Aug 112017
 
 August 11, 2017  Posted by at 8:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Jackson Pollock Reflection of the Big Dipper 1947

 

It’s Hard to Price an ‘Extinction Event’ Like a North Korea War (BBG)
In Debt We Trust for US Consumers With $12.7 Trillion Burden (BBG)
Tesla Cars Aren’t As Carbon (And Taxpayer) Friendly As You Think (FMS)
Uber Gets Run Over by its Own Subprime Auto Leases (WS)
Amazon Online Grocery Boom? Not So Fast… (WS)
Amazon Paid Just £15 Million In Tax On European Revenues Of £19.5 Billion (G.)
Airbnb Faces EU Clampdown For Not Paying ‘Fair Share’ Of Tax (G.)
Trump Will Soon Declare State Of Emergency Over Opioid Crisis (G.)
Why Saudi Arabia And Israel Have United Against Al-Jazeera (FIsk)
‘Subprime Is Contained’ -They Really Don’t Know What They Are Doing (Snider)
What Went Wrong With the 21st Century? (Bonner)
Black Swan At Bavarian Palace Seeks Partner (DW)

 

 

There are many voices saying crazy things in this North Korea thing, and I’m not even watching CNN. But this is the craziest thing of all: how to make money off a nuclear attack. These people are mentally blind.

It’s Hard to Price an ‘Extinction Event’ Like a North Korea War (BBG)

Financial markets haven’t really reacted much to the escalation in tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, and some observers explain that it’s largely because in the worst-case scenario it’s impossible to guess the appropriate price for things like stocks and bonds. “It’s hard to price a potentially extinction event (at least for much of the Korean peninsula),” is how Timothy Ash, a senior strategist at Bluebay Asset Management in London, puts it. It’s a point also made by Mark Mobius, the Templeton Emerging Markets Group executive chairman and apostle for emerging-market investing. He said in a May interview about the prospect of a North Korean nuclear conflict: “there’s nothing you can do about it – if something breaks out, we’re all finished anyway.” Maybe that’s why the worst day this year for the Kospi index of South Korean stocks was July 28, which was all about a global tech-stock retreat and nothing to do with geopolitics.

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“This increase in leverage has sapped our ability to spend,” Roberts said. “I think we’re stuck.”

In Debt We Trust for US Consumers With $12.7 Trillion Burden (BBG)

After deleveraging in the aftermath of the last U.S. recession, Americans have once again taken on record debt loads that risk holding back the world’s largest economy. Household debt outstanding – everything from mortgages to credit cards to car loans – reached $12.7 trillion in the first quarter, surpassing the previous peak in 2008 before the effects of the housing market collapse took its toll, Federal Reserve Bank of New York data show. To put the borrowing in perspective, it’s more than the size of China’s economy or almost four times that of Germany’s. People are borrowing more not necessarily because they’re confident about their financial prospects. They’re doing it for necessities like education or transportation and, in many cases, just to get by.

On the surface, liabilities at an all-time high aren’t alarming when the assets side of ledger is taken into account. Household net worth stands at a record $94.8 trillion, thanks to rebounding home values and soaring stock portfolios. But that increase has primarily benefited the nation’s wealthiest, said Lance Roberts, chief investment strategist at Clarity Financial in Houston and editor of the Real Investment Advice newsletter. “When you look at net worth, it’s heavily skewed by the top 10%,” Roberts said. “The average family of four is living paycheck to paycheck.” For most Americans, whose median household income, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was at its peak in 1999, borrowing has been the answer to maintaining their standard of living. The increase in debt helps explain why the economy’s main source of fuel is providing less of boost than in the past.

Personal spending growth has averaged 2.4% since the recession ended in 2009, less than the 3% of the previous expansion and 4.3% from 1982-90. A look at worker pay presents a more dire backdrop for discretionary spending for those without a lot of assets. While the difference between income from wages and household debt has improved since the last recession, it’s been leveling off and remains at a depressed level. The improvement also reflects less mortgage debt because of increased home foreclosures, rather than a pickup in earnings. “This increase in leverage has sapped our ability to spend,” Roberts said. “I think we’re stuck.”

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A series of articles on today’s new marvels, Tesla, Uber, Amazon, Airbnb. They all fall to bits, one by one.

Tesla is a highly destructive company. All it takes is a basic understanding of thermodynamics. Strip-mining, cutting down forests, throwing the Congo into even deeper misery, just so you can fool yourself into thinking you’re clean.

Tesla Cars Aren’t As Carbon (And Taxpayer) Friendly As You Think (FMS)

Tesla proponents love to remind people how their vehicles are “carbon free” (in spite of Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s own carbon profligate lifestyle): Fact: the Tesla Model S is an environmentally friendly, zero emissions electric vehicle that won’t pollute the air like gas-powered cars. Carbon emissions from a gas car’s tailpipe has a dangerous impact on global warming…. In addition, Tesla CEO Elon Musk explains that, “combustion cars emit toxic gases. According to an MIT study, there are 53,000 deaths per year in the U.S. alone from auto emissions.” But in reminding people about how they don’t burn fossil fuels, they make sure to omit and/or obfuscate all the other emissions-laden factors that go into production of Tesla automobiles, including the oft-unspoken costs of the vehicles to the taxpayer and to other auto manufacturers.

Start with the power source for the Tesla; their electric power plant uses lithium-ion batteries to store the electricity required to run the car. And while a good amount of lithium is produced at salt lake brines that use chemical processes to extract the requisite lithium… …a large (and growing) amount of lithium is sourced from hard-rock mining, which is also referred to as strip mining: This type of mining involves not just all the carbon used to extract the lithium from mines, it “strips” the land of its forests, which is far more environmentally (and carbon) detrimental. And while it is likely impossible to know exactly where Tesla sources its materials from, a closer examination on Tesla’s impact on the mining industry should paint a crystal clear picture:

Should the concept capture the imagination of Americans who are increasingly conscious of reducing their carbon footprint demand for these crucial elements could skyrocket in addition to the already robust global demand for lithium, nickel and copper. Major mining companies are already “future proofing” their businesses for climate change by focusing more investment into commodities that will be required by the renewable energy industry. You can’t make this stuff up – Tesla and other renewable energy industries are going to save the world by mining its natural resources to excess, without regard for the environmental impact and carbon emissions generated in the process. You shouldn’t be surprised to seldom hear this mentioned by Elon Musk, or the liberal crowd that champions electric vehicles.

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This is too insane to be labelled a ‘business model’.

Uber Gets Run Over by its Own Subprime Auto Leases (WS)

Uber, which has lost $3 billion last year and has gotten itself into a thicket of intractable issues and scandals that cost founder and CEO Travis Kalanick his job, is now facing a subprime auto-leasing crisis. Two years ago when these folks launched the subprime auto leasing program to put their badly paid drivers into new vehicles they couldn’t otherwise afford, they apparently didn’t do the math. In July 2015, when the “Xchange Leasing” program was announced, the company gushed: “We’re excited about how these new solutions meet drivers’ unique needs, and offer more and better choices and greater flexibility than ever before.” The leasing program would be “administered by an Uber subsidiary and designed to fit with the flexibility that drivers value most,” it said. This is how it would work:

Unlike most multi-year leases that have high fees for early termination, drivers who participate in Xchange for at least 30 days will be able to return the car with only two weeks notice, and limited additional costs. The program allows for unlimited mileage and the option to lease a used car, with routine maintenance also included. It wasn’t supposed to be a money maker – nothing at Uber is. But hey. And the company invested $600 million in the business, “people familiar with the matter” told the Wall Street Journal. This type of lease was offered to drivers with subprime credit ratings or no credit ratings who barely earned enough money to get by and make the payments, if they stuck around long enough. It allowed drivers to drive new cars. When it didn’t work out for them, they could return the cars after 30 days with two weeks’ notice.

The only penalty for the early return is that Uber keeps the $250 deposit. And these leases came with “unlimited miles.” No one in the car business would ever conceive of such a thing. But Uber is different. It defies the laws of economics. Or so it thought at the time. Now, the 14-member executive committee that is running the show looked at the math and was horrified. “According to people familiar with the matter,” cited by The Journal, executives had briefed the committee in July: “The Xchange Leasing division had been estimating modest losses of around $500 per auto on average, these people said. But managers recently informed Uber executives that the losses were actually about $9,000 per car — about half the sticker price of a typical leased vehicle.”

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So your ass can shoot roots into your couch. Yeah, that’s a valid business model.

Amazon Online Grocery Boom? Not So Fast… (WS)

Maybe Amazon has figured out that you’re not the only one who isn’t buying groceries online. Maybe it has figured out, despite all the money it has thrown at it, that selling groceries online is a very tough nut to crack. And no one has cracked it yet. Numerous companies have been trying. Safeway started an online store and delivery service during the dotcom bubble and has made practically no headway. A plethora of startups, brick-and-mortar retailers, and online retailers have tried it, including the biggest gorillas of all — Walmart, Amazon, and Google. Google is trying it in conjunction with Costco and others. It just isn’t catching on. And this has baffled many smart minds. Online sales in other products are skyrocketing and wiping out the businesses of brick-and-mortar retailers along the way. But groceries?

That’s one of the reasons Amazon is eager to shell out $14.7 billion to buy Whole Foods, its biggest acquisition ever, dwarfing its prior biggest acquisition, Zappos, an online shoe seller, for $850 million. Amazon cannot figure out either how to sell groceries online though it has tried for years. Now it’s looking for a new model — namely the old model in revised form? This is why everyone who’s online wants to get a piece of the grocery pie: The pie is big. Monthly sales at grocery stores in June seasonally adjusted were $53 billion. For the year 2016, sales amounted to $625 billion: But it’s going to be very tough for online retailers to muscle into this brick-and-mortar space, according to Gallup, based on its annual Consumption Habits survey, conducted in July. Consumers just aren’t doing it:

Only 9% of US households say they order groceries online at least once a month, either for pickup or delivery. Only 4% do so at least once a week. By contrast, someone in nearly all households (98%) goes to brick-and-mortar grocery stores at least once a month, and 83% go at least once a week. Gallup summarizes the quandary: At this point, online grocery shopping appears to be an adjunct to retail shopping rather than a replacement, as most shoppers whose families purchase groceries online once or twice a month or more say they still visit a store to buy groceries at least once a week. But there are some differences by age group – and maybe that’s where Amazon sees some distant hope: Of the 18-29 year olds, 15% shop for groceries on line at least once a month. For 30-49 year olds, this drops to 12%. For 50-64 year olds, it drops to 10%. For those 65 and older, it essentially fades out (2%).

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No profit, just working on a monopoly. Cut it down.

Amazon Paid Just £15 Million In Tax On European Revenues Of £19.5 Billion (G.)

Amazon paid just €16.5m (£15m) in tax on European revenues of €21.6bn (£19.5bn) reported through Luxembourg in 2016. The figures, published in Amazon’s latest annual accounts for its European online retail business, are likely to reignite the debate about US tech companies using complex crossborder arrangements to minimise the tax they pay across the continent. Separately, Amazon UK Services – the company’s warehouse and logistics operation that employs almost two-thirds of its 24,000 UK staff – more than halved its declared UK corporation tax bill from £15.8m to £7.4m year-on-year in 2016. The cut came despite turnover at the UK business, which handles the packing and delivery of parcels and functions such as customer service, rising from £946m to £1.46bn.

Ana Arendar, Oxfam’s head of inequality, said: “Despite some action by ministers and companies, widespread corporate tax avoidance continues to cost both rich and poor countries billions every year that could pay for schools and lifesaving healthcare. “We urgently need comprehensive public country-by-country reporting for multinationals to ensure they pay their fair share of tax – the UK government should implement this by the end of 2019 – unilaterally if necessary.” Amazon Europe, which is based in Luxembourg and aggregates the billions of pounds of sales the retailer makes from individual countries across the continent, reported a pre-tax profit of €59.6m last year. As a result the company, which clocked up €21.6bn in sales across Europe last year, had a tax bill of just €16.5m.

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This seems the easiest thing to contain. 90% of it is advertized online. Take average occupancy in a city, at average prices, and tax them on it.

Airbnb Faces EU Clampdown For Not Paying ‘Fair Share’ Of Tax (G.)

EU finance ministers will discuss how to force home-sharing platforms such as Airbnb to pay their fair share of taxes and in the right tax domains next month after the French minister for the economy described the current situation as “unacceptable”. The European commission announced on Thursday that a joint proposal from France and Germany would be discussed at a meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, on 16 September. Brussels will also advise on how best to deal with the so-called sharing economy, in which Airbnb is a major player. It was revealed this week that Airbnb paid less than €100,000 (£90,336) in French taxes last year, despite the country being the room-booking firm’s second-biggest market after the US.

In response, the French economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, informed the national assembly that the EU’s Franco-German axis would be proposing a pan-European clampdown. “These digital platforms make tens of millions of sales and the French treasury gets a few tens of thousands,” the minister said, adding that the current setup was “unacceptable”. Le Maire further claimed in parliament that an ongoing consultation being led by the commission and the OECD to address the tax question were “taking too much time, it’s all too complicated”. Many digital platforms operating in the EU have a base in Ireland, including Airbnb, where they can exploit a low corporation tax regime. Le Maire said: “Everybody has to pay a fair contribution.”

I[..] Paris city council has already voted to make it mandatory from 1 December to obtain a registration number from the town hall before posting an advertisement for a short-term rental on its website. The ruling potentially makes it harder for property owners using Airbnb to exceed the 120 days a year legal rental limit for a main residence, and easier for the authorities to collect local taxes. In Barcelona, where tensions have been rising for years over the surge in visitors, the impact of sites such as Airbnb on the local housing market has led to anti-tourist protests. In Mallorca and San Sebastián, an anti-tourism march is being planned for 17 August to coincide with Semana Grande, a major festival of Basque culture.

In Ibiza, the authorities are placing a cap on the number of beds for tourists. Owners will also be banned from renting their homes, or rooms within them, via websites such as Airbnb and Homeaway unless they obtain a licence. Owners face fines of up to €400,000 if they break the law. The websites face the same fine for letting people advertise without a valid licence number.

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Cut out the stupid pharma ads and you’re halfway there.

Trump Will Soon Declare State Of Emergency Over Opioid Crisis (G.)

Donald Trump signaled he could soon declare a state of emergency in an attempt to deal with America’s opioid overdose crisis. A commission reporting to the president said recently that declaring a state of emergency was its “first and most urgent recommendation”. But Trump, in his first remarks on the subject, appeared to set his face against treating the epidemic as a health emergency – calling instead for tougher prison sentences and “strong, strong law enforcement”. However, returning to the issue on Thursday, Trump seemed to have changed his tone. “We’re going to draw it up and we’re going to make it a national emergency,” he said, adding the administration is “drawing documents now to so attest”. “It is a serious problem the likes of which we have never had,” Trump said at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort, where he is on a “working vacation”.

The president can declare a state of emergency two legal ways: he could use the Stafford Act, or the Public Health Service Act, which is specific to health emergencies and can be declared by the health secretary. “When I was growing up they had the LSD, and they had certain generations of drugs,” Trump said. “There’s never been anything like what’s happened to this country over the last four or five years. And I have to say this in all fairness, this is a worldwide problem, not just a United States problem. This is happening worldwide.” In fact, while drug overdoses happen all over the world, the US leads by a significant margin. Though the nation has just 4% of the world’s population, the US also has 27% of the world’s drug overdose deaths, according to the UN’s 2017 World Drug Report. For example, for every million Americans between 15 and 64 years old, 245 people per year die of drug overdoses. In Mexico, 4 people per million die of drug overdoses.

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Best friends.

Why Saudi Arabia And Israel Have United Against Al-Jazeera (FIsk)

Being an irrational optimist, there’s an innocent side of my scratched journalistic hide that still believes in education and wisdom and compassion. There are still honourable Israelis who demand a state for the Palestinians; there are well-educated Saudis who object to the crazed Wahhabism upon which their kingdom is founded; there are millions of Americans, from sea to shining sea, who do not believe that Iran is their enemy nor Saudi Arabia their friend. But the problem today in both East and West is that our governments are not our friends. They are our oppressors or masters, suppressors of the truth and allies of the unjust.

Netanyahu wants to close down Al Jazeera’s office in Jerusalem. Crown Prince Mohammad wants to close down Al Jazeera’s office in Qatar. Bush actually did bomb Al Jazeera’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad. Theresa May decided to hide a government report on funding “terrorism”, lest it upset the Saudis – which is precisely the same reason Blair closed down a UK police enquiry into alleged BAE-Saudi bribery 10 years earlier. And we wonder why we go to war in the Middle East. And we wonder why Sunni Isis exists, un-bombed by Israel, funded by Sunni Gulf Arabs, its fellow Sunni Salafists cosseted by our wretched presidents and prime ministers. I guess we better keep an eye on Al Jazeera – while it’s still around.

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And these guys are still seen as authorities. They may be dumb, but they’re not the dumbest.

‘Subprime Is Contained’ -They Really Don’t Know What They Are Doing (Snider)

Ben Bernanke, then Chairman of the Federal Reserve, told Congress in March 2007 that subprime was contained. He will rightfully be remembered in infamy for that, but that wasn’t the most egregious example of being wrong. Even putting it in those terms risks understating the problem and why it stubbornly lingers. Being really wrong is claiming that IOER will establish a floor for money market rates, and then finding out it actually doesn’t. No, what policymakers did especially in the early crisis period was altogether worse; they demonstrated conclusively that though they shared this world with the rest of us, they inhabited and continue to inhabit a totally different planet. Given the anniversary date and our human affinity for round numbers (ten years or a lost decade), there is a desire to revisit some of the worst of the list which happened just before August 9, 2007. My favorite has always been Bill Dudley, as I recounted last at the ninth anniversary of nothing being done:

As far as the issue of material nonpublic information that shows worse problems than are in the newspapers, I’m not sure exactly how to characterize that because I guess I wouldn’t know how to characterize how bad the newspapers think these problems are. [Laughter] We’ve done quite a bit of work trying to identify some of the funding questions surrounding Bear Stearns, Countrywide, and some of the commercial paper programs. There is some strain, but so far it looks as though nothing is really imminent in those areas.” [emphasis added]

He spoke those words, recorded for posterity, on August 7, 2007, at the regular FOMC policy meeting. As noted earlier today, both Countrywide and the whole commercial paper market would be decimated really within hours from his “inspiring” confidence. What really stands out is for Dudley to have been the one who said them, because as head of the Open Market Desk he had to be technically proficient in a way that the others could avoid (and why so often in its history policy discussions especially about these great things would often flow through whomever was the Open Market Desk chief at that moment in time). He proved still to be an empty suit like the rest, but he was always that much less of one. So if the best the Fed had to offer was so thoroughly unaware, is it any wonder what happened then and continues to happen now?

