Sep 182017
 
 September 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso The old fisherman 1895

 

Muted Inflation A Trillion-Dollar Puzzle – BIS (R.)
Global Debt Underreported By $14 Trillion – BIS (ZH)
World’s Central Banks Can’t Ignore the Bitcoin Boom – BIS (BBG)
Dogecoin Creator On Cryptocurrencies: “Very Bubble. Much Scam. So Avoid.” (NYT)
The Future Of Cryptocurrency Is Not As It Seems (Eric Peters)
China’s $40 Trillion Banking System: “Largest Imbalances I’ve Ever Seen” (ZH)
Stockman: Trump’s Now ‘Blowing Kisses to Janet Yellen’
Spain’s Prosecutor Warns Over Catalonia Referendum As Leaflets Seized (R.)
After Single Payer Failed, Vermont Embarks On Big Health Care Experiment (WP)
Greek Government Told To Begin Online Auctions Or Face A Bank Bail-In (K.)
In Greece, Full-Time Work Is Not The Norm It Once Was (K.)
Hurricane Maria Heading For Caribbean (AFP)

 

 

Debt is the answer. They want you to think they don’t know that.

Muted Inflation A Trillion-Dollar Puzzle – BIS (R.)

The conundrum of stubbornly low inflation despite a pick-up in global growth and continued monetary stimulus is a “trillion dollar” question, the umbrella body for the world’s leading central banks said on Sunday. The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) said in its latest quarterly report that cheap borrowing rates and the rare simultaneous expansion of advanced and developing economies are driving financial markets higher, with signs of “exuberance” starting to re-emerge. U.S. corporate debt is much higher than before the financial crisis and a drop in the premiums investors demand for riskier lending has boosted sales of so-called covenant-lite bonds offering high yields. The BIS said this raises a question over the potential for another crisis if there is a significant rise in interest rates.

The body has called for a gradual return to higher rates, though central banks are being tentative because of persisting low inflation. “It feels like ‘Waiting for Godot’,” said Claudio Borio, the head of the monetary and economic department of the BIS, referring to a play in which the main characters wait for someone who never arrives. But the BIS says no one has yet worked out why inflation has remained so subdued while economies have approached or surpassed estimates of full employment and central banks have provided unprecedented stimulus. “This is the trillion-dollar question that will define the global economy’s path in the years ahead and determine, in all probability, the future of current policy frameworks,” Borio said. “Worryingly, no one really knows the answer.”

Read more …

The BIS is surprised by lack of inflation, or does it pretend that? And it’s also surprised by swaps and forwards? Really?

Global Debt Underreported By $14 Trillion – BIS (ZH)

In its latest annual summary published at the end of June, the IIF found that total nominal global debt had risen to a new all time high of $217 trillion, or 327% of global GDP…

… largely as a result of an unprecedented increase in emerging market leverage.

While the continued growth in debt in zero interest rate world is hardly surprising, what was notable is that debt within the developed world appeared to have peaked, if not declined modestly in the latest 5 year period. However, it now appears that contrary to previous speculation of potential deleveraging among EM nations, not only was this conclusion incorrect, but that developed nations had been stealthily piling on just as much debt, only largely hidden from the public eye, in the form of swaps and forwards.

According to a just released analysts by the Bank of International Settlements, “FX swaps and forwards: missing global debt?” non-banks institutions outside the United States owe large sums of dollars off-balance sheet through instruments such as FX swaps and forwards. The BIS then calculates what balance sheets would look like if borrowing through such derivative instruments was recorded on-balance sheet, as functionally equivalent repo debt, and calculates that the total “is of a size similar to, and probably exceeding, the $10.7 trillion of on-balance sheet dollar debt”, potentially as much as $13-14 trillion.

[..] “Every day, trillions of dollars are borrowed and lent in various currencies. Many deals take place in the cash market, through loans and securities. But foreign exchange (FX) derivatives, mainly FX swaps, currency swaps and the closely related forwards, also create debt-like obligations. For the US dollar alone, contracts worth tens of trillions of dollars stand open and trillions change hands daily. And yet one cannot find these amounts on balance sheets. This debt is, in effect, missing.”

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Who says they’re ignoring it? They’re frantically looking to control it.

World’s Central Banks Can’t Ignore the Bitcoin Boom – BIS (BBG)

The world’s central banks can’t sit back and ignore the growth in cryptocurrencies as it could pose a risk to the stability of the financial system, according to the Bank for International Settlements. It said central banks will need to figure out whether to issue a digital currency and what its attributes should be, though the decision is most pressing in countries like Sweden where cash use is dwindling. Institutions need to take into account of not only privacy issues and efficiency gains in payment systems, but also economic, financial and monetary policy repercussions, the BIS said in its Quarterly Review. The analysis comes at the end of a rough week for digital currencies, with JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon calling bitcoin a “fraud” and China moving to crack down on domestic trading of cryptocurrencies.

But with bitcoin and others gaining in popularity as payment systems go mobile and investors pour in money, central banks are beginning to delve into them and their underlying blockchain technology, which promises to speed up clearing and settlements. At the Bank of England, Mark Carney has cited cryptocurrencies as part of a potential “revolution” in finance. To better understand the system, the Dutch central bank has created its own cryptocurrency, albeit for internal use only. U.S. officials are exploring the matter too, though in March Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell said there were “significant policy issues” that needed further study, including vulnerability to cyber-attack, privacy and counterfeiting.

According to the BIS, one option for central banks might be a currency available to the public, with only the central bank able to issue units that would be directly convertible with cash and reserves. There might be a greater risk of bank runs, however, and commercial lenders might face a shortage of deposits. Another question to be resolved would be the question of privacy.

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“It’s going to be like the dot-com bust, but on a much more epic scale.”

Dogecoin Creator On Cryptocurrencies: “Very Bubble. Much Scam. So Avoid.” (NYT)

Jackson Palmer no longer thinks it’s funny to imitate Doge, the internet meme about a Shiba Inu dog whose awe-struck expressions and garbled syntax (e.g. “Wow. So pizza. Much delicious.”) made him a viral sensation several years ago. But if he did, he might channel Doge to offer a few cautionary words for investors who are falling for cryptocurrency start-ups, Silicon Valley’s latest moneymaking craze: Very bubble. Much scam. So avoid. Mr. Palmer, the creator of Dogecoin, was an early fan of cryptocurrency, a form of encrypted digital money that is traded from person to person. He saw investors talking about Bitcoin, the oldest and best-known cryptocurrency, and wanted to find a way to poke fun at the hype surrounding the emerging technology. So in 2013, he built his own cryptocurrency, a satirical mash-up that combined Bitcoin with the Doge meme he’d seen on social media.

Mr. Palmer hoped to use Dogecoin to show the absurdity of wagering huge sums of money on unstable ventures. But investors didn’t get the joke and bought Dogecoin anyway, bringing its market value as high as $400 million. Along the way, the currency became a magnet for greed and attracted a group of scammers and hackers who defrauded investors, hyped fake products, and left many of the currency’s original backers empty-handed. Today, Mr. Palmer, 30, is one of the loudest voices warning that a similar fate might soon befall the entire cryptocurrency industry. “What’s happening to crypto now is what happened to Dogecoin,” Mr. Palmer told me in a recent interview. “I’m worried that this time, it’s on a much grander scale.”

[..] Mr. Palmer, a laid-back Australian who works as a product manager in the Bay Area and describes himself as “socialist leaning,” was disturbed by the commercialization of his joke currency. He had never collected Dogecoin for himself, and had resisted efforts to cash in on the currency’s success, even turning down a $500,000 investment offer from an Australian venture capital firm. [..] Mr. Palmer worries that the coming reckoning in the cryptocurrency market — and it is coming, he says confidently — will deter people from using the technology for more legitimate projects. “The bigger this bubble goes, the bigger negative connotation it’s going to have,” he said. “It’s going to be like the dot-com bust, but on a much more epic scale.”

Read more …

Peters is the CIO at One River Asset Management. “Once private markets perfect cryptocurrency technology, governments will commandeer it, killing today’s pioneers. Then with every cryptodollar, yen, euro and renminbi registered on their servers, they’ll have complete dominion over money, laundering, taxation.”

The Future Of Cryptocurrency Is Not As It Seems (Eric Peters)

“Any other thoughts on the matter?” he asked. We’d spent quite some time discussing Bitcoin, Ethereum, and copycat cryptocurrencies popping up faster than North Korean nukes. I mostly listened, he knew far more about the subject; blockchain, distributed ledgers, mining, halving, hash rates. Unlike the S&P 500 realized volatility’s collapse to 8%, these new creations are realizing at 90%. Which makes them attractive to day-traders, adrenaline junkies, who launched 100 crypto hedge funds just last month. It’s the millennial’s wild west. Like all generations, they’ve discovered a new frontier, with few rules, seedy saloons, gunfights, corpses. As our earthly unknowns disappear, we find new ones in the ether. Which is where money belongs; it’s not real, it’s an abstraction, an age-old illusion.

As a golden myth captured mankind’s imagination, we built our societies upon a rare yellow metal. For 2,500 years we fought, killed, conquered. Until governments tired of the arbitrary spending constraints imposed upon them by a scarce element. So they invented today’s fiction, a printed promise, fiat currency. Seigniorage is the difference between that currency’s market value and its cost of production – that spread is a source of vast wealth and power. And in all human history, not a single government has willingly forfeited such a thing. Nor will one ever. Only after a hyperinflationary depression, confronted with revolution, do governments sometimes relinquish their power to print (Zimbabwe most recently).

Consequently, the future of cryptocurrency is not as it seems. Once private markets perfect cryptocurrency technology, governments will commandeer it, killing today’s pioneers. Then with every cryptodollar, yen, euro and renminbi registered on their servers, they’ll have complete dominion over money, laundering, taxation. They’ll track every transaction. Imposing negative interest rates in an instant. There will be no hiding, no mattresses. And in a deflationary panic, they’ll instantaneously add an extra zero to every account, their own especially.

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“..we’re on a $40 trillion credit system on $2 trillion of equity on maybe $1 trillion of liquid reserves.”

China’s $40 Trillion Banking System: “Largest Imbalances I’ve Ever Seen” (ZH)

KB: We’re in the such late stages of a game that is the largest global imbalance I’ve ever seen in my life. When you look at on balance sheet and off balance sheets, you look at on balance sheet in the banks, you look in the shadow banks. The number of total credit in the system, China is right at $40 trillion. Think about the number I just said. $40 trillion. And that’s using an exchange rate of call it 6.7 to the dollar, right? So it’s grown 1,000% in a decade. And we’re on a $40 trillion credit system on $2 trillion of equity on maybe $1 trillion of liquid reserves.

RP: Where do you get the equity and liquid reserves from?

KB: Well, it’s the amount of equity in the banks of China. It’s right at about $2 trillion. So that’s kind of a stated number. The reserves is my own calculation, right? The Chinese magically have leveled their reserves out around $3 trillion, which happens to be the minimum level of IMF reserve adequacy as defined by the IMF rule.

RP: So what have they been doing now? So, they were under pressure, and then everything kind of eased off, I guess, as the dollar started weakening a bit.

KB: Yeah. Actually, they’ve done three things. Well, so four things have caused this, quote, easing off that you refer to. Three have been driven by SAFE and the PBOC, one that’s been driven by our illustrious Trump. So the first three are, number one, they essentially halted all cross-border M&A. So if you look at the parabola of M&A coming out of China from 2012 to 2016, it reached dizzying heights in 2016. In 2017, it’s like 15% of the 2016 number and no new deals being announced. Now, they’ll always be some outbound M&A that’s driven by really policy at the Communist Party level, right?

They’ll always buy copper mines in Uganda. They’ll always invest in ports in Greece. They’ll always do things that are from a strategic perspective and a policy perspective. The things that the Communist Party needs to procure resources for its people over the long-term. But when you look at the rampant M&A of money leaving China, they just put a halt to it in November of 2016. And the second thing they did was they made it impossible for multinational corporations to get their profits and or working capital out of China. And that’s something that has been a problem for a lot of the multinationals that do business in China.”

Read more …

Perma bear.

Stockman: Trump’s Now ‘Blowing Kisses to Janet Yellen’

Stockman: Trump’s ‘Done Nothing in Nine Months’ and Is Now ‘Blowing Kisses to Janet Yellen’ (Fox Business, September 15, 2017)

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EU, UN, US, nobody stands up for democracy. Revealing.

Spain’s Prosecutor Warns Over Catalonia Referendum As Leaflets Seized (R.)

Spanish authorities on Sunday pursued efforts to block an independence vote in Catalonia, seizing campaign materials as the chief prosecutor said jailing the region’s top politician could not be ruled out. The government in the northeastern region is intent on holding a referendum on October 1 that will ask voters whether they support secession from Spain, a ballot Madrid has declared illegal. In a raid on a warehouse in the province of Barcelona on Sunday, police confiscated around 1.3 million leaflets and other campaign materials promoting the vote issued by the Catalan government. The haul was the largest in a series of similar raids, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Spanish prosecutors, who have ordered police to investigate any efforts to promote the plebiscite, said last week that officials engaged in any preparations for it could be charged with civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds. More than 700 Catalan mayors gathered in Barcelona on Saturday to affirm their support for it. Asked if arresting regional government head Carles Puigdemont was an option if preparations continued, Spain’s chief public prosecutor said in an interview: ”We could consider it because the principal objective is to stop the referendum going ahead. “I won’t rule out completely the option of seeking jail terms… It could happen under certain circumstances,” Jose Manuel Maza was quoted as also telling Sunday’s edition of newspaper El Mundo.

Read more …

Promising.

After Single Payer Failed, Vermont Embarks On Big Health Care Experiment (WP)

Doug Greenwood lifted his shirt to let his doctor probe his belly, scarred from past surgeries, for tender spots. Searing abdominal pain had landed Greenwood in the emergency room a few weeks earlier, and he’d come for a follow-up visit to Cold Hollow Family Practice, a big red barnlike building perched on the edge of town. After the appointment was over and his blood was drawn, Greenwood stayed for an entirely different exam: of his life. Anne-Marie Lajoie, a nurse care coordinator, began to map out Greenwood’s financial resources, responsibilities, transportation options, food resources and social supports on a sheet of paper. A different picture began to emerge of the 58-year-old male patient recovering from diverticulitis: Greenwood had moved back home, without a car or steady work, to care for his mother, who suffered from dementia. He slept in a fishing shanty in the yard, with a baby monitor to keep tabs on his mother.

This more expansive checkup is part of a pioneering effort in this New England state to keep people healthy while simplifying the typical jumble of private and public insurers that pays for health care. The underlying premise is simple: Reward doctors and hospitals financially when patients are healthy, not just when they come in sick. It’s an idea that has been percolating through the health-care system in recent years, supported by the Affordable Care Act and changes to how Medicare pays for certain kinds of care, such as hip and knee replacements. But Vermont is setting an ambitious goal of taking its alternative payment model statewide and applying it to 70% of insured state residents by 2022 which — if it works — could eventually lead to fundamental changes in how Americans pay for health care.

“You make your margin off of keeping people healthier, instead of doing more operations. This drastically changes you, from wanting to do more of a certain kind of surgery to wanting to prevent them,” said Stephen Leffler, chief population health and quality officer of the University of Vermont Health Network. Making lump sum payments, instead of paying for each X-ray or checkup, changes the financial incentives for doctors. For example, spurring the state’s largest hospital system to invest in housing. Or creating more roles like Lajoie’s, focused on diagnosing problems with housing, transportation, food and other services that affect people’s well-being.

Read more …

The Troika is in Athens to turn on the thumbscrews.

Greek Government Told To Begin Online Auctions Or Face A Bank Bail-In (K.)

The possibility that banks will need for a fresh recapitalization grows with every day the delay in the implementation of online property transactions drags on. This might lead to a deposit haircut, along with generating a major crisis in relations between the government and the country’s creditors. Creditor representatives are accusing the government of delay tactics, for party political purposes, in starting electronic auctions. This puts the sustainability of the credit system at risk as it denies them a crucial tool in efforts to tackle the problem of nonperforming loans (NPLs).

The creditors have explicitly warned Athens about the prospect of a new recapitalization and the risk of a bail-in for banks and their depositors unless the auctions proceed quickly, as their representatives told notaries and banks in Greece during the presentations of the auctions’ online platform, according to the president of the Notaries’ Association, Giorgos Rouskas. The creditors reacted strongly when told that the first online auctions would not take place before early 2018 even though during the second bailout review Athens had committed to start the auctions on September 1. The government claimed the system is in place but the law provides for a period of two months between the submission of an auction request and its realization.

Seeing that the government is again trying to renege on its commitments, the creditors put fresh pressure on Athens, which backed down and said the system may open in the coming days for banks, so that the first online auctions can take place by end-November. In an interview with Kathimerini, Rouskas stressed that “the online platform is ready and all technical tests have been completed.” The onus is therefore on the banks now, which Rouskas explains have to register the repeat auctions or any new ones in the system, being the party initiating the auctions. They will then get a date based on the new system. “We have prepared the platform. It is now up to the lender, be that a bank or a private individual, to issue a request for an online auction scheduling, which notaries are forced to follow. This has not happened yet, but I believe we are very close to its implementation,” said Rouskas.

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Why Greece will not recover. Money supply way down, money velocity way way down.

In Greece, Full-Time Work Is Not The Norm It Once Was (K.)

Official data by the Hellenic Statistical Authority point to an increase in employment by about 250,000 jobs in the last three years (from the second quarter of 2014 to this year’s Q2), but that is only part of the truth. The figures also reveal a constant decline in average salaries, an ongoing increase in the percentage of employed workers who earn less than 500 euros a month – at least one in four gets less than that amount – soaring temporary work (either due to project-specific hirings, subsidies being paid for a restricted period, or time contracts), and a rise in the rate of part-time employment.

Senior and top officials are no longer offered such handsome pay packages, the primary sector is being abandoned and any new enterprises that are being set up are mostly in the field of restaurants, hotels and retail stores. Greeks can only find jobs such as waiters, cleaners, maids or sales assistants, which as a rule are of a seasonal character and fetch a low salary. The 40-hour working week concerns ever fewer workers nowadays, and without the subsidies handed out by the Manpower Organization (OAED) and the increase in tourism flows the unemployment rate probably wouldn’t have declined at all.

Read more …

The season is far from over.

Hurricane Maria Heading For Caribbean (AFP)

Maria became a hurricane Sunday as it headed toward the storm-staggered eastern Caribbean with 75 mile (120 kilometer) per hour winds, the US National Hurricane Center said. Storm warnings and watches went up in many of the Caribbean islands still reeling from the destructive passage of Hurricane Irma earlier this month. As of 2100 GMT, Maria was a Category One hurricane, the lowest on the five point Saffir-Simpson scale, located 140 miles (225 kilometers) northeast of Barbados, the NHC said, bearing west-northwest at 15 miles (24 kilometers) an hour. “On the forecast track, the center of Maria will move across the Leeward Islands Monday night and then over the extreme northeastern Caribbean Sea on Tuesday,” it said.

Hurricane warnings were triggered for St Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat, while lesser ‘watches’ were issued for the US and British Virgin Islands where at least nine people were killed during Irma. A warning is typically issued 36 hours before the first occurrence of tropical storm-force winds while watches are issued 48 hours in advance. Tropical storm warnings were, meanwhile, issued for Martinique, Antigua and Barbuda, Saba and St Eustatius and St Lucia. Barbuda was decimated by Hurricane Irma September 5-6 when it made its first landfall in the Caribbean as a top intensity Category Five storm. The NHC said Maria could produce a “dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves” that will raise water levels by four to six feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) when it passes through the Leeward Islands.

Read more …

Sep 172017
 
 September 17, 2017  Posted by at 9:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Edward Hopper House tops 1921

 

Trade War With China Will End US Global Finance Monopoly – Jim Rogers (RT)
Pension Storm Warning (Mauldin)
S&P On The Verge Of History (ZH)
How Austerity Works (Steve Keen)
Why Bitcoin May Be Worth Only A Third Of Its Value (MW)
How Common is the Seneca Curve? (Ugo Bardi)
Greek Debt Write-Offs To Be Based On Properties (K.)
The Eurozone May Be Back On Its Feet. But Is Greece? (G.)
Chinese Capital Bans Winter Construction To Improve Air Quality (R.)
White House Denies EU Claim That It’s Shifting on Climate Deal (BBG)

 

 

“It will force the rest of the world to find an alternative to the US financial system.” They haven’t found one yet.

Trade War With China Will End US Global Finance Monopoly – Jim Rogers (RT)

RT : What is the likelihood that the US will go through with and actually impose economic sanctions on China if it does not implement the new sanctions regime against North Korea? Jim Rogers : Sanctions are sanctions. They could do sanctions which are not very important or don’t do much damage. And then they will have good public relations which says they have sanctions, but it is meaningless. I would suspect if anything, that is what they will start with. If they put sanctions on China in a big way, it brings the whole world economy down. And in the end, it hurts America more than it hurts China because it just forces China and Russia and other countries closer together. Russia and China and other countries are already trying to come up with a new financial system. If America puts sanctions on them, they would have to do it that much faster and in the end America will lose its monopoly on the financial system, which will hurt America more than anybody.

RT : What do you think, is it an empty rhetoric and saber-rattling from Donald Trump because he said “those [UN] sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen” without specifying what he meant by that. Do you think this is just mere bluff on the part of the US, or would it really use the ‘nuclear option’? JR : If it uses a nuclear option for sanctions, it will hurt America much more than will hurt North Korea, it will hurt America much more than it will hurt China, Russia and everybody else. It will force the rest of the world to find an alternative to the US financial system. If he does that, it is going to cause a lot of turmoil in the world financial economy and in the end it is going to hurt America more than it is going to hurt anybody else. I would give you an example, if you look at Russian agriculture right now – America put sanctions on Russian agriculture trying to hurt Russia, but it has helped Russian agriculture. Russian agriculture is booming now. In the end, America has hurt itself more than it has hurt anybody else.

RT : If that happens, what would the consequences be for the global economy? Could this end up becoming a global economic crisis? JR : We are probably going to have a global economic problem, maybe even crisis, in the next couple of years. This may be one of the things that start it. There is always something which starts a crisis. If America does something like this, this could be the thing that did it. In 1929, it started when America started a huge trade war with the rest of the world and the economists said, “please, this is a mistake,” but America did that anyway. And then we had a great collapse and The Great Depression of the 1930s.

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Pensions and hurricanes: lies and bad preparation.

Pension Storm Warning (Mauldin)

Total unfunded liabilities in state and local pensions have roughly quintupled in the last decade. You read that right – not doubled, tripled or quadrupled: quintupled. That’s nice when it happens on a slot machine, not so nice when it’s money you owe. The graph [shows] that unfunded pension liabilities for state and local governments was $2 trillion. But that assumes an average 7% compound return. What if we assume 4% compound returns? Now the admitted unfunded pension liability is $4 trillion. But what if we have a recession and the stock market goes down by the past average of more than 40%? Now you have an unfunded liability in the range of $7–8 trillion.We throw the words a trillion dollars around, not realizing how much that actually is. Combined state and local revenues for the US total around $2.6 trillion.

Following the next recession (whenever that is), the unfunded pension liabilities for state and local governments will be roughly three times the revenue they are collecting today, and that’s before a recession reduces their revenues. Can you see the taxpayer stuck between a rock and a hard place? Two immovable objects meeting? The math just doesn’t work. Pension trustees don’t face personal liability. They’re literally playing with someone else’s money. Some try very hard to be realistic and cautious. Others don’t. But even the most diligent can’t control when the next recession comes, or when the stock market will crash, leaving a gaping hole in their assets while liabilities keep right on rising. I have had meetings with trustees of various government pensions.

Many of them want to assume a more realistic discount rate, but the politicians in their state literally refuse to allow them to assume a reasonable discount rate, because owning up to reality would require them to increase their current pension funding dramatically. So they kick the can down the road. Intentionally or not, state and local officials all over the US made pension promises that future officials can’t possibly keep. Many will be out of office when the bill comes due, protected from liability by sovereign immunity. We are starting to see cities filing for bankruptcy. That small ripple will be a tsunami within 7–10 years.

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“..a market rally that goes deep into 2019..”

S&P On The Verge Of History (ZH)

U.S. stocks have risen more in the past eight years than in almost any other post-World War II time of economic growth, as defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The logic here is that economic expansions fuel bull markets and so it’s reasonable to measure market recoveries after a period of macro contraction ends. Using that definition, let’s review how the S&P 500 has performed during the last ten economic recoveries. To be precise, the birth of the stock market’s bull market is dated as the first day after an NBER-defined recession has ended. The market run continues through the peak. The S&P 500 Index jumped 172% from July 2009, when the current expansion started, through Wednesday. The biggest advance was about 300% and occurred from April 1991 to March 2001, when Internet-related stocks soared.

As Capital Speculator blog’s James Picerno notes, the question before the house: Will the momentum of late endure long enough to overtake the 1991-2001 record in duration and/or magnitude? If so, the bull market in the here and now has to last another 463 trading days, which translates into a market rally that goes deep into 2019. There’s just one thing wrong… Remember – the ‘market’ is not the ‘economy’… or maybe it is in the new normal?

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It really is this simple.

How Austerity Works (Steve Keen)

I provide a simple numerical explanation of how austerity works at the micro (individual person, industrial sector, or country) and the macro level (country, or group of countries in a currency union).

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A thousand different views. At least this one took some homework.

Why Bitcoin May Be Worth Only A Third Of Its Value (MW)

Dan Davies, senior research adviser at Frontline Analysts, argued there’s no point in attempting to value bitcoin as if it were just another type of security. “It’s not a security with some intrinsic value, rather it’s a currency that in the long term is governed by an exchange rate driven by trade or volume of transactions,” Davies said. The fact that a significant proportion of bitcoins is hoarded or held for investment doesn’t disqualify it from being a currency, according to Davies. But the BTC/USD BTCUSD, -3.37% exchange rate is entirely determined by speculative portfolio capital flows right now, he said, leaving it difficult to assign fair value. Viewing bitcoin as a currency makes it possible, at least in theory, to come up with a long-term exchange rate by using the quantity theory of money.

The formula is: MV = PT, where money supply multiplied by its velocity equals the price level multiplied by the transaction volume. Since both price and transaction volume is expressed in U.S. dollars, the price of bitcoin would be 1/BTCUSD, Davies said. In this case, bitcoin’s supply is fixed at 21 million and money velocity for normal currencies is usually at around 10, according to Davies. So, the long-term fundamental value of bitcoin equals the long-term value of transactions that will be carried out in bitcoin divided by 210 million (21 million bitcoins multiplied by velocity). The hardest value to plug into this formula is the transaction volume. If, for example, bitcoin was used primarily for global trade in illicit drugs, the figure would be around $120 billion, which is an estimate the U.N. used in 2014.

“I used that number a few years ago, but we would have to come up with a different estimate, as bitcoin is clearly used for things other than illicit drugs now,” Davies said. Davies declined to offer an updated number, saying he needed to do more research. But doubling that transaction volume number to $240 billion, for example, and dividing by 210 million produces a value of $1,142, around a third of the current exchange rate of $3,569. That isn’t far from an estimate that Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz Global Investors, recently suggested as a fair value for bitcoin. In an interview with CNBC, El-Erian said the fair price should be about half or a third of what it is now. El-Erian argued the currency will only survive as a peer-to-peer means of payment and governments won’t allow mass adoption.

