Dec 162018
 
 December 16, 2018  Posted by at 10:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Klee Carnival in the snow 1923

 

Why The Fed Won’t Save The Stock Market (MW)
Why The US-China Trade Talks Will Work: The Personal Touch (Kuhn)
12 Months Of Bitcoin Misery (MW)
Failed By Both Major Parties, Betrayed Britain Lurches Towards The Abyss (G.)
British Minister Warns Brexit Is Stuck As No-Deal Or Referendum Loom (R.)
UN Climate Change Talks Avoid Contentious Issues In Draft Agreement (O.)
Deportations Under Trump Are On The Rise But Still Lower Than Obama’s (WaPo)
How The ‘Five Eyes’ Cooked Up The Campaign To Kill Huawei (SMH)
The Russia Investigations: A Case Still Unproven (NPR)
How Putin’s Russia Turned Humour Into A Weapon (BBC)
Late Night Swapped Laughs For Lusting After Mueller (S.us)

 

 

Where do we start? Because they killed it beyond salvation? Because to save it they would have to retreat completely? Because they have no idea what’s going on since all they know is based on false assumptions? Take your pick.

Why The Fed Won’t Save The Stock Market (MW)

Another brutal week left the stock market with its worst start to a December in 38 years, and a meeting of Federal Reserve policy makers might not offer the relief some investors are pining for when they conclude a two-day policy meeting on Wednesday, says one economist. How bad was it? Stocks ended a week of often whipsaw trading with a decided move to the downside Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped nearly 500 points, leaving it more than 10% below its early October all-time closing high, meeting a widely used definition of a market correction. It joined the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite which were already in correction mode. The S&P and Dow are negative for 2018, while the Nasdaq is clinging to a 0.1% year-to-date rise.

And it’s hardly an auspicious start to a month that’s historically a positive one for equities. Over the first nine trading days of the month, the Dow is down 5.6%, the S&P is off 5.8% and the Nasdaq is 5.7% in the red. That’s the worst start to a December for all three benchmarks since 1980, according to Dow Jones Market Data. That sounds bad, but it probably isn’t bad enough to convince the Fed to pause when it comes to interest-rate rises, said Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets, in a note. Remarks by Fed officials, including Jerome Powell, have led some investors to look for the central bank to potentially end the rate-hike cycle after delivering a December increase, but Porcelli argued that still strong economic data meant the debate should be more focused on the merits of policy makers’ expectations for three or more rises in 2019.

And while stock-market volatility has seen a significant uptick, “equities have not deteriorated enough to warrant a pause,” Porcelli said, noting that unlike, say, the emerging-market crisis of 1998 when stocks fell sharply, U.S. equities today are still basically flat year-to-date when it comes to total returns. “On that basis, it is also worth pointing out that you cannot make the case that there is a negative wealth effect at play that is feeding through to the macro backdrop,” he wrote.

Read more …

Everybody knows a solution must be found.

Why The US-China Trade Talks Will Work: The Personal Touch (Kuhn)

The dinner meeting between the two presidents, Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, lasted well longer than planned. Xi began with a well-prepared, detailed presentation that lasted 45 minutes and impressed even the US hardliners in attendance with its substance and resolve. Trump, as expected, extolled the meeting, but more meaningfully, I believe, China’s Ministry of Commerce immediately went on record to call the talks “very successful”. Other Chinese officials quickly affirmed that new measures would combat intellectual property theft. Even more significant, perhaps, rumours were afoot that major changes were in the works for “Made in China 2025,” including reductions in state subsidies for new technologies and a greater openness to participation by foreign companies.

The announcement that US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a China hawk, was placed in charge of negotiations was greeted positively by Chinese officials who have long requested clarity in a single US point person with whom to negotiate. It is a socio-political principle that nationalistic hawks can often achieve peace more easily than globalist doves because it is more difficult for domestic detractors to undercut them as being “soft”. Regarding the apparent 90-day “drop dead” date, Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, said “If there’s good, solid movement and good action, he ‘[Trump] might be willing to extend.”

The arrest of Huawei’s CFO triggered accusations and counter accusations, but neither side, tellingly, called the trade talks into question. In fact, there were parallel affirmations the talks would continue. Peter Navarro, the White House adviser considered with good reason to be the most hawkish on China, said that stock markets should be “patient and optimistic”. Navarro, he of the “death by China” screed, said what? Optimistic! Moreover, when I speak to Chinese economists, I hear the conviction that many of the US demands – IPR protection, opening up markets, reductions in state subsidies – are precisely what China needs to do anyway.

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The swings forbid any notion of it being an investment.

12 Months Of Bitcoin Misery (MW)

Monday, Dec. 17, will mark one year since the price of bitcoin — the best-known cryptocurrency — hit an all-time high just shy of $20,000. For bulls who bought the hype, it’s been a long — and painful — ride down. At the time, the digital currency was up more than 1,000% for 2017, both the CME Group and Cboe had just launched bitcoin futures contracts, and everyone seemed to be making money as talk about the previously obscure crypto market made its way into the mainstream media. In retrospect, it appeared all too easy: Bitcoin rose 11 of the 12 weeks leading up to the Dec. 17 peak and logged gains in eight of the last nine months in 2017. Day traders were millionaires, analysts were predicting further drastic price increases and investors jumped on what looked like an endless gravy train.

According to Crypto Fund Research, 85 crypto-related funds launched in the first three months of 2018, and at Jan. 1 2018, there was $5.8 billion of assets under management in the crypto hedge fund industry, compared with $675 million a year earlier. But, in the blink of an eye, the tide turned: A January correction soon turned into a collapse and then turned into what was dubbed a prolonged crypto winter — a season that has yet to end. From their peaks, most major coins lost more than 80%. Bitcoin has shed as much as 85%. Ether, the popular currency that runs on the ethereum blockchain, fell as much as 95%, losing its title of the second-largest digital currency.

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Britain’s been too slow to ditch its old parties. Same as US. All over continental Europe, the process has started already.

Failed By Both Major Parties, Betrayed Britain Lurches Towards The Abyss (G.)

The seesaw is smashed. The pendulum is stuck. The tides are frozen. All the trusty images that used to help explain British politics have been scrambled by Brexit. Back in simpler times, a bad week for one politician or party translated into a good one for a rival. Seesaws went up and down. Pendulums swung. Tides flowed in and out. It is one of the unique characteristics of the Brexit crisis that it makes winners of none and losers of all. The past seven days have demonstrated that this is a wind so ill that it blows no one any good. The most deserved losers are the Brexit ultras. They finally launched their leadership coup and failed miserably. Without a plausible plan or a credible leader, these are the men who put the ass into assassin.

After all their prating about “taking back control”, they couldn’t even organise the removal of a mortally wounded prime minister. The Brexit fanatics have always been a minority of a minority and now no one can be in any doubt about that. And this same gang claim they could negotiate a superior agreement with the EU or handle a no-deal Brexit in 100 days that are left? Oh, please. Yet there was no humility in defeat from the ultras. It was with a poisonous lack of grace that they continued to demand Mrs May’s resignation even after she had prevailed in the confidence vote that they forced upon their party. You are entitled to belly laugh the next time that anyone tries to commend Jacob Rees-Mogg as a courteous gentleman.

The mask of phoney civility slipped when this serpent in a double-breasted suit continued to hiss for Mrs May’s head after his coup had failed. Alas for her, the defeat of her tormentors did not amount to a victory for the prime minister. To keep her job for now, she had to pledge to give it up before the next election. Mrs May purchased her survival in the currency of humiliation. [..] Mrs May remains imprisoned by the parliamentary maths, her past mistakes and her lack of dexterity. After all the to and fro between Westminster and European capitals, pinging from one side of the Channel to the other like a battered shuttlecock, there is no better prospect of her deal passing the Commons than there was on Monday when she swerved the vote.

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Now the Tories want a second vote?!

British Minister Warns Brexit Is Stuck As No-Deal Or Referendum Loom (R.)

Britain’s exit from the European Union was heading for an impasse, one senior minister said on Saturday, after a week in which Prime Minister Theresa May failed to win EU assurances on her deal and pulled a vote because UK lawmakers would defeat it. With just over 100 days until Britain leaves the bloc on March 29, Brexit remains up in the air with growing calls for a no-deal exit, a potentially disorderly divorce that business fears would be highly damaging, or for a second referendum. May pulled a vote on her deal on Monday after acknowledging it would be heavily defeated over concerns about the “backstop”, an insurance policy designed to avoid any hard land border for Ireland but which critics say could bind Britain to EU rules indefinitely.

Two days later, she survived a plot to oust her from those in her own party who support a hardline Brexit, showing the level of opposition she faced. May herself has acknowledged that Britain’s parliament appears deadlocked with no clear support for any option, with the small Northern Irish party that props up her government leading the criticism of her deal. “Brexit is in danger of getting stuck – and that is something that should worry us all,” pensions minister Amber Rudd wrote in Saturday’s Daily Mail newspaper. “If MPs (lawmakers) dig in against the prime minister’s deal and then hunker down in their different corners, none with a majority, the country will face serious trouble.”

[..] Rudd – one of five ministers who, according to newspapers, are leaning toward having a second referendum – said a no-deal scenario “mustn’t be allowed to happen” and urged lawmakers from all parties come together to stop it. “We need to try something different. Something that people do in the real world all the time, but which seems so alien in our political culture – to engage with others,” she said. “We need to acknowledge the risk that parliament could spend the next precious few months debating about preferred solutions and end up with no compromise, no agreement and no deal.”

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These conferences are simply the wrong way to treat the issue. Incumbent governments and industries owe their powers to what they must now change radically. That threatens those powers, so they’ll delay where they can.

UN Climate Change Talks Avoid Contentious Issues In Draft Agreement (O.)

The UN met on Saturday in Poland to discuss a draft agreement on climate change, which sources said was likely to pass, as exhausted delegates made compromises on some key issues but left other contentious problems to be resolved next year. The result will not be the breakthrough campaigners and some countries were hoping for, but will keep discussions alive on formulating key aspects of the implementation rules for the 2015 Paris accord. Delegates have been thrashing out a text on the complex mechanisms required to put the Paris goals into effect for the past two weeks, and appeared partly successful as the talks overran their Friday deadline and looked likely to continue into late afternoon on Saturday at least.

The text will give countries clarity on key points such as accounting for their greenhouse gas emissions and recording their carbon reductions. They will also go some way to encourage the stepping up of each country’s climate change efforts. Among the issues holding up progress is the highly technical question of what should happen to the market for carbon credits, held by some countries in recognition of their emissions-cutting efforts and their carbon sinks, such as forests. These credits count toward countries’ emissions-cutting targets. Brazil introduced wording that would benefit the country for its huge rainforest cover, but critics said contained loopholes that allowed for double counting of carbon credits would severely undermine the integrity of the system.

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Not to say what happens today is not bad, but that it’s happened for many years. it’s America, not Trump.

Deportations Under Trump Are On The Rise But Still Lower Than Obama’s (WaPo)

Amid President Trump’s push for tighter immigration policies, the United States deported more than 256,000 people in 2018 — the highest number since the Obama administration, new data shows. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deputy Director Ronald D. Vitiello announced Friday that in the past fiscal year, which ended in September, ICE has detained “a record number” of people in the country illegally and that the number of those deported has risen about 13 percent since 2017. The data, which comes from a new agency report, shows that 145,262 of those deported were convicted criminals and that 22,796 had criminal charges pending against them. In addition, 5,872 were reported as known or suspected gang members, and 42 were believed to be terrorists, according to the report.

The number of families and unaccompanied children who were deported also increased. ICE said that 2,711 who were traveling in families and 5,571 unaccompanied children were removed from U.S. soil. “We’ve continued to achieve gains in all meaningful enforcement measurements,” Vitiello said, despite significant underfunding. The strain on resources is a consequence of current border crisis, he said. “With the continued surge and without congressional action to fund the agency at adequate levels, ICE may be forced to make difficult choices that could hamper our ability to fulfill our public safety or national security mission,” he added, noting that the agency does not want to release detainees as a result of budgetary constraints because it would create a public safety risk.

[..] Mary Bauer, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said it is “appalling and morally unconscionable that this is the place where we find ourselves” — deporting people “without a sense of priorities.” “It used to be that there was a sense that they were looking for people who had committed serious crimes,” she said in a phone interview with The Washington Post. In fact, U.S. deportation numbers were higher during the Obama administration, reaching 409,849 in 2012, according to ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations reports. Data shows that in 2015 and 2016, however, the number of those deported dropped to 235,413 and 240,255, respectively.

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They’re all ruled by their intelligence services.

How The ‘Five Eyes’ Cooked Up The Campaign To Kill Huawei (SMH)

The man who runs an agency that unlocks electronic secrets had a poacher’s view of the threat: “Offence informs defence and defence informs offence. Or to put it another way, to catch a thief, you will need to think like one (or perhaps, be one).” Since then he has given a TV interview and opened a Twitter account with a lively first post; “Hi internet, ASD here. Long time listener, first time caller.” Burgess has even dabbled in some light trolling of Huawei. On November 21 when a Huawei executive boasted of successfully separating the core and access parts of a 5G network in New Zealand he tagged the ASD boss on his post. To the surprise of most Burgess replied; “Thanks for sharing. In my business I’ve never seen anything “fully isolated…”.

Seven days later New Zealand banned Huawei from supplying 5G equipment to mobile phone company Spark. Then on December 6, the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, David Vigneault, who had hosted the annual Five Eyes gathering, used his first ever public speech to warn of an emerging threat. “CSIS has seen a trend of state-sponsored espionage in fields that are crucial to Canada’s ability to build and sustain a prosperous, knowledge-based economy,” he said. “I’m talking about areas such as AI [artificial intelligence], quantum technology, 5G, biopharma and clean tech. In other words, the foundation of Canada’s future growth.”

No one was in any doubt he was talking about China. A formal ban on Huawei and ZTE from Ottawa is expected within weeks. A day after the Canadian spy boss spoke, the head of MI6 was on his feet at his old Scottish university, St Andrews. In a speech described as “rare” he warned that “much of the evolving state threat is about our opponents’ increasingly innovative exploitation of modern technology”.

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Weakish piece, but the point must be made.

The Russia Investigations: A Case Still Unproven (NPR)

Editor’s Note: This story has been edited to make it clear that it is analysis and that the allegations of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians remain unproven.

Political and legal danger for President Trump may be sharpening by the day, but the case that his campaign might have conspired with the Russian attack on the 2016 election is still unproven despite two years of investigations, court filings and even numerous convictions and guilty pleas. Trump has been implicated in ordering a scheme to silence two women ahead of Election Day in 2016 about the alleged sexual relationships they had with him years before. That is a serious matter, or it might have been in other times, but this scheme is decidedly not a global conspiracy with a foreign power to steal the election.

More broadly, the president and his supporters say, the payments to the women in 2016 are penny ante stuff: Breaking campaign finance law, if that did take place, isn’t like committing murder, said one lawyer for the president. The “biased” Justice Department is just grasping at straws to use something against Trump because it hasn’t been able to locate a “smocking gun,” as Trump wrote this week, that would tie his campaign in with Russia’s active measures in 2016.

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What does the BBC want? For Russia to stop laughing? Look through your own coverage and see where Russia was accused of god knows what without proper evidence. If that happened to you, you’d be laughing too. There’s nothing else left. it’s not as if Russia is allowed to defend itself.

How Putin’s Russia Turned Humour Into A Weapon (BBC)

In the dying days of the Soviet Union, Russians used humour to escape the bleak reality of economic stagnation, food shortages and long queues. Political satire flourished on TV in the form of latex puppets during the 1990s, but it was quickly slapped down when Vladimir Putin came to power. In today’s Russia, where the media is largely controlled by the Kremlin and its allies, there is little room for genuine political humour unless it is used to deflect the blame from the government. Humour and ridicule were a key part of Moscow’s response when the UK said it was “highly likely” that Russia was behind the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury.

Russian officials and media figures have since tried to turn the English phrase “highly likely” into a mocking catchphrase that implies Russia is being blamed for everything with the flimsiest of evidence. They have enlisted a range of popular figures from English literature, such as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, to ridicule British allegations of Russian involvement in the poisoning which they denounce as unfounded. [..] One spoof job advert joked that the GRU was “looking for employees for its cyber-attack department, chemical weapons department and election-meddling unit. There is no need to apply – we will find you ourselves”. Ben Nimmo, an Atlantic Council researcher on Russian disinformation, told the BBC that attempts to create funny memes were part of the strategy as “disinformation for the information age”.

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Late night talk shows are dead. Smothered in the echo chamber.

Late Night Swapped Laughs For Lusting After Mueller (S.us)

If the late night ‘comedy’ of the Trump era has something resembling a ‘message,’ it’s that large segments of the nation’s liberal TV viewership are nervously tracking every Russia development with a passion that cannot be conducive to mental health – or for that matter, political efficacy. One feature of the Mueller saga is the enormous amount of energy that has been expended on venerating and defending him; energies which, at least theoretically, could have been directed toward doing something useful. The trend seems to reflect the total political enervation of this class of people – elite liberal culture-producers and consumers – who are still whipsawing between two-bit schemes to topple Trump, while in the process glossing over (or ignoring, or ridiculing) the structural forces which gave rise to Trump in the first place.

Their expressions of comedic angst actually render them more and more politically impotent. Democrats’ success in the midterms may have given the false assurance that a critical mass of the country actually respects this drivel. To understand how late night comedy got so uniquely tedious, it’s instructive to consider Colbert in particular. He first emerged as a protegée of Jon Stewart, whose Daily Show received such adulation in the early-and-mid 2000s because Stewart appeared to be doing something different and, yes, subversive – castigating the media for its illogical deference to power, a sorely needed antidote in the years of George W. Bush. (Whether this schtick was truly subversive is another question, but it did at least seem that way for a time.)

The popular TV comedians of today, conversely, are the polar opposite of subversive. Nothing about their daily pillorying of Trump challenges conventional wisdom, because unrestrained personal animus for Trump is the defining characteristic of conventional wisdom. When Bush was waging the Iraq War, he did so bolstered by a media consensus that cast him and his cause in an honorable light, and depicted his critics as screeching anti-war freaks. Even before he was inaugurated, Trump has been heaped with a level of scorn so ferocious that it would have made Dick Cheney blush.

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Nov 272018
 
 November 27, 2018  Posted by at 10:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Otto Dix Ice drift 1940

Putin ‘Seriously Concerned’ After Ukraine Votes To Impose Martial Law (G.)
The Latest Ukronazi Provocation In The Kerch Strait (Saker)
Trump Says He Isn’t Happy With GM Decision To Shed 14,700 Jobs (G.)
GM Cuts 14,700 Jobs As Auto Bubble Begins To Burst (Colombo)
Tesla China Sales Plunge 70% In October (R.)
May’s Brexit Deal Sounds Like A ‘Great Deal For The EU’ – Trump (G.)
Theresa May’s Brexit Deal Could Cost UK £100bn Over A Decade (G.)
Shares Rally As Italy Edges Away From Brussels Budget Clash (G.)
Bitcoin Is Down More Than 80% From Last Year’s High (CNBC)
Human Rights Watch Asks Argentina To Probe MbS Over Yemen, Khashoggi (R.)
The ‘Sharing Economy’ Has Been Seized By Big Money (G.)
Who Will Fix Facebook? (Matt Taibbi)
Investors Go After Zuckerberg After Facebook Plunges 40% In 4 Months (CNBC)
Fighting Climate Change Can Be America’s New New Deal (R.)
The Detention and Isolation from the World of Julian Assange (Stefania Maurizi)

 

 

Here’s what this is about:

“Since the completion of the bridge over the Kerch strait, Moscow has demanded that Ukrainian ships not only give notice of their intention to transit the strait but request permission, a change that Kiev has rejected. According to western diplomats, the dispatch of the three ships was intended to assert freedom of navigation..”

Russia came close to losing its only warm water ports in early 2014. They won’t let that happen again.

Putin ‘Seriously Concerned’ After Ukraine Votes To Impose Martial Law (G.)

Russian president Vladimir Putin has expressed “serious concern” over Ukraine’s decision to impose martial law, the Kremlin said on Tuesday, as the simmering confrontation between Moscow and Kiev sparked a new global crisis. In a phone conversation with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin also said he hoped the German leader could intervene to rein in Kiev. Putin “expressed a serious concern over Kiev’s decision to put its armed forces on alert and to introduce martial law,” the Kremlin said in a statement following the call. He also said he hoped “Berlin could influence the Ukrainian authorities to dissuade them from further reckless acts,” it added.

The political efforts came after Russia fired on and seized three Ukrainian vessels and their crews in the Kerch strait separating Crimea from the Russian mainland. Ukrainian MPs responded by voting to impose martial law. Six Ukrainians were reported to be injured, one of them critically, in the clash at the mouth of the Sea of Azov, where Russia has been building up its naval presence and seeking to restrict Ukrainian access since completing a bridge across the strait in May. The Ukrainian government released video footage of one of its ships being rammed by a Russian vessel. The incident sparked an emergency debate at the UN security council, where the Russian and Ukrainian ambassadors accused each other’s governments of seeking to trigger a conflict to deflect from their own domestic unpopularity.

The Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, Volodymyr Yelchenko, said the Russian naval authorities had been notified that the three Ukrainian vessels – two cutters and a tugboat – wished to pass through the strait, and had been waiting to hear confirmation on Sunday morning when the vessels were attacked. [..] Since the completion of the bridge over the Kerch strait, Moscow has demanded that Ukrainian ships not only give notice of their intention to transit the strait but request permission, a change that Kiev has rejected. According to western diplomats, the dispatch of the three ships was intended to assert freedom of navigation and also to reinforce a very small Ukrainian naval presence in the Sea of Azov.

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“..Considering the current single-digit popularity rating of Poroshenko and the fact that he has no chance in hell to be re-elected ..”

The Latest Ukronazi Provocation In The Kerch Strait (Saker)

Second, let me give you the single most important element to understand what is (and what is not) taking place: the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea are, in military terms, “Russian lakes”. That means that Russia has the means to destroy any and all ships (or aircraft) over these two seas: on the Black Sea the life expectancy of any intruder would be measured in minutes, on the Sea of Azov in seconds. Let me repeat here that any and all ships deployed in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov are detected and tracked by Russia and they can all easily be destroyed. The Russians know that, the Ukrainians know that and, of course, the Empire knows that. Again, keep that in mind when trying to make sense of what happened.

Third, whether the waters in which the incident happened belong to Russia or not is entirely irrelevant. Everybody knows that Russia considers these waters are belonging to her and those disagreeing with this have plenty of options to express their disagreement and challenge the legality of the Russian position. Trying to break through waters Russia considers her own with several armed military vessels is simply irresponsible and, frankly, plain stupid (especially considering point #2 above). That is simply not how civilized nations behave (and there are plenty of contested waters on our planet).