One day after Dudley’s private embarrassment, one Bank of England governor and future chief perhaps joined his level in the Hall of Fame of Famous Last Words. Meryn King remarked on August 8, 2007: “So far what we have seen is not a threat to the financial system. It’s not an international financial crisis.” He said these words at the behest of the ECB in front of the assembled press ostensibly to impart calm. Also noted earlier today, it was the European Central Bank that made the first crisis move the very next day in a record liquidity injection.

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“There’s nothing like it. Get on the wrong side of time, and you are out of luck.”

What Went Wrong With the 21st Century? (Bonner)

And it’s Time Time Time
And it’s Time Time Time
And it’s Time Time Time
That you love
And it’s Time Time Time

To bring readers fully up to speed, the 21st century has been a flaming dud. In practically every way. Despite more new technology than ever… more PhDs… more researchers… more patents… more earnest strivers than ever before sweating to move things ahead… and despite more “stimulus” from the Fed ($3.6 trillion) than ever in history…U.S. GDP growth rates are only half of those of the last century. And household incomes, after you factor in inflation, are flat. In fact, by some calculations – using non-fiddled measures of inflation – growth has been negative for the whole 21st century. Meanwhile, there are more people tending bar or waiting tables… and fewer people with full-time breadwinner jobs. And productivity and personal savings rates have collapsed.

And those are only the measurable trends. Political and social developments have been similarly dud-ish – including the longest, losingest war in U.S. history… the biggest government deficits… the most vulgar public life… the least personal freedom… and, in our hometown, Baltimore, a record murder rate. What went wrong? Herewith, a hypothesis. It suggests three “causes,” all three linked by a single shared element: time.

[..] Fake money causes people to waste time and money. And central bank policies discourage savings by lowering interest rates… even pushing them into negative territory. Instead of saving them for the future… resources are consumed today. These mistakes accumulate as debt… which then forces people to spend more time servicing the mistakes of the past. Meanwhile, the internet gives people a new way to waste time. At home. At work. On the high plains. Or in the lowlife back alleys. People spend their precious time on idle distractions and entertainments. That leaves fewer people doing the real work that progress requires – saving, investing, and working for the future. Time is always the ultimate constraint. You can substitute one resource for another. You can switch from oil to solar… or copper to aluminum. But there’s no swapping out time. There’s nothing like it. Get on the wrong side of time, and you are out of luck.

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Oh please, can I include this? Just so Nassim Taleb knows black swans get lonely?! Like they’re unqiue but they do come in pairs… Philosophical intrigue galore.

Black Swan At Bavarian Palace Seeks Partner (DW)

The Rosenau Palace in southern Germany has published a lonely hearts ad on behalf of its resident black swan. Ground keepers believe the bird’s former companion was eaten by a fox. The department that oversees state-owned palaces, gardens and lakes in the southern state of Bavaria sent out its rather unusual appeal to the public on Thursday. “The sex of the animal isn’t important,” a message on the department’s website read. “Ideally it should be more than three years old, but this isn’t an absolute must.” The department has been on the lookout for a match since May, when one of the two black swans that lived in the palace grounds disappeared. Palace gardeners later found bones and feathers in one of the park’s bushes. “He was probably eaten by a fox,” the department concluded.

Rosenau garden department head Steffen Schubert has been sending out enquiries every day to try and locate a candidate – without success. Finding a replacement isn’t just about sparing the surviving swan from loneliness, he says. “Swans have a special significance in the history of Rosenau Palace and park,” he said. Black swans were reportedly first introduced to the palace grounds by Britain’s Queen Victoria as a symbol of mourning following the premature death of her husband Prince Albert, who was born at Rosenau Palace in 1819. The royals visited the palace together in 1845, five years after they were married. In her memoirs, the queen wrote: “If I were not who I am, this would be my real home.” The palace, near the town of Coburg in northern Bavaria, is home to Swan Lake and Prince’s Pond.

In its statement, the department said the new swan would have a good life, with a 2-hectare lake and a newly built “swan house” at its disposal. In the chillier months, the birds also have winter quarters with water access and are fed every day. The department said it would go itself to pick up the bird if a member of the public was willing to donate a swan to the grounds. “We hope our swan does not have to be alone for too long,” a spokeswoman for the palace management told German news agency DPA.

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Apr 122017
 
 April 12, 2017  Posted by at 8:25 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Frederick Carl Frieseke Girl In Blue Arranging Flowers 1915

 

Potential earthquakes and black swans are right ahead of us. What else is new? On April 16, Turkey has a referendum to decide whether Erdogan will become de facto supreme ruler. What happens if he loses the referendum is completely unclear, undiscussed even, but it’s obvious a loss would have the country shake on its already shaky foundations.

The Turkish economy is in horrible shape and Erdogan’s post-coup firings (hundreds of thousands) and jailings (tens of thousands) have made large parts of society unattended. The biggest of which may well be the army; you can’t fire large numbers of officers and pilots and expect to retain the same strike effectiveness.

Erdogan’s ongoing war on the Kurds is also turning against him, or at least internationally. Both Russia and the US acknowledge the important role Kurdish forces play in the battle against ISIS, and they’re not going to turn against them. So while Turkey demands a major role in neighboring Syria, it has essentially been put off-side, or benched.

Russia maintains (some of) its boycotts of Turkish products ($260 million worth of tomatoes) that were the result of Erdogan downing a Russian jet in late 2015, and the refuses to deliver arch-enemy Gülen, despite Michael Flynn’s best efforts. This means, by the way, that the country simply hasn’t provided irrefutable proof of the man’s role in the coup (if it was ever a real coup).

If Erdogan cannot come up a winner on Sunday, he would lose a lot of face. And he might lose more than that. Of course one must question if it’s even a option that the Turkish people vote NO, and that that would subsequently be announced as the referendum result. He controls just about anything in the country already; why not this too, by right or by might?!

 

Second black swan: France. It could be a genuine black one, as in unexpected. Less than two weeks before the first round of the presidential election, all of a sudden another contender has come to the fore. Far left Jean-Luc Mélenchon was never given any chance of winning, but one TV debate later his popularity is rising fast.

The French have long been tired of their political system, and this time around that could mean all established parties are out. Even perhaps including Emmanuel Macron, who doesn’t belong to a party but is still perceived as a member of the establishment, no matter how hard he tries not to be.

Come round two on May 7, voters might be faced with the -stark- choice between far left and far right, with a big gaping empty hole in between. That would leave no option of a ‘safe choice’, the big hope of everyone who doesn’t like Marine Le Pen. It would also leave no candidate who unwaveringly supports the euro or even the EU.

In fact, it’s ironic -make that funny- to what extent far left and far right ideas ‘meet in the middle’. Add to the irony that Melenchon’s rise makes a Le Pen presidency that much more likely, because a ‘communist’ is seen as at least as dangerous as Le Pen. That might give her the undecided votes she will need to prevail.

 

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Moscow, he’s way out of his league, and he knows it. His task is, if you read between the lines, to deliver warnings and threats to Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, but both are not only at least as smart as Rex, they have the many years of experience in international politics that he woefully lacks.

The White House issued a ‘we can prove it was Assad, and it was sarin’ report yesterday, but they can not. The sarin accusation even makes little sense given the photos of people attending to the victims with bare hands. Accusing Russia of being complicit in Assad attacking his own people with gas/chemicals doesn’t really fly either.

Tillerson said earlier in the week that Russia is either ‘incompetent or complicit’, that it should have made sure Assad had no chemical arsenal. But a 2013 treaty between the US and Russia established a UN body, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), that is responsible for that. And the US is part of that body, and as such co-responsible.

And yes, there will be people saying that Russia delivered chemical capacity to Assad despite the treaty. But why should it? That question falls into the same category as why Assad would use chemicals to begin with at this point in time. It makes no sense, there is no logic. But then in the US logic has been in short supply for a while, certainly when politics are concerned.

Tillerson apparently was told to tell Russia that it has to stop supporting Assad or else, but that is just real dumb. Syria is Russia’s only haven in the Middle East, and there’s no chance they will give it up. And why should they? Would the world be a better place if the US can do whatever it wants in the region? Haven’t the utterly failed regime changes in Iraq and Libya done enough damage?

Sure, Assad may be a shaky asset. But what about the Saudi’s and their western-supported obliteration of the entire nation and peoples of Yemen? Want to look at some pictures that can drive Ivanka to tears? You won’t see them in your media, and neither will she. It’s all just biased nonsense, and by now it’s hard to see how Trump will find his own way in, let alone find his way out of, this foreign swamp.

Threatening Russia is certainly not that way. But sure, the President must feel eager to disprove the unproven non-stop allegations of collaboration between him and Putin. And the one-sided attacks did indeed stop only when the bombs started to fall. It’s all so predictable it makes you want to puke all over your morning paper all over every single morning, Groundhog Day style.

 

The New York Times was awarded a Pulitzer for “agenda-setting reporting on Vladimir Putin’s efforts to project Russia’s power abroad”. I kid you not. The American press has lost all concerns about its own credibility, and the Pulitzers follow them with a vengeance. And that same press did a weather-vane like 180 as soon as 59 Tomahawks were aimed and fired at an abandoned airport in the sand.

They were anti-Trump mongers the whole time, and changed like a leaf on a tree in seconds, to become pro-war mongers. It’s something to behold. They love him! The starkest example, among too many to keep count of, was presented in a publication named The Hill, which we are apparently supposed to take serious. It’s just another WaPo and NYT clone, but this thing by “General Anthony J. Tata, Opinion Contributor” sums it all up too nicely to ignore:

Trump’s Adherence To American Values Demonstrates His Commitment To Protecting Us

In the wake of Tuesday’s Syrian chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians, President Barack Obama will be remembered as America’s modern day Neville Chamberlain, the infamous United Kingdom Prime Minister who appeased Nazi Germany in 1938 by signing the Munich Agreement, setting the stage for the holocaust. Contrast Obama’s negligence with President Donald Trump’s decisive action a mere two days following the Syrian violation of international law. The Syrian government used chemicals to brutalize its citizens in Khan Sheikhoun.

President Trump immediately denounced the attacks, labeling them, “An affront to humanity.” Less than 72 hours later he ordered the launch of 60 cruise missiles to destroy the airfield from which the bomb delivering airplanes departed. If Obama’s passivity in the face of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) deployed in Syria in 2013 lends to Chamberlain comparisons, President Donald Trump’s military action against Syria this week compares favorably to Winston Churchill, Chamberlain’s effective wartime successor.

Just as Chamberlain and Churchill viewed Nazi Germany differently, how could two modern day American presidents see essentially the same horrifying pictures of chemical weapons attack victims and come to two decidedly different conclusions about their terror and an effective response?

Jarring images of Tuesday’s sarin nerve agent attack on its citizens that circulated the world this week were similar to those that went viral in 2013: bodies torqued in gruesome death poses, patients oozing bodily fluids from their mouths and noses, and children running blind through the streets. In 2013, an unimpressed President Obama found a passive, ineffective diplomatic solution relying on unreliable Russian oversight. Syria obviously maintained and built its weapons of mass destruction stockpiles. The United Nations was even in on the deal, declaring that there were no more chemical weapons in Syria.

There’s so much stupidity and mendacity in that, you really have to take some time out to let it sink in. But it’s also very representative of American media these days. CNN, WaPo, NYT, they’re all full of people who by now must feel really shortchanged because Trump hasn’t dropped many more bombs on Syria, and they’re more than willing not to show us the pictures of the children those bombs would maim and kill. After all, how many pictures have you seen of Yemen’s death and famine?

When Trump told Maria Bartiromo that “we’re not going into Syria”, you can bet your buttocks lots of executives behind the desks there were thinking of one thing only: how do we get him to do it anyway? They still have hope there’ll be a major war soon, I guarantee you that.

But Putin is not going to move an inch, not on Syria and not on anything else. He knows the US army can do a lot of damage, but it can’t win. It hasn’t won an actual war in many decades, and it won’t win this one either if whoever’s in Washington decides to start it.

Before I started writing this I was thinking about Rip van Winkle rather than Groundhog Day. The whole media 180, and the war cries, are exactly like they were in 2003. Now, Rip van Winkle allegedly slept for 20 years, not 14, but hey, details. The cute thing about the Rip van Winkle story is also in the details:

When he awakens, Van Winkle discovers shocking changes: his musket is rotting and rusty, his beard is a foot long, and his dog is nowhere to be found. He returns to his village, where he recognizes no one. Van Winkle returns just after an election, and people are asking how he voted. (Wikipedia)

That election thing is priceless. But Rip woke up to find his entire world completely changed. Whereas today’s hollow US war talk is something we’ve seen before, and many times. That’s more Groundhog Day style. There must be a way to connect the two stories in a way that fits today’s reality. Whoever finds it is in Hollywood blockbuster territory.

War is far too popular in America. It’s scary. Not least of all because the US has zero chance of winning. For the same reasons, by the by, that it can’t fix its health care system.

America as a country, a society, is not effective enough anymore to win anything, there’s no chance of a concerted effort, it’s too inward looking and distracted by TV-shaped reality and ‘social’ media, and its entire society is aimed only at maximizing profit at the expense of one’s own neighbors. America has turned into cats in a sack.

But yes, these are often the most dangerous times in the existence of an empire. The waning days. The downward slope. The swans that will pop up in that are definitely black; there’s no predicting those graceful beauties.

Aug 202016
 
 August 20, 2016  Posted by at 9:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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William Henry Jackson New Orleans, “Canal Street from the Clay monument” 1890

A Black Swan The Size Of World War I (IBT)
Canadian Debt Slaves Pile it on (WS)
Things Keep Getting Worse For EU Banks (CNBC)
Brexit Armageddon Was A Terrifying Vision – But It Simply Hasn’t Happened (G.)
Over 500,000 UK First-Time Buyers Let Down By ‘Help To Buy’ Scheme (Sun)
A Dairy Firm at the End of the Earth Is Trying to Rule the World (BBG)
Does Motorola Need To Go To Rehab? (CCB)
Finance is Not the Economy (Hudson/Bezemer)
Saudi Arabia Kills Civilians, the US Looks the Other Way (NYT)
US Withdraws Staff From Saudi Arabia Dedicated To Yemen Planning (R.)
US Army Fudged Its Accounts By Trillions Of Dollars (R.)
Netherlands On Brink Of Banning Sale Of Petrol-Fuelled Cars (Ind.)

 

 

“The saving grace would have been to invest in Detroit startups or other investments that successfully straddled wars, Russian revolution, crises..”

A Black Swan The Size Of World War I (IBT)

To illustrate a strategic gap common to today’s portfolio managers, George Sokoloff, PhD, founder and CIO at Carmot Capital, proposes an interesting thought experiment – a breakdown of a typical, well-diversified investment strategy in 1912. Teetering on the cusp of revolution, war and depression, Sokoloff’s point is that, even following a modern portfolio management strategy, the manager would stand to lose the vast majority of their assets. People tend to rely on historically stable relationships between bonds and stocks, and when that relationship breaks down – as often happens in a liquidity event – even complicated strategies involving some arbitrage, essentially blow up. Imagine being a wealth manager out of Geneva in 1912, trying to create a nice diversified portfolio of developed market bonds, and emerging market bonds, says Sokoloff.

Say 39% of client assets would be split between stocks of Great Britain, France, German Empire, Austria-Hungary and Italy: truly mature, developed markets. Some 21% of assets would go into stocks of the two fastest growing economies: Russian Empire and North American United States. The wealth manager might also put a smidge into emerging economies like Argentina, Brazil or Japan. In bonds, allocation would be somewhat similar. Gilts with sub-3% yield would be the benchmark, with the rest of developed and emerging bonds trading at a spread. Alternatives investment could be in anything ranging from arable land in central Russia or the Great Plains, to shares of new automotive or aeroplane startups in Europe and America, to Japanese manufacturing ventures.

This well-intentioned, balanced portfolio would be in for a wild ride in the next decade and possibly drawdowns of as much as 80%. The saving grace would have been to invest in Detroit startups or other investments that successfully straddled wars, Russian revolution, crises and the technological boom of the early 20th century. Sokoloff told IBTimes UK: “That thought experiment is really frightening to me. You followed very sound modern portfolio management advice back then and still in ten years your portfolio is gone. I don’t think we are really learning the lessons of history, especially now that the global economy is so much more interconnected than it was before.”

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Scary.

Canadian Debt Slaves Pile it on (WS)

Consumer debt in Canada’s debt-fueled economy rose to a new record of C$1.67 trillion in the second quarter, according to Equifax. That’s up 3.0% from the prior quarter and 6.3% from a year ago. Excluding mortgages, consumer debt rose 3.4%, to C$21,878 per borrower on average. Folks 65 and over splurged the most with money they didn’t have and ended up increasing their debt by 8.2%. But Millennials had trouble. Their debts barely rose, and their delinquency rates have begun to jump. Equifax Canada, which based this report on its 25 million consumer credit files, doesn’t appear to capture the full extent of Canadian household debt: Statistics Canada’s most recent quarterly report pegged “total household credit market debt,” which includes mortgages, at a record C$1.933 trillion, up 5% year-over-year.

This gives Canadian households one of the highest debt-to-income ratios in the world. The ratio started soaring relentlessly 15 years ago, supporting the housing boom that barely took a breather during the Financial Crisis – a boom that now has turned into one of the globe’s most phenomenal and riskiest housing bubbles. Piling on debt to move the economy and the housing bubble forward was encouraged by record low borrowing rates. So at the end of the first quarter, the level of consumer debt was 165.3% of disposable income. It’s so high that it’s regularly subject of ineffectual hand-wringing in Canada’s central bank circles:

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“..investment banking in Germany, for example, is down 45%…”

Things Keep Getting Worse For EU Banks (CNBC)

European Union banks just can’t catch a break. Many of them are still slogging uphill to recoup share price losses incurred from the Brexit vote in the U.K. European investment banking revenue overall is down 23% this year compared with the same period in 2015, according to data tracker Dealogic. And all are lagging behind U.S. banks for wallet share, or how much revenue they take in from dealmaking compared to competitors. JPMorgan Chase tops every bank in the EU for wallet share, with 7.3% of deals, according to data from Dealogic this week. It’s followed by Goldman Sachs, which has 6.2% of deals, and only then, in third place, is an EU bank: Deutsche Bank has 5% of revenue on European mergers and acquisitions.

But European banks (and their American counterparts) are fighting off a rising tide of boutique banks that have taken a growingpercentage of M&A revenue from them over the last decade. Around the world, M&A levels have declined from recent record highs. But the pain is exacerbated in Europe, where big banks experienced a steeper drop off in revenue. Dealogic data show that investment banking in Germany, for example, is down 45%. Globally, European deals account for just 22% of banking revenue, the lowest margin since Dealogic began tracking investment banking wallet share. That comes in the wake of banks being hit especially hard on concerns about elevated loan losses, especially those coming from oil and gas assets.

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For the love of Brexit.

Brexit Armageddon Was A Terrifying Vision – But It Simply Hasn’t Happened (G.)