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It’s universal.

How Common is the Seneca Curve? (Ugo Bardi)

My talk at the Summer Academy of the Club of Rome was mainly a presentation of my latest book, “The Seneca Effect” (Springer 2017). In practice, of course, a book contains many more things than you can say in a 40 minute speech. So, I tried to concentrate on the idea that the behavior I call “the Seneca Curve” is very common, even universal. Below, you can see the Seneca Curve: things go up slowly but collapse rapidly, as the Roman philosopher Seneca said first some two thousand years ago. You may have heard the old Latin motto, “Natura non facit saltus” (Nature doesn’t make jumps) meaning that things change gradually, not abruptly. It may be true in many circumstances but, in practice, it is wholly normal that Nature accumulates energy potentials (as when you inflate a balloon) and then releases them all of a sudden (as when you puncture a balloon).

There are reasons why Nature behaves in this way, but the point I made at the school was not so much about why the curve is so common but how human beings are not normally aware of it. In fact, our thought is often shaped by the idea that things will continue evolving the way they have been evolving up to a certain point. Just think about economic growth, and you’ll notice how economists expect it to continue forever. It goes without saying that the economy is one of those complex systems which are most vulnerable to the Seneca collapse. So, I tried to stress that the understanding that the Seneca Curve exists and it is common is a recent discovery. Even though Seneca had understood it by intuition already almost 2000 years ago, in its modern form it is less than a century old. It was proposed for the first time by Jay Forrester in the 1960s and it was enshrined in “The Limits to Growth” study of 1972, even though the term “Seneca Effect” was not used.

During my talk, I showed this image to evidence how our ideas on the path that complex systems follow evolved over time. You see how modern the idea of “overshoot” (and the subsequent collapse) is. Malthus just didn’t have it. Despite being often accused of catastrophism, he couldn’t envisage societal collapse; he lacked the necessary intellectual tools. He was an optimist! Today, we have this concept. We know that complex systems tend not just to decline, they tend to collapse. But this perception is totally missing in the general debate. When you mention societal collapse, there are two possible reactions. The most common one is that such a thing will never happen.

Then, if you manage to convince people that it is possible, they endeavor to do everything they can to keep the system going; whatever it takes. They don’t realize that when you exceed the carrying capacity of the system, you have to come back, one way or another. And the more you try to stay above the limit, the faster and the harsher the return will be. What you have to do is to ease the collapse, follow it, not try to stop it. Otherwise, it will be worse.

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Is that corruption I smell?

Greek Debt Write-Offs To Be Based On Properties (K.)

Only business owners with no real estate properties will qualify for a partial write-off of corporate debts in the context of the extrajudicial settlement mechanism. This criterion excludes the owner’s main residence and the production properties, i.e. the professional properties used for the entrepreneurial activity. That was the decision that the technical experts of the country’s creditors are said to have reached with representatives of Greek banks and the Independent Authority for Public Revenue, while there was also convergence on setting the criteria for debt settlement for companies owing between €20,000 and €50,000. In this latter category of debtors, which mostly comprise small enterprises, a standardized procedure will be adopted for assessing repayment capacity and the determination of the amount that the debtor will have to pay on a regular basis.

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The Greece firesale will never come anywhere near the €60 billion, but everyone keeps mentioning the number. Their entire railway system went for €45 million. Selling off an entire country is a very bad idea. Europe will find out, but too late.

The Eurozone May Be Back On Its Feet. But Is Greece? (G.)

“It is obvious. Our policies have changed radically, ” says Stergios Pitsiorlas, the deputy economy and development minister, whose airy office is visited daily by bankers, hedge-fund managers and industrialists jockeying for bargains. “Being leftwing doesn’t mean you are also a fool. It doesn’t mean, in the words of Lenin, that we are useful idiots. Let’s speak seriously. Those who complain that Greece is being sold off, that Greece will lose out, don’t know what they are talking about.” Tall, bearded and bespectacled, Pitsiorlas is the point man in Athens’s attempt to raise €60bn (£53bn) through privatisations – sales that, increasingly, have become the focus of international creditors keeping the debt-stricken country afloat. In what has been called the most ambitious sell-off in modern European history, assets ranging from public utilities and transport companies to marinas and hotels are up for grabs.

[..] Privatisations are central to completion of a new round of bailout negotiations with the EU and IMF. Greece’s third, €86bn, rescue programme is due to end next summer and Tsipras has made a clean exit from it, which would herald Athens’s return to the markets, an overarching goal. But hurdles lie ahead. On Friday, eurozone finance ministers warned that continued persecution of the country’s former statistics chief, Andreas Georgiou, could dent international confidence and derail chances of recovery. Officials also raised the prospect of fresh austerity should Greece fail to hit the primary surplus target of 3.5% – a prospect made likely by a huge shortfall in tax revenues. But in a week when the Italians finally took control of Greece’s state-owned train network (acquired by Italy’s own state operator for a paltry €45m) Pitsiorlas is optimistic.

He cites the takeover of Piraeus port by the Chinese shipping conglomerate Cosco as an example of what privatisations can bring: “They will make it the biggest port in Europe and that will boost other professions, create thousands of jobs, revitalise shipyards, which they are also looking at, pave the way to better trains, roads and logistic centres, and trigger development and growth.” In five years, he enthuses, Greece will be a very different place, cosmopolitan and vibrant. “There are rules which need to be observed but ultimately everything will be solved,” he insisted, referring to the obstacles Eldorado and others have encountered. “A miracle will happen. There will be huge change … but the state can’t do it alone, the private sector has to be involved.”

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What happens to the bricklayers et al?

Chinese Capital Bans Winter Construction To Improve Air Quality (R.)

Beijing will suspend construction of major public projects in the city this winter in an effort to improve the capital’s notorious air quality, official media said on Sunday, citing the municipal commission of housing and urban-rural development. All construction of road and water projects, as well as demolition of housing, will be banned from Nov. 15 to March 15 within the city’s six major districts and surrounding suburbs, said the Xinhua report. The period spans the four months when heating is supplied to the city’s housing and other buildings. China is in the fourth year of a “war on pollution” designed to reverse the damage done by decades of untrammelled economic growth and allay concerns that hazardous smog and widespread water and soil contamination are causing hundreds of thousands of early deaths every year.

Beijing has promised to impose tough industrial and traffic curbs across the north of the country this winter in a bid to meet key smog targets. In the capital, it is aiming to reduce airborne particles known as PM2.5 by more than a quarter from their 2012 levels and bring average concentrations down to 60 micrograms per cubic metre. Last year the city experienced near record-high smog in January and February, which the government blamed on “unfavourable weather conditions” Some ‘major livelihood projects’ such as railways, airports and affordable housing may be continued however, providing they are approved by the commission, said the report.

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Paris is an empty deal.

White House Denies EU Claim That It’s Shifting on Climate Deal (BBG)

The European Union said President Donald Trump’s administration is shifting its approach to a landmark global agreement on climate change, an assertion which was quickly denied by the White House. The U.S. signaled that it’s no longer seeking to withdraw from the pact and then renegotiate it, but rather wants to re-engage with the Paris Agreement from within, said EU’s climate chief Miguel Arias Canete. He spoke in an interview from Montreal, where the U.S., China, Canada and almost 30 other countries gathered to discuss the most-sweeping accord to date to protect the environment. “Our position on the Paris agreement has not changed. @POTUS has been clear, US withdrawing unless we get pro-America terms,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Twitter.

Announcing plans to quit the pact, Trump said in June that the agreement favored other countries at the expense of U.S. workers and amounted to a “massive redistribution” of U.S. wealth. Trump’s administration last month began the formal process of exiting from the climate accord, drawing fire from allies and foes alike. EU climate commissioner Canete made the comments about a change of stance after meeting with Everett Eissenstat, deputy director of the National Economic Council and deputy assistant to the president for international economic affairs. “Now we don’t see the messages that they are withdrawing from the Paris agreement radically,” Canete said, adding that the countries at Saturday’s meeting agreed not to seek a re-negotiation of the Paris deal.

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Sep 162017
 
 September 16, 2017  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Garcon à la Pipe 1905

 

To Hell In A Bucket: America Is Going Broke At Mach 30 (Gordon)
Down $20 Billion, Boeing Stuffs Pension Fund With Its Own Shares (BBG)
Toys ‘R’ Us Mulls Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Filing (R.)
Bitcoin Needs To Be Worth $1,000,000 To Be A Legitimate Currency (MW)
Hillary Happened (Jeffrey St. Clair)
Trump And The Democrats: What’s Next: A Deal With Bernie? (Salon)
The OODA Loop Of Trump’s Insurgency Has Been Smashed (GG)
A Flaw In US Foreign Policy That No One Wants To Talk About (TAM)
This Isn’t Your Great-Grandad’s America (Jim Kunstler)
Police In Catalonia Hunt For Hidden Ballot Boxes In Bid To Foil Referendum (R.)
Spanish State Poised To Seize Catalan Finances (BBC)
New York City Is Within Hurricane Jose’s 5-Day “Cone Of Uncertainty” (ZH)

 

 

$34,880 of new debt per second..

To Hell In A Bucket: America Is Going Broke At Mach 30 (Gordon)

“You know as well I do how this crazy debt based fiat money system works. The debt must perpetually increase or the whole financial system breaks down. The best we can hope for is that the ongoing currency debasement merely leads to a subtle erosion of living standards. That’s the best-case scenario. “But, again, no one except maybe a handful of your readers’ gives a rip about the federal debt. Plus, if you’re gonna keep writing about it you need to use better terminology. “The federal debt has grown at such a rapid rate that standard dollar units no longer capture what’s going on. The debt numbers are so large it is difficult to distinguish between hundreds of billions and tens of trillions of dollars. “For better perspective, you need to describe the debt growth in astronomical terms.

You see, astronomers use light years to adjust for large distances. A light year, as its name suggests, is the distance light travels in one year. One light year converts to light traveling about 5.87 trillion miles per year, excluding leap year of course. “You noted that since President Obama took office in early 2009, at about the time the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed, the U.S. federal debt has increased from $10.6 trillion to nearly $20 trillion. Well, you were wrong. “In the several days since you wrote that article, did you see the federal debt jumped to over $20.1 trillion? “Apparently, after Congress suspended the debt limit last Friday, the Treasury went ahead and reported the $300 billion of off balance spending they’d run up over the last six months since hitting the debt ceiling in March.

This is what Treasury Secretary Mnuchin meant by resorting to ‘extraordinary measures’ to keep the government humming. Sounds like Enron accounting to us. “Anywho, over the last 104 months the federal debt has increased by $9.5 trillion – or at an annual rate of about $1.1 trillion. This equals a rate of increase that’s nearly 20% the speed of light. This also pencil’s out to $34,880 of new debt per second. Are you starting to grasp the enormity? “Still, if the speed of light example doesn’t do it for you, how about the speed of sound? When Chuck Yeager first outran sound he reached what was called Mach 1. That equals 767 miles per hour – or 1,125 feet per second. “So, at $34,880 of new debt per second, the federal government is running up the debt at a speed that’s over Mach 30. Yes, things have really gotten out of control!

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I’m sure it’s entirely legal.

Down $20 Billion, Boeing Stuffs Pension Fund With Its Own Shares (BBG)

Like so many companies in America, Boeing has largely neglected the gaping deficit in its employee pension as it doled out lavish rewards to shareholders. What’s raising eyebrows is how it plans to shore up the retirement plan. Last month, Boeing made its largest pension contribution in over a decade. But rather than put up cash and lock in the funding, the planemaker transferred $3.5 billion of its own shares, including those it bought back in years past. (The administrator says it expects to sell them over the coming year.) It’s a bold move, and one cheered by many on Wall Street. Yet to pension experts, it isn’t worth the risk. After a record-setting, 58% rally this year, Boeing is betting it can keep producing the kind of earnings that push shares higher. If all goes well, not only will the pension benefit, but Boeing says it will be able to forgo contributions for the next four years.

But if anything goes awry, the $57 billion pension – which covers a majority of its workers and retirees – could easily end up worse off than before. “It’s an irresponsible thing to do certainly from the perspective of the plan participants,” said Daniel Bergstresser, a finance professor at the Brandeis International Business School. “Ideally, you would like to put assets in the pension plan that won’t fall in value at exactly the same time that the company is suffering.” Under CEO Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s pension shortfall has widened as the Chicago-based company stepped up share buybacks. The $20 billion gap is now wider than any S&P 500 company except General Electric. And relative to earnings, Boeing shares are already trading close to the highest levels in a decade, a sign there might be more downside than upside.

[..] At the end of 2016, its pension had $57 billion in assets and $77 billion in obligations – a funding ratio of 74%, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Boeing froze pensions for Seattle-area Machinist union members last year under a hard-fought contract amendment. It also switched non-union workers to a defined contribution plan. And the stock transfer last month, combined with a planned $500 million cash payment this year, would be equal to all the company’s contributions during the previous five years. Nevertheless, it still leaves Boeing with roughly $15 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, although the shortfall should gradually shrink over the next four years, according to Sanford C. Bernstein. To be clear, Boeing has the money. In the past three years, the company generated enough excess cash to buy back $30 billion of its own shares.

But using equity instead of cash does have its advantages. It allows Boeing to conserve its free cash flow – a key metric for investors – by transferring Treasury shares that were repurchased at far lower values than today’s prices. In addition, Boeing will get a $700 million tax benefit, which will offset the cost of its $500 million cash contribution.

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“The company has been saddled with debt since buyout firms KKR and Bain Capital, together with real estate investment trust Vornado Realty took Toys “R” Us private for $6.6 billion in 2005.”

Toys ‘R’ Us Mulls Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Filing (R.)

Toys ‘R’ Us Inc could file for bankruptcy in the coming weeks as pressure from skittish suppliers intensifies, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing people familiar with the matter. The company and its restructuring advisers are considering filing for Chapter 11 protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Richmond, Virginia, according to the WSJ report. The privately-held toy retailer had previously said it was working with investment bank Lazard to help address its approximately $5 billion in debt, of which roughly $400 million comes due next year. The potential Chapter 11 filing could be a result of the company’s suppliers tightening trade terms, including holding back on shipments unless the toy retailer is able to make cash payments on delivery, the newspaper reported.

The move by Toys “R” Us to potentially file for bankruptcy comes at a time when more and more consumers increasingly make purchases from online retailers like Amazon.com and avoid visiting brick-and-mortar shops. There have been more than a dozen significant retail bankruptcies this year, but none for retailers as big as Toys “R” Us, which has more than 1,600 stores worldwide. Toys tapped restructuring attorneys from Kirkland & Ellis LLP, CNBC reported this month. The company has been saddled with debt since buyout firms KKR and Bain Capital, together with real estate investment trust Vornado Realty took Toys “R” Us private for $6.6 billion in 2005.

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Interesting take.

Bitcoin Needs To Be Worth $1,000,000 To Be A Legitimate Currency (MW)

Think bitcoin is in bubble territory? You ain’t seen nothing yet, says one cryptocurrency expert, who believes its value needs to surge by about 300 times over the next several years to be considered a legitimate currency or risk retreating into obscurity and obsolescence. Bitcoin, the No. 1 cryptocurrency, has drawn outsize attention over its parabolic rise—and the recent, brutal plunge it has been enduring in recent trade. Some market participants, however, make the case that despite its roughly 260% year-to-date rise it has to clear a far more stratospheric value hurdle to evolve into a practical form of money alongside fiat units like the U.S. dollar, Europe’s euro or British pound. A single bitcoin was worth about $3,568 in recent trade, off lows of the past few days, according to data site Coindesk.com, amid regulatory headwinds in China and critical comments from Wall Street pros like J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon.

Still, a bitcoin would need to be worth a stunning $1,000,000 to be a bona fide monetary unit, says Iqbal Gandham, U.K managing director at eToro, a trading platform. In other words, the digital currency would need to see a 300 fold run-up from its current level. To be sure, Gandham isn’t making a prediction; though he believes the currency has the ability to scale such lofty levels, Gandham thinks that bitcoin needs to climb to such a level to be truly viable as a monetary unit. To understand why is to understand the tiniest component of bitcoin—the Satoshi. Named after the purported creator of bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto. A Satoshi is equal to 0.00000001 bitcoin. Put another way, one bitcoin contains 100 million Satoshis. Satoshi’s value in dollars equated to $0.0000356819 at last check. Gandham argues that a Satoshi needs to be equivalent to a single penny, which it would when one bitcoin is worth $1,000,000.

“It is the Satoshi with which people will buy a cup of coffee,” Gandham told MarketWatch. He said using bitcoin now to purchase goods and services, as one would with dollars, isn’t feasible because bitcoin hasn’t reached the necessary economies of scale. “People don’t use a bar of gold to buy things, they use subdivisions of gold,” he said, saying that using bitcoin now to purchase items is like using a bar of gold to purchase a beverage or a meal. Gandham also said bitcoin really needs to get to that million-dollar mark in the next few years. Some are already wagering that it will get close: John McAfee, founder of his namesake antivirus software company says bitcoin is headed to the $500,000 level within three years. “It needs to get there in the next few years if it is really going to work,” Gandham said. “People will only spend the subdivision of bitcoin—and you can only spend the subdivision—if they are of reasonable value,” he said.


An actual Satoshi note that is redeemable for real money

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“After 25 years of writing about her, my very last words on Hillary Clinton. Please shoot me if I violate this pledge..” Me too, this is it.

Hillary Happened (Jeffrey St. Clair)

Unlike Bill, Hillary is a prolific, but graceless and transparent liar. She is also probably the nastiest political figure in America since Nixon. Yet she lacked Nixon’s Machiavellian genius for political manipulation. Hillary wears her menace on her face. She could never hide her aspiration for power; her desire to become a war criminal in the ranks of her mentor Henry Kissinger (symbolized by the laurels of a Nobel Peace Prize, naturally). Americans don’t mind politicians with a lust to spill blood, but they prefer them not to advertise it. Thus, Clinton was miscast from the beginning as a political candidate for elected office. Her skills and temperament were more suited to the role of political enforcer in the mode of Thomas Cromwell or John Erhlichman. But her ambition wouldn’t let her settle for the role of a backstage player.

“One thing I’ve learned over the years is how easy it is for some people to say horrible things about me when I’m not around,” she fumes with Nixonian fury, “but how hard it is for them to look me in the eye and say it to my face.” Hillary has tried to reinvent herself many times and does so yet again in this meretricious coda to her failed campaign. She made herself more domesticated for the southern electorate in Arkansas. She shifted the blame to her advisors after the disaster of her health care bill. She washed off the blood-spatter from the Ken Starr investigations by portraying herself as the target of a witch hunt. She exploited an addled Daniel Patrick Moynihan to justify running as an interloper for Senator in New York. She rationalized her votes for the Iraq War by saying she was duped by Colin Powell and Dick Cheney.

She manufactured a timely tear for the cameras after her loss to Obama. She assumed the mantle of unrepentant war-monger during her belligerent tenure as Secretary of State and transubstantiated into a white dove during her debates with Bernie Sanders. She has weeded and blurred inconvenient episodes from her resumé. She has gone on talking tours. She has appeared in town halls. She has reintroduced herself, again and again. She’s changed her name, hairstyles and fashion designers. She exchanged dresses for pantsuits. She shifted from drinking pinot noir to craft beers. She’s backed wars both before she opposed them and after she condemned them. But she remains the same Hillary Rodham Clinton Americans have known since 1992. Everybody sees this except her. Americans know Hillary better than she does herself.

All of her manufactured mirages are translucent to the very the people she wants to deceive. When Hillary looks in the mirror, she must see what might have been (should have been in her mind) and not what is. And that schism enrages her. “Why am I seen as such a divisive figure and, say, Joe Biden and John Kerry aren’t?” she mopes. “They’ve cast votes of all kinds, including some they regret, just like me? What makes me such a lightning rod for fury? I’m really asking. I’m at a loss.” This self-pitying book should prove a challenge for library cataloguers. Shall they shelve it as non-fiction or fiction?

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“..only Trump could cut a bipartisan deal protecting immigrant Dreamers, and maybe Trump is the only president who could cut a bipartisan deal on Medicare for All..”

Trump And The Democrats: What’s Next: A Deal With Bernie? (Salon)

Meanwhile, it seems as though Trump has determined that he can cut deals with the congressional Democrats without any blowback — it’s the old “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” canard. He believes he’s invincible when it comes to the loyalty of his googly-eyed rally crowds. And he might be right. The same goes for Trump’s seemingly unwavering support among the congressional GOP, given how various Republicans have distanced themselves from him publicly only to vote for him last November or to vote with him on the Hill. If Trump is right and his base is stronger than we think, perhaps there’s a chance for the president to pull another Nixon-to-China maneuver.

Rewinding 45 years, Richard Nixon, with his notorious record of anti-communism, was perhaps the only living politician who could’ve reached out to Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1972 without serious political repercussions. A Democrat or liberal Republican reaching out to China would’ve been pegged as soft on communism, but Nixon was pretty well immune from such an attack. Likewise, only Trump could cut a bipartisan deal protecting immigrant Dreamers, and maybe Trump is the only president who could cut a bipartisan deal on Medicare for All, especially now that fellow populist Bernie Sanders has introduced it in the Senate with the support of 15 other Democrats, including Al Franken and Elizabeth Warren.

Back in 2008, President Obama internally toyed with the idea, but moderate Democrats as well as Republicans would’ve balked, so Obama instead went with the framework for the Affordable Care Act, given its support among moderates on the Hill. If Trump were to back Sanders’ legislation, it’d be difficult for Republicans and moderates to walk away, knowing the loudness of Trump’s base. As with many legislative initiatives and issues, Republican voters tend to run away from anything that’s proposed by liberals and Democrats simply because liberals and Democrats, in their worldview, are weak and can’t be trusted. With a Republican president backing Medicare for All, GOP voters might be more inclined to support it. Politics aside, they’d absolutely benefit from such a program and its considerable savings over private health insurance.

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OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, act).

The OODA Loop Of Trump’s Insurgency Has Been Smashed (GG)

Trump is in the White House today because an open source insurgency put him there. I first wrote about Trump’s open source insurgency a year and a half ago (February 2016). At that point, it was already apparent Trump was very likely to win not just the primary, but the election. However, as prescient as my article was, I did get the plausible promise – the simple goal the effort that unites all of the disparate interests, the goal that animates an insurgency – wrong. At the time, I thought it was about representing forgotten interests (an error many writers are still making). Instead, the real uniting goal of Trump’s insurgency was “opposition to a failed establishment” That goal held the insurgency that put him in office together, despite gaffes, scandals, leaks, etc that would have ended the political career of any other candidate.

It was also a goal that allowed the insurgency to continue after winning the election. In most cases, once the goal has been accomplished (i.e. remove Mubarak), the insurgency evaporates. The reason it didn’t: the media. The media is the voice of establishment interests (social, economic, and national security). It locks establishment interests in place. It also explained away failure after failure (nutty Chinese trade policy, lie that led to Iraq war, unpunished financial crisis, etc.) of the US establishment, as if it never occurred. The media kept the insurgency alive through its overwhelming opposition to the Trump Presidency and Trump helped keep it alive by provoking the media at every turn. The alignment of this very public struggle with the plausible promise of the insurgency kept Trump’s support at about ~40% (and more than 50% in more than half of all Congressional districts nationally).

That insurgency is now over. Its OODA loop is smashed. Worried that Trump would end existing US spending/policies (largely, still geared to cold war priorities), the senior military staff running the Trump administration launched a counter-insurgency against the insurgency. They have been successful (if only they were half as good fighting against real world insurgencies). Here’s how: Former generals took control of key staff positions. They purged staff members that were part of the insurgency and tightly limited access to Trump. Finally, and most importantly, they took control of Trump’s information flow. That final step changed everything. General Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, has put Trump on a establishment-only media diet. Further, staff members are now prevented from sneaking him stories from unapproved sources during the day (stories that might get him riled up and off the establishment message).

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Making things ‘personal’ works for a narrative. In practice, though, not so much.

A Flaw In US Foreign Policy That No One Wants To Talk About (TAM)

In an interview with RT in 2015, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad uttered perhaps one of his most intriguing statements since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011. Assad stated: “Western propaganda has, from the very beginning, been about the cause of the problem being the president. Why? Because they want to portray the whole problem in Syria lies in one individual; and consequently the natural reaction for many people is that, if the problem lies in one individual, that individual should not be more important than the entire homeland. So let that individual go and things will be alright. That’s how they oversimplify things in the West.” He continued: “Notice what happened in the Western media since the coup in Ukraine. What happened? President Putin was transformed from a friend of the West to a foe and, yet again, he was characterized as a tsar…

This is Western propaganda. They say that if the president went things will get better.” Putting aside Assad’s vast and extensive list of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Assad highlighted one of the major flaws in Western thinking regarding America’s hostile policies toward a number of independent states. Just look at the current to-and-fro-ing between North Korea and the United States to gather an accurate picture of what is being referred to here. The problem of North Korea is consistently portrayed in the media as caused by one person (current leader Kim Jong-un), a narrative that ultimately ignores the role America and its allies have played in this current crisis.[..] What the media is really advancing here – particularly when one talks about a military option as a response to dealing with North Korea’s rogue actions – is the notion that if the U.S. could only take out Kim Jong-un, the problem of North Korea would disappear.

[..] The fact that the U.S. evidently doesn’t want to solve any problems at all – that it merely seeks to overthrow leaders that don’t succumb to its wishes – is a topic for a separate article but is certainly worth mentioning here as well. The same can ultimately be said of Donald Trump. Since his election victory, many celebrities, media pundits, and members of the intelligence community have sought to unseat and discredit him. Yet Donald Trump is merely a horrifying symptom of America’s problems; to think he alone caused them and that by removing him from office the U.S. would suddenly become a safe-haven of freedom and liberty is nothing short of idiotic.

If you agree with the latter sentiment, you must also concede that the problems facing North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and elsewhere could never be solved by the U.S. forcibly removing their leaders. If Assad was removed from Syria, would extremism disappear or would it thrive in the political vacuum as it did in Iraq? Could Syria’s internal issues — which are much more extensive than the corporate media would have us believe — be solved by something as simple as removing its current leader? Can anyone name a country where this has been tried and tested as a true model for solving a sovereign nation’s internal crises? Anyone who truly believes a country’s problems can be solved in this facile way needs to do a bit more reading.

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Congress has left a lot of things alone that are their responsibility

This Isn’t Your Great-Grandad’s America (Jim Kunstler)

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are so out of the news now that people not listening to the mold grow in their sweltering bedrooms probably think these events had something to do with the Confederate defeat. Both The New York Times and the WashPo are much more concerned this morning with doings on the planet Saturn, and the career moves of fashion icon Chelsea Manning, which is perhaps how things should be in Attention Deficit Nation. Standing by on developments there…. In the meantime, personally, I think it would be cruel to deport fully acculturated and Americanized young adults to Mexico and Central America. But there should be no question that it’s up to congress to figure out what to do about the DACA kids, and put it into coherent law. The Golden Golem of Greatness was correct to serve the ball into congress’s court.