Fourth, one should not be too quick in dismissing Poroshenko’s latest plan to introduce martial law for the next 60 days. Albeit Poroshenko himself declared that this mobilization does not mean that the Ukronazi regime wants war with Russia, the fact is that the first-line reserves will be mobilized. This is important because the situation resulting from the introduction to martial law could be used to covertly increase the number of soldiers available for an attack on Novorussia or, God forbid, Russia herself. In fact, Poroshenko also officially appealed to the veterans of the war against Novorussia to be ready for deployment.

[..] Considering the current single-digit popularity rating of Poroshenko and the fact that he has no chance in hell to be re-elected it is pretty darn obvious of why the Ukronazi regime in Kiev decided to trigger yet another crisis and then blame Russia for it. The very last thing Russia needs is yet another crisis, especially not before a possible Putin-Trump meeting at the G20 Buenos Aires summit later this month. In fact, Ukrainian bloggers immediately saw this latest provocation as an attempt to scrap upcoming elections.

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Remind me, what did it cost to keep GM alive?

Trump Says He Isn’t Happy With GM Decision To Shed 14,700 Jobs (G.)

General Motors has announced it will halt production at five North American facilities and cut 14,700 jobs as it deals with slowing sedan sales and the impact of Donald Trump’s tariffs. More than 6,000 blue-collar jobs will be hit by GM plans to stop production at a car plant in Canada and two more in Ohio and Michigan. Two transmission plants in the US will also be mothballed, putting the future of those plants in doubt. The cuts will also include 15% of GM’s 54,000 white-collar workforce, about 8,100 people, and come as 18,000 GM workers have been asked to accept voluntary redundancy. Trump, who won over voters in many of the states affected by GM’s decision by promising to save their jobs, told reporters he was not happy with the decision.

“We don’t like it,” he told reporters. “This country has done a lot for General Motors. They better get back to Ohio, and soon.” Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive, was due to meet with top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow later on Monday. “We are taking this action now while the company and the economy are strong to keep ahead of changing market conditions,” Barra said in a conference call. GM’s share price rose 5.5% on the news. The car plants – Lordstown Assembly in Ohio, Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly and Oshawa Assembly – all build slow-selling cars. Trump held a rally close to the Lordstown plant in July and told workers not to sell their homes because “jobs are coming back”.

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Fiat/Chrysler increased sales (but its CEO died recently), Ford and GM lost big.

GM Cuts 14,700 Jobs As Auto Bubble Begins To Burst (Colombo)

On Monday, General Motors announced that it will cut 14,700 jobs or 15% of its North American workforce in addition to closing three assembly plants and two other facilities: While GM’s CEO Mary Barra is spinning this move as a positive, I am highly suspicious because it is taking place at the same time that global auto sales are plunging (see chart below). Ford also said recently that it will cut more than 20,000 jobs across the globe as part of an $11 billion restructuring.

The reason why I criticized President Trump’s excitement about Ford’s decision was because I’ve been warning (then and now) that the U.S. automobile sales boom was driven by a debt bubble that would end very badly. Since 2010, total outstanding U.S. auto loans increased by $445 billion or 64% to over $1.1 trillion as Americans took advantage of record low interest rates to finance automobile purchases.

U.S. Auto Loans

After the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009, the U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates to record low levels and held them there for a record length of time, making it much cheaper to take out loans of all kinds. Notice how the total outstanding U.S. auto loans in the chart above start to soar shortly after interest rates were cut to record lows (based on the chart below)? That is certainly no coincidence. Low interest rates lead to borrowing booms that end when interest rates go back up, which is what has been happening over the last few years. Rising interest rates are threatening the U.S. automobile sales and loan bubble and will eventually cause its popping.

Interest Rates

It’s entirely possible that GM is aware of the risk of a more serious auto sales downturn ahead as higher interest rates start to bite, which is why they decided to cut jobs and close the plants before it’s too late. If that’s the case, it’s a smart move on CEO Mary Barra’s part.

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70% may seem a lot, but the remaining 30% consisted of just 211 cars. Non-story.

Tesla China Sales Plunge 70% In October (R.)

Tesla Inc’s vehicle sales in China sank 70 percent last month from a year ago, the country’s passenger car association told Reuters on Tuesday, underscoring how the Sino-U.S. trade war is hurting the U.S. electric carmaker. An official from China Passenger Car Association said data from the industry body showed Tesla sold just 211 cars in the world’s largest auto market in October. The electric carmaker, which imports all the cars it sells in China, said in October that tariff hikes on auto imports were hammering its sales there. In July, Beijing raised tariffs on imports of U.S. autos to 40 percent amid a worsening trade standoff with the United States. While so-called new-energy vehicle sales have continued to climb in China, wider auto sales have slowed sharply since the middle of the year, taking the market to the brink of its first annual sales contraction in almost three decades.

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First vote is December 11, the second around Christmas time.

May’s Brexit Deal Sounds Like A ‘Great Deal For The EU’ – Trump (G.)

Donald Trump has delivered a weighty blow to Theresa May’s hopes of steering her Brexit deal through parliament, saying it sounded like a “great deal for the EU” that would stop the UK trading with the US. Trump was speaking to reporters outside the White House when he was asked about the deal May struck with the EU’s other 27 heads of state and government on Sunday. “Sounds like a great deal for the EU,” the president said. “I think we have to take a look at, seriously, whether or not the UK is allowed to trade. Because, you know, right now, if you look at the deal, they may not be able to trade with us … I don’t think that the prime minister meant that. And, hopefully, she’ll be able to do something about that.”

Trump’s intervention caught Downing Street off-guard and is likely to weaken May’s hand at a time when she is seeking to get the deal approved by parliament, where she faces determined resistance from 89 Tory backbenchers who argue the deal does not secure sufficient freedom of action for the UK. A vote is due on 11 December after a five-day debate. A No 10 spokesman argued that Trump’s take on Brexit was wrong: “The political declaration we have agreed with the EU is very clear we will have an independent trade policy so that the UK can sign trade deals with countries around the world – including with the US.”

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Insert any number you can think of. And then realize that people actually get paid to issue these fully hollow reports.

Theresa May’s Brexit Deal Could Cost UK £100bn Over A Decade (G.)

Theresa May’s Brexit deal is expected to cost the UK economy as much as £100bn over the next decade compared with remaining in the EU, according to one of the country’s leading economic thinktanks. An analysis of the prime minister’s EU withdrawal agreement from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research suggested that by 2030, Britain would lose GDP growth equivalent to the annual economic output of Wales. The study, commissioned by the People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum, found GDP over the long term was forecast to be about 4% less than it would have been had the UK stayed in the EU.

It comes as the government prepares to publish its own analysis of the impact of the deal this week, possibly on Wednesday, to help inform MPs before they vote on whether to back it in parliament. NIESR said the cost to the economy of the prime minister’s deal would be the equivalent of losing about £1,000 a year for every person in the UK. Garry Young, the director of macroeconomic modelling and forecasting at NIESR, said: “Leaving the EU will make it more costly for the UK to trade with a large market on our doorstep and inevitably will have economic costs.” The NIESR report found May’s deal would not be as damaging for the economy as Britain leaving the EU without an agreement, which would cost the economy about £140bn over the next 10 years.

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The emptiness of the rumors that drive this stuff is deafening. These are not markets.

Shares Rally As Italy Edges Away From Brussels Budget Clash (G.)

Italy has shown the first signs of backing away from a budget clash with Brussels, sparking a share rally in Rome. On a day when equities rose across the globe, tentative signs of progress in negotiations between the European commission and Italy’s populist leaders resulted in the key barometer of the Italian stock market rising by almost 3%. Bank shares – seen as particularly vulnerable in the event of a loss of confidence in Italian assets triggered by a prolonged confrontation – were up by 5% on Monday. Reports that Rome was willing to cut its budget deficit from 2.4% of national output to as low as 2% also led to a fall in the interest rate the Italian government pays to borrow on the world’s financial markets.

Italy’s main stock market index – the FTSE MIB – was the best performer of the leading European bourses on a day of across-the-board gains, closing 2.8% higher. Frankfurt’s Dax index rose by 1.45%, while the City’s FTSE 100 ended the day up by 1.2% at 7,036. After sharp falls last week, shares rallied on Wall Street and the Dow Jones industrial average ended Monday trading 1.5% higher amid signs of strong Black Friday spending by American consumers. Ever since it came to power in the spring, Italy’s coalition government has been on a collision course with the commission over its plans to stimulate growth by running a bigger budget deficit. The proposed move would violate the eurozone’s fiscal rules and in the past few weeks investors have become increasingly more nervous about Italy’s public finances.

The concessions hinted at by the Rome government would go nowhere near far enough to meet the demands made by Brussels, however. A proposed budget deficit of 2% of GDP would still leave open the possibility of Rome being fined by the commission’s excessive deficit procedure rules but even a partial climbdown was enough to trigger a fall in 10-year Italian bond yields – a key benchmark of official borrowing costs. The spread between the interest rate Italy pays and the much cheaper interest rates for Germany fell to its lowest in more than a month.

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Nice try, but Bitcoin no longer is what it was 10 years ago at birth. So fluctuations aren’t either. Who’s going to put serious money into something that loses 81% in less than a year?

Bitcoin Is Down More Than 80% From Last Year’s High (CNBC)

Bitcoin is only 10 years old, but the cryptocurrency has already seen its fair share of bear markets. The most recent one, which some are dubbing “crypto winter,” worsened over the weekend. The cryptocurrency slid below $3,500 for the first time in 14 months, then later recovered toward the $3,900 level by Monday, according to data from CoinDesk. That brings its decline from last year’s peak to more than 81 percent. That loss isn’t the worst bitcoin has suffered, but the world’s largest digital currency is getting close. Bitcoin’s current level is still well above the fraction of a penny price where it first began trading in 2010— and its early investors are mostly wealthier because of it. By June 2011, it had risen to a new all-time high of roughly $30. But by that November, the cryptocurrency was back below $2.50, tumbling more than 92 percent from their high.

That year, volume was still low and the dozens of now popular trading exchanges like Coinbase didn’t exist yet. Tokyo-based Mt. Gox was handling roughly 70 percent of all cryptocurrency transactions in the world. [..] Roughly $700 billion has been wiped off cryptocurrencies’ global market capitalization since the high, according to data from CoinMarketCap.com. The price of one bitcoin has dropped more than $15,000 since December. Bitcoin skyrocketed to current its all-time high of almost $20,000 in December 2017. Coinbase’s CEO said this summer that at the height of that boom, the exchange was opening up 50,000 new accounts a day, for mostly retail investors. The all-time high also came ahead of the availability of bitcoin futures. Those products have also fallen. On Monday, they dropped to their lowest levels since launching.

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Not going to happen. Unless they find a vigilante prosecutor.

Human Rights Watch Asks Argentina To Probe MbS Over Yemen, Khashoggi (R.)

Human Rights Watch has asked Argentina to use a war crimes clause in its constitution to investigate the role of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in possible crimes against humanity in Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Argentina’s constitution recognizes universal jurisdiction for war crimes and torture, meaning judicial authorities can investigate and prosecute those crimes no matter where they were committed. Human Rights Watch said its submission was sent to federal judge Ariel Lijo.

HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson said the international rights group took the case to Argentina because Prince Mohammed, also known as MbS, will attend the opening of the G20 summit this week in Buenos Aires. “We submitted this info to Argentine prosecutors with the hopes they will investigate MbS’s complicity and responsibility for possible war crimes in Yemen, as well as the torture of civilians, including Jamal Khashoggi,” Whitson told Reuters. Argentine media cited judicial sources as saying it was extremely unlikely that the authorities would take up the case against the crown prince, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.

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Gee, what a surprise. Downplaying the economic losses to communities caused by Airbnb, Uber and Amazon doesn’t help.

The ‘Sharing Economy’ Has Been Seized By Big Money (G.)

[..] The year 2018 is to the sharing economy what 2006 was to user-generated content: it can only go downhill. Platforms won’t disappear; far from it. However, the initial lofty objectives that legitimised their activities will give way to the prosaic and occasionally violent imperative imposed by the iron law of competition: the quest for profitability. Uber may help some make ends meet through occasional driving gigs. The need to achieve profitability, however, means that it will have no qualms about ditching its drivers for fully automated vehicles; a company that lost $4.5 bn in 2017 alone would be silly to do otherwise.

Airbnb may have presented itself as an ally of the middle classes against entrenched economic interests. But the drive for profits already forces it to partner with the likes of Brookfield Property Partners, one of the world’s largest real-estate firms, to develop Airbnb-branded hotel-like residencies, often by purchasing and converting existing apartment blocks. Few entrenched interests – save, perhaps, for the tenants who see their apartment blocks become Airbnb-run hotels – get disrupted here. Given the huge sums involved, the most likely outcome of current battles in sectors such as ride-sharing will be more centralisation, with just one or two platforms controlling each region. Uber’s surrender – in China, India and Russia, as well as much of southeast Asia and Latin America – to local players, many of them also backed by Saudi money, suggests as much.

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What ails the Automatic Earth: “Small blogs cannot exist without Facebook..”. But Facebook shut down access to our account, and thousands of ‘friends’, without one single word of explanation. So what now? Set up a new accoint, only for them do to it again? Are you beginning to see what’s wrong here?

Who Will Fix Facebook? (Matt Taibbi)

James Reader tried to do everything right. No fake news, no sloppiness, no spam. The 54-year-old teamster and San Diego resident with a progressive bent had a history of activism, but itched to get more involved. So a few years ago he tinkered with a blog called the Everlasting GOP Stoppers, and it did well enough to persuade some friends and investors to take a bigger step. “We got together and became Reverb Press,” he recalls. “I didn’t start it for the money. I did it because I care about my country.”

[..] The site took off, especially during the 2015-16 election season. “We had 30 writers contributing, four full-time editors and an IT worker,” Reader says. “At our peak, we had 4 million to 5 million unique visitors a month.” Through Facebook and social media, Reader estimates, as many as 13 million people a week were seeing Reverb stories. Much of the content was aggregated or had titles like “36 Scariest Quotes From the 2015 GOP Presidential Debates.” But Reverb also did original reporting, like a first-person account of Catholic Church abuse in New Jersey that was picked up by mainstream outlets.

Like most independent publishers, he relied heavily on a Facebook page to drive traffic and used Facebook tools to help boost his readership. “We were pouring between $2,000 and $6,000 a month into Facebook, to grow the page,” Reader says. “We tried to do everything they suggested.” Publishers like Reader jumped to it every time Facebook sent hints about changes to its algorithm. When it emphasized video, he moved to develop video content. Reader viewed Facebook as an essential tool for independent media. “Small blogs cannot exist without Facebook,” he says. “At the same time, it was really small blogs that helped Facebook explode in the first place.”

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The investors are not the answer to the problem. The links to secret services are.

Investors Go After Zuckerberg After Facebook Plunges 40% In 4 Months (CNBC)

It’s been a brutal few months for Facebook investors. Shares of the social network have tumbled almost 40 percent since reaching a high on July 25, even after a modest rebound on Monday. The company has faced a barrage of attacks related to the numerous ways the platform has been manipulated to spread false information and for leadership’s insufficient and controversial response, which the New York Times detailed in a lengthy investigative report earlier this month. Some of the almost $200 billion of market value that’s been wiped out since the stock’s peak can be attributed to a broader sell-off in tech stocks, which have plummeted since August amid concern about a slowdown in global economic growth and President Trump’s threats of a trade war.

But Facebook’s slide started well before that and the stock has badly underperformed the Nasdaq and its big-tech peers this year. The problem for Facebook is in finding a way out. Facebook’s business model, which relies on a growing number of users to share more information and for advertisers to continue to pay up to reach them, starts to look shaky as trust in the network deteriorates. Yet at the top of the company, CEO Mark Zuckerberg, 34, has so much ownership and control that the board and shareholders have a very limited ability to exert any influence.

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Might as well give up on people ever understanding that climate change is not an economic problem, and can therefore not be solved by economics.

Whoever links the demise of the planet to solutions offered by the same money that is causing it, is blind.

Fighting Climate Change Can Be America’s New New Deal (R.)

Fighting climate change can be America’s new New Deal. The effects of global warming on virtually all aspects of U.S. society could be devastating, according to a government report released on Friday. Rather than seize on its findings as a way to boost American innovation, economic output and jobs, President Donald Trump’s administration snuck the report out late on Friday after Thanksgiving – and then played down its devastating findings. That’s a big missed opportunity Unchecked, climate change could lop as much as a tenth off the nation’s GDP by the end of the century, according to the authors of Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment.

That overall figure doubtless underestimates regional variances. The overall cost of the wildfires that hit California in 2017, for example, amounted to 6.5 percent of the Golden State’s economic output, estimated AccuWeather. Factor in everything from water scarcity to pollution to energy production to human health, and in some parts of the country the economic impact could be far worse. The cost in financial and human terms drops by up to 70 percent if greenhouse-gas emissions peak before the middle of the century and then drop, the report says. It requires investment, of course – which some Republicans like Senator Mike Lee deride as being harmful to the economy.

That’s clearly a ruse. Fully decarbonizing by 2050 the world’s cement, steel, plastics, trucking, shipping and aviation sectors could require investing some 0.5 percent of global GDP a year using mostly existing technology, according to the Energy Transitions Commission. But it would bring efficiencies, employment and advances in technology that could more than offset the costs. Similarly, modernizing aging infrastructure has multiple benefits. Investing the $800 billion or so needed to upgrade America’s water systems could generate an almost 300 percent return, according to the U.S. Water Alliance – and generate 1.3 million jobs.

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Stefania Maurizi gained access to Assange recently. The cat is gone. So sorry for Julian. Maurizi makes a point that everyone should make: the role of the UK press. I wrote earlier this year about a series of smear pieces the Guardian published. Nothing has changed. These are the same folk that shout out about freedom of the press when Trump is concerned. They’re at the very least no better than he is.

The Detention and Isolation from the World of Julian Assange (Stefania Maurizi)

They are destroying him slowly. They are doing it through an indefinite detention which has been going on for the last eight years with no end in sight. Julian Assange has become one of the most widely known icons of freedom of the press and the struggle against state secrecy. [..] After eight months of failed attempts, la Repubblica was finally able to visit the WikiLeaks founder in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, after the current Ecuadorian president, Lenin Moreno had cut him off from all contacts last March with the exception of his lawyers.

[..] The friendly atmosphere we had always experienced during our visits over the last six years is now gone. The Ecuadorian diplomat who had always supported the WikiLeaks founder, Fidel Narvaez, has been removed. Not even the cat is there anymore. With its funny striped tie and ambushes on the ornaments of the Christmas tree at the embassy’s entrance, the cat had helped defuse tension inside the building for years. But Assange has preferred to spare the cat an isolation which has become unbearable and allow it a healthier life.

The news that surfaced last week, revealing the existence of criminal charges against Julian Assange by the US authorities, charges which were supposed to remain under seal until it was impossible for Assange to evade arrest, vindicates what Assange has feared for years. He is now waiting for the charges to be unsealed, but in the meantime he is silent: the risk that he could suddenly lose Ecuador’s protection due to some public statement is not improbable these days. Two years ago, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) established that the UK (at that time Sweden as well) is responsible for detaining Assange arbitrarily: it should free him and compensate him. London did not welcome this decision: they tried to appeal it, but lost the appeal and since then have simply ignored it.

The British media has never called on the UK authorities to comply with the UN body’s decision, quite the opposite: some even lashed out against the UN body. If Julian Assange ends up in the hands of the UK authorities in the upcoming months and the US asks for his extradition, where will the British medial stand? Never before has the life of the WikiLeaks founder been so crucially in the hands of public opinion and in the hands of one of the few powers whose mission it is to reign in the worst instincts of our governments: the press.

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Jun 242018
 
 June 24, 2018  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Ivan Aivazovsky The Ninth Wave 1849

 

Mueller’s Fruit of the Poisonous Tree (WSJ)
Refugees Now Make Up 1% Of The World’s Population (Wef)
There’s No Migration Crisis – The Crisis Is Political Opportunism (G&M)
Divided EU Leaders Convene For Emergency Talks On Migration (R.)
Italy Says ‘Arrogant’ France Could Become Main Enemy On Migration (R.)
Xi Says China Must Lead Way In Reform Of Global Governance (R.)
Turkey’s Erdogan Faces Resurgent Opposition In Twin Election Test (AFP)
Huge Anti-Brexit Demonstration Throngs Central London (G.)
Airbus Warns Of Harsh Brexit Reality With 100,000 Jobs Under Threat (Ind.)
Bitcoin Drops to $5,860, Lowest since October 2017 (WS)
The Eurozone Isn’t Ready For The Next Big Shock (Pol.eu)
Shooting The Messenger: Criminalising Journalism (G.)

 

 

Two lawyers in the WSJ warning that the FBI had so tainted the process, Mueller should at a minimum pause his investigation.

Mueller’s Fruit of the Poisonous Tree (WSJ)

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation may face a serious legal obstacle: It is tainted by antecedent political bias. The June 14 report from Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, unearthed a pattern of anti-Trump bias by high-ranking officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Some of their communications, the report says, were “not only indicative of a biased state of mind but imply a willingness to take action to impact a presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.” Although Mr. Horowitz could not definitively ascertain whether this bias “directly affected” specific FBI actions in the Hillary Clinton email investigation, it nonetheless affects the legality of the Trump-Russia collusion inquiry, code-named Crossfire Hurricane.

Crossfire was launched only months before the 2016 election. Its FBI progenitors—the same ones who had investigated Mrs. Clinton—deployed at least one informant to probe Trump campaign advisers, obtained Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court wiretap warrants, issued national security letters to gather records, and unmasked the identities of campaign officials who were surveilled. They also repeatedly leaked investigative information.

Mr. Horowitz is separately scrutinizing Crossfire and isn’t expected to finish for months. But the current report reveals that FBI officials displayed not merely an appearance of bias against Donald Trump, but animus bordering on hatred. Peter Strzok, who led both the Clinton and Trump investigations, confidently assuaged a colleague’s fear that Mr. Trump would become president: “No he won’t. We’ll stop it.” An unnamed FBI lawyer assigned to Crossfire told a colleague he was “devastated” and “numb” after Mr. Trump won, while declaring to another FBI attorney: “Viva le resistance.”

[..] The totality of the circumstances creates the appearance that Crossfire was politically motivated. Since an attempt by federal law enforcement to influence a presidential election “shocks the conscience,” any prosecutorial effort derived from such an outrageous abuse of power must be suppressed. The public will learn more once the inspector general finishes his investigation into Crossfire’s genesis. But given what is now known, due process demands, at a minimum, that the special counsel’s activity be paused. Those affected by Mr. Mueller’s investigation could litigate such an argument in court. One would hope, however, that given the facts either Mr. Mueller himself or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would do it first.

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War and peace.