Unemployment would rocket. Tumbleweed would billow through deserted high streets. Share prices would crash. The government would struggle to find buyers for UK bonds. Financial markets would be in meltdown. Britain would be plunged instantly into another deep recession. Remember all that? It was hard to avoid the doom and gloom, not just in the weeks leading up to the referendum, but in those immediately after it. Many of those who voted remain comforted themselves with the certain knowledge that those who had voted for Brexit would suffer a bad case of buyer’s remorse. It hasn’t worked out that way. The 1.4% jump in retail sales in July showed that consumers have not stopped spending, and seem to be more influenced by the weather than they are by fear of the consequences of what happened on 23 June.

Retailers are licking their lips in anticipation of an Olympics feelgood factor. The financial markets are serene. Share prices are close to a record high, and fears that companies would find it difficult and expensive to borrow have proved wide of the mark. Far from dumping UK government gilts, pension funds and insurance companies have been keen to hold on to them. City economists had predicted an immediate rise in the claimant count measure of unemployment in July. That hasn’t happened either. This week’s figures show that instead of a 9,000 rise, there was an 8,600 drop.

Some caveats are in order. It is still early days. Hard data is scant. Survey evidence is still consistent with a slowdown in the economy in the second half of 2016. Brexit may be a slow burn, with the impact only becoming apparent in the months and years to come. But it is obvious that the sky has not fallen in as a result of the referendum, and those who said it would look a bit silly. By now, Britain was supposed to be reeling from the emergency budget George Osborne said would be necessary to fill a £30bn black hole in the public finances caused by a plunging economy. The emergency budget is history, as is Osborne.

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Nobody should be buying a home in Britain.

Over 500,000 UK First-Time Buyers Let Down By ‘Help To Buy’ Scheme (Sun)

The much-trumpeted Help to Buy Isa was branded a scandal last night as it emerged that first-time buyers will not be able to use it for a deposit. More than 500,000 savers opened accounts after George Osborne claimed it would provide ‘direct Government support’. But it has been revealed that a flaw in the scheme means a 25% Government bonus on savings will not be paid out until a house purchase has been completed. Experts said those struggling to find the money to buy a home would have to look to their parents for loans. The Help to Buy Isas, which launched last year, let customers save £200 a month, to which the Government adds £50, up to a final total of £15,000. Buyers are usually required to provide a 10% deposit when they exchange contacts.

But the small print shows the bonus cannot be used for the initial deposit and only spent as part of the purchase cost. So far, fewer than 1,500 people have used the Isas to help buy a home as the limit on how much can be paid in means they have only just got a realistic amount to put toward a deposit. Andrew Boast of SAM Conveyancing said: “It is a scandal. Unsuspecting first-time buyers are finding that they can’t use the bonus as part of the deposit.” Danny Cox of Hargreaves Lansdown financial advisers said: “Hundreds of thousands of Help to Buy Isa savers risk finding a last-minute hole in their finances.” A Treasury spokesman said: “It has always been the case that money saved in a Help to Buy Isa is for an exchange deposit, with the bonus of up to £3,000 per Isa going toward the total funds available for the property transaction.”

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Fonterra was never going to last. Illusions of grandeur only go so far.

A Dairy Firm at the End of the Earth Is Trying to Rule the World (BBG)

In the shadow of a snow-dusted volcano on a corner of New Zealand’s North Island, a sprawling expanse of stainless steel vats, chimneys and giant warehouses stands as a totem of the tiny nation’s dominance in the global dairy trade. The Whareroa factory was until recently the largest of its kind, churning out enough milk powder, cheese and cream to fill more than three Olympic-sized swimming pools a week. The plant has helped make owner Fonterra Cooperative Group the world’s top dairy exporter and its farmer-suppliers among the greatest beneficiaries of China’s emerging thirst for milk. Now, faced with reduced Chinese demand that’s eroded milk prices and helped drag 80% of New Zealand’s dairy farmers into the red, the 44-year-old factory has come to symbolize Fonterra’s struggle to climb the value chain.

While a global shift toward more natural foods has spurred even Coca-Cola to develop new milk products, Fonterra’s business remains largely wedded to commodities traded on often-volatile international markets. That’s frustrated the ranks of the cooperative’s 10,500 farmer-shareholders, who are set to receive the lowest return in nine years for the milking season just ended, and turned Fonterra’s strategy into the subject of national debate. “Fonterra hasn’t taken the opportunity to put itself in a position to really weather these storms as well as they should be able to,” said Harry Bayliss, 63, a former Fonterra director who still supplies the cooperative from farms about 30 kilometers west of the Whareroa factory. “What the board has focused on in the last 10 years haven’t been areas that have created real ongoing value for the shareholders or the company.”

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Motorola borrows heavily to buy its own shares. If that isn’t liquidating your company, what is? “It’s a much weaker company than it was two or three years ago..”

Does Motorola Need To Go To Rehab? (CCB)

How does Motorola Solutions CEO Greg Brown keep his company’s stock rising despite declining revenue and profit? Volume—of share repurchases. Since splitting off its mobile phone business in 2011, Motorola Solutions has spent $11.5 billion buying back stock. Earlier this month, the provider of products and services for government communications systems authorized another $2 billion in repurchases. The buybacks have reduced total share count by more than half, bolstering earnings per share even as actual profit declined to $613 million in 2015 from $1.16 billion in 2011. And because investors price shares on the basis of EPS, Motorola Solutions shares increased 90% in value over that period, to $75.99 yesterday, outpacing a 72% rise for the Standard & Poor’s 500 market.

Of course, Motorola Solutions is far from alone in gobbling its own shares as an antidote to sluggish growth. Companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 repurchased a record amount in the 12 months through March 31. Still, Motorola ranks in the top 10% in terms of the percentage of outstanding shares repurchased over five years, according to Birinyi Associates. Buybacks are becoming more controversial as they consume a growing share of capital. Critics say companies are artificially burnishing their results rather than investing in business activities that would generate real long-term growth. Defenders say buybacks make sense for companies that generate more cash than they can reinvest profitably.

But Motorola Solutions has spent far more than excess cash flow on buybacks. Since the spinoff, the now Chicago-based maker of two-way radio systems has produced $2.7 billion in operating cash flow and collected $3.4 billion in proceeds from selling its enterprise business to Zebra Technologies in 2014. That $6.1 billion total represents a little more than half of Motorola’s buyback outlay. Brown has financed the rest with borrowed money, tripling long-term debt to $5 billion since the spinoff. Cash on hand dropped to $1.5 billion as of June 30, from $3.1 billion a year earlier. “It’s a much weaker company than it was two or three years ago,” says analyst David Novosel of Gimme Credit, a research firm in Chicago.

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“When the financial bubble bursts, negative equity spreads as asset prices fall below the mortgages, bonds, and bank loans attached to the property.“

Finance is Not the Economy (Hudson/Bezemer)

Analysis of private sector spending, banking, and debt falls broadly into two approaches. One focuses on production and consumption of current goods and services, and the payments involved in this process. Our approach views the economy as a symbiosis of this production and consumption with banking, real estate, and natural resources or monopolies. These rent-extracting sectors are largely institutional in character, and differ among economies according to their financial and fiscal policy. (By contrast, the “real” sectors of all countries usually are assumed to share a similar technology.)

Economic growth does require credit to the real sector, to be sure. But most credit today is extended against collateral, and hence is based on the ownership of assets. As Schumpeter (1934) emphasized, credit is not a “factor of production,” but a precondition for production to take place. Ever since time gaps between planting and harvesting emerged in the Neolithic era, credit has been implicit between the production, sale, and ultimate consumption of output, especially to finance long- distance trade when specialization of labor exists (Gardiner 2004; Hudson 2004a, 2004b). But it comes with a risk of overburdening the economy as bank credit creation affords an opportunity for rentier interests to install financial “tollbooths” to charge access fees in the form of interest charges and currency-transfer agio fees.

Most economic analysis leaves the financial and wealth sector invisible. For nearly two centuries, ever since David Ricardo published his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation in 1817, money has been viewed simply as a “veil” affecting commodity prices, wages, and other incomes symmetrically. Mainstream analysis focuses on production, consumption, and incomes. In addition to labor and fixed industrial capital, land rights to charge rent are often classified as a “factor of production,” along with other rent-extracting privileges. Also, it is as if the creation and allocation of interest-bearing bank credit does not affect relative prices or incomes.

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Not exactly. The US is not some innocent bystander. Having the NYT write this up is maybe a sign, but it’s also double tongued.

Saudi Arabia Kills Civilians, the US Looks the Other Way (NYT)

In the span of four days earlier this month, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen bombed a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital, killing 19 people; a school, where 10 children, some as young as 8, died; and a vital bridge over which United Nations food supplies traveled, punishing millions. In a war that has seen reports of human rights violations committed by every side, these three attacks stand out. But the Obama administration says these strikes, like previous ones that killed thousands of civilians since last March, will have no effect on the American support that is crucial for Saudi Arabia’s air war.

On the night of Aug. 11, coalition warplanes bombed the main bridge on the road from Hodeidah, along the Red Sea coast, to Sana, the capital. When it didn’t fully collapse, they returned the next day to destroy the bridge. More than 14 million Yemenis suffer dangerous levels of food insecurity — a figure that dwarfs that of any other country in conflict, worsened by a Saudi-led and American-supported blockade. One in three children under the age of 5 reportedly suffers from acute malnutrition. An estimated 90 percent of food that the United Nation’s World Food Program transports to Sana traveled across the destroyed bridge.

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Too much publicity lately?

US Withdraws Staff From Saudi Arabia Dedicated To Yemen Planning (R.)

The U.S. military has withdrawn from Saudi Arabia its personnel who were coordinating with the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen, and sharply reduced the number of staff elsewhere who were assisting in that planning, U.S. officials told Reuters. Fewer than five U.S. service people are now assigned full-time to the “Joint Combined Planning Cell,” which was established last year to coordinate U.S. support, including air-to-air refueling of coalition jets and limited intelligence-sharing, Lieutenant Ian McConnaughey, a U.S. Navy spokesman in Bahrain, told Reuters. That is down from a peak of about 45 staff members who were dedicated to the effort full-time in Riyadh and elsewhere, he said.

The June staff withdrawal, which U.S. officials say followed a lull in air strikes in Yemen earlier this year, reduces Washington’s day-to-day involvement in advising a campaign that has come under increasing scrutiny for causing civilian casualties. A Pentagon statement issued after Reuters disclosed the withdrawal acknowledged that the JCPC, as originally conceived, had been “largely shelved” and that ongoing support was limited, despite renewed fighting this summer. “The cooperation that we’ve extended to Saudi Arabia since the conflict escalated again is modest and it is not a blank check,” Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said. U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the reduced staffing was not due to the growing international outcry over civilian casualties in the 16-month civil war that has killed more than 6,500 people in Yemen, about half of them civilians.

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The DoD simply does no accounting.

US Army Fudged Its Accounts By Trillions Of Dollars (R.)

The United States Army’s finances are so jumbled it had to make trillions of dollars of improper accounting adjustments to create an illusion that its books are balanced.The Defense Department’s Inspector General, in a June report, said the Army made $2.8 trillion in wrongful adjustments to accounting entries in one quarter alone in 2015, and $6.5 trillion for the year. Yet the Army lacked receipts and invoices to support those numbers or simply made them up. As a result, the Army’s financial statements for 2015 were “materially misstated,” the report concluded. The “forced” adjustments rendered the statements useless because “DoD and Army managers could not rely on the data in their accounting systems when making management and resource decisions.”

Disclosure of the Army’s manipulation of numbers is the latest example of the severe accounting problems plaguing the Defense Department for decades. The report affirms a 2013 Reuters series revealing how the Defense Department falsified accounting on a large scale as it scrambled to close its books. As a result, there has been no way to know how the Defense Department – far and away the biggest chunk of Congress’ annual budget – spends the public’s money. The new report focused on the Army’s General Fund, the bigger of its two main accounts, with assets of $282.6 billion in 2015. The Army lost or didn’t keep required data, and much of the data it had was inaccurate, the IG said. “Where is the money going? Nobody knows,” said Franklin Spinney, a retired military analyst for the Pentagon and critic of Defense Department planning.

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It’ll take a lot more than that to make cities liveable. How about a deep financial crisis?

Netherlands On Brink Of Banning Sale Of Petrol-Fuelled Cars (Ind.)

Europe appears poised to continue its move towards cutting fossil fuel use as the Netherlands joins a host of nations looking to pass innovative green energy laws. The Dutch government has set a date for parliament to host a roundtable discussion that could see the sale of petrol- and diesel-fuelled cars banned by 2025. If the measures proposed by the Labour Party in March are finally passed, it would join Norway and Denmark in making a concerted move to develop its electric car industry. It comes after Germany saw all of its power supplied by renewable energies such as solar and wind power on one day in May as the economic powerhouse continues to phase out nuclear energy and fossil fuels.

And outside Europe, both India and China have demanded that citizens use their cars on alternate days only to reduce the exhaust fume production which is causing serious health problems for the populations of both nations. The consensus-oriented parties of the Netherlands are set to consider a total ban on petrol and diesel cars in a debate on 13 October. Richard Smokers, principle adviser in sustainable transport at the Dutch renewable technology company TNO, said the Dutch government was committed to meeting the Paris climate change agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions to 80% less than the 1990 level. The plan requires the majority of passenger cars to be run on CO2-free energy by 2050.

“Dutch cities still have some problems to meet existing EU air quality standards and have formulated ambitions to improve air quality beyond these standards,” he told The Independent, adding that the government had at the same time been reluctant to implement strict policies on the environment. “The current government embraces long term targets and strives at meeting EU requirements, but is hesistant about proposing ‘strong’ policy measures. “Instead it prefers to facilitate and stimulate initiatives from stakeholders in society.” If the law to ban the sale of new fossil-fuel cars by 2025 passes, a significant move will have been made towards phasing out all petrol and diesel cars by 2035, added Dr Smokers.

Read more …

Apr 192016
 
 April 19, 2016  Posted by at 9:37 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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G.G. Bain Pelham Park Railroad, City Island monorail, NY 1910

The Hole at the Center of the Rally: S&P Margins in Decline (BBG)
US Nonfinancial Debt Rises 3.5 Times Faster Than GDP (Mauldin)
Asia’s Rich Urged to Buy US Dollars (BBG)
It’s All Suddenly Going Wrong in China’s $3 Trillion Bond Market (BBG)
China Will Bring All The BRICS Tumbling Down (Forbes)
China March Home Prices Rise At Fastest Rate In Two Years (Reuters)
Why Obama Administration Tries to Keep 11,000 Documents Sealed (Matt Taibbi)
Obama Official: Seed Money That Created Al Qaeda Came From Saudi Arabia (P.)
Saudis Are Going For The Kill But The Oil Market Is Turning Anyway (AEP)
A New Map for America (NY Times)
No One Worries Enough About Black Swans (ZH)
Credit Suisse: Germany’s Large Surplus Is The Problem, Not the ECB (BBG)
Talks With Creditors To Resume But Athens Rejects Fresh Austerity (Kath.)
Every Move You Make Is Being Monitored (Whitehead)
The Elephant Cometh (Jim Kunstler)
Over 400 Migrants Drown On Their Way To Italy (Reuters)

“Without the Federal Reserve chipping in with quantitative easing, investors have to go back to valuations and earnings..”

The Hole at the Center of the Rally: S&P Margins in Decline (BBG)

Stocks are rising, the worst start to a year is a memory, and short sellers are getting pummeled. And yet something is going on below the surface of earnings that should give bulls pause. It’s evident in quarterly forecasts for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, where profits are declining at the steepest rate since the financial crisis relative to revenue. The divergence reflects a worsening contraction in corporate profitability, with net income falling to 8% of sales from a record 9.7% in 2014. Bears have warned for years that such a deterioration would sound the death knell for a bull market that is about two weeks away from becoming the second-longest on record even as productivity sputters and industrial output weakens.

While none of it has prevented stocks from advancing in seven of the last nine weeks, rallies have seldom weathered a decline in profitability as violent as this one – and the squeeze is often a bad sign for the economy, too. “Analysts have seen the string pull as far as it can go, and there is no way for it to go but to reverse for the moment,” said Barry James at James Investment Research in Xenia, Ohio. “Without the Federal Reserve chipping in with quantitative easing, investors have to go back to valuations and earnings, and both of those – one is high and the other is low – that’s not a very good recipe for stocks.” James said his firm is raising cash amid the recent rally in stocks.

While energy producers are expected to suffer the biggest contraction in margins because of plunging oil prices, with a 28% drop in sales accompanying a first-quarter loss, analyst predicted six of the other 10 S&P 500 industries will also report lower profitability. Financial and raw-materials companies will see income growth trailing sales by at least 12 percentage points.

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It’s just like China.

US Nonfinancial Debt Rises 3.5 Times Faster Than GDP (Mauldin)

In my recent Outside the Box, good friend Dr. Lacy Hunt of Hoisington Investment Management gave us more ammunition to take on those who just don’t seem to get that the endless piling up of debt is not a sustainable way to run an economy. The most striking feature of the US economy’s performance in 2015, according to Lacy, was a massive advance in nonfinancial debt that kept the economy stuck in the doldrums of subpar growth.

US nonfinancial debt rose 3.5 times faster than GDP last year. (Nonfinancial debt is the sum of household debt, business debt, federal debt, and state and local government debt. Lacy also points out unfavorable trends in each component of nonfinancial debt.

Household debt: Delinquencies in household debt moved higher even as financial institutions continued to offer aggressive terms to consumers, implying falling credit standards. Furthermore, the New York Fed said subprime auto loans reached the greatest%age of total auto loans in ten years. Moreover, they indicated that the delinquency rate rose significantly.

Business debt: Last year business debt, excluding off balance sheet liabilities, rose $793 billion, while total gross private domestic investment (which includes fixed and inventory investment) rose only $93 billion. Thus, by inference this debt increase went into share buybacks, dividend increases, and other financial endeavors…. When business debt is allocated to financial operations, it does not generate an income stream to meet interest and repayment requirements. Such a usage of debt does not support economic growth, employment, higher paying jobs, or productivity growth. Thus, the economy is likely to be weakened by the increase of business debt over the past five years.

Federal debt: US government gross debt, excluding off balance sheet items, gained $780.7 billion in 2015 or about $230 billion more than the rise in GDP…. The divergence between the budget deficit and debt in 2015 is a portent of things to come. This subject is directly addressed in the 2012 book The Clash of Generations, published by MIT Press, authored by Laurence Kotlikoff and Scott Burns. They calculate that on a net present value basis the US government faces liabilities for Social Security and other entitlement programs that exceed the funds in the various trust funds by $60 trillion. This sum is more than three times greater than the current level of GDP.

State and local government debt: State and local governments … face adverse demographics that will drain underfunded pension plans…. The state and local governments do not have the borrowing capacity of the federal government. Hence, pension obligations will need to be covered at least partially by increased taxes, cuts in pension benefits or reductions in other expenditures.