The suave and charming Mr. Obama only punted the action on that problem, and rather cynically too, I suspect, since he knew the next president would be stuck with it. It’s hard to overcome the sentimental demagoguery this quandary fetches up. The so-called Dreamers are lately portrayed in the media as a monoculture of spectacularly earnest high-achievers, all potential Harvard grads, and future Silicon Valley millionaires working tirelessly to add value to the US economy. This, again personally, I doubt , and there’s also room to doubt that they are uniformly acculturated and Americanized as claimed by the journalists cherry-picking their stories to support the narrative that national borders and immigration laws are themselves cruel anachronisms that need to be opposed.

[..] It’s right and proper that congress should resolve the fate of the DACA kids by legislation, and that they should actively address reform of the 1965 immigration act, too. Things have changed. This isn’t your great-grandad’s America of burgeoning factories beckoning to the downtrodden abroad. This is a sunset industrial economy not really knowing where its headed, but indulging in grandiose fantasies of perpetual robotic leisure where actual work is obsolete but somehow everybody gets rich. Trump was also correct to set a six month deadline on for congress to act. It is clearly their responsibility to do so, and the deadline is exactly the sort of boundary in thought-and-act that this lazy-ass nation needs to begin accomplishing anything on its long and neglected to-do list of pressing issues.

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Where are the defenders of democracy? Where’s the EU?

Police In Catalonia Hunt For Hidden Ballot Boxes In Bid To Foil Referendum (R.)

Armed police in Spain have raided several print works and newspaper offices in Catalonia in recent days in a hunt for voting papers, ballot boxes and leaflets to be used in an Oct. 1 independence referendum which Madrid vehemently opposes. The searches, which have so far yielded nothing, are part of a concerted effort by the government to prevent the ballot from going ahead, amid fears that a vote to break away could trigger a political crisis even if Spain does not recognize the outcome. On Friday, the government passed measures to tighten control over the region’s spending to stop it using state cash to pay for the ballot, and earlier this week Madrid summoned over 700 Catalan mayors for questioning over their support for the vote. “They’ve lost the plot,” said Albert Batet, mayor of the town of Valls and one of those summoned for questioning.

“They are persecuting mayors, the press, printers. They are stretching the limits of democracy.” Catalonia’s president Carles Puigdemont, who faces criminal charges for organizing the referendum, says he has over 6,000 ballot boxes ready to deploy next month, but their whereabouts are a secret. Toni Castejon, spokesman for the Catalan police force union, said it was like finding a needle in a haystack. “Right now, we have no idea where they are,” he said. [..] For some supporters of the independence movement, the search for the ballot boxes and voting papers has become a symbol of what they see as state repression. Images of the Catalan police force – the Mossos d‘Esquadra – seizing what for many are symbols of democracy would be highly inflammatory, police say.

The Mossos report to the Catalan regional government and are highly regarded by Catalans, particularly after their handling of the Islamist militant attacks in the region in August that killed 16. But Spanish state prosecutors have ordered all police – including the Catalan force – to act. “What no one wants is the image of the Mossos taking away the ballot boxes,” said Castejon of the police union. “That would lead to a lot of anger and even civil unrest.”

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Then again, this fits in quite well with how Brussels treats democracy, votes, referendums.

Spanish State Poised To Seize Catalan Finances (BBC)

The Spanish government has given the regional government in Catalonia 48 hours to abandon “illegal” referendum plans or lose budgetary powers. Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro said a mechanism had been approved for the state to take control of the autonomous region’s finances. Madrid is seeking to stop the Catalan government spending public money on its planned independence referendum. The Catalans are defying a court order to suspend the 1 October vote. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont launched his campaign for a “Yes” vote on Thursday night in the town of Tarragona, telling a rally at a former bullring: “Vote, and in so doing bring light to darkness that has lasted for too many years.” The crowd shouted back, “Independence”, “We will vote” and “We’re not afraid”, AFP news agency reports.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was taking the unionist cause directly to Barcelona on Friday, addressing a meeting of his Popular Party in the Catalan capital. If the deadline is not met, the central government will take over the funding of most essential public services in the region, Mr Montoro said. “These measures are to guarantee that not one euro will go toward financing illegal acts,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency after a cabinet meeting in Madrid. The takeover would last as long as the “situation”, he explained. Public finances are a particularly sore point for Catalans who for years have contributed more to the state budget than they get back in spending on public services.

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Someone posted a similar cone for José on Twitter about ten days ago. The idea is not new.

New York City Is Within Hurricane Jose’s 5-Day “Cone Of Uncertainty” (ZH)

In what were perhaps the two biggest news stories of the past month, Hurricanes Irma and Harvey devastated the American south, disrupting local industry, destroying homes and critical infrastructure and dumping millions of gallons of raw sewage onto city streets – leading to the most destructive beginning to hurricane season in years. Meanwhile, cosmopolitan Yankees looked on in horror (with perhaps a touch of smugness) as they watched their southern neighbors being paddled out of flooded Texas homes by national guardsmen, or marooned in the seemingly endless lines of traffic snaking out of southern Florida, northeasterners now have their own storm to worry about.

And now, according to the National Weather Service, those same onlookers might be forced to endure similar hardships thanks to Hurricane Jose, already on its way to becoming a category one storm. Meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center say a wide stretch of the eastern and northeastern US, from Maryland up through Cape Cod, is within Jose’s five-day “cone of uncertainty” – meaning that a fully fledged hurricane could make landfall in or around New York City, potentially dealing another crushing blow to the city’s infrastructure after the city’s subway system has not yet finished repairing the damage from Superstorm Sandy, which took place five years ago.

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Sep 152017
 
 September 15, 2017  Posted by at 9:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »
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Juan Gris Portrait of the artist’s mother 1912

 

Fed To Take Historic Leap Into The Unknown (MW)
Janet Yellen’s Right-Hand Man Is Hanging Up His Boots (BI)
97 Million American Workers Are Living Paycheck To Paycheck (ZH)
“Markets Are Wrong” (Hugh Hendry)
Japanese Told To Find Shelter After North Korea ‘Fires New Missile’ (Y.)
JPMorgan Is In A Bubble And Not Bitcoin – Max Keiser (RT)
Why Europe Will Miss The Disruptive Brits (Gardner)
Brexit’s Irish Question (Fintan O’Toole)
IMF Is Set On Asset Quality Review For Greek Banks (K.)
Greece Sells Its Railway Company To Italian State Operator (AP)
Greek Oil Spill Forces Closure Of Athens Beaches (G.)
100% Wishful Thinking: the Green-Energy Cornucopia (Cox)
China Takes The Lead In Building Quantum Data Security Networks (Axios)

 

 

No. The Fed took that leap in 2008. Bernanke himself talked about uncharted territory. Which is where they’ve been ever since. They literally don’t know what they’re doing.

Fed To Take Historic Leap Into The Unknown (MW)

The Federal Reserve is set to take a leap into the unknown next week by beginning to sell some of the roughly $3.7 trillion of bonds and mortgage securities it amassed during the financial crisis. The Fed will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday and is widely expected at the end of the meeting to announce it plans to allow the run-off of its massive balance sheet beginning sometime in October. Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen will hold a press conference afterwards to explain the decision. “It will be an historic day” for the Fed, said Lewis Alexander, chief U.S. economist at Nomura Securities, one the central bank has long thought about but was unsure when it would come. And still the final destination is unknown. “We are heading for a place that is very different from where we are now. It will take years to get there and figure out where we are,” Alexander said.

Trying to keep financial markets calm, the Fed is not celebrating this turning point. Officials have openly admitting they have designed the first steps to be so small it will be like watching paint dry. But economists have no doubt that bond yields will eventually move higher. “The Fed is just hoping desperately it has been transparent enough so that the adjustment will be orderly,” said Jim Glassman, head economist for the commercial bank at J.P. Morgan Chase. The central bank is trying to avoid a repeat “taper tantrum,” the swift run up of nearly 1 percentage point on the yield of the 10-year Treasury in 2013 after then-Chairman Ben Bernanke discussed the tapering of bond purchases for the first time. Fed officials have known they would have to reverse course eventually. Hawks and doves agree the policy is not sustainable over the medium term because it potentially adds too much stimulus to a healthy economy.

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I don’t get how or why people can praise a man whose entire career has been one long litany of either wrong or intentionally bad decisions and policies. He was the teacher to all those central bankers who made all those decisions that the entire world will still be paying for many years from now. Fisher is the one outstanding symbol of everything that’s wrong in the shady area where finance touches politics.

Janet Yellen’s Right-Hand Man Is Hanging Up His Boots (BI)

Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer announced last week he was resigning for personal reasons before the end of his term, opening yet another seat in the central bank’s powerful board for President Donald Trump to fill. The departure of Fischer, 73, represents a big loss of institutional knowledge and gravitas for the Fed at a time when many American institutions are sorely lacking in technocratic expertise. Fischer is considered the leader of a generation of prominent academic and professional economics, in part because he taught many of them at MIT. “He is often referred to as the dean of central bankers, having taught most central bankers including former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and ECB president Mario Draghi,” Shawn Baldwin, the chairman of AIA Group, wrote in a LinkedIn post. “Fischer’s departure creates a vacuum not easily filled, adding to the uncertainty in monetary policy.”

Larry Summers, the Harvard economist and former Treasury secretary, dubbed Fischer’s resignation “the end of an era.” Fischer, who was born in Zambia and later studied in London, started his career as an academic but became a policymaker at the World Bank and later the International Monetary Fund, where he rose to the role of first deputy managing director. Fischer then spent three years at Citigroup as a vice chairman before moving to Israel in 2005 to become the head of its central bank. Fischer returned to the US as Fed vice chairman in 2014. His term was not set to end until June 2018. “The Fed and the international monetary system will be weaker for his departure from official responsibility,” Summers wrote in a blog post. “Stan’s has been a singular career,” he said. “As an MIT professor he coauthored, with his close friend Rudi Dornbusch, the macro textbook that defined the basics of the field for a generation.

With Olivier Blanchard,” the former IMF chief economist, “he wrote the treatise that defined the state of the art for graduate students. His lectures were models of lucid exposition and balanced judgment. My view of monetary economics was shaped by my experience auditing his class in the Fall of 1978.” Not everyone is complimentary about the arc of Fischer’s career. To some, he represents the kind of establishment economics that led to financial instability and income inequality in many parts of the world. During his time at the IMF, Fischer became the face of austerity measures gone wrong. Many of his and the IMF’s recommendations for drastic spending cuts during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s have since been widely discredited as having made matters worse.

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And that’s just the workers. Not their dependents. Or the unemployed.

97 Million American Workers Are Living Paycheck To Paycheck (ZH)

As we’ve noted time and time again, the number of Americans scraping by with almost no money in their savings account (if they even have a savings account) is staggeringly high – and growing. As the Motley Fool pointed out in a recent post, the St. Louis Federal Reserve, the personal saving rate in June 2017 was a measly 3.8%, or $3.80 for every $100 they earn. With the median household income in the US at just north of $50,000, that would amount to about $4,000 a year. And that’s when they’re saving money. Another study from GoBankingRates found that 69% of Americans surveyed had less than $1,000 in savings. And about one-third had no money in reserve.

Considering that the US economy is 70% based on consumption, Americans are probably over-consuming rather than saving. The Federal Reserve recently released data showing that aggregate credit card debt had hit an all-time high of $1.027 trillion, eclipsing the previous high that was set before the Great Recession. Add in another trillion of auto-loan debt and $1.4 trillion in student-loan debt, and the aggregate debt pile is not only larger than ever before – it’s growing at its fastest rate in decades. And in what’s perhaps the most troubling statistic highlighted by Motley Fool, a recent survey by CareerBuilder and The Harris Poll found that 78% of full-time US workers – nearly 100 million Americans – are now living paycheck to paycheck, up from 75% in 2016.

The survey suggested that only 19% of workers save more than $501 monthly, while at the other end of the spectrum, 56% were saving less than $100 a month, including 26% who saved nothing monthly. Fewer than one-third of respondents admitted to following a budget. Meanwhile, about half of respondents said they wouldn’t give up their internet, phone or car to save money. Maybe once the Federal Reserve has succeeded in “normalizing” interest rates, spendthrift Americans will have more of an incentive to save, while also making it more expensive to pay down debt – a powerful disincentive. Now, if only the central bank could find a way to revive stagnant wages…

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Hendry has fallen prey to the central bankers. And shut his hedge fund.

“Markets Are Wrong” (Hugh Hendry)

What if I was to tell you I wasn’t bearish on anything? Is that something you would be interested in? It wasn’t supposed to be like this and it is especially frustrating as nothing much has gone wrong with the economy over the summer. If anything we feel more convinced that our thesis of a healing global economy is understated: for the first time in an age all parts of the world are enjoying synchronised economic momentum and I can’t see it ending for some time. It’s just that our substantial risk book became strongly correlated over the short term to the maelstrom of President Trump and the daily news bombs emanating from the Korean Peninsula; that and the increasing regulatory burden which makes it almost impossible to manage small pools of capital today. Like I said, it wasn’t supposed to be like this…

But let me bow out by sharing my team’s views. For the implications of a sustained bout of economic growth are good for you. It’s good because it should continue to underwrite a continuation in the positive performance of global equities. I would stay long. It’s also good because I can’t see interest rates rising abruptly to interrupt the upward path of equities. And commodities have already acknowledged the upturn in the fortunes of the global economy and are likely to trend higher still. That’s a lot of good news. But it is bad news for me because funds like mine are required to demonstrate negative correlation with risk assets (when they go up like this I go down…), avoid large drawdowns and post consistent high risk adjusted returns. Oh, and I forgot, macro fund clients don’t like us investing in the stock market for the understandable fear that we concentrate their already considerable risk undertaking.

That proved to be an almighty puzzle for a fund like mine that has been proclaiming the stock market as a “safe-ish” bet ever since 2013. Let me explain the “markets are wrong and we boom now” argument. To begin with, and for the sake of clarity, I think we have to carefully go back and deconstruct the volatile engagement between capital markets and central banks for the last ten years for an understanding of where we stand today. The first die was cast by the central bankers in early 2009: having stared into the abyss of a deflationary spiral in 2008 the Fed and the BoE announced a radical new policy of bond purchases named Quantitative Easing. The bond market hated the idea as it was expected to cause a severe inflation problem.

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Just yesterday I was telling a friend they would soon fire the next.

Japanese Told To Find Shelter After North Korea ‘Fires New Missile’ (Y.)

North Korea has fired a ballistic missile directly over Japan. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson branded the launch ‘reckless’ and called on China and Russia to take ‘direct action’ against Kim Jong-un, while Seoul responded to the test by launching the missiles of its own. The test sparked panic in Japan, where residents were immediately told to take shelter as the missile passed directly overhead – the second time Pyongyang has done so in the past few weeks. It flew over Hokkaido in northern Japan and fell into the Pacific Ocean, sparking a nationwide alert. South Korea said the missile probably reached an altitude of 770km and travelled 3,700km and called an urgent National Security Council meeting.

The North’s launch comes a day after it threatened to sink Japan and reduce the United States to “ashes and darkness” for supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing new sanctions against it for its nuclear test on September 3. The severe sanctions include limits on imports of crude oil and a ban on exports of textiles – which is the country’s second biggest export, worth more than $700m a year. The North previously launched a ballistic missile from Sunan on August 29, which flew over Japan’s Hokkaido island and landed in the Pacific waters

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Max is very crypto. But bitcoin et al had big overnight losses.

JPMorgan Is In A Bubble And Not Bitcoin – Max Keiser (RT)

“JP Morgan, along with the entire finance sector, has been subsidized by the Federal Reserve’s corrupt practice of ‘financial repression’ that moves hundreds of billions from savers and pensioners, and workers, into JP Morgan and Jamie Dimon’s pocket. Jamie’s compensation is tied directly to manipulating JP Morgan’s stock and option prices, thanks to the Fed’s conflicted, corrupt, cozy malfeasance,” [..] “The US dollar, bond markets, and many property markets are in bubbles. Bitcoin and gold are the only financial assets not in bubbles.

To say bitcoin is fraudulent would be like saying gold is fraudulent. Some might say this, but no rational person would agree,” he said. “As the bubbles in fiat money, bonds and stocks pop, capital will flow into bitcoin, gold, and silver. At some point, when his customers start leaving JPMorgan and move to more bitcoin-focused options, Jamie will be forced to capitulate, or get replaced,”[..] “Bitcoin makes banks, essentially price gouging intermediaries and socially unacceptable leeches, obsolete. Bankers rightfully fear for their jobs as bitcoin replaces them,”

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Nigel Gardner is a former European Commission spokesman.

Why Europe Will Miss The Disruptive Brits (Gardner)

The UK’s constant digging-in of heels has allowed other governments to steer clear of negotiating clashes, safe in the knowledge that Britain and its Eurosceptic media would do the blocking of unpopular measures for them. Take the seemingly trivial example from 2013, of rules about how olive oil could be served in restaurants. “There was a daft proposal that it couldn’t be served in bowls or glass jugs at the table, but only in sealed sachets,” recalls a senior Dutch official. “We didn’t have to do anything – the Brits and their tabloids did the heavy lifting for us, and the proposal was withdrawn … Every time the European Commission proposes something, we know we can rely on the British to kick and shout so it’s blocked. With Brexit, that’s no longer going to be possible.”

Even that opt-out over the 48-hour week for which the UK fought its lonely battle is now – 20 years later – quietly being used by 15 other member states. So which country may end up replacing Britain as Europe’s new troublemaker-in-chief? Poland and Hungary are the obvious candidates because, across a whole range of areas, from civil liberties to media freedoms, the two countries find themselves at odds with the EU. As one senior EU official put it: “They are simply not in line with fundamental EU policies. As new member states they should be enthusiastic, but it’s the opposite.” Beata Szydlo, for example, tells us a lot about what the EU will look like after 2019 when Britain is supposed to exit. The Polish prime minister’s intemperate language at a recent European summit was previously the kind of thing the EU’s top brass expected only from the British.

She would not accept “blackmail from a leader with an approval rating of 4%” she raged against France’s then president François Hollande. Poland is now facing EU legal action over judicial reforms which Brussels says would undermine Polish democracy. Ironically, we may need to look to a more unlikely quarter to find Europe’s true new bad boy. Because post-Brexit, the Germans will end up being much more unpopular. “Without Britain,” one EU official told me, “they will have to assume the role they are historically reluctant to play.”

Indeed, the eurozone crisis provided a foretaste of how this could play out. With Britain outside the single currency, all the anger was directed against Germany and its chancellor, Angela Merkel, when things went wrong. Pictures of Merkel with a Hitler moustache were everywhere in the Greek press. And the old joke about Merkel arriving at Athens airport – the one where the border guard asks “Occupation?” and Merkel replies, “No, just visiting” – took on new life. Expect much more of this.

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He might as well have called it Brexit’s British Question.

Brexit’s Irish Question (Fintan O’Toole)

Brexit is, in a sense, a misnomer. There are five distinct parts of the UK: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the global metropolis that is Greater London, and what the veteran campaigner for democratic reform Anthony Barnett, in his excellent new book The Lure of Greatness, calls England-without-London. In three of these parts—Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London—Brexit was soundly rejected in last year’s referendum. Wales voted narrowly in favor of Brexit. But in England-without-London Brexit was triumphant, winning by almost 11%. It was moreover a classic nationalist revolt in that the support for Brexit in non-metropolitan England cut across the supposedly rigid divides of North and South, rich and poor. Every single region of England-without-London voted to leave the EU, from the Cotswolds to Cumbria, from the green and pleasant hills to the scarred old mining valleys.

This was a genuine nationalist uprising, a nation transcending social class and geographical divisions to rally behind the cry of “Take back control.” But the nation in question is not Britain, it is England. The problem with this English nationalism is not that it exists. It has a very long history (one has only to read Shakespeare) and indeed England can be seen as one of the first movers in the formation of the modern nation-state. The English have as much right to a collective political identity as the Irish or the Scots (and indeed as the Germans or the French) have. But for centuries, English nationalism has been buried in two larger constructs: the United Kingdom and the British Empire. These interments were entirely voluntary. The gradual construction of the UK, with the inclusion first of Scotland and then of Ireland, gave England stability and control in its own part of the world and allowed it to dominate much of the rest of the world through the empire.

Britishness didn’t threaten Englishness; it amplified it. Now, the empire is gone and the UK is slipping out of England’s control. Britain’s pretensions to be a global military power petered out in the sands of Iraq and Afghanistan: the British army was effectively defeated in both Basra and Helmand and had to be rescued by its American allies. The claim on Northern Ireland has been ceded, and Scotland, though not yet ready for independence, increasingly looks and sounds like another country. In retrospect, it is not surprising that the reaction to these developments has created a reversion to an English, rather than a British, allegiance. In the 2011 census, 32.4 million people (57.7% of the population of England and Wales) chose “English” as their sole identity, while just 10.7 million people (19.1%) associated themselves with a British identity only.

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The torture never stops.

IMF Is Set On Asset Quality Review For Greek Banks (K.)

Greece looks set for another difficult series of negotiations with its international creditors in the third review of its third bailout program, as IMF spokesman Gerry Rice made it clear on Thursday that the issue of the asset quality review of Greek banks (AQR) “will form part of the review.” He also said the Fund may demand new measures for next year, stressing that the programs evolve and conditions change. Citing the IMF report dated July 20 – when the Fund approved its participation in the Greek program “in principle” – Rice left no doubt as to whether the AQR would be discussed, branding it an important matter. This will likely cause friction with the European Central Bank, which has scheduled its own stress tests for the banks in 2018.

Sources in Frankfurt have noted that only if the Greek government asks for an AQR will the ECB authorize it. However, Athens, as a senior Finance Ministry official has said, has no such intention. Greek banks are obviously against any such project that would upset their operations, and had hoped that the IMF would eventually decide against raising the issue. In July the IMF had estimated that local lenders would need at least 10 billion euros in additional capital, raising the prospects of another recapitalization. Rice said on Thursday that the Fund is cooperating with the ECB and other European institutions on all issues, but added that “the stability of the credit system is of great significance for the program.”

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For €45 million? An entire railway national company? How much is the kitchen sink?

Greece Sells Its Railway Company To Italian State Operator (AP)

Greece has agreed to sell its railways company to Italy’s own state-owned operator for 45 million euros ($54 million) as part of its privatization drive. The country’s Asset Development Fund said Thursday that the sale of Trainose to Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane completed a four-year process. Greece has pledged to carry out an ambitious privatization program as part of its international bailout, under which it has received billions of euros in emergency loans in return for overhauling its economy. Many of the privatizations have been met with resistance from unions. No trains were running on Thursday as the railway workers’ union called a 24-hour strike to protest the company’s sale.

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An awful mess in more ways than one.

Greek Oil Spill Forces Closure Of Athens Beaches (G.)

An emergency operation is under way to clean up an oil spill from a sunken tanker that has blackened popular beaches and bays in Athens’ Argo-Saronic gulf. What had been thought a containable spill is being described by officials as an ecological disaster after thick tar and oil pollution drifted toward residential coastal areas. By Thursday, four days after the 45-year-old Agia Zoni II sank off Salamína island, mayors in suburbs south of the capital were forced to close beaches, citing public health risks. “This is a major environmental disaster,” said the mayor of Salamína, Isidora Nannou-Papathanassiou. “Clearly the danger [of pollution] was not properly gauged, the currents have moved the spill.” The vessel sank while at anchor in the early hours of Sunday. It was carrying 2,500 tonnes of fuel oil and marine gas when it went down in mild weather.

It has emerged that only two of its 11-strong crew – the captain and chief engineer – were on board when it began to take on water. Both men have since been charged with negligence but freed on bail. The company operating the small, Greek-flagged vessel insisted it was seaworthy. Merchant marine officials said initial emphasis had been placed on sealing the vessel’s cargo holds to stop further leakage. The merchant marine minister, Panagiotis Kouroumblis, who has brought in help from abroad including an anti-pollution truck to collect the oil, ruled out further seepage on Tuesday, saying the ship’s hull had been secured. Late on Wednesday, however, the ministry’s general secretary, Dionysis Kalamatianos, raised the possibility that oil was still leaking from the vessel, telling Skai TV that efforts to seal it were “almost complete”.

The contradictory statements sparked accusations that authorities had not only underestimated the scale of the spill, but also lost valuable time in tackling it. The slick extends for miles, and some officials said the cleanup could last four months – much longer than the 20 days Kouroumblis estimated. In the Athens suburb of Glyfada, where floating dams have been set up and chemicals used to dissolve the spillage, the mayor, Giorgos Papanikolaou, said 28 tonnes of fuel had been removed from one beach alone. Images of of dead and oil-coated turtles and birds underscored the economic and environmental impact, and experts estimated it could take years before the affected area fully recovered.

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The only good alternative energy is the one you don’t use.

100% Wishful Thinking: the Green-Energy Cornucopia (Cox)

At the People’s Climate March back last spring, all along that vast river of people, the atmosphere was electric. But electricity was also the focus of too many of the signs and banners. Yes, here and there were solid “System Change, Not Climate Change” – themed signs and banners. But the bulk of slogans on display asserted or implied that ending the climate emergency and avoiding climatic catastrophes like those that would occur a few months later—hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the mega-wildfires in the U.S. West—will be a simple matter of getting Donald Trump out of office and converting to 100-percent renewable energy.

The sunshiny placards and cheery banners promising an energy cornucopia were inspired by academic studies published in the past few years purporting to show how America and the world could meet 100% of future energy demand with solar, wind, and other “green” generation. The biggest attention-getters have been a pair of reports published in 2015 by a team led by Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, but there have been many others. A growing body of research has debunked overblown claims of a green-energy bonanza. Nevertheless, Al Gore, Bill McKibben (who recently expressed hope that Harvey’s attack on the petroleum industry in Texas will send a “wakeup call” for a 100-percent renewable energy surge), and other luminaries in the mainstream climate movement have been invigorated by reports like Jacobson’s and have embraced the 100-percent dream.

And that vision is merging with a broader, even more spurious claim that has become especially popular in the Trump era: the private sector, we are told, has now taken the lead on climate, and market forces will inevitably achieve the 100-percent renewable dream and solve the climate crisis on their own. [..] America does need to convert to fully renewable energy as quickly as possible. The “100-percent renewable for 100% of demand” goal is the problem. Scenarios that make that promise, along with the studies that dissect them, lead me to conclude that, at least in affluent countries, it would be better instead to transform society so that it operates on far less end-use energy while assuring sufficiency for all. That would bring a 100%-renewable energy system within closer reach and avoid the outrageous technological feats and gambles required by high-energy dogma. It would also have the advantage of being possible.

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Quantum is per definition unbreakable. The CIA is not going to like it.

China Takes The Lead In Building Quantum Data Security Networks (Axios)

For decades, physicists have looked to use the behavior of particles of light to securely send information. The basic science underlying quantum cryptography has been determined over the past 40 years, but a slew of papers published this summer by physicist Jian-Wei Pan establishes China as the early leader in deploying the technology on a global scale. Why it matters: Networks using quantum keys theoretically allow for very private communications and safe transactions — because if attacked, the key would be altered and the parties would know it wasn’t secure. That would be valuable for financial transactions or voting that involves transmitting information between two points. But beyond a handful of field tests, there hasn’t been a commitment to develop the technology at this scale until now.