Refugees Now Make Up 1% Of The World’s Population (Wef)

If all the world’s refugees came together as a single nation they would collectively create one of the largest countries on Earth. According to the UNHCR, there are now almost 70 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, around 1% of the world’s population – the highest number in modern history. The number of refugees has steadily increased since 1951 but has jumped dramatically in the last 10 years. That’s mostly because of the Syrian civil war which began in 2011 and has since forced millions to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighbouring countries and in Europe. The most recent Global Peace Index, an annual report produced by Australian think tank the Institute for Economics and Peace, has found that for the fourth year in a row, overall levels of peace around the world have deteriorated.

92 countries have seen declining peace, while 71 countries have improved. Increased terrorist activity, conflicts in the Middle East and rising tensions in Eastern Europe and north-east Asia have all contributed to declining levels of peace. Even the most peaceful regions in the world according to the index – Europe, North America, Asia-Pacific, and South America – have all recorded declines. The rising number of refugees and heightened political tensions in Europe and the US have meant that even stable countries have seen their scores lowered. For instance, 23 out of 36 countries in Europe deteriorated last year. Now in its seventh year of civil war, Syria is the least peaceful country in the world, along with Afghanistan, South Sudan, Iraq and Somalia.

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But the article above talks about the highest number of refugees in history.

There’s No Migration Crisis – The Crisis Is Political Opportunism (G&M)

“Desperate times at our southern border call for desperate measures on the other side:” That was the very loud message from right-wing leaders in the United States and Europe this week. Their desperate measures shocked the world. The Trump administration’s policy requiring thousands of infants and children to be seized from their parents and held in detention left leaders and citizens aghast (and its most inhumane elements remain in place). On the other side of the Atlantic, we watched the new Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini order boatloads of migrant families turned back into the sea, following his call last year to deal with immigration with a “mass cleansing, street by street, quarter by quarter.”

Most reasonable people agree that these are not humane ways to deal with what these politicians call a “migration emergency.” But too many people take their word that there actually is some sort of a migration emergency. To be clear: There is no immigration crisis in 2018. Not in the United States, not in Europe, not in Canada. “It is not a migration emergency – it’s a political emergency,” William Lacy Swing, the American director-general of the International Organization for Migration, said this week. The IOM’s 8,400 staff monitor the movement of people around the world, and while they’ve identified plenty of challenges, there aren’t any overwhelming or unmanageable movements of people this year. “The overwhelming majority of migration is taking place in a regular, safe and orderly fashion,” he said.

“There is a very serious problem of communication, but what we’re seeing is that the numbers are pretty modest,” said Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD, which advises 34 countries (including the United States and Canada) on immigration policy, this week released its annual report on migration levels in OECD countries. It showed a fall in numbers to ordinary, non-crisis levels. The United States has always had movement, some of it undocumented, across its southern border. The 2018 numbers are somewhat higher than the 2017 numbers – but they’re a small fraction, less than a third, of the rate experienced in the 2000s under George W. Bush, or in the 1990s under Bill Clinton, or in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan. Since 2008, illegal crossings have fallen to lows not seen since the early 1970s.

What has risen, since 2014, has been the far smaller fraction of people on the Mexican border who are refugee claimants from Guatemala, Honduras and especially El Salvador. Those countries are experiencing crises of political and civic violence, and those fleeing have legitimate claims for asylum under the Refugee Convention, to which Washington subscribes. They are not illegal and they’re certainly not dangerous.

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No agreement seems possible anymore.

Divided EU Leaders Convene For Emergency Talks On Migration (R.)

European Union leaders gather in Brussels on Sunday in an attempt to bridge their deep divisions over migration, an issue that has been splitting them for years and now poses a fresh threat to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Though arrivals across the Mediterranean are only a fraction of what they were in 2015, when more than a million people reached Europe, a recent opinion poll showed migration was the top concern for the EU’s 500 million citizens. Under heavy pressure from voters at home, EU leaders have been fighting bitter battles over how to share out asylum seekers in the bloc. Unable to agree, they have become more restrictive on asylum and tightened their external borders to let fewer people in.

They have given money and aid to countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East to keep people from heading for Europe. Only 41,000 refugees and migrants have made it to the EU across the sea so far this year, U.N. figures show. But the issue has in the meantime won and lost elections for politicians across the bloc from Italy to Hungary, with voters favoring those advocating a tougher stance on migration. On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron said France favored financial sanctions for EU countries that refuse migrants with proven asylum status. Merkel is under pressure because her longtime conservative allies, Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), have threatened to start turning away at the German border all asylum seekers already registered elsewhere in the EU unless the bloc reaches an agreement on distributing them more evenly.

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Not smart Macron.

Italy Says ‘Arrogant’ France Could Become Main Enemy On Migration (R.)

Italy on Saturday said “arrogant” France risked becoming its “No.1 enemy” on migration issues, a day before European leaders convene in Brussels for a hastily arranged meeting on the divisive topic. In answer to comments by French President Emmanuel Macron, who said migration flows toward Europe had reduced compared with a few years ago, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said Macron’s words showed he was out of touch. “Italy indeed faces a migration emergency and it’s partly because France keeps pushing back people at the border. Macron risks making his country Italy’s No.1 enemy on this emergency,” Di Maio wrote on his Facebook page.

Macron said European cooperation had managed to cut migration flows by close to 80 percent and problems stemmed from “secondary” movements of migrants within Europe. “The reality is that Europe is not experiencing a migration crisis of the same magnitude as the one it experienced in 2015,” the French president said. “A country like Italy has not at all the same migratory pressure as last year. … The crisis we are experiencing today in Europe is a political crisis.” But Italy’s Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said his country had faced 650,000 arrivals by sea over the past four years, 430,000 asylum requests and the hosting of 170,000 “alleged refugees” for an overall cost of more than 5 billion euros ($5.8 billion).

“If for the arrogant President Macron this is not a problem, we invite him to stop insulting and to show instead some concrete generosity by opening up France’s many ports and letting children, men and women through at Ventimiglia,” he said in a statement, referring to the northwestern Italian town at the border with France.

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Filling a void.

Xi Says China Must Lead Way In Reform Of Global Governance (R.)

China must lead the way in reforming global governance, the foreign ministry on Saturday cited President Xi Jinping as saying, as Beijing looks to increase its world influence. China has sought a greater say in global organizations such as the World Bank, the IMF and UN, in line with its growing economic and diplomatic clout. Since taking office in late 2012, Xi has taken a more muscular approach, setting up China’s own global bodies like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and launching his landmark Belt and Road project to build a new Silk Road. Beijing has cast itself a responsible member of the international community, especially as President Donald Trump withdraws the United States from agreements on climate change and Iran, and as Europe wrestles with Brexit and other issues.

China must “uphold the protection of the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests, proactively participate in and show the way in reform of the global governance system, creating an even better web of global partnership relationships”, Xi said in comments reported at the end of a two-day high-level Communist Party meeting. This would help create conditions for building a modern, strong socialist country, the ministry cited him as saying at the meeting attended by officials from the foreign and commerce ministries, the military, the propaganda department and the Chinese embassy in the United States.

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Blocking the opposition from TV.

Turkey’s Erdogan Faces Resurgent Opposition In Twin Election Test (AFP)

Turks began voting Sunday in dual parliamentary and presidential polls seen as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s toughest election test, with the opposition revitalised and his popularity at risk from growing economic troubles. Erdogan has overseen historic change in Turkey since his Islamic-rooted ruling party first came to power in 2002 after years of secular domination. But critics accuse the Turkish strongman, 64, of trampling on civil liberties and displaying autocratic behaviour. Polling stations opened at 0500 GMT and were due to close at 1400 GMT, with the first results expected late in the evening.

Over 56 million eligible voters can for the first time cast ballots simultaneously in the parliamentary and presidential elections, with Erdogan looking for a first round knockout and an overall majority for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). But both these goals are in doubt in the face of an energetic campaign by his rival from the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), Muharrem Ince, who has mobilised hundreds of thousands in mega rallies, and a strong opposition alliance in the legislative polls. Erdogan remains the favourite to hold on to the presidency – even if he needs a second round on July 8 – but the outcome is likely to be much tighter than he expected when calling the snap polls one-and-a-half years ahead of schedule.

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It’s going to take demos ten times that size. You need millions on the streets.

Huge Anti-Brexit Demonstration Throngs Central London (G.)

At least 100,000 people took to the streets yesterday as part of the largest ever demonstration of support for a new referendum over Britain’s final Brexit deal. With more businesses poised to issue dire Brexit warnings this week and senior Tories already drawing up plans to soften Theresa May’s exit proposals, organisers of the march on Sunday said it showed Britain’s departure from the European Union was not a “done deal”. A former aide to Margaret Thatcher, several Labour MPs and pro-EU campaigners from across Britain took part in the demonstration, marking two years since the Brexit vote. Organisers said that people from every region and walk of life were among those who took part in the march down Whitehall.

Conservative supporters marched alongside Labour voters and Liberal Democrats during the protest, which saw angry denunciations of the chaos that has ensued inside government since the Brexit vote. Labour’s leadership also came under pressure at the march for refusing to back a second public vote. There were chants of “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn” from the crowd. The Labour leader was on a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp. Anger on the streets at the prime minister’s handling of the Brexit negotiations is being accompanied by a renewed push from industry to ensure that trade with Europe is not disrupted as a result of leaving. More prominent manufacturing firms are set to issue warnings about Britain’s Brexit negotiations within days, after Airbus and BMW broke cover to say they could reconsider their UK investment plans unless a Brexit deal was reached keeping Britain closely aligned with Europe.

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Reality should dawn on the British people.

Airbus Warns Of Harsh Brexit Reality With 100,000 Jobs Under Threat (Ind.)

“The dawning of reality,” is how Tom Williams, the chief operating officer of Airbus, described it, after warning that Airbus is seriously considering pulling out of the UK in the event of a no deal Brexit. It’s worth taking a moment to consider what that would mean. The firm employs 14,000 people directly in this country. It has provided 4,000 high quality apprentices over the last decade, thus supporting a flagship policy of the Government. It contributed £1.7bn to the UK exchequer in tax last year, before you consider the economic contributions of its employees, who are in well paid, unionised jobs. It is estimated that Airbus supports another 86,000 people through its supply chain, bringing the total number of jobs at risk to 100,000.

The companies in that supply chain, and their employees, further add to the tax take, and contribute to the economy. If, when, Airbus does go, if it seeks alternatives when it comes to the production of its wings, those jobs will not be replaced. Once they are gone, they are gone. Perhaps the Brextremists expect the people who held them to pick the fruit that the soft fruit industry has been warning about rotting in the fields for months? It once again puts the shockingly mendacious talk by ministers of a “Brexit dividend” to fund the NHS – even Chancellor Philip Hammond has now descended into that pit – into context. The economic damage if Airbus goes, and if other companies; car makers, and their suppliers, for example, do the same, no one will be talking about dividends. Quite the reverse.

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Wolf Richter is no fan.

Bitcoin Drops to $5,860, Lowest since October 2017 (WS)

Bitcoin dropped to $5,860 at the moment, below $6,000 for the first time since October 29, 2017. It has plummeted 70% in six months from the peak of $19,982 on December 17. There have been many ups on the way down, repeatedly dishing out fakes hopes, based on the ancient theory that nothing goes to hell in a straight line (chart via CoinMarketCap): If you’re a True Believer and you just know that bitcoin will go to $1 million by the end of 2020, as promised by a whole slew of gurus, including John McAfee – “I will still eat my dick if wrong,” he offered helpfully on November 29 – well you probably don’t need this sort of punishment. You’re suffering enough already. And I apologize. I feel your pain.

I was a true believer too a few times, and every single time it was a huge amount of fun, and I felt invincible and indestructible until I got run over by events. With 17.11 million bitcoins circulating today, if bitcoin were at $1 million today, it would amount to a market cap of $17 trillion. But new bitcoins are constantly being created out of nothing (“mined”) by computers that suck up enormous amounts of electricity. And by the end of 2020, there will be many more bitcoins, and if the price were $1 million each, the total would amount to about the size of US GDP. This doesn’t even count all the other cryptos that would presumably boom in a similar manner, amounting perhaps to half of global GDP, or something.

People who promote this brainless crap are either totally nuts or the worst scam artists. But I feel sorry for the True Believers whose fiat money got transferred and will continue to get transferred from them to others. So OK, there’s still some time left. It’s not the end of 2020 yet. And True Believers still have room for the fake hope of a $1-million bitcoin. But at the moment, bitcoin is even worse – incredibly – than one of the worst fiat currencies in the world, the Argentine peso, which has plunged “only” 35% over the period during which bitcoin plunged 70%. That takes some doing!

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France and Germany should stop trying to dictate the future. It will backfire.

The Eurozone Isn’t Ready For The Next Big Shock (Pol.eu)

The return to economic growth in the eurozone has produced a dangerous sense of complacency on the Old Continent, especially in the richer countries of the north. But Italy’s flirtation with an exit from the euro under a populist government is a stark reminder that, if left unaddressed, the deep structural weaknesses that plague the single currency could trigger an existential crisis across the EU. It would be a mistake, therefore, to believe we can drive along in business-as-usual mode, or just take a few small steps toward more European integration. This week’s Meseberg Declaration signed by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, although a step in the right direction, is part of a collective denial about what needs to be done.

You don’t need to be a populist to recognize that Europe’s monetary union is dysfunctional and in dire need of more substantial reforms than those proposed by Germany and France. To keep the single currency alive, it needs two major structural improvements. First, it needs to reduce the fragmentation in Europe’s banking system that has caused the Continent to experience more severe crises than other parts of the world — most notably in comparison to the U.S. Second, it has to develop a streamlined and legitimate decision-making process to respond quickly and boldly to the next major recession.

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Amen.

Shooting The Messenger: Criminalising Journalism (G.)

The fact that during the 10 years he was in office, the US president, Barack Obama, prosecuted more whistleblowers than all the presidents in US history combined is an indication of the increasing threat to journalism. In 2017 the head of the CIA questioned the first amendment rights which protect free speech, and the US attorney-general threatened that the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, would be prosecuted (for what he was not clear). Both are acts of intimidation designed to silence. It has been argued that governments are not that concerned about most of the work that journalists do so, for most, concerns about surveillance are unnecessary. But the problem there is that, generally speaking, if governments are not worried about what journalists are doing, the journalists are not doing their jobs.

Reporting local news may be a useful social function, but the issues that arise where nations go to war, or where countries are involved in breaking the law, or plundering the treasure of other nations, are of great importance and need investigating. It is in these significant areas that journalists must be protected from the vested interests of the executive state; where the very people who make the decisions, as in the Iraq war, need to be exposed and held to account before the event, not after it. What is so disturbing is that the media has often aided and abetted governments and the intelligence agencies – who always want more access to information – as they invoked the fear of terrorism as grounds for introducing tougher surveillance laws.

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May 062018
 
 May 6, 2018  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Klee In the Houses of Saint Germain 1932

 

The Rising Dollar Will Trigger Next “Systemic Banking Crisis” – Napier (ZH)
Warren Buffett Compares Bitcoin To ‘Rat Poison Squared’ (Ind.)
UK Rates Will Stay Low For A Very Long Time (G.)
Trump White House Accuses China Of ‘Orwellian Nonsense’ (G.)
US Prosecutors Allege Ex-CEO of VW Knew All About Diesel Cheating (BBC)
US Freezes Funding For Syria’s “White Helmets” (CBS)
The U.S Government Can Still Confiscate Gold (GT)
Shock Figures From Top Thinktank Reveal Extent Of NHS Crisis (G.)
Earthquakes, Lava Fissures Could Last For Months On Hawaii (R.)
CO2 Levels In Earth’s Atmosphere ‘Highest In 800,000 Years’ (Ind.)
Facing Extinction, The North Atlantic Right Whale Cannot Adapt. Can We? (G.)

 

 

Emerging markets are already hurting. Watch Turkey.

The Rising Dollar Will Trigger Next “Systemic Banking Crisis” – Napier (ZH)

Fresh off his successful call earlier this year that the US dollar would strengthen in the coming months, macroeconomic strategist and market historian Russell Napier joined MacroVoices host Erik Townsend to discuss why he favors deflation and why he has such a bullish view on the US dollar. Echoing David Tepper’s concerns that the equity highs for the year might already be in, and that a 10-year yield above 3.25% could lead to market chaos, Napier said he sees interest rates rising sharply in the coming months as the dollar strengthens – a phenomenon that will push the US back into deflation.

Napier’s thesis relies on one simple fact: With the Fed and foreign buyers pulling back, who will step into the breach and buy Treasurys? The answer is – unfortunately for anybody who borrows in dollars – nobody. In fact, the Fed is expected to allow $228 billion in Treasury debt to roll off its balance sheet this year. This “net sell” will inevitably lead to higher interest rates in the US, as well as a stronger dollar. And once the 10-year yield reaches the 4% area, signs of stress that could be a lead up to a global “credit crisis” could start to appear.

“We know what the Federal Reserve plans to sell this calendar year, $228 billion. We know what the rise in global foreign reserves is, and about 64% of that will flow into the United States’ assets. Slightly less of that will flow into Treasuries. $228 billion, at the current rate at which foreign reserves are accumulating, we are not going to see foreign central bankers offsetting the sales from the Fed. So that’s a net sell. We don’t know what that net sale will be, but it’s a net sale from central bankers at a time when the Congressional Budget Office forecasts a roughly $1 trillion fiscal deficit. This is the first time in my investment career that savers will have to fund the whole lot. And it’s perfectly normal that real rates of interest have to go higher to attract those savings.

$1 trillion is still a large amount of money. It can come from anywhere in the world. It can come from outside the United States. It can come from inside the United States. But it’s a liquidation of other assets or a rise in the savings rate, which is necessary to fund this. Either of these things is positive for the dollar.”

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“It essentially will not deliver anything other than supposed scarcity..”

Warren Buffett Compares Bitcoin To ‘Rat Poison Squared’ (Ind.)

Mega-investor Warren Buffett still is not buying into the crypto-currency craze, likening Bitcoin to “rat poison squared”. “Cryptocurrencies will come to a bad ending”, Mr Buffett told shareholders at a retreat in Omaha, Nebraska, according to the Associated Press, adding that crypto currencies have no intrinsic value. “It essentially will not deliver anything other than supposed scarcity”, added Mr Buffett, who has earned the nickname the “Oracle of Omaha” for his prescient investment decisions. The Berkshire Hathaway CEO maintained his sceptical stance even as the alternate currency’s soaring value set off a scramble last year.

In an interview with CNBC last year, he said his company did not own any cryptocurrency and was avoiding taking a position in them. “What’s going on definitely will come to a bad ending,” Mr Buffett said at the time. Other prominent economists and investors have echoed those warnings, cautioning that the frenzied speculation around crypto-currencies had the makings of a bubble. Turning to politics, Mr Buffett downplayed the risks of a trade war breaking out as a result of Donald Trump imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum, which sparked Chinese retaliation. He said it was unlikely that the two countries would “dig themselves into” a “real trade war”, suggesting the broad appeal of trade would prevent conflict.

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If the Fed raises rates, can BoE remain behind?

UK Rates Will Stay Low For A Very Long Time (G.)

Bank of England governor Mark Carney has already faced accusations of behaving like the Grand old Duke of York and he will probably do so again should Britain’s central bank opt to keep interest rates on hold. Since he joined the Bank in 2013, he has marched borrowers and savers up the hill with heavy hints about the imminent prospect of a rate rise, only to march them back down again. Last November’s restoration of 2016’s emergency rate cut hardly qualified as a major move, whatever the Bank said about its significance. Until an interview with the BBC during the IMF spring meetings a fortnight ago, it seemed to be a racing cert that the Bank was finally ready to begin the long journey back to 3% and push the base rate from 0.5% to 0.75%.

The markets were guided to expect action at a meeting of the monetary policy committee on Thursday. And it wasn’t just Carney dropping hints. Almost every member of the committee who had previously blocked a rise had gone on the record arguing that the time for a rate increase was near at hand. Speeches by external member Jan Vlieghe constituted the most startling intervention. During 2016 and much of 2017, the former hedge fund economist turned interest-rate setter was one of the most vociferous opponents of a rise. His former brethren in the Square Mile considered him an arch dove who might never vote to increase rates, such was his downbeat view of the economy’s growth potential.

Yet, towards the end of last year, he was one of the most optimistic proponents of the economy’s resilience and the likelihood of a rate rise. Just as before, a moment of central bank exuberance looks like becoming a non-event – which is strange given Vlieghe’s reasoning for backing an increase last year. Then, he said that ultra-low unemployment, steady growth and the probable end to a long period of declining real wages was enough to justify tighter monetary policy.

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Ha!

Trump White House Accuses China Of ‘Orwellian Nonsense’ (G.)

The White House on Saturday condemned Chinese efforts to control how US airlines refer to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao as “Orwellian nonsense”. The harshly worded statement came as a high-level trade delegation led by the Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin returned from negotiations in China. The carriers were told to remove references on their websites or in other material that suggests Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau are part of countries independent from China, US and airline officials said. Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial issue. Beijing considers the self-ruled, democratic island a wayward province. Hong Kong and Macau are former European colonies that are now part of China but run largely autonomously.

A spokesman for Airlines for America, a trade group representing United Airlines, American Airlines and other major carriers, said the group was “continuing to work with US government officials as we determine next steps”. In January, Delta Air Lines, following a demand from China over listing Taiwan and Tibet as countries on its website, apologized for making “an inadvertent error with no business or political intention” and said it had taken steps to resolve the issue. Also in January, China suspended Marriott International’s Chinese website for a week, punishing the world’s biggest hotel chain for listing Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as separate countries in a customer questionnaire.

On Saturday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Donald Trump “ran against political correctness in the United States” and as president would “stand up for Americans resisting efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to impose Chinese political correctness on American companies and citizens”.

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What will Germany do?

US Prosecutors Allege Ex-CEO of VW Knew All About Diesel Cheating (BBC)

It was an “appalling” fraud that went to the very top of the company. That is the striking allegation made by US prosecutors looking into the emissions-cheating scandal at the Volkswagen Group. The indictment unsealed on Thursday claims that former CEO Martin Winterkorn was not only fully briefed about what his engineers were up to, he also authorised a continuing cover-up. These allegations have yet to be tested in a court of law. But if true, they paint a picture of extraordinary executive wrongdoing at one of the titans of German industry. Dr Winterkorn himself is unlikely ever to face trial in the US. But he remains under investigation in Germany on suspicion of deceiving investors.

The Volkswagen scandal erupted in September 2015, when the company admitted that nearly 600,000 cars sold in the US were fitted with “defeat devices” designed to circumvent emissions tests. Shortly afterwards the then head of its US operations, Michael Horn, told a congressional committee that the deception was the work of “a couple of software engineers”. We know that was far from the truth. Volkswagen has already admitted as much in an agreed “statement of facts” published last year as part of a settlement with the US Department of Justice. That document set out how Volkswagen engineers struggled to make a diesel engine which would both perform well and be capable of meeting stringent US emissions standards.