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The currency wars simmer on. Time for the vigilantes.

Asia’s Rich Urged to Buy US Dollars (BBG)

Money managers for Asia’s wealthy families are telling clients to buy U.S. dollars as a rally this year in regional currencies begins to sputter. Credit Suisse is advising its private-banking clients to bet the greenback will gain versus a basket of peers that includes the South Korean won, Taiwan dollar, Thai baht and Philippine peso. UBS said investors should buy the currency against the Singapore dollar and yen. Stamford Management, which oversees about $250 million for Asia’s rich, urged clients to buy the U.S. dollar each time it falls below S$1.35. The Monetary Authority of Singapore’s unexpected easing on April 14 has fueled speculation that other policy makers, concerned about a worsening global economic outlook, will follow suit.

A gauge of 10 Asian currencies excluding the yen has fallen 0.1% this month. The Bloomberg-JPMorgan Asia Dollar Index climbed 1.9% in the first three months of the year, the first gain in seven quarters, as traders adjusted bets on the timing of U.S. interest-rate increases. “We see good opportunity now to hedge against U.S. dollar strength after the strong rally in Asian currencies in the first quarter,” said Koon How Heng at Credit Suisse in Singapore. “There are risks that other Asian central banks may follow up with some more easing in the second half if their respective growth outlooks deteriorate further.” The prospect of renewed weakness in the Chinese yuan and two interest rate increases by the Federal Reserve in the second half of the year will boost the greenback, Heng said.

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“China’s aggregate financing – a broad measure of credit that includes corporate bonds – almost doubled from a year earlier to 2.34 trillion yuan [..] Yet even that wasn’t enough to save the seven Chinese companies that reneged on bond obligations this year.”

It’s All Suddenly Going Wrong in China’s $3 Trillion Bond Market (BBG)

The unprecedented boom in China’s $3 trillion corporate bond market is starting to unravel. Spooked by a fresh wave of defaults at state-owned enterprises, investors in China’s yuan-denominated company notes have driven up yields for nine of the past 10 days and triggered the biggest selloff in onshore junk debt since 2014. Local issuers have canceled 60.6 billion yuan ($9.4 billion) of bond sales in April alone, while Standard & Poor’s is cutting its assessment of Chinese firms at a pace unseen since 2003. While bond yields in China are still well below historical averages, a sustained increase in borrowing costs could threaten an economy that’s more reliant on cheap credit than ever before.

The numbers suggest more pain ahead: Listed firms’ ability to service their debt has dropped to the lowest since at least 1992, while analysts are cutting profit forecasts for Shanghai Composite Index companies by the most since the global financial crisis. “The spreading of credit risks is only at its early stage in China,” said Qiu Xinhong at First State Cinda Fund Management. “Many people have turned bearish.” China’s leaders face a difficult balancing act. On one hand, allowing troubled companies to default forces investors to pay more attention to credit risk and accelerates government efforts to curb overcapacity. The danger, though, is that investor panic leads to tighter credit conditions, dealing a blow to President Xi Jinping’s plan to keep the economy growing by at least 6.5% over the next five years.

Economic figures for March reveal a growing dependence on debt. China’s aggregate financing – a broad measure of credit that includes corporate bonds – almost doubled from a year earlier to 2.34 trillion yuan, exceeding all 24 forecasts in a Bloomberg survey as policy makers turned on the taps to support economic growth. Yet even that wasn’t enough to save the seven Chinese companies that reneged on bond obligations this year. Three of those were part-owned by China’s government, seen not long ago as a provider of implicit guarantees for bondholders. Dongbei Special Steel on April 13 missed a third payment since its chairman was found dead by hanging last month, while Chinacoal Group failed to make a distribution on April 6.

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And not just the BRICS.

China Will Bring All The BRICS Tumbling Down (Forbes)

The concept of the BRICs isn’t heard much these days beyond some cooperative institution building efforts. Originally a Goldman Sachs authored attempt to identify growth opportunities for investors (referring to Brazil, Russia, India and China), it was picked up by those countries to symbolise a hoped-for rotation in the world order: away from the old hierarchy of the West and the Rest, towards a more balanced configuration of global economic progress. For inclusiveness, the ‘s’ was eventually capitalised into ‘South Africa’ so that the African continent was not left out. With hindsight, it remains curious that the idea was ever taken seriously beyond the confines of investor advice. The nominated states have little in common, although the public diplomacy of developing economy cooperation has a lingering appeal.

The Russian economy was always based largely on hydrocarbons, and Brazil’s expansion was a broader commodity play. Each, therefore, nurtured an important relationship with China. Now, though, as commodity prices have sunk, China is the only buyer left and has no qualms about driving a hard bargain. Massive Chinese infrastructure investment created the temporary illusion of wealth while global debt levels grew relentlessly. The commodity curse then undermined real economic progress around the world, as elites chased diminishing surplus for patronage and popularity. This has left producers exposed; one – Venezuela – rapidly becoming a wasteland. In other countries, what limited democracy there was has been hollowed out, leaving Russia in a state of egregious industrial and demographic decline, and Brazil confirming stereotypes about Latin American corruption.

All because the orders are drying up and the money has run out. Both Brazil and Russia are facing the possibility of imminent collapse. India, by contrast, is its own story, a perpetual tale of slow promise that plays tortoise to China’s hare. The only real story behind the BRICs was always just the ‘C,’ as in China, and the huge investment boom that powered commodity prices towards the fantasy of a ‘super-cycle’ – another word we don’t hear much anymore – drove the whole world mad. There was money for social programs in Brazil to lift up the poor, money for Putin’s new model army in Russia to restore imperial prestige, and money for the Olympics and World Cup in both countries. Then there was money for London palaces, money for Panamanian bank accounts, money for small wars and some leftover for the supposed institutions of a ‘new world order,’ since deferred.

Now, China’s policy dilemma belongs to everyone. Having spent 15 years sucking consumption and investment from everywhere, China now has a productive capacity it cannot possibly sustain, and faces a world reluctant any longer to make up for the deficiencies in Chinese demand. It therefore confronts a build up of debts it will struggle to pay and investors who expect a return they may not receive.

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Beijing still can’t seem to see the danger.

China March Home Prices Rise At Fastest Rate In Two Years (Reuters)

China’s home prices in March gained at the fastest pace in almost two years but that growth may slow as local authorities tighten home purchase requirements in the two top performing cities on fears of a bubble forming. The southern city of Shenzhen continued to be the top performer, with home prices surging 61.6% from a year ago, followed by Shanghai with a 25% gain. Prices in the two cities were up 3.7% and 3.6% respectively from a month earlier. Average new home prices in 70 major cities rose 4.9% last month from a year ago, picking up from February’s 3.6% rise, according to Reuters calculations based on data released by the National Statistics Bureau (NBS) on Monday. March prices were up 1.1% compared to a month ago.

China’s housing market bottomed out in the second half of 2015 on a series of government support measures, but a strong rebound in prices in the biggest cities has sparked concerns that some markets may be overheating, driving Shanghai and Shenzhen’s authorities to tighten downpayment requirements for second homes and raising the eligibility bar for non-residents. While home sales in the two cities plunged as much as 52% after the tightening, prices eased only by single digit, according to data from China Real Estate Index System (CREIS). April’s official data, which will reflect the impact of the tightening measures, is due to be released in mid-May. Area of property sold in the first quarter grew 33.1% to a near three-year high, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Friday.

While property in China’s top-tier cities is booming, prices in smaller centers, where most of China’s urban population lives, are still sinking and complicating government efforts to spread wealth more evenly and arrest slowing economic growth. “(Monthly) price rises among cities still showed big differences. Cities with big rises were concentrated in the first-tier and, in part, the hot tier-two cities. Their growth is much faster than other cities, with the rest of the second-tier and third-tier cities relatively stable,” Liu Jianwei, a senior statistician at the NBS, said in a statement accompanying the data. The NBS data showed 40 of 70 major cities tracked by the NBS saw year-on-year price gains, up from 32 in February.

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Another A-class piece from Taibbi.

Why Obama Administration Tries to Keep 11,000 Documents Sealed (Matt Taibbi)

[..] Even after the state took over the companies in September of 2008, Fannie and Freddie continued to buy as much as $40 billion in bad assets per month from the private sector. Fannie and Freddie weren’t just bailed out, they were themselves a bailout, used to sponge up the sins of private firms. The original takeover mechanism was a $110 billion bailout, followed by a move to place Fannie and Freddie in conservatorship. In exchange, the state received an 80% stake and the promise of a future dividend. All told, the government ended up pumping about $187 billion into the companies. But now here’s the strange part. Within a few years after the crash, the housing markets improved significantly, to the point where Fannie and Freddie started to make money again. Lots of money. The GSEs became cash cows again, and in 2012 the government unilaterally changed the terms of the bailout.

Now, instead of taking a 10% dividend, the government decided that the new number it preferred was 100%. The GSE regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), explained the new arrangement. “The 10% fixed-rate dividend was replaced with a variable structure, essentially directing all net income to the Treasury,” the FHFA wrote. “Replacing the current fixed dividend in the agreements with a variable dividend based on net worth helps ensure stability [and] fully captures financial benefits for taxpayers.” “I’m not worried about Fannie and Freddie’s health,” said former House Financial Services Committee chair Barney Frank. “I’m worried that they won’t do enough to help out the economy.” Translation: We’re taking all your money, not just the money you owe. In court filings later on, the government offered a strange excuse for this sudden and dramatic change in the bailout terms. It explained that at the time, the GSEs “faced enormous credit losses” and “found themselves in a death spiral.”

The government claimed that the poor financial condition of the GSEs would force the Treasury to throw more money at the operations, increasing the total commitment of taxpayers and leading quickly to insolvency. It absolutely denied any foreknowledge that the firms were on the verge of massive profitability. It got weirder. Despite the fact that the GSEs went on to pay the government $228 billion over the next three years, or $40 billion more than they owed, none of that money went to paying off Fannie and Freddie’s debt. When Sen. Chuck Grassley asked aloud how it was that the company and its shareholders were not yet square with the government, the Treasury Department testily answered, in essence, that the bailout had not been a loan, but an investment. This was not a debt that could be paid back. Like a restaurant owner who borrows money from a mobster, the GSEs found themselves in an unseverable relationship.

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Obama visits SA on Wednesday…

Obama Official: Seed Money That Created Al Qaeda Came From Saudi Arabia (P.)

President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser said that the government of Saudi Arabia had paid “insufficient attention” to money that was being funneled into terror groups and fueled the rise of Al Qaeda. Ben Rhodes was speaking to David Axelrod in his podcast “The Axe Files” out Monday when he was asked about the validity of the accusation that the Saudi government was complicit in sponsoring terrorism. “I think that it’s complicated in the sense that, it’s not that it was Saudi government policy to support Al Qaeda, but there were a number of very wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia who would contribute, sometimes directly, to extremist groups. Sometimes to charities that were kind of, ended up being ways to launder money to these groups,” Rhodes said.

“So a lot of the money, the seed money if you will, for what became Al Qaeda, came out of Saudi Arabia,” he added. “Could that happen without the government’s awareness?” Axelrod asked. Rhodes said he doesn’t believe the government was “actively trying to prevent that from happening.” But he said that certain people, within the government or their family members, were able to operate on their own which allowed for the money flows. “So basically there was, at certainly, at least kind of a insufficient attention to where all this money was going over many years from the government apparatus,” Rhodes said. The remarks from Rhodes come as Obama prepares to head to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and confront the strained relations between the two allies.

The Saudis are still fuming over an Atlantic magazine article that described Obama’s frustrations with Saudi Arabia’s religious ideology, its treatment of women and its rivalry with Iran. Obama also suggested in the piece that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states are “free riders” who rely too much on the U.S. military. Friction has also been created by a push from relatives of people who died on 9/11 and a bipartisan group of lawmakers to allow U.S. courts to hold the Saudi government responsible if it is found to have played a role in the 2001 attacks.

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Ambrose is always hit and miss. This one is BIG miss: “The scare earlier this year was misguided. It is the next oil supply crunch we should fear most.” No, it’s demand.

Saudis Are Going For The Kill But The Oil Market Is Turning Anyway (AEP)

The collapse of OPEC talks with Russia over the weekend makes absolutely no difference to the balance of supply and demand in the global oil markets. The putative freeze in crude output was political eyewash. Hardly any country in the OPEC cartel is capable is producing more oil. Several are failed states, or sliding into political crises. Russia is milking a final burst of production before the depleting pre-Soviet wells of Western Siberia go into slow run-off. Sanctions have stymied its efforts to develop new fields or kick-start shale fracking in the Bazhenov basin. Saudi Arabia’s hard-nosed decision to break ranks with its Gulf allies at the meeting in Doha – and with every other OPEC country – punctures any remaining illusion that there is still a regulating structure in global oil industry.

It told us that the cartel no longer exists in any meaningful sense. Beyond that it was irrelevant. Hedge funds were clearly caught off guard by the outcome since net ‘long’ positions on the futures markets were trading at a record high going into the meeting. Brent crude plunged 7pc to $41 a barrel in early Asian trading, but what is more revealing is how quickly prices recovered. Market dynamics are changing fast. Output is slipping all over the place: in China, Latin America, Kazakhstan, Algeria, the North Sea. The US shale industry has rolled over, though it has taken far longer than the Saudis expected when they first flooded the market in November 2014. The US Energy Department expects total US output to drop to 8.6m barrels per day (b/d) this year from 9.4m last year.

China is filling up the new sites of its strategic petroleum reserves at a record pace. Its oil imports have jumped to 8m b/d this year from 6.7m in 2015, soaking up a large part of the global glut. Some is rotating back out again as diesel: most is being consumed in China. Goldman Sachs says the twin effect of rising demand and supply disruptions across the world is bringing the market back into balance, leading to a “sustainable deficit” as soon as the third quarter. The inflexion point could come sooner than almost anybody expects if a strike this week in Kuwait drags on as oil workers fight pay cuts. The outage is already costing 1.6m b/d. Kuwait’s woes are the first taste of how difficult it will be for the petro-sheikhdoms to impose austerity measures or threaten the cradle-to-grave social contracts that keep a lid on dissent across the Gulf.

There is little doubt that Mohammad bin Salman, the deputy-crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, wanted an excuse to sabotage the Doha deal. He added a fresh demand that non-OPEC Norway should also limit output – a non-starter – as well as hardening the Saudi objection to Iran’s full return to pre-sanctions output. The calculus is that his country has the deepest pockets and will ultimately stand to gain by shaking out weaker players. This is a gamble. Saudi Arabia is running through $10bn of foreign exchange reserves a month to plug its fiscal deficit. The fixed riyal peg makes it much harder to roll with the budgetary punches as Russia is able to do with the floating rouble. Saudi Arabia is not as rich as often supposed. Per capita income is the same as in Greece. Standard & Poor’s has cut its credit rating twice to A-, and for good reason. The Saudis never built up a proper sovereign wealth fund in good times. Their reserve coverage is two-thirds less than in Kuwait, or Abu Dhabi.

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Decentralization goes global.

A New Map for America (NY Times)

These days, in the thick of the American presidential primaries, it’s easy to see how the 50 states continue to drive the political system. But increasingly, that’s all they drive — socially and economically, America is reorganizing itself around regional infrastructure lines and metropolitan clusters that ignore state and even national borders. The problem is, the political system hasn’t caught up. America faces a two-part problem. It’s no secret that the country has fallen behind on infrastructure spending. But it’s not just a matter of how much is spent on catching up, but how and where it is spent. Advanced economies in Western Europe and Asia are reorienting themselves around robust urban clusters of advanced industry. Unfortunately, American policy making remains wedded to an antiquated political structure of 50 distinct states.

To an extent, America is already headed toward a metropolis-first arrangement. The states aren’t about to go away, but economically and socially, the country is drifting toward looser metropolitan and regional formations, anchored by the great cities and urban archipelagos that already lead global economic circuits. The Northeastern megalopolis, stretching from Boston to Washington, contains more than 50 million people and represents 20% of America’s gross domestic product. Greater Los Angeles accounts for more than 10% of G.D.P. These city-states matter far more than most American states – and connectivity to these urban clusters determines Americans’ long-term economic viability far more than which state they reside in. This reshuffling has profound economic consequences.

America is increasingly divided not between red states and blue states, but between connected hubs and disconnected backwaters. Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution has pointed out that of America’s 350 major metro areas, the cities with more than three million people have rebounded far better from the financial crisis. Meanwhile, smaller cities like Dayton, Ohio, already floundering, have been falling further behind, as have countless disconnected small towns across the country. The problem is that while the economic reality goes one way, the 50-state model means that federal and state resources are concentrated in a state capital – often a small, isolated city itself – and allocated with little sense of the larger whole. Not only does this keep back our largest cities, but smaller American cities are increasingly cut off from the national agenda, destined to become low-cost immigrant and retirement colonies, or simply to be abandoned.

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Taleb’s take-down of Noah Smith on Twitter has been epic.

No One Worries Enough About Black Swans (ZH)

Over the weekend, Bloomberg View’s quasi-economist wrote his latest laughable article, one which supposedly “explained” how “Everyone Worries Too Much About ‘Black Swans'”, which in addition to being a rambling, meandering stream of consciousness that as is regularly the case with this particular author, made little sense, sparked a Twitter feud with the Nassim Taleb, the person who made the concept of a Black Swan into a household name. We were therefore very amused to note that none other than former FX trader and fund manager, Richard Breslow, who also writes for Bloomberg, seemingly had an epileptic fit upon reading the abovementioned drivel and wrote his own scathing reaction from the perspective of an actual trader, a rection which not only threw up on every argument of the so-called economist’s logic, but on everything else that now is passed off simply as, well, “the new normal.” Here is Richard Breslow:

No One Worries Enough About Black Swans

Trading is a hard business. The world is becoming a more complicated place: a number out of China may do more to the price of your U.S. shares in a retailer than, well, U.S. retail sales. Yet creeping, dangerously, into the investment advice dialog is the argument that buying and holding no matter what the event is the winning strategy. If you ever needed a “past results don’t guarantee…” disclaimer it’s especially true now. It’s not surprising that such shallow reasoning is becoming commonplace. Sure beats staying late at the office doing cash-flow analysis. Bad things happen and the Fed will cut rates. Worked time and again. Presto chango, that financial crisis was a buying event, stupid.

It’s gotten much worse post the latest financial crisis, as it’s assumed asset prices are the main (sole) focus of the all powerful central banks. To buy (pun intended) into this you have to presuppose that Black Swan events are easily controllable episodes that last short amounts of time. That the authorities have unlimited firepower to counteract every natural and man-made disaster. Equally scary, academics as well as analysts have taken to arguing that investors are overestimating the probability of crisis events. You don’t need to be a Taleb or Mandelbrot to calculate that we have been having once in a hundred year events on a regular basis for the last thirty years. Did a crisis happen, if you made money?