How it works: Two people who want to communicate would share a number key encoded in a string of single photons (particles of light) that can be used to encrypt and decrypt a message. It’s secure because if someone tries to intercept the message, the photons would be physically altered and the key would no longer work, but the data would be secure. The vision: Optical fibers carry photons short distances on the ground (anything more than about 200 kilometers and the fiber absorbs the photon signal). So researchers want to pair them with satellites that can relay the signal and then drop it back down to a receiver on Earth. That goes on and on, ultimately carrying the information around the globe to the intended receiver. What they did: China built a 2,000-km fiber optic network between Beijing and Shanghai and launched a satellite last year — both dedicated to basic research on quantum satellite communications. So far, they’ve used it to:

• Send photons from the satellite to telescopes 1,200 km apart on the ground that acted as receivers. • Transmit quantum-encoded information from the ground to the satellite. • Distribute an actual quantum key string of photons from the satellite to the ground. • Shared the key between two ground receivers — during the day. (That’s key because light from the sun, moon and cities on Earth can drown out the photon signal. The current satellite only operates at night.) “They all together prove that a number of different concepts relevant for the quantum internet really do work in a space setting,” says Anton Zeilinger, a quantum physicist at the University of Vienna who was Pan’s advisor.

The bottom line: China’s achievements are more technological than scientific, but they represent a true advance in the development and deployment of these technologies, says Ray Newell of Los Alamos National Laboratory. He points out that many of the fundamental science and technologies for quantum key distribution were invented in the United States. (Satellite-based quantum key distribution was invented at Los Alamos, which holds the original patent for the technology.) Other countries possess the knowledge to build these systems, but China is the first to make a major investment. “In China, the decision to build it was done at the beginning, and then they went through with a lot of manpower and money,” says Norbert Lutkenhaus from the University of Waterloo.

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Sep 112017
 
 September 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Edward Hopper Gas 1940

 

Irma Weakens But Continues To Batter Central Florida (NPR)
Reinsurers Will Largely Be Writing the Checks to Pay for Irma Damage (WSJ)
Insurers Ache For Qualified Inspectors After US Hurricanes (R.)
Elon Musk Magically Extends Battery Life Of Teslas Fleeing Irma (ZH)
US Earnings Recovery Remains An Illusion (F.)
Cracks In China Inc’s Rosy Earnings Reveal A Patchier Picture (R.)
China Said to Ban Bitcoin Exchanges While Allowing OTC Trades (BBG)
Australian Banks Sitting on A$500 Billion of ‘Liar Loans’ – UBS (BBG)
Canadian Gold Company Suspends Investments In Greek Mines (AP)
Plastic Fibres Found In 83% of Tap Water Around The World (G.)
Sea Salt Around The World Is Contaminated By Plastic (G.)

 

 

Even hurricanes run out of energy eventually. And water.

Irma Weakens But Continues To Batter Central Florida (NPR)

Irma has weakened since beginning its push up central Florida, but is still a Category 1 hurricane with winds near 85 mph and higher gusts, according to the National Hurricane Center. Its center is about 25 miles northeast of Tampa and continues to move toward the north-northwest. The NHC says Irma is expected to turn northwest later today and further weaken to a tropical storm. Irma’s hurricane force winds extend at least 80 miles from the storm’s center and tropical storm force winds extend as far as 415 miles. The hurricane is forecast to reach the southeastern United States later tonight. The NHC warns coastal areas could see rising water moving inland over the next 36 hours. “This is a life threatening situation,” it said in a bulletin issued at 2 a.m. ET.

Hurricane Irma had touched land again as a Category 3 Sunday afternoon, hitting Marco Island on Florida’s southwest coast, after it plowed through the Florida Keys as a Category 4 earlier in the day. Miami International Airport announced it will remain closed to passenger flights at least through Monday, though some airlines will fly personnel to the airport in preparation for reopening. The airport’s director, Emilio Gonzalez, said via Twitter that the airport had endured wind gusts near 100 mph and “sustained significant water damage throughout.” “The interaction with the Florida Peninsula along with strong southwesterly shear should cause significant weakening, but Irma’s large and powerful circulation will likely maintain hurricane strength until Monday morning at the earliest,” according to the National Hurricane Center’s latest forecast.

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The industry works from Bermuda.

Reinsurers Will Largely Be Writing the Checks to Pay for Irma Damage (WSJ)

A global array of reinsurance companies will bear the financial brunt of Hurricane Irma’s damage to potentially millions of homes across Florida. Irma’s winds are expected to leave tens of billions of dollars in insured damage. And when the insurance money arrives for many homeowners, much of it will be via reinsurance companies—not the carrier on their contract. Reinsurers play an especially large role in Florida’s home-insurance market. Andrew, Katrina and other severe hurricanes from 1992 through 2005 devastated the state’s insurance marketplace. Most brand-name national home insurers sharply reduced their presence. Picking up the slack today is a state-run “insurer of last resort,” Citizens Property Insurance, and some 50 small to midsize home insurers.

Those carriers all are required to buy ample amounts of reinsurance to help ensure they have money for their policyholders, because they don’t have the fat capital cushions of the national carriers. These reinsurance firms are specialty insurers that take on the risk of some of the policies sold by primary insurers. They send insurers money to help pay claims once claims reach contractual, designated levels. As a result, the reinsurers “might end up holding the bag” for much of Irma’s damage to residential properties, said Taoufik Gharib, a senior director at Standard & Poor’s Global Ratings. In addition to reinsurance, the U.S. government’s National Flood Insurance Program will face payouts to those homeowners who hold its policies. Under standard homeowners contracts, insurers cover wind damage but exclude flooding.

Much of Irma’s damage is expected to come from storm surge. The use of so much reinsurance introduces a few worries into the marketplace. The home insurers are exposed to potential disputes with their reinsurers over claims payments, industry analysts note. It also ties the home insurers’ fates to the financial health of their reinsurers. Irma’s arrival is well-timed from one perspective: The global reinsurance industry is awash in capital. As of March, it had a record $605 billion capital cushion, which was built up thanks in large part to relatively few major natural disasters in the U.S. since 2005. “Every company in Florida has reinsurance,” said Joseph Petrelli, president of Demotech, an insurance ratings firm with a specialty in Florida’s homeowners market. “They buy reinsurance for multiple storms, and it is across the entire season.”

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Good luck to all who need it.

Insurers Ache For Qualified Inspectors After US Hurricanes (R.)

Insurers are scrambling to find inspectors in Texas and Florida after fierce hurricanes battered the states one after the other, causing tens of billions of dollars’ worth of property damage in less than two weeks. Although insurers maintain some number of inspectors, known as claims adjusters, across the U.S. year-round, they must redeploy staff from other areas or hire contract workers to fill gaps when catastrophes like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma strike. The speed with which they can do so is critical to residents and business owners awaiting insurance payments. “The one-two punch of Harvey and Irma is no question challenging to the industry,” said Kenneth Tolson, who heads the U.S. property and casualty division of Crawford, which provides claims adjusters and staff after disasters.

Adjusters investigate claims on behalf of property insurers like Travelers, Hartford, Allstate, State Farm and Farmers Insurance. Many other policies are backed by federal or state flood insurance programs. Texas and Florida together have more than 340,000 licensed adjusters, according to state agencies, but it was unclear precisely how many were on the ground. Insurers and industry groups said thousands were headed to affected areas from other parts of the United States. [..] Insurers have been put to the test before. After Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in 2005 and 2012, it took months for many property owners to receive payouts, partly because there were too few adjusters with the needed expertise. Novice errors like not pulling off drywall to inspect for hidden damage, or not being familiar with software used for loss estimates, can reduce or delay insurance payments, adding to hardships residents are already facing.

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This is the craziest thing. You pay an arm and a leg for a car and then the maker pre-cripples it.

Elon Musk Magically Extends Battery Life Of Teslas Fleeing Irma (ZH)

In what is either a generous act of charity or an unnerving example of the control Tesla exercises over the vehicles it producers, or perhaps both, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has magically unlocked the batteries of every Tesla in Florida to maximize the distance that people fleeing from Hurricane Irma can travel before stopping to refuel at one of the company’s “superstation” charging centers. Typically, these types of over-the-air upgrades can cost thousands – if not tens of thousands – of dollars. But Musk is temporarily offering full battery capacity to all owners of Model S/X 60/60D vehicles with 75 kilo watt battery packs, according to Electrek, a blog that covers electric vehicles. The upgrade will surely help Floridians who are still rushing to escape as the now category 3 storm makes its second landfall near Naples. The upgrade will last through Saturday.

As a Tesla spokesperson explained to Electrek, the company decided on the mass-unlocking strategy after a customer called and asked if the company could upgrade his battery because he was trying to flee the storm. Tesla’s Supercharger network is fairly extensive in Florida and most owners should be able to get by even with a Model S 60 (the shortest range option). A Tesla Model S 60 owner in Florida told Electrek that his Tesla was getting 40 more miles without a charge after Tesla had temporarily unlocked the remaining 15 kilo watts of the car’s software-limited battery pack. “The company says that a Tesla owner in a mandatory evacuation zone required another ~30 more miles of range to optimize his evacuation route in the traffic and they reached out to Tesla who agreed to a temporary access to the full 75 kWh of energy in the battery pack, an upgrade that has cost between $4,500 and $9,000 depending on the model and time of upgrade.”

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“..market trend of rising valuations and falling economic earnings..”

US Earnings Recovery Remains An Illusion (F.)

While analysts hail “the best earnings season in 13 years,” the market has delivered a solidly lackluster response. Over the past month, the S&P 500 is down roughly 1% despite a string of earnings beats. With valuations this stretched, the market no longer appears willing to reward companies merely for beating quarterly expectations. Perhaps more investors now understand that GAAP net income numbers omit valuable information. They include non-operating items, are subject to manipulation, and don’t account for the cost of capital. GAAP earnings don’t drive valuation. What investors should focus on are economic earnings, which make adjustments to exclude non-operating items and account for all sources of capital, both on and off the balance sheet.

My analysis of the latest 10-K and 10-Q filings for the S&P 500 shows that the GAAP earnings growth in the market has not translated to an increase in economic earnings. Through the first two quarters of 2017, GAAP earnings are up $61 billion from their 2016 levels, while economic earnings have declined by $28 billion. Figure 2 shows the source of the discrepancy between GAAP and economic earnings comes mostly from invested capital growth that has outpaced growth in NOPAT. Companies are generating more operating profits, but they require an ever-larger invested capital base to do so. In other words, companies are growing their balance sheets faster than they are growing profits.

Figure 3 expands upon the trend shown in Figure 2. Companies are earning more profit for each dollar of revenue, but they’re also having to invest more capital to earn that revenue. When investors such as Jeremy Grantham argue that margins are higher today than in the past, they miss the balance sheet side of the story. Declining capital turns more than offset the rise in margins.

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Everybody has trouble with their earnings.

Cracks In China Inc’s Rosy Earnings Reveal A Patchier Picture (R.)

At first glance, China Inc’s earnings are off to a roaring start to 2017: first-half net profits surged by nearly a quarter, helped by healthy expansion in the world’s second-largest economy. Last year, the rise was a mere 6%. Robust profits have been a key factor in pushing the benchmark Hong Kong index .HSI to three-year highs and its Shanghai counterpart .SSEC to its strongest levels in 20-months. But the corporate investment and M&A that is driving those earnings is being fueled by growth in debt that is too rapid for comfort, analysts say. Frequent use of one-off gains to lift results and unhealthy fundamentals in some sectors may also give investors pause for thought.

Total debt at some 1,200 firms listed in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong as of end-June grew 13% from a year earlier, Reuters calculations show, much faster than the first half of 2016 when the rate was 7.5%. Profits were not used to retire debt in significant quantities over the period and cash levels at those firms, selected for the survey as they have reported earnings for at least two years in a row, shot up 12%. All in all, debt-to-equity ratios were little changed from last year, an indication that hopes of a broad deleveraging for Chinese firms, widely seen as having worrisome debt levels, seem premature. “These earnings improvements are credit driven and I have doubts about the sustainability,” said Andrew Kemp Collier at independent research firm Orient Capital.

China’s property developers have led the way in debt creation, and even if some of the most heavily burdened like China Evergrande did cut back, others kept borrowing. Acquisition-hungry Sunac saw contract sales almost double and gross profit climb 86%, but its total borrowing also jumped, up 60% to nearly $28 billion. “The picture is not as rosy as shown by rising earnings – credit is accumulating faster than nominal growth,” said Natixis Chief Economist Alicia Garcia Herrero, also noting that very short term debt is not captured in conventional leverage ratios.

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“Old users will definitely still trade, but the entry threshold for new users is now very high.”

China Said to Ban Bitcoin Exchanges While Allowing OTC Trades (BBG)

China plans to ban trading of bitcoin and other virtual currencies on domestic exchanges, dealing another blow to the $150 billion cryptocurrency market after the country outlawed initial coin offerings last week. The ban will only apply to trading of cryptocurrencies on exchanges, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the information is private. Authorities don’t have plans to stop over-the-counter transactions, the people said. China’s central bank said it couldn’t immediately comment. Bitcoin slumped on Friday after Caixin reported China’s plans, capping the virtual currency’s biggest weekly retreat in nearly two months. The country accounts for about 23% of bitcoin trades and is also home to many of the world’s biggest bitcoin miners, who use vast amounts of computing power to confirm transactions in the digital currency.

“Trading volume would definitely shrink,” said Zhou Shuoji, Beijing-based founding partner at FBG Capital, which invests in cryptocurrencies. “Old users will definitely still trade, but the entry threshold for new users is now very high. This will definitely slow the development of cryptocurrencies in China.” While Beijing’s motivation for the exchange ban is unclear, it comes amid a broad clampdown on financial risk in the run-up to a key Communist Party leadership reshuffle next month. Bitcoin has jumped about 600% in dollar terms over the past year, fueling concerns of a bubble. The People’s Bank of China has done trial runs of its own prototype cryptocurrency, taking it a step closer to being the first major central bank to issue digital money.

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One third lies on their loans.

Australian Banks Sitting on A$500 Billion of ‘Liar Loans’ – UBS (BBG)

Here’s something else for policy makers to worry about as they attempt to engineer a soft landing in Australia’s property market. The country’s lenders could be sitting on A$500 billion ($402 billion) of “liar loans,” or mortgages obtained on inaccurate financial information, according to an estimate from. A survey by the firm of 907 Australians who took out a mortgage in the last 12 months found only 67% stated their application was “completely factual and accurate,” down from 72% the previous year. The most common inaccuracies were overstating income and understating living expenses, the survey found. These findings “suggest mortgagors are more stretched than the banks believe, implying losses in a downturn could be larger than the banks anticipate,” analysts including Jonathan Mott wrote in a note to clients dated Sept. 11. UBS is underweight bank stocks. And “liar loans,” the analysts say, was a term coined in the U.S. during the financial crisis. An ominous moniker for Australian lenders.

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Just go away.

Canadian Gold Company Suspends Investments In Greek Mines (AP)

Canadian mining company Eldorado Gold, one of Greece’s largest foreign investors, said Monday it planned to suspend investment at its mines in Greece following what it said are government delays in the issuing of permits and licenses. Eldorado, which runs Greek subsidiary Hellas Gold, operates mines in northern Greece that have faced vehement opposition from parts of local communities on environmental grounds, with protests often turning violent. Eldorado said in an announcement it would continue maintenance and environmental safeguards but would make no further investment in three mines in the Halkidiki area of northern Greece and two projects in the northeastern province of Thrace.

“Despite repeated attempts by Eldorado and its Greek subsidiary, Hellas Gold, to engage constructively with the Greek government, the Ministry of Energy and Environment … and other government agencies, delays continue in issuing routine permits and licences for the construction and development of the Skouries and Olympias projects in Halkidiki, northern Greece,” the company said. “These permitting delays have negatively impacted Eldorado’s project schedules and costs, ultimately hindering the Company’s ability to effectively advance development and operation of these assets.” [..] the Halkidiki mines have been mired in controversy for decades, with Eldorado’s predecessors facing similar protests. Many in the local communities are vehemently opposed to the development of the mines on environmental grounds, saying local forests would be decimated and groundwater could be contaminated.

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“If it’s impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?”

Plastic Fibres Found In 83% of Tap Water Around The World (G.)

Microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world, leading to calls from scientists for urgent research on the implications for health. Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian. Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres. The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.

European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still 72%. The average number of fibres found in each 500ml sample ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe. The new analyses indicate the ubiquitous extent of microplastic contamination in the global environment. Previous work has been largely focused on plastic pollution in the oceans, which suggests people are eating microplastics via contaminated seafood. “We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that it’s having on wildlife, to be concerned,” said Dr Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who supervised the analyses for Orb. “If it’s impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us?”

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The revenge of carbon?!

Sea Salt Around The World Is Contaminated By Plastic (G.)

Sea salt around the world has been contaminated by plastic pollution, adding to experts’ fears that microplastics are becoming ubiquitous in the environment and finding their way into the food chain via the salt in our diets. Following this week’s revelations in the Guardian about levels of plastic contamination in tap water, new studies have shown that tiny particles have been found in sea salt in the UK, France and Spain, as well as China and now the US. Researchers believe the majority of the contamination comes from microfibres and single-use plastics such as water bottles, items that comprise the majority of plastic waste. Up to 12.7m tonnes of plastic enters the world’s oceans every year, equivalent to dumping one garbage truck of plastic per minute into the world’s oceans, according to the United Nations.

“Not only are plastics pervasive in our society in terms of daily use, but they are pervasive in the environment,” said Sherri Mason, a professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, who led the latest research into plastic contamination in salt. Plastics are “ubiquitous, in the air, water, the seafood we eat, the beer we drink, the salt we use – plastics are just everywhere”. Mason collaborated with researchers at the University of Minnesota to examine microplastics in salt, beer and drinking water. Her research looked at 12 different kinds of salt (including 10 sea salts) bought from US grocery stores around the world. The Guardian received an exclusive look at the forthcoming study. Mason found Americans could be ingesting upwards of 660 particles of plastic each year, if they follow health officials’ advice to eat 2.3 grammes of salt per day. However, most Americans could be ingesting far more, as health officials believe 90% of Americans eat too much salt.

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Sep 092017
 
 September 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Irma projections took a slight deflection west

 

Hurricane Irma Becomes Category 5 Storm Again (CNN)
5.6 Million People Told To Evacuate Florida Due To Irma (AP)
Hurricane Irma Thrives On Fateful Mix Of ‘Ideal’ Conditions (R.)
Harvey Won’t Help Flagging Housing Market (DDMB)
Swamp Fever (Jim Kunstler)
Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America (CP)
The “Real” Vampire Squid (Roberts)
Venezuela’s Maduro Says Will Shun US Dollar In Favor Of Yuan, Others (R>)
What Happens To Nations That Try To Ditch The Dollar (TAM)
Bitcoin Tumbles On Report China To Shutter Digital Currency Exchanges (R.)
Russia Faces Internal Battle Over Bitcoin (Forbes)
Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race (Wired)
Data Swamped US Spy Agencies Put Hopes On Artificial Intelligence (AFP)
EU Brushes Off ‘Democratic Scandal’ Of Greek Bailout (EUO)

 

 

Irma took a light dip south towards Cuba last night. This may save Miami from a direct hit – but not Tampa. Irma’s the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in Cuba since 1924. 3 storms making landfall at the same time has never been recorded before.

Hurricane Irma Becomes Category 5 Storm Again (CNN)

Hurricane Irma regained Category 5 status late Friday as the core of the storm made landfall in Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, the US National Hurricane Center said. Irma made landfall on the Camaguey archipelago of Cuba, the center said late Friday night. The massive storm edged closer to US landfall in the Florida Keys after leaving a trail of devastation and death in much of the Caribbean as it advanced toward South Florida. Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center say the storm’s wind speeds will increase after Irma passes Cuba then slips into the extremely warm waters near the Keys. “Nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe,” the National Weather Service tweeted.

There were worries the storm’s most powerful winds, on the northeastern side of the core, could pummel Miami, but it appears the city will avoid a direct hit, while still getting pounded by strong winds, storm surge and heavy rains. At least 24 people were killed this week when Irma pummeled northern Caribbean islands such as Barbuda and the Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people – nearly 70% of the US territory’s utility customers – were left without power, the governor’s office said. Irma slammed the Turks and Caicos, and southeastern Bahamas early before it was off to pound northern Cuba and the central Bahamas.

Irma is expected be near the Florida Keys and South Florida by early Sunday, and many residents there have moved inland or to shelters. Many counties are under evacuation orders. “If you have been ordered to evacuate, leave now. Not tonight, not in an hour, now,” Gov. Rick Scott said Friday night. Staying in homes could subject residents to storm surge as high as 12 feet, the governor added. Forecasters have advised that the storm’s potential path could change and residents should realize that most of Florida will feel its impact.

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How do you evacuate millions? The logistics are staggering.

5.6 Million People Told To Evacuate Florida Due To Irma (AP)

Florida has asked 5.6 million people to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma, or more than one-quarter of the state’s population, according to state emergency officials. Andrew Sussman, the state’s hurricane program manager, said Friday the total includes people throughout the southern half of the state as well as those living in inland Florida in substandard housing who were also told leave due to the dangerous storm that will slam the state this weekend. Florida is the nation’s third-largest state with nearly 21million people according to the U.S. Census. For days Gov. Rick Scott has been urging residents to evacuate, especially those who live in coastal areas that could be flooded due to the walls of water expected from Irma’s arrival. The National Hurricane Center is warning Floridians that even if the storm seems to moving away from the East Coast in the latest tracks, don’t get complacent.

“This is a storm that will kill you if you don’t get out of the way,” said National Hurricane Center meteorologist and spokesman Dennis Feltgen. Feltgen says the storm has a really wide eye, with hurricane-force winds that cover the entire Florida peninsula and potentially deadly storm surges on both coasts. “Everybody’s going to feel this one,” Feltgen said. As Florida deals with a catastrophic, dangerous hurricane, it may have a financial storm to deal with. The annual budget forecast released this week shows, despite an ongoing economic recovery, Florida is expected to bring in just enough money to meet its spending needs. That forecast shows the state will have a surplus of just $52 million during the fiscal year that starts in July 2018. The new estimate does not take into account the potential effects that will come from Hurricane Irma.

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Ironically, Irma has sucked up so much warm surface water, it is lowering water temperatures and thereby ‘hampering’ the next storm up, José. Who was still noted as ‘close to Category 5’ overnight.

Hurricane Irma Thrives On Fateful Mix Of ‘Ideal’ Conditions (R.)

Hurricane Irma, a deadly, devastating force of nature, rapidly coalesced from a low-pressure blip west of Africa into one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, following an unhindered atmospheric path and fed by unusually warm seas. A combination of many factors, experts said on Friday, set the stage for Irma’s formation and helped the storm achieve its full thermodynamic potential, creating the monster tropical cyclone that wreaked havoc on the eastern Caribbean and may inflict widespread damage on Florida. “It got lucky,” said John Knaff, a meteorologist and physical scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “This storm is in the Goldilocks environment for a major hurricane. It’s bad luck for whoever is in its path, but that’s what going on here.”

Brian Kahn, an atmospheric scientist and cloud specialist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, called the ocean conditions that spawned Irma “absolutely ideal.” Balmy water temperatures along Irma’s trajectory ran deep beneath the surface and slightly higher than normal, by as much as a degree Fahrenheit in places, providing ample fuel for the storm’s development, scientists said. Irma also encountered little if any interference in the form of wind shear – sudden changes in vertical wind velocity that can blunt a storm’s intensity – as it advanced at about 10 to 18 miles per hour, an ideal pace for hurricanes. Its fortuitous path of least resistance was essentially ordained by a well-placed atmospheric ridge of high pressure that steered the storm by happenstance through some of the Caribbean’s warmest waters as well as an area mostly devoid of wind shear.

The result was a gargantuan storm that rapidly grew to a Category 5, the top of the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength, with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, the most forceful ever documented in the open Atlantic. It also ranks as one of just five Atlantic hurricanes known to have achieved such wind speeds during the past 82 years.

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“..of the 1 million or so mortgaged homeowners in the disaster area, more than 300,000 could become delinquent within two months..”

Harvey Won’t Help Flagging Housing Market (DDMB)

Something is up, or more likely down, with the U.S. housing market. And the reconstruction after Hurricane Harvey may not do much to help. Here’s the evidence: The latest take on home-builder sentiment showed that buyer traffic stubbornly remains in negative territory, despite some of the highest readings of the current cycle on builders’ expectations for sales gains in the next six months. In addition, recent mortgage rate declines have not led to an increase in applications to buy a home. Over the past few weeks, purchase activity has slumped to a six-month low, even though rates are at their lowest level since November. This defies a central tenet of the housing market that falling rates naturally lead to an uptick in sales. As for actual sales volumes, both new and existing July home sales missed forecasts by wide margins.

At an annualized rate of 571,000, new home sales dropped to a seven-month low, well off their long-term average pace of 727,000. The number of homes on the ground rose to 276,000 units, the highest since June 2009. At July’s pace, it would take 5.8 months to clear the inventory. The existing home sales report that followed was similarly weak, with closings sliding to the lowest since August 2016. Not only was the 5.44-million annualized pace 110,000 units below forecast, July’s figures reveal the all-important spring selling season was something of a bust, given July’s data captured contracts signed from April through June. Prices have been and remain the main impediment. The median new home sales price of $313,700 marked the highest July price on record and is up more than 6% over last year’s level.

At an annual gain of 6.2%, the best that can be said of the median sales price for previously occupied homes is that it’s off the record pace it set in June. Corroborating the slowdown in sales, both the Federal Housing Finance Agency and S&P Case-Shiller home-price indexes have softened unexpectedly. [..] About 1.2 million homes in and around Houston were at moderate to high risk for flooding but aren’t in a designated flood zone that would have required insurance. Many will qualify for federal disaster relief. Still, the government program comes in the form of low-interest rate loans to help shoulder the burden of repair costs at a time when many households are already buried in debt with precious little in savings; as the third quarter got underway, the saving rate fell to 3.5%, a fresh low for the current cycle.

Although many have drawn comparisons to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Harvey will affect more than twice as many mortgaged properties. According to Black Knight Financial Services, of the 1 million or so mortgaged homeowners in the disaster area, more than 300,000 could become delinquent within two months, and 160,000 are at risk of becoming seriously delinquent inside a four-month period. As per the Mortgage Bankers Association, homes in foreclosure nationwide totaled 502,437 in the second quarter, exemplifying the very real potential for Harvey to leave a huge scar on the housing market.

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“A week or so after Irma has gone away, the ill-feeling that heaps this country like a swamp fever will still be there, driving the new American madness into precincts yet unknown.”

Swamp Fever (Jim Kunstler)

The destruction of Florida (and whatever else stands in the way up the line) will be as real as it gets. You’ve heard the old argument, I’m sure, that a natural disaster turns out to be a boon for the economy because so many people are employed fixing the damage. It’s not true, of course. Replacing things of value that have been destroyed with new things is just another version of the old Polish Blanket Gag: guy wants to make his blanket longer, so he cuts a foot off the top and sews it onto the bottom. The capital expended has to come from something and somewhere, and in this case it probably represents the much talked-about necessary infrastructure spending that is badly needed for bridges, roads, water and sewer systems, et cetera, in all the other parts of the USA that haven’t been hit by storms.