It explained how instead they designed a system to switch on emissions controls when the cars were being tested, and turn them off during normal driving. It also described how managers repeatedly sanctioned the use of this system despite objections from some employees, and encouraged engineers to hide what they were up to. The indictment against Dr Winterkorn goes considerably further – suggesting that the CEO himself was made well aware of what the engineers were doing and authorised a continued cover-up. It claims that in early 2014, engineers heard about a study commissioned by the International Council on Clean Transport, which showed that VW diesels were producing far higher emissions on the road than in official lab tests.

It says that senior managers were informed, and warned that the study might result in VW’s deception being uncovered. A memorandum was written for Dr Winterkorn explaining that the company would be unable to explain the test results to the authorities.

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No, CBS, you can’t sing the praises of these people without looking behind them.

US Freezes Funding For Syria’s “White Helmets” (CBS)

Less than two months ago the State Department hosted members of the White Helmets at Foggy Bottom. At the time, the humanitarian group was showered with praise for saving lives in Syria. “Our meetings in March were very positive. There were even remarks from senior officials about long-term commitments even into 2020. There were no suggestions whatsoever about stopping support,” Raed Saleh, the group’s leader, told CBS News. Now they are not getting any U.S funding as the State Department says the support is “under active review.” The U.S had accounted for about a third of the group’s overall funding. “This is a very worrisome development,” said an official from the White Helmets. “Ultimately, this will negatively impact the humanitarian workers ability to save lives.”

The White Helmets, formally known as the Syrian Civil Defense, are a group of 3,000 volunteer rescuers that have saved thousands of lives since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. A makeshift 911, they have run into the collapsing buildings to pull children, men and women out of danger’s way. They say they have saved more than 70,000 lives. Having not received U.S. funding in recent weeks, White Helmets are questioning what this means for the future. They have received no formal declaration from the U.S. government that the monetary assistance has come to a full halt, but the group’s people on the ground in Syria report that their funds have been cut off.

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“..gold is actually what kept the Federal Reserve solvent in 2008.”

The U.S Government Can Still Confiscate Gold (GT)

By the 1930s, the US government was facing its most severe financial crisis, and it needed gold (something of value), to stimulate the economy that was running on the fumes of fiat currency. So, it took people’s gold. It was as simple as that. Non-compliance was threatened with severe punishment. We may be facing another financial crisis, and it might be best to avoid the role of fugitive “gold hoarder.” At this point, it doesn’t make sense for the government to confiscate private gold, as a cashless society will indirectly control peoples finances. Why would the government seize gold? In 1933, under the 1913 Federal Reserve Act, the dollar had to be backed by 40 percent gold.

This would give the Federal Reserve room to print new money when needed. What’s a government to do when it needs to print money, but doesn’t have the gold reserves needed to back it up? It passes an Executive Order making gold ownership illegal but buys up the illegal gold itself. That’s what Roosevelt did. When the government continued to print more money, it declared ownership of silver illegal a year later. Soon after the government confiscated all gold, the price rose by 40 percent. As if by magic, the US government had a lot more funds than it had before. What happens is that the government buys your gold with cash, then devalues the cash and raises the value of the gold. It wins, you lose.

While the government attributes artificial value to money, it can do and does the same to the value of gold. The government currently holds 261 million ounces of gold in reserve at marked on its book at $42.22 per ounce. That’s a total value of $11 billion. Or is it? The fair market value of gold today is around $1,300 per ounce. As Jim Rickards pointed out in the New Case For Gold, gold is actually what kept the Federal Reserve solvent in 2008.

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Third world.

Shock Figures From Top Thinktank Reveal Extent Of NHS Crisis (G.)

The NHS has among the lowest per capita numbers of doctors, nurses and hospital beds in the western world, a new study of international health spending has revealed. The stark findings come from a new King’s Fund analysis of health data from 21 countries, collected by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. They reveal that only Poland has fewer doctors and nurses than the UK, while only Canada, Denmark and Sweden have fewer hospital beds, and that Britain also falls short when it comes to scanners. “If the 21 countries were a football league then the UK would be in the relegation zone in terms of the resources we put into our healthcare system, as measured by staff, equipment and beds in which to care for patients,” said Siva Anandaciva, the King’s Fund’s chief analyst.

“If you look across all these indicators – beds, staffing, scanners – the UK is consistently below the average in the resources we give the NHS relative to countries such as France and Germany. Overall, the NHS does not have the level of resources it needs to do the job we all expect it to do, given our ageing and growing population, and the OECD data confirms that,” he added. The report concludes that, given the dramatic differences between Britain and other countries: “A general picture emerges that suggests the NHS is under-resourced.”

The thinktank’s research found that the UK has the third-lowest number of doctors among the 21 nations, with just 2.8 per 1,000 people, barely half the number in Austria, which has 5.1 doctors per 1,000 of population. Similarly, the UK has the sixth-smallest number of nurses for its population: just 7.9 per 1,000 people – way behind Switzerland, which has the most: 18 nurses, more than twice as many. With hospital beds, the UK has just 2.6 for every 1,000 people, just over a third of the number in Germany, which has the most – 8.1 beds – and which places the UK 18th overall out of the 21 countries which the OECD gathered figures for. The number of hospital beds in England has halved over the last 30 years and now stands at about 100,000 ..

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How wrong can this go?

Earthquakes, Lava Fissures Could Last For Months On Hawaii (R.)

More homes on Hawaii’s Big Island were destroyed on Saturday as eruptions linked to the Kilauea volcano increased, spewing lava into residential areas and forcing nearly 2,000 people to evacuate, officials said. Scientists forecast more eruptions and more earthquakes, perhaps for months to come, after the southeast corner of the island was rocked by a 6.9 tremor on Friday, the strongest on the island since 1975. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said on Saturday that several new lava fissures had opened in the Leilani Estates subdivision of Puna District, about a dozen miles (19 km) from the volcano. Not all the fissures were still active, it added.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said at midday local time on Saturday that “eruptive activity is increasing and is expected to continue.” Janet Babb, a spokeswoman for the observatory, said by telephone that the eruptions could carry on “for weeks or months.” Babb said the activity since Thursday is beginning to show similarities to another event in the area in 1955 that lasted for 88 days, when far fewer people lived near the volcano.

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Rebalancing carbon: there’s too much inside the planet.

CO2 Levels In Earth’s Atmosphere ‘Highest In 800,000 Years’ (Ind.)

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached its highest level in at least 800,000 years, according to scientists. In April, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere exceeded an average of 410 parts per million (ppm) across the entire month, according to readings from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This is the first time in the history of the observatory’s readings that a monthly average has exceeded that level. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography said that before the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels did not exceed 300ppm in the last 800,000 years.

The Keeling Curve, which plots the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, shows a steady rise in CO2 levels in the atmosphere for decades. Scientists have warned levels of carbon dioxide are crossing a threshold which could lead to global warming beyond the “safe” level identified by the international community, fuelling a rise in sea levels. The latest reading shows a 30 per cent increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the global atmosphere since recording began in 1958. The first measurement was recorded as 315ppm. Carbon dioxide concentration exceeded 400ppm for the first time in 2013. Prior to 1800, atmospheric CO2 averaged about 280ppm, which demonstrates the effect of manmade emissions since the industrial revolution.

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“By 1935, with as few as 60 breeding individuals left, the situation was so dire that the right whale became the first cetacean to be protected by law.”

Facing Extinction, The North Atlantic Right Whale Cannot Adapt. Can We? (G.)

As if to confound everyone, this past week Dr Charles “Stormy” Mayo and his team from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies reported seeing up to 150 right whales in Cape Cod Bay. Dr Mayo – who has been studying these animals for 40 years and has a scientist’s aversion to exaggeration – is stunned. “It is amazing for such a rare and utterly odd creature,” he tells me. All the more amazing since he knows this great gathering could be a final flourish. By 2040, the North Atlantic right whale may be gone. He hesitates, then uses the e-word: extinction. How can such a huge mammal simply disappear within reach of the richest and most powerful nation on earth?

Shifting food sources – due to climate change – are leading whales to areas where maritime industries are unused to them. In the past 12 months, 18 rights have died after ship strikes or entanglement in fishing gear. With as few as 430 animals left, 100 of them breeding females in a reduced gene pool, the species is unsustainable. The right whale may be the strangest beast in the ocean. Vast and rotund, its gigantic mouth is fringed with two-metre strips of baleen, once “harvested” by humans to furnish Venetian blinds and corset stays but used by the whale to strain its diet of rice-sized zooplankton from the sea.

These bizarre animals are not easily known or imagined. They live far longer than us – like its Arctic cousin, the bowhead, the right whale may reach 200, perhaps more. Individuals could be older than constitutional America. They exist beyond us in time, dimension and experience. If we lose the right whale, we lose part of our planet’s biological history. [..] By 1935, with as few as 60 breeding individuals left, the situation was so dire that the right whale became the first cetacean to be protected by law. But by the start of this century, the numbers seemed to recover. Shipping lanes were shifted and fishing industries took on board the whale’s protected status. It even got its own air exclusion zone. “Like a Hollywood star,” as John Waters quipped to me.


Eubalaena glacialis with calf

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May 012018
 
 May 1, 2018  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Théodore Géricault Prancing Grey Horse 1812

 

The US Just Borrowed $488 Billion, a Record High for the First Quarter (BBG)
The Global Debt Addiction: China’s Out of Control Debt (GT)
Governments Are Nothing Like Households (Coppola)
St. Louis Fed: Bitcoin is ‘Like Regular Currency’ (Fortune)
US Extends Tariff Exemptions For European Union And Other Allies (CNBC)
Brexit Talks At Risk Of Collapse Over Irish Border (G.)
South Korea President Says Trump Deserves Nobel Peace Prize (R.)
Leaked Questions Reveal What Mueller Wants To Ask Trump About Russia (G.)
First Members Of Migrant ‘Caravan’ Enter US Seeking Asylum (R.)
That Collapse You Ordered…? (Kunstler)
Are Our Online Lives About To Become ‘Private’ Again? (BBC)
Food, Clothes, A Mattress And Three Funerals. What Teachers Buy For Children (G.)

 

 

“..spending increased at three times the pace of revenue growth..”

The US Just Borrowed $488 Billion, a Record High for the First Quarter (BBG)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he’s unconcerned about the bond market’s ability to absorb rising government debt after his department said it borrowed a record amount for the first quarter. “It’s a very large, robust market — it’s the most liquid market in the world, and there is a lot of supply,” he said in a Bloomberg TV interview on Monday. “But I think the market can easily handle it.” Earlier on Monday the Treasury said net borrowing totaled $488 billion from January through March, a record for that period and about $47 billion more than it had previously estimated, according to a statement released in Washington. The end-of-March cash balance was $290 billion, compared with an initial estimate of $210 billion.

“By definition supply and demand will equate,” Mnuchin said. “I’m not concerned about that. I think that there are still a lot of buyers for U.S. Treasuries,” he said when asked about the risks of reduced demand for Treasuries and increased supply. The Treasury’s debt-management plans were complicated earlier this year by a political fight that was resolved when lawmakers agreed to suspend the federal debt limit in a two-year budget agreement in February. The U.S.’s need to issue more Treasuries is expected to grow as the fiscal picture deteriorates. The budget deficit widened to $600 billion halfway through the fiscal year, as spending increased at three times the pace of revenue growth in the October-to-March period, according to Treasury figures released earlier this month.

Tax and spending measures approved by Congress and President Donald Trump are expected to push the budget gap to $804 billion in the current fiscal year, from $665 billion in fiscal 2017, and then surpass $1 trillion by 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office. In an accompanying statement about the state of the economy, the Treasury said Monday that tax changes are “poised to underpin near-term consumption and investment” and “the stage is set for a pick-up in growth over the near term.”

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The debt keeps the economy going.

The Global Debt Addiction: China’s Out of Control Debt (GT)

China has developed a craving for consumer goods, the more luxurious, the better. Along with most other countries, China’s credit boom and spending spree are being followed by out-of-control debt. While household debt is spiraling, the Chinese government is pushing to double the size of the economy by 2020 (setting this goal in 2010). This ambitious project will almost certainly entail more lending and increased debts. There is a question as to exactly how much more debt China can handle. China’s debt has been rising steadily, from 141 percent of GDP in 2008 to 256 percent of GDP in 2017. This type of rapidly-increasing debt level has frequently been the precursor of a hard economic fall, and the world is watching China carefully.

While countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. also have large debt-to-GDP ratios, the difference is that both are high-income countries, while China has only reached middle-income status, with only $15,400 in household purchasing power. This is a quarter of the household purchasing power of the US. Getting out of debt on China’s low level of income will be far more difficult than in higher-income nations. [..] China’s economic growth has encouraged widespread home buying and mortgage debts as property prices soar. Mortgage debt has increased by 25 percent in two years. People who have bought during the economic boom are now facing monthly mortgage payments that equal up to half of their monthly income.

Household budgets are stretching to the breaking point. This has forced many to curtail spending elsewhere and putting off other necessary big purchase items. This at a time when the government is encouraging greater consumer consumption.

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“Austerity is for the good times, not the bad times.”

Governments Are Nothing Like Households (Coppola)

Politicians like to describe government as like a household. When you’ve borrowed too much, you cut your spending so you can pay off debt, don’t you? You might be able to get a better-paid job, which helps you to pay it off faster. But you still budget to reduce your debt over time. Going on a spending spree means tightening your belt later. Similarly, if government borrows too much, there must be austerity to pay it down. Stands to reason, doesn’t it? People understand this reasoning. It is politically popular, especially when times are hard. In March 2009, when the U.S. was in the deepest recession since the 1930s, John Boehner, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, said on CBS News that “it’s time for government to tighten their belts and show the American people that we ‘get it.’”

“Government is like a household” can even win elections. At the height of the financial crisis in 2008, David Cameron, then leader of the U.K.’s Conservative party, wrote this in the (now defunct) News of the World: “This [Labour] government has maxed out our nation’s credit card—and they want to keep on spending by getting another. We believe we need to get a grip, be responsible and help families now in a way that doesn’t cost us our future.” He became the U.K.’s Prime Minister in May 2010. Keynesian economists such as Paul Krugman argue that instead of trying to reduce public deficits in a recession, government should increase spending, helping businesses to grow and providing employment. Government debt will rise, of course, but the government can run fiscal surpluses to pay it down when growth returns. Austerity is for the good times, not the bad times.

But this message has not been heard. In the name of “living within our means,” “balancing the books” and “paying down the debt,” governments on both sides of the Atlantic have pursued austerity policies ever since the Great Recession. The terrible story of Greece shows us that harsh austerity is the wrong medicine for a poorly-performing, highly indebted economy. But Greece is merely the worst example. Many Western countries have suffered deep and lasting damage, both from the Great Recession itself and from premature attempts to reduce public deficits.

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“..bitcoin units have no intrinsic value” – but currencies “such as the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the Swiss france . . . have no intrinsic value either.”

St. Louis Fed: Bitcoin is ‘Like Regular Currency’ (Fortune)

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has provided some high-profile validation for a core premise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency. A blog post this week based on an earlier Fed research paper said that “bitcoin units have no intrinsic value” – but added that currencies “such as the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the Swiss france . . . have no intrinsic value either.” The post, titled “Three Ways Bitcoin is Like Regular Currency,” doesn’t precisely endorse Bitcoin or cryptocurrency. In another recent report, the St. Louis Fed was critical of Bitcoin’s inefficiency. Cryptocurrency has also become rife with scams since its surge in value last year, and may constitute a global risk because it enables clandestine money laundering, capital flight, and tax evasion.

But the St. Louis Fed has provided a credible rebuttal to one of the most widespread and misguided criticisms of cryptocurrency: That, because it isn’t tied to a particular real-world commodity, it should have a monetary value of zero. As Fed researchers point out, since decoupling from the gold standard in the early 1970s, almost all global reserve currencies rely on nothing but trust to function as a media of value exchange. In the case of the dollar, that’s mostly trust in the U.S. government and economy. For Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, it’s trust in computer code and, at least to some extent, developers.

Surprisingly, the Fed’s new statement also echoes one of the predominant arguments that cryptocurrency fans use to disparage government-backed currency – though in a rather roundabout way. The post argues in part that “there’s a limited supply” of both cash and Bitcoin. The libertarian boosters at the heart of the crytpocurrency movement have often argued that Bitcoin is better than government currency because central banks can devalue national currencies through inflation, while Bitcoin has a strictly fixed supply. Though the Fed’s post points out that it doesn’t actually print cash – in the sense of physical notes – it acknowledges its ability to expand the money supply.

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Concessions will be forthcoming.

US Extends Tariff Exemptions For European Union And Other Allies (CNBC)

The May 1 deadline for steel and aluminum tariff exemptions for U.S. allies has been extended, the White House said. Instead, the White House has decided to postpone the decision on some allies, including the European Union, for 30 days to allow further discussions. Those extensions will affect the EU, Canada and Mexico. As for Argentina, Australia and Brazil, a senior White House official said agreements have been reached in principle, and they will also receive a 30-day extension so details can be finalized. South Korea’s exemption from tariffs is permanent because it agreed to quotas as part of a new trade deal. Administration officials have asked other countries what level of quotas they would agree to.

One person briefed by the administration told CNBC: “Quotas are an active part of the discussion with every country on the exemption list.” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is leading the process for country exemptions, except for the European Union, which Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is leading. The Department of Commerce is also spearheading the process for product exemptions. The National Security Council is overseeing the entire process. The May 1 deadline on the tariff exemptions was set in a presidential memorandum on the topic.

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UK says they have a solution, but not what that is.

Brexit Talks At Risk Of Collapse Over Irish Border (G.)

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has warned that talks are at risk if the UK does not soften its red line on the Irish border issue. Speaking to reporters on his third visit to Ireland since the referendum, Michel Barnier said he was “not optimistic” and “not pessimistic” but “determined” that the two sides can break the current impasse on talks. He repeated recent declarations that unless Britain came up with fresh thinking on how to avoid a hard border by the June EU council summit, further talks were in danger of collapsing. “Until we reach this agreement and this operational solution for Northern Ireland, a backstop [solution], and we are ready for any proposal … there is a risk, a real risk,” he said.

But he hinted that the UK would not have to come up with the final deal for Ireland, describing the June summit as “a stepping stone” to the October deadline for the wider Brexit deal to be completed. The Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said Britain’s “approach to negotiations will need to change in some way” if there is to be agreement over the issue. Appearing alongside Varadkar and his deputy, Simon Coveney, Barnier said the EU was “absolutely united” on the Irish question but wanted to work with the UK to find a practical solution. Coveney warned that there would be “difficulties” at the next EU council summit in June in progressing to wider Brexit talks unless the UK commited to wording for a “backstop” solution for the Irish border.

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It would be fun.

South Korea President Says Trump Deserves Nobel Peace Prize (R.)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said U.S. President Donald Trump deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the standoff with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, a South Korean official said on Monday. “President Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize. What we need is only peace,” Moon told a meeting of senior secretaries, according to a presidential Blue House official who briefed media. Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday pledged at a summit to end hostilities between their countries and work toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula. Trump is preparing for his own summit with Kim, which he said would take place in the next three to four weeks.

The Trump administration has led a global effort to impose ever stricter sanctions on North Korea and the U.S. president exchanged bellicose threats with Kim in the past year over North Korea’s development of nuclear missiles capable of reaching the United States. In January, Moon said Trump “deserves big credit for bringing about the inter-Korean talks. It could be a resulting work of the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure”. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize just months into his presidency, an award many thought was premature, given that he had little to show for his peace efforts beyond rhetoric.

Even Obama said he was surprised and by the time he collected the prize in Oslo at the end of that year, he had ordered the tripling of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. As well as Obama, three U.S. presidents have won the Nobel Peace Prize: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Jimmy Carter. Moon’s Nobel Prize comment came in response to a congratulatory message from Lee Hee-ho, the widow of late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, in which she said Moon deserved to win the prize, the Blue House official said. Moon responded by saying Trump should get it.

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Nothing leaks like Washington.

Leaked Questions Reveal What Mueller Wants To Ask Trump About Russia (G.)

Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the US election, wants to ask Donald Trump about contact between his former election campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russia, the New York Times reported on Monday. The paper said it had obtained a list of nearly 50 questions that Mueller, investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, wants to put to the US president. More than half relate to potential obstruction of justice. “What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?” is one of the more dramatic questions published by the Times.

The pointed reference to Manafort breaks tantalising new ground, since there was no previous evidence linking him to outreach to Moscow. Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution thinktank in Washington, tweeted: “This is very interesting – strong evidence that there are still collusion threads that are not yet public.” Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, pleaded not guilty last October to a 12-count indictment accusing them of conspiring to defraud the US by laundering $30m from their work for a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine. a dramatic insight into the special counsel’s mind and make clear that Trump is a subject, not a mere witness, in the investigation. It is not yet known whether the president will agree to be interviewed.

One batch of questions relates to alleged coordination between the Trump election campaign and Moscow. Donald Trump Jr’s June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York with a Russian lawyer who promised damaging information about rival Hillary Clinton is naturally under scrutiny. Mueller wants to ask when Trump became aware of the meeting; Trump Jr claimed his father did not know about it in advance.

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Set up a program to bring peace to Central America. Kick out the CIA. They will stop coming.

First Members Of Migrant ‘Caravan’ Enter US Seeking Asylum (R.)

The first eight members of a “caravan” of Central American migrants entered U.S. territory to seek asylum on Monday, after a month-long journey through Mexico that drew the wrath of President Donald Trump. The eight women and children walked through a door into the San Ysidro port of entry on the bidding of a customs and border patrol officer, a Reuters witness said, hours after Vice President Mike Pence promised they would be processed in line with U.S. law. About three quarters of claims by Central American asylum seekers are ultimately unsuccessful, resulting in detention and deportation.

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Medium or well-done?

That Collapse You Ordered…? (Kunstler)

I had a fellow on my latest podcast, released Sunday, who insists that the world population will crash 90-plus percent from the current 7.6 billion to 600 million by the end of this century. Jack Alpert heads an outfit called the Stanford Knowledge Integration Lab (SKIL) which he started at Stanford University in 1978 and now runs as a private research foundation. Alpert is primarily an engineer. At 600 million, the living standard in the USA would be on a level with the post-Roman peasantry of Fifth century Europe, but without the charm, since many of the planet’s linked systems — soils, oceans, climate, mineral resources — will be in much greater disarray than was the case 1,500 years ago.

Anyway, that state-of-life may be a way-station to something more dire. Alpert’s optimal case would be a world human population of 50 million, deployed in three “city-states,” in the Pacific Northwest, the Uruguay / Paraguay border region, and China, that could support something close to today’s living standards for a tiny population, along with science and advanced technology, run on hydropower. The rest of world, he says, would just go back to nature, or what’s left of it. Alpert’s project aims to engineer a path to that optimal outcome. I hadn’t encountered quite such an extreme view of the future before, except for some fictional exercises like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. (Alpert, too, sees cannibalism as one likely byproduct of the journey ahead.)