This flawed logic argues not only buy every dip, but why waste money on hedges? It assumes unlimited deep pockets and the nerve of a non-sentient computer. Just go “all in.” Looking more like today’s world all the time. Portfolio theory thrown right out the window. Perhaps Harry Markowitz will have his Nobel revoked. A portfolio built to only withstand stress thanks to central bank intervention is one destined to blow-up spectacularly. The embedded flaw in this new logic is that central banks give investors perfect foresight. And nothing can go wrong. Re-read the Investment Process section of those prospectuses.

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“His words sounded like a request of a bailout for his countries’ saving industry and savers, in an ironic twist from previous bailout requests coming from the periphery.”

Credit Suisse: Germany’s Large Surplus Is The Problem, Not the ECB (BBG)

Forget about Greek debt sustainability. Another part of the continent is in need of relief—and this time, it’s a part of the core, not the periphery. That’s how Credit Suisse analysts led by Peter Foley characterized comments from German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble earlier this month. “The German Finance minister said record low interest rates were causing ‘extraordinary problems’ for German financial institutions and pensioners and risked undermining voters’ support for European integration,” writes Foley. “His words sounded like a request of a bailout for his countries’ saving industry and savers, in an ironic twist from previous bailout requests coming from the periphery.” A common criticism of unconventional central bank policy is that the ultra-low interest rates are too onerous for savers. At present, the average German bund yield is barely above zero:

Some analysts have expressed more than a modicum of sympathy for Schaeuble’s position, indicating that the ECB’s policy represents a form of John Maynard Keynes’ prophesied ‘euthanasia of the rentier’ and is not justified by its positive side effects. But instead of blaming the ECB, Foley suggests that German fiscal policymakers should pull the levers at their disposal to help remedy this situation. “Germany has continued to run a large current account surplus, and has increased it further–from 5.7% of GDP in 2009 to 8.5% in 2015,” wrote the analyst, noting that this surplus constituted the largest imbalance among major economies by this metric. “In an environment short on aggregate demand, Germany’s surplus is a problem, both globally and to the rest of the euro area.”

Foley recommends that the German authorities move to more aggressively reduce financial imbalances by increasing public investment, support private demand in certain soft segments, and implement more structural reforms. This would support Germany’s growth as well as that of its European partners, and as an added bonus, would address Schauble’s concerns about the woes of savers all in one fell swoop, the analyst concludes, by lessening the ECB’s need to support the currency union with unconventional stimulus.

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I see a hot summer.

Talks With Creditors To Resume But Athens Rejects Fresh Austerity (Kath.)

With talks set to resume on Tuesday with Greece’s international creditors, Athens said on Monday it has no intention of implementing austerity measures beyond the commitments it signed on to in the third bailout last July and plans to seek “allies” among European countries that believe now is not the time create political instability in Greece. Government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili said on Monday that Athens will abide by the commitments it made last July, “nothing more, nothing less.” Her comments came after the IMF and the EU, which overcame their differences at the weekend over Greece’s budgetary outlook, took the wind out of the government’s sails by seeking another package of austerity measures to the tune of more than €3 billion (or 2% of GDP) in case there are target shortfalls over the next three years as a “guarantee” that Greece will achieve a primary budget surplus of 3.5% of GDP in 2018.

The government’s apparent defiance on Monday is a departure from its initial response at the weekend, when it implied that it could be open to discussion over the new measures – which relate to 2018 – as long as it received reassurances that it will get debt relief. Failure to wrap up the review could see negotiations drag on into June, which would put a further strain on the SYRIZA-led coalition’s fragile government, already struggling to stay afloat with a very slim majority of three deputies in Parliament. However, the new turn of events could foil the government’s ambitions, which include reaching a staff level agreement by Friday’s Eurogroup meeting in Amsterdam, to unlock vital tranches of rescue funds and pave the way for debt relief talks – a key demand by Greece.

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“..Simply by liking or sharing this article on Facebook or retweeting it on Twitter, you’re most likely flagging yourself as a potential renegade, revolutionary or anti-government extremist—a.k.a. terrorist.”

Every Move You Make Is Being Monitored (Whitehead)

“The way things are supposed to work is that we’re supposed to know virtually everything about what [government officials] do: that’s why they’re called public servants. They’re supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that’s why we’re called private individuals. This dynamic – the hallmark of a healthy and free society – has been radically reversed. Now, they know everything about what we do, and are constantly building systems to know more. Meanwhile, we know less and less about what they do, as they build walls of secrecy behind which they function. That’s the imbalance that needs to come to an end. No democracy can be healthy and functional if the most consequential acts of those who wield political power are completely unknown to those to whom they are supposed to be accountable.” – Glenn Greenwald

 

Government eyes are watching you. They see your every move: what you read, how much you spend, where you go, with whom you interact, when you wake up in the morning, what you’re watching on television and reading on the internet. Every move you make is being monitored, mined for data, crunched, and tabulated in order to form a picture of who you are, what makes you tick, and how best to control you when and if it becomes necessary to bring you in line. Simply by liking or sharing this article on Facebook or retweeting it on Twitter, you’re most likely flagging yourself as a potential renegade, revolutionary or anti-government extremist—a.k.a. terrorist. Yet whether or not you like or share this particular article, simply by reading it or any other articles related to government wrongdoing, surveillance, police misconduct or civil liberties is enough to get you categorized as a particular kind of person with particular kinds of interests that reflect a particular kind of mindset that might just lead you to engage in a particular kinds of activities.

Chances are, as the Washington Post reports, you have already been assigned a color-coded threat score—green, yellow or red—so police are forewarned about your potential inclination to be a troublemaker depending on whether you’ve had a career in the military, posted a comment perceived as threatening on Facebook, suffer from a particular medical condition, or know someone who knows someone who might have committed a crime. In other words, you might already be flagged as potentially anti-government in a government database somewhere—Main Core, for example—that identifies and tracks individuals who aren’t inclined to march in lockstep to the police state’s dictates. The government has the know-how.

As The Intercept recently reported, the FBI, CIA, NSA and other government agencies are increasingly investing in and relying on corporate surveillance technologies that can mine constitutionally protected speech on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in order to identify potential extremists and predict who might engage in future acts of anti-government behavior. Now all it needs is the data, which more than 90% of young adults and 65% of American adults are happy to provide.

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“This will go on until it can’t, which is what discontinuity is all about.”

The Elephant Cometh (Jim Kunstler)

The elephant’s not even in the room, which is why the 2016 election campaign is such a soap opera. The elephant outside the room is named Discontinuity. That’s perhaps an intimidating word, but it is exactly what the USA is in for. It means that a lot of familiar things come to an end, stop, don’t work the way they are supposed to — beginning, manifestly, with the election process now underway in all its unprecedented bizarreness. One reason it’s difficult to comprehend discontinuity is because so many operations and institutions of daily life in America have insidiously become rackets, meaning that they are kept going only by dishonest means. If we didn’t lie to ourselves about them, they couldn’t continue.

For instance the automobile racket. Without a solid, solvent middle-class, you can’t sell cars. Americans are used to paying for cars on installment loans. If the middle class is so crippled by prior debt and the disappearance of good-paying jobs that they can’t qualify for car loans, well, the answer is to give them loans anyway, on terms that don’t really pencil out — such as 7-year loans at 0% interest for used cars (that will be worth next to nothing long before the loan expires). This will go on until it can’t, which is what discontinuity is all about. The car companies and the banks (with help from government regulators and political cheerleaders) have created this work-around by treating “sub-prime” car loans the same way they treated sub-prime mortgages: they bundle them into larger packages of bonds called collateralized loan obligations.

These, in turn, are sold mainly to big pension fund and insurance companies desperate for “yield” (higher interest) on “safe” investments that ostensibly preserve their principal. The “collateral” amounts to the revenue streams of payments that are sure to stop because the payers are by definition not credit-worthy, meaning it was baked in the cake that they would quit making payments — especially when they go “under water” owing ever more money for junkers that have lost all value. It’s easy to see how that ends in tears for all concerned parties, but we “buy into it” because there seems to be no other way to a) boost the so-called “consumer” economy and b) keep the matrix of car-dependant suburban sprawl in operation. We took what used to be a fairly sound idea during a now-bygone phase of history, and perverted it to avoid making any difficult but necessary changes in a new phase of history.

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There is a very strange silence in western media about this.

Over 400 Migrants Drown On Their Way To Italy (Reuters)

Somalia’s government said on Monday about 200 or more Somalis may have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to cross illegally to Europe, many of them teenagers, when the boat they were on capsized after leaving the Egyptian shore. Italian President Sergio Mattarella had said earlier on Monday that several hundred people appeared to have died in a new tragedy in the Mediterranean, after unconfirmed reports spoke of up to 400 victims of capsizing near Egypt’s coast. More than 1.2 million African, Arab and Asian migrants have streamed into the EU since the start of last year, many of them setting off from North Africa in rickety boats that are packed full of people and which struggle in choppy seas.

“We have no fixed number but it is between 200 and 300 Somalis,” Somali Information Minister Mohamed Abdi Hayir told Reuters by telephone when asked about possible Somali deaths in the latest incident. Another Somali government statement, which offered condolences, put the number at “nearly 200”, saying they were mostly teenagers. It said the boat they were on had capsized after leaving Egypt. “There is no clear number since they are not traveling legally,” the minister said, adding that he understood the boat might have been carrying about 500 people, of which 200 to 300 were Somalis “and most of them had died”. He did not give a precise timing for the incident.

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Jul 072015
 
 July 7, 2015  Posted by at 10:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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DPC Main Street, Buffalo, NY 1900

ECB Turns The Screws On Greek Banks (Kathimerini)
Greece Should Immediately Begin To Print Drachma (Martin Armstrong)
Giving In To Greece Could ‘Blow Apart’ The Euro, Warns Merkel (DM)
Merkel Warns Greece Time Is Running Out to Save Place in Euro (Bloomberg)
Be Bold, Frau Merkel (Philippe Legrain)
Europe: The Paradox Of The Superego (New Statesman)
Yanis Varoufakis: The Economist Who Wouldn’t Play Politics (Paul Mason)
Tsipras Taps Longtime Ally to Soothe Debt Confrontation (Bloomberg)
The Euro: Austerity vs Democracy (Aditya Chakrabortty)
Italy and Spain Have Funded a Massive Backdoor Bailout of French Banks (CFR)
Greece May Apply For BRICS bank, But Not Discussed Officially – Putin Aide (RT)
Mario Draghi, Goldman Sachs and Greece (Zero Hedge)
As China Intervenes to Prop Up Stocks, Foreigners Head for Exits (Bloomberg)
Financial Nonsense Overload (Dmitry Orlov)
Welcome to Blackswansville (Jim Kunstler)

And Spain and Italy are watching its every move.

ECB Turns The Screws On Greek Banks (Kathimerini)

The bank holiday has been extended by at least two days (until Wednesday night), but local lenders are now just a step away from serious solvency problems after the ECB decided on Monday to increase the haircut on the collateral they use to draw liquidity. Frankfurt’s decision sent shock waves through Greece’s banking sector as hardly anyone had expected it would use a haircut on collateral to send its own message before the political decisions expected on Tuesday in Brussels. In doing so, the ECB is further increasing the pressure on the Greek government to agree to a deal at Tuesday’s eurozone summit, otherwise the country’s banks may face a sustainability problem on top of their liquidity woes.

The haircut increase reduces the last cash banks can draw from the emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) by two-thirds, running the risk of finding themselves unable to complete any transactions and thus be deemed insolvent. The European Stability Mechanism (ESM) warned late last week that Greece’s failure to pay a €1.6 billion tranche to the IMF on June 30 constitutes a payment default and allows the ESM to immediately demand all the funds it has lent to Greece and confiscate all bank shares controlled by the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF). Banks estimate that after Monday’s decision the ceiling on the cash available for them to withdraw has dropped from €18 billion before the haircut increase to just €5 billion.

A similar increase at Wednesday’s ECB meeting would mean that Greek banks would be unable to cover the liquidity they have already drawn with new collateral. The ECB also kept the limit on the ELA available to Greek lenders unchanged and will review the situation at Wednesday’s meeting, i.e. after the completion of Tuesday’s eurozone summit. Bank officials are clearly saying that the country has reached the point of no return and is at risk of bankruptcy unless there is an immediate agreement between the SYRIZA-led government and Greece’s creditors.

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“..the bulk of transactions today are electronic, meaning we are dealing with an accounting issue more than anything. The euro existed electronically BEFORE it became printed money; Greece should do the same right now.”

Greece Should Immediately Begin To Print Drachma (Martin Armstrong)

Brussels has been dead wrong. The stupid idea that the euro will bring stability and peace, as it was sold from the outset, has migrated to European domination as if this were “Game of Thrones”. Those in power have misread history, almost at every possible level. The assumption that the D-marks’ strength was a good thing that would transfer to the euro has failed because they failed to comprehend the backdrop to the D-mark. Germany moved opposite of the USA toward extreme austerity and conservative economics because of its experience with hyperinflation. The USA moved toward stimulation because of the austerity policies that created the Great Depression, which led to a shortage of money, and many cities had to issue their own currency just to function.

The federal government thought, like Brussels today, that they had to up the confidence in the bond market and that called for raising taxes and cutting spending at the expense of the people. The same thinking process has played out numerous times throughout history. Our problem is that no one ever asks – Hey, did someone try this before? Did it work? This is why history repeats – we do ZERO research when it comes to economics. It is all hype and self-interest. Greece should immediately begin to print drachma. By no means has the introduction of a new currency been a walk in the park. There is always a learning curve, as in the case of East Germany’s adoption of the Deutsche mark, the Czech-Slovak divorce of 1993, and the creation of the euro itself .

However, the bulk of transactions today are electronic, meaning we are dealing with an accounting issue more than anything. The euro existed electronically BEFORE it became printed money; Greece should do the same right now. The difference concerning East Germany and others was the fact that there was no history. This is more akin to the 1933 devaluation of the dollar by FDR whereby an executive order reneged on promises to pay prior debt in gold. This would be similar. The new drachma should be issued at two-per euro, only because the people will think the drachma should be worth less than a euro based on pride. If the new drachma is issued at par, the speculators will sell, assuming it will decline. Issue it at 50% and you will eventually see the opposite trend emerge once people see the contagion begin to spread.

Brussels already cut off the banks in Greece. All accounts in Greece should be electronically switched to drachmas. Begin to issue printed drachma for small change. The umbilical cord to Brussels must be cut immediately for Greece to stand on its own. You cannot negotiate with people who will not change their view of the world, for their own self-interest will cloud their perspective. All EXTERNAL debt should be suspended. Any future resolution of debt should be reduced by 50% to account for the overvaluation of prior debt, thanks to the euro, and any interest previously paid should be deducted from the total loan.

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She’s got it upside down.

Giving In To Greece Could ‘Blow Apart’ The Euro, Warns Merkel (DM)

Germany warned last night that the euro could ‘blow apart’ if the single currency’s members give in to demands from Greece to water down austerity measures. Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande were locked in a bitter stand-off ahead of yet another bid by eurozone leaders to prevent the debt-ridden state crashing out of the single currency. Athens yesterday extended its ‘bank holiday’ until at least Thursday after the European Central Bank deferred a decision on whether to continue propping up the country’s financial institutions. But one American hedge fund, Balyasny, yesterday warned investors that Greek banks were on the verge of running dry, leaving the country 48 hours from civil unrest.

In a further signal that Greece’s financial woes could spark a wider geo-political crisis for the West, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras yesterday held talks by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Moscow said the call had been arranged ‘at the request’ of Mr Tsipras, with the two men discussing the outcome of the referendum. Some observers believe Moscow could agree to bail out Greece in return for Athens blocking further EU sanctions against Russia. France was last night pushing for an EU brokered deal, with Mr Hollande saying it was vital to Europe to show ‘solidarity’ with Greece. The French President said ‘the door is open’ to further discussions with Mr Tsipras, who is expected to table fresh proposals in Brussels today.

But Germany gave no sign it is willing to back down in the face of the Greek referendum on Sunday, when voters overwhelmingly rejected the austerity measures demanded as a condition of future bailout funds. Mrs Merkel said the conditions for a deal ‘are not there yet’. She added: ‘We have already shown a great deal of solidarity to Greece and the latest proposal put forward to them was extremely generous.’ Sigmar Gabriel, the German vice-chancellor and economy minister, said there could be no question of writing off Greek debt because other countries that have had loans such as Ireland, Portugal and Spain would demand equal treatment.

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Empty rethoric.

Merkel Warns Greece Time Is Running Out to Save Place in Euro (Bloomberg)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was given hours to come up with a plan to keep his country in the euro as citizens endure a second week of capital controls. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “time is running out” as she and French President Francois Hollande, leaders of the two biggest countries in the euro bloc, responded to Sunday’s referendum. The European Central Bank piled on the pressure by making it tougher for Greek banks to access emergency loans. Finance ministers and leaders from the 19-member region gather Tuesday.

After promising Greek voters a “no” outcome against austerity would strengthen his negotiating hand, the onus is on Tsipras to prove he can get a deal with creditors insistent on tax hikes and spending cuts as the price for a new bailout of Europe’s most indebted nation. “The last offer that we made was a very generous one,” Merkel said Monday at the Elysee Palace in Paris. “On the other hand, Europe can only stand together, if each nation takes on its own responsibility.” Heading into the Brussels talks – 1 p.m. for the finance chiefs, and 6 p.m. for the leaders – Greece made a pre-emptive concession to its trio of creditors with the resignation of outspoken Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis who clashed with his counterparts from other countries, especially Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Hollande and the two agreed on the need for a way forward that’ll allow Greece to resume reforms and return to growth within the euro area, according to a White House statement. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew spoke with Tsipras and new finance chief Euclid Tsakalotos and urged a constructive outcome. With bank closures extended through Wednesday to stem deposit withdrawals, Greek lenders are being kept on the equivalent of a drip feed by the ECB.

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She won’t Philippe. She’s dug in deeply.

Be Bold, Frau Merkel (Philippe Legrain)

The Greek people have spoken, delivering a defiant oxi (no) to their creditors’ terms. Blackmailed with the threat of being forced out of the eurozone and under siege in an economy starved of cash by the political European Central Bank, Greeks resoundingly rejected — by 61.3% to 38.7% — the prospect of being a permanently depressed colony bled dry by their incompetent creditors. Now what? Most spreadsheet shifters and politicians on the creditor side want to persist with the logic of confrontation. To quote Oscar Wilde, they know “the price of everything and the value of nothing.” But even in narrow accounting terms, their strategy is flawed: Contrary to their expectations, Greeks have not surrendered, and pushing them out of the eurozone would be more costly to the creditors than clinching a deal.

