods.”

Read more …

Bayer won’t be able to sell its new ‘products’ at home.

Bayer’s Mega Monsanto Deal Faces Mega Backlash in Germany (BBG)

Bayer’s proposed mega deal to buy Monsanto is likely to create a mega public relations challenge for the German company at home. Bayer faces a backlash against Germany’s biggest planned acquisition because of two products from the St. Louis-based company that are widely detested in the country: genetically modified seeds and the weedkiller Roundup, which uses a compound called glyphosate that some believe can cause cancer. “Germans view Monsanto as the main example of American corporate evil,” said Heike Moldenhauer, a biotechnology expert at German environmental group BUND. “It may not be such a good idea to take over Monsanto as that means incorporating its bad reputation, which would also make Bayer more vulnerable.”

A German Environment Ministry study released last month found 75% of citizens are against genetic engineering of plants and animals. Aware of voter suspicions, members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats, have already come out against the deal, which would turn Bayer into the biggest supplier of farm chemicals. Monsanto, which has a market value of $42 billion, said Thursday it’s studying the offer. Neither party has disclosed the terms. A merger would “strengthen the economic power of genetic engineering in Germany, which we see as very problematic as the majority of the population in Germany is opposed to the technology,” said Elvira Drobinski-Weiss, the lawmaker responsible for formulating policy positions on genetic engineering for the Social Democrats.

BASF four years ago abandoned research into genetically modified crops in Germany, citing a lack of acceptance of the technology in many parts of Europe from consumers, farmers and politicians. The German company moved the unit to the U.S. and halted development of products targeted for Europe to focus on crops for the Americas and Asia. “There’s virtually no market for genetically modified seeds in Europe because they’re so unpopular,” said Dirk Zimmermann, a GMO expert at Greenpeace in Hamburg. A deal combining Bayer and Monsanto would “hurt the future of sustainable agriculture.”

Read more …

The EU is good for something after all. The pro-Roundup arguments get an eery left field feel to them though: “We use it for some farming practices such as no-till and minimum-tillage, helping to ensure less greenhouse gas emissions and soil erosion.”

EU Declines To Renew Glyphosate Licence (EUO)

European experts failed again to take a decision on whether to renew a licence for glyphosate, the world’s widest-used weedkiller, during a meeting on Wednesday and Thursday (18-19 May). The EU standing committee on plants, animals, food and feed (Paff), which brings together experts of all EU member states, failed to organise a vote. There was no qualified majority for such a decision. The current licence expires on 30 June. The Paff committee was expected to settle on the matter already in March, but postponed the vote after France, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden raised objections, mainly over the impact of glyphosate on human health. The European Commission has since tabled two new proposals, both of which failed to convince the member states.

The health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis insists that member states decide with a qualified majority because of the controversies involved. A spokesperson said the commission will reflect on the discussions. ”If no decision is taken before 30 June, glyphosate will be no longer authorised in the EU and member states will have to withdraw authorisations for all glyphosate based products”, the spokesperson said. Pekka Pesonen, the secretary general of agriculture umbrella organisation Copa-Cogeca, told EUobserver he regretted the outcome. ”This adds to uncertainty in an already pressured business”, he said. Glyphosate is widely used by European farmers because it is cost-efficient and widely available on the market.

”Without it, production will be jeopardised. This raises questions about food safety, competitiveness of European farmers, as well as our commitments to climate change,” Pesonen said. “We use it for some farming practices such as no-till and minimum-tillage, helping to ensure less greenhouse gas emissions and soil erosion.” ”Glyphosate is also recognised as safe by the EU food safety authority [Efsa]”, he added.

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“It is not legal or moral, it is shameful and it is not a solution. It will cause problems later.”

Ai Weiwei Says EU’s Refugee Deal With Turkey Is Immoral (G.)

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei described the EU’s refugee deal with Turkey as shameful and immoral as he unveiled the artistic results of his stay on the Greek island of Lesbos. Speaking in Athens, where the works are going on public display for the first time from Friday, Ai said that although he had seen and experienced extreme and violent conditions in China, he “could never have imagined conditions like this”. Lesbos last year became the main European entry point for tens of thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, but arrivals have fallen dramatically since the implementation of an agreement between Brussels and Ankara to return migrants from the Greek islands to Turkey. Of the agreement, Ai said: “It is not legal or moral, it is shameful and it is not a solution. It will cause problems later.”

The artist told the Guardian: “These people have nothing to do with Europe; they are like people from outer space, but they have to come. They have been pushed out and they are being totally neglected by Europe. They are sleeping in the mud and rain and it is only volunteers giving them food or clothes.” Ai arrived on Lesbos in December, having been invited to stage an exhibition at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. The island seemed like a good starting point for thinking about ancient Greece and its mythologies, philosophies and values. Instead Ai became caught up in what he said was the biggest, most shameful humanitarian crisis since the second world war. He had told his girlfriend and young son it was a holiday, but five months later he and his studio are still there. He said he has been changed by what he has seen.

“It is such a beautiful island – blue water, sunshine, tourists – and to see the boats come in with desperate children, pregnant women and elderly people, some 90 years old, and they all have fear and they all have it in their eyes … You think: how could this happen? I got completely emotionally involved.” Ai said Europe needed to understand that the refugees were fleeing their countries because they had to. It was leave or die, he said. The exhibition at the MCA, Ai’s first in Greece, includes an enormous collage of 12,030 small pictures taken on his camera phone, documenting his time on the island. He is also exhibiting photographs taken by six Greek amateur photographers, in partnership with the Photographic Society of Mytilene.

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