Obviously, my own venture into the fictionalized future of the World Made by Hand books depicted a much kinder and gentler re-set to life at the circa-1800 level of living, at least in the USA. Apparently, I’m a sentimental softie. Both of us are at odds with the more generic techno-optimists who are waiting patiently for miracle rescue remedies like cold fusion while enjoying re-runs of The Big Bang Theory. (Alpert doesn’t completely rule out as-yet-undeveloped energy sources, though he acknowledges that they’re a low-percentage prospect.) We do agree with basic premise that the energy supply is mainly what supports the way we live now, and that it shows every evidence of entering a deep and destabilizing decline that will halt the activities necessary to keep our networks of dynamic systems running.

A question of interest to many readers is how soon or how rapid the unraveling of these systems might be. When civilizations crumble, it tends to fast-track. The Roman empire seems to be an exception, but in many ways it was far more resilient than ours, being a sort of advanced Flintstones economy, with even its giant-scale activities (e.g. building the Coliseum) being accomplished by human-powered work.

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Never again.

Are Our Online Lives About To Become ‘Private’ Again? (BBC)

In May, tough new privacy laws are being introduced across Europe, offering EU consumers far greater control over their data and large fines for firms which break the rules. It is worth pausing to think about how we got to this point. To begin to understand, we must remember that data can easily be copied, shared and collected from multiple sources. Whenever we use digital devices – everything from web browsers, to phones, loyalty cards and CCTV cameras – we create data that allows advertisers, insurers, the police and others to understand aspects of our lives. Only its availability and the ingenuity of its handler limits what it can tell us. This is very different to a traditional commodity that can be bought and sold: a house, for example.

If you sell your house, the buyer might come to understand something of your personality, perhaps through a taste for high-spec kitchens and red carpets. Beyond that, the potential insight into your life is limited – your diaries and photo albums will have moved with you. With data, it is more complicated. Once you sign up for an online service, constant and often seamless data collection starts. Minimal understanding and agreement are often sufficient for this collection to begin: clicking “I agree” to terms and conditions you may or may not have read can be enough. It’s as if, rather than handing over a clean and tidy house, you have invited the buyer to move in with you and start taking notes: how you behave, whom you talk to, who visits you and who spends the night.

Many people never have a clear understanding of how the data they produce is shared, collected and interpreted. It can be combined with data from other sources, and investigated in unpredictable and unforeseen ways to gain in-depth knowledge about our lives, preferences, and likely future behaviours. This knowledge can be used to influence us in subtle but powerful ways. The advertisements, news, and friends we encounter online are often the result of this nudging. And, unlike a house, the data can be copied again and again at little to no cost, reaching an unlimited number of people. It is clear that the risks to privacy with data are substantial. Recognising this, additional safeguards are being introduced.

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The damage being done to Britain is unbelievable.

Food, Clothes, A Mattress And Three Funerals. What Teachers Buy For Children (G.)

In 2014 Gemma Morton, the headteacher of a large secondary school, told Education Guardian her school had helped to pay for the funeral of a student whose family couldn’t afford it, even after they had sold their car. Three years on, she has helped to pay for two more funerals. “When a child dies, nobody’s saved for it,” says Morton. “There is literally nowhere for families to go apart from the people they already know, and most of them are poverty-struck too.” Over the past few years, as austerity has deepened, more schools and individual teachers are bailing out disadvantaged families because they simply can’t say no. The latest government figures show 100,000 more children propelled into poverty in just 12 months.

There are 4.1 million children – nearly a third of the entire child population – living in households on less than 60% of the average income. At Gill Williams’s primary school in the north-west of England, local supermarkets deliver bread and fresh vegetables three times a week, which are placed in the playground for parents to help themselves. There is rarely a crumb left. Williams says it is not so much that poverty is more severe, but that it has spread. “It’s everybody. Your average family is like that now.” The core group of those needing support in her school is three times larger than when she became a head 10 years ago.

Evidence of hungry children is clear, say teachers. “You notice kids borrowing money from friends to buy food, kids falling asleep, kids saying they’ve got a tummy ache, and they didn’t have breakfast because Mummy didn’t have anything in,” says Morton. She has also seen children taking scraps from the school bins. Heads in poor catchments notice a difference when they attend meetings at other schools. “If you go and see kids in two different areas, they’ll be noticeably different heights,” says Morton.

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Apr 182018
 
 April 18, 2018  Posted by at 9:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Franco Fontana Prague 1967

 

Junk Bond Market Still in Total Denial, Fighting the Fed (WS)
World Trade System In Danger Of Being Torn Apart, Warns IMF (G.)
Eurozone Engine Sputters as German Downturn Risk Sharpens (BBG)
Bitcoin Tumbles After Mystery “Whale” Dumps $50 Million In One Trade (ZH)
Japan Asks Rusal To Stop Aluminum Shipments (ZH)
The Deep State And The Big Lie – Douma (Stockman)
Theresa May’s Husband Made A Killing From The Bombing Of Syria (EP)
Trump Tweets Support For American Pastor On Trial In Turkey (R.)
New Refugees In Greece Can Move Freely, Says Court (K.)
Recycling Is Not The Answer (G.)
30 KIlos Of Plastic Bags Killed Whale Washed Ashore On Santorini (KTG)

 

 

The wonderful world of junk.

Junk Bond Market Still in Total Denial, Fighting the Fed (WS)

The Fed’s efforts to raise interest rates across the spectrum have borne fruit only in limited fashion. In the Treasury market, yields of longer-dated securities have not risen (prices fall when yields rise) as sharply as they have with Treasuries of shorter maturities. The two-year yield has surged to 2.41% on Tuesday, the highest since July 2008. But the 10-year yield, at 2.82%, while double from two years ago, is only back where it had been in 2014. So the difference (the “spread”) between the two has narrowed to just 0.41 percentage points, the narrowest since before the Financial Crisis:

This disconnect is typical during the earlier stages of the rate-hike cycle because the Fed, through its market operations, targets the federal funds rate. Short-term Treasury yields follow with some will of their own. But the long end doesn’t rise at the same pace, or doesn’t rise at all because there is a lot of demand for these securities at those yields. Investors are “fighting the Fed”— doing the opposite of what the Fed wants them to do – and the difference between the shorter and longer maturities dwindles, and it dwindles, and it causes a lot of gray hairs, and it dwindles further, until it stops making sense to investors and they open their eyes and get out of the chase, and suddenly long-term yield surge higher, as bond prices drop sharply.

That’s why short sellers have taken record positions against the 10-year Treasury recently: they’re waiting for yields to spike to the next level. But this disconnect – this symptom of investors fighting the Fed – in the Treasury market is mild compared to the disconnect in the junk bond market. There, investors have completely blown off the Fed. At least in the Treasury market, 10-year yields have risen since the Fed started getting serious about rate increases in December 2016. In the junk bond market, yields have since fallen. In other words, despite the Fed’s tightening, the junk bond bubble has gotten bigger. And investors are not yet showing any signs of second thoughts.

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Because the IMF made sure it would be skewed towards the rich.

World Trade System In Danger Of Being Torn Apart, Warns IMF (G.)

The postwar global trading system risks being torn apart, the International Monetary Fund has warned, amid concern over the tariff showdown between the US and China. In a sign of its growing concern that protectionism is being stimulated by voter scepticism, the IMF used its half-yearly health check for the world economy to tell policymakers they needed to address the public’s concerns before a better-than-expected period of growth came to an end. Maurice Obstfeld, the IMF’s economic counsellor, said: “The first shots in a potential trade war have now been fired.” He said Donald Trump’s tax cuts would suck imports into the US and increase the size of the trade deficit 2019 by $150bn – a trend that could exacerbate trade tensions.

“The multilateral rules-based trade system that evolved after world war two and that nurtured unprecedented growth in the world economy needs strengthening. Instead, it is in danger of being torn apart.” Obstfeld said there was more of a “phoney war” between the US and China than a return to the widespread use of tariffs in the Great Depression, but that there were signs that even the threat of protectionism was already harming growth. “That major economies are flirting with trade war at a time of widespread economic expansion may seem paradoxical – especially when the expansion is so reliant on investment and trade,” Obstfeld added.

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Too much surplus?

Eurozone Engine Sputters as German Downturn Risk Sharpens (BBG)

The euro area’s economic expansion is standing on increasingly shaky ground after reports showed German investor confidence tumbling to its lowest level since late 2012 and the risk of a recession in the nation jumping. The sentiment gauge from ZEW showed more investors now see a worsening in Europe’s largest economy than forecast an improvement, a mood swing that ZEW President Achim Wambach blamed on the U.S. trade dispute combined with weak domestic retail and production numbers. The drop in confidence came as the Dusseldorf-based Macroeconomic Policy Institute (IMK) said the probability of a recession in Germany over the next three months has jumped to 32%.

While that outcome remains unlikely, the gauge is up sharply from 6.8% in March. It follows U.S. attempts to rewrite international trade rules by imposing import tariffs, triggering a tit-for-tat response by China. Even though the European Union has temporarily been exempted from the metal levies, risks of far-reaching retaliatory measures could still hurt Germany’s export-driven economy – feeding into signs that growth in the euro area is coming off its peak. At the IMK, the recession gauge, which uses data that have signaled downturns in the past is now orange – the middle of its traffic-light warning system – for the first time since March 2016. That was just as the German economy was entering a mild slowdown.

“Volatility in financial markets, which has been evident for several months, is now accompanied by a noticeable deterioration in sentiment and subdued production,” according to IMK. “This has recently become a typical constellation for the end phase of a cycle.”

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For now, still a casino.

Bitcoin Tumbles After Mystery “Whale” Dumps $50 Million In One Trade (ZH)

The price of several cryptocurrencies took a sudden hit Tuesday over the course of 20 minutes, which some suspect may be the result of a single Bitcoin whale who unloaded over $50 million worth of the digital currency in one Bitfinex trade. The drop comes one day after the third largest bitcoin wallet also unloaded around $50 million of the digital currency. As Marketwatch first noted , “the balance of wallet 3D2oetdNuZUqQHPJmcMDDHYoqkyNVsFk9r — an anonymous digital account which is valued at $1.49 billion — fell by 6,500 bitcoin Tuesday, with the average sale price sale being $8,146.70, a total value of just over $50 million, according to bitinfocharts.”

The sale comes a day after the third-largest wallet, which famously purchased over $400 million in bitcoin in February, let go of 6,600 bitcoin at an average price of $8,026. Combined, the two whales unloaded over $100 million of bitcoin within 24 hours. As there was no immediate news or catalyst, some attributed the sale to Tuesday’s report that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had launched an investigation into 13 cryptocurrency exchanges including Coinbase, Gemini and Bit Trust. The probe seeks information on fees, volume data and procedures governing margin trading among other things. However, the news hit some 4 hours prior to the sale.

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Unintended sanctions consequences?! Aluminum much more expensive for US firms too.

Japan Asks Rusal To Stop Aluminum Shipments (ZH)

One week ago, when the Trump administration unveiled the most draconian Russian sanctions yet which among others targeted Putin-ally Oleg Deripaska and the Russian oligarch’s aluminum giant, Rusal, we said that aluminum prices are going higher, much higher, for one reason: excluding China’s zombie producers, Rusal is the world’s largest producer of aluminum. Well, prices have since surged, largely as expected, and one week later we also learned just how “radioactive’ Rusal’s products have become as a result of the US sanctions: overnight Reuters reported that major Japanese trading houses asked the Russian aluminum producer to stop shipping refined aluminum and other products in light of U.S. sanctions on the world’s No.2 producer and are scrambling to secure metal elsewhere, according to industry sources.

“We have requested Rusal stop shipments of aluminum for our term contracts as we can’t make payment in U.S. dollars and we don’t want to take the risk of becoming a secondary sanction target by the United States,” said a source at a trading house [..] It is unclear how and where Japan can find alternative sources of aluminum: Japan buys about 300,000 tonnes of refined aluminum from Russia, about 16% of the nation’s total import, according to the Japan Aluminium Association. “Everyone has been on a search for substitutes and that pushed local spot premiums to around $200-$250 per tonne by last Friday,” he said. That’s sharply higher than Japan term premiums for April-June quarter shipments at $129 per tonne.

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Pearson Sharp and Robert Fisk were both on the ground in Douma. Both say the same.

The Deep State And The Big Lie – Douma (Stockman)

The contra-narrative about Assad’s alleged gas attack is gaining traction as the evidence comes in. It increasingly seems probable that some folks suffocated or were overcome with smoke inhalation and hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) when buildings, tunnels and underground bunkers collapsed into clouds of dust during the final battle for Douma last Saturday. Then the desperate remnant of the jihadist Army of Islam (Jaysh al-Islam) holed up there piled the bodies in a basement, spread shaving cream on their lips and proceeded to videotape furiously. Thereafter, they charged into a nearby hospital (which was treating hypoxia victims) with their video cameras in hand, yelling “chemical attack” while water-hosing one and all, thereby setting off the pandemonium seen on social media around the world.

We haven’t gotten to Douma yet to check out this contra-narrative, but an intrepid young reporter named Pearson Sharp did. Along with his camera crew, he visited the site of the attack, the hospital and the nearby rebel weapons dump – and interviewed dozens of people in the immediate vicinity. According to Sharp, none of them witnessed the alleged gas attack or believed it happened, and several personnel at the Douma hospital corroborated the phony water-dousing melee. Indeed, the head surgeon insisted to him that no one had died at the hospital from chemical agents. And he also saw and videoed room after room stacked with rockets, mortars and other military gear and filmed the debris and dilapidated remnants of buildings in the town.

[..] Self-evidently, a visiting Martian might have an altogether different interpretation of which nation had ventured down the “dark path” and which one was a “force for stability and peace”. And that would especially be the case with just a few more reports like the new missive from veteran war correspondent, Robert Fisk of the Independent (UK). Unlike young Mr. Pearson Sharp, Fisk has been a war correspondent in the Middle East for four decades and has won endless awards for reporting from the front lines. But his chops were earned when he became one of the few reporters in history to conduct face-to-face interviews with Osama bin Laden on three separate occasions during the 1990s.

Fisk’s dispatch filed Monday night speaks for itself and merits quoting at length because it not only skewers Washington’s narrative about Assad’s gas attack, but also provides vivid context: Whatever happened last Saturday erupted in the fog of war and could not possibly have been instantly assessed objectively or correctly by officials 6,000 miles away, who admit to having no “assets” on the ground in Damascus.

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Yes, this is pretty crazy.

Theresa May’s Husband Made A Killing From The Bombing Of Syria (EP)

The fact that Philip May is both a Senior Executive of a hugely powerful investment firm, and privy to reams of insider information from the Prime Minister – knowledge which, when it becomes public, hugely affects the share prices of the companies his firm invests in – makes Mr May’s official employment a staggering conflict of interest for the husband of a sitting Prime Minister. However, aside from the ease at which he is able to glean insider information from his wife about potential decisions which could go on to make huge profits for his firm, there is a far darker conflict of interest that has so far gone undiscussed.

Philip May is a Senior Executive of Capital Group, an Investment Firm who buy shares in all sorts of companies across the globe – including thousands of shares in the world’s biggest Defence Firm, Lockheed Martin. According to Investopedia, Philip May’s Capital Group owned around 7.09% of Lockheed Martin in March 2018 – a stake said to be worth more than £7Bn at this time. Whilst other sources say Capital Group’s shareholding of Lockheed Martin may actually be closer to 10%. On the 14th April 2018, the Prime Minister Theresa May sanctioned British military action on Syria in response to an apparent chemical attack on the city of Douma – air strikes that saw the debut of a new type of Cruise Missile, the JASSM, produced exclusively by the Lockheed Martin Corporation.

The debut of this new – and incredibly expensive – weapon was exactly what US President Donald Trump was referring to when he tweeted that the weapons being fired on Syria would be “nice and new and ‘smart!’” Every single JASSM used in the recent bombing of Syria costs more than $1,000,000, and as a result of their widespread use during the recent bombing of Syria by Western forces, the share price of Lockheed Martin soared.

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Now let them tell Erdogan about it.

Trump Tweets Support For American Pastor On Trial In Turkey (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump voiced his support on Tuesday for Pastor Andrew Brunson, who is on trial in Turkey on charges he was linked to a group accused of orchestrating a failed 2016 military coup, in a case that has compounded strains in U.S.-Turkish relations. “Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason,” Trump tweeted. “They call him a spy, but I am more a spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!” Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was indicted on charges of helping the group that Ankara holds responsible for the failed 2016 coup against President Tayyip Erdogan.

He faces up to 35 years in prison. Brunson has been the pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church, serving a small Protestant congregation in Turkey’s third largest city. Brunson’s trial is one of several legal cases roiling U.S.-Turkish relations. The two countries are also at odds over U.S. support for a Kurdish militia in northern Syria that Turkey considers a terrorist organization. Washington has called for Brunson’s release while Erdogan suggested last year his fate could be linked to that of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose extradition Ankara has repeatedly sought to face charges over the coup attempt.

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It’s the EU that demanded refugees would be confined to the islands.

New Refugees In Greece Can Move Freely, Says Court (K.)

New refugee and migrant arrivals in Greece will soon be able to move around the country freely without being restricted to the islands of the eastern Aegean where they arrive from neighboring Turkey, according to a Council of State ruling that emerged on Tuesday and upends a 2016 decision by the Greek asylum service that forced them to remain in so-called hotspots until their asylum application was processed. According to the leaked ruling by the country’s highest administrative court, there are no reasons of public interest or migration policy to justify their geographical restriction to the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros, Kos and Rhodes.

Migration Policy Minister Dimitris Vitsas said he would comment on the ruling once he is informed of it officially. Once the ruling is published, new refugees who apply for asylum will be allowed to reside in any part of the country they choose. The asylum service’s May 2016 decision restricting migrants to the Aegean islands was challenged by the Greek Council for Refugees, an NGO which filed an appeal for its cancellation. “The imposition of restrictions on movement blocked the distribution of those people throughout Greek territory and resulted in their unequal concentration in specific regions and the significant burdening and decline of those regions,” the court said in its reasoning.

However, taking into account the large number of arrivals, the court said the ruling does not have a retroactive effect, which means it will not relate to the refugees who are already languishing in reception centers. The so-called hotspots have been operating beyond capacity and the country is now witnessing a fresh spike in arrivals of often flimsy boats carrying desperate passengers from Turkey.

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Indeed. But plastics are a huge industry.

Recycling Is Not The Answer (G.)

We all know, in theory, that we ought to use less plastic. We’ve all been distressed by the sight of Blue Planet II’s hawksbill turtle entangled in a plastic sack, and felt chastened as we’ve totted up our weekly tally of disposable coffee cups. But still, UK annual plastic waste is now close to 5m tonnes, including enough single-use plastic to fill 1,000 Royal Albert Halls; the government’s planned elimination of “avoidable” plastic waste by 2042 seems a quite dazzling task. It was reported this week that scientists at the University of Portsmouth have accidentally developed a plastic-eating mutant enzyme, and while we wait to see if that will save us all, for one individual the realisation of just how much plastic we use has become an intensely personal matter.

One early evening in mid-2016, Daniel Webb, 36, took a run along the coast near his home in Margate. “It was one of those evenings where the current had brought in lots of debris,” he recalls, because as Webb looked down at the beach from his route along the promenade he noticed a mass of seaweed, tangled with many pieces of plastic. “Old toys, probably 20 years old, bottles that must have been from overseas because they had all kinds of different languages on them, bread tags, which I don’t think had been used for years …” he says. “It was very nostalgic, almost archaeological. And it made me think, as a mid-30s guy, is any of my plastic out there? Had I once dropped a toy in a stream near Wolverhampton, where I’m from, and now it was out in the sea?”

Webb decided that he would start a project to keep all the plastic he used in the course of an entire year. He would not modify his plastic consumption in that time (although he had already given up buying bottled water), and each item would be carefully washed and stored in his spare room.


Daniel Webb in front of his Mural-by-the-Sea. Photo: Ollie Harrop 2018/Everyday Plastic

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Where your plastic ends up. Never again can you say you didn’t know. From now on it’s you didn’t care.

30 Kilos Of Plastic Bags Killed Whale Washed Ashore On Santorini (KTG)

More than 30 kg of plastic, mainly plastic bags, were found in the stomach of the whale that was washed out on the island of Santorini last week. The conducted autopsy showed that the huge mammal died of a gastric shock. The whale was unable to digest or excrete the rubbish through its digestive system. The problem caused peritonitis inflammation in its intestines that led to the animal’s death, local media report. The dead whale brings back to the spotlight the problem of tonnes of plastic landing into the waters, polluting the environment and leading to death of marine life. The body of the 9-meter long sperm whale – or Physeter macrocephalus as the scientific name is – was washed ashore on Akrotiri area on the island of Santorini in the Aegean island group of Cyclades on April 10th. The body weighting more than 7 tones was in condition of advanced sepsis.

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Apr 132018
 
 April 13, 2018  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ezra Stoller Parking garage, New Haven, Connecticut 1963

 

Zombies In Our Midst (Felder)
After 10 Fat Years For Stock Investors A Lean Decade Is Looming (MW)
China Records Rare Trade Deficit In March As Exports Fall 2.7% (R.)
London House Prices Falling At Fastest Rate In Nine Years (G.)
Google Saves Manhattan Office Market. Chinese Buyers Vanish (WS)
The Deep State Closes In On The Donald: Mueller’s War, Part 2 (Stockman)
Bitcoin Surges 15%, Pushing Crypto Market Cap Above $300 Billion (MW)
The US Fading into Irrelevance – A Good Thing for the World (Pieraccini)
Interest Rate Hikes Are On The Way, But When And How Fast? (AFR)
Why Trade Wars Will Unleash Central Banks (Nomi Prins)
Global Warming Is a Central Bank Issue (BBG)
Decline In Bees Puts Supply Of Raw Materials For Global Business At Risk (Ind.)
No Plan To Protect Queensland’s Green-Haired Turtle From Extinction (G.)
Gulf Stream Slowdown ‘About A Century Ahead Of Schedule’ (TP)

 

 

Ponzi’s and zombies. Not Jesse Felder’s original title, but this one by DiMartino Booth is better.

Zombies In Our Midst (Felder)

To begin to understand the current situation in Minsky terms we must first understand the hypothesis: “The first theorem of the financial instability hypothesis is that the economy has financing regimes under which it is stable, and financing regimes in which it is unstable. The second theorem of the financial instability hypothesis is that over periods of prolonged prosperity, the economy transits from financial relations that make for a stable system to financial relations that make for an unstable system. In particular, over a protracted period of good times, capitalist economies tend to move from a financial structure dominated by hedge finance units to a structure in which there is large weight to units engaged in speculative and Ponzi finance.”