Besides, the stakes are much bigger than that. Does the eurozone really want to be an empire that tramples on democracy and crushes dissent? Is fear enough to hold it together, or might disintegration have a domino effect? What about the cost of neglecting all the other big issues that Europe’s leaders ought to be addressing? For everyone’s sake, it is time to break free of the narrow, destructive logic of creditor nationalism and draw a line under the Greek crisis.For everyone’s sake, it is time to break free of the narrow, destructive logic of creditor nationalism and draw a line under the Greek crisis. The creditors pretend their small-mindedness is a point of principle: Everyone has to obey eurozone rules, and these stipulate that governments must pay their debts. Except they don’t stipulate that.

Nowhere in the Maastricht Treaty that created the euro does it state that governments have to pay their debts in full. How could it? Sometimes they can’t. But instead of creating a mechanism for restructuring the debts of an insolvent sovereign, the treaty drafters left a blank in the hope that such a situation would never arise. They did stipulate, though, that governments should not bail out their peers. When Greece became insolvent in 2010, its debts ought to have been restructured, as independent analysts and IMF experts advised. Instead, eurozone governments made a catastrophic policy choice. Insisting that debts were sacrosanct and the stability of the entire eurozone was at stake, they decided to breach the no-bailout rule and lend European taxpayers’ money to Greece. As Karl Otto Pöhl, the former president of the Bundesbank, put it: “It was about protecting German banks, but especially the French banks, from debt write-offs.… Now we have this mess.”

Critics contend that this is ancient history, but it isn’t. That tragic decision and subsequent mistakes have transformed the political economy of the eurozone. Initially a voluntary union of equal member states, it has become a hierarchical relationship in which eurozone institutions have become instruments for creditors to impose their will on debtors. The bailout of Greece’s private creditors has also set Europeans against each other: Germans, Spaniards, Slovaks, and others now have an interest in resisting the debt relief that Greece needs to recover. To find an amicable solution to the Greek crisis, the eurozone needs to escape from this destructive logic.

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“The debt providers and caretakers of debt basically accuse the Syriza government of not feeling enough guilt – they are accused of feeling innocent.”

Europe: The Paradox Of The Superego (New Statesman)

In western Europe we like to look on Greece as if we are detached observers who follow with compassion and sympathy the plight of the impoverished nation. Such a comfortable standpoint relies on a fateful illusion – what has been happening in Greece these last weeks concerns all of us; it is the future of Europe that is at stake. So when we read about Greece, we should always bear in mind that, as the old saying goes, de te fabula narrator (the name changed, the story applies to you). An ideal is gradually emerging from the European establishment’s reaction to the Greek referendum, the ideal best rendered by the headline of a recent Gideon Rachman column in the Financial Times: “Eurozone’s weakest link is the voters.”

In this ideal world, Europe gets rid of this “weakest link” and experts gain the power to directly impose necessary economic measures – if elections take place at all, their function is just to confirm the consensus of experts. The problem is that this policy of experts is based on a fiction, the fiction of “extend and pretend” (extending the payback period, but pretending that all debts will eventually be paid). Why is the fiction so stubborn? It is not only that this fiction makes debt extension more acceptable to German voters; it is also not only that the write-off of the Greek debt may trigger similar demands from Portugal, Ireland, Spain. It is that those in power do not really want the debt fully repaid. The debt providers and caretakers of debt accuse the indebted countries of not feeling enough guilt – they are accused of feeling innocent.

Their pressure fits perfectly what psychoanalysis calls “superego”: the paradox of the superego is that, as Freud saw it, the more we obey its demands, the more we feel guilty. Imagine a vicious teacher who gives to his pupils impossible tasks, and then sadistically jeers when he sees their anxiety and panic. The true goal of lending money to the debtor is not to get the debt reimbursed with a profit, but the indefinite continuation of the debt that keeps the debtor in permanent dependency and subordination. For most of the debtors, for there are debtors and debtors. Not only Greece but also the US will not be able even theoretically to repay its debt, as it is now publicly recognised. So there are debtors who can blackmail their creditors because they cannot be allowed to fail (big banks), debtors who can control the conditions of their repayment (US government), and, finally, debtors who can be pushed around and humiliated (Greece).

The debt providers and caretakers of debt basically accuse the Syriza government of not feeling enough guilt – they are accused of feeling innocent. That’s what is so disturbing for the EU establishment about the Syriza government: that it admits debt, but without guilt. They got rid of the superego pressure. Varoufakis personified this stance in his dealings with Brussels: he fully acknowledged the weight of the debt, and he argued quite rationally that, since the EU policy obviously didn’t work, another option should be found.

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And who shouldn’t have to.

Yanis Varoufakis: The Economist Who Wouldn’t Play Politics (Paul Mason)

Why did Varoufakis go? The official reason, on his blog, was pressure from creditors. But there are a whole host of other reasons that made it easier for him to decide to yield to it. First, though he came from the centre-left towards Syriza, Varoufakis ended up consistently taking a harder line than many others in the Greek cabinet over the shape of the deal to be done, and the kind of resistance they might have to unleash if the Germans refused a deal. Second, because Varoufakis is an economist, not a politician. His entire career, and his academic qualifications are built on the conviction that a) austerity does not work; b) the Eurozone will collapse unless it becomes a union for recycling tax from rich countries to poor countries; c) Greece is insolvent and its debts need to be cancelled.

By those measures, any deal Greece can do this week will falls short of what he thinks will work. On top of that, politicians are built for compromise. Tsipras has to work the party machine, the government machine, the machine of parliament. Varoufakis’ machine is his own brain. If he wound up the creditors it was for a reason: they’d convinced themselves that Tsipras was a Greek Tony Blair and would simply betray his promises and compromise on taking office. The lenders detested Varoufakis because he looked and sounded like one of them. He spoke the language of the IMF and ECB, and turned their own logic against them. But he achieved his objective: he convinced the lenders Greece was serious.

Varoufakis critics in Greek politics accused him of flamboyant gestures and adopting a stance he could not deliver on. His critics in Syriza believed from the outset he was “a neo-liberal”. Among the lenders it was always the north European politicians who could not live with Varoufakis. Though he was at odds with the IMF’s Christine Lagarde and at odds with the IMF over all matters of substance they at least spoke the same language. His policy was total honesty, and when it could not be honesty in public it was honesty in private. He exploded the world of Brussels journalism, which had become back-channel stenography, by publishing the key documents, usually sometime after midnight.

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Trojan horse.

Tsipras Taps Longtime Ally to Soothe Debt Confrontation (Bloomberg)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is counting on a change of style, if not necessarily substance, by turning to a longtime ally to seek a deal with creditors to keep his nation in the euro. Euclid Tsakalotos was named finance minister to replace Yanis Varoufakis, who resigned Monday after more than five months of fruitless back-and-forth. An Oxford-educated economist who was previously deputy foreign minister, Tsakalotos had already begun to take a leading role in debt talks before Tsipras’s surprise referendum call brought them to a halt on June 27. Tsipras is betting that a new, less confrontational face will help him bring German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders back to the table after Greeks voted to reject further austerity in Sunday’s vote.

Varoufakis had vowed to “cut off my arm” rather than sign a bad deal, and was involved in a long series of spats with negotiating partners in his six months on the job. “It’s an important symbolic and necessary move,” Famke Krumbmuller, an analyst at political consultancy Eurasia Group, said by e-mail. Creditors “now really need to see the trust restored by a serious and credible commitment from the Greek side to implement reforms,” she said. Time is running short: Greek banks are almost out of cash and commerce is grinding to a halt in the absence of a new bailout deal and lifeline from the ECB. Tsipras’s government has extended bank closures and capital controls through Wednesday to stem withdrawals. [..]

Tsakalotos became more prominent in Greece’s debt negotiations in June as relations between Varoufakis and creditors worsened. Varoufakis today said he was resigning because “there was a certain preference” among some European governments that he be “absent” from the next round of talks, if and when they begin. Though Tsakalotos’s button-downed style may help endear him to creditors, he’s still a staunch supporter of Syriza’s more radical policies and a harsh critic of European austerity, putting him on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum from key politicians including Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble.

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That’s all the flavors we have.

The Euro: Austerity vs Democracy (Aditya Chakrabortty)

The challenge facing Europe today goes far wider and deeper than how to handle a small bankrupt country holding only 2% of the EU’s population. No, the bigger question is this: can Europe handle democracy, however awkward and messy and downright truculent it may be? The answer to that will probably decide whether the euro lives on as the currency of 19 nations. Say what you like about the referendum held in Greece this Sunday, it was democracy at its most raw. Yes, the ballot question was impenetrable, and Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, came close to urging voters to say oxi (no) to a deal he’d pretty much said nai (yes) to just a couple of days earlier.

Yet in the face of the country’s political and media establishment warning Greeks to vote yes – echoing every major European leader (and quite a few faceless ones) – and the shock-and-awe tactics of the ECB in pulling the plug on Greek banks, the country still delivered a loud no to austerity, troika-style. Intelligent pragmatists might look at that landslide and argue that it is time for the troika – made up of the EU, ECB and IMF – to react by altering both policy and tone. My colleague Jonathan Freedland neatly expressed that attitude on these pages a couple of days ago, petitioning the European commission, the ECB and the IMF “to demonstrate that the euro and austerity are not synonymous terms”.

I sympathise with Freedland’s view – but am far more pessimistic about the ability of the euro’s leading powers to change course. Austerity is not some policy mistake the eurozone’s leaders have absent-mindedly made – like a weekend motorist blindly following the satnav into a cul-de-sac. On the contrary, the bone-headed and self-defeating policy of forcing Greece to make severe spending cuts amid an economic depression is a direct product of the eurozone’s lack of democracy. Just how closely fused austerity and the eurozone’s unrepresentative politics are can be seen from the insistence of European leaders in the run-up to the referendum that any vote against austerity was tantamount to a vote for leaving the euro.

That attitude reached its apex in the insistence last week of Martin Schulz, the European parliament president, that the troika could only deal with Greece if it were represented by an unelected “technocratic government”. This is the former leader of the European parliament’s Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats calling for regime change against an elected government.

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Still the main story on Greece.

Italy and Spain Have Funded a Massive Backdoor Bailout of French Banks (CFR)

In March 2010, two months before the announcement of the first Greek bailout, European banks had €134 billion worth of claims on Greece. French banks, as shown in the right-hand figure above, had by far the largest exposure: €52 billion – this was 1.6 times that of Germany, eleven times that of Italy, and sixty-two times that of Spain. The €110 billion of loans provided to Greece by the IMF and Eurozone in May 2010 enabled Greece to avoid default on its obligations to these banks. In the absence of such loans, France would have been forced into a massive bailout of its banking system. Instead, French banks were able virtually to eliminate their exposure to Greece by selling bonds, allowing bonds to mature, and taking partial write-offs in 2012. The bailout effectively mutualized much of their exposure within the Eurozone.

The impact of this backdoor bailout of French banks is being felt now, with Greece on the precipice of an historic default. Whereas in March 2010 about 40% of total European lending to Greece was via French banks, today only 0.6% is. Governments have filled the breach, but not in proportion to their banks’ exposure in 2010. Rather, it is in proportion to their paid-up capital at the ECB – which in France’s case is only 20%. In consequence, France has actually managed to reduce its total Greek exposure – sovereign and bank – by €8 billion, as seen in the main figure above. In contrast, Italy, which had virtually no exposure to Greece in 2010 now has a massive one: €39 billion. Total German exposure is up by a similar amount – €35 billion. Spain has also seen its exposure rocket from nearly nothing in 2009 to €25 billion today.

In short, France has managed to use the Greek bailout to offload €8 billion in junk debt onto its neighbors and burden them with tens of billions more in debt they could have avoided had Greece simply been allowed to default in 2010. The upshot is that Italy and Spain are much closer to financial crisis today than they should be.

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They will and should.

Greece May Apply For BRICS bank, But Not Discussed Officially – Putin Aide (RT)

Although there are speculations in the media about Greece applying to join the BRICS bank, the issue hasn’t been discussed at an official level, one of President Putin’s top aides told RT, VGTRK and Ria in an interview. Rumors about Greece possibly joining the bank emerged ahead of the leaders of Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa preparing to launch their own development bank at a the seventh summit of the organization in Russia’s Ufa later this week. “There has been speculation in the media that Greece may apply for accession to the New Development Bank. We know of these assumptions, but so far no one has officially discussed such an option with us,” Yury Ushakov, President Putin’s aide, said.

The top official revealed that the upcoming discussions are going to “touch on the parameters of the practical operation of the BRICS’ New Development Bank (NDB) and currency reserve pool.” “They don’t constitute an attempt to oppose the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank,” Ushakov stressed. These institutions are rather new instruments for “addressing our shared objectives,” he said. The NDB is just launching its operations, Ushakov noted, and it still has to “set out its priorities and start to function.” “And it certainly won’t start its operations with Greece,” Ushakov added, pointing out that the NBD has “its own tasks and challenges to deal with.”

The issue of Greece is going to be discussed anyway, but not in the context of its accession to the NDB “even in the long term,” the presidential aid said. The BRICS’ New Development Bank has an initial capital of $US 50 blillion and is believed to have triggered a major reshape of the Western-dominated financial system. The NDB is expected to be up and running by the end of the year. The BRICS countries are also busy creating an alternative to the US-dominated western SWIFT payment system.

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Revealing.

Mario Draghi, Goldman Sachs and Greece (Zero Hedge)

Back in June 2012, the ECB, whose head was the recently crowned Mario Draghi who had less than a decade ago worked at none other than Goldman Sachs, was sued by Bloomberg’s legendary Mark Pittman under Freedom of Information rules demanding access to two internal papers drafted for the central bank’s six-member Executive Board. They show how Greece used swaps to hide its borrowings, according to a March 3, 2010, note attached to the papers and obtained by Bloomberg News. The first document is entitled “The impact on government deficit and debt from off-market swaps: the Greek case.” The second reviews Titlos Plc, a securitization that allowed National Bank of Greece SA, the country’s biggest lender, to exchange swaps on Greek government debt for funding from the ECB, the Executive Board said in the cover note. From Bloomberg:

In the largest derivative transaction disclosed so far, Greece borrowed €2.8 billion from Goldman Sachs in 2001 through a derivative that swapped dollar- and yen-denominated debt issued by the nation for euros using a historical exchange rate, a move that generated an implied reduction in total borrowings.

“The Greek authorities had never informed Eurostat about this complex issue, and no opinion on the accounting treatment had been requested,” Eurostat, the Luxembourg-based statistics agency, said in a statement. The watchdog had only “general” discussions with financial institutions over its debt and deficit guidelines when the swap was executed in 2001. “It is possible that Goldman Sachs asked us for general clarifications,” Eurostat said, declining to elaborate further.

The ECB’s response: “the European Central Bank said it can’t release files showing how Greece may have used derivatives to hide its borrowings because disclosure could still inflame the crisis threatening the future of the single currency.”

Considering the crisis of the (not so) single currency is very much “inflamed” right now as it is about to be proven it was never “irreversible”, perhaps it is time for at least one aspiring, true journalist, unafraid of disturbing the status quo of wealthy oligarchs and central planners, to at least bring some closure to the Greek people as they are swept out of the Eurozone which has so greatly benefited the very same Goldman Sachs whose former lackey is currently deciding the immediate fate of over €100 billion in Greek savings.

Because something tells us the reason why Mario Draghi personally blocked Bloomberg’s FOIA into the circumstances surrounding Goldman’s structuring, and hiding, of Greek debt that allowed not only Goldman to receive a substantial fee on the transaction, but permitted Greece to enter the Eurozone when it should never have been allowed there in the first place, is that the person who oversaw and personally endorsed the perpetuation of the Greek lie is none other than Goldman’s Vice Chairman and Managing Director at Goldman Sachs International from 2002 to 2005. The man who is also now in charge of the ECB. Mario Draghi.

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Big bust in the making.

As China Intervenes to Prop Up Stocks, Foreigners Head for Exits (Bloomberg)

Foreign investors are selling Shanghai shares at a record pace as China steps up government intervention to combat a stock-market rout that many analysts say was inevitable. Sales of mainland shares through the Shanghai-Hong Kong exchange link swelled to an all-time high on Monday, while dual-listed shares in Hong Kong fell by the most since at least 2006 versus mainland counterparts. Options traders in the U.S. are paying near-record prices for insurance against further losses after Chinese stocks on American bourses posted their biggest one-day plunge since 2011. The latest attempts to stem the country’s $3.2 trillion equity rout, including stock purchases by state-run financial firms and a halt to initial public offerings, have undermined government pledges to move to a more market-based economy, according to Aberdeen Asset Management.

They also risk eroding confidence in policy makers’ ability to manage the financial system if the rout in stocks continues, said BMI Research, a unit of Fitch. “It’s coming to a point where you’re covering one bad policy with another,” said Tai Hui at JPMorgan Asset Management. “A lot of investors are still concerned about another correction.” Strategists at BlackRock. Credit Suisse, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley last month warned the nation’s equities were in a bubble. When the Shanghai Composite reached its high on June 12, shares were almost twice as expensive as they were when the gauge peaked in October 2007 and more than three times pricier than any of the world’s top 10 markets, on a median estimated earnings basis.

A 29% plunge by the gauge through Friday, the steepest three-week rout since 1992, prompted a flurry of measures to stabilize the market. A group of 21 brokerages pledged Saturday to invest at least 120 billion yuan ($19.3 billion) in a stock-market fund, executives from 25 mutual funds vowed to buy shares and hold them for at least a year, while Central Huijin Investment Ltd., a unit of China’s sovereign wealth fund, said it was buying exchange-traded funds.

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“..collective punishment of one country to have it serve as a warning to others is beyond the pale.”

Financial Nonsense Overload (Dmitry Orlov)

“Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad” goes a quote wrongly attributed to Euripides. It seems to describe the current state of affairs with regard to the unfolding Greek imbroglio. It is a Greek tragedy all right: we have the various Eurocrats—elected, unelected, and soon-to-be-unelected—stumbling about the stage spewing forth fanciful nonsense, and we have the choir of the Greek electorate loudly announcing to the world what fanciful nonsense this is by means of a referendum. As most of you probably know, Greece is saddled with more debt than it can possibly hope to ever repay. Documents recently released by the IMF conceded this point. A lot of this bad debt was incurred in order to pay back German and French banks for previous bad debt.

The debt was bad to begin with, because it was made based on very faulty projections of Greece’s potential for economic growth. The lenders behaved irresponsibly in offering the loans in the first place, and they deserve to lose their money. However, Greece’s creditors refuse to consider declaring all of this bad debt null and void—not because of anything having to do with Greece, which is small enough to be forgiven much of its bad debt without causing major damage, but because of Spain, Italy and others, which, if similarly forgiven, would blow up the finances of the entire European Union. Thus, it is rather obvious that Greece is being punished to keep other countries in line. Collective punishment of a country—in the form of extracting payments for onerous debt incurred under false pretenses—is bad enough; but collective punishment of one country to have it serve as a warning to others is beyond the pale.