Instead, these places and the things in them will quietly inch closer to criticality without drawing much notice. The second major weather disaster this year may not be enough to induce holdouts to reconsider the issue of climate change, but it ought to provoke some questioning about the development pattern known as suburban sprawl, which even in its pristine form can be described as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. Surely there will be some debate as to whether Florida, or at least parts of it, gets rebuilt at all. The wilderness of strip malls, housing subdivisions, and condo clusters deployed along the seemingly endless six-lane highways that accumulated in the post-war orgy of development was an affront to human nature, if not to a deity, if one exists.

There are much better ways to build towns and we know how to do it. Ask the shnooks who paid a hundred bucks to walk down Disney’s Main Street the week before last. Apart from all that remains the personal tragedy that awaits, the losses of many lifetimes of work invested in things of value, of homes, of meaning, and of life itself. Many people who evacuated will return to… nothing, and perhaps many of them will not want to stay in such a fragile place. But the America they roam into in search of a place to re-settle is going to be a more fragile place, too. A week or so after Irma has gone away, the ill-feeling that heaps this country like a swamp fever will still be there, driving the new American madness into precincts yet unknown.

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Is it really capitalism that’s to blame? Do other systems not build where they should not? It seems a general human propensity to look at a desert or a swamp and declare ‘there’s nothing there’, so let’s build and exploit.

Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America (CP)

What we need to understand is how capitalism has managed to reproduce itself since the Great Depression, but in a way that has put enormous numbers of people and tremendous amounts of property in harm’s way along the stretch from Texas to New England. The production of risk began during the era of what is sometimes called regulated capitalism between the 1930s and the early 1970s. This form of capitalism with a “human face” involved state intervention to ensure a modicum of economic freedom but it also led the federal government to undertake sweeping efforts to control nature. The motives may well have seemed pure. But the efforts to control the natural world, though they worked in the near term, are beginning to seem inadequate to the new world we currently inhabit.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built reservoirs to control floods in Houston just as it built other water-control structures during the same period in New Orleans and South Florida. These sweeping water-control exploits laid the groundwork for massive real estate development in the post–World War II era. All along the coast from Texas to New York and beyond developers plowed under wetlands to make way for more building and more impervious ground cover. But the development at the expense of marsh and water could never have happened on the scale it did without the help of the American state. Ruinous flooding of Houston in 1929 and 1935 compelled the Corps of Engineers to build the Addicks and Barker Dams. The dams combined with a massive network of channels—extending today to over 2,000 miles—to carry water off the land, and allowed Houston, which has famously eschewed zoning, to boom during the postwar era.

The same story unfolded in South Florida. A 1947 hurricane caused the worst coastal flooding in a generation and precipitated federal intervention in the form of the Central and Southern Florida Project. Again, the Corps of Engineers set to work transforming the land. Eventually a system of canals that if laid end to end would extend all the way from New York City to Las Vegas crisscrossed the southern part of the peninsula. Life for the more than five million people who live in between Orlando and Florida Bay would be unimaginable without this unparalleled exercise in the control of nature. It is not simply that developers bulldozed wetlands with reckless abandon in the postwar period. The American state paved the way for that development by underwriting private accumulation.

Concrete was the capitalist state’s favored medium. But as the floods mounted in the 1960s, it turned to non-structural approaches meant to keep the sea at bay. The most famous program along these lines was the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) established in 1968, a liberal reform that grew out of the Great Society. The idea was that the federal government would oversee a subsidized insurance program for homeowners and in return state and local municipalities would impose regulations to keep people and property out of harm’s way.

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Central bankers lie when they say there is a recovery, but still keep buying assets by the trillions.

The “Real” Vampire Squid (Roberts)

According to the Bank for International Settlements: “Policy tools that involve the active use of central bank balance sheets – both the assets and the liabilities – can help monetary authorities to navigate the policy challenges during times of financial stress and when interest rates are close to zero.“ But wait, this is what Draghi said next: “The economic expansion, which accelerated more than expected in the first half of 2017, continues to be solid and broad-based across countries and sectors.” So, what is it?

If you actually have “solid and broad-based” economic growth across countries and sectors, why are you still flooding the system with “emergency measures,” and keeping interest rates near zero? That’s a rhetorical question. The reality is that Central Banks are keenly aware of the underlying economic weakness that currently exists as evidenced by the inability to generate inflationary pressures. They also understand that if the financial markets falter, the immediate feedback loop into the global economic environment will be swift and immediate. This is why there continue to be direct purchases of equities by the ECB and the BOJ. Which is also the reason why, despite nuclear threats, hurricanes, geopolitical tensions and economic disconnects, the markets remain within a one-day striking distance of all-time highs.

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Maduro trying to stay ahead of the CIA.

Venezuela’s Maduro Says Will Shun US Dollar In Favor Of Yuan, Others (R>)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday his cash-strapped country would seek to “free” itself from the U.S. dollar next week, using the weakest of two official foreign exchange regimes and a basket of currencies. Maduro was refering to Venezuela’s “DICOM” official exchange rate in which the dollar buys 3,345 bolivars, according to the central bank. At the strongest official rate, one dollar buys just 10 bolivars, but on the black market the dollar fetches 20,193 bolivars, a spread versus the official rate that economists say has fostered corruption. A thousand dollars of local currency bought when Maduro came to power in 2013 would now be worth $1.20. “Venezuela is going to implement a new system of international payments and will create a basket of currencies to free us from the dollar,” Maduro said in an hours-long address to a new legislative superbody, without providing details of the new mechanism.

“If they pursue us with the dollar, we’ll use the Russian ruble, the yuan, yen, the Indian rupee, the euro,” Maduro said. The oil-rich nation is undergoing a major economic and social crisis, with millions suffering food and medicine shortages and what is believed to be the world’s highest inflation. Monthly inflation quickened to 34%, according to the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Critics say that instead of overhauling Venezuela’s failing currency controls or enacting reforms to shake the economy out of a fourth straight year of recession, Maduro has dug in and increased controls. On Thursday night, he increased the country’s minimum wage by 40%, taking it to just over $7 per month at the black market exchange rate. He also announced that around 50 “essential” products and services would have their prices frozen at new levels, auguring higher inflation and more shortages.

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Sorry, but this isn’t “a theory advanced in William R. Clark’s book Petrodollar Warfare”. This is general knowledge, has been for many years.

What Happens To Nations That Try To Ditch The Dollar (TAM)

Venezuela sits on the world’s largest oil reserves but has been undergoing a major crisis, with millions of people going hungry inside the country which has been plagued with rampant, increasing inflation. In that context, the recently established economic blockade by the Trump administration only adds to the suffering of ordinary Venezuelans rather than helping their plight. A theory advanced in William R. Clark’s book Petrodollar Warfare essentially asserts that Washington-led interventions in the Middle East and beyond are fueled by the direct effect on the U.S. dollar that can result if oil-exporting countries opt to sell oil in alternative currencies. For example, in 2000, Iraq announced it would no longer use U.S. dollars to sell oil on the global market. It adopted the euro, instead. By February 2003, the Guardian reported that Iraq had netted a “handsome profit” after making this policy change. Despite this, the U.S. invaded not long after and immediately switched the sale of oil back to the U.S. dollar.

In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi was punished for a similar proposal to create a unified African currency backed by gold, which would be used to buy and sell African oil. Though it sounds like a ludicrous reason to overthrow a sovereign government and plunge the country into a humanitarian crisis, Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails confirmed this was the main reason Gaddafi was overthrown. The French were especially concerned by Gaddafi’s proposal and, unsurprisingly, became one of the war’s main contributors. (It was a French Rafaele jet that struck Gaddafi’s motorcade, ultimately leading to his death). Iran has been using alternative currencies like the yuan for some time now and shares a lucrative gas field with Qatar, which may ultimately be days away from doing the same. Both countries have been vilified on the international stage, particularly under the Trump administration.

Nuclear giants China and Russia have been slowly but surely abandoning the U.S. dollar, as well, and the U.S. establishment has a long history of painting these two countries as hostile adversaries. Now Venezuela may ultimately join the bandwagon, all the while cozying up to Russia, as well (unsurprisingly, Venezuela and Iran were identified in William R. Clark’s book as attracting particular geostrategic tensions with the United States). The CIA’s admission that it intends to interfere inside Venezuela to exact a change of government — combined with Trump’s recent threat of military intervention in Venezuela and Vice President Mike Pence’s warning that the U.S. will not “stand by” and watch Venezuela deteriorate — all start to make a lot more sense when viewed through this geopolitical lens.

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It’s still unclear what exactly Beijing is banning.

Bitcoin Tumbles On Report China To Shutter Digital Currency Exchanges (R.)

Bitcoin fell sharply on Friday after a report from a Chinese news outlet said China was planning to shut down local crypto-currency exchanges, although analysts said this was just a temporary setback. Sources close to a cross regulators committee that oversees online finance activities told Chinese financial publication Caixin that authorities plan to shut key bitcoin exchanges in China. [..] two sources in direct contact with officials at three Chinese bitcoin exchanges – Beijing-based OKCoin, Shanghai-based BTC China, and Beijing-based Huobi – said the platforms told them that they have not heard anything from the Chinese government.

The news follows China’s move earlier this week to ban so-called “initial coin offerings,” or the practice of creating and selling digital currencies or tokens to investors in order to finance start-up projects. Greg Dwyer, business development manager at crypto-currency trading platform BitMEX, said there was confusion over whether China would close bitcoin exchanges following the ICO ban. [..] China’s Bitcoin exchanges said on Saturday they are still awaiting clarification from the authorities on a media report that they will be shut down.

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Nabiullina, the world’s smartest central banker, doesn’t seem to be seeing eye to eye with Putin on this.

Russia Faces Internal Battle Over Bitcoin (Forbes)

A lot can happen in month. Russian institutions went from preparing the Moscow Stock Exchange for the legal trading in crypto-currencies like bitcoin and ether, the two most popular ones used in Russia, to coming a hair away from following in China’s footsteps and banning initial coin offerings (ICO), a crypto-currency funding mechanisms for new tech companies. “The use of crypto-currency as a surrogate for the ruble in trading in goods and services, in our opinion, has a risk of undermining the circulation of money,” central banker Elvira Nabiullina told Russian newswire Tass on Friday. “We will not allow the use of crypto-currency as a surrogate money,” she said without mentioning ICOs in particular. One can only speculate that those crowdfunding platforms are on her radar.

Nabiullina is arguably one of the most powerful women in Russia. She has Vladimir Putin’s ear on all things economic and financial. Putin defers to her on such matters. This summer, Putin met with Ethereum developer and CEO Vitalik Buterin to discuss developments in so-called blockchain technologies, the tech platforms that provide the backbone to digital money. Buterin later told a local newspaper in Tatarstan that he felt Putin was opening to these new technologies as a matter of Russian national tech strategy. “Many people at different levels of the Russian government are open to crypto-currencies. I think my meeting with Putin helped him see things clearer,” Buterin was quoted as saying in Tatarstan’s online daily Realnoe Vremya. This is the second time this week that the Russian Central Bank has come out against crypto-currencies.

“Crypto-currencies are issued by an unlimited circle of anonymous entities. Due to the anonymous nature of the issuance of crypto-currency, citizens and legal entities can be involved in illegal activities, including legalization (laundering) of proceeds from crime and financing of terrorism,” the Russian central bank said in a statement issued on September 4. “Given the high risks of circulation and use of crypto-currency, the Bank of Russia considers it premature to admit crypto-currencies, as well as any financial instruments nominated or associated with crypto-currencies, into circulation and used at organized trades such as clearing and settlement infrastructure within the territory of the Russian Federation.” Nabiullina likened the rapid expansion of crypto-currency to the gold rush. Others have referred to it as a bubble. “For a long time there was very little growth (in this technology), and now we see something like a gold rush,” she warned.

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Why Google and Facebook won’t be regulated anythime soon. They’re part of the CIA now.

Artificial Intelligence Fuels New Global Arms Race (Wired)

For many Russian students, the academic year started last Friday with tips on planetary domination from President Vladimir Putin. “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia but for all humankind,” he said, via live video beamed to 16,000 selected schools. “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” Putin’s advice is the latest sign of an intensifying race among Russia, China, and the US to accumulate military power based on artificial intelligence. All three countries have proclaimed intelligent machines as vital to the future of their national security. Technologies such as software that can sift intelligence material or autonomous drones and ground vehicles are seen as ways to magnify the power of human soldiers.

“The US, Russia, and China are all in agreement that artificial intelligence will be the key technology underpinning national power in the future,” says Gregory C. Allen, a fellow at nonpartisan think tank the Center for a New American Security. He coauthored a recent report commissioned by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that concluded artificial intelligence could shake up armed conflict as significantly as nuclear weapons did. In July, China’s State Council released a detailed strategy designed to make the country “the front-runner and global innovation center in AI” by 2030. It includes pledges to invest in R&D that will “through AI elevate national defense strength and assure and protect national security.” The US, widely recognized as home to the most advanced and vibrant AI development, doesn’t have a prescriptive roadmap like China’s.

But for several years the Pentagon has been developing a strategy known as the “Third Offset,” intended to give the US, through weapons powered by smart software, the same sort of advantage over potential adversaries that it once held in nuclear bombs and precision-guided weapons. In April, the Department of Defense established the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team to improve use of AI technologies such as machine vision across the Pentagon. Russia lags behind China and the US in sophistication and use of automation and AI, but is expanding its own investments through a military modernization program begun in 2008. The government’s Military Industrial Committee has set a target of making 30 percent of military equipment robotic by 2025. “Russia is behind the curve—they are playing catchup,” says Samuel Bendett, a research analyst who studies the country’s military at the Center for Naval Analyses.

Algorithms good at searching holiday photos can be repurposed to scour spy satellite imagery, for example, while the control software needed for an autonomous minivan is much like that required for a driverless tank. Many recent advances in developing and deploying artificial intelligence emerged from research from companies such as Google. China’s AI strategy attempts to directly link commercial and defense developments in AI. For example, a national lab dedicated to making China more competitive in machine learning that opened in February is operated by Baidu, the country’s leading search engine.

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It’s not just about warfare either, it’s about tracking your own people.

Data Swamped US Spy Agencies Put Hopes On Artificial Intelligence (AFP)

Swamped by too much raw intel data to sift through, US spy agencies are pinning their hopes on artificial intelligence to crunch billions of digital bits and understand events around the world. Dawn Meyerriecks, the Central Intelligence Agency’s deputy director for technology development, said this week the CIA currently has 137 different AI projects, many of them with developers in Silicon Valley. These range from trying to predict significant future events, by finding correlations in data shifts and other evidence, to having computers tag objects or individuals in video that can draw the attention of intelligence analysts. Officials of other key spy agencies at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington this week, including military intelligence, also said they were seeking AI-based solutions for turning terabytes of digital data coming in daily into trustworthy intelligence that can be used for policy and battlefield action.

AI has widespread functions, from battlefield weapons to the potential to help quickly rebuild computer systems and programs brought down by hacking attacks, as one official described. But a major focus is finding useful patterns in valuable sources like social media. Combing social media for intelligence in itself is not new, said Joseph Gartin, head of the CIA’s Kent School, which teaches intelligence analysis. “What is new is the volume and velocity of collecting social media data,” he said. In that example, artificial intelligence-based computing can pick out key words and names but also find patterns in data and correlations to other events — and continually improve on that pattern finding.

AI can “expand the aperture” of an intelligence operation looking for small bits of information that can prove valuable, according to Chris Hurst, the chief operating officer of Stabilitas, which contracts with the US intelligence community on intel analysis. “Human behavior is data and AI is a data model,” he said at the Intelligence Summit. “Where there are patterns we think AI can do a better job.” The volume of data that can be collected increases exponentially with advances in satellite and signals intelligence collection technology. “If we were to attempt to manually exploit the commercial satellite imagery we expect to have over the next 20 years, we would need eight million imagery analysts,” Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said in a speech in June.

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The EU is full of people who have no say. Ultimately, only Merkel does, or rather, those who keep her in power. The Eurogroup is not accountable to anyone but her, because it doesn’t even officially exist.

EU Brushes Off ‘Democratic Scandal’ Of Greek Bailout (EUO)

The European Commission has defended its role in the Greek bailout despite Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, having called the Eurogroup “a democratic scandal.” The Eurogroup is a club of eurozone states’ finance ministers presided over by Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem but dominated in practice by his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble. It imposed its will on Greece when the country was teetering on the verge of economic collapse and a eurozone exit in 2015, in exchange for access to bailout funds from the European Commission, the ECB, and IMF. A Commission spokesperson on Tuesday (5 September) noted that the EU executive had “invested a lot of time and effort and resources to keep Greece in the eurozone.” But Pierre Moscovici, the EU finance commissioner, took a more critical line.

Over the weekend, he described the Eurogroup as a “democratic scandal”, given that its talks are held behind closed doors and without any public accountability. “Let’s face it, the Eurogroup as we know it is rather a pale imitation of a democratic body,” he said in his blog on Saturday (2 September). Moscovici said the governance behind the EU’s economic and monetary union had also lacked proper democratic oversight. “Sometimes in the past, when we look at Greece, it has been close to a democratic scandal,” he said. Moscovici’s admission is all the more striking given the recent publication of a book by Greece’s former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. Varoufakis, who steered Greek talks at the Eurogroup until his resignation in July 2015, provides a detailed account of the Commission’s double-standards during the initial rounds.

He said that Moscovici would agree in private to easing the austerity measures but, in the Eurogroup, the Commission’s representative would then reject everything in favour of harsh measures driven by Dijsselbloem and Schaeuble. In one private meeting in Dijsselbloem’s office, Varoufakis said that Moscovici had even capitulated to Dijsselbloem, despite having previously agreed to concessions that would render the Greek programme more flexible. Dijsselbloem refused to agree to the measures proposed by the Commission. Varoufakis said that Moscovici had responded to Dijsselbloem with “whatever the Eurogroup president says” in a voice that quavered with dejection. “During the Eurogroup meeting, whenever I looked at him [Moscovici] I imagined the horror Jacques Delors or any of the EU’s founding fathers would have felt had they observed the scene in Jeroen’s [Dijsselbloem’s] office,” writes Varoufakis.

[..] Most of the bailout funds have gone towards paying off international loans and proved beneficial to German and French banks that were massively exposed to Greek public debt in the lead up to the financial crisis. According to one study, Germany had also ended up with large profits, yielding interest savings on German bonds of more that €100 billion during the period of 2010 to 2015 from the Greek debt crisis.

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Aug 172017
 
 August 17, 2017  Posted by at 9:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Laura Gilpin The Rio Grande 1947

 

The ‘Wall Of Worry’ That Stocks Have Climbed To Rally 271% Since 2009 (MW)
Global Negative-Yielding Debt Surges To Highest Since October (ZH)
The Fed Is Asking Questions, Not Providing Answers (BBG)
Fed Starts to Wonder If Cornerstone Inflation Model Still Works (BBG)
Goldman Sachs Is Infiltrating The Fed In Ways Most People Haven’t Noticed (BI)
Chinese Takeovers Of US Companies Plummet This Year (CNBC)
The World’s Most Ridiculous Constitutional Crisis (BBG)
Hell Hath No Fury Like An Australian Retiree Scorned (BBG)
Americans Are Rapidly Descending Into Madness (Krieger)
A Primer On Bitcoin: The Ultimate Fiat Currency (Lebowitz)
Spain Rescues 600 Migrants, Refugees In Busiest Day as 120 Drown (BBC)

 

 

Stocks have been disconnected from reality. But that can’t last.

The ‘Wall Of Worry’ That Stocks Have Climbed To Rally 271% Since 2009 (MW)

This may be the most sedated stock-market rally of our times. Even as tensions heightened between the U.S. and North Korea and violence broke out on the streets of Charlottesville, Va., stocks took the alarming news in stride, continuing to scale the “wall of worry” in defiance of doomsday predictions of an imminent selloff. “It seems like every day the headlines outside of the market get more and more frightening,” said Michael Batnick, director of research at Ritholtz Wealth Management, who illustrated the resilience of the market in the chart below. As the graph shows, since stocks bottomed in March 2009, the S&P 500 index has soared 271% to multiple records, meandering higher through the European debt crisis, Brexit, and the U.S. presidential election.

Batnick had originally published the chart in March but updated it Wednesday given the recent developments. “This year has been the perfect reminder that political volatility does not necessarily translate into the stock market, with this being the quietest year since 1965,” he said. The S&P 500’s daily trading range averaged 0.32% in the first half of the year, the narrowest in over half a century, underscoring the gap between market volatility and the political upheaval that has marked Trump’s presidency so far, according to Batnick.

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We can all figure what could happen if you throw $20 trillion or so into non-functional markets. Can we figure what happens when they start to function again?

Global Negative-Yielding Debt Surges To Highest Since October (ZH)

The market value of bonds yielding less than zero percent has jumped by a quarter over the past month to $8.68 trillion, the highest since October… which is odd given the mainstream narrative that everything is awesome and global growth is heading for escape velocity?

“probably nothing”

As Bloomberg notes, slower-than-forecast inflation data and haven demand on geopolitical risk have revived bond bulls around the world. With global borrowing costs already so low, central banks should be prepared to cut interest rates deep into negative territory in the next economic downturn, warn economists including Harvard professor Kenneth Rogoff.

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Oh well, it’ summer after all.

The Fed Is Asking Questions, Not Providing Answers (BBG)

The Federal Reserve is either lucky or clever. By signaling that it won’t touch interest rates again until December, it’s bought itself time to have a longer – and much needed – conversation about inflation. Good. There are very legitimate doubts that traditional models explain what’s happening or, rather, what’s not happening. Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee’s July meeting show a growing debate about inflation and why it’s retreating, instead of advancing, in the face of 4.3% unemployment. The central bank is puzzled that prices have been soft for several months. In the absence of any real inflation pressure, the Fed might be reasonably expected to take a break from raising rates while it got a handle on what’s happening. By acting in March and June and hinting that September will be about balance sheet reduction, the Fed gave itself some wiggle room.

Policy makers basically have until December to either see inflation head back toward their 2% target or figure out how to respond if it doesn’t behave. There’s a meeting scheduled for late October, but the Fed’s historical aversion to moving in the absence of new forecasts and a press conference effectively rules out a surprise then. Delaying until December gives officials at least four more months of inflation data. Most still see it returning to its target, in keeping with traditional economic models. And to be fair, as I have written, this isn’t exclusively an American phenomenon. Inflation is weak in Europe and Japan despite a pronounced pickup in growth. (It’s above target in the U.K.; Brexit complicates that particular picture.) But the U.S. is still the world’s largest economy, and the Fed is still the world’s de facto central bank.

The country’s financial markets dwarf others despite frequent predictions of decline. How this inflation mystery ends will matter greatly. What if the book doesn’t have an end? The minutes show some self-doubt starting to creep in alongside the confidence of the majority: Most participants indicated that they expected inflation to pick up over the next couple of years from its current low level and to stabilize around the Committee’s 2% objective over the medium term. Many participants, however, saw some likelihood that inflation might remain below 2% for longer than they currently expected, and several indicated that the risks to the inflation outlook could be tilted to the downside. The account of the July conclave even suggested some heretical questioning of the link between very low unemployment and wages and inflation. The majority are still wedded to the traditional models.

Until we start to see a convincing swing back to the Fed’s target of 2%, we will probably see more of this public questioning of assumptions. Something less contentious was skepticism about the prospects for large-scale fiscal stimulus, the domain of Congress and the White House. A few participants at the Fed meeting doubted it would happen and, if it did, they suspected the boost would be less than might have once been anticipated. That observation went unchallenged. Stay tuned for the last day of August. That’s when the Commerce Department publishes closely watched inflation figures. Enjoy the debate.

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Over 1000 utterly useless PhD economists work for the Fed. The world doesn’t behave like my models do!

Fed Starts to Wonder If Cornerstone Inflation Model Still Works (BBG)

Federal Reserve officials are looking under the hood of their most basic inflation models and starting to ask if something is wrong. Minutes from the July 25-26 Federal Open Market Committee meeting showed a revealing debate over why the economy isn’t producing more inflation in a time of easy financial conditions, tight labor markets and solid economic growth. The central bank has missed its 2% price goal for most of the past five years. Still, a majority of FOMC participants favor further rate increases. The July minutes showed an intensifying debate over whether that is the right policy response. “These minutes to me were troubling,” said Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies in New York. “They don’t have their confidence in their policy decisions; and they don’t have confidence that they can provide the right kind of guidance.”

The FOMC tried hard to avoid that kind of message. In several passages, the minutes asserted that “most” officials were sticking with a forecast that higher inflation would eventually show up. However, the debate over resource slack models and whether standard data sources were telling them the whole story also showed convictions about their forecast are fraying. Price indexes have shown unusual inertia even as the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen, matching a 16-year low of 4.3% in July. The U.S. consumer price index rose 1.7% for the 12 months ending July, while the Fed’s preferred measure, which is tied to consumption, rose 1.4% in June. Another gauge calculated by the Dallas Fed, which trims index outliers to highlight the underlying price trend, rose 1.7% for the 12 months ending June.

That was the same as May, which was down from 1.74% in April. The minutes said “a few” officials described resource slack models as “not particularly useful” while “most” thought the framework was valid. The committee also pondered a number of theories as to why inflation wasn’t responding to tightening labor resources, such as “the possibility that slack may be better measured by labor market indicators other than unemployment.” “It is a battle between data and theory,” said Ethan Harris, head of global economic research at Bank of America in New York.

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A silent coup.

Goldman Sachs Is Infiltrating The Fed In Ways Most People Haven’t Noticed (BI)

Since when do underlings get to chime in on who their next boss should be? That’s just what William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, did in an interview with AP this week. His fairly strong recommendation of Gary Cohn, Donald Trump’s economic advisor and apparent favorite, was especially egregious since Cohn is former president at Goldman Sachs, where Dudley essentially spent most of his career as chief economist and partner. The Fed’s chairperson is appointed by the president of the United States. Dudley should stick to monetary policy and regulating big banks. As a matter of central bank independence and integrity, he has no business opining on future candidates.

As Bloomberg’s veteran Fed watcher, Rich Miller, put it: “It’s rare for Fed officials like Dudley to comment publicly on such personnel matters because they usually want to avoid doing anything that might be seen as undermining the central bank’s political independence.” “AP: On a personal level, Gary Cohn has been mentioned as potentially a Fed Chair if Yellen were not to be reappointed or declined. Did you work with Gary Cohn at Goldman Sachs? What is your impression of him as a potential Federal Reserve Chair? DUDLEY: I don’t want to evaluate the various candidates for the Federal Reserve, except to say that I think Gary is a reasonable candidate. He knows a lot about financial markets. He knows lots about the financial system. I don’t think you have to have a PhD in Economics, which I have, to be a Chair of the Fed or Governor or a President of one of the Federal Reserve Banks. I think it’s important to have a committee that has diversity. That has different backgrounds and perspectives. So I think Gary’s a reasonable candidate.