Next we need to understand what these financing units are: “Hedge financing units are those which can fulfill all oftheir contractual payment obligations by their cash flows… Speculative finance units are units that can meet their payment commitments on “income account” on their liabilities, even as they cannot repay the principle out of income cash flows… For Ponzi units, the cash flows from operations are not sufficient to fulfill either the repayment of principle or the interest due on outstanding debts by their cash flows from operations.”

And this is what reminded me of Minsky when I read the recent article in Grant’s with the accompanying chart below. It shows the percent of companies in the S&P 500 that would fall into Minsky’s “Ponzi unit” category. Specifically, Bianco Research defines these “zombies” as companies whose interest expense is greater than their 3-year average EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes). Currently, we face the greatest percentage of “Ponzi units” in at least 20 years.

This should be worrisome to investors and even more so to those managing monetary policy because it suggests that financial instability within the economy may be greater than any other time over the past couple of decades. Minsky again: “It can be shown that if hedge financing dominates, then the economy may well be an equilibrium seeking and containing system. In contrast, the greater the weight of speculative and Ponzi finance, the greater the likelihood that the economy is a deviation amplifying system.” Those last three words are critical. “A deviation amplifying system,” simply means an economy built on a virtuous cycle that risks evolving into a vicious one.

So long as interest rates remain low and investor risk appetites remain strong zombies will thrive and the economy will, as well, relatively speaking of course. However, should interest rates rise and risk appetites reverse course the risk of a self-reinforcing downturn grows. Minsky explains: “In particular… if an economy with a sizeable body of speculative financial units is in an inflationary state, and the authorities attempt to exorcise inflation by monetary constraint, then speculative units will become Ponzi units and the net worth of previously Ponzi units will quickly evaporate. Consequently, units with cash flow shortfalls will be forced to try to make position by selling out position. This is likely to lead to a collapse of asset values.”

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It won’t be like any of those previous decades.

After 10 Fat Years For Stock Investors A Lean Decade Is Looming (MW)

It’s a phrase that comes standard on Wall Street, but which may be taking on ominous undertones in the current market: Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. It should come as no surprise that U.S. equity-market investors have been handsomely rewarded thus far this decade, a period of time that roughly corresponds with the recovery from the financial crisis (the bottom came in March 2009, roughly 10 months before the start of the 2010s). The S&P 500 is up nearly 140% since the start of the decade, and more than 180% on a total-return basis. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up more than 130% over the same period. Those are obviously strong gains, but even the biggest bulls on Wall Street may not appreciate just how strong this period has been relative to other decades.

“The 2010s have so far been one of the highest-returning and lowest-risk decades for U.S. stocks in the last 100 years,” wrote Howard Wang, co-founder of Convoy Investments. According to Convoy’s data, stocks averaged a total annualized return of 13.2% thus far this decade, comfortably above the long-term average of 9.6%. While this was below four other decades — the best decade was the 1950s, when the average was 18.8%, followed by the 18.6% gain in the 1990s — equities fared better in terms of their excess return above interest rates. By the excess-return measure, the 2010s have seen an average annual return of 12.7%, significantly above the 5.8% long-term average (going back to the 1920s).

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“Separately, China’s dollar-denominated trade surplus with the United States rose 19.4% in the first quarter…”

China Records Rare Trade Deficit In March As Exports Fall 2.7% (R.)

China’s March exports unexpected fell 2.7% from a year earlier, the first drop since February last year, while imports grew 14.4%, more than expected, customs data showed on Friday. That left the country with a rare trade deficit of $4.98 billion for the month, also the first since last February. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected March shipments from the world’s largest exporter to have risen 10.0%, slowing sharply from a 44.5% spike in the previous month which was believed to be heavily distorted by seasonal factors. Import growth had been expected to pick up to 10.0%, after slowing sharply to 6.3% in February.

Analysts expected China would record a trade surplus of $27.21 billion for last month, from February’s surplus of $33.75 billion. For the first quarter, exports rose 14.1%, and imports rose 18.9% on-year. China’s trade performance has got off to a strong start this year, following through on a solid rebound in 2017, thanks to sustained demand at home and abroad. But the export outlook is being clouded by an escalating trade dispute with the United States, which could disrupt China’s shipments and its supply chains, while a cooling property market may curb China’s demand for imported raw materials such as iron ore. Separately, China’s dollar-denominated trade surplus with the United States rose 19.4% in the first quarter.

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Ain’t seen nothing yet.

London House Prices Falling At Fastest Rate In Nine Years (G.)

House prices in London are falling at the fastest rate in nine years, according to Halifax, Britain’s biggest mortgage lender. Prices in the capital were down 3.2% between January and March compared with the previous quarter, the sharpest decline since the depths of the financial crisis, according to regional data collated by IHS Markit and published by Halifax, part of Lloyds Banking Group. London also recorded the sharpest fall in annual house prices since the start of 2011. Property values fell 3.8% in the first quarter from a year ago, following a 0.7% annual drop in the fourth quarter. London prices have been falling on a quarterly and annual basis since the third quarter of 2017.

There was a small annual increase of 0.3% in prices in the south-east of England at the start of the year, and a rise of 1.9% in the south-west. Prices grew strongly elsewhere in the country. The east Midlands and East Anglia recorded the fastest rates of annual price inflation, at 7.3% and 7.2% respectively, followed by Scotland at 6.7% and Yorkshire and the Humber at 6.1%. The standardised price of a home in London was £430,749 in the first quarter, the lowest since the end of 2015. Figures are standardised in order to track the price of a “typical house” by giving values to certain attributes of the properties and using them to calculate the price.

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The only game in town.

Google Saves Manhattan Office Market. Chinese Buyers Vanish (WS)

Chinese entities – such as the conglomerates – were once the dominant buyer in US trophy office markets, such as Manhattan. It ended with a big bang in the second quarter of 2017 when Chinese entities accounted for half of the commercial real estate volume in Manhattan, including its sixth largest transaction ever, the $2.2 billion purchase of 245 Park Avenue by the conglomerate HNA Group. It paid $1,282 per square foot, as it was called, “among the highest price per pound for this type of asset.” It was the last big Chinese property purchase in Manhattan.

But Google blew that deal out of the water, with its $2.4 billion acquisition of the iconic eight-story Chelsea Market at 75 Ninth Ave in Q1 this year. This was the second largest deal ever to close in Manhattan. And Google paid a breath-taking $2,181 per square foot. We will never again laugh about the inflated prices Chinese buyers were paying. [..] And here is what that Google deal did to the Manhattan office market: It more than doubled the total volume of sales! Without the Google deal, total transaction volume would have been $2.12 billion. With the Google deal, it jumped to $4.52 billion! [..] the dizzying price of $2,181 per square foot that Google forked over pushed the average price per square foot to a record $1,266, up 70% from Q1 last year:

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David is a great ranter.

The Deep State Closes In On The Donald: Mueller’s War, Part 2 (Stockman)

What is going on in the eastern Mediterranean and over the skies and on the ground in Syria is absolutely nuts; it’s also scary dangerous and utterly unnecessary, too. After all, the imminent Russian/American military clash is over the skeleton of an artificial backwater nation confected in 1916 by two swells in the British and French foreign offices. At length, what was never a nation anyway has finally been reduced to rubble, misery and sectarian fragments. So there is nothing to contest now, and, in fact, there never was. The sovereign government of Syria long ago invited the Russians in and Washington out. Period. Why, then, are commercial aircraft being warned to stay out of Syrian airspace, while the Russian fleet at Tartus scrambles into defensive redeployments?

Likewise, why is the Syrian air force being forced to hide its planes and helicopters in its own country, while Washington steams an armada of warships toward the Mediterranean that is larger and more lethal than the entire Navy of almost every other country in the world? The answer is simple and terrible: Washington has become the War Capital of the planet and now teems with a whole generation of war-obsessed bureaucrats, think-tankers, consultants, lobbyists, militarists, imperialists, neocon belligerents and the legions of military/industrial/spy complex racketeers who feed off a hideously bloated national security budget.

Of course, you also have thousands of politicians—both those now in office and those who hang-around afterwards and get prosperous by hanging-out a shingle to ply the business of operating Washington’s global empire. Among them are the brainwashed, the stupid, the larcenous, the sanctimonious, the venal, the flag-wavers, the sunshine patriots and the ideologues of American exceptionalism, responsibility-to-protect (R2P), democracy propagation and plain old imperial hegemony.

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Casino. Not for the faint of heart.

Bitcoin Surges 15%, Pushing Crypto Market Cap Above $300 Billion (MW)

After a period of low volatility, cryptocurrencies have broken out of their recent ranges, surging to multiweek highs on Thursday. The No. 1 digital currency, bitcoin rose to a two-week peak, trading above $8,000 to an intraday high of $8,055.20, adding as much as 16%. A single coin last changed hands at $7,705.21, up 11%. The intraday move is the largest since Feb. 6 when bitcoin traded down to $5,947.40 before closing at $7,700.39, a 29.4% move. The move comes after bitcoin spent the best part of two weeks in the $6,500 to $7,500 range. The tight sideways action created a so-called wedge formation, which can often presage significant swings in either direction once breached, according to market technicians “We have seen consolidation in a very small range,” said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst with ThinkMarkets. “When the consolidation is in such a tight range the probability is that a move to the upside can be two to three times the size of the consolidation range.”

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Multipolar is the future.

The US Fading into Irrelevance – A Good Thing for the World (Pieraccini)

As demonstrated by the recent meeting between the defense ministers of Russia and China, the multipolar strategy is now wide-ranging, relegating Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh to further digging themselves into the hole they have already dug themselves into (see recent events in Syria with Israel launching 8 missiles and Trump beating the drums of war). As General Wei Fenghe stated, “We came to Moscow to let the Americans know about the close military ties between the armed forces of China and Russia.” When these two military and economic powers unite their efforts, involving regional powers and mediating over various conflicts, it becomes clear that the challenge to Washington’s hegemony is progressively leading away from an international reality consisting of one superpower to one consisting of three to four powers that maintain an international balance via diplomatic, economic and military means.

The phase in which we currently live is turbulent and is essentially caused by a single factor that has two very strong thrusts. The acceleration of the dwindling of the unipolar phase is directly connected with the strategic and tactical errors of the American deep state and its main sponsors, like Israel and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, the opposing push comes from the multipolar environment, which tends to consolidate its sphere of influence via diplomatic and military means. The goal for Moscow and Beijing is to present to the American and European elites a viable alternative that is shared among several actors. For the time being, the Euro-Atlantic establishment continues to consider itself capable of changing the course of events and preventing the drift towards multipolarity.

Whether the Western oligarchy is a victim to its own propaganda or whether it simply wishes to avoid facing reality and is using every means available to postpone an epochal change, is difficult to determine; and this makes the future uncertain, and is therefore highly dangerous.

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“The economy may only be operating on a single cylinder, but each time it’s an impressive one.”

Interest Rate Hikes Are On The Way, But When And How Fast? (AFR)

The Australian economy may not be booming, but it looks to have performed “the miracle pivot”. This is what Ardea Investment Management portfolio manager Tamar Hamlyn calls the economy’s remarkably smooth transition away from a once-in-a-generation mining investment boom without falling into recession. A massive uplift in residential construction activity has carried us through. The “next dance” is infrastructure investment, Hamlyn says. Now we await what feels like another miracle: an RBA rate hike. The economy may only be operating on a single cylinder, but each time it’s an impressive one. We don’t have a solid pick-up in consumption and “we are never going to have that really solid GDP growth until we get that,” Hamlyn says.

But what we are is far from the recessionary fears that were the original rationale for rates at such low levels. It makes sense, then, to think that in the absence of a nasty shock, it seems perfectly reasonable to bet, as RBA governor Philip Lowe flagged again this week, that the next move in rates will be up and not down. But when will that first hike be? And how far will they eventually go? And how quickly will they get there? Accepting that borrowing costs are more likely to get more rather than less expensive is one thing. But anybody trying to assess the potential risks and rewards of taking on a large and long-dated loan obligation, whether it be a mortgage or a business loan, needs to think beyond the next hike. Let’s start with when the RBA will act. Unfortunately, the experts and the market are telling a different story.

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Central banks are still supposed to save us. Sure.

Why Trade Wars Will Unleash Central Banks (Nomi Prins)

You can bet that deep within the halls of the Fed they are developing a game plan to keep the markets from crashing if trade wars escalate. This is another reason to believe that trade wars will be met with cheap money policy. You can look at this as a financial see-saw of sorts. Trade wars, or even media soundbites about them, will spark negative markets reactions. That is why the Fed and other central banks will combat this with cheap words and even cheaper money policies. If the U.S. does jump into a hot trade war it could find itself needing to make up for the costs. The logical place to turn is to the beacon of more money creation from the Fed or to issue more debt.

The Fed would be directly involved in order to keep the cost of debt from rising, again — which is why my analysis forecasts a return to Fed policies that keep rates low. Similarly, other major economies would also unleash their central bank money when needed. This type of tit-for-tat response is already playing out. Beijing has used its new wealth to attract friends, deter enemies, modernize its military, and aggressively assert its central bank into nearly any sector it believes requires assistance. This type of brinksmanship shows that it is only a matter of time before a trade war with China morphs into massive military build-up and competition.

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Oh yeah, sure, central bankers will save the planet.

Global Warming Is a Central Bank Issue (BBG)

Central bankers have been dubbed “masters of the universe” for the tools and powers they have acquired since the financial crisis. Some of them now want to play a more active role in the fight against climate change. Monetary authorities are right to be mindful of the way in which climate risk affects their mandate to ensure price stability and guard financial stability. But that is different from seeking to promote the shift to a “greener” economy, which is the role of government. Last week, central bank governors from the U.K., France and the Netherlands met in Amsterdam to discuss how to adapt regulation to the risks posed by climate change.

Together with five other institutions (from China, Germany, Mexico, Singapore and Sweden), these central banks have formed the “Network for Greening the Financial System” (NGFS). This group has two objectives: sharing and identifying best practices in the supervision of climate-related risks, and enhancing the role of the financial sector in mobilizing “green” financing. The first is entirely reasonable and consistent with the central banks’ traditional role. As Francois Villeroy de Galhau, governor of the Bank of France, said in a speech at the conference, “Climate stability is one of the determinants of financial stability.” It is only right that financial supervisors take an interest in what is going on.

The clearest example concerns the regulation of insurers: Climate change has made extreme weather events such as hurricanes more frequent. Regulators must ensure that the industry updates its models and sets aside enough capital to deal with these growing climate-related risks. To do so, central bankers may need to extend the supervisory horizon beyond their usual time span. Climate change may only pose a threat for the balance sheet some years down the road, but these risks should be assessed now. Villeroy de Galhau argued in his speech that the financial sector should move towards “a compulsory transparency requirement,” so that companies are forced to provide a snapshot of their climate-related risks. It’s an idea supervisors around the world should embrace.

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As long as we keep putting species extinction in terms of trade and profit, we are doomed.

Decline In Bees Puts Supply Of Raw Materials For Global Business At Risk (Ind.)

Businesses face a shortage of raw materials and a drop in the quality of crop as the number of bees decline worldwide, a new report warns. Approximately three quarters of crops around the world depend on pollination, all of which could soon be threatened as more than a third of wild bee and butterfly species face extinction, according to a joint study by the UN, the University of East Anglia and Cambridge University. Major businesses, including Asda, the Body Shop, Mars and Pepsico, say they are unable to take action largely because of uncertainty around which crops and regions are vulnerable to the decline in pollinators such as bees.

“The role pollinators play – be it tiny midges for cocoa or squirrels for coconut – is not well understood and can be taken for granted,” says Jos van Oostrum, director of sustainable solutions at chocolate and confectionary maker Mars. Cocoa, a vital ingredient in the production of chocolate, is at particular risk from a declining number of bees and other species that help spread pollen. The risks of a shortfall in raw materials not only prove a challenge for food production, but also the sourcing of ingredients for beauty products. “The importance of pollination for natural raw materials is increasingly a priority for us,” said the Body Shop’s sustainable sourcing manager Francesca Brkic.

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Everytime I make a new friend I find out they’re about to die. It’s making me terribly sad.

No Plan To Protect Queensland’s Green-Haired Turtle From Extinction (G.)

The Australian government does not have a plan to save an endangered Australian turtle species that received global attention on Thursday for its green mohawk and its ability to breathe through its genitals. The Mary river turtle, found only in that one river in Queensland, attracted worldwide headlines as one of the standout species on a new list of the most vulnerable reptile species compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). But despite this listing it does not have a national recovery plan to protect it from extinction and it is unclear whether any federal government funds have been specifically allocated for its protection. The turtle is 29th on ZSL’s Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (Edge) list for reptiles, which highlights the conservation needs of some of the world’s unique reptiles.

The turtle is not the only reptile species found in Australia to appear on the list, with eight species making the top 100, and seven of those appearing in the top 40. Among them are the critically endangered western swamp tortoise, which is number seven on the Edge list, the pig-nosed turtle, number 19 on the list, and the Gulbaru Gecko, a critically endangered Queensland species that was only discovered in 2001 and appears at 40 on the list. Conservationists say the list highlights the lack of conservation attention many Australian reptiles receive compared to more charismatic and iconic mammal and bird species. The federal government’s threatened species strategy specifically targets 20 mammals, 20 birds and 30 plants, but no reptiles.

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The climate on both sides of the Atlantic would change too much to imagine.

Gulf Stream Slowdown ‘About A Century Ahead Of Schedule’ (TP)

New research provides strong evidence that one of the long-predicted worst-case impacts of climate change — a severe slow-down of the Gulf Stream system — has already started. The system, also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), brings warmer water northward while pumping cooler water southward. “I think we’re close to a tipping point,” climatologist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress in an email. The AMOC slow down “is without precedent” in more than a millennium he said, adding, “It’s happening about a century ahead of schedule relative to what the models predict.”

The impacts of such a slowdown include much faster sea level rise — and much warmer sea surface temperatures — for much of the U.S. East Coast. Both of those effects are already being observed and together they make devastating storm surges of the kind we saw with Superstorm Sandy far more likely. The findings come in two new studies published this week. One study published in the journal Nature, titled “Observed fingerprint of a weakening Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation,” was led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. It finds that the AMOC has weakened “around 15 per cent” since the mid-twentieth century, bringing it to “a new record low.”

Read more …

Apr 122018
 
 April 12, 2018  Posted by at 1:09 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pieter Bruegel the Elder The Triumph of Death c1562

 

This is turning into a comedy. A black comedy, for sure, but still. As both the Skripal novichok ‘poisoning’ case in Britain and the ‘chemical attack’ in Douma, Syria fall flat on their faces on a total and absolute lack of evidence, it’s becoming clear that western ‘authorities’ are not at all planning to let go of the privilege that in times gone by allowed them to claim whatever they wanted and demand to be believed.

And despite the insane amounts of spying that underlies their business models and will lead to their demise(s), here is where social media do play a decisive role. See, if you’re an ‘authority’, there’s nothing you would rather do than to close down those social media that let people spread news that contradicts and/or doubts what you just said, and undermines that privilege. But that also would mean you can’t spy on them anymore through social media. A toss-up?!

Whatever the outcome will be, it’s obvious that Donald Trump is having war talks with his military and closest advisers. And they can basically tell him anything, he’s not a military man. Which is fine, Lincoln wasn’t either. But it does mean he’s vulnerable to narratives and briefings that are simply not true. Lincoln went to great lengths to surround himself with people who could trust.

What about Trump? Does he know that, as Paul Craig Roberts said on Twitter yesterday ..

The Russians know that they can, at will within a few minutes, sink the entire US fleet, destroy every US airplane & ship in the ME & within range of the ME, completely destroy all of Israel’s military capability & wipe out the military of the two-bit punk state of Saudi Arabia.

.. or do they keep that from him? Because if he did know, why have this entire circus going on? Why did the King of Twitter yesterday threaten with his new and shiny toys and then today switch to:

Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our “Thank you America?”

We already knew that US military won’t be ready for another 10 days or so for an attack on Syrian targets. So that makes sense. It takes the surprise factor out of the game, but nobody seems to want to surprise anyone much anyway. Syrian and Russian military are already way out of the way, and left the most decrepit infrastructure behind for the coalition of the willing (no Germany, Canada) to waste their firepower on.

But does Trump really want to start shooting anything? Certainly only if he knows he will win. And that, he doesn’t. And there’s something else. he’s not only talking to his military people, he’s got a financial/economic team as well. What will the financial effects of a military action be? That might give him some pause. And his military guys can’t fill him in on that.

Can Trump risk imploding the ‘markets’? They’re not actually markets anymore, and that makes them much less predictable.

As Bill Holter says talking to Greg Hunter:

 

It’s Pure Math – We’re Headed for a Train Wreck

Holter also points out the explosion of global debt. Holter charges, “It’s now $237 trillion. The amount of debt grew by $21 trillion globally over the last 12 months. That’s roughly 10 %. How much did global GDP grow? 2% or 3%, I mean that is totally unsustainable.” The biggest worry for Holter right now is escalating military action in Syria. Holter warns, “This is so, so dangerous. Obviously, you worry about a hot war because with the weapons you have today, you could have WWIII start in a heartbeat. But look at the market today. It’s up 400 or 500 points. You have talk of trade wars. You have talk of hot wars. It’s amazing the markets can hold together and ignore potential annihilation.”

David Stockman has something very similar:

 

The Deep State Closes In On The Donald, Part 1

Yes, maybe Wall Street has figured out that the Donald is more bluster than bite. Yet when you consider the broader context and what the Russian side is now saying, it is just plain idiotic to own the S&P 500 at 24X. After all, earnings that have been going nowhere for the past three years (earnings per share have inched-up from $106 in September 2014 to $109 in December 2017), and now could be ambushed by a hot war accident in Syria that would rapidly escalate.

Indeed, did the robo-machines and boys and girls down in the casino not ponder the meaning of this message from the Kremlin? It does not leave much to the imagination: #Russian ambassador in Beirut : “If there is a strike by the Americans on #Syria , then… the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired..”

Trump would be much more likely to fire away if he thought he would win. And even then. Even if he could win, the whole situation is replete with unknown unknowns. If god forbid the thing escalates and the US and Russia end up facing each other, what will China do? Don’t forget that Beijing and the PBOC play an instrumental part in propping up the world economy, and the S&P 500.

It wouldn’t be hard for Xi to pull that carpet out from under Trump’s feet; it would be costly for China too, but if war were the reality, the rules and priorities change. And you can bet Xi and his people have run through the kinds of scenarios many many times. They’re prepared to “withdraw upon themselves”.

As for the US, the ‘markets are holding on to crazy levels so far despite the threat that hangs in the air, but once the first rockets fly, and gold and bitcoin -oil?- are still available, why hold on to stocks?