Add to this a double-helping of double standards. The IMF won’t lend to Greece because it requires some assurance of repayment; but it will continue to lend to the Ukraine, which is in default and collapsing rapidly, without any such assurances because, you see, the decision is a political one. The ECB no longer accepts Greek bonds as collateral because, you see, it considers them to be junk; but it will continue to suck in all sorts of other financial garbage and use it to spew forth Euros without comment, keeping other European countries on financial life support simply because they aren’t Greece. The German government insists on Greek repayment, considering this stance to be highly moral, ignoring the fact that Germany is the defaultiest country in all of Europe. If Germany were not repeatedly forgiven its debt it would be much poorer, and in much worse shape, than Greece.

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Jim’s dead on. De-centralization, de-complexity. That’s our future.

Welcome to Blackswansville (Jim Kunstler)

While the folks clogging the US tattoo parlors may not have noticed, things are beginning to look a little World War one-ish out there. Except the current blossoming world conflict is being fought not with massed troops and tanks but with interest rates and repayment schedules. Germany now dawdles in reply to the gauntlet slammed down Sunday in the Greek referendum (hell) “no” vote. Germany’s immediate strategy, it appears, is to apply some good old fashioned Teutonic todesfurcht — let the Greeks simmer in their own juices for a few days while depositors suck the dwindling cash reserves from the banks and the grocery store shelves empty out. Then what? Nobody knows. And anything can happen. One thing we ought to know: both sides in the current skirmish are fighting reality.

The Germans foolishly insist that the Greek’s meet their debt obligations. The German’s are just pissing into the wind on that one, a hazardous business for a nation of beer drinkers. The Greeks insist on living the 20th century deluxe industrial age lifestyle, complete with 24/7 electricity, cheap groceries, cushy office jobs, early retirement, and plenty of walking-around money. They’ll be lucky if they land back in the 1800s, comfort-wise. The Greeks may not recognize this, but they are in the vanguard of a movement that is wrenching the techno-industrial nations back to much older, more local, and simpler living arrangements. The Euro, by contrast, represents the trend that is over: centralization and bigness. The big questions are whether the latter still has enough mojo left to drag out the transition process, and for how long, and how painfully.

World affairs suffer from the disease of terminal excessive complexity. To make matters worse, much of the late-phase complexity operates in the service of accounting fraud of one kind or another. The world’s banking system is mired in the unreality of so many unmeetable obligations, cooked books, three-card-monte swap gimmicks, interest rate euchres, secret arbitrages, market manipulation monkeyshines, and countless other cons, swindles, and hornswoggles that all the auditors ever born could not produce a coherent record of what has been wreaked in the life of this universe (or several parallel universes). Remember Long Term Capital Management? That’s what the world has become. What happens in the case of untenable complexity is that it tends to unravel fast and furiously..

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Jun 272014
 
 June 27, 2014  Posted by at 2:54 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , ,  8 Responses »
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John Vachon Times Square on a rainy day March 1943

Oh Japan, what are you doing, where are you going? As Japanese consumer prices rose 3.4% in May (and I do wish people would stop calling this inflation, it is not and never will be), consumer spending was down -8.9% (!). That is from a year earlier, so it has nothing to do with the April 1 tax hike! It’s an insane number when you think about it, and it’s the direct result of Abenomics tightening the thumb screws. With the population having seen their savings collapse, their wages move way down, and now rising prices for food and other basics. While the government and central bank are spending with unparalleled abandon, and pension funds are moving into riskier assets, away from government bonds, which have that same central bank as their only buyer left. Is it also going to purchase all the bonds the pensions funds will bring into the market? Frankly, how can it not?

As for the US, Lance Roberts at STA sums it up in just a few words:

The Great American Economic Growth Myth

… the economic prosperity of the last 30 years has been a fantasy. While America, at least on the surface, was the envy of the world for its apparent success and prosperity, the underlying cancer of debt expansion and declining wages was eating away at the core. The only way to maintain the “standard of living” that American’s were told they “deserved,” was to utilize ever increasing levels of debt. The now deregulated financial institutions were only too happy to provide that “credit” as it was a financial windfall of mass proportions.

When credit creation can no longer be sustained, the process of clearing the excesses must be completed before the cycle can resume. Only then can resources be reallocated back towards more efficient uses. [..] … fiscal and monetary policies, from TARP and QE to tax cuts, only delay the clearing process. Ultimately, that delay only potentially worsens the inevitable clearing process. The clearing process is going to be very substantial. The economy currently requires $2.75 of debt to create $1 of real (inflation adjusted) economic growth. A reversion to a structurally manageable level of debt would require in excess of $35 Trillion in debt reduction.

This is one of the primary reasons why economic growth will continue to run at lower levels going into the future. We will continue to observe an economy plagued by more frequent recessionary spats, more volatile equity market returns and a stagflationary environment as wages remain suppressed while costs of living rise.

The Automatic Earth has been warning you about this for years now. I said again, only recently, that Japan’s biggest mistake has been that in the mid 1990s, it refused to accept restructuring and defaults of its financial sector debt. Now it has public debt of some 400% of GDP, a level that is miles beyond out-of-proportion. The only reason Japan hasn’t collapsed in the past 20 years is that the rest of the world plunged headfirst into excessive debt as well, and could therefore – seemingly – continue to afford to buy Japanese products. Shinzo Abe’s desperate reply to the demise of that insurance policy has been to pile in more debt, not to restructure the already humongous existing pile.

Neither are America or Europe doing it, their policies are solely based on declaring banks too big to fail, which precludes restructuring, a fatal error, at least from the point of view of the real economy and the majority of the population who depend on it for their incomes. As Roberts says, the restructuring of debt, or ‘clearing process’, is inevitable, and because of the shortsighted measures taken by myopic ‘leaders’ interested only in short term power, the process, when it comes, will bring with it deep and bitter misery for most.

And as I also said again yesterday, they couldn’t get away with it if they didn’t play masterfully on our own short term memories and interests. Just imagine what would happen if it were the US that announced an -8.9% plunge in consumer spending. Still, that is not much different from that -2.96% drop in US Q1 GDP. What is different is that the latter lies well in the rearview mirror, where objects always appear to be smaller, and our attention is without fail focused on today and tomorrow, not yesterday.

All it takes to divert attention away from Q1 GDP is rosy predictions for Q2 (we see nothing else, though ‘experts’ have hastily started backtracking). Predictions which can and will then subsequently be lowered time and again just like the last one. It’s a stupid ploy to fall for, but then we’re not all that bright to begin with at all. What will Q2 GDP be like? Tyler Durden has the perfect graph to show you:

Please Help Us Find The Q2 “Spending Surge”

US services (and thus services spending) account for 68% of US GDP and 4 out of 5 US jobs. Thus, without spending on services the US economy can barely grow. That much is clear. What is also clear is that pundit after pundit has been lining up to explain how the Q1 economic collapse is to be ignored because it was due to, don’t laugh, snow. Snow, which somehow wiped out of $100 billion in growth from initial expectations of Q1 GDP rising by 2.5%. [..] What is certainly clear is that without spending on services in the second quarter, it is impossible for US GDP to hit its much desired 4% “bounceback” GDP print. All of that is very clear. What is not at all clear is just where is this services spending spree.

Durden also dug up a video from April 2014 posted at Renegade Economist, which features longtime and dear friend of The Automatic Earth, Steve Keen, who we must congratulate on his recent appointment as professor and Head of the School of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University in London. Which means at least one university will teach something resembling sound economics.

In the video, which is an absolute must see and can’t miss, Steve explains exactly what is wrong with the US – and global – economy , as well as why and how this must be resolved the way it will be. It is not rocket science, it’s terribly simple really, we just have to deal with the constant stream of haze, befuddlement and discombobulation unleashed upon us by those who either have an active interest in keeping us locked up in a constant state of confusion, or are just not that sharp. That’s why the voice over in the video says “There are no black swans, there are just people who ignore the lessons of history”. And 2008 was just the beginning.

“In economics, [the mainstream] rely on experts who don’t know what they are talking about,” explains Professor Steve Keen in this brief but compelling documentary discussing ‘when the herd turns’. “Herd behavior is a fundamental aspect of capitalism,” Keen chides, but it is left out of conventional economic theory “because they don’t believe it;” instead having faith that investors are all “rational individuals”, which he notes, means “[economists] can’t foresee any crisis in the future.” The reality is – “we do have herd behavior” and people will follow the herd off a cliff unless they are aware it’s going to happen. “Contrary to herd wisdom, financial crises are not unpredictable black swans…”

To sum it up: it’s inevitable that there will be no economic recovery, and it’s equally inevitable that the economy must crash. If you move with the herd, you will be crushed.

The Great American Economic Growth Myth (STA)

The decline in economic growth over the past 30 years has kept the average American struggling to maintain their standard of living. As their wages declined, they were forced to turn to credit to fill the gap in maintaining their current standard of living. This demand for credit became the new breeding ground for the financed based economy. Easier credit terms, lower interest rates, easier lending standards and less regulation fueled the continued consumption boom. By the end of 2007, the household debt outstanding had surged to 140% of GDP. It was only a function of time until the collapse in the “house built of credit cards” occurred.

This is why the economic prosperity of the last 30 years has been a fantasy. While America, at least on the surface, was the envy of the world for its apparent success and prosperity; the underlying cancer of debt expansion and declining wages was eating away at the core. The only way to maintain the “standard of living” that American’s were told they “deserved,” was to utilize ever increasing levels of debt. The now deregulated financial institutions were only too happy to provide that “credit” as it was a financial windfall of mass proportions.

The massive indulgence in debt, what the Austrians refer to as a “credit induced boom,” has likely reached its inevitable conclusion. The unsustainable credit-sourced boom, which led to artificially stimulated borrowing, has continued to seek out ever diminishing investment opportunities. Ultimately these diminished investment opportunities repeatedly lead to widespread mal-investments. Not surprisingly, we clearly saw it play out “real-time” in everything from subprime mortgages to derivative instruments which were only for the purpose of milking the system of every potential penny regardless of the apparent underlying risk. We see it playing out again in the “chase for yield” in everything from junk bonds to equities. Not surprisingly, the end result will not be any different.

When credit creation can no longer be sustained, the process of clearing the excesses must be completed before the cycle can resume. Only then, and it must be allowed to happen, can resources be reallocated back towards more efficient uses. This is why all the efforts of Keynesian policies to stimulate growth in the economy have ultimately failed. Those fiscal and monetary policies, from TARP and QE to tax cuts, only delay the clearing process. Ultimately, that delay only potentially worsens the inevitable clearing process. The clearing process is going to be very substantial. The economy currently requires $2.75 of debt to create $1 of real (inflation adjusted) economic growth. A reversion to a structurally manageable level of debt* would require in excess of $35 Trillion in debt reduction. The economic drag from such a reduction would be dramatic while the clearing process occurs.

*Structural Debt Level – Estimated trend of debt growth in a normalized economic environment which would be supportive of economic growth levels of 150% of debt-to-GDP.

This is one of the primary reasons why economic growth will continue to run at lower levels going into the future. We will continue to observe an economy plagued by more frequent recessionary spats, more volatile equity market returns and a stagflationary environment as wages remain suppressed while costs of living rise. Ultimately, it is the process of clearing the excess debt levels that will allow personal savings rates to return to levels that can promote productive investment, production and consumption. The end game of three decades of excess is upon us, and we can’t deny the weight of the debt imbalances that are currently in play. The medicine that the current administration is prescribing is a treatment for the common cold; in this case a normal business cycle recession. The problem is that the patient is suffering from a “debt cancer,” and until the proper treatment is prescribed and implemented; the patient will most likely continue to suffer.

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Please Help Us Find The Q2 “Spending Surge” (Zero Hedge)

US services (and thus services spending) account for 68% of US GDP and 4 out of 5 US jobs. Thus, without spending on services the US economy can barely grow. That much is clear. What is also clear is that pundit after pundit has been lining up to explain how the Q1 economic collapse is to be ignored because it was due to, don’t laugh, snow. Snow, which somehow wiped out of $100 billion in growth from initial expectations of Q1 GDP rising by 2.5%.

What is certainly clear is that without spending on services in the second quarter, it is impossible for US GDP to hit its much desired 4% “bounceback” GDP print. All of that is very clear. What is not at all clear is just where is this services spending spree. The chart below shows the monthly change in service spending as just reported by the BEA. The two bars comprising two-third of the second quarter are highlighted. So – can someone please help us find just where is this much-hyped consumer spending spreed is please?

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Longtime friend of The Automatic Earth, Steve Keen, features in this brilliant and absolutely must see April 2014 video from Renegade Economist, h/t Zero Hedge.

When The Herd Turns (Steve Keen)

“In economics, [the mainstream] rely on experts who don’t know what they are talking about,” explains Professor Steve Keen in this brief but compelling documentary discussing ‘when the herd turns’. “Herd behavior is a fundamental aspect of capitalism,” Keen chides, but it is left out of conventional economic theory “because they don’t believe it;” instead having faith that investors are all “rational individuals”, which he notes, means “[economists] can’t foresee any crisis in the future.” The reality is – “we do have herd behavior” and people will follow the herd off a cliff unless they are aware its going to happen. “Contrary to herd wisdom, financial crises are not unpredictable black swans…”

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This Has Never Happened Without The US Falling Into Recession (Zero Hedge)

With all eyes firmly focused on yesterday’s disastrous GDP report (and ultimately dismissing it as ‘weather’ and one-off exogenous factors), we thought Bloomberg Brief’s Rich Yamarone’s analysis of a lesser-known (yet just as key) indicator of the state of US economic health was intriguing. As he notes, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Economic analysis, there has never been a time in history that year-over-year gross domestic income has been at its current pace (2.6%) without the U.S. economy ultimately falling into recession. That’s more than 50 years of history, which is about as good as one could ever hope for in an economic indicator.

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Spending down -8% YoY, so not because of the April 1 tax hike. Abenomics is squeezing the Japanese.

Japan Consumer Prices Soar 3.4%, Spending Plummets -8% (CNBC)

Japan’s core consumer prices rose 3.4% in May from a year earlier, data on Friday showed, rising at their fastest pace since April 1982. The rise in the core consumer price index (CPI), which excludes volatile food prices, was in line with analyst expectations in a Reuters poll for a 3.4% rise. Annual consumer prices in Japan have risen for 12 straight months – a positive sign for the Bank of Japan and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to finally rid the world’s third biggest economy of deflation risks. “The inflation numbers have been driven by a rise in fresh food prices and utility prices,” said Glenn Levine, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics. A slew of economic data released at the same time showed Japan’s household spending fell 8% in May from a year earlier, compared with forecasts for a 2% decline.

Japan lifted its consumption tax to 8% from 5% in April – and with consumers front-loading their spending before the tax increase, consumption has fallen since then. Other data showed Japan’s retail sales fell 0.4% in May on-year, smaller than the 1.8% fall anticipated by economists polled by Reuters. Japan’s jobless rate meanwhile fell to its lowest level in over a decade and a measure of labor demand rose to its highest in two decades. “The data, on aggregate, should be please the Bank of Japan and government,” said Levine. “The jobs data was strong and the retail sales numbers were better than expected,” he said, adding that the retail sales number gives a broader picture of Japanese consumer spending trends than the household consumption data.

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This is going to end so bad.

Japan Pension Fund ‘Not Ready To Move Into Riskier Assets’ (Bloomberg)

The world’s biggest pension fund is planning to buy more risky assets before it has the structure to cope with the investment overhaul, an economist specializing in state retirement programs said. The 128.6 trillion yen ($1.3 trillion) Government Pension Investment Fund needs rules for cutting losses when asset prices fall, according to Yuri Okina. GPIF must also get agreement for a clearer mechanism for safeguarding the fund when its finances deteriorate. Governance changes should be completed before the portfolio overhaul, said Okina, who’s also an adviser to the finance ministry and a director of Bridgestone Corp. The bond-heavy fund is expected to boost local stocks to about 20% of assets in coming months after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered a faster review of its portfolio and included the overhaul in the nation’s growth strategies. Planned reform of its governance structure, including adding a board of directors, is taking longer after a bill to change it wasn’t submitted in the most recent Diet session.

“There’s a lot of focus on how GPIF can revitalize the stock market and that has been coming first,” Okina, an economist at Japan Research Institute Ltd., said in an interview in Tokyo on June 23. “The fund needs to decide on things like organizational structure and what its goals are at the same time.” “Given that Japan is exiting deflation, I do think GPIF needs to diversify its assets,” Okina said. “But it needs to be clearer on how it’ll do this. It needs more distance from the government and to be clear it’s for the benefit of pension savers and retirees.” Before taking on more risk, GPIF must set rules for when to cut its losses, Okina said. It must also reach a verdict with the health ministry on what to do when investment losses threaten the fund’s sustainability, she said, giving the example of whether it should cover shortfalls by asking for bigger contributions from workers or lowering payouts to retirees.

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We want our bubbles back!

US Treasury Begins Push to Revive Mortgage-Bond Market (Bloomberg)

The Treasury Department will start an initiative to revive the market for mortgage securities without government backing as part of an effort to aid recovery of the housing market, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said. The Treasury also will begin offering financing for loans for affordable apartment buildings and extend aid programs for troubled borrowers for an additional year, Lew said remarks prepared for a speech in Washington today. Together the moves are designed to bring more capital to the housing market to ease the crunch for those most affected by tight credit and a dwindling supply of affordable rentals, while aiding those still struggling with the aftermath of the 2008 credit crisis.

“Middle class families continue to find it difficult to find affordable housing,” Lew said. “And more than 6 million Americans still owe more on their homes than their homes are worth. That is why we remain focused on providing relief to responsible homeowners, rebuilding hard-hit communities, and reforming our housing finance system.” Homeowners having trouble making their loan payments will now have until December 31, 2016 to apply for a mortgage modification under Treasury’s Home Affordable Modification Program and other Treasury-run aid programs. The affordable apartment building loans would be backed by Federal Housing Administration and state housing agencies.

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Will we see all dark pools broken up?

Cracks Open in Dark Pool Defense With Barclays Lawsuit (Bloomberg)

Last October, managers told an employee in Barclays’ trading unit to keep from clients a report showing the bank routed most of their dark pool orders to itself, according to the New York attorney general. He refused, Eric Schneiderman said, and was fired the next day. The state’s top law-enforcement official released the account, which he said he got from the former Barclays senior director, in a 30-page document that portrayed the London-based bank as bilking its own customers to expand its dark pool. Schneiderman cited a pattern of “fraud and deceit” starting in 2011 in which Barclays hoarded orders for stocks and assured investors they were protected from high-frequency firms while simultaneously aiding predatory tactics.

“The behavior described in this complaint would put a bank’s financial interest in marketing its dark pool and profiting by providing access to predatory high-speed traders ahead of the interests of investors,” Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who leads the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said in a statement. “Action is needed to end conflicts of interest in the U.S. stock market.” [..]