[..] Despite the clear conflict, he apparently sees nothing wrong with recommending Cohn while saying nothing to praise his current boss, Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who is also supposedly in the running for reappointment (but not really, it’s just another Trump reality TV suspense stunt). Dudley then coyly declines to discuss other names being floated for the post. Dudley has crossed a line, although it’s not a new one for his institution. The New York Fed was home to one of the financial crises most blatant conflicts of interest, and it’s all related to how Dudley was hired to head it in the first place.

This is what happened: Stephen Friedman was chairman of the New York Fed at the height of the crisis — but at the same time he was a member of Goldman Sachs’ board of directors. He also held a significant financial stake in the megabank, even as he was involved in the bank bailout negotiations. Yes, really (The New York Fed is supposed to play a pivotal role in regulating Wall Street). And here’s the kicker: The Fed’s board granted Friedman a waiver to buy Goldman stock just as prices had hit bottom and the central bank was stepping in to make all the banks, including Goldman, whole on their misguided bets on housing and related assets. Friedman was eventually pressured to step down, but that’s about it. In his role as NY Fed board chair, Friedman got to pick its next president. Who did he run with? Bill Dudley.

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it’s about foreign reserves.

Chinese Takeovers Of US Companies Plummet This Year (CNBC)

As the Trump administration looks to take a tougher stance against Beijing, Chinese investments in the U.S. have more than halved this year, according to Dealogic. “Amid growing regulatory scrutiny of China outbound M&A targeting the U.S., volume has seen a 65% year-on-year decline in 2017 year-to-date,” Nicholas Farfan and Karl But of Dealogic Research said in an Aug. 8 note. “In comparison, such deals peaked at $65.2 billion last year, with high-profile deals including HNA’s acquisition of 25% of Hilton Worldwide.” “With tightening restrictions, Chinese buyers may look to stop pursuing or shelve potential acquisitions in the U.S.,” the note said. The pressure and uncertainty are coming from both countries. On Beijing’s side, authorities are reportedly targeting some of the largest Chinese dealmakers to try to keep capital from fleeing the country and contributing to yuan weakness.

On the American side, reports indicate the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is looking to use national security concerns to prevent more Chinese purchases of U.S. firms, especially in technology. Anecdotally, Gregory Husisian, chair of the export controls and national security group at law firm Foley & Lardner, noted that an increasing number of clients are concerned about working with Chinese buyers due to the potential for regulatory intervention. The dealmaking industry could also suffer some significant business setbacks. The Dealogic analysts estimate about $9.7 billion in pending Chinese deals to buy U.S. firms could fall under regulatory scrutiny, potentially putting $75 million in advisor fees at risk.

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Baffling. They really don’t seem to know their own laws. Which might be a problem if you’re in government?!

The World’s Most Ridiculous Constitutional Crisis (BBG)

Australia’s parliament is in the grip of the world’s most ridiculous constitutional crisis. The situation threatens the country’s democratic process, which is reason enough for politicians and courts to work to unpick it. More importantly, though, it raises questions the rest of the world would do well to ponder. Over the past month, five members of Australia’s 226-member parliament have admitted that they may have unwittingly held dual citizenship – a condition that, under Australia’s 1900 constitution, disqualifies them from political office in Canberra. The latest blow on Monday ensnared Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, putting into jeopardy the government’s one-seat majority in the governing House of Representatives. Joyce’s father was born in New Zealand in 1924. As a result, Kiwis officially consider him one of their own.

Journalists and political staffers have launched a hunt to see who will fall next. The country’s justice minister Michael Keenan took to social media Thursday to confirm he renounced his British citizenship 13 years ago, after the Sydney Morning Herald reported that he may have been a dual citizen. In total, 13 senators and 11 House members were born overseas, equivalent to about 17% and 7.3% of the respective chambers. More may be caught, like Joyce, as a result of their parentage. With both chambers finely-balanced between parties – and renouncing foreign citizenship, in many cases, a long and complex process – the crisis could hamstring the government’s ability to pass legislation. Australia has one of highest proportions of foreign-born residents among democratic countries. Nearly half of permanent residents are first- or second-generation migrants, with about 28% born overseas and 21% having at least one foreign-born parent.

About 4.6% were, like me, born in the U.K.; another 2.6% in China, Hong Kong and Macau, plus 2.2% from New Zealand and 1.9% from India. More than 27% of the population speaks a language other than English at home. That’s a vast population whose ability to serve in parliament is potentially restricted. There are so many different regulations around the world that it’s not always obvious to individuals which countries might claim them as citizens. Larissa Waters, a Greens senator who was born in Winnipeg but has lived in Australia since infancy, quit last month after discovering that a Canadian law that entered into force when she was seven days old meant Canada still considered her a citizen. A week later, Australia’s then-Resources Minister Matthew Canavan was caught out after discovering his mother had once sought Italian citizenship for herself and for him. “Until last week I had no suspicion I could be an Italian citizen,” he wrote on Twitter. “I was not born in Italy and have never been to Italy.”

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Your pension has left the building. Those are its foorprints over there.

Hell Hath No Fury Like An Australian Retiree Scorned (BBG)

Hell hath no fury like an Australian retiree scorned.Shares in the country’s giant phone company Telstra fell as much as 12% after it announced annual results Thursday, wiping off some A$6.2 billion ($4.9 billion) of value. The reason for this massive hissy fit was a cut to Telstra’s historically lavish dividend policy. Investors who’ve been scraping by on payouts equivalent to about 100% of underlying earnings will in future have to subsist on a mere 70% to 90%. Why should Telstra shareholders be so sensitive about dividends, especially as net income came in ahead of analyst estimates at A$3.89 billion? The answer lies in the nature of Australia’s equity market, and in particular the 1.1 million retirees managing their own investments via self-managed superannuation funds.

Helped by years of tax breaks and laws mandating that companies fund their employees’ retirement savings, Australia’s gray army has built up a A$648 billion piggy bank. The A$340 billion they have in equities and investment funds is equivalent to a fifth of the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index, and their might is such that some analysts, such as Credit Suisse’s Hasan Tevfik, argue they’ve distorted the investment priorities of the wider market. Retirees’ love of a household-name stock that provides a steady income without the fuss of buying or selling helps explain the Australian share market’s obsession with dividend yield. There’s certainly something unusual in the water: Of the 42 companies in developed markets with dividend yields above 5% and market capitalizations above $10 billion, 11 are Australian, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

In some ways, this trend is a favorable one. Australia’s big four retail banks and Macquarie, which all meet the key criteria of familiarity and generous payouts, trade on some of the highest price-book multiples in the world. As a result, when they want to raise equity capital – as they all did in 2015, to the tune of an aggregate A$18.5 billion – it works out rather cheap. Still, Telstra’s experience is a lesson that playing footsie on dividends can be a dance with the devil. Its desire to hold back just a thin slice of earnings alongside a 70% to 90% payout ratio would be considered reasonable in most markets. Chinese companies are notoriously stingy, as Gadfly’s Shuli Ren wrote this week. Among major equity indexes, only the U.K. boasts ratios on a par with Australia’s; the Shanghai Composite rarely turns more than a third of earnings into dividends.

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No kidding. Conversation is impossible just when it’s most needed.

Americans Are Rapidly Descending Into Madness (Krieger)

I don’t live in an echo chamber, partly because there aren’t enough people out there who think like me, but also because I constantly and intentionally attempt to challenge my worldview by reading stuff from all over the political map. I ingest as much as I can from a wide variety of intelligent sources, picking and choosing what makes sense to me, and then synthesizing it the best I can. Though I’m certainly grounded in certain key principles, my perspective on specific issues remains malleable as I take in additional information and perspectives. I try to accept and acknowledge my own ignorance and view life as a journey of constant mental, emotionally and spiritual growth. If I’m not growing my capacity in all of those realms until the day I die, I’m doing it wrong. Life should be seen as a battle against one’s own ignorance, as opposed to an obsession with the ignorance of others.

You can’t legislate morality, nor can you legislate wisdom. The only way the world will improve on a long-term sustainable basis is if more of us get wise. That’s a personal journey and it’s our individual duty to accept it. While I’m only in control of my own behavior, this doesn’t mean that the behavior of others is irrelevant to my life. Unfortunately, what I see happening to the population of America right now seems very troublesome and foreboding. What I’m witnessing across the board is hordes of people increasingly separating themselves into weird, unthinking cults. Something appears to have snapped in our collective consciousness, and many individuals I used to respect (on both sides of the political spectrum) are becoming disturbingly polarized and hysterical. People are rapidly morphing into radicalized mental patients.

What’s worse, this environment is providing a backdrop for the most destructive people of my lifetime – neoconservatives and neo liberals – to preen around on corporate media as “the voices of reason.” This is one of the most perverse and dangerous side-effects of the current political climate. If in your disgust with Trump, you’re willing to run into the cold embrace of these destroyers of the middle class and the Middle East, you’ll get what you deserve. In contrast, if we really want to deal with our very real and very systemic problems, the last thing we need is a population-level mental breakdown that leads to a longing for the criminally destructive political status quo, yet that’s exactly what seems to be happening.

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Every single Bitcoin transaction uses as much energy as 15 UK households do daily. Whatever you think about crypto, that is a problem no matter what.

A Primer On Bitcoin: The Ultimate Fiat Currency (Lebowitz)

Cryptocurrency is an independent, digital currency that uses cryptology to maintain privacy of transactions and control the creation of the respective currency. While not recognized as legal tender, cryptocurrencies are becoming more popular for legal and illegal transactions alike. Bitcoin (BTC), developed in 2009, is the most popular of the cryptocurrencies. It accounts for over half the value of the more than 750 cryptocurrencies outstanding. In this article we refer to cryptocurrencies generally as BTC, but keep in mind there are differences among the many offerings. Also consider that, while BTC may appear to be the currency of choice, Netscape and AOL shareholders can tell you that early market leadership does not always translate into future market dominance.

Before explaining how BTC is created, acquired, stored, used and valued, it is vital to understand blockchain technology, the innovation that spawned BTC. [..] Blockchain is an open database or book of records that can store any kind of data. A blockchain database, unlike all other databases, is stored real time and is accessible for anyone to view its complete history of data. The term block refers to a grouping of transactions, while chain refers to the linkages of the blocks. When a BTC transaction is completed BTC “miners” work to solve the cryptology algorithm that will enable them to link it to the chain of historical transactions. As a reward for being the first to solve the calculation, the miner receives “newly minted” BTC. As the chain grows, the effort needed to solve and verify the algorithms increase in complexity and demand greater computing power. As an aside consider the following statement by Bitcoin Watch (courtesy Goldman Sachs):

“BTC worldwide computational output is currently over 350 exaflops – 350,000 petaflops – or more than 1400 times the combined capacity of the top 500 supercomputers in the world.”

Needless to say, a tremendous amount of computing resources and energy are being used by BTC miners, and it is still in its infancy. Could these resources be better employed in other industries, and if so, how much productivity growth is BTC leeching from the economy? The takeaway is that blockchain is an open, real-time database that provides anonymity to its users. It is not controlled or regulated (yet) by any government. BTC miners, driven by the incentive to earn BTC, and fees at times, verify and authenticate the database. Blockchain technology is incredibly powerful and will likely revolutionize data management regardless of whether cryptocurrencies thrive or disappear.

New Bitcoins are created as payment to BTC miners that solve the aforementioned calculations that verify transaction data and link it to the blockchain. This ingenious reward system incentivizes miners to compete to perform these calculations, enabling the blockchain to exist. Currently there are approximately 16 million bitcoins outstanding out of a proposed limit of 21 million. As the blockchain grows, the calculations required to mine BTC and add to the chain become more complex, making each bitcoin harder and more costly to earn than the prior one.

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The value of life, all life. must trump all else. Or else.

Spain Rescues 600 Migrants, Refugees In Busiest Day as 120 Drown (BBC)

Spain’s coastguard says it has rescued 600 migrants crossing from Morocco in a 24-hour period amid a spike in the number of migrant arrivals. The rescued migrants were in 15 vessels including toy paddleboats and a jet ski and included 35 children and a baby. The UN says more than 9,000 people have arrived in Spain so far this year – three times as many as the previous year. More than 120 people are believed to have drowned attempting the crossing. The increase in crossings means Spain could overtake Greece this year in the number of migrants arriving by sea, the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said earlier this month.

Most are sailing across the 12km (seven-mile) Strait of Gibraltar and many are choosing cheap, child-sized paddle boats without motors that allow them to bypass people smuggling networks and their fees. Some migrants are using social media to contact the Spanish authorities and inform them of their location once they are in territorial waters, the BBC’s Gavin Lee in the Spanish city of Tarifa says. However, a much larger number – nearly 100,000 – have crossed from Libya to Italy since the start of the year. The IOM says 2,242 people have died on that route. In June, about 5,000 people were rescued in one day in the Mediterranean off Libya, Italian coastguards said.

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Jul 282017
 
 July 28, 2017  Posted by at 8:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Gordon Burt Bond Street, Wellington, New Zealand c1957

 

Senate Blocks ‘Skinny’ Obamacare Repeal Bill In Dramatic Late-Night Vote (CNBC)
Russia Promises Retaliation As Senate Passes Sanctions Bill (G.)
US Housing Bubble 2.0 (Mark Hanson)
Is This The Bubble? (Lance Roberts)
Japan Defense Minister Quits Amid Plunging Support For PM Abe (R.)
Libor, The Scandal-Ridden Financial Benchmark, Doesn’t Have Long To Live (Qz)
Shell’s Profits Treble As Cost Cuts Take Effect (PA)
Oil Companies Trim Drilling Budgets in Sign of Rising Caution (BBG)
US Indicts Russian Suspected of $4 Billion Bitcoin Laundering Scheme (R.)
The Syrian Army Were Standing Up To Isis Long Before The Americans (Fisk)
France Plans Asylum ‘Hotspots’ In Libya (BBC)
Italy Loses Patience With France’s Macron Over Migrants, Libya (VoA)
EU Announces New Emergency Support For Greek Refugee Crisis (AP)

 

 

Three things:

1) Boy, was I right to say US politics should be observed through the eyes of Shakespeare.

2) Playing with people’s health care, let alone for petty political reasons, is not forgiveable.

3) What a bunch of has-beens these people are. Limit their terms, close the revolving doors, and let the future be decided by people young enough to actually have a future. Oh, and get money out of politics.

Senate Blocks ‘Skinny’ Obamacare Repeal Bill In Dramatic Late-Night Vote (CNBC)

The Senate blocked the latest Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare in a dramatic floor vote early Friday morning, yet again stalling — for now — the key campaign goal that eludes the GOP six months into the Trump administration. Three GOP defections — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona — sank the measure in a 49-51 vote. McCain, who recently returned to the Senate after getting diagnosed with brain cancer, cast his “no” vote to audible gasps on the chamber’s floor, according to reporters there. Senate Republicans released the plan late Thursday just hours before voting on an amendment to take up the bill. The GOP could only afford to lose two votes on the proposal, which many senators suggested they would not even want to see become law.

The measure came after separate pushes to immediately replace the Affordable Care Act or repeal it with a two-year transition period failed amid GOP divisions. Several Republican senators slammed the plan and appeared to not even want it to become law. It marks another blow to the sprawling agenda that Republicans hoped to accomplish when President Donald Trump won the White House and the GOP held both chambers of Congress in November. After the vote, a visibly frustrated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “clearly a disappointing moment.” “So yes, this is a disappointment, a disappointment indeed … I regret that our efforts were simply not enough this time,” McConnell said.

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But this they do agree on. More reasons to get rid of the old order in Washington.

Russia Promises Retaliation As Senate Passes Sanctions Bill (G.)

Vladimir Putin has accused US lawmakers of “insolence”, and promised Russia will retaliate if the latest round of US sanctions against Russia are signed into law. The House of Representatives voted by 419 votes to three on Tuesday to pass the new sanctions bill, which targets Russia as well as North Korea and Iran. The US legislation was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate on Thursday, and will now go to Donald Trump for his signature. Trump, who enjoyed two warm conversations with Putin at the G20 summit earlier this month, is likely to face a major backlash if he attempts to veto the legislation, with his administration already embroiled in a Russia scandal. “We are behaving in a very restrained and patient way, but at some moment we will need to respond,” said Putin at a press conference with his Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinistö.

“It’s impossible to endlessly tolerate this kind of insolence towards our country,” Putin said, referring to the sanctions. “This practice is unacceptable – it destroys international relations and international law.” Putin was vague on exactly how Russia might respond. The newspaper Kommersant quoted two unnamed sources saying a range of potential responses was under consideration in Moscow, including expelling US diplomats, seizing diplomatic properties, increasing restrictions on US companies working in Russia and halting enriched uranium shipments to US power plants. [..] Putin and other Russian officials have repeatedly denied any meddling in the US election, while US intelligence agencies say they have overwhelming evidence of a coordinated Russian campaign. Putin on Thursday described the allegations as “hysteria”, and said: “It’s a great pity that Russian-US relations are being sacrificed to resolve questions of domestic politics.”

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And you thought the US housing bubble was over?

US Housing Bubble 2.0 (Mark Hanson)

The striking Case-Shiller regional charts shown below, courtesy of MHanson.com, make Mark Hanson angry: “so, 2006/2007 was the largest house price bubble ever, but there is nothing to see here in 2017?” and sarcastically points out that “if this isn’t a house price bubble, I would hate to see one.” His bottom line: “If 2006/07 was the peak of the largest housing bubble in history with affordability never better vis a’ vis exotic loans; easy availability of credit; unemployment in the 4%’s; the total workforce at record highs; and growing wages, then what do you call “now” with house prices at or above 2006 levels; worse affordability; tighter credit; higher unemployment; a weakening total workforce; and shrinking wages? Whatever you call it, it’s a greater thing than the Bubble 1.0 peak.”

[..] Income required to buy the avg priced builder house is at historical highs and has completely diverged from the multi-decade trend line. Historically low growth & rebound relative to resales suggest “lack of supply” meme in the Existing Sales market is over-stated.

“Peak builder is here.”
1) New Home Sales “up to” 1995 levels after $15 TRILLION in debt and Fed liquidity aimed largely at the sector.
2) Builder pricing power largely flat for 2-years.
3) Income required to buy the average priced builder house has completely diverged from the multi-decade trend line. This obviously explains why sales are only at 600k SAAR now vs 1.2 million in Bubble 1.0. Reversion to this mean will occur…either thru a sharp rise in income; new exotic loan programs, which make payment less; or house prices dropping.

4) Last time builders were this euphoric was the peak of the biggest credit bubble in history.

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Rinse, forget and repeat.

Is This The Bubble? (Lance Roberts)

Every major market peak, and subsequent devastating mean reverting correction, has ever been the result of the exact ingredients seen previously. Only the ignorance of its existence has been a common theme. The reason that investors ALWAYS fail to recognize the major turning points in the markets is because they allow emotional “greed” to keep them looking backward rather than forward. Of course, the media foster’s much of this “willful” blindness by dismissing, and chastising, opposing views generally until it is too late for their acknowledgement to be of any real use. The next chart shows every major bubble and bust in the U.S. financial markets since 1871 (Source: Robert Shiller)

At the peak of each one of these markets, there was no one claiming that a crash was imminent. It was always the contrary with market pundits waging war against those nagging naysayers of the bullish mantra that “stocks have reached a permanently high plateau” or “this is a new secular bull market.” Yet, in the end, it was something that was unexpected, unknown or simply dismissed that yanked the proverbial rug from beneath investors. What will spark the next mean reverting event? No one knows for sure, but the catalysts are present from: • Excess leverage (Margin debt at new record levels) •IPO’s of negligible companies (Blue Apron, Snap Chat) • Companies using cheap debt to complete stock buybacks and pay dividends, and; • High levels of investor complacency.

Either individually, or in combination, these issues are all inert. Much like pouring gasoline on a pile of wood, the fire will not start without a proper catalyst. What we do know is that an event WILL occur, it is only a function of “when.” The discussion of why “this time is not like the last time” is largely irrelevant. Whatever gains that investors garner in the between now and the next correction by chasing the “bullish thesis” will be wiped away in a swift and brutal downdraft.

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Abe should just go. But before he does, he’ll throw Kuroda under the bus first, if he has the time.

Japan Defense Minister Quits Amid Plunging Support For PM Abe (R.)

Embattled Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada on Friday said she was resigning, after a series of gaffes, missteps and a cover-up at her ministry that have contributed to a sharp plunge in public support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Inada, 58, an Abe protege who shares his conservative views and had been suggested as a possible future premier, had already expected to be replaced in a likely cabinet reshuffle next week that Abe hopes will help rebuild his ratings. Support for the prime minister has sunk below 30% in some polls, due to scandals over suspected cronyism and a view among many voters that he and his aides took them for granted.

Abe apologized “to the people from my heart”, in comments to reporters carried live on national television after Inada announced her resignation. He said Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida would add the defense portfolio to his duties, to eliminate any gap at a time when Japan faces tough security challenges, such as from a volatile North Korea. “I want to make every effort to maintain a high degree of vigilance and protect the security of the people,” Abe said. Abe had drawn fire from both ruling and opposition party lawmakers for retaining Inada despite her perceived incompetence. “He should have thrown Inada under the bus long ago … doing so on the eve of a cabinet reshuffle only looks like desperation,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan.

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Taking it out before the real big scandals come up?

Libor, The Scandal-Ridden Financial Benchmark, Doesn’t Have Long To Live (Qz)

A global borrowing benchmark that became synonymous with rigged financial markets, and cost banks some $9 billion in fines, is going away. Andrew Bailey, the head of Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority, said in a speech today that the regulator will phase out the indicator, Libor, by the end of 2021. Bailey said the reason the London interbank offered rate is being scrapped is because the market underpinning the benchmark—unsecured bank lending—has dried up. For one particular Libor benchmark—there are many rates for various durations and currencies—there were only 15 transactions last year, he said. Such benchmarks have long been problematic and susceptible to manipulation. Libor, for example, is based on an estimate of what supposed experts at banks think a borrowing rate would be.

Bloomberg describes the process like this: “The benchmark is the average rate a group of 20 banks estimate they’d be able to borrow funds from each other in five different currencies across seven time periods, submitted by a panel of lenders every morning. Its administration was overhauled in the wake of the scandal, with Intercontinental Exchange Inc. taking over from the then-named British Bankers’ Association.” Before the financial crisis, banks submitted daily estimates of borrowing rates to the BBA, which then averaged them to calculate that day’s Libor rate. Via allegedly colluding, the banks submitting rates could nudge the average up or down, depending on what was needed to increase a profit or reduce a loss in their portfolios.

Libor is of global importance because it’s used to help determine borrowing costs for more than $300 trillion in securities, for things like student loans and mortgages. But as a trader once said in a transcript uncovered by regulators, it’s “just amazing how libor fixing can make you that much money.” The Libor scandal was also part of an era in which recorded electronic communications—chat messages—became evidence and got a lot of people in a lot of trouble. Similar market manipulation was discovered in things like foreign-currency exchange rates and commodity prices. And now Libor is being scrapped. Banks didn’t really want to participate in the rate-setting process anymore anyway, Bailey said, given the market had shrank by so much. (Their recent history of being fined billions for their role in daily rate submissions probably didn’t help.) Some new indicator will have to be agreed on.

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When I saw the headline, I thought they must either have been real inefficient before, or they’re selling teh kitchen sink and not investing a penny. And whaddaya know?

Shell’s Profits Treble As Cost Cuts Take Effect (PA)

Royal Dutch Shell has reported a large rise in second quarter profits after the energy giant was boosted by higher oil and gas prices. The firm said adjusted earnings rose from £800m to £2.7bn, an increase of 245 per cent, as chief executive Ben van Beurden said he is making progress on “reshaping the company”. He said: “Cash generation has been resilient over four consecutive quarters, at an average oil price of just under $50 per barrel. “The external price environment and energy sector developments mean we will remain very disciplined, with an absolute focus on the four levers within our control, namely capital efficiency, costs, new project delivery, and divestments.

“I am confident that we are on track to deliver a world-class investment to our shareholders.” The figures were flattered by a disastrous second quarter in 2016, when it was stung by dilapidated crude prices and costs linked to its takeover of BG Group. This time last year Brent Crude was trading at round 45 US dollars a barrel compared to circa 50 US dollars today. Shell is also embarking on an ambitious cost-cutting drive and a £24.6bn divestment initiative. To this end, the oil major has sold off more than £16bn of assets since the BG takeover. Shell this year announced it will sell off a package of North Sea assets for up to £3bn to smaller rival Chrysaor, and recently agreed to sell its stake in Irish gas project Corrib in a deal worth up to £956 million.

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Everybody does it.

Oil Companies Trim Drilling Budgets in Sign of Rising Caution (BBG)

Caution lights are flashing for the oil industry. Facing lower-than-expected commodity prices, drillers from ConocoPhillips to Hess to Statoil have slashed their capital spending plans in recent days, as companies lay out their plans to cope with oil prices stuck below $50 a barrel. The budget cuts won’t necessarily mean less oil or natural gas on the market, with some of the companies saying they can now do more with less and expect to produce just as much oil and gas in 2017. But they speak to an investor community that’s grown anxious as a global rally in crude prices has stalled out this year.

“The expectation was that oil would be at least above $50 by this time,” said Brian Youngberg, an energy analyst with Edward Jones & Co. in St. Louis. “Right now, the market wants you to spend within your cash flow, no exceptions allowed. It’s just a response to that.” The “modest tweaks” in this week’s second-quarter earnings reports will probably continue in the coming days, Youngberg said, as drillers focused on U.S. shale plays take center stage. “Companies are going to be cautious,” he said. “No one wants to be the outlier.”

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The Mt. Gox link is interesting. Will BTC-e also close?

US Indicts Russian Suspected of $4 Billion Bitcoin Laundering Scheme (R.)

A US jury indicted a Russian man on Wednesday as the operator of a digital currency exchange he allegedly used to launder more than $4 billion for people involved in crimes ranging from computer hacking to drug trafficking. Alexander Vinnik was arrested in a small beachside village in northern Greece on Tuesday, according to local authorities, following an investigation led by the US Justice Department along with several other federal agencies and task forces. US officials described Vinnik in a Justice Department statement as the operator of BTC-e, an exchange used to trade the digital currency bitcoin since 2011.

They alleged Vinnik and his firm “received” more than $4 billion in bitcoin and did substantial business in the United States without following appropriate protocols to protect against money laundering and other crimes. US authorities also linked him to the failure of Mt. Gox, a Japan-based bitcoin exchange that collapsed in 2014 after being hacked. Vinnik “obtained” funds from the hack of Mt. Gox and laundered them through BTC-e and Tradehill, another San Francisco-based exchange he owned, they said in the statement.

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Robert Fisk is part of our conscience.

The Syrian Army Were Standing Up To Isis Long Before The Americans (Fisk)

I don’t like armies. They are dangerous institutions. Soldiers are not heroes just because they fight. And I’ve grown tired of saying that those who live by the sword sometimes die by the sword. But in an age when the Americans and the Iraqis and Isis can account for 40,000 civilian deaths in Mosul in the past twelve months, compared to 50,000 civilians slaughtered by the Mongols in 13th-century Aleppo – a human rights improvement of US aircrews, Iraqi brutality and Isis sadism over the Mongol hordes by a mere 10,000 souls – death sometimes seems to have lost its meaning. Unless you know the victims or their families. I have a friend whose mother was murdered in the Damascus suburb of Harasta near the start of the Syrian war, another whose brother-in-law was kidnapped east of the city and never seen again.