It’s the insanity of the so-called markets that makes them so vulnerable and unpredictable. And starting a war on very shaky grounds increases that unpredictability by a factor of 10 or so. And the MSM may -well, there’s no doubt- still fill their role as cheerleaders the way they used to, but social media are a different story.

And besides, which investors are going to say, hell, I feel so patriotic, I’m going to hold on to stocks that have been onvervalued for years already, just to support Bolton and McCain and Tony Blair and Boris Johnson’s fantasies? Who would do that who understands that it is at least quite possible that Russia has the better weapons today? Or that perhaps this kind of conflict is simply not winnable anymore?!

I don’t think there’ll be many. Nor do I think Trump wants to be known as the man who collapsed the S&P 500. So, abandoned buildings in the desert it is. And lots of CNN. Anderson Cooper’s your MC.

 

 

Apr 112018
 
 April 11, 2018  Posted by at 8:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jan van Eyck The Last Judgement (detail) 1430

 

Hussman’s Script For A 60% Tumble In The Stock Market (MW)
World Trade System In Danger Of Being Torn Apart – Lagarde (G.)
Eurocontrol Warns Airlines Of Possible Missile Strikes Into Syria (R.)
Russian Envoy: Any US Missiles Fired At Syria Will Be Shot Down (R.)
We All Need To Unite Against War In Syria (CJ)
Zuckerberg Deflects Senators’ Questions, Gets $3 Billion For The Effort (MW)
Ban Targeted Advertising (Dayen)
EU Top Court Backs France Ban Of Uber (AFP)
Barclays Says Bitcoin Behaves Like An Infectious Disease (BBG)
The Failures of Anti-Trumpism (NYT)
Save the Children Faces Formal Investigation Over Staff Misconduct (G.)
Greece at Bottom of Eurozone Growth Rate (GR)
More Than Half Your Body Is Not Human (BBC)

 

 

“Investment is about valuation. Speculation is about psychology,” Hussman said. “Both factors are unfavorable here.”

Hussman’s Script For A 60% Tumble In The Stock Market (MW)

Enjoy days like this while they last, warns longtime bear John Hussman, because the volatility we’re seeing on the Dow and the S&P 500 only serves to reinforce his pessimistic view that the stock market is careening toward a painful drop of at least 60% and a decade or more of zero to negative returns. “We’re observing the very early effects of risk-aversion in a hypervalued market,” the Hussman Trust president wrote in his latest missive. “To some extent, the actual news events are irrelevant. I certainly wouldn’t gauge market risk by monitoring the day-to-day news on potential tariffs or even prospects for rate changes by the Fed.”

For those of you feeling a bit queasy because of what Hussman describes as the “rather minimal level of volatility” we’ve seen lately, it’s time to make some changes and rebalance your portfolio with some hedges, or at least lighten up by adding cash. “But do so knowing one thing in advance: you will experience regret,” he says. “If the market advances after you rebalance, you’ll regret having sold anything. If the market declines after you rebalance, you’ll regret not having sold more.”

The driving factor he frequently cites for the top-heavy market is that the Fed’s quantitative easing has inflated valuations to unsustainable levels, and as the free money goes away, the bottom will fall out, leaving a trail of blown-up investors in its wake. “Investment is about valuation. Speculation is about psychology,” Hussman said. “Both factors are unfavorable here.” He used this chart or the median price/revenue ratio of S&P components to show just how overvalued stocks are at this point, even after the recent tumble:

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Because the trade system benefits everyone, right?

World Trade System In Danger Of Being Torn Apart – Lagarde (G.)

The head of the IMF has warned of “darker clouds looming” for the global economy amid simmering trade tensions between the US and China, urging governments around the world to steer clear of protectionism or face negative consequences. Christine Lagarde said the current system for world trade was “in danger of being torn apart”, with the potential to upset the present global economic upswing and make consumers poorer. Speaking in Hong Kong amid signs the standoff could be abating, Lagarde said it would be an “inexcusable, collective policy failure” for world trade to break down with nations erecting punitive tariff systems against their rivals. “Let us redouble our efforts to reduce trade barriers and resolve disagreements without using exceptional measures,” she said.

[..] Using language that could be interpreted as a veiled attack on Trump in the speech ahead of the meeting, Lagarde said nations could make domestic policy changes to address trade imbalances and use international forums to settle disputes. “We can all do more – but we cannot do it alone,” she said. “Unfair trade practices have little impact on a country’s overall trade deficit with the rest of the world. That imbalance is driven by the fact that a country spends above its income.” Identifying the US as an example of a nation that could benefit from reforms, she said Washington could help tackle its trade imbalances by gradually curbing public spending and by increasing revenue, which she said would help reduce future fiscal deficits.

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Jamming.

Eurocontrol Warns Airlines Of Possible Missile Strikes Into Syria (R.)

Pan-European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol on Tuesday warned airlines to exercise caution in the eastern Mediterranean due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria in next 72 hours. Eurocontrol said that air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles could be used within that period and there was a possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment. U.S. President Donald Trump and Western allies are discussing possible military action to punish Syria’s President Bashar Assad for a suspected poison gas attack on Saturday on a rebel-held town that long had held out against government forces.

Trump on Tuesday canceled a planned trip to Latin America later this week to focus instead on responding to the Syria incident, the White House said. Trump had on Monday warned of a quick, forceful response once responsibility for the Syria attack was established. The Eurocontrol warning on its website did not specify the origin of any potential missile threat. “Due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria with air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles within the next 72 hours, and the possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment, due consideration needs to be taken when planning flight operations in the Eastern Mediterranean/Nicosia FIR area,” it said, referring to the designated airspace.

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Clear as that.

Russian Envoy: Any US Missiles Fired At Syria Will Be Shot Down (R.)

Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon said any U.S. missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launch sites targeted, a step that could trigger a major escalation in the Syrian war. Russian Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin, in comments broadcast on Tuesday evening, said he was referring to a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian armed forces chief of staff. The Russian military said on March 13 that it would respond to any U.S. strike on Syria, targeting any missiles and launchers involved in such an attack. Russia is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally.

The United States and its allies are considering whether to hit Syria over a suspected poison gas attack that medical relief organizations say killed dozens of people in the rebel-held town of Douma near Damascus on Saturday. “If there is a strike by the Americans, then…the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” Zasypkin told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV, speaking in Arabic. He also said a clash “should be ruled out and therefore we are ready to hold negotiations”.

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Yes, we do. But it’s very late in the game.

We All Need To Unite Against War In Syria (CJ)

Last night Fox’s Tucker Carlson did what may have been the most amazing thing that has ever happened on American television. As the drums of war beat louder than they have in years, Carlson stared right into the camera and did the exact opposite of what every mainstream US pundit is doing right now: he told the truth. He told the truth about Syria. He told the truth about Yemen. He told the truth about the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma. He told the truth about the bipartisan war machine which drops all pretense of opposition the instant it’s time for bloodshed. He told the truth about what war is, what it costs, and what it does to our world.

He stood in stark, unequivocal opposition to the trajectory the Trump administration appears to be moving along. And he did it on Fox News. I have a deep and abiding hatred in my heart for Fox News and all things Murdoch. I will never forget nor forgive the key role the Murdoch press played in deceiving our world into the unimaginable evil that was the Iraq invasion. But if I’d held a reflexive rejection of anything with the Fox News logo in the corner, I never would have seen Carlson’s epic monologue, never would have shared it with my social media following, never would have embedded it in this article, and this bright flash of truth would have been diminished by that much in the impact it was able to have on public consciousness.

And I know that there are many leftists who declined to help spread awareness of that Carlson monologue based solely on the fact that he’s a conservative pundit on a conservative network who has said things they disagree with in the past. This is stupid. We should be able to throw any weapon at all at the war machine, not fight with one hand tied behind our backs just because we don’t like conservatives.

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It was even worse than imagined.

Zuckerberg Deflects Senators’ Questions, Gets $3 Billion For The Effort (MW)

Mark Zuckerberg has come far since the early days of Facebook, and that growth was extremely apparent in how deftly the chief executive dealt with several hours of inscrutable questioning by U.S. senators Tuesday over the social network’s role in presidential election-meddling and the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Wearing a conservative suit and light blue tie, an outfit he would rarely wear in Silicon Valley, Zuckerberg sat ramrod straight in his witness chair for most of the many hours of questions. He responded to each questioner by first addressing them as senator or chair. He looked earnest and serious for almost every question, even during some of the laughable questions from some of the less tech-savvy members of the Senate, such as the one by Sen. Orrin Hatch, who asked how Facebook makes money if it doesn’t charge users anything.

“Senator, we run ads,” Zuckerberg said with a smile. That calm response was in marked contrast to when Zuckerberg faced another type of grilling, at the All Things D conference in 2010, when he gave vague and rambling answers about Facebook’s changes to its privacy controls at the time, and had to take off his famous hoodie while wiping sweat from his face under the lights on stage. Part of his preparedness for the Senate hearing, where he managed to repeat several core phrases that the company has been perpetuating in the media, came as a result of Facebook’s information bombardment over the past month.

Some of the company’s obvious talking points have been repeated throughout the past weeks, such as how sorry Zuckerberg is, how much control Facebook users actually do have over their own data, how Facebook is trying to build a positive community and constant reminders of how the company started in a Harvard University dorm when he was 19. According to the New York Times, Facebook hired a team of experts to give Zuckerberg — who can be combative and defensive — a crash course in humility and charm ahead of the hearing in sessions that included mock hearings with its communications team and outside advisers. That preparation paid off: After the first two hours of questions were nearing an end and there was a call for a potential break, Zuckerberg took a sip of water and said he could keep going for a bit longer.

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Exactly. Stop that and all the Facebok nonsense stops. But those in power don’t want it to stop.

Ban Targeted Advertising (Dayen)

For the first 35 years of my life, like most Americans, I was exposed to lots of advertising. I absorbed billboards and print ads and direct mailers and television commercials and radio jingles. I learned about available products and services, and chose which ones I wanted. Some businesses I patronized survived and others didn’t. The economy mostly proceeded apace. Then, over the last decade, this form of marketing became seen as insufficient—or rather, the rise of digital media made a more invasive form of marketing too irresistible. Instead of having to cast a wide net in searching for potential customers, advertisers now could know every intimate detail about those customers beforehand.

They began targeting people geographically and behaviorally, based on common interests or things they liked in social media or what they wrote in emails to friends. The surveillance economy was born. The surveillance economy should die. This manner of advertising doesn’t serve the public and it’s not even clear it serves advertisers. It facilitates monopoly, as those with the biggest data troves receive all the ad dollars. That centralizes the potential for and magnitude of abuse, with Big Data used to discriminate against groups, steer vulnerable people to financial scams, and meddle in U.S. elections.

Cambridge Analytica’s scraping of 87 million user profiles through a simple personality quiz, and then weaponizing that information on behalf of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, revealed how information on social media is inherently insecure. Now Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is appearing before Congress on Tuesday to explain how this won’t happen again. But instead of leaving regulation to Facebook, or devising one Rube Goldberg scenario after another to try to protect consumer data, the U.S. can take one simple, legal step to roll back this dystopian nightmare: ban targeted advertising.

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App or transport?

EU Top Court Backs France Ban Of Uber (AFP)

The EU’s top court on Tuesday backed the right of member states like France to ban a service by ridesharing firm Uber without notifying Brussels, in a fresh setback to the US giant. The European Court of Justice ruled in favour of France’s ban of the UberPop service, which links amateur drivers with customers, comparing it to a December decision backing traditional taxi firms in the Spanish city of Barcelona. “Member States may prohibit and punish, as a matter of criminal law, the illegal exercise of transport activities in the context of the UberPop service, without notifying the Commission in advance,” the European Court of Justice ruled. [..]

Uber France is facing criminal proceedings in a court in the northern French city of Lille for its UberPop service. It argues that member states like France were required to notify the European Commission about the criminal legislation under which the case was brought because it concerned a technical regulation of an information society service. But the court of justice said the French case resembled one it ruled on in December when it classified Uber as an ordinary transportation company instead of an app and should be regulated as such. “In the Court’s view, the UberPop service offered in France is essentially identical to the service provided in Spain,” the court of justice statement said.

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True or not, a nice angle.

Barclays Says Bitcoin Behaves Like An Infectious Disease (BBG)

Is the rise of Bitcoin analogous to the spread of an infectious disease? Analysts at Barclays saw enough similarities to develop a pricing model for the cryptocurrency that takes its cues from the world of epidemiology. Their diagnosis: Bitcoin has probably peaked. The Barclays model divides the pool of potential Bitcoin investors into three groups: susceptible, infected and immune. It assumes that as prices rise, “infections” spread by word-of-mouth (nobody likes missing out when their friends and colleagues are getting rich). Barclays analysts led by Joseph Abate in New York explained the rest in a note to clients on Tuesday:

“As more of the population become asset holders, the share of the population available to become new buyers – the potential ‘host’ population – falls, while the share of the population that are potential sellers (‘recoveries’) increases. Eventually, this leads to a plateauing of prices, and progressively, as random shocks to the larger supply population push up the ratio of sellers to buyers, prices begin to fall. That induces speculative selling pressure as price declines are projected forward exponentially.” A similar dynamic plays out with infectious diseases when the so-called immunity threshold is reached, “the point at which a sufficient portion of the population becomes immune such that there are no more secondary infections,” the analysts wrote.

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Does David Brooks realize that anti-Trumpism, of which he’s a proud supporter, is what won Da Doland da election?

The Failures of Anti-Trumpism (NYT)

Over the past year, those of us in the anti-Trump camp have churned out billions of words critiquing the president. The point of this work is to expose the harm President Trump is doing, weaken his support and prevent him from doing worse. And by that standard, the anti-Trump movement is a failure. We have persuaded no one. Trump’s approval rating is around 40%, which is basically unchanged from where it’s been all along. We have not hindered him. Trump has more power than he did a year ago, not less. With more mainstream figures like H. R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson and Gary Cohn gone, the administration is growing more nationalist, not less. We have not dislodged him.

For all the hype, the Mueller investigation looks less and less likely to fundamentally alter the course of the administration. We have not contained him. Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party is complete. 89% of Republicans now have a positive impression of the man. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 59% of Republicans consider themselves more a supporter of Trump than of the Republican Party. On trade, immigration, entitlement reform, spending, foreign policy, race relations and personal morality, this is Trump’s party, not Reagan’s or anyone else’s. A lot of us never-Trumpers assumed momentum would be on our side as his scandals and incompetences mounted. It hasn’t turned out that way.

I almost never meet a Trump supporter who has become disillusioned. I often meet Republicans who were once ambivalent but who have now joined the Trump train. National Review was once staunchly anti-Trump, and many of its writers remain so, but, tellingly, N.R. editor Rich Lowry just had a column in Politico called “The Never Trump Delusion” arguing that Trump is not that big a departure from the Republican mainstream. The surest evidence of Trump’s dominance is on the campaign trail. As The Times’s Jonathan Martin reported, many Republicans, including Ted Cruz, are making the argument that if Democrats take over Congress, they will impeach the president. In other words, far from ignoring Trump, these Republicans are making defending him the center of their campaigns.

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Et tu, Brute?

Save the Children Faces Formal Investigation Over Staff Misconduct (G.)

Save the Children, the global charity mired in allegations that it failed to investigate sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviour by staff, is to be formally investigated by the Charity Commission. In a statement announcing a statutory inquiry, the commission said it had been prompted by “concerns about the charity’s handling, reporting and response to serious allegations of misconduct and harassment against senior staff members in 2012 and 2015”. The commission describes a statutory inquiry as its “most serious form of engagement” with a charity.

The news, announced on Tuesday night, will be another blow for the charity two months after it emerged that both Justin Forsyth, its former chief executive, and Brendan Cox, the former policy director and widower of the MP Jo Cox, left the charity in 2015 following allegations of misconduct. The two men knew each other from their years working for Gordon Brown and the Labour party. After he left Save the Children, Forsyth went on to a senior role at Unicef. He resigned in February after the reports of inappropriate behaviour emerged. Cox also resigned from the charities More in Common and the Jo Cox Foundation, set up in the aftermath of his wife’s murder.

The commission, which itself has been criticised for failing to follow up allegations involving the charities it polices, has been working with Save the Children since the facts about Forsyth and Cox emerged in the wake of the scandal involving Oxfam workers in Haiti. Save the Children is already reviewing its workplace culture and the implementation of recommendations made by a previous review. But the Charity Commission said its recent work with it, and new information from other sources that has recently come into the regulator’s possession, meant that the commission wanted to make further inquiries.

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It’s crazy to think the Greek economy is growing.

Greece at Bottom of Eurozone Growth Rate (GR)

Greece’s growth was the lowest among eurozone countries for 2017, with a GDP rise of just 1.4% while the eurozone average was 2.3%, according to European Central Bank figures. The ECB annual report released on Monday showed Ireland at the top of the growth chart among eurozone member states with a 5% GDP increase. Overall, 2017 was a year of growth for the whole of the single-currency bloc. According to the report, the main reason Greece fared so low in 2017 was that it showed only 0.1% growth in private consumption, compared to an average 1.6% increase in the rest of eurozone states.

At the same time, Greece showed a 1.1% decline in government spending, while the average in the euro area was a 1.2% increase. In terms of per capita GDP at current prices and adjusted for the cost of living, Greeks have an average annual income of €19,900 ($24,527) compared to €54,600 for each Irish citizen. In Portugal, average income amounted to €23,100, compared to €18,100 before the economic crisis. In Cyprus, the average income was €24,600 compared to €29,900 before the crisis. The “before the economic crisis” figures refer to the 1999-2008 period. On average in the euro area, per capita GDP stood at €31,700 according to the latest figures (2016), compared to €24,400 before the crisis.

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Bugs as drugs. “Originally it was thought our cells were outnumbered 10 to one.”

Well, our genes are outnumbered 1000 to 1.

More Than Half Your Body Is Not Human (BBC)

More than half of your body is not human, say scientists. Human cells make up only 43% of the body’s total cell count. The rest are microscopic colonists. Understanding this hidden half of ourselves – our microbiome – is rapidly transforming understanding of diseases from allergy to Parkinson’s. The field is even asking questions of what it means to be “human” and is leading to new innovative treatments as a result. “They are essential to your health,” says Prof Ruth Ley, the director of the department of microbiome science at the Max Planck Institute, “your body isn’t just you”. No matter how well you wash, nearly every nook and cranny of your body is covered in microscopic creatures.

This includes bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea (organisms originally misclassified as bacteria). The greatest concentration of this microscopic life is in the dark murky depths of our oxygen-deprived bowels. Prof Rob Knight, from University of California San Diego, told the BBC: “You’re more microbe than you are human.” Originally it was thought our cells were outnumbered 10 to one. “That’s been refined much closer to one-to-one, so the current estimate is you’re about 43% human if you’re counting up all the cells,” he says. But genetically we’re even more outgunned. The human genome – the full set of genetic instructions for a human being – is made up of 20,000 instructions called genes. But add all the genes in our microbiome together and the figure comes out between two and 20 million microbial genes.

[..] Antibiotics and vaccines have been the weapons unleashed against the likes of smallpox, Mycobacterium tuberculosis or MRSA. That’s been a good thing and has saved large numbers of lives. But some researchers are concerned that our assault on the bad guys has done untold damage to our “good bacteria”. Prof Ley told me: “We have over the past 50 years done a terrific job of eliminating infectious disease. “But we have seen an enormous and terrifying increase in autoimmune disease and in allergy. “Where work on the microbiome comes in is seeing how changes in the microbiome, that happened as a result of the success we’ve had fighting pathogens, have now contributed to a whole new set of diseases that we have to deal with.”

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Apr 102018
 
 April 10, 2018  Posted by at 8:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Acme Storm over Manhattan 1950

 

Trump Blasts “Disgraceful” FBI Raid Of Lawyer’s Office (ZH)
Xi Vows To Further Open China Economy As US Trade Spat Simmers (AFP)
Global Debt Jumped to Record $237 Trillion Last Year
US Deficit to Surpass $1 Trillion Two Years Ahead of Estimates – CBO (BBG)
Global Trade Is Broken, And Trump Is Sparking The Crisis Needed (Morici)
Russian Firms And Rouble Hit Heavily By Trump Sanctions (G.)
Bitcoin, the Biggest Bubble in History, Is Popping – BofA (BBG)
Bots, Good Or Bad, Dominate Twitter Conversation (AFP)
Black Lives Matter Facebook Page With 700,000 Followers Exposed As Fake (G.)
10 New Zealanders Download App On Facebook, Expose 63,714 Friends (G.)
Your Facebook Data Is Only Worth $5.20 On The Dark Web (MW)
Jerome Is The New Janet: Same Old Keynesian Jabberwocky (Stockman)
Yulia Skripal Discharged From Hospital (G.)
No Trace Of Chemical Weapons In Douma, Photos Are Fake – Russia (RT)
“Weapons Of Mass Destruction,” And All (Kunstler)
In 2020, German Society Will Start Collapsing (GEFIRA)
Fishing Boat Caught With Illegal 18-Mile-Long Nets (Ind.)

 

 

“..the fact that the FBI likely seized privileged material between the president and his lawyer is certainly troubling.”

Or is it just a promotion campaign for Comey’s book tour?

Trump Blasts “Disgraceful” FBI Raid Of Lawyer’s Office (ZH)

Update II: As many probably suspected, Trump attorney Michael Cohen is under investigation for possible fraud and campaign finance violations, the Washington Post reported. The FBI has seized documents – including emails, tax documents and other records – related to Cohen’s $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Meanwhile, President Trump has stepped up to defend his longtime personal attorney, calling the raid “a whole new level of unfairness” and going as far to say it was an “attack on our country, on what we stand for before heading into a meeting with top military leaders.” He also described the special counsel’s team as “the most conflicted group of people I’ve ever met” and said the raid was “a disgraceful situation.”

Trump added that the raid happened after Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein – who is supervising the Mueller probe – approved a referral that Mueller brought to the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Jeff Sessions also came under fire as the president bashed him once again for recusing himself from the Mueller probe. Trump also exclaimed that “no one is looking at the other side” referring to Clinton’s 30,000 missing emails. “I have this witch hunt constantly going on,” he said. Of course, Trump has every reason to defend Cohen. As Trump’s longtime lawyer, Cohen knows where the bodies are buried. And the fact that the FBI likely seized privileged material between the president and his lawyer is certainly troubling.

Update: Michael Cohen’s lawyer says the FBI seized privileged communications between Cohen and his clients – a group that notably includes President Trump. And thus, we have what could quite possibly be an ulterior motive for the search. While initial reports suggested the raid on Cohen’s home wasn’t related to the Mueller probe, CBS is reporting that it’s unclear whether the raid was in relation to Stormy Daniels, the Mueller probe or something else. The Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen’s office in Rockefeller Center was searched along with his home and hotel room. The search was executed by the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office which is carrying out an independent investigation in coordination with Mueller. Cohen has of course already turned over his emails to the special counsel.