Scrutiny from law-enforcement authorities is increasing as concern grows that America’s fragmented and computerized market structure enriches professional traders at the expense of individuals. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Jo White proposed changes to the market this month, and the regulator this week announced it wants to test a curb on dark pool trading. Last week, Levin’s panel held hearings focused on where brokers send their customers’ orders. Schneiderman’s case is the boldest initiative and may open fissures in the decade-old defense of U.S. equity markets that has been championed by brokerages and traders. In their version of the story, dark pools serve as havens for institutional investors tired of seeing orders to buy and sell stocks front-run on public exchanges. According to Schneiderman, institutions may not have been much safer on Barclays’ platform.

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Building dominoes.

Shanghai Developer Halts Project on Funding Shortage (Bloomberg)

A closely held Shanghai developer has suspended construction at a property project due to a lack of funds, according to two government officials familiar with the matter. Construction at Shanghai Yuehe Real Estate’s mixed-use project, including residential, office and retail space, in the city was halted this month and the project was frozen by a court, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter. Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, a medium-sized Chinese bank, loaned about 240 million yuan ($39 million) to the 220,000 square meter (2.4 million square foot) development in suburban Jiading district, they said.

“There will be more developers having troubles as the property downturn prolongs,” said Duan Feiqin, a Shenzhen-based property analyst at China Merchants Securities Co., in a phone interview today. “Many Chinese cities face oversupply of those mixed-use property projects amid the e-commerce boom, while a lot of developers, especially those small ones, are not capable of doing such developments.” Yuehe is the latest example of Chinese developers facing pressure as the nation’s slowing property market weighs on the growth of the world’s second-largest economy. Moody’s Investors Service in May revised its credit outlook for Chinese developers to negative from stable, citing a slowdown in home- sales growth as liquidity weakens and inventories rise.

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Juicy.

China’s Manhattan Project Turns Into Ghost Town (Bloomberg)

China’s project to build a replica Manhattan is taking shape against a backdrop of vacant office towers and unfinished hotels, underscoring the risks to a slowing economy from the nation’s unprecedented investment boom. The skyscraper-filled skyline of the Conch Bay district in the northern port city of Tianjin has none of a metropolis’s bustle up close, with dirt-covered glass doors and construction on some edifices halted. The area’s failure to attract tenants since the first building was finished in 2010 bodes ill across the Hai River for the separate Yujiapu development, which is modeled on New York’s Manhattan and remains in progress. “Investing here won’t be better than throwing money into the water,” Zhang Zhihe, 60, said during a visit to the area last week from neighboring Hebei province to look at potential commercial-property investments. “There will be no way out – it will be very difficult to find the next buyer.”

The deserted area underscores the challenge facing China’s leaders in dealing with the fallout from a record credit-fueled investment spree while sustaining growth and jobs in the world’s second-biggest economy. A Tianjin local-government financing vehicle connected to the developments said revenue fell 68% in 2013 to an amount that’s less than one-third of debt due this year. “There will have to be a reckoning,” said Stephen Green, head of Greater China research at Standard Chartered Plc in Hong Kong. Sales of bonds by local-government vehicles to repay bank loans are just “buying time,” he said. “The people will pay” for it through bank bailouts, recapitalization with public money or inflation.

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Hey, they just print it all anyway, and so does everyone else, so why not?

China Expands Plans For World Bank Rival (FT)

China is expanding plans to establish a global financial institution to rival the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which Beijing fears are too influenced by the US and its allies. In meetings with other countries, Beijing has proposed doubling the size of registered capital for the proposed bank to $100bn, according to two people familiar with the matter. So far, 22 countries across the region, including several wealthy states in the Middle East, which China refers to as “West Asia”, have shown interest in the multilateral lender, which would be known as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. It would initially focus on building a new version of the “silk road”, the ancient trade route that once connected Europe to China. Most of the funding for the lender would come from China and be spent on infrastructure projects across the region, including a direct rail link from Beijing to Baghdad.

China’s push for a regional institution that it would control reflects Beijing’s frustration at western dominance of the multilateral bodies. Chinese leaders have demanded a greater say in institutions such as the World Bank, IMF and Asian Development Bank for years but changes to reflect China’s increasing economic importance and power have been painfully slow. “China feels it can’t get anything done in the World Bank or the IMF so it wants to set up its own World Bank that it can control itself,” said one person directly involved in discussions to establish the AIIB. “There is a lot of interest from across Asia but China is going to go ahead with this even if nobody else joins it.” [..] China has discussed its plans for an AIIB with countries in southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Australia and it has also contacted the US, India and arch-enemy Japan, according to people familiar with the matter. But these people also said the bank was specifically intended to exclude the US and its allies, or at least greatly reduce their influence.

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Qingdao goes on.

Risks Rising For China’s Commodity Traders (Reuters)

A warehouse fraud at China’s third-largest port has forced banks and trading houses to consider new controls in the country’s massive commodity financing business, which traders say could lead to drying up of credit for all but large firms and state-owned companies. On Thursday, Standard Chartered, a major foreign provider of such finance deals, become one of the first firms to put a dollar figure on its activities, saying its commodity-related exposure around the port was about $250 million, although not all of that was at risk. “That is across multiple clients, multiple locations, multiple types of facilities, not all of which will be affected,” CEO Peter Sands said on a conference call. China’s commodities trading is dominated by the large and state-owned companies but there are thousands of small firms in the market. Faced with tougher bank requirements for financing, they could sell down stockpiles, squeezing demand for metals and other raw materials such as rubber in the world’s biggest consumer of commodities.

Any new requirements would also ratchet up the risk that customers who do not regain credit lines may default on payments for services such as hedging, or for imports. “The fear is not so much about the big boys, but some of the other smaller, newer players, who may have only been in this commodity financing game for the last two to three years,” said Jeremy Goldwyn, a director with commodities broker Sucden in charge of Asia business. “If all of a sudden the tap is turned off to them, they might have more of a crisis. Is it having an effect on the market? Yes, people are very nervous. We obviously have a lot of business in China so we are watching it very closely,” he said. According to sources, Standard Chartered has suspended some commodity financing deals in Qingdao port after authorities there launched a probe into a private trading firm, Decheng Mining, that is suspected of duplicating warehouse certificates to use a metal cargo multiple times to raise financing.

A Standard Chartered spokesman in London said the bank was reviewing its exposure to commodity financing but was not “pulling back” from that type of business, or from China itself, which remains a “key market”. For Western banks such as Standard Chartered, HSBC and BNP Paribas, which are restricted in the domestic loan market in China, the metals financing business is a lucrative alternative but the Qingdao scandal has renewed focus on counterparty risk. Goldman Sachs estimates that commodity-backed deals account for as much as $160 billion, or about 30% of China’s short-term foreign-exchange borrowing. Besides metals, the banks are now taking a fresh look at loans backed by other commodities such as iron ore, soybeans and rubber, fueling concerns that any drying up of credit could spark a series of defaults on trade loans, or force other cash-strapped firms to cancel term shipments in the second half of this year.

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China’s water problems will rise to the fore in a very rapid fashion.

Water Shortages Threaten China’s Agriculture (BW)

China has a fifth of the globe’s population but only 7% of its available freshwater reserves. Moreover, its water resources are not evenly distributed. The lands north of the Yangtze River—including swaths of the Gobi desert and the grasslands of Inner Mongolia—are the driest, but more than half of China’s people live in the north. Water is not well managed in China. Nearly two-thirds of water withdrawals in China are for agriculture. Due to the use of uncovered irrigation channels (leading to evaporation) and other outdated techniques, a significant portion of that water never reaches the field.

A new paper by scientists in China, Japan, and the U.S. published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences sounds the alarm: “China faces … major challenges to sustainable agriculture,” the authors write. Failure to conserve water resources could threaten China’s food security, a longtime priority for the country’s leaders. When it comes to fresh water, geography did not bless China. “Agriculture is located mainly in the dry north, where irrigation largely relies on groundwater reserves,” the authors write. Meanwhile, due to unsustainable withdrawals, China’s aquifers are fast being depleted. The paper analyzes water usage for four key crops (rice, wheat, soybeans, and corn) and livestock (poultry, pigs, and cows) in China. Taken together, those make up more than 90% of China’s domestic food supply.

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The obvious elephant.

The Coming Global Generational Adjustment (CH Smith)

Here’s what often happens when people start discussing Baby Boomers, Gen-X and Gen-Y online: rash generalizations are freely flung, everyone gets offended and nothing remotely productive results from the generational melee. These sorts of angry, accusatory generalizations reflect what I call the Generational Monster Id (GMI), the urge to list faults in generations other than our own. I think the source of generational angst and anger is the threat that the entitlements promised by the developed-world governments will not be delivered as promised. These entitlements range from healthcare to education to old-age pensions to “a good paying job now that I have a college degree.” The bottom line is that the promises cannot and will not be kept. The promises were issued in an era of cheap, abundant fossil fuels and favorable demographics: the next generation was considerably larger and more productive (due to more education, longer working lives, etc.) than the previous generation it would support through old age with taxes.

In that bygone era, there were as many as 16 workers for every retiree. Even 4 workers for every retiree is a sustainable level if energy remains cheap and full-time jobs remain plentiful. But the global reality is the Baby Boom generation is so large that it dwarfs the younger generations. Regardless of any other conditions, this reality negates all the promises issued to retirees: as the ratio of workers paying substantial taxes on their full-time earnings to retirees slips below two workers to one retiree, there is no way the workers can support the lavish costs of healthcare and old age pensions without becoming impoverished themselves. This is already a reality. As I have noted in this week’s series, there are 118 million full-time jobs in the U.S. and 57 million people drawing benefits from Social Security, and a similar number drawing Medicare and Medicaid benefits. As Boomers retire en masse in the decade ahead and full-time employment stagnates or declines, the ratio will slip to 1.5-to-1 or even lower. Many low-birth-rate European nations are facing worker-retiree ratios of 1-to-1. This is simply not sustainable.

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How ugly can this get? Vulture funds buy debt at 30%, and demand back 100%. The amounts involved are so huge they don’t mind waiting 10 years and paying millions in lawyer’s fees. And Argentine debt issues are decided in a US court. What kind of sovereignty is that?

Argentina Economy Minister Says Nation Being Pushed To Default (Reuters)

Argentina’s Economy Minister Axel Kicillof warned United Nations diplomats on Wednesday the country is being pushed toward a new default after a U.S. Supreme Court decision favored holdout creditors seeking payment on bonds it defaulted on in 2001-2002. Referring to those creditors as “vulture funds,” Kicillof said the June 16 decision by the top U.S. court to deny Argentina the chance to appeal a lower court ruling means it faces an insurmountable payment to all bondholders, given it has just $28.5 billion in foreign currency reserves. “So probably this is going to push us into a technical default,” Kicillof said through an interpreter. “Whichever way you look at it this ruling is forcing Argentina towards the risk of economic crisis.” The holdouts are led by Elliott Management’s NML Capital and Aurelius Capital Management. “Once these funds get recognition of 100% of the value of their bonds, which were purchased under vile conditions of having paid only 30 cents on the dollar, there could be more demand from other holders who did not participate in the restructurings,” Kicillof said. [..]

Argentine officials, including President Cristina Fernandez, have said the country will not pay these investors, arguing it could face potential demands for up to $15 billion from other holdouts not involved with the case – an amount representing more than half of the government’s $28.5 billion in foreign currency reserves. The United Nations trade agency, or UNCTAD, weighed in on the case on Wednesday, echoing concerns voiced by the United States as well as the International Monetary Fund that the ruling in favor of holdouts erodes sovereign immunity and is a setback for the debt restructuring process. However, investors and legal advisors alike note changes to the covenants in bond contracts have adapted to avoid such disputes and the legal battle with Argentina is so unique that chances for a repeat situation have been dramatically reduced.

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‘EU Trade Deal Is Economic Suicide For Ukraine’ (RT)

“For Ukraine, signing the agreement is economic suicide,” Sergey Glazyev, an economic aide to Russian President Putin said, warning of a sharp currency devaluation, soaring inflation, and lower living standards. Kiev’s new government [signed] a free trade agreement with the EU on Friday, after the previous government failed to sign the agreement in November leading to public protest and near all-out civil war. “There is no doubt that by signing this agreement it will result in an acute devaluation of the hryvnia, an inflation surge and in turn hyperinflation, and a drop in living standards,” Glazyev said on Tuesday. Glazyev, an outspoken opponent of Ukraine joining the EU’s orbit, echoed President Putin’s warning that Ukraine will no longer be able to import goods from Russia duty-free. Glazyev calculated last year, before the dispute with Russia began, that flooding Ukraine’s economy with European goods could cost the country $4 billion, or 2% of its GDP.

Ukraine signed the political portion of the treaty in March, but the economic content is much more significant as it sets a path for Ukraine to open itself to Europe’s $17 trillion market. Ukraine’s exports to Russia totaled over $16 billion last year, nearly a quarter of all goods, and exports to Europe were just over $17 billion, according to EU trade data. Russian Finance Minister Aleksey Ulyukaev also sees little value in the trade deal, as it will turn Ukraine into a “second-rate EU state”, but without any of the benefits. “By signing the Association Agreement the countries must restructure their laws to comply with European standards and open the markets. However, in return, they don’t receive any influence on European legislation or policy,” Ulyukaev said. He was referring to the cost of adopting 350 new laws and 200,000 pieces of legislation to ready the country for trade with Europe.

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The Anglo Saxon destruction machine is on a roll.

Australia’s Prime Minister Proposes Destroying Environment for Votes (Vice)

Since being elected to power last September, Australia’s conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Liberal-National coalition government have been attempting to scale back or altogether dispose of initiatives and policies important to environmentalists, while proposing initiatives that they hate. Abbott’s administration has axed the independently-run Climate Commission and legislation that would repeal Australia’s carbon tax, and has cut funding to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. It also approved the expansion of a coal port that would allow some 3 million cubic meters of soil to be dredged and dumped near the Great Barrier Reef, which is already frighteningly imperiled. Another of Abbott’s provocations concerned the protective boundaries of a World Heritage forest area in Tasmania. Last year, Australia’s previous and more progressive Labor government successfully proposed that the area’s boundaries be extended.

The current government wanted to reduce that extension by 43% — more than 180,000 acres — and open it up for logging. It argued that “these areas detract from the Outstanding Universal Value of the property” because they “contain plantations and logged and degraded areas.” This week, at a meeting of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in Qatar, the proposal was quickly and unanimously rejected. Early talk from the government and media suggested that the proposal stood a chance. It is clear, watching the committee discuss the proposal, that there was no way it would pass. There was no debate, and the seven minutes spent on the proposal was so short, there’s no link to it on the relevant UNESCO website. The delisting of land from World Heritage status for the sake of logging would have been a dangerous precedent. The committee in Qatar apparently agreed.

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Canada Is Drastically Cutting Environmental Research (Vice)

It’s no secret Canada faces tough environmental challenges in the next few decades. While the bitumen flowing from the Alberta tar sands produces revenues accounting for over 2% of our GDP in oil and other petrol-goodies—relying on extraction methods that provoke scientific concern and visceral horror, means increased emissions and brutal toxic pollution. These sort of problems tend to get taken to scientists with the questions “how bad is it?” and “what do we do?” attached. But Environment Canada claims to have Canadians covered, noting in their 2014-2015 Report on Plans and Priorities that they will “reduce threats to health and the environment posed by pollution and waste from human activities,” and “develop regulations in support of the sector-by-sector approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” All of which sounds very reassuring until you notice the same report projects an overall funding decrease for the department of 37% over the next two years.

First let’s cover the good news: If you’re a fan of migratory birds, no stress, the money to continue preservation efforts is safe. Other projects aren’t so lucky. Funding for the Ecosystems Initiatives will fall from $53 to $26 million, Substance and Waste Management from $76 to $44 million, and the Climate Change and Clean Air budget will be reduced from $155 to $55 million—a staggering 64% lower than current funding levels. The report stresses that much of the planned funding reduction is due to “sun-setting,” referring to the expiry of temporarily funded programs, and that some programs may be extended, or replaced, which can’t be reflected in the projections. In a May 29 meeting of the Parliamentary Environment Committee, Liberal MP John McKay asked about the decrease in funding for the Clean Air and Climate Change Department. Minister of the Environment Leona Aglukkaq had a similarly noncommittal answer to those found in her report: “Decisions on the renewal of programs are yet to be made. We can’t anticipate what the next budget will be,” she said.

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Oh man, we’re so green!

Germany’s New Coal Plants Push Power Glut to 4-Year High (Bloomberg)

Germany is headed for its biggest electricity glut since 2011 as new coal-fired plants start and generation of wind and solar energy increases, weighing on power prices that have already dropped for three years. Utilities from RWE AG to EON SE are poised to bring units online from December that can supply 8.2 million homes, 20% of the nation’s total, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That will increase spare capacity in Europe’s biggest power market to 17% of peak demand, say the four companies that operate the nation’s high-voltage grids. The benchmark German electricity contract has slumped 36% since the end of 2010.

The new coal plants are starting as Germany aims to almost double renewable-power generation over the next decade. Wind and solar output has priority grid access by law and floods the market on sunny and breezy days, curbing running hours for nuclear, coal and gas plants, and pushing power prices lower. The profit margin for eight utilities in Germany narrowed to 5.4% last year from 15% a decade ago. “The new plants will run at current prices, but they won’t cover their costs,” Ricardo Klimaschka, a power trader at Energieunion GmbH who has bought and sold electricity for 14 years, said June 25 by e-mail from Schwerin, Germany. “The utilities will make much less money than originally thought with their new units because they counted on higher power prices.”

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I’d say it’s all of the above.

It’s Not Pesticides Hurting Moth Pollinators, It’s Car Fumes (Science 2.0)

Due to the president making bee colonies a national priority, there is a lot of talk from environmentalists about banning neonicotinoid pesticides but they may be blaming out of convenience rather than evidence. Car and truck exhaust fumes can be bad for humans and for pollinators too. In new research on how pollinators find flowers when background odors are strong, University of Washington and University of Arizona researchers have found that both natural plant odors and human sources of pollution can conceal the scent of sought-after flowers. When the calories from one feeding of a flower gets you only 15 minutes of flight, as is the case with the tobacco hornworn moth studied, being misled costs a pollinator energy and time.

“Local vegetation can mask the scent of flowers because the background scents activate the same moth olfactory channels as floral scents,” according to Jeffrey Riffell, UW assistant professor of biology. “Plus the chemicals in these scents are similar to those emitted from exhaust engines and we found that pollutant concentrations equivalent to urban environments can decrease the ability of pollinators to find flowers.” “Nature can be complex, but an urban environment is a whole other layer on top of that,” said Riffell. “These moths are not important pollinators in urban environments, but these same volatiles from vehicles may affect pollinators like honeybees or bumblebees, which are more prevalent in many urban areas.”

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