I met a little girl whose mother and small brother were shot down by al-Nusrah killers in the town of Jisr al-Shughour, and a Lebanese who believes his nephew was hanged in a Syrian jail. And then, this month, in the eastern Syrian desert, near the dust-swept shack village of al-Arak, a Syrian soldier I’d come to know was killed by Isis. He was, of course, a soldier in the army of the Syrian regime. He was a general in an army constantly accused of war crimes by the same nation – the United States – whose air strikes contributed so generously to the obscene massacre in Mosul. But General Fouad Khadour was a professional soldier and he was defending the oil fields of eastern Syria – the crown jewels of Syria’s economy, which was why Isis tried to occupy them all and why they killed Khadour – and the war in the desert is not a dirty war like so many of the conflicts perpetrated in Syria.

When I met him west of Palmyra, Isis had just conquered the ancient Roman city and publicly chopped or blown off the heads of the civilians and soldiers and civil servants who did not manage to flee. Just a year before, the general’s son, also a soldier, had been shot dead in battle in Homs. Fouad Khadour merely nodded when I mentioned this. He wanted to talk about the war in the hot, brown mountains south of Palmyra, where he was teaching his soldiers to fight back against the Isis suicide attackers, to defend their isolated positions around the oil pumping and electricity transmission station where he was based, and to save the T4 pipelines on the road to Homs. The Americans, who proclaimed Isis to be an “apocalyptic” force, sneered that the Syrian army did not fight Isis. But Khadour and his men were standing up to Isis before the Americans ever fired a missile, and learning the only lesson that soldiers can understand when confronted by a horrific enemy: not to be afraid.

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The idea is not exactly new. But Macron wants to go it alone.

France Plans Asylum ‘Hotspots’ In Libya (BBC)

France says it plans to set up “hotspots” in Libya to process asylum seekers, in a bid to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. President Emmanuel Macron said the move would stop people not eligible for asylum from “taking crazy risks”. The centres would be ready “this summer”. He said that between 800,000 and a million people were currently in camps in Libya hoping to get into Europe. But many of them did not have a right to asylum, Mr Macron said. The French leader said that migrants were destabilising Libya and Europe by fuelling people-smuggling, which in turn funded terrorism. “The idea is to create hotspots to avoid people taking crazy risks when they are not all eligible for asylum. We’ll go to them,” he said on Thursday at a naturalisation ceremony in the central city of Orléans.

On Tuesday, Mr Macron mediated talks in Paris between Libya’s opposing governments. UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar, the rival military commander who controls the east, committed to a conditional ceasefire after the meeting. They are aiming to end the conflict which has engulfed the country since Col Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in 2011. Mr Macron and other EU leaders had been hoping for some sort of agreement, as Libya has become a key route for migrants making their way to Europe. The French leader said he hoped the deal would be a blow to the human traffickers who work in the region.

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This is not over. Macron wants to show he’s a tough guy, but pushing aside Italy is bad theater.

Italy Loses Patience With France’s Macron Over Migrants, Libya (VoA)

Macron’s Libya diplomacy is just one irritant in increasingly tension-filled Franco-Italian relations. In May, after meeting Gentiloni in Paris, Macron announced: “We have not listened enough to Italy’s cry for help on the migration crisis.” But Macron’s position since hasn’t changed much from Francois Hollande, his predecessor in the Elysee Palace, to the Italian government’s rising anger. “Italian pleas for more burden-sharing by other EU countries have, so far, fallen on deaf ears. Italy’s refugee centers and shelters have reached their capacity of 200,000. So far this year nearly 100,000 asylum seekers have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya — a 17% increase over the same period last year — and with months more of good weather, another 100,000 asylum seekers are likely to land at Italian ports.

This month, Italy’s deputy foreign minister, Mario Giro, complained, “it doesn’t seem like France wants to help us concretely.” French police are blocking hundreds of migrants on the Italian side of the border at Ventimiglia from entering France; the French government is refusing to allow asylum seekers rescued in the Mediterranean from landing at French ports and, like nearly every other EU country, France hasn’t come anywhere near meeting its quota of migrants as agreed to under a 2015 EU refugee relocation scheme. Macron this month talked of distinguishing between war refugees and economic migrants, indicating that France won’t admit any asylum-seekers who are just escaping poverty and hunger. But that doesn’t help Italy as it tries to cope with a mounting influx of mainly economic migrants, who, under EU rule, it has little alternative but to admit, at least for processing and to save lives.

Paris has also scorned an Italian proposal for an EU military mission to monitor and interdict migrants along Libya’s southern border. Italians question why a large French military mission in Niger isn’t being used to disrupt migrant trafficking when it is right by the main route being used by smugglers and would-be asylum seekers traveling north. Last month, the European Parliament’s most senior left-wing politician, Italian Gianni Pittella, launched a scathing attack on Macron after French police frogmarched back into Italy more than 100 migrants who’d crossed into France. “The situation is shameful. Italy and the Italians are being abandoned, they’re being expected to deal with all these migrants on their own with no support,” he said.

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I’ve said it before: help for refugees in fine, even though its distribution through NGOs is a colossal mess. But renting homes for refugees, and supplying them with money to live, is a huge blow in the face of the Greeks devastated by EU-induced austerity, who get nothing.

EU Announces New Emergency Support For Greek Refugee Crisis (AP)

The European Commission announced a new emergency support package for Greece Thursday to help it deal with the refugee crisis that has seen tens of thousands of migrants and refugees stuck in the country. The €209 million ($243 million) package includes a €151 million program to help refugee families rent accommodation in Greek cities and provide them with money in an effort to help them move out of refugee camps, EU officials said during a visit to Athens. The Commission said the new funding more than doubles the emergency support extended to Greece for the refugee crisis, bringing it to a total of €401 million.

The rental project is in cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and will provide 22,000 rental places with the aim of increasing the number of refugees living in rented apartments to 30,000 by the end of the year, including 2,000 places on Greek islands. A parallel scheme worth €57.6 million will provide refugees and asylum seekers with monthly cash stipends distributed through cash-cards for expenses such as transport, food and medication. “The projects launched today are one part of our wider support to the country but also to those in need of our protection,” said Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. “Around €1.3 billion of EU funds are at the disposal of Greece for the management of the migration crisis.”

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Jul 212017
 
 July 21, 2017  Posted by at 8:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Francis Bacon Three Studies of Lucian Freud 1969

 

European Central Bank Sticks To Low Rate Monetary Policy (R.)
Bill Gross Is Worried Central Banks Will Lead The World Into Recession (CNBC)
EU Threatens Poland With ‘Nuclear Option’ Over Supreme Court Control (Ind.)
Germany Steps Up Economic Pressure On Turkey In Rights Row (R.)
Britain Hasn’t Been This Risky in 40 Years (BBG)
Concorde Was The Flying Brexit (G.)
Why The Moaning? If Anything Can Halt Capitalism’s Fat Cats, It’s Brexit (G.)
Australia Prime Minister Quietly Issues Warning On House Prices (NCA)
Bitcoin Bubble Dwarfs Tulip Mania From 400 Years Ago – Prechter Jr (CNBC)
Elon Musk: I Got ‘Approval’ For New York-DC Hyperloop. Officials Deny (G.)
To Save Rural Iowa, We Must Oppose Monsanto-Bayer Merger (Dmr)
Son of Cecil The Lion Killed By Trophy Hunter (G.)

 

 

Same old song: he misses all targets and then vows to do more of the same. Tries to convey a message of recovery but talks about even more QE.

European Central Bank Sticks To Low Rate Monetary Policy (R.)

The European Central Bank left its ultra-easy monetary policy stance unchanged as expected on Thursday, keeping rates at record lows and even leaving the door open to more asset buys if the outlook worsens. After ECB chief Mario Draghi raised the prospect of policy tightening last month, he signalled that any policy tweaks would come only gradually, setting the scene for a possible discussion in September about a long-awaited tapering of its asset buys. “We need to be persistent and patient because we aren’t there yet, and prudent,” Draghi told his regular news conference after a meeting of ECB policy-makers in Frankfurt. He stressed that the bank’s governing council were unanimous both on the decision to keep its guidance unchanged and to avoid setting a precise date for a discussion of future policy, noting only that it would occur in the autumn.

The prospect of reduced monetary stimulus has kept financial markets edgy, with investors sifting through clues to gauge how big central banks around the globe will unwind unconventional policy that have kept borrowing costs at rock bottom. Euro and government bond yields across the bloc initially slipped after the statement. But as Draghi spoke, eurozone bond yields gained ostensibly on his confirmation of expectations that the taper would be discussed in autumn. The euro firmed more than 3% and German 10-year yields doubled since Draghi’s policy hint. Indeed, the euro’s 11% rise this year will weigh on inflation, compounding the impact of a more than 10% drop in crude oil prices. “As core inflation remains subdued, the ECB will likely prefer to err on the side of caution, that is moving more slowly rather than faster than many observers project,” Holger Schmieding at Berenberg noted.

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It’s the only thing they’re good at.

Bill Gross Is Worried Central Banks Will Lead The World Into Recession (CNBC)

Bond guru Bill Gross is warning about looming interest rate increases and the damage they can do to a debt-laden global economy. In his monthly investor outlook, the Janus Henderson Advisors fund manager said the course of global central banks toward tightening policy could be perilous for the economic recovery. Raising interest rates will increase the cost of short-term debt that corporations and individuals hold. In the U.S. alone, households have $14.9 trillion in debt while businesses owe $13.7 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. “While governments and the U.S. Treasury can afford the additional expense, levered corporations and individuals in many cases cannot,” Gross said. The Fed is on a course of gradual rate increases, with financial markets expecting it to approve one more rate hike this year.

In addition, other central banks are pulling the reins on bond-buying and other liquidity programs aimed at injecting cash into their respective economies. Gross charged that the adherence of central bankers to hard-and-fast rules that govern when they should tighten policy has “distorted capitalism as we once knew it, with unknown consequences lurking in the shadows of future years.” For instance, he cast doubt on the belief it takes short-term interest rates exceeding longer-term rates — a condition known in economist as an inverted yield curve — to produce a recession. “The reliance on historical models in an era of extraordinary monetary policy should suggest caution,” Gross wrote. “Logically (a concept seemingly foreign to central banks staffs) in a domestic and global economy that is increasingly higher and higher levered, the cost of short-term finance should not have to rise to the level of a 10-year Treasury note to produce recession.”

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The EU kicking members out? i’d call that a bluff. But the Union is shaking on its foundations.

EU Threatens Poland With ‘Nuclear Option’ Over Supreme Court Control (Ind.)

The President of Poland has been urged to veto a bill passed by lawmakers in the country that would give parliament the power to appoint Supreme Court judges. Guy Verhofstadt, the President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament, has called on President Andrzej Duda to take action and said the European Commission should trigger the EU’s Article 7 if the issue is not resolved. The Article has been often described as a “nuclear option” and can lead to the suspension of a member country’s voting rights. “The European Parliament made it clear earlier this week that these new laws are incompatible with EU Membership and would irredeemably weaken Poland’s future place in the West,” Mr Verhofstadt said. European Council President Donald Tusk, who is also a former Polish prime minister, called for an urgent meeting with President Duda to discuss the “political crisis” in the country.

Mr Tusk described the move as backwards backward and said it went “against European standards and values”. “The European Union is not only money and procedures. It is first and foremost values and high standards of public life. That is why a wave of criticism of the government is rising in Europe and in the whole West,” Mr Tusk said. The bill was passed despite objections from lawyers and opposition politicians after critcisms it undermines democracy and the rule of law. The move would put courts under direct government control and Poland’s human rights ombudsman, Adam Bodnar, told parliament that the legislation, would “deprive citizens of the right to an independent court”. “We are planting an explosive under our judiciary,” he said.

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And then Erdogan can send more refugees. Merkel screwed this up years ago.

Germany Steps Up Economic Pressure On Turkey In Rights Row (R.)

Germany told its citizens on Thursday to exercise caution if travelling to Turkey and threatened measures that could hinder German investment there, in a sign of growing impatience with a NATO ally after the detention of rights activists. The mass-selling daily Bild newspaper, citing government sources, also reported that Berlin was putting arms projects with Ankara on hold. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel highlighted alarm at what Berlin sees as the growing unpredictability of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. “Everyone can be affected. The most absurd things are possible,” he said in advice to travellers. Gabriel broke off his holiday to deal with the crisis after Turkey arrested six human rights activists including German national Peter Steudtner on accusations of terrorism, the latest in a series of diplomatic rows.

Germany, Turkey’s chief export partner, called the allegations absurd. “We need our policies towards Turkey to go in a new direction…we can’t continue as we have done,” Gabriel told reporters in unusually direct language touching on sensitive commercial matters including corporate investment guarantees. The Turkish foreign ministry said it would make the “necessary response” to comments it described as one-sided. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu later accused Germany of harbouring members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984, and the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen that Ankara blames for a failed coup last July. “As a country providing shelter to PKK and FETO terrorists in its own territory, statements by Germany are just double standards and unacceptable,” Cavusoglu said on Twitter.

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But that’s true for most of the world.

Britain Hasn’t Been This Risky in 40 Years (BBG)

Britain is having a flashback to the 1970s, and it’s not flared trousers making a comeback. As Parliament breaks for the summer, Prime Minister Theresa May needs to come up with answers to the political drama unfolding at home and threatening her Brexit strategy as investors predict more trouble on the horizon for a country once seen as the stable counterpoint to European turmoil. You would have to go back 40 years to find a time when the country was deemed this politically risky, according to Mark Dowding at London-based BlueBay Asset Management. The ambivalence toward Europe, the political fragility of the government and a population grown weary of making sacrifices are all reminiscent of a time when Britain was tormented over whether to join a forerunner of the European Union and an economic crisis forced it to seek a humiliating bailout.

“Back in the 1970s the U.K. went to the IMF eventually and that’s likely where we will be once more,” warned Dowding. “We seem to have created some self-inflicted wounds here and it looks like we’ll be struggling for some time.” Like Edward Heath in 1974, May took a gamble in calling a snap election only for the Conservatives to lose their majority. Unlike him, she stayed on but with her future the subject of constant speculation and her rival, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, waiting in the wings with a promise to loosen the fiscal reins. The latest poll shows that no prime minister since 1977 has been as unpopular as she is a mere month after prevailing in elections. The next big test of her authority will be the Conservative conference in October, where challengers for the leadership might emerge.

Eurasia Group Managing Director Mujtaba Rahman said that “even though May will survive through to the party conference it’s unclear whether she survives on the other side of that.” The fallout from the Brexit vote, May’s tenuous position and a heightened security alert have created a level of turmoil rarely seen since the so-called lost decade when widespread labor unrest and political instability played out against a backdrop of terrorist attacks by Irish republicans.

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Don’t know how far the analogy really goes, but a great headline.

Concorde Was The Flying Brexit (G.)

The idea that we now live in an age of ‘post-truth’ implies that once-upon-a-time politics was guided by objective reality. Clearly, this is nonsense. We shouldn’t mistake a period in which the media and political establishment offered more coherent stories for a time when politics was truthful. In the recent past, politics could be astonishingly dishonest, especially when it came to supporting national machines. Concorde, the fastest lame duck ever built, was a flying Brexit. The political establishment privately despaired about its costs, whilst knowingly pretending that the project would improve Britain’s place in the world. Few politicians actually believed in the Concorde project. It was accepted inside Whitehall that the scheme would be an economic disaster.

After Harold Wilson came to power in 1964, the Anglo-French supersonic airliner only survived because the government was concerned that unilaterally cancelling the project would lead the French to sue them for more than it would cost to continue to develop the machine. Edward Heath, the Conservative prime minister, also wanted to cancel Concorde. Heath even personally stopped Prince Phillip flying it on the grounds that it would be quite embarrassing for the government to scrap the aeroplane soon after it had been treated to a royal pilot. Concorde only continued because Heath wanted to enter the European Economic Community. Annoying the French was to be avoided. Once Britain was in the Community, the unions kept Concorde afloat.

The second Wilson administration, a minority government, could not risk killing off Concorde for fear that the resulting the outcry in the labour movement would endanger their fragile political position. What, then, did politicians say about Concorde? Well, Concorde was not only going to bring supersonic speed to civil air travel, but also ensure that Britain could capture a crucial new export market and create a world-beating aviation industry in the coming supersonic revolution. In this bright future, Britain’s technology would be bought across the world. Most of the politicians who made these arguments knew better.

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Brexit under Labour. How much worse could it be?

Why The Moaning? If Anything Can Halt Capitalism’s Fat Cats, It’s Brexit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn is not the first leader of the Labour party to have form as a Eurosceptic. Hugh Gaitskell was so fearful of the drive for European political union that he warned about Britain ending a thousand years of history as an independent state. Clement Attlee was no big fan of what was then called the common market either. But this was all a long time ago. Under a succession of leaders starting with Neil Kinnock, Labour warmed to Europe. In the 1980s, with Thatcherism rampant at home, the party saw Brussels as providing protection from free-market zealotry. In the 1990s, under Tony Blair, the feeling was that globalisation had made the nation state redundant. Even so, a small number of Labour MPs remained unreconciled. They pointed out that Labour’s love affair with Europe began just as Europe’s economic performance started to deteriorate.

They opposed the Maastricht treaty that paved the way for the single currency on the grounds that it would create an undemocratic central bank with deflationary tendencies. Corbyn was one member of this band. John McDonnell, now the shadow chancellor, was another. Unlike the majority of their parliamentary colleagues and most trade union leaders, they never bought the idea that being a progressive meant being positive about Europe. They saw nothing especially progressive about mass unemployment, the impact of the common agricultural policy on the developing world, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or the bias towards austerity ingrained in the stability and growth pact. Rather, they saw neoliberalism being hardwired into the European project. As indeed it was.

None of this really mattered until Corbyn became Labour leader two years ago. But since 2015 the maverick outsiders have become the maverick insiders. What’s more, the shambolic state of the Conservatives means that Corbyn and McDonnell could soon be neighbours in Downing Street and responsible for Brexit. Parliamentary arithmetic and the determination of the Tories to avoid another election at all costs makes this unlikely, but these are strange and unpredictable times. What Corbyn and McDonnell think about Europe now counts in a way that it didn’t before.

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“Clearly you need to remember that asset price movements go in two directions..”

Australia Prime Minister Quietly Issues Warning On House Prices (NCA)

The Prime Minister has issued a quiet warning to Australians investing in housing that they cannot continue to assume house prices will only go up. “Clearly you need to remember that asset price movements go in two directions,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said after a speech to an economics conference this week. In particular, this is relevant to housing. “It has been a pretty good one-way bet for a long time — but it is going to be important for people to be prudent.” Mr Turnbull made the comments alongside an observation that interest rates have risen for many borrowers. Interest rates are a big factor in the housing market. The lower the interest rate, the more you can borrow from the bank and the more you can pay for a house. Australians have borrowed a lot, and for now the risks of borrowing have been well managed, Mr Turnbull said.

But that could change. “High levels of indebtedness that are incurred with low levels of interest rates always pose a risk when you have the prospect of an increase in rates. Particularly if it has all been built on an assumption of rising asset prices.” Interest rates have been at record lows until banks recently tweaked up rates on certain investor loans. Higher interest rates across the whole housing market could be next. Financial market pricing hints that official interest rates are more likely to go up than down when the RBA next makes a move, perhaps in 2018. Mr Turnbull made his comments at the Economic and Social Outlook Conference, presented by the Melbourne Institute and The Australian. At the conference, which was thronging with people who watch the Australian economy with laser focus, Mr Turnbull was far from the only speaker worried about Australian house prices and debt.

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“Crypto tech is like the internet in 1999: It was poised to take over the world, but the NASDAQ still fell almost 90% during the dot-com bust of 2000-2002.”

Bitcoin Bubble Dwarfs Tulip Mania From 400 Years Ago – Prechter Jr (CNBC)

Just as many on Wall Street are warming up to bitcoin, one of the lone financial analysts who forecast a surge when the digital currency was just six cents now has an extremely negative view. “A bearish trifecta — the Elliott wave pattern, optimistic psychology and even fundamentals in the form of blockchain bottlenecks — will lead to the collapse of today’s crypto-mania,” analyst Elliott Prechter wrote in the July 13 edition of The Elliott Wave Theorist newsletter. “The price activity and manic sentiment that led to present prices have dwarfed even the Tulip mania of nearly 400 years ago,” he said. “The success of Bitcoin has spawned 800-plus clones (alt-coins) and counting, most of which are high-tech, pump-and-dump schemes.” “Nevertheless, investors have eagerly bid them up,” Prechter added.

He’s the son of the famed technical analyst Robert Prechter, who popularized the Elliott Wave by using it to forecast the stock market crash of 1987 and has published a newsletter since 1979. However, debate over the accuracy of the Elliott Wave has grown after Robert Prechter called the end of the 1990s bull market five years before it actually ended. The principle is a sophisticated form of technical analysis widely followed by traders that analyzes cycles of sentiment in an attempt to predict market performance — five waves typically signals a coming downturn. Regarding bitcoin, “under the Elliott Wave model, what we’re seeing, we’re making a final fifth wave from six cents,” the younger Prechter told CNBC in a phone interview Thursday.

“It does not imply it will go to zero. It does not imply it will go to six cents. I do think it will happen to the clones [newly formed digital currencies].” In September 2010, Elliott Prechter wrote in The Elliott Wave Theorist about bitcoin when it traded at 6 cents. Very few in the financial world seriously considered the digital currency at the time. “It proved to be the buying opportunity not just of a lifetime, but so far of all time,” Prechter said. Bitcoin hit a record of $3,025 in June, 50,000 times its price in 2010. The digital currency traded near $2,652 Thursday, more than twice where it started the year. [..] To be sure, Prechter told CNBC that a mania “can be both a mania and a revolution at the same time.”

Like many digital currency enthusiasts, he sees significant potential in the cryptocurrencies for automating the banking and legal industries. “The distant future of crypto is bright,” Prechter said in the report. “Crypto tech is like the internet in 1999: It was poised to take over the world, but the NASDAQ still fell almost 90% during the dot-com bust of 2000-2002.” But bitcoin may not be part of that future. “It’s too soon to know if Bitcoin is Facebook or MySpace,” Prechter said.

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The Tesla Tulip.

Elon Musk: I Got ‘Approval’ For New York-DC Hyperloop. Officials Deny (G.)

Elon Musk does not have government approval to build a Hyperloop tunnel from New York City to Washington DC. The Tesla executive took to Twitter this morning to tantalize his legion of fans and the tech press with the “news” that he had “just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins … City center to city center in each case, with up to a dozen or more entry/exit elevators in each city.” Lest any billionaires need to brush up on civics 101: the US system of government does not operate on “verbal government approvals”. Musk walked back his claim about 90 minutes later, tweeting: “Still a lot of work needed to receive formal approval, but am optimistic that will occur rapidly”. A lot of work is needed to receive formal approval, indeed.

Musk was received with typical credulity by the tech press, and considerable consternation by various government agencies. Several spokespeople who answered the phones at relevant city, state and federal government bodies laughed upon hearing of the claim that an interstate transit project with a significant street-level footprint in four of the east coast’s largest cities could be approved verbally. “Who gave him permission to do that?” asked a spokesman with the Maryland department of transportation. “Elon Musk has had no contact with Philadelphia officials on this matter,” said Mike Dunn, the city spokesman. “We do not know what he means when he says he received ‘verbal government approval’. There are numerous hurdles for this unproven ‘hyperloop’ technology before it can become reality.”

A spokesperson for the state of Pennsylvania confirmed that neither the governor nor the state’s department of transportation had been contacted by Musk or his company. Ben Sarle, a spokesman for the New York City mayor’s office, said in an email: “Nobody in City Hall, or any of our city agencies, has heard from Mr Musk or any representatives of his company.”

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Makes you ponder what voice people have left in their own societies.

To Save Rural Iowa, We Must Oppose Monsanto-Bayer Merger (Dmr)

Iowa farmers face a crisis. Crop prices have fallen by more than 50 percent since 2013, with no end in sight. At the same time, farmers hold more debt and possess fewer capital reserves to fall back on. In fact, farmers’ debt levels are almost as high as they were prior to the farm crisis of the mid-1980s. Meanwhile, a wave of mergers among the world’s agricultural giants is upending the markets for seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. If approved, the proposed merger would result in just two companies — Monsanto-Bayer and Dow-DuPont — controlling about three-quarters of the U.S. corn seed market. The power that these corporations would hold in the seed market is unprecedented.

Farmers are already being squeezed. The price of corn seed has more than doubled in the past 10 years — from $51 per acre in 2006 to $102 in 2015 — as a result of similar consolidation, including Monsanto’s purchases of DeKalb and Cargill’s international seed business. If the Monsanto-Bayer merger is permitted, this problem will only intensify, further limiting farmers’ choices and making the products they need even more expensive. The merger does not just strengthen Monsanto’s control over the corn seed industry. It also helps the company grow its dominance in other areas, like fertilizers, pesticides, and precision farming technology. Monsanto’s goal is to bundle all of these products together, sort of like how a cable company bundles internet, phone and television.

And just like with most cable companies, the service will be overpriced and shoddy because it will leave farmers with no other option. Yet this mega-merger is moving forward with barely a murmur of concern from our elected officials in Washington. Not a single senator raised this matter at confirmation hearings for Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Even worse, the nominee to lead the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division is a former lobbyist who asserted in a recent interview that “a monopoly is perfectly legal.” It is not surprising that Monsanto and Bayer alone spent $120 million in the last decade on lobbying elected officials at the federal level.

And while stopping the Monsanto-Bayer merger would be a good first step, we need to go even further to prevent these giants from bullying Iowa farmers. Monsanto and other agricultural giants like it are just too big. A century ago, President Teddy Roosevelt broke up the trusts and monopolies of his time because he understood that the deck was stacked against consumers, farmers and small businesses. We need to take a cue from Roosevelt and break up Monsanto and other Big Ag corporations like it.

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Easy solution, and high time: put a bounty on the heads of these idiots. Organize it halfway decently and you’ll get a lot of donations.

Son of Cecil The Lion Killed By Trophy Hunter (G.)

A son of Cecil the lion has been killed by trophy hunters in Zimbabwe, meeting the same fate as his father whose death in 2015 caused a global outcry. Xanda was six years old and had fathered a number of cubs himself. He was shot on 7 July just outside the Hwange National Park, not far from where Cecil died, but news of the death only became public on Thursday. The trophy hunt was organised by Zimbabwean private hunter Richard Cooke but his clients, who may have paid tens of thousands of dollars, have not been revealed. Xanda was wearing a GPS tracking collar, fitted by scientists led by Andrew Loveridge at Oxford University, who have studied the Hwange lions for many years.

“Xanda was one of these gorgeous Kalahari lions, with a big mane, big body, beautiful condition – a very, very lovely animal,” Loveridge told the Guardian. “Personally, I think it is sad that anyone wants to shoot a lion, but there are people who will pay money to do that.” “I put the collar on Xanda last October and spent a bit of time following him around,” he said. “You have handled them so you feel a personal engagement with the animal.” But Loveridge does not condemn trophy hunting outright: “Trophy hunting protects an area about the size of France and Spain combined in Africa. So if you throw trophy hunting out, what happens to all that habitat?” Xanda was the pride male in a group with two adult lionesses and cubs which roamed near the boundary of the national park.