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For now it’s just words. But his tone could have been different.

Xi Vows To Further Open China Economy As US Trade Spat Simmers (AFP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged on Tuesday to lower car tariffs this year and take other steps to further open the world’s number two economy, indirectly addressing major complaints by the United States in a simmering trade row. Promising a “new phase of opening up”, Xi told an economic forum on the southern island of Hainan that Beijing “does not seek a trade surplus” and hopes to increase imports. He said China will take measures to liberalise automobile investment, significantly reduce tariffs on cars this year and protect intellectual property – all areas that have been high on the list of demands by Washington. “Economic globalisation is an irreversible trend of the time,” Xi told the Boao Forum for Asia.

“The door of China’s opening up will not close, it will only open wider and wider.” Xi pushed measures in areas that have been high on the list of US President Donald Trump’s ire at China. “When a car is sent to the United States from China, there is a Tariff to be paid of 2.5%. When a car is sent to China from the United States, there is a Tariff to be paid of 25%,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “Does that sound like free or fair trade. No, it sounds like STUPID TRADE – going on for years!” Without directly responding to Trump, Xi promised China would lower import tariffs for vehicles and other products, but he gave no details or an exact date for taking the measures.

[..] Xi also pledged specific measures to address IP protection. “This year, we will reorganise the State Intellectual Property Office to strengthen law enforcement,” he told the forum, an Asian version of the World Economic Forum, which draws global leaders to its annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. “We encourage Chinese and foreign companies to carry out normal technical exchanges and cooperation to protect the legitimate intellectual property rights of foreign-funded enterprises in China,” he said.

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This will be important: “Ireland and Italy are the only major countries where household debt as a percentage of GDP is below 50%.

Global Debt Jumped to Record $237 Trillion Last Year

Global debt rose to a record $237 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2017, more than $70 trillion higher from a decade earlier, according to an analysis by the Institute of International Finance. Among mature markets, household debt as a percentage of GDP hit all-time highs in Belgium, Canada, France, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. That’s a worrying signal, with interest rates beginning to rise globally. Ireland and Italy are the only major countries where household debt as a percentage of GDP is below 50%. Still, the ratio of global debt-to-GDP fell for the fifth consecutive quarter as the world’s economic growth accelerated. The ratio is now around 317.8% of GDP, or 4 percentage points below the high in the third quarter of 2016, according to the IIF. Among emerging markets, household debt to GDP is approaching parity in South Korea at 94.6%.

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And the Fed wants to raise rates?!

US Deficit to Surpass $1 Trillion Two Years Ahead of Estimates – CBO (BBG)

The U.S. budget deficit will surpass $1 trillion by 2020, two years sooner than previously estimated, as tax cuts and spending increases signed by President Donald Trump do little to boost long-term economic growth, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Spending will exceed revenue by $804 billion in the fiscal year through September, jumping from a projected $563 billion shortfall forecast in June, the non-partisan arm of Congress said in a report Monday. In fiscal 2019, the deficit will reach $981 billion, compared with an earlier projection of $689 billion. The nation’s budget gap was only set to surpass the trillion-dollar level in fiscal 2022 under CBO’s report last June.

Deficits are growing as the Trump administration enacted a tax overhaul this year that will lower federal revenue and Congress approved a roughly $300 billion spending increase. The fresh CBO estimates could heighten investor worries as they weigh the potential impact that tariff threats between the U.S. and China may have on the world economy. The report includes new projections for the effects of the tax legislation – saying it will increase the deficit by almost $1.9 trillion over the next 11 years, when accounting for its macroeconomic effects and increased debt-service costs. In December, Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation had said the tax package would reduce federal revenue by almost $1.1 trillion over a 10-year period.

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The WTO and democracy.

Global Trade Is Broken, And Trump Is Sparking The Crisis Needed (Morici)

[..] It may be time to recognize that China is not a market economy — and is not likely to become one anytime soon. Over time, the WTO membership encompassed increasingly diverse nations. For example, Saudi Arabia joined in 2005, is not a democracy and hardly has a market economy. It’s a monarchy and dependent on oil, its government seeks to rig petroleum markets through OPEC. Nondemocratic, nonmarket economies were admitted on the premise that participation in the system would encourage reforms but as Saudi Arabia demonstrates — similar to Mexico in the 1980s — political and economic progress mostly happens when autocratic regimes are threatened by financial crisis.

For the oil kingdom, it took the U.S. shale boom and prospects of oil permanently depressed at about $65 a barrel to inspire House of Saud to select a progressive crown prince. China joined the WTO in 2002 but has hardly liberalized. Beijing is perfecting Orwellian mechanisms to monitor its citizens’ activities and squash political dissent. President Xi Jinping is enhancing the role of state-owned enterprises, extending state influence over private firms and foreign subsidiaries, and compelling the latter to form joint ventures with Chinese firms and embrace Beijing’s propaganda strategies.

China’s state capitalism clearly creates unfair advantages, imposes trade deficits and job losses on other nations, and has been the target of many unfair trade complaints in the WTO, but Beijing has invested in top flight U.S. lawyers — for example, Steptoe & Johnson. And the activities of its complex mix of state-owned and state-supported private enterprise have proven difficult to discipline under WTO rules, which were written to constrain governments operating in a market context.

From 2011 to 2017, the United States was frustrated in many dispute settlement processes covering nearly 50 industries. In 2016, the administration aides cited a long list of complaints in an effort to block the reappointment of a South Korean judge to the appellate body. Since then, Mr. Trump has been criticized — as he seems to be for every principled action — for continuing this policy by blocking the appointment of other judges to compel reform. It may be time to recognize that China is not a market economy — and is not likely to become one anytime soon. And it is not likely possible to rewrite the WTO rules just to suit its peculiar system.

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Talk is better.

Russian Firms And Rouble Hit Heavily By Trump Sanctions (G.)

The Trump administration’s new sanctions on Russian oligarchs and top government officials began to bite on Monday as the rouble suffered its biggest daily fall in more than three years, the main Russian stock index slumped and investors dumped shares in businesses controlled by Oleg Deripaska. Russia’s currency briefly dipped more than 4% before recovering slightly to trade at 60.42 to the dollar on Monday evening, down 3.8%, its biggest daily percentage fall since January 2015. The value of Deripaska’s aluminium producer Rusal halved in Hong Kong and more than 40% was wiped off the value of his London-listed EN+ as investors took fright at the potential impact.

Shares in Rusal and EN+ had already fallen sharply on Friday in response to the sanctions, which were announced towards the end of trading in London. The Russian stock market also fell heavily. The main RTS index dropped 11%, affecting companies not caught by the sanctions. The price of aluminium jumped as traders worried Rusal would be excluded from supplying the market. The firm, which produces almost 6% of the world’s aluminium, said the sanctions could cause technical defaults on bank loans and some credit obligations. Both Rusal and EN+, Deripaska’s holding company, said the sanctions could be “materially adverse to the business and prospects” of the companies.

Rusal and seven other companies linked to Deripaska were the main targets when the US imposed sanctions designed to punish Vladimir Putin’s inner circle for “malign activity”, including support for Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria and interfering with the US election in 2016. Rusal sells more than 10% of its aluminium to the US.

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Not my words. But nice graph.

Bitcoin, the Biggest Bubble in History, Is Popping – BofA (BBG)

The greatest bubble in history is popping, according to Bank of America. The cryptocurrency is tracking the downfalls of the other massive asset-price bubbles in history less than one year out from its record, analysts lead by Chief Investment Strategist Michael Hartnett wrote in a note Sunday. The cryptocurrency has fallen more than 65% since peaking in December at $19,511. Bitcoin rose 2.2% to $6,750 on Monday.

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“..accounting for two-thirds of tweets linking to popular websites..”

Bots, Good Or Bad, Dominate Twitter Conversation (AFP)

Automated accounts or “bots” play a big role in disseminating information on Twitter, accounting for two-thirds of tweets linking to popular websites, a study showed Monday. The Pew Research Center report found bots were a major source for diffusing information on news, sports, entertainment and other topics. The researchers found that of all tweeted links to popular websites, 66% were shared by accounts that appeared to be automated rather than human users. While bots have gained attention due to concerns over Russian-sponsored manipulation of social media during the 2016 political campaign and for other hot-button topics, the researchers said they made no effort to distinguish between “good” or “bad” bots.

“The study does not find evidence that automated accounts currently have a liberal or conservative ‘political bias’ in their overall link-sharing behavior,” the researchers wrote. Twitter’s policy on automated accounts, last updated in November, allows bots to operate but with limitations. The policy allows for bots to “automatically broadcast helpful information” or “run creative campaigns that auto-reply to users.” But Twitter’s rules forbid automatic posts about trending topics or using automation “to attempt to influence or manipulate trending topics.” It also bans the use of multiple accounts to generate more activity.

“These findings illustrate the extent to which bots play a prominent and pervasive role in the social media environment,” says Pew researcher Aaron Smith. “Automated accounts are far from a niche phenomenon: They share a significant portion of tweeted links to even the most prominent and mainstream publications and online outlets. Since these accounts can impact the information people see on social media, it is important to have a sense their overall prevalence on social media.”

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“.. upwards of $100,000 in donations, at least some of which was directed to bank accounts registered in Australia.”

One thing: Facebook could have known this.

Black Lives Matter Facebook Page With 700,000 Followers Exposed As Fake (G.)

A high-ranking Australian union official has been suspended amid reports he ran a fake Black Lives Matter Facebook page that solicited donations from the movement’s supporters. CNN reports that Ian MacKay – an official with the National Union of Workers – helped set up and run a Facebook page called Black Lives Matter as well as other domain names linked to black rights. The page, which was removed by Facebook after CNN’s queries, had almost 700,000 followers – more than double the official Black Lives Matter page. MacKay – who is white – did not respond to calls or emails but denied running the page when contacted by CNN. A statement given to the Guardian by the NUW’s national secretary, Tim Kennedy, said the union had launched an investigation into the claims made in the CNN report.

He said the union had suspended “the relevant officials pending the outcome of an investigation”. “The NUW is not involved in and has not authorised any activities with reference to claims made in CNN’s story,” he said. The Guardian understands MacKay and one other NUW official has been suspended. In 2015 Mackay was appointed vice president of the NUW’s general branch and the union’s public office records state that he still holds the position. The investigation quoted sources who said the page may have garnered upwards of $100,000 in donations, at least some of which was directed to bank accounts registered in Australia.

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This happened 4 years ago! And only now Facebook is “..in the process of alerting New Zealanders..”?!

10 New Zealanders Download App On Facebook, Expose 63,714 Friends (G.)

Ten New Zealanders who downloaded an app on Facebook could have exposed up to 63,714 of their compatriots to the data mining tactics of Cambridge Analytica. Facebook has told the country’s privacy commissioner that it is in the process of alerting New Zealanders who were affected by the breach, which occurred when ten users downloaded a personality quiz app. “For New Zealand, we estimate a total of 63,724 people may have been impacted – 10 are estimated to have downloaded the quiz app with 63,714 friends possibly impacted,” said Antonia Sanda, head of communications for Facebook in Australia and New Zealand.

New Zealand’s privacy commissioner, John Edwards, said he was urgently seeking further information from Facebook on how New Zealanders data was used by Cambridge Analytica, and is working closely with his counterparts in the US, UK Australia and Canada to establish the severity and ramifications of the privacy beach. “I think we have some real information deficits that I hope my colleagues in the UK and the US will uncover … I am not sure New Zealanders were ‘targeted’ but I think there is a level of complacency [in New Zealand]. And when you say we’re so far away, we’re only one click away really,” Edwards said.

Edwards deleted his own Facebook account shortly after the revelations regarding Cambridge Analytica broke, and said New Zealanders should seriously consider doing the same and then resetting their profile. “I am actually quite concerned about the drip-feed of information [from Facebook]. These events occurred four years ago. There was knowledge about Cambridge Analytica targeting tactics a good two years ago, yet we are really only seeing Facebook confront this issue now,” Edwards said.

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This, too, is Facebook. Supply and demand.

Your Facebook Data Is Only Worth $5.20 On The Dark Web (MW)

Were you impacted by Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook data? An estimated 87 million Facebook users will find out Monday whether the group improperly used their data, the social-media company said. All 2.2 billion Facebook users will get see a message on Facebook called “Protecting Your Information,” that lays out which third-party apps have access to your individual Facebook profile. Whether or not you were impacted by the Cambridge Analytica incident, there’s a depressing aspect of many recent privacy violations: The most important parts of your identity can be sold online for just a few dollars.

Consumers have to spend hours of their time — and, sometimes, their own money — when they find out their driver’s license, Facebook “likes” or Social Security number have been exposed to hackers. But those who sell them are making only petty cash. That’s according to a new report from the content marketing agency Fractl, which analyzed all the fraud-related listings on three large “dark web” marketplaces — Dream, Point and Wall Street Market — over several days last month. The “dark web” is part of the internet that people can only access by using special software. To create this report, Fractl accessed the dark web through the browser Tor.

People buy other risky or illegal substances on the dark web, including drugs, pirated content like movies or music and materials that help with scams, including credit-card “skimmers.” Facebook logins can be sold for $5.20 each because they allow criminals to have access to personal data that could potentially let them hack into more of an individual’s accounts. The credentials to a PayPal account with a relatively high balance can be sold on the dark web for $247 on average, the report found. One’s entire online identity, including personal identification numbers and hacked financial accounts, can be sold for only about $1,200 on the dark web, Fractl found. That’s because so much personal information may already available to hackers, after repeated data breaches across a range of industries.

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“..fiscally incontinent government..” Great line.

Jerome Is The New Janet: Same Old Keynesian Jabberwocky (Stockman)

The election of 2016 was supposed to be the most disruptive break with the status quo in modern history, if ever. On the single most important decision of his tenure, however, the Donald has lined-up check-by-jowl with Barry and Dubya, too. That is to say, Trump’s new Fed chairman, Jerome Powell, amounts to Janet Yellen in trousers and tie. In fact, you can make it a three-part composite by adding Bernanke with a full head of hair and Greenspan sans the mumble. The overarching point here is that the great problems plaguing American society – scarcity of good jobs, punk GDP growth, faltering productivity, raging wealth mal-distribution, massive indebtedness, egregious speculative bubbles, fiscally incontinent government – are overwhelmingly caused by our rogue central bank.

They are the fetid fruits of massive and sustained financial repression and falsification of the most import prices in all of capitalism – the prices of money, debt, equities and other financial assets. Moreover, the worst of it is that the Fed is overwhelmingly the province of an unelected politburo that rules by the lights of its own Keynesian groupthink and by the hypnotic power of its Big Lie. So powerful is the latter that American democracy has meekly seconded vast, open-ended power to dominate the financial markets, and therefore the warp and woof of the nation’s $19 trillion economy, to a tiny priesthood possessing neither of the usual instruments of rule.

That is to say, never before in history has a people so completely and abjectly surrendered to an occupying power – even though its ostensibly democratic government already possessed all the votes and all the guns. So it is no exaggeration to say, therefore, that the Fed is an alien state unto itself. That was powerfully symbolized most recently by the appointment of John Williams, a lifetime apparatchik at the San Francisco Fed, to the job of head satrap at the central bank’s Liberty Street outpost in the heart of Wall Street. In the scheme of things, the President of the New York Fed is #2 in the whole central banking apparatus, and as such is immensely more powerful than any Senate Committee Chairman or House Speaker. But Williams’ appointment was not reviewed or passed upon by a single elected official accountable to any voter anywhere in the US of A.

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Hard to tell what the next steps are.

Yulia Skripal Discharged From Hospital (G.)

Yulia Skripal, the daughter of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, has been discharged from hospital, according to reports. Just over one month after she and her father were found in Salisbury in Wiltshire after being poisoned with a nerve agent, the BBC reported that Skripal had left Salisbury district hospital. Skripal, 33, flew to the UK on 3 March, the day before she and her father are believed to have been poisoned by a novichok nerve agent. She released a statement on Friday to say her strength was “growing daily”. The BBC reported on Tuesday morning that Skripal had been taken to a secure location, though a hospital spokesman declined to comment on the reports. Christine Blanshard, the hospital’s deputy chief executive, and Lorna Wilkinson, the director of nursing, are to make a statement later on Tuesday morning.

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It’s the White Helmets again.

No Trace Of Chemical Weapons In Douma, Photos Are Fake – Russia (RT)

The Russian military has found no trace of chemical weapons use after searching parts of Syria’s Douma allegedly targeted by an “attack.” Photos of victims posted by the White Helmets are fake, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. Experts in radiological, chemical and biological warfare, as well as medics, on Monday inspected the parts of the Eastern Ghouta city of Douma, where an alleged chemical attack supposedly took place on Saturday, the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria said in a statement. The specialists “found no traces of the use of chemical agents” after searching the sites, the statement said. The center’s medical specialists also visited a local hospital but found no patients that showed signs of chemical weapons poisoning.

“All these facts show… that no chemical weapons were used in the town of Douma, as it was claimed by the White Helmets,” the statement said, referring to the controversial “civil defense” group that was among the first to report about the alleged attack. “All the accusations brought by the White Helmets, as well as their photos… allegedly showing the victims of the chemical attack, are nothing more than a yet another piece of fake news and an attempt to disrupt the ceasefire,” the Reconciliation Center said. On Saturday, some rebel-linked groups, including the White Helmets, accused the Syrian government of carrying out a chemical attack that, allegedly, affected dozens of civilians in the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma.

The reports have already provoked a wave of outrage in the West, as the US and the EU rushed to put the blame for the incident on Damascus and Moscow. US President Donald Trum hastily denounced the perceived attack as a “mindless” atrocity and a “humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever,” warning of a “big price” to be paid. Syria and Russia have dismissed the accusations and called the reports fake news, aimed at helping the extremists and at justifying potential strikes against Syrian forces. In the very early hours of Monday, Israeli fighter jets targeted Syria’s T-4 airbase in Homs province, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Israel has not commented on the strike. Earlier, a number of Israeli officials had called on the US to strike Syria as a response to the reported chemical attack.

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Like is the case with Russia, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has declared Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal destroyed.

“Weapons Of Mass Destruction,” And All (Kunstler)

[..] a joint mission of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was called in to supervise the destruction of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons, and certified it as accomplished in late 2014. Yet, poison gas incidents continued – most notoriously in 2017 when President Donald Trump responded to one with a sortie of cruise missiles against a vacant Syrian government airfield. And now another incident in the Damascus suburb of Douma has provoked Mr. Trump to tweetstormed threats of retaliatory violence, just days after he proposed a swift withdrawal from that vexing corner of the world.

Surely by now the American public has developed some immunity to claims of nefarious doings in foreign lands (“weapons of mass destruction,” and all). The operative sentence in that New York Times report is “…Syrian forces hit a suburb of Damascus with bombs that rescue workers said unleashed toxic gas.” Yeah, well, how clear is it that the toxic gas was contained in the bombs, or rather that the bombs dropped by the Syrian military blew up a chemical weapon depot controlled by anti-government Jihadis? Does that hodgepodge of maniacs show any respect for the UN, or the Geneva Convention, or any other agency of international law?

As in many previous such incidents, we don’t know who was responsible — though there is plenty of reason to believe that parties within the US establishment are against Mr. Trump’s idea of getting the hell out of that place, and might cook up a convenient reason to prevent it. Lastly, how is it in Bashar al-Assad’s interests to provoke a fresh international uproar against him and his regime? I’d say it is not the least in his interest, since he is on the verge of putting an end to the awful conflict. He may not be a model of rectitude by Western standards, but he’s not a mental defective. And he has very able Russian support advising him in what has been so far a long and difficult effort to prevent his state from failing — or being failed for him.

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Germany, Japan, China.

In 2020, German Society Will Start Collapsing (GEFIRA)

The next crisis is just a couple of years away, and Germany will be its largest victim. Economies grow, driven by capital and labour. The ECB monetary policy is currently providing the German economy with enough funds, but the country is experiencing a catastrophic lack of youth, and its ageing labour force is not being replaced as a result of which workforce is already in short supply. Since the German population is declining at a staggering pace, before the end of the century there will only be 22 million indigenous Germans left. Currently the working population has already begun to shrink. This drop is still moderate compared to what will come after 2020.

The disappearing of the nation that has just begun will have catastrophic consequences. The German government recorded a large budget surplus last year, a sign that the authorities are not willing or able to invest in their own country. Germany lacks health care professionals, road construction workers and teachers, but allocating more tax money to this sector makes no sense because there are simply no people available. For that reason road construction sites have come to a standstill and road maintenance is postponed. In order to find consumers and labourers, the German industry is investing in new factories abroad.

In the past, the German economy was able to attract employees from Southern, Eastern and Central Europe, but at present the demographic situation in states such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Poland – which have long provided Germany with workforce – has worsened, so for all practical purposes these sources of labour have all but dried out. Poland for instance has lost a large number of young people to the West European labour market and the loss has not been made good because of extremely low fertility.The financial sector depends on a growing economy, but – apart from periods of temporary increase – there is no significant growth, and banks have to unwind their positions by selling their assets and returning cash to their clients. When the ageing population tries to sell its investments – stocks, obligations or companies – after 2020 they will find a declining working age population that is willing and able to buy these assets. It is already difficult for German business owners to find successors.

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Tragic species, mankind.

Fishing Boat Caught With Illegal 18-Mile-Long Nets (Ind.)

A fishing ship carrying 600 illegal nets stretching up to 18 miles has been seized after it escaped Chinese authorities, while using the flags of eight different countries to evade capture. The vessel, STS-50, had targeted a cod species called Antarctic toothfish that plays an important role in the Southern Ocean ecosystem, according to Indonesia‘s fisheries ministry. Its hundreds of gillnets had walls of fine mesh and could expand to a distance of 18 miles. Gillnetting has been banned in Antarctic waters since 2006 and is described by Australia as posing a “huge risk to almost all marine life, including marine mammals due to [its] indiscriminate nature”.

The use of the nets also harm seabirds including endangered albatrosses, the country’s environment department said on its website in 2011. Indonesia was acting on a request from Interpol when it seized the officially stateless craft. It had eluded authorities by flying eight different flags at different times, including those of Sierra Leone, Togo, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan, Micronesia and Namibia, the ministry said in a statement. Interpol contacted Indonesia last week with a request to investigate the vessel, fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti said in the statement. “Navy ship Simeuleu conducted a ‘stop, investigate and detain’ operation on Friday and successfully seized the vessel,” she said.

The STS-50 had previously been detained by China, but escaped and was caught in the port of Maputo in Mozambique before fleeing again, Ms Pudjiastuti said. Prior to its capture off the Indonesian island of Weh in the northwestern province of Aceh, the vessel had also operated under several other names including Sea Breeze, Andrey Dolgov, STD No. 2 and Aida, the statement said. Shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows the 54m-long, 452-tonne vessel was built in 1985.

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