“He was shot 2km from the park boundary, which is a hop and a skip for a lion,” Loveridge said. The scientists want a 5km no-hunting zone around the park. “It is something we have suggested for years,” he said. “But there is a lot of resistance because a lot of the hunting happens right on the boundary, because that is where the animals are. The photo-tourism operators in Hwange are very keen to have that discussion. They are annoyed that this has happened.” Xanda’s death poses no immediate danger to the 550-strong lion population in Hwange national park, which spreads over 15,000 square kilometres, Loveridge said: “The lion population is pretty healthy, but it would probably be better if it didn’t happen,” said Loveridge.

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 March 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Robert Capa Warsaw, Poland 1948

 

US Jobs Report Means Fed Rate Hike Is A Bolt-On Certainty (G.)
US Household Wealth Has Never Been Higher Relative To Income (ZH)
Rising Household Debt A Concern Across Asia (TEP)
Sessions Asks 46 Obama-Era US Attorneys To Resign (R.)
Trump’s Revised Travel Ban Dealt First Court Setback (R.)
Trump To Ask Merkel For Advice On Putin, Ukraine (R.)
Nobel Economist Deaton Takes Aim At Rent-Seeking US Economy (MW)
US Regulators Reject Bitcoin ETF, Digital Currency Plunges (R.)
The Bag Holder and His Bag (Jim Kunstler)
New Island To Be Built In North Sea Under ‘Science-Fiction-Like’ Plan (Ind.)
General Flynn and the Strategic Deficit (K.)
Turkey Loses Momentum In Northern Syria As US Supports Kurds (ARA)
UN Accuses Turkey Of Abuses Against Kurds In Country’s Southeast (AlJ)
Greek Court To Rule On Turkey’s ‘Safe Country’ Status (K.)
Lagarde Insists On Greek Debt Restructuring (K.)
Roman Citizens Are Breaking The Law To Feed And Help Refugees (R.)
World Faces Worst Humanitarian Crisis Since 1945 – UN (G.)

 

 

Don’t be surprised if Yellen gets cold feet.

US Jobs Report Means Fed Rate Hike Is A Bolt-On Certainty (G.)

The latest US jobs report removes any lingering doubts about whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next week. Following news that the world’s biggest economy generated 235,000 net new non-farm jobs in February, it is a bolt-on certainty that the central bank will push up the cost of borrowing by a quarter of a point. It is now almost 10 years since the start of the financial crisis ushered in a period of ultra-low interest rates and it has been clear for a while that the Fed is anxious to speed up the normalisation process. A healthy labour market is the key to that process and it would have taken a shockingly bad report to stay the bank’s hand. This was not it. Indeed, the financial markets have already moved on from next week to musing about how many more times the Fed will tighten during the course of 2017. The feeling is that two more rate rises are in prospect.

It certainly seems unlikely that next Wednesday’s rise will be the end of the matter. The report from the Bureau of Labour Statistics showed employment up by more than the 190,000 expected by Wall Street and unemployment at 4.7%. Annual wage growth is running at 2.8%. Policymakers at the Fed will look at this data and conclude that inflationary pressures are building as the economy approaches full employment. With US productivity so weak, the central bank will certainly be tempted to move again if and when earnings growth hits 3%. There was plenty for Donald Trump to welcome. A mild winter has resulted in a big increase in construction jobs. Manufacturing employment was also up. The only weak spot was retailing. The new president has plans for a big package of tax cuts and spending increases but fiscal easing will mean more aggressive tightening from the Fed, which is already starting to fret about the risks of the economy overheating.

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Print and borrow. Rinse and repeat.

US Household Wealth Has Never Been Higher Relative To Income (ZH)

For 45 years – until Alan Greenspan in 1994 – the average wealth-to-income of American households had held steady around 4.9x – but as of Q4 2016, for the first time in US history, household wealth has reached a point where it is 6.5 times large than inflation-adjusted household disposable income in America. As Bloomberg reports, the surge – driven by higher stock prices and property values, according to The Fed – pushed this measure of relative exuberance (think of it as the country’s price-to-earnings ratio) above the housing boom peak of mid-2000s and well above the dot-com bubble driven highs of the last 1990s. As Alliance Bernstein economist Joe Carson wrote in a note: “Economic and financial history do not always repeat, but sometimes they do.” So the question is – what happens next?

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Debt and wealth feel eerily similar.

Rising Household Debt A Concern Across Asia (TEP)

Government officials, policymakers, economists, bankers and experts gathered here for the Second Annual Asean Consumer and Household Debt Conference on Feb 22 and 23. The two-day event aimed to provide insight into the implications of household debt and the challenges faced by the policymakers. “Over the years, household financial liabilities as a share of personal disposable income has gone up in Asia,” said Akrur Barua, an economist at Deloitte Services LP, setting the tone for the conference. According to Barua, a number of factors have led to the rise in household debt in Asia. Rising incomes in Asia have resulted in higher consumer demand for products and services. Along with income growth, there is an increase in access to credit across Asian economies.

Post- 2008, policymakers also offered fiscal and monetary incentives to entice consumers to spend more. In addition, rising demand and a flow of liquidity led to a surge in asset prices, especially in the housing sector. With demand for housing remaining strong and house prices rising, the result has been a rapid increase in the value of housing loans or mortgages. “Cyclical credit outpaced cyclical growth from 2011 to 2015 in many Southeast Asian countries”, noted Vincent Conti, Asia-Pacific economist at Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services Singapore. According to Barua, the household debt burden in many Asian economies is now even higher than the US figure prior to 2009, before the global financial crisis (see Chart 1). In fact, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan have crossed the 80% mark in household debt-to-GDP ratio.

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David Stockman on Twitter: “46 Obama US Attorneys must go ASAP. That means you, Preet Bharara. Enough self-righteous bullies with badges! “

Sessions Asks 46 Obama-Era US Attorneys To Resign (R.)

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions abruptly asked the remaining 46 chief federal prosecutors left over from the Obama administration to resign on Friday, including Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who had been asked to stay on in November by then President-elect Donald Trump. Although U.S. attorneys are political appointees, and the request from Trump’s Justice Department is part of a routine process, the move came as a surprise. Not every new administration replaces all U.S. attorneys at once. A Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed the resignation requests included Bharara, whose office handles some of the most critical business and criminal cases passing through the federal judicial system.

Bharara met with Trump in Trump Tower on Nov. 30. After, Bharara told reporters the two had a “good meeting” and he had agreed to stay on. On Friday, Bharara was unsure where he stood because he did not know if the person who contacted him about resigning was aware that Trump had asked him to remain in office, according to a source familiar with the matter. It was not immediately clear if all resignations would ultimately be accepted. A Justice Department spokesman said on Friday Trump had called Dana Boente, acting U.S. deputy attorney general, to decline his resignation. Trump also called Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, his pick to take over as deputy attorney general, to keep him in his post, the spokesman said.

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Broader views are needed.

Trump’s Revised Travel Ban Dealt First Court Setback (R.)

A federal judge in Wisconsin dealt the first legal blow to President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban on Friday, barring enforcement of the policy to deny U.S. entry to the wife and child of a Syrian refugee already granted asylum in the United States. The temporary restraining order, granted by U.S. District Judge William Conley in Madison, applies only to the family of the Syrian refugee, who brought the case anonymously to protect the identities of his wife and daughter, still living in the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo. But it represents the first of several challenges brought against Trump’s newly amended executive order, issued on March 6 and due to go into effect on March 16, to draw a court ruling in opposition to its enforcement.

Conley, chief judge of the federal court in Wisconsin’s western district and an appointee of former President Barack Obama, concluded the plaintiff “has presented some likelihood of success on the merits” of his case and that his family faces “significant risk of irreparable harm” if forced to remain in Syria. The plaintiff, a Sunni Muslim, fled Syria to the United States in 2014 to “escape near-certain death” at the hands of sectarian military forces fighting the Syrian government in Aleppo, according to his lawsuit. He subsequently obtained asylum for his wife and their only surviving child, a daughter, and their application had cleared the security vetting process and was headed for final processing when it was halted by Trump’s original travel ban on Jan. 27.

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Those are Merkel’s blind spots. And Greece.

Trump To Ask Merkel For Advice On Putin, Ukraine (R.)

President Donald Trump will ask Chancellor Angela Merkel for advice on how to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. officials said on Friday, as the U.S. and German leaders meet next week after sometimes pointed disagreements in recent months. Merkel will visit the White House on Tuesday for talks with Trump and a joint news conference in what will be their first face-to-face meeting since the new U.S. president took power on Jan. 20. They are expected to discuss Germany’s level of defense spending for the NATO alliance, the Ukraine conflict, Syrian refugees, the EU and a host of other issues, said three senior Trump administration officials who briefed reporters.

During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, Trump regularly criticized Merkel for her open-door refugee policy, contrasting it with what he promised would be tighter controls in the United States if he won office. Merkel has been a leading critic of Trump’s effort to ban travelers temporarily from seven Muslim-majority nations, a list that has since been pared back to six. “My expectation is that they’ll have a very positive, cordial meeting,” said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Trump has long expressed desire for warmer U.S. relations with Russia but some of his top Cabinet officials are skeptical. “The president will be very interested in hearing the chancellor’s views on her experience interacting with Putin,” said another official. “He’s going to be very interested in hearing her insights on what it’s like to deal with the Russians.”

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Deaton is no fool.

Nobel Economist Takes Aim At Rent-Seeking Banking, Healthcare Industries (MW)

Income inequality is not killing capitalism in the United States, but rent-seekers like the banking and the health-care sectors just might, said Nobel-winning economist Angus Deaton on Monday. If an entrepreneur invents something on the order of another Facebook, Deaton said he has no problem with that person becoming wealthy. “What is not OK is for rent-seekers to get rich,” Deaton said in a luncheon speech to the National Association for Business Economics. Rent seekers lobby and persuade governments to give them special favors. Bankers during the financial crisis, and much of the health-care system, are two prime examples, Deaton said. Rent-seeking is not only does not generate new product, it actually slows down economic growth, Deaton said.

“All that talent is devoted to stealing things, instead of making things,” he said. Another prime example of rent-seeking is that the Medicaid is funding opioid prescriptions for low-income workers, Deaton said. The results are workers who are becoming addicted and overdosing while profits are going to the Sacker family which owns Purdue Pharma that makes OxyContin. Deaton said he favors a single-payer health system only because our current part-private and part-public system is exquisitely designed to give opportunities for rent-seeking. “So I, who do not believe in socialized health-care, would advocate a single-payment system…because it will get this monster that we’ve created out of the economy and allow the rest of capitalism to flourish without the awful things that healthcare is doing to us,” he said.

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But door is left open.

US Regulators Reject Bitcoin ETF, Digital Currency Plunges (R.)

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday denied a request to list what would have been the first U.S. exchange-traded fund built to track bitcoin, the digital currency. Investors Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss have been trying for more than three years to convince the SEC to let it bring the Bitcoin ETF to market. CBOE Holdings’ Bats exchange had applied to list the ETF. The digital currency’s price plunged, falling as much as 18% in trading immediately after the decision before rebounding slightly. It last traded down 7.8% to $1,098. Bitcoin had scaled to a record of nearly $1,300 this month, higher than the price of an ounce of gold, as investors speculated that an ETF holding the digital currency could woo more people into buying the asset.

[..] “Based on the record before it, the Commission believes that the significant markets for bitcoin are unregulated,” the SEC said in a statement. “The commission notes that bitcoin is still in the relatively early stages of its development and that, over time, regulated bitcoin-related markets of significant size may develop.” The regulators have questions and concerns about how the funds would work and whether they could be priced and trade effectively, according to a financial industry source familiar with the SEC’s thinking. [..] Advocates of the currency and the technology it relies on to document transactions, blockchain, were dismayed by the ruling. “How do we develop well-capitalized and regulated markets in the U.S. and Europe if financial innovators aren’t allowed to bring products to market that grow domestic demand for digital currencies like bitcoin?” asked Jerry Brito, executive director of Coin Center, an advocacy group.

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“RussiaGate — come on, let’s finally call it that —”

The Bag Holder and His Bag (Jim Kunstler)

[..] getting rid of Trump would only leave the Deep State with a bigger problem: itself. That is, an economy and a society that can’t be governed by any means. I think many professional observers-of-the-scene are missing something in this unspooling story: the Deep State is actually becoming more impotent and ineffectual, not omnipotent. Case in point: RussiaGate — come on, let’s finally call it that — the popular idea that Russia hacked the 2016 presidential election. It’s popular because it’s such a convenient excuse for the failure of a corrupt, exhausted, and brain-dead Democratic establishment. But all the exertions of the Deep State to put over this story since last summer were negated this week by two events.

First, there was former NSA Director James Clapper’s appearance on NBC’s Sunday Meet the Press show with Chuck Todd featuring the following interchange: CHUCK TODD: Does intelligence exist that can definitively answer the following question, whether there were improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials? JAMES CLAPPER: We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say, “our,” that’s N.S.A., F.B.I. and C.I.A., with my office, the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that included in our report. CHUCK TODD: I understand that. But does it exist? JAMES CLAPPER: Not to my knowledge. And so what to make of the RussiaGate histrionics served up by CNN, The New York Times, the WashPo, NPR, and sundry tools as Senator Chuck Schumer (D–NY)?

What I make of it is a growing civil war in the government itself, and perhaps something arguably like sedition. Second matter: this week’s release of Wikileaks’ Vault-7 trove of purloined government documents. These seem to suggest that US Intel agencies have acquired the ability to spoof any activity on any sort of computer or program that makes it impossible to track the identity of any hacker and, what’s more, gives US Intel a tool to make any party appear culpable for any given case of hacking — meaning that if so called computer hacking “footprints” had been discovered linking Russia to the Hillary-DNC-Podesta emails, those footprints could have been engineered by US Intel itself… meaning further that any so-called “evidence” of Russian election hacking could not be proven one way or the other.

Now, this might be too fine a point for the RussiaGate partisans, but I don’t see how it fails to moot the issue. The partisans are still finding other ways to propagandize. On Thursday evening, NPR ran a story about Russia breaking a missile agreement with this wrap-up from correspondent David Welna: WELNA: Still unclear is how President Trump, an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, might respond to Moscow’s defiance. David Welna, NPR News, Washington. That lapse of newsmanship is the kind of thing that makes me (a still-registered Democrat) want to support the defunding of NPR.

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Far too many people still claim we can replace our current energy consumption with renewables. That idea will have to die first.

New Island To Be Built In North Sea Under ‘Science-Fiction-Like’ Plan (Ind.)

A vast artificial island is to be built at Dogger Bank in the North Sea, complete with a harbour, airstrip and homes, to help provide a vast new supply of renewable energy, under plans drawn up by two companies with the blessing of the European Union. The North Sea Wind Power Hub would act as a hub for offshore wind turbines and a new place to put solar panels, according to the German and Dutch arms of electricity firm TenneT and Danish company Energinet. The firms will sign a deal creating a consortium to develop the plan further in Brussels on 23 March in the presence of European Energy Union Commissioner, Maos Sefcovic. Torben Glar Nielsen, Energinet’s Danish technical director, said: “Maybe it sounds a bit crazy and science fiction-like, but an island on Dogger Bank could make the wind power of the future a lot cheaper and more effective.”

It is thought the island – or possibly islands – could act as a hub for thousands of new wind turbines, which would eventually generate green electricity for more than 80 million people. Under the proposals, the island would be connected by electricity cables to the UK, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Belgium. Mel Kroon, TenneT’s chief executive, said: “This project can significantly contribute to a completely renewable supply of electricity in north-west Europe. “TenneT and Energinet.dk both have extensive experience in the fields of onshore grids, the connection of offshore wind energy and cross-border connections.

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Flynn’s escapades as a foreign agent for Turkey are making Greeks very nervous.

General Flynn and the Strategic Deficit (K.)

It is as if a torpedo passed under our keel and we saw it only when it exploded elsewhere. The recent revelations from President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, retired General Michael Flynn, showed that we had a close call. A lawyer for Flynn filed paperwork with the Justice Department declaring that last year he undertook lobbying work that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.” For the work between August and November, Flynn Intel Group Inc was paid 530,000 dollars. Flynn was forced to resign from the position of Trump’s top security aide in February when it emerged that although he had met with the Russian ambassador to the United States he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about this, after which the latter repeated Flynn’s lies in public.

The extent of Flynn’s dealings with Russia and Turkey is not known, but it is clear that if he had not resigned he would have remained, at least, a former strong supporter of Turkey. On November 8, Flynn had published an opinion piece in The Hill, a Washington-based political newspaper, titled “Our ally Turkey is in crisis and needs our support.” Flynn argued that the United States should extradite the self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims was behind the failed coup in Turkey last July. “We should not provide him safe haven,” Flynn wrote of Gulen. “In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.”

On Wednesday, The Hill’s editor added a note to the piece, clarifying that the newspaper did not know that Flynn had been paid to write it, nor that the draft had been shown earlier to a Dutch company, Inovo BV, which, the note said, is “owned by a Turkish businessman with ties to Turkey’s president.” The Associated Press reported that according to the documents filed, Flynn, who was then a top aide to presidential candidate Trump, met in September with the Turkish ministers of foreign affairs and energy.

The cooperation ended in November, and though it is difficult to believe that Flynn was paid half a million dollars for one op-ed piece, we cannot claim that as national security adviser he would have made Turkish interests his priority. At the same time, can we really have expected him to have been completely unbiased in any Greek-Turkish dispute? We still don’t know the interests of people around the American president – who himself has business interests in Turkey, among other countries. Nothing is as it was. Prior US strategy cannot be taken for granted. This makes it imperative for our country to be clear about its own course, to implement its strategy calmly and decisively. We must avoid being caught up in the game of our excitable neighbors and keep our eyes on where we want to go.

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Things are only getting more confusing.

Turkey Loses Momentum In Northern Syria As US Supports Kurds (ARA)

Turkey has lost momentum in the war for northern Syria as the United States draws on Kurdish allies in the assault on ISIS-held Raqqa, but Ankara is still pressing Washington for a deal that allays its fears of Kurdish ascendancy. Syrian Kurdish groups meanwhile sense Washington is now more firmly behind them than before, a shift they hope will eventually aid their ambitions for autonomy after years of persecution by the Syrian government. One of the most complicated theatres in the multi-sided Syrian conflict, the war in the north has played out at lightning pace in the last few weeks with ISIS fighters either withdrawing or collapsing in swathes of territory. The Russian-backed Syrian army has benefited from this, creating a corridor to the Euphrates River that secures Aleppo’s water supplies and suggests at least tacit coordination with US-allied Kurdish militia – at Turkey’s expense.

In a swipe at Washington, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Tuesday it was unfortunate that some of Turkey’s allies had chosen the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a partner in the fight against ISIS in Syria. “The field in Syria at the moment is really very complicated,” said a senior Turkish official, stressing the fast-moving nature of events and the urgent need for agreement. “Anything could happen at any moment.” “Such a harsh step in completely excluding Turkey there will cause a problem for relations between the countries,” the Turkish official said. “Hence a share point must be found. Talks are still continuing.”

[..] Ankara had hoped to advance its strategy in northern Syria by persuading Washington to abandon its Kurdish allies and switch support to Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel groups for the final assault on Raqqa – a northern Syrian city that is ISIS’s de facto capital. But any hopes of this have faded in recent days. Conflicting US and Turkish agendas have surfaced clearly over Manbij, a city controlled by Kurdish-allied fighters since its capture from ISIS last year. A deployment of US forces there last week deterred a threatened Turkish attack. Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made clear Turkish sensitivities about the presence of Kurdish fighters in Manbij, a town Ankara sees as the next stepping stone in creation of a safe zone free of Kurdish influence west of the Euphrates. “We will not allow the YPG’s canton dreams (to come true),” NTV television cited Cavusoglu as saying. “If we go to Manbij and the PYD is there, we will hit them.”

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High time for EU, US to take a stand against Turkey, but the courage is failing.

UN Accuses Turkey Of Abuses Against Kurds In Country’s Southeast (AlJ)

A UN report has accused Turkish security forces of human rights violations during operations against Kurdish fighters in the country’s southeast, drawing an angry response by Turkey which rejected it as “biased”. The report by the UN Human Rights Office on Friday detailed accusations of massive infrastructure destruction, unlawful killings and other serious abuses committed between July 2015 and December 2016 following the collapse of a ceasefire. The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish state were engaged in a war for almost 30 years until a 2013 truce was declared and the two sides launched peace talks. The ceasefire largely held until the summer of 2015, and since then the two sides have been engaged in escalating clashes. Turkey, the US and the EU all consider the PKK a “terrorist” group.

The UN said that its study, which was carried through “remote monitoring”, was based on interviews, analysis of information provided by Turkey’s government and NGOs, as well as official records, open source documents, satellite images and other materials. Citing data from various sources, the report said that around 2,000 people were killed in the region between July 2015 and December 2016 amid security operations. “Reports generally put the number of local residents killed at approximately 1,200, of whom an unspecified number may have been involved in violent or non-violent actions against the state,” it said, adding that about 800 members of security forces were reportedly killed in clashes. More than 355,000 people were displaced and entire neighbourhoods were destroyed in various parts of southeastern Turkey, the report said.

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How could it possibly declare Turkey safe?

Greek Court To Rule On Turkey’s ‘Safe Country’ Status (K.)

Greece’s highest administrative court is expected to rule later this month on whether Turkey can be considered a safe country for refugees being returned under a deal with the European Union. The Council of State’s plenary on Friday heard arguments based on the appeal of two Syrian nationals whose asylum applications were rejected by the Greek Asylum Committee. The Syrians’ lawyers argued that the rejection is a violation of the UN Charter of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention as the committee based its decision solely on Turkey’s assurances, without a proper assessment of conditions in the neighboring country.

Another plaintiff acting on their behalf, the Greek Council for Refugees, has also raised questions regarding the partiality of the judges serving on the Asylum Committee’s panels. The appeal comes after seven judges at the Council of State’s Fourth Chamber ruled in favor of the Asylum Committee’s decision, saying that Turkey’s participation in the Geneva Convention defines it as a safe country. If the plenary upholds the Syrians’ appeal, this could undermine the deal signed between the European Union and Turkey a year ago for the latter to take back rejected asylum claimants in exchange for financial assistance.

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Yada yada.

Lagarde Insists On Greek Debt Restructuring (K.)

International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde has reiterated that Greece’s mountainous debt needs restructuring. Speaking to French newspaper Le Parisien, Lagarde insisted that the IMF can only join the Greek program if Athens implements more reforms and the country’s debt is made manageable. “We also need a sustainable debt,” she told the paper, adding that this could be done in different ways, including an extension of loan repayment periods and lower interest rates. She also said she was trying to convince European leaders to accept that Greece needs debt relief.

Meanwhile, representatives of Greece’s international creditors were expected to leave the capital on Friday without having reached an agreement with government officials on contentious issues including pension reform and overhauls to labor rights and the tax system. The IMF said some progress was made but differences “remain in important areas.” Despite the insistence by European officials that a conclusion of the bailout review is unlikely before May, the Greek government indicated that there is enough time for an agreement significantly sooner than that though probably not in time for a March 20 Eurogroup.

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Sounds very familiar 😉

Roman Citizens Are Breaking The Law To Feed And Help Refugees (R.)

Volunteers served macaroni in marinara sauce to dozens of migrants outside one of Rome’s biggest train stations this week, offering help to travelers largely ignored by institutions on the frontline of Europe’s migrant crisis. While other European cities including Milan have set up information centers and shelters for migrants, Rome has repeatedly cleared out impromptu camps citing security concerns. “We’ve had 13 evictions,” Andrea Costa, director of the Baobab Experience group of volunteers, said before the migrants settled in for a cold night. To keep from being cleared out yet again, volunteers cook meals at home and bring them to a bare plaza outside Tiburtina station where tents are set up at 9 p.m. and taken down in the early morning. There are now 50 migrants staying here, mostly from Africa, as they attempt to reach other European countries.

That number is expected to soar this summer with sea arrivals to Italy up 60% already this year after setting a record last year. “With boat arrivals at this pace, in a little while we’ll have hundreds of people to take care of,” Costa said. Baobab saw between 500 and 1,000 migrants per day last summer, and volunteers have helped almost 63,000 migrants over the past two years with no state funding – only donations. Robel Tesfit, a 27-year-old Eritrean-Ethiopian who everybody calls “Bob,” arrived in Italy by sea in 2015, hoping to reach Britain where he wanted “to play for Manchester United.” He never made it to Britain, and returned to Rome where he was granted asylum. Now he uses his knowledge of Italian, Arabic, Tigrinya and Amharic to help Baobab volunteers, who gave him food, shelter and advice on his journey.

Pointing to the men and women lining up for pasta, he said: “When I arrived, I was the same as them.” While Italy has shelters to house 175,000 asylum seekers, it does not fund structures for migrants in transit, in part because the European Union wants to stop migrants from moving on, not help them to do so. EU law says they must seek asylum in the country where they first set foot. At the end of last year, Rome set aside about 60 beds in a nearby Red Cross center for travelers and officials say they want to renovate a hotel near the station to provide beds for about 100 more.

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20 million people. And we think about the value of our houses. And where to go on holiday.

World Faces Worst Humanitarian Crisis Since 1945 – UN (G.)

The world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war with more than 20 million people in four countries facing starvation and famine, a senior United Nations official has warned. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, “people will simply starve to death” and “many more will suffer and die from disease”, Stephen O’Brien, the UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the security council in New York on Friday that He urged an immediate injection of funds for Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria plus safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid “to avert a catastrophe.” “To be precise,” O’Brien said, “we need $4.4bn by July”. Unless there was a major infusion of money, he said, children would be stunted by severe malnutrition and would not be able to go to school, gains in economic development would be reversed and “livelihoods, futures and hope lost”.

UN and food organisations define famine as when more than 30% of children under age 5 suffer from acute malnutrition and mortality rates are two or more deaths per 10,000 people every day, among other criteria. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations [in 1945],” O’Brien said. “Now, more than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine.” O’Brien said the largest humanitarian crisis was in Yemen where two-thirds of the population — 18.8 million people — need aid and more than seven million people are hungry and did not know where their next meal would come from. “That is three million people more than in January,” he said.

[..] For 2017, O’Brien said $2.1bn was needed to reach 12 million Yemenis “with life-saving assistance and protection” but only 6% has been received so far. He announced that secretary-general Antonio Guterres will chair a pledging conference for Yemen on 25 April in Geneva. The UN humanitarian chief also visited South Sudan, the world’s newest nation which has been ravaged by a three-year civil war, and said “the situation is worse than it has ever been.” “The famine in South Sudan is man-made,” he said. “Parties to the conflict are parties to the famine — as are those not intervening to make the violence stop.” O’Brien said more than 7.5 million people need aid, up by 1.4 million from last year, and about 3.4 million South Sudanese are displaced by fighting including almost 200,000 who have fled the country since January.

“More than one million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished across the country, including 270,000 children who face the imminent risk of death should they not be reached in time with assistance,” he said